Don't Blame the Writer

Having done this Mr. Cranky thing for some time now, I have been on the delivering end of a barrage of insults directed toward the writer of some movie for contributing to their craft what flies contribute to piles of dog shit. In fact, I’ve probably called for more than one writer to be immediately dismissed from the Writer’s Guild and thrown out onto the street to live in the alleys or the gutters or wherever it is that they can go where they can’t possibly inflict their idea of “writing” on the rest of us. I am guilty of the very thing I am now about to criticize other critics for doing.

That being said, I think it’s informative for movie-goers to understand how movies are made. Although the screenplay is supposed to be the foundation upon which a movie is built, the screenwriter has almost no control over what ultimately comes from their work. Yet, despite this simple fact that most critics should know (at least if they were good, well-informed critics), the screenwriter is most often blamed when a movie sucks balls.

This missive comes on the heels of a well-known movie that’s being raked over the coals and a screenwriter who’s taking punishment he should not have to take. I know the screenwriter and I read the script long before the movie was completed and can tell you it was one of the most tightly-written, funny scripts, I have ever read. I have read other scripts by this screenwriter and know him to be talented and an extremely gifted, hard-working writer who didn’t just get lucky in the industry, but worked his ass off polishing his work and learning his craft. I like to write the occasional script myself, but this writer kicks my ass in every conceivable way.

The second the script got green-lighted, it was hacked apart by the studio and the stars. And it’s not as if their intentions were necessarily bad or evil, but the mere act of taking a polished work by a talented person and reducing it to a mound of notecards that can be shuffled about and remade, is almost an act of evil. A good script, like any good piece of writing, is a work of art. However, we can be sure that if paintings were made for commercial release, movie executives would have long ago erased the Mona Lisa’s wry smile and put a big ol’ happy face on her to make sure everyone felt good looking at it.

In the case of this particular movie, the genre itself was changed from one thing into another to please the audience, which meant that lots of things were removed from the script and the writer forced to re-write them for better, easier, more pleasing effect. Has such an action ever produced something improved? I seriously doubt it. After that was done, a major star was hired to play one of the parts, and immediately demanded to make changes to the script to make him look better and based on his assumption that he was both a writer and an actor and clearly a better writer than the screenwriter. Can one imagine a screenwriter telling an actor how to act? Certainly not. But virtually every actor in Hollywood believes that they know better than the writer what good writing is and are ready and willing to destroy a cogent piece of writing whenever it suits their needs.

This sort of occurrence is commonplace in Hollywood. While such collaboration sometimes produces good movies, it most often produces mediocre, dumbed-down crap. Everybody in the process shits all over the writer and then the writer is blamed for the final product. Critics across the country take great glee in bringing up the writer’s name precisely because the writer is virtually powerless to fight back. It’s easy to blame the writer. However, start calling Tom Hanks or Christian Bale a talentless hack for fucking up some movie and you’re almost guaranteed to get a call from somebody telling you you’re no longer welcome at the free screenings. Film critics may want you to believe they’re independent, free-thinkers, but they’re mostly hacks themselves – wannabe screenwriters or filmmakers who don’t have the guts to take the risk of moving to Hollywood to follow their dream. If you still think film critics have integrity, just go to a PA tour sometime and you’ll see what every advertising executive knows – offer up a plate of donuts to a group of film critics and you can demonstrably improve a film’s reviews. Most film critics are closet whores just waiting for the chance to sell themselves.

Imagine movie stars and executives yanking lines from a Robert Frost poem to suit their needs. If poems were the foundation movies, they’d gladly do it. Writing isn’t an art in Hollywood, it’s a commodity – as easily disposable and changeable as a dirty t-shirt. The total lack of respect for the writer is why so many films in Hollywood suck.


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It would have been nice to know nave of the movie/writer

Coaster's picture

I get your point and I agree.  Hollywood is papered with stories of how the money men, the suits, screw up the efforts of those whose talent they mine.  But why conceal the names of the parties in your specific example?  It would have been nice to know who this was so we could see the product and judge for ourselves. 

The inmates are running the asylum

Dan_in_Cincinnati's picture

The high priced actors now dictate much of what goes on in Hollywood.  That wasn't the case before WWII.  Alfred Hitchcock was right.  Actors aren't cattle, they should be treated like cattle.

{;-) Dan in Miami


Reminds me of THE GODFATHER

FearlessFreep's picture

Writers are to directors sort of what Tom Hagen was to Sonny Corleone.  Tom warned that attacking too many people all at once was risky, but Sonny insisted on doing it anyway, with the end result being Sonny's own death.  After Michael took over he sent Tom west because he wasn't a "wartime" consiglieri, and ex-Don Vito added, "It isn't that you were a bad consiglieri, it's that Sonny was a bad Don, God bless him."

When Mordechai Richler did a rewrite on the original FUN WITH DICK AND JANE, Jane Fonda's agent complained that his client had 10% fewer lines. Asked whether she had read the script, the agent said: "That's not the point!"


The writer should quit.

michael3b's picture

What's the point of putting your all into something you love if you're going to be upset about it becoming the dog-thing from The Fly?  Hope against hope, perhaps.  Maybe he's accepted this on some level, which would explain why the crank didn't name names, as his friend would most certainly not work in this town again!

ps Read Bambi vs. Godzilla.  Mamet is a little bit much to take at times, but he makes some excellent points/observations. As Steve Martin said: "David Mamet is supremely talented. He is a gifted writer and observer of society and its characters. I'm sure he will find work somewhere, somehow, just no longer in the movie business."

I miss this.

Wulfgar's picture



~There ain't no Devil, there's just God when He's drunk.~


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