IDENTIFY THE GORILLA - Complications Ensue
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Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Years ago, I was working with a producer on a script written by the intended director. The script was a mess, but the producer knew it, and so I went to town on the script. Made sense of the plot. Made sense of the characters. Amped up urgency. Came up with clever plot twists to replace the predictable and cliché. Took it from a truly awful script to a not-at-all-bad script.

And the director threatened to quit the show if we didn't go back to his terrible script.

We shot his script.

A few years later, same thing, only this time the script wasn't that bad, and we didn't go back to the director's bad draft, he just wrote a new draft. Or maybe a friend of his did, I forget.

In both cases, the director was the one in control of the show. Directors usually are, once they're on board. I wasn't entirely wrong to do what the producer wanted -- after all, he was paying me. But I was wrong in not buddying up to the director. Since I didn't give the director what he wanted, I was wasting my time. (Except, of course, for the paycheck.)

Always identify the 500 pound gorilla on the project. Never write a draft behind the gorilla's back. You'll get paid, but the gorilla will chuck your script out no matter how good it is. It's not his vision. It's your vision. He wants his vision.

The gorilla is not always the director. It might be the producer. It might be a star. It might be a studio or network exec. It's up to you to identify the gorilla.

Oh, by the way, the terrible script we shot? Unreleased for the better part of a decade.

Doesn't matter. Being right, and a token, will get you on the subway, if you don't drop the token.

4 Comments:

Okay, here's a fantasy that keeps me going. When you're a powerful hotshot producer, have lots of meetings with all those mean people who messed with you back in the day. Make it a really good meeting. The best meeting they've ever had. Laughing, joking, talking about your kids. Make them think you love them. Make them think for sure they've got the job. Make them go home all happy and hopeful and then..... never call them again.

Ahhhhhhh. It's the little things in life that make me happy.

By Blogger madscreenwriter, at 10:24 PM  

I know very few directors who can handle story; they think entirely in terms of moments. But as soon as the gig's in their hands, suddenly they're Tolstoy.

In this week's edition of Radio Times (the UK's longest-running TV Guide, hence the name redolent of vacuum tubes and steam trains) a middling TV actor with a new show out boasts of the extent to which he micro-managed the show's writer/creator.

It bodes ill for the show, which debuts later this week. I can think of few more dispiriting experiences than watching an actor's vanity project.

By Blogger Stephen Gallagher, at 8:00 AM  

"Being right, and a token, will get you on the subway, if you don't drop the token."

I love that. No wonder you're a writer.

By Blogger Dave Fogerson, at 2:26 PM  

Sound advice. Enjoying your corner of the blogoshpere. Thanks for sharing.

By Blogger RB Ripley, at 3:36 PM  

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