.......Cinema Notes .......

By way of explanation:

We try to persuade John Hill to write for us once a year, to pass on to us his experience of scriptwriting in Hollywood, and to persuade us, or not persuade us, to devote our frustrated scribbling to something else instead.

He recently faced in public a deliberately provocative question from Bill Martell, also a successful screenwriter (whose comments on violence in the cinema have been featured here in an earlier Cinema Notes ~ well worth reading), and here is his answer.

Why would Hollywood rather buy a poorly plotted novel than an original screenplay? Since plot is everything in film, why spend good money on writing that won't work in the medium?

The reason Hollywood (studios) would MUCH rather buy a poorly plotted, or written, novel than an original screenplay is because the studio execs and producers decide things for careerist reasons ~ which in a tough, corporate world, means for defensive reasons, not for bold instinctive pro-active reasons like creative vision. Thus:

They prefer making a movie out of a book, play, TV series, comic book, opera or rodeo in general because that decision is CORPORATE-DEFENDABLE for the producer or studio execs championing it if it fails (and most studio movies do fail). Their implied, or loudly stated excuse, is simply:

"Well, it worked once in that other form ~ others INVESTED MONEY on it before we did! ~ so it's reasonable to expect it might work as a movie ~ others like it have!!! Also, there's the chance of PRE-SOLD TICKETS and PRE-AWARENESS of the movie since it did exist in a previous business incarnation that some other business entity gambled on FIRST and so this wasn't that big a risk, not like a spec script that no one ever spent money on (gambled on) before, where there's no BUSINESS precedent, and no PRE-SOLD TICKETS or PRE-AUDIENCE AWARENESS!! So you can't blame me, there's plenty of precedents for books (or anything else) being turned into SUCCESSFUL MOVIES!"

(But with a spec script? No defense at all except their own "gut instinct" on what might work ..... lotsa luck ..... )

That's maybe not quite the dialogue ~ but it's the real reason why they opt for previously-published or produced stories, not originals.

It explains why there are so many SEQUELS and REMAKES too.

They are ALL CORPORATE BUSINESS-type decisions, not through any creative analysis of the material itself, how good or how poor the writing is, how plot oriented vs character-oriented it is. None of those things are factors; they figure that's what the writers and filmmakers are for, to straighten that stuff out somehow .....

Extreme examples of this are ~

In 1964, SEX AND THE SINGLE GIRL was a very (high concept!) successful book by Helen Gurley Brown, a shocking book because of its title in that era (those two were not supposed to go together in the same title but I was a junior in high school then and am happy to report it was an untruth). Well, Hollywood paid a then huge $100,000 for the "movie rights" to this non-fiction book ~ and THEN turned around and hired writers to somehow create from scratch a story, since, of course, there wasn't one. It was famous at the time for the studios paying $20,000 a word for a book's TITLE, then discarding the book 100%, then just making up some movie with Natalie Wood and Tony Curtis. You think that this book-to-movie true story had to do with the relative merits of narrow plotting vs wandering plots, or sub-plots, or any plot at all? No. It was a business/money decision only ~ obviously a "corporately-justifiable decision" for all concerned.

Things aren't that different in today's world. BUSINESS reasons, not creative factors, explain it all, then and now.

Now, for my favorite example ~ you wanna talk the live-action movie, based on the best-seller of ....... JONATHAN LIVINGSTON SEAGULL? A two hour, live-action movie of real seagulls flying around, and the only thing holding up that big movie was deciding whether or not they needed also to have a name seagull to play the title role. Obviously, they saved money and went with an unknown.

(They highlighted that seagull on a segment of "Where Are They Now?", with Dick Clark and Ed MacMahon on some TV special recently and it turns out that seagull hangs out at Fisherman's Wharf in San Francisco, balding, pot-bellied, grumpy, bent tailfeathers, boring other gulls about what a big shot he once was, such a star, how he had his own dressing room and honey wagon and so on, he was sure it was just the start of a great career, bought the big house, had the business manager that robbed him, the whole shot, but now he occasionally eats pieces of soggy tossed sourdough bread and leaving birdshit on any of the tourists who look like they might be from L.A. That's one bird that flew down the boulevard of broken dreams only to discover the issues are NOT creative, but corporate-defendability and careerist-oriented, not in the creative realm, either way, at all. And Hollywood particularly uses and manipulates, then discards, a pretty gull.)


THE GOOD NEWS ~ If you would like to examine the possibility of becoming a screenwriter (setting the facts straight and earning six-figure rewards!), check in with Lou Grantt, editor of Hollywood Scriptwriter and longtime script consultant. Just click her picture here, convert its hyperlink to a bookmark, and visit her when you've finished reading this issue of the Baronage magazine.

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Violence in the Cinema

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