Synopsis: Screenwriters ranging from newcomers to living legends share their triumphs and hardships in this insightful and often hilarious odyssey through the world of movie storytelling. Dozens of celebrated scribes reveal the fascinating creative adventures that gave birth to beloved classics (and notorious flops).
By analyzing their triumphs and recalling their failures, the participants explain how successful writers develop the skills necessary for toughing out careers in Hollywood. Candid and unafraid to name names, they also describe their collaborations with stars including Tim Burton, Harrison Ford, Morgan Freeman, Stanley Kubrick, Adam Sandler, Martin Scorsese, Bryan Singer, and Steven Spielberg.
eyelights: the candid look at screenwriting in Hollywood. the many interview subjects.
eyesores: the dryness of the material.
“We just want you to know that your script is the best script that we’ve ever read.”
‘Tales from the Script’ is a 2009 feature-length documentary about what it’s like to be a screenwriter in Hollywood. Featuring a phenomenal number of writers behind some of the most recognizable films of the last 40 years, the picture discusses what led them to choose this job for a living, breaking into the business, how to sell a script/the pitch, how deceiving the initial success is, and much more.
It includes superb film clips from ‘Adaptation’, ‘Barton Fink’, ‘Bowfinger’, ‘Dreamgirls’, ‘For Your Consideration‘, ‘Get Shorty’, ‘In a Lonely Place’, ‘The Last Shot’, ‘The Last Tycoon’, ‘The Majestic’, ‘The Muse’, ‘Shoot or Be Shot’ and ‘The Way We Were‘, serving to highlight the writers’ arguments and experiences; one really gets a feel for what it’s like in the field. There’s also lots or archival pictures as well.
The film is broken down into easily distinguishable chapters, each of which is preceded by an intertitle and an amusing subtitle. All set in typewriter font, of course. Right from the start, it is quite clear that the filmmakers are not planning on making this a dry talk with a bunch of dull, agoraphobic eggheads. If anything, ‘Tales from the Script’ is actually a light, and rather engaging picture.
What these illustrious screenwriters are trying to convey in this film are the dreams, the struggles, the frustrations, the misunderstandings, and, ultimately, the satisfaction that doing their work can bring. They all know that people think it’s an easy job and that anyone can do it. Their intention is to let people know that it’s not as easy as it seems: writing well and surviving the industry pitfalls aren’t a given.
Kris Young (‘Teen Angel’) compared it to the opening sequence of ‘Saving Private Ryan’: you’re young, you’re sure that you’re invincible, that you’re not going to die. But, in reality, you’re lucky to be left standing. Hollywood is a rough game: you’re always knocked down the totem pole, often don’t get credit, …etc. And each studio has hundreds of scripts in development each year – but only a handful of them ever get made.
The writers talk about how hard it can be to write. It takes lots of time just to put the script together. And even then, there can be many re-writes (a few talk about 40+ drafts!). And the irony is that, while it takes forever to write, a movie flies by in two hours. They talk about what “the perfect script” means to them – if that’s at all possible or even desirable (Frank Darabont said he’ll just have to quit if it ever happens to him).
To make matters worse, someone always makes changes to their scripts, whether it be other writers (hired by the studio for touch-ups), the director or even the actors. The worst indignity for many of them is getting notes from executives, who can’t write but insist on pushing their ideas forward. But Adam Rifkin (‘Small Soldiers’) says that if you don’t want your work touched, you should become a playwright or a novelist.
The movie itself is the product of so many cooks that it’s very rare that a screenwriter gets their vision on the screen. There’s a lot of compromise involved. Or they have no say in the matter. John D. Brancato (‘The Game’) talks about a survey that was taken of what Americans want most in a painting, after which two painters put all of those elements into one painting – a hilariously bad painting. He says that this is how movies are made today.
The always down-to-earth and affable Guinevere Turner (‘American Psycho‘) talks about her experience working with Uwe Boll on ‘BloodRayne’: how she turned in a first draft, assuming that they would discuss ideas and then do some rewrites. He just went with it, changed 80% of what she wrote and made the movie. She said that the result was so unbelievably awful that she laughed through the premiere. She was the only one.
Screenwriters have to learn to let go. But it’s not easy. Not only do they have to fight to keep their name on the credits, but sometimes they are torn between removing their name from a terrible picture that had too many cooks, so that they can save face, and keeping their name on it and getting a percentage. Needless to say, it can be frustrating. Given the highs and lows of the bizz, they have to deal with a self-esteem rollercoaster.
But Mick Garris (‘Masters of Horror’), probably the most calm and Zen of the lot, says that their concerns are nothing compared to most people’s everyday problems. Of course, he’s got it good: for years he’s been Stephen King’s go-to person for translating his work to the small screen. But he’s not alone: Peter Hyams (‘2010‘) and many others take it all in stride, knowing very well what to expect.
‘Tales from the Script’ is all you need to know about the business of screenwriting. It’s not as technically detailed as ‘The Cutting Edge‘, but that’s normal: no one would want to watch writers at their craft; it’s just not cinematic enough. But it is engrossing to hear the stories of what it’s like in the trenches. If you’ve ever wanted to be a screenwriter or wondered about it, this is an excellent primer.
“It’s lots of fun, but it’s the hardest thing I’ll ever do”
Post scriptum: Most of the more interesting personal anecdotes can be found in the special features section of the DVD. At a lengthy hour in total, over three separate segments, it’s well worth checking out – in particular, there are a few terrific moments with William Goldman and Frank Darabont in there.
Date of viewing: April 13, 2014