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part of a small rebellion | by maryann johanson

why Peter Jackson rules Hollywood, and I don’t

Film critics are often accused of being failed filmmakers. It’s no secret that I am, in addition to being a film critic, a failed (as yet) screenwriter. Granted, I haven’t put quite in the effort into writing scripts (as yet) that I have into writing film reviews, so I really can’t complain that my scripts have gone nowhere. My “career” as a screenwriter is, as so many things in my life are, a work in progress.

Aspiring screenwriters, if we’re any good, know all the “rules” we should be following if we want our scripts to get any attention at all. And then we go to the movies and see all those rules violated. Don’t write scripts about serial killers! Don’t introduce your protagonist by showing him or her waking up in the morning! And there they are, those rules violated all the time on the big screen. And often in films that turn out to be quite good, to boot.
And I won’t even mention all the awful, awful, awful scripts that get produced. Every aspiring screenwriter has had the experience of sitting in a movie theater, agog, knowing completely and utterly in our hearts that our scripts, for all their flaws and faults, are a thousand times better than the crap up on the screen. How does that happen?

Patrick Goldstein has a piece in the Los Angeles Times this week about two very, very good scripts and why one is now in production and the other isn’t. It begins:

This is a tale of two scripts, one that sold for a ton of money, one that remains twisting in the wind. Both are beautifully written, but in Hollywood, while scripts are prized for great writing, they must also give a studio chief enough ammunition to comfortably answer the question: If I spend $100 million on this, will I be bankrolling a big hit, not a colossal failure?

Ah, the money thing. Goldstein continues:

One script, an adaptation of Alice Sebold’s “The Lovely Bones” co-written by “Lord of the Rings” filmmaker Peter Jackson, sold after an intense bidding war to DreamWorks, which will spend close to $70 million for the Jackson-directed film.

Oh, well, it’s Peter Jackson. Of course he’s gonna get a greenlight. So who is this other loser who can’t sell a script?

The other script, a 1938-era Hollywood thriller written by John Logan (“The Aviator”) with Michael Mann attached to direct and Leonardo DiCaprio to star, made the rounds carrying a $120-million price tag. It has yet to sell, though one studio, New Line, remains interested, but only if the cost comes down considerably.

Wha’? Crap. If John Logan can’t sell a script with both the brilliant Michael Mann and a megastar like Leo attached, what hope do I have?

Anyway, go read the whole thing. It’s a refreshingly intelligent and hype-free look at the realities of getting movies made in Hollywood.

My scripts? One is about a serial killer. And the other introduces us to the protagonist by showing him waking up in the morning. But they could be produced for real cheap, I swear.

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  • Oh. I thought that the rule was that very hairy men rule Hollywood… I mean, think about it:

    Peter Jackson (hairy, beard, AND short)
    Steven Spielberg (hairy, beard)
    James Cameron (hairy, beard)
    Ridley Scott (hairy, beard much of the time)
    Darren Aronofsky (hairy, beard last time I saw him)

    I could go on, but I won’t. There are exceptions, of course (Martin Scorsese, for example, but he’s really a New Yorker, not a Hollywood type), but it helps if you’re particularly hirsute, especially in the facial area.

    You’re just not qualified to rule Hollywood. ;-)

  • Shoot, I completely forgot:

    George Lucas (hairy, beard, no chin)

  • Ryan

    More and more authors (whether of novels, comic-books, or graphic novels) are coming to dominate the box office. After all, if a book sells a few million copies, than it has a built in audience, and is far easier to market. As an aspiring author myself, that fact in and of itself doesn’t bother me…because I like to think that no author, however drunk or otherwise incapacitated could come up with ‘Stealth’ or *shudder* ‘Georgia Rule.’ And I wouldn’t mind seeing some Harlan Coben, or Robin Hobb put on the big screen.

    However, it is worrisome because it really shoves independant films and screen-writers into the back ground, and while I like indies…I really hope that big budgets aren’t only being assigned to Spider-Man 12 and ‘The Silmarilion’ in the future.

    I guess what I am trying awkwardly to convey, is that although professional script-writing is always a plus, it’s not worth it at the cost of originality. (Especially when the source material gets butchered a la Earthsea on the Sci-Fi channel)

    The article you linked was quite fascinating btw, thanks!

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