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Blame Arbitration

I remember a director trying to give a pep talk at the beginning of a shoot. It’s going to be a great film, we have a great cast, great blah blah blah.

Then he gets to the part about how this film will be great for all of our careers. Pretty standard, until he says, “If this film is as successful as I know it can be, you’ll get all the credit. And if it doesn’t work, don’t worry. As the director, I will get blamed.”

Riiiight.

I am perpetually amazed at how often writers are blamed for things going horribly awry. Just this morning, Adam Carolla was complaining about the ridiculous plot to Ocean’s 13.

The truth is, you have no idea why a script wound up the way it did. Writers work as much on the whim of their employers as the rest of us do. In North by Northwest, Hitchcock simply dictated a bunch of sequences he wanted (a chase across Mount Rushmore, an airplane attack in a corn field), and left it to Ernest Lehman to make a coherent plot out of it. Sometimes this process leads to a classic. Sometimes, it leads to Ocean’s 13.

Terry Rossio (one of my heroes, who wrote Aladdin and Pirates of the Caribbean) has a great article on his website about this very topic. Ever see The Puppet Masters? Don’t.

Sitting in the production office, I read every script for our show. I try to visit the set a lot, and I certainly watch the episodes when they air. What you see on TV is not always what the writer wrote. That may be good. Or, it can be very, very bad.

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3 Responses

  1. I’m going out on a limb here, (not very far, but…), but I’m assuming by your posts that you’re working on an episodic show. At least, on episodic, you’ve got a show runner who, for better or worse, maintains some individual vision no matter how many writers and directors drift through.

    Features are a mess. As you noted, whatever made some studio buy the rights to a story can completely disappear after years of shuttling from studio to studio and having writer after writer “make it better”…not to mention, ultimately having a director “make the piece his own”. And next time a Director assures you he’s going to share all the credit, ask him if he’ll be sending you a cut of his residuals.

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