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View Full Version : Do sold specs always get rewritten?


Shemp
07-15-2012, 02:42 PM
If a spec screenplay is sold to a major studio or production company, do they usually bring in their own writers to do a rewrite, or are there examples where a sold spec was left as is?

jtwg50
07-15-2012, 03:09 PM
As a general rule, virtually ALL sold spec scripts (and even a lot written on assignment) -- even by fairly established writers -- get rewritten. And sometimes more than once, by different writers. That's because of the modern "development process," which is quite different from how Jack Warner or the other original studio titans of Hollywood made movies.
There are many reasons for this, but one of the main ones is an ever-increasing focus on a "collaborative" process, which has come to mean that anyone even peripherally involved in the deal gets a say about the future of the story and script. As more people chime in, or get insecure about the current draft -- or the just signed director decides he doesn't think it's quite right --more rewrites are ordered.
The result, of course, is often a muddled mess that leads to a muddled (bad) movie.
There are some huge exceptions. Clint Eastwood is famous for shooting the script he got -- "Unforgiven," being a classic example, with "Gran Torino" being a more recent one.
"Seven" also got shot pretty much as bought.
But it's rare. If you do sell a script, you have to be resigned to the reality that little or nothing you got paid for will actually end up on screen.

DavidK
07-15-2012, 06:16 PM
There are many reasons for this, but one of the main ones is an ever-increasing focus on a "collaborative" process, which has come to mean that anyone even peripherally involved in the deal gets a say about the future of the story and script. As more people chime in, or get insecure about the current draft -- or the just signed director decides he doesn't think it's quite right --more rewrites are ordered.

Yes, and it's also a symptom of how risk-averse H'wood has become. Studios were in the habit of buying lots of properties that would never be developed or made. More than any other industry, the film business invested heavily in property or work that yielded no return.

Fiscal responsibility is driving a lot of studio policy now and there's more pressure than ever to 'guarantee' a return on investments. As a result, everyone is afraid they might not be getting the best possible return on a script and everyone wants to see if they can make it better. There's an old saying: if it ain't broke, don't fix it. Hollywood has turned that expression on its head and keeps trying to fix everything in a script until the possibility of any part of it being broke[n] is zero. Sadly, the result is an illusion of perfection, in which the original work has become a mess, as in that other old saying: a camel is a horse designed by a committee.

absolutepower
07-15-2012, 07:33 PM
Unless a higher power steps in, it's pretty much rewritten from the moment they press buy. A friend of mine sold his screenplay to Paramount and was rewritten very, very quickly. Thankfully, he was told beforehand that he would be rewritten, so the blow was far less... cruel.

jtwg50
07-16-2012, 07:23 AM
The good news, of course, is that under WGA rules, the original writer (even a newbie who sells to a WGA signatory) is guaranteed the first crack at a paid rewrite, so that rewrite is often if not always included in the "sale" price of the spec now. In other words, the total sale price includes a rewrite draft. It's only then that they start bringing in the NEW writers for subsequent drafts.

Craig Mazin
07-16-2012, 09:33 AM
Another reason for this is that when studios buy specs, they're often really just buying the central concept.

RichMike
07-16-2012, 10:22 AM
Another reason for this is that when studios buy specs, they're often really just buying the central concept.


Craig, thanks. Goodinfo.

So what happens when the studioalready knows they want to bring in a different writer at the time of sale? Do they go through the process of waiting ona first rewrite from the seller?

Otis
07-16-2012, 11:13 AM
The good news, of course, is that under WGA rules, the original writer (even a newbie who sells to a WGA signatory) is guaranteed the first crack at a paid rewrite, so that rewrite is often if not always included in the "sale" price of the spec now. In other words, the total sale price includes a rewrite draft. It's only then that they start bringing in the NEW writers for subsequent drafts.

I would add that the writer isn't guaranteed to actually do the rewrite. Just guaranteed to get paid for it. So technically, a writer could sell a spec, get paid out that day and then never work on it again. That's definitely not the norm but it could happen.

versed
07-16-2012, 11:25 AM
If the original writer does a great job on the rewrite, is there a chance the studio won't hire another writer? Or is that pretty much always how it's done, regardless of the rewrite's quality?

EvilRbt
07-16-2012, 11:31 AM
I'm getting rewritten on BULLET RUN as I write this.

It can happen for a variety of reasons. In my specific case, it's a $50m movie and before the producers offer some of those millions to the lead actor, they're going to hire an A-list writer to do a dialogue polish. I have no theatrical credits yet, so the director feels a writer with some additional cache will make the project more appealing to cast. Likewise, an A-list writer will also help the producers sell the project to international buyers more easily, or for more $$$.

You can never take being rewritten personally. It's very rare for a film to make it to the screen with a single writer, unless of course that writer is a Sorkin or Tarantino. It's all part of the business.

jtwg50
07-16-2012, 02:01 PM
The REAL reason EvilRbt got rewritten is that the studio honchos got together and decided to discipline him so that he does not accumulate too much raw power at such a relatively young age. Now that he's a genuine, credited producer of a released film he developed from the pile of scripts on his desk AND has a stranglehold via his brilliant notes and commercial sensibilities on behalf of most of the new screenwriting talent emerging around the world, the big shots feel he needs to be humbled a little, since their jobs are always in jeopardy and he is known to be ambitious. If he doesn't wise up and take his medicine, there could be an old school kneecapping in his otherwise bright future.

EvilRbt
07-16-2012, 02:49 PM
The REAL reason EvilRbt got rewritten is that the studio honchos got together and decided to discipline him so that he does not accumulate too much raw power at such a relatively young age. Now that he's a genuine, credited producer of a released film he developed from the pile of scripts on his desk AND has a stranglehold via his brilliant notes and commercial sensibilities on behalf of most of the new screenwriting talent emerging around the world, the big shots feel he needs to be humbled a little, since their jobs are always in jeopardy and he is known to be ambitious. If he doesn't wise up and take his medicine, there could be an old school kneecapping in his otherwise bright future.

At least that's how I explained it to my mom. :D

sppeterson
07-16-2012, 03:04 PM
David Guggenheim sold SAFE HOUSE as a spec and the film version looked fairly close to the original -- also he's at least the only credited writer.

AriG
07-18-2012, 01:52 PM
David Guggenheim also has a sole writing credit for his action/thriller spec STOLEN which starts Nic Cage.

Gary Whitta achieved a sole credit for his spec THE BOOK OF ELI

Levenger
07-18-2012, 04:45 PM
Sole writing credit does not mean they weren't rewritten.

Why One
07-18-2012, 04:55 PM
I believe it just means the WGA arbiter process didn't think other writers had rewritten enough of the script to warrant a credit.

Jules
07-19-2012, 09:58 AM
David Guggenheim sold SAFE HOUSE as a spec and the film version looked fairly close to the original -- also he's at least the only credited writer.

He was rewritten.

Otis
07-19-2012, 12:11 PM
I believe it just means the WGA arbiter process didn't think other writers had rewritten enough of the script to warrant a credit.

Or it could mean the other writers didn't seek credit and there was no arbitration.

AriG
07-19-2012, 01:20 PM
Sole writing credit does not mean they weren't rewritten.

I'm sure this was the case with these flicks too. Not disputing that.

However, with the WGA process it's just nice to see the original authors name alone.

And I hope other screenwriters can achieve this with their pet projects.

TheConnorNoden
07-19-2012, 03:00 PM
Along with this and wanting to attach as director selling anything is gonna be plenty tricky. Hmmm...