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View Full Version : Why write a good movie when you can be successful writing a terrible one?


SirByron
07-17-2013, 05:50 PM
Sharknado 2 announced (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/07/17/sharknado-2-syfy-new-york_n_3610548.html)

The Room is in its 10th year in late night theatrical release.

Why not write the next "So Terrible it is Good" movie? This could be more difficult than writing a good movie.

Joaneasley
07-17-2013, 06:51 PM
A practical definition of "good movie" -- it's "good" if enough industry people hear the title, laugh, ask for the script and conclude, "I want to make that!" followed by enough regular people laughing and saying,"I want to see that!"

(Granted, it's not the only definition of "good movie.")

Richmond Weems
07-17-2013, 08:36 PM
Pride?

dave22
07-17-2013, 09:56 PM
Everyone has different motivations to write. Some people want to simply see their movies on the big screen, some are happy with movies of the week, some want to win awards and won't be complete until they do, others simply want to make as much money as they can and don't care what they write to make it.

It's your choice.

Schrodinger's Hat
07-17-2013, 10:17 PM
I doubt I've ever written anything as good as The Room or Sharknado. At least not on my own. The scripts I've co-written with fellow writers have been pretty decent, though, despite all of my best efforts to inject major suckage into them.

Staircaseghost
07-18-2013, 06:28 AM
Indeed, since Paris Hilton has both wealth and fame without the intermediate steps of "effort" and "talent", I can't think of a single reason why I should have to work hard to be a successful writer...

Films like The Room or Birdemic don't catch on "just because they're bad". Anyone who's seen student work from an undergrad film department in flyover country knows there's enough yardage of celluloid from worse disasters than those to reach the moon and back. There is, however unhinged, a distinct unity of vision and force of personality of the filmmakers present there that can be imitated or spoofed after the fact, but absolutely cannot be faked.

All of which is to say it's pointless to try to game the system, especially when it comes to oddball fare like Sharknado or Troll 2. Could most of us on this board knock off an Asylum-esque "Megashark vs. Deer Ticks" script over the course of a weekend and nail the tone? Probably. But if those aren't the kind of movies you genuinely love, it will show in the result.

scripto80
07-18-2013, 10:16 AM
Because no one will ever remember the name of the writer of Sharknado.

Look, you could write crappy movies and make an 'ok' living on straight to DVD or cheap cable flick fare. That screenwriter lifestyle seems perfectly acceptable to the majority of writers in the industry as those kind actually make up the majority of actively working writers in the industry.

Or, you can write epic, influential, and/or just plain memorably bad*ss movies and make a crap ton of money and be remembered as one of the best.

Up to you which you'd rather be.

EdFury
07-18-2013, 11:26 AM
Because no one will ever remember the name of the writer of Sharknado.

Look, you could write crappy movies and make an 'ok' living on straight to DVD or cheap cable flick fare. That screenwriter lifestyle seems perfectly acceptable to the majority of writers in the industry as those kind actually make up the majority of actively working writers in the industry.

Or, you can write epic, influential, and/or just plain memorably bad*ss movies and make a crap ton of money and be remembered as one of the best.

Up to you which you'd rather be.

I had no idea they were mutually exclusive. There are quite a few writers whose first break was TV movies and paid work is paid work. There is no list out there that says because you wrote cable films that your theatrical work is no longer considered. You do have to be able to write a great script, but if you do, doors are more open than if you didn't have produced work.

Patrick Sweeney
07-18-2013, 11:49 AM
His movie's getting made. None of mine have. Which is better? :)

Also, read Crap Plus One (http://www.wordplayer.com/columns/wp06.Crap-plus-One.html) by Ted Elliot & Terry Rossio for a better answer.

wcmartell
07-18-2013, 04:56 PM
Because no one will ever remember the name of the writer of Sharknado.

His name is *THUNDER* - lots easier to remember than my name.

The director is a friend of mine (from my home town), and we talked for a couple hours last night. He's getting a ton of meetings off this. Now, maybe these studio producers are just bringing him in because it's a freakshow, but once he's in the room...

- Bill

Kenneth Fisher
07-18-2013, 05:52 PM
His name is *THUNDER* - lots easier to remember than my name.

- Bill

Okay, I'll hook you up: "Lightning Martell"!

And here is an idea: TIGERQUAKE. It almost writes itself....

finalact4
07-18-2013, 09:26 PM
Sharknado 2 announced (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/07/17/sharknado-2-syfy-new-york_n_3610548.html)

The Room is in its 10th year in late night theatrical release.

Why not write the next "So Terrible it is Good" movie? This could be more difficult than writing a good movie.

Um, I don't know... four figures vs six-- I'm just sayin'
FA4

nmstevens
07-22-2013, 09:46 PM
Sharknado 2 announced (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/07/17/sharknado-2-syfy-new-york_n_3610548.html)

The Room is in its 10th year in late night theatrical release.

Why not write the next "So Terrible it is Good" movie? This could be more difficult than writing a good movie.

What you get paid for writing movies for The Asylum or comparable venues is, first of all, non-guild and second of all -- really low budget.

So low, frankly, that you can't make a living at it. The movie may me amazingly successful, but if they operate like other companies I've dealt with, the writers get zero back end -- you get a pittance for writing the script and see you later. No residuals. No royalties. Nothing.

Just like in most animation. You get your check and you go on home.

And if you imagine that having your name on "Sharknado" is going to translate into being able to do anything other than write Sharknado 2" -- for exactly whatever they paid you for Sharknado, you're kidding yourself.

And what if you refuse? What if you say - Hey, the first Sharknado was a tremendous hit -- I want a big raise for Sharknado 2 -- what do you think they're going to do?

You think they're going to say -- My God, he's right, it's obvious that the brilliant Sharknado script contributed tremendously to the success of Sharknado, we can't afford to lose this guy. We'd better give him everything he asks for.

No. What they'd say is -- let's find some other schmuck to write Sharknado 2 who'll take the usual cut rate we pay.

I don't dispute what Bill Martell says about the Sharknado director getting all sorts of meetings off of Sharknado.

But I don't know that the writer's gotten any meetings off of it, despite having spent the last five years writing and directing your standard Asylum fare (American Warships, Atlantic Rim, etc.).

One can create a niche working in this area -- although it's getting to be a pretty narrow niche -- but it's very hard to make the jump from this kind of material to anything else (not that it doesn't happen, but it's rare).

I spent years working (and going slowly -- and then not-so-slowly -- broke) in these trenches and it never meant anything to anybody, any more than my TV credits did.

If you want to sell a feature, then the people you're selling to need to see something that looks like a feature -- and more importantly, they need to see *you* as somebody who writes features.

NMS

cshel
07-23-2013, 10:34 AM
I guess I'll be putting my LIZARDZARD script on the back burner, then. :eek:

UglyShirts
07-23-2013, 04:17 PM
The success of "Sharknado" kinda bummed me out. Because it meant I had to back-burner a pet spec I've been gently nurturing for years. It's called "PIRHANACANE."

Oddly, it's just because of the title. The story itself is actually a tender, heartfelt coming-of-age drama set during the early days of the cold war. I mean...I HAVE been kicking around a script almost as long that DOES prominently feature a hurricane of pirhanas. But THAT one's called "Scorpiunami." So, whatever.

jtwg50
07-24-2013, 03:16 PM
Clearly there is no reason to even attempt writing a truly good script anymore. The MBAs that run studios have obviously decided that moviegoers are morons who thrive on explosions and CGI and "stories" that often make no sense or have no humanity or even common sense in them.
It seems to me the message is straighforward -- produce mindless garbage and be rewarded for it! I can surmise this because even some big-name Hollywood scribes have gotten in on the game lately.
This strategy is particularly apparent in tentpoles, although some recent developments -- such as more bombs than critically acclaimed hits this summer --might have given them pause. But it's basically full steam ahead with the drudge and drivel, because that's what we "film lovers" really want. We've proven that by giving away our money.

ATB
07-24-2013, 03:41 PM
Clearly there is no reason to even attempt writing a truly good script anymore. The MBAs that run studios have obviously decided that moviegoers are morons who thrive on explosions and CGI and "stories" that often make no sense or have no humanity or even common sense in them.
It seems to me the message is straighforward -- produce mindless garbage and be rewarded for it! I can surmise this because even some big-name Hollywood scribes have gotten in on the game lately.
This strategy is particularly apparent in tentpoles, although some recent developments -- such as more bombs than critically acclaimed hits this summer --might have given them pause. But it's basically full steam ahead with the drudge and drivel, because that's what we "film lovers" really want. We've proven that by giving away our money.

Yeah, because films like Fruitvale Station, Before Midnight, The Place Beyond the Pines, Side Effects, To The Wonder, Mud, Stoker, A Hijacking, Captain Phillips, Stories We Tell, The Conjuring, 42, The Kings of Summer, etc. etc. etc. etc. etc. etc. etc. etc. etc. are "mindless garbage."

Movies are movies. You like what you like, I like what I like and they like what they like.

There are still tremendous films being made. For everyone.

Staircaseghost
07-24-2013, 03:58 PM
It seems to me the message is straighforward -- produce mindless garbage and be rewarded for it!

Yes, the cast and crew of Nazis at the Center of the Earth and Megashark vs. Crocosaurus are just Scrooge McDucking it in their swimming pools filled with rezzie gold, I'll bet.

jtwg50
07-24-2013, 05:39 PM
ATB: I was talking about the horrible "studio blockbusters" -- like Lone Ranger, White House Down, After Earth, R.I.P.D. and others -- that have been brutalized by critics and audiences alike. And bombed.
I wish there were many more movies like "Before Midnight."
And just to clarify a little, I was sort of making a JOKE. But there is always some truth in humor, eh?
You're too sensitive. Laugh a little.

Timmy
07-24-2013, 05:47 PM
A little more imagination and it [Sharknado] could have been Tremors.

LateNightWriter
07-24-2013, 10:45 PM
I was talking about the horrible "studio blockbusters" -- like Lone Ranger,
White House Down, After Earth, R.I.P.D. and others -- that have been brutalized
by critics and audiences alike. And bombed.

I actually liked White House Down. I thought it was a smart, well-made, entertaining popcorn film. (Maybe that's why it's bombing in comparison to all the comic-book character films?)

Late Night Writer

BurOak
07-25-2013, 01:19 PM
What you get paid for writing movies for The Asylum or comparable venues is, first of all, non-guild and second of all -- really low budget.

So low, frankly, that you can't make a living at it. The movie may me amazingly successful, but if they operate like other companies I've dealt with, the writers get zero back end -- you get a pittance for writing the script and see you later. No residuals. No royalties. Nothing.

Just like in most animation. You get your check and you go on home.

And if you imagine that having your name on "Sharknado" is going to translate into being able to do anything other than write Sharknado 2" -- for exactly whatever they paid you for Sharknado, you're kidding yourself.

And what if you refuse? What if you say - Hey, the first Sharknado was a tremendous hit -- I want a big raise for Sharknado 2 -- what do you think they're going to do?

You think they're going to say -- My God, he's right, it's obvious that the brilliant Sharknado script contributed tremendously to the success of Sharknado, we can't afford to lose this guy. We'd better give him everything he asks for.

No. What they'd say is -- let's find some other schmuck to write Sharknado 2 who'll take the usual cut rate we pay.

I don't dispute what Bill Martell says about the Sharknado director getting all sorts of meetings off of Sharknado.

But I don't know that the writer's gotten any meetings off of it, despite having spent the last five years writing and directing your standard Asylum fare (American Warships, Atlantic Rim, etc.).

One can create a niche working in this area -- although it's getting to be a pretty narrow niche -- but it's very hard to make the jump from this kind of material to anything else (not that it doesn't happen, but it's rare).

I spent years working (and going slowly -- and then not-so-slowly -- broke) in these trenches and it never meant anything to anybody, any more than my TV credits did.

If you want to sell a feature, then the people you're selling to need to see something that looks like a feature -- and more importantly, they need to see *you* as somebody who writes features.

NMS


Bingo.

There's no shortage of "indie" wannabees who are willing to pay $50-$300 for a feature script. And think that it's a totally fair deal. Seriously.

stainjm
07-25-2013, 02:05 PM
Writers/directors for such companies as Asylum take this approach all the time, and they are working screenwriting/directors, unlike suckers like me... Maybe you have a point?

ATB
07-25-2013, 02:17 PM
ATB: I was talking about the horrible "studio blockbusters" -- like Lone Ranger, White House Down, After Earth, R.I.P.D. and others -- that have been brutalized by critics and audiences alike. And bombed.
I wish there were many more movies like "Before Midnight."
And just to clarify a little, I was sort of making a JOKE. But there is always some truth in humor, eh?
You're too sensitive. Laugh a little.

I get it, but I'm tired of this "grass is greener" mentality. There have always been terrible movies. And there always will be. It's the nature of collaborative efforts.

White House Down was a GREAT spec. I haven't read the others you mentioned, but they were likely very good scripts.

Sh|t happens. People fvck up. Get over it.

Go watch Fruitvale Station and then tell me there are no good summer movies. Or Bling Ring. Or The Conjuring.

They might not be "blockbusters" but they are competing with blockbusters. And doing well.

jtwg50
07-26-2013, 05:23 AM
ATB: As a journalist, I've written about the movie/media industry for 30 years, in NY and L.A. I used to work at Paramount during the Sherry Lansing era. She LOVED movies and had excellent taste.
My objection is to the "blockbuster" mentality, based on the "franchise" model, with its foundation in comics books or cartoon or video games.
A truly good movie is a singular thing. And rarely if ever can one originate from a video game or cartoon (unless you''re Pixar or Disney). Few if any of the studio execs who make the decisions now understand that.
And the worst thing about the current system is the groupthink element. It is well known that the reason "creativity by committee" exists is that fear of failure -- and losing one's job -- is the driving force of the town. I am sure you know that.
And therein lies the problem with the current summer's results. It is an open secret now that the "system" is in trouble. It is not working.
Just watch: there will be changes now. I guarantee it.

Hamboogul
07-26-2013, 09:14 AM
jtwg50,

Do you even know any of the working studio execs or producers in this town? They are some of the smartest and hardest working people in the industry who are also the most well-read and aware people in the business.

Why One
07-26-2013, 10:10 AM
ATB: I was talking about the horrible "studio blockbusters" -- like Lone Ranger, White House Down, After Earth, R.I.P.D. and others -- that have been brutalized by critics and audiences alike. And bombed.
I wish there were many more movies like "Before Midnight."
And just to clarify a little, I was sort of making a JOKE. But there is always some truth in humor, eh?

White House Down was one of the hottest specs going around at the time and even raved about by many on this forum. The script was getting passed around like crabs in a ho-house.

I guess writing "horrible" scripts that can generate that kind of heat must seem like a cakewalk to you.

UglyShirts
07-26-2013, 12:08 PM
Just watch: there will be changes now. I guarantee it.

I can't help but think you're right. And honestly, I hope you are. I hope the studios step back, and realize that making four $50 million movies is often a smarter investment than making one $200 million one. Even Vegas odds dictate that smaller bets made more often have a higher probability of paying off than putting all your chips on red, and spinning the wheel once.

But I have a more personal agenda behind why I feel this way, too. I don't write tentpole blockbusters. I don't write stuff with a whole buttload of CGI, or explosions. I often like those movies just fine, but I don't write those. I write mid-budgeted comedies that could probably be made for roughly in the neighborhood of $30-50M. The kind that used to be greenlit a lot more often than they are now, but that still get made with pretty decent regularity.

And honestly...if you look back on the box office numbers for this year...Those movies almost universally make money. And no...They don't have the potential to make in the astronomical hundreds of millions like an "Iron Man" or a "Man of Steel." But they make money.

Consider the year's films I would consider to be in this general genre/style, and what their ROI has been:

Identity Thief: Budget: $35M. Global Gross: $171M.
The Heat: Budget: $43M. Global Gross: $148M.
Hangover Pt. III: Budget: $103M. Global Gross: $351M.
This is the End: Budget: $25M. Global Gross: $100M.
Grown-Ups 2: Budget: $41.5M. Global Gross: $87M.
Pain & Gain: Budget: $26M. Global Gross: $50M.

Total in the black: $633.5M. Which is a fat wedge o' cheddar.

Even "The Internship," "Scary MoVie" and "21 & Over" (widely regarded by some as "flops") all made back healthy margins over their budgets, bringing in profits of $11M, $55.5M and $12.7M respectively...Thereby adding just over $79M to the previous total, and raising the overall size of cheese-slice to $712.5M.

In fact, you really have to go pretty far down the list of the year's cumes on the BoxOfficeMojo.com list in order to find a mid-budgeted, live-action comedy that has lost money. And at #52, "The Incredible Burt Wonderstone" (Budget: $30M. Take: $23.6M), still only lost slightly less than $7 million.

Meanwhile, look at the massive, massive numbers of the big-budget turkeys:

The Lone Ranger: Budget: $250M. Global Gross: $130M.
White House Down: Budget: $150M. Global Gross: $88M.
Turbo: Budget: $135M. Global Gross: $60M.
Red 2: Budget: $84M. Global Gross: $30M.
R.I.P.D.: Budget: $130M. Global Gross: $23M.

Total losses: $418M. Ouch. And when you add in the fact that the worldwide numbers have only just managed to crack other big-budget "flops" like "Pacific Rim" into meager profitability, the numbers don't manage to suck that much less.

Even so, I'll admit this is kind of an unfair comparison. Because when it comes to massive hauls, the high-risk/high-reward model still pays off more often than not. Because when you consider the top 10 for the year so far...

1) Iron Man 3: Budget: $200M. Global Gross: $1.2B.
2) Despicable Me 2: Budget: $76M. Global Gross: $592M.
3) Man of Steel: Budget: $225M. Global Gross: $635M.
4) Monsters University: Budget: $82M. Global Gross: $535M.
5) Fast & Furious 6: Budget: $160M. Global Gross: $705M.
6) Oz The Great and Powerful: Budget: $215M. Global Gross: $492M.
7) Star Trek Into Darkness: Budget: $190M. Global Gross: $448M.
8) World War Z: Budget: $170M. Global Gross: $458M.
9) The Croods: Budget: $135M. Global Gross: $582M.
10) The Great Gatsby: Budget: $105M. Global Gross: $330M.

You're looking at a total profit of $4.42 BILLION DOLLARS. And a full QUARTER of that is from "Iron Man 3" alone. So, obviously, the studios still come out ahead. Even if you look only at the two big animated Dreamworks releases this year, "Croods" and "Turbo," those guys are STILL $372M in the black.

Nevertheless, even in the face of such massive numbers, the argument still stands. I'm not a gambler, but if I was, I'd pay the proper amount of attention to the overall odds. And when you do...even though the actual total made on the medium-sized comedy movies is far, far less...Their actual probability of MAKING MONEY AT ALL is a whole helluva lot higher.

So, unless I'm way off, it would seem to make sense that making 5 or 6 mid-tier comedies in a year (given the demonstrable probability that at least 4 or 5 of them would turn a profit) would make more sense than putting out 1 or 2 huge-budgeted tentpoles, given the higher-than-average odds that at least one of them would mean a $150M write-down.

Just thinkin' out loud, here. And, admittedly, doing it from a place of slightly-biased perspective. But whatever.

JoeBanks
07-26-2013, 01:33 PM
if there will be any changes, they'll have to wait until after 2015 at the earliest

http://uk.movies.yahoo.com/2015--the-biggest-year-for-movies-ever--133400717.html

ATB
07-26-2013, 01:48 PM
The sky is always falling.

stainjm
07-26-2013, 02:10 PM
Great analysis, but I wonder how many execs in Hollywood look at movie making as a gamble. I mean, let's be honest - everyone who watches movies can kinda tell which movies are going to be good and which ones aren't (even the debatable ones like Man of Steel, we know there will be a huge audience even though it was like 50/50 on people liking it or not).

It's not a blackjack/ roulette table, it's movie making.

That opinion aside, it would be great if someone went through and did an actual comparision via excel or whatever, tand put all the movies made for, say, under $50 million (or some other number) on one side and the others on the other side, and did a 2, 5, and 10 year comparison of profits. Then doing it by studio too.

Is there already a site/someone that does that (available to the public)?

(If I only had a couple interns....)

jtwg50
07-26-2013, 08:15 PM
The real problem is creativity by committee. Jack Warner or Louis B. Mayer or Darryl Zanuck never had to get an opinion from anybody. They had great instincts, made movies they liked, and called the shots. And had personal visions that worked like magic. Today we get MBAs who rely on market research, like they're selling widgets. Different world.

JoeBanks
07-26-2013, 08:42 PM
The real problem is creativity by committee. Jack Warner or Louis B. Mayer or Darryl Zanuck never had to get an opinion from anybody. They had great instincts, made movies they liked, and called the shots. And had personal visions that worked like magic. Today we get MBAs who rely on market research, like they're selling widgets. Different world.

There were far more average to terrible movies made under the studio system than the relatively few "magic" films that have endured long enough to now be called classics. We only remember the very best of the best ones now because we didn't have to sit through all of the other chaff that the studios churned out non-stop from year to year.

Colin Holmes
07-30-2013, 01:07 PM
This just in - Sharknado is in for a theater release - One showing as a midnight movie this weekend in 200 Regal theaters.

It'll be interesting to see if people will pay to go to camp.

TheConnorNoden
07-30-2013, 02:05 PM
I'm starting to think a lot of people here would be happy to write crap scripts that make money rather than attempt something great...though I do want to watch Sharknado.

But if money is the ultimate goal surely there are better career choices for that?

markerstone
07-30-2013, 03:14 PM
I would love to write a killer schlock script - that sells! Seriously... write what you love. Some people love schlock... thank God!

UglyShirts
08-02-2013, 10:42 AM
Everybody - each of us - wants to write the next big American movie. Even so, the good folks at "mockbuster" studio The Asylum (who are responsible for "Atlantic Rim", "Snakes on a Train", and yes..."Sharknado"...among many others) are always pretty quick to point out that they've never released a production that has lost money. So, depending on how exactly you define "success", these guys may be the most successful studio in town.

They may not have the critical respect, nor the massive TOTALS of numbers...But when your ROI is in the black on 100% of your projects, that's something to consider in and of itself.

Craig Mazin
08-05-2013, 06:45 PM
UglyShirts, your analysis of box office is pretty apt, but there's one point that deserves making.

Big expensive flops are made once. Big expensive hits are made three, four... six times.

The cost of failure is limited, but the upside of success is extraordinary and repeatable.

Yes, I can write a sequel to Identity Thief, and it will likely be profitable. However, it won't be as profitable as a sequel to World War Z. It can't be. It simply isn't that kind of movie.

The fact that we'll be getting a seventh Fast and a fifth Pirates should tell you a lot.

mikejc
08-05-2013, 07:42 PM
Yes, Craig, similar to record business--a few big hits pay for a lot of non-sellers. Those big hits and the follow on go pretty far while the non-sellers don't make another record.

Plus, a lot of budgets are inflated, so the loss isn't as big as it seems.

wcmartell
08-05-2013, 10:35 PM
At this point, 2013 is only 0.4% behind last year (record box office, record ticket sales since mid-1980s).

The thing about a high profile summer film that flops is that it has often spawned other merchandise that makes money. There are no action figures for FRUITVALE STATION... but RIPD may end up with action figures and a Saturday morning cartoon and a bunch of other things that might turn it into a money maker. The thought process behind a blockbuster is that it isn't just a movie. I would not be surprised if SHARKNADO didn't spawn a bunch of merchandise and comic books and games. It already has a music video.

Oddly, SHARKNADO sold out in all NYC venues, all Boston venues, all Seattle venues - and sold out individual cinemas elsewhere (the downtown L.A. showing). This is a one time only thing - I doubt they could do another midnight show with any real success.

- Bill

UglyShirts
08-07-2013, 04:35 PM
UglyShirts, your analysis of box office is pretty apt, but there's one point that deserves making.

Big expensive flops are made once. Big expensive hits are made three, four... six times.

The cost of failure is limited, but the upside of success is extraordinary and repeatable.

Yes, I can write a sequel to Identity Thief, and it will likely be profitable. However, it won't be as profitable as a sequel to World War Z. It can't be. It simply isn't that kind of movie.

The fact that we'll be getting a seventh Fast and a fifth Pirates should tell you a lot.

Admittedly, I hadn't considered that. Because yeah...When you talk about big tentpole blockbusters, you ARE often talking about franchises. Or things that the studios hope WILL be franchises.

Because of course, if "John Carter," or "Cowboys and Aliens" or even "Lone Ranger" had made money, there would be multiple iterations of each going forward. As well as a LOT more dusty movies with vaguely western settings and big, fighty set pieces, possibly involving extraterrestrials. Because whenever something is successful, there's always The Chase.

Like you said, there's a reason why Johnny Depp is putting on the three-corner hat again...But not the crow chapeau.