Sunday, July 03, 2005

Committee Writing in Hollywood

Like "death and taxes" in life, one certainty in Hollywood is "committee writing", which not even a Spielberg movie can escape. For those of you who aren't familiar with the rules of the game in Tinseltown, "committee writing" means that screenplays -- those 120-page bare-bone jobs -- are rarely composed by one author; in fact, one-author movie scripts are as rare as Hollywood actors who have never had any plastic surgeries. When a movie production gets to the stage where the camera is about to roll, the script almost certainly has been rewritten, polished, sometimes totally revamped by more than a few hungry-for-employment Writers Guild members. One hears all kinds of arguments and rationales for "committee writing", but it all boils down to two words: "industrial paranoia".

Hollywood decision makers are by and large sane and bright; they order breakfast the same way we do -- with confident anticipation. But something bizarre happens after they enter their executive suites -- they get swallowed up by a psychological quicksand. As a result, these movie directors and studio execs are unlikely to be satisfied with the original draft of the screenplay, so they order first rewrite, second rewrite, third rewrite, and then first, second, third polish, and so on. A perfect example is the overly rewritten character played by Justin Chatwin in "War of the Worlds". Mr. Chatwin, I venture to guess, probably joined the production thinking he had hit the jackpot by being cast in a Spielberg epic. Sadly, he had no idea that the production team was about to ruin his hopes and dreams by rewriting his character over and over, resulting in the shape we see in the finished film -- chopped up pretty good and made to have a "biblical resurrection" at the end. The only consolation is that, in the future, Mr. Chatwin is likely to become a hot movie trivia item as people rack their brains trying to figure out who played Dakota Fanning's brother in WOTW.

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