My favorite writer is back!  John Jarrell.  You may remember him from the awesome interview I did with him a few months ago.  The guy has a ton of screenwriting knowledge and unlike us hack bloggers, the man’s actually been in the thick of it for 20 years, fighting the good screenwriting fight, landing those six figure jobs we all dream of.  Which is why I’m more than happy to promote his new screenwriting classTweak Class — starting this January. Who better to learn from than the guy who’s seen it all?  Goddamit, he’s even taken his pants off for a publicity shot (that’s really him above!).  This man is dedicated.  And today, he’s going to share with us a couple screenwriting stories from Hollywood Hell.  I enjoyed this piece so much I told John he needs to write a whole book of this stuff.  Let him know if you feel the same in the comments!

Will You Please Buy My Script Now, Please?” — One Writer’s Journey Into the Troubling Bowels of Development.

By John Jarrell

Back in 1995, I wrote a Horror spec called The Willies.  It was essentially Carrie with Evil Twins.  People are constantly abusing and shitting on these orphans, until at last, after making a pact with the devil, they take their bloody revenge.

My agent went out with it and immediately got a sadistically low-ball pre-emptive bid from a smaller studio in town.  By that point in my life, my dream of becoming a legitimate screenwriter was nearing extinction.  I’d been struggling in L.A. for four years, was stone-cold broke, about to lose my apartment, and my girlfriend and I were subsisting solely on the 49-cent value menu at Taco Bell.  Facing even more of that ugliness, I did what struggling young writers have to do sometimes — I sucked it up and took the shit money, simply glad to survive and hopeful I would live to fight another day.

First day working, I go into a story meeting with the company’s “Creative” VP and Head of Development.  We dug in and spent several hours doing notes starting Page One — discussing what they thought worked, what didn’t, and what I’d need to address in my rewrite.

At one point, the VP looks up at me and says, “Wow, John.  This description on page fifty-two is really good writing.  Would you mind reading it out loud?”

Flattery will get you everywhere with a screenwriter, and I’m sure I flushed with pride as I found the page and paused to clear my throat.

The set up was simple — a grieving daughter (our protagonist) looking through her deceased Mother’s belongings, which have been boxed up and stored in the attic.  The beat offered a brief respite from all the genre action, gave us a further glimpse into our lead’s character, and prompted her discovery of an important clue at the end.

This was the description I wrote, verbatim —

“She rifles several of the boxes, finding little more than old letters and checkbook stubs, key chains and their forgotten keys.  The meaningless remnants of our too brief lives.”

There was a long pause after I finished.  The VP and Head of Development were nodding their heads in synchronized approval.  Then the VP says —

“Yeah, it’s really great.  Great stuff.”


“Lose the poetry, John, cut it all out.  It’s slowing down the script.”

I’d never been quite so close to crapping my pants.  Did he just say LOSE… THE… POETRY?  a.k.a. LOSE THE GOOD WRITING?  Wantonly kill off two short sentences — two sentences he actually likes — which perfectly sell the moment?  And replace them with what, Mr. Hemingway?  “She opens her dead mom’s shit and finds a mysterious clue!”

Like every other indignant scribe in Hollywood history, I sat hooded in a queasy half-smile, cerebral cortex locking up.  Surely “development” couldn’t be like this everywhere?  Surely this exec must be a nutter, a lone gunman of sorts, some soulless script assassin who didn’t value lightweight artistry over the groan-inducing stock lines which had been stupefying readers for decades?

But I was wrong.  He wasn’t the slightest bit insane.  In fact, Mr. Company VP was the Gold Standard — an Industry veteran and Number Two guy at the whole company!  And if I didn’t “lose the poetry” voluntarily, believe me, he would have no qualms hiring another low-ball writer to lose it for me.

Way back at NYU, an older studio vet had once shared a bit of sage wisdom with me — “It’s better for you to fuck up your script the way they want then have ‘em hire somebody else to fuck it up for you.”

As baffling and counterintuitive as his advice had seemed, now I grabbed onto it like a life vest.   I labored at “losing the poetry”, beat after tight beat, good scene after good scene.  For nine agonizing months, they “developed” the script this way.  Any nugget of goodness was ruthlessly ferreted out, any clever turn of phrase or interesting character tick was quickly sandblasted into beige.  My reward, such as it was, was being kept onboard on as sole writer.

Finally, they were ready to go out with it.  And they did.  And in a matter of three short weeks, the company blew a sure-thing co-financing deal, flatlined similar offers via absurd distribution demands, then shelved the project out of self-loathing and/or shame, never to see daylight again.  Their epic fail also left The Big Question still looming — Had sacrificing all my poetry to the Commercial Film Gods made my script better… or worse?  Now, tragically, there was no way I’d know for sure.

Instead of my project — and I’m totally NOT kidding here — the company produced the urban side-splitter “Don’t Be A Menace to South Central While Drinking Your Juice in the Hood” in its place.  It survived three demoralizing weekends before being euthanized and laid to rest in the VHS market.

During what I thought a poignant last ditch appeal, before all the lights had been turned out, I’d made the case to the company that horror was an American genre mainstay, essentially a license to print money when well-executed.  This is what that same VP told me —

“Horror’s dead, John.  Nobody wants horror anymore.  It’s all about the urban audience.”

Scream opened that same December and made $173,046,663 worldwide.  In its wake, an uninterrupted avalanche of extremely profitable low-budget horror pics overran the coming decade.

And me?  Exactly one year after the sale, my girlfriend and I found ourselves back at Taco Bell.

* * * * *

Those first professional cuts for any young writer are excruciating.  Everything about your script — every flat character, every lousy throwaway line, every unnecessary parenthetical — feels personal and inviolate, gifted from the heavens and written in stone, like some multimedia take on Moses’ holy tablets.

“Change something?  Why?  It was plenty good enough for you to buy it in the first place, wasn’t it, douchebag?”

Some version of this is what the working writer yearns to bark in his benefactors’ (read: torturers’) faces.  If you loved it enough to put real money behind it, why in the fuck do you want to change every last thing about it now?  Why date a tall, skinny brunette if you really wanted a short, squat redhead?  Where’s the logic in that?

This mentality is, of course, completely understandable.  The script is quite literally your baby, your winning Powerball ticket, the lone vehicle by which you hope and pray to escape the nagging self-doubt and just-getting-by poverty of a middle class kid with a mountain of student loans.   This is your shot — perhaps the one and only shot you’re gonna get — and if it’s mishandled somehow, if somebody shits the bed and drops the ball, you and you alone will pay the ultimate price for that.

On the other hand… there’s a couple big problems with sticking by your guns every damned time.  One, without question, you’ll be replaced as soon as your steps are up, and most likely won’t work for that company or any of those people again.  Producers hate writers as it is, see them as largely unnecessary evils.  Certainly nobody wants to work with a “difficult” one sitting in meetings with his or her fingers jammed in their ears.

Two, and this can be a tough one for us writers to swallow, what if all these developmental numbskulls are actually right???  What if a few of those “shitty notes” you keep bad-mouthing to friends turn out to be gems, pure gold, BIG IDEAS that help take your script to that hallowed “next level”?   Some writers are so busy being defensive that they’re throwing away the very ideas which can dramatically increase their odds of success… and survival.

So John, you ask, how in the hell do I know when to do what?   How do I discern between the gold and the gravel, the shit and the pony?  How can I insure I do the right thing creatively while traversing such treacherous industry tundra?

And that, my friends, is the eternal question every writer faces, every time they book a gig.  Because there aren’t any right answers one-hundred percent of the time.  The whole endeavor is entirely subjective, a complete crapshoot, with the looming possibility of some ravenous tiger waiting to bite your head off behind every corner.

Your creative action — or inaction — affects not only this project, but the possibility of the many unseen projects yet to come.  Of prominent producers and execs putting in a good word, greasing the skids for a full-freight first draft at 100% of your quote… or not.  Of you being able to pay off those loans, buy your hard-working parents a house of their own, live the creative lifestyle you’ve always dreamt of and suffered so damned much trying to actualize…

Best advice I’ve heard?  “You’ve got to choose your hills to die on.”

But hey, no pressure, right?  Best of luck on those pages.

* * * * *

Spring of 1999, I was coming off saving a film for a big studio.  My stock was high and I was starting to make my first legitimate splash.

After years of obscure, unpaid laboring, I was really feeling it, finally discovering my groove.  All that “woodshedding” had vastly improved my writing.  It was becoming much better crafted and far more intuitive.  Better still, proof of this breakthrough was now coming across on the page, for anyone and everyone to see.

A hungry young agency saw it and took me on, and they had enough juice to start getting me into the right rooms.  As every artisan in Hollywood knows, if you can’t get into the room, you sure as hell can’t get the job.  My new agents totally had my back in that department and very quickly it became plug and play — they’d send me out, after that, everything else was on me.  As you might imagine, this was a really good time for a young writer.

So… as a last ditch effort, the big studio had hired me, and against all rational odds, I’d saved their movie.  Not only that, but to everybody’s further surprise, it became a big hit.

In this town, you always strike while the iron’s hot.  My agents quickly set me up with a very famous director, one of the old school legends, in fact.  There was a new company in town spending real money, and he’d set up a project there.  All they needed now was a writer.

We met on his studio lot, the Director and I immediately hitting it off.  This guy was a blast, regaling me with wild tales of ’70’s Hollywood, each more x-rated hilarious than the last.  These were the classic movies I’d grown up with and deeply loved, back to front I knew them all.  Now here I was talking to the guy who’d actually made some of them!  For a good hour we jawed warp-speed, then spent maybe ten minutes talking broad strokes about his project.  It was to be a modern-day Robin Hood — the big twist was casting a famous Brazilian MMA fighter as the lead and setting it in the violent ghettos of inner city L.A.

Now remember, this is ’99, way before the whole MMA/UFC thing fully turned the corner.  But within two years, Dana White and Co. would radically reinvent the marketing of that world and find themselves sitting on a multi-billion dollar business.

So in a way — even though it wasn’t on purpose — the Director’s idea of casting an MMA superstar with international appeal in a kick-ass action film was perfectly timed.  By the time it was ready to roll out, the U.S. would be beginning its new love affair with the UFC.  And we’d be standing there waiting with lightning in a bottle, boffo box office certain to ensue.

I drove back home.  Two hours later (just two hours!) my agent calls.   Business affairs from this new company had called and made an offer — $100K against $275, or 100/275 in film biz parlance.  The Director was crazy about me and knew immediately I was the perfect guy for the job.  Just like that it became a spontaneous four-way love fest; Company, Famous Director, Agents, Me.  My cup runneth over with this highly-addictive first burst of adulation.

It was pretty hard to wrap my head around.  A guaranteed ONE HUNDRED THOUSAND DOLLARS for drinking a free bottle of Evian and listening to one of Hollywood’s most successful filmmakers tell epic war stories?   For just being (GASP!) me???

Abruptly, the lightbulb went on.  So THIS is what everybody was chasing.  Everyone knew there were heaps of money to be made — Monopoly money, from where I was standing.  But what about having all the heavyweight ego-stroking a film-addled shut-in like myself could desire?  Wasn’t that shit awesome, too?

Next came a company meet-and-greet to discuss our collective vision for the project.  My honeymoon continued unabated.  We were all on the same page! We all agreed EXACTLY what this film should aspire to!  From the top down, everybody on-board was euphoric with developmental glee!

Our homage to Robin Hood would be set in the impoverished jungles of East L.A. Our Lead, forced to flee Brazil because of his heroic actions against homicidal police, would join his Uncle in L.A. to start building a new life for himself.  But after witnessing dehumanizing oppression in the sweatshops, and running afoul of local gangsters who violently extorted and terrorized the good-hearted (but powerless) immigrants who had befriended him, our Lead is compelled to take the law into his own hands, seeing justice done, whatever the cost.  I was urged to think of the story as gritty, raw and realistic — “Robin Hood ’99” if you will, with someone like Jay-Z playing Friar Tuck.

Robin Hood is one of the oldest legends in all of Western Civilization, and for good reason.  The timeless themes of rich vs. poor, the corrupt haves vs. the honest have-nots, still speak as loudly to audiences today as they did in Medieval times.  So our ripped-from-the-headlines take involving sweatshops and immigrant labor, oppression and cultural inequality, would fit perfectly alongside the honorable intent of the original.

After a few frenzied white-guy high-fives (“I love this guy!” from one goofy exec), and another complementary bottle of Evian, I was sent off to knock out a treatment so we could quickly proceed to first draft.

* * * * *

Ensconced back in my bungalow, I set about creating my masterpiece.  Like I said, I was totally in my wheelhouse at this point, doing the very best writing of my young career.  I buckled down and poured my heart and soul into the idea.  I skipped concerts, cancelled dates, ate nothing but bad Chinese and Mexican delivery.  Day and night, I labored to make the story not just a kick-ass MMA thrill ride — the essential dynamic of the entire project in the first place — but a film which would actually have something to say as well.

I saw it as a classic have-your-cake-and-eat-it-too opportunity — killer action and ultra-cool, franchisable genre characters, with a timely message to the contemporary audience nestled behind all the head-butting and hard talk.

Listen, end of the day, if all you wanted was to see somebody’s trachea stomped into tomato soup, or some asshole’s nutsack blown off, yeah, you would get that in spades.  I mean, this was a MOVIE afterall, mass escapist entertainment.  But for the more discerning genre lover (like myself) there would also be a legitimate subtext they could hang their hats on.  A little something… more.

One month later I submitted my twelve-page, single-spaced treatment.  I was anxious, but extremely confident.  Never had I felt better about the work and what I was trying to accomplish.  I believed it awesome that Hollywood execs were willing to push for a meaningful story, even within the confines of a tiny little genre pic like this.  Maybe the self-serving, head-up-ass development stereotypes I’d been brutalized by before would be proven wrong this time around.

A week passed.  Then a second.  Neither my agent nor myself heard so much as a whisper.

Believe me, if there’s anything a writer learns in Hollywood, it’s this — the silence is deafening.

Silence is never good.  Silence says disinterest, displeasure or — scariest of all — disappointment.  When you put finished pages someone paid for in their impatient little palms and they don’t get back to you a.s.a.p. something is terribly and irrevocably wrong.  In my experience, there are no exceptions to this rule.

Sure enough, start of week three we finally got word.  It wasn’t good.  Let’s just say nobody loved it.  The company didn’t hate it initially, per se, but the Director’s people did.  They loathed it with a passion.  Which meant the company had to start hating it as well.

Judgment Day came in the company’s flagship conference room.  Picture a Hudsucker Proxy-sized oak conference table, all five of my company inquisitors massed at the far end, and me — best of intentions, isolated, confused — docked in a half-mast Aeron chair at the other.

The Head of Development led the prosecution.  He was a real trip, an IMAX D-Guy Cartoon, 3D cells brightly penciled in by Pixar.  We’re talking Aliens level development exec here, with him playing the egg-laying Queen, not one of the day-player xenomorphs.   For the safety of all involved, let’s call him Producer X.

“This treatment is too preachy, too grim, too goddamn G-L-O-O-M-Y,” his first salvo whistled across my bow. “Where’s the fun in this world, John?  The Lethal Weapon III of it all?  The wink-wink, the hijinx, the Wow Factor?”

Where’s the fun in… illegal immigration?  In the callous rich taking advantage of the struggling poor?   Is that what he was asking?

“Look, John, trust me — it’s not THAT BAD down there.  There are plenty of happy stories to tell.  Happy stories which give those people plenty of hope.”

Whoops.  My Spidey Sense began an ugly twitch.  “Down there.” “Those people.” This couldn’t be going anywhere good.

“To some, you know, this might sound controversial.  But I’m going to go ahead and say it anyway, ’cause frankly I’m not a P.C. person and I don’t give a damn,” Producer X leaned forward now, Sunday smile, as if confiding in me.  “You know what?  I have a maid, and she’s an illegal.  That’s right.  An illegal.  And guess what, John?   She LOVES working for me.  Loves it!  She couldn’t be happier!”

“Me too.” The famous director’s D-Girl piped up. “My husband and I have an illegal nanny.  Always smiling, that woman.  Very Zen.”

“In fact,” Producer X blazed on, “Recently I had a bit of a funny conundrum.  My maid’s daughter was having her quinceañera, and she told me they didn’t have enough decorations for it.  So guess what I did?  This is great — I let her go around the house and gather up all the old flowers that had been there a few days and take those to the party!  Isn’t that terrific?  She was soooooo happy.”

There was one exec in the room I’d met before, a good guy, coming from the right place.  I watched the same horrified shockwave blitzkrieg across his face that I already wore on mine.  So they weren’t all Replicants, I thought.  Thank Christ.

Oversharing kills.  No doubt, I’m every inch as white boy as the next white motherfucker out there.  But there was one huge problem.

I wasn’t that kind of white.

Both my mother and father had Ph.D.’s from Teachers College at Columbia.  Their specialties?  Education for Gifted Minority Students.  My girlfriend was Hispanic, a social worker born literally — true shit — in a dirt-floored shack in Pacoima. So yeah, this probably wasn’t going to work out too well.

All this time, Scriptshadow Reader, I’d been racking my brain, trying to figure out why they hated my treatment so much, why everyone was acting like I’d totally butt-fucked the pooch on this one.  Now it hit me full-force — my pages were too, well, Robin Hood.  I’d done exactly what we’d agreed upon, gotten it pitch perfect… which was criminally out of tune for these folks.

Class struggle?  Rich vs. Poor?  What was I thinking?  They envisioned our heroic Brazilian as a grubby street urchin, crashing Beverly Hills parties, stuffing his shirt with hors d’oeuvre and stealing thick wads of cash from mink coat pockets.  Which is precisely the take they pitched me.

Everything quickly became a vague blur, Charlie Brown’s teacher shot-gunning syllabic nonsense.  The only part I remember was Producer X’s take on our protagonist — “It’s like Ché Guevara.  He was sexy, he was hot, did a couple of cool killings.  Cinematic stuff, right?”

Talk about mind-fucks.  Their collective brainstorm now was to take the Robin Hood out of Robin Hood.   Regrettably, it was kind of, well, getting in the way.

Meeting over, we shook hands with the nauseous smiles of strangers who’d eaten the same rotten shellfish.  I grabbed my ’66 Bug — the same car I’d driven out to L.A. eight years earlier — and puttered straight up Wilshire to my agent Marty’s office.

When I walked in, I just unloaded.  Play by play, line by line, vomiting up details of the nuclear winter I’d just lived through.  From Marty’s expression, I could see he was having trouble making sense of it all.  He knew my background, knew the guy I was, but still.  After I’d slaked my desperate need to rant, I punctuated things with this cute little gem —

“They can keep the money,” I said.  “I don’t want it.”

In Marty’s entire life, I don’t think a single client had ever told him that.   And why would they?  Idealism and moral outrage are the privilege of a rarified few in this Biz.  At the grunt level, the level I was at, those concepts played worse than kiddie porn.  Besides, who the fuck was I?  Claude Rains in Casablanca?  “I’m shocked, shocked to find that half-baked racism is going on here!”  It’s not like I’d signed up for the Peace Corps or anything.

Still, I had my principles, and I was willing to put all that Monopoly money where my naive pie-hole was.  Marty’s advice was to go home, cool my tool and let him do some reconnaissance.  Once he’d sussed things out, he’d get back to me.

Two things bailed me out.  First, the exec I knew called Marty and totally vouched for my eyewitness testimony (told you he was a good guy).  Second, Producer X himself knew how badly he’d fucked up and called trying to smooth things over.  “Listen, Marty,” he told my agent, “This is a big misunderstanding.  Nobody over here wants to make an… irresponsible movie.”

They scheduled a second meeting trying to salvage things, but in many ways it was worse than the first.  My time was spent daydreaming about putting Producer X in a chokehold and pulling a Sharky’s Machine — pile-driving us through the plate glass and then plummeting 200 feet straight down to the pavement below.

So that’s it.  The deal died.  They paid for the treatment, and I — insisting on principle — left the other $65,000 sitting on the table.   SIXTY-FIVE THOUSAND DOLLARS.  Just walked away from it.  And yeah, it kinda stings to write this, even now.

You may have wondered — what about the Famous Director, the one guy who surely would’ve had your back?  Predictably, after that first, glorious filmic dry-humping, I neither saw nor heard from him again.  No phone call.  No nothing.  To this day, I don’t know if he actually hated it, or his D-Girl with the illegal nanny had cut my throat without giving him the real scoop on any of what went down.

And Producer X?   Was there any Bad Karma due a producer like that?   Would the bold heavens take a stand and angrily smite down what the film industry itself would not?

You’re fuckin’ kidding, right?  This is the Film Biz.

A few years later, I was over at some friends’ place watching the Oscars on auto-pilot.  About ten hours in, after two dozen absurd dance numbers, they finally got around to Best Picture.

And who should win but Producer X.

This go ’round I did crap my pants.  Openly and without restraint.   But this wasn’t even rock bottom.  Because up next was his acceptance speech —

“I’m soooooo happy you’ve taken my movie into your hearts, this wonderful little film about compassion, racial harmony, the end of prejudice of all kinds, and, of course, hope.  Always hope, for all those people less fortunate than ourselves.”

Producer X had just won an Oscar.  That’s right.  A fucking Academy Award.  By playing the “Can’t we all just get along?” card.

Before he even left the stage, I was stumbling into the backyard, begging the hostess for a frenzied bong hit.  A writer can only take so much, you see, and my mind was dangerously close to snapping.  My only real hope of retaining any sanity now lay in a bright, protective sheen of cannabis.

As I slipped into oblivion, a single thought ran roughshod through my mind —

“I wonder if Producer X’s illegal maid is back at his house watching this, too.”

Carson again.  Naturally, I’m asking the same question you are.  Who the hell was the producer??  John refuses to name names, but I will find out.  Mark my words!  In the meantime, head over to John’s Tweak Class Page and sign up for his screenwriting class that starts this January.  It truly is a unique opportunity to study with a produced, working writer.  You won’t be disappointed!

  • ElliotMaguire

    Best. Article. Ever.

    You hear these whispers, these satirical quips from whoever, and you don’t take it in. But to hear it from the mouth of a pro, in such precise detail, it really makes you sit back and think about the big guys in this industry, the big fish. How would us little fish get to the top when they are all eating us alive.

    But beyond the great tale and writing, John, you will have given other struggling, amateur screenwriters like me some hope. If I get to seventy and still haven’t sold a script, maybe its not because I can’t write for shit. Maybe its because I was completely misunderstood by those assholes!

    But I probably can’t write for shit.

    Seriously, such a brilliant read, I could read a books worth of this stuff, so much honest insight. Please write a book man, I would be first in line, I mean it.

    Now, who the hell is Producer X???

    • carsonreeves1

      Yeah, that’s what I told him after he sent me the article. I was like, “You need to write a book of this stuff.”

      • john writer

        Thanks Elliot. WRITERS are precisely why I put these pieces together, hoping to use my own heartbreaking tales of non-consensual anal intercourse to offer them insight, inspiration, some perspective and at least a good laugh or two. Humor is a writer’s best defense! The darker the better :)

        And yes, the book is in the planning stages now. Just need to find time to buckle down and do it… (sound familiar?)

        • ElliotMaguire

          God that non-consensual anal intercourse is a bitch! And I totally agree, for me the ONLY humor is DARK humor, all this “end of the world” stuff over the past few days is some of the funniest I’ve heard all year.

          We can read books on plotting, structure, theme, the technical stuff. And we can read about how to try and sell, approach an agent and the rest. But nothing has really prepared us for the loons who we might end up working with!

          Its awesome that you are willing to allow such an insight into your career, that can be real personal and private for a great many. But those of us who read your book (which you must must buckle down to) will be much better writers after than we were before. Can’t wait to read it, thanks again dude.

          And Carson, I’ve not forgot about your book, gonna use every page when I do my next rewrite.

          Damn, itchy after all the non-consensual anal intercourse.

      • The Mulberry Tree

        These types of stories are always entertaining. The little things we always hear about with these Hollywood bigwigs(Producers, Agents, Directors…etc); entertainingly neurotic individuals.

        A book filled with these stories and quite informative as well is “The Mailroom”(an actual prerequisite read for new mailroom hires in certain agencies).

        Reading success stories about writers is always inspirational. Makes me feel like breaking into this business is actually possible…quit yucking up my yum.

        One of my favorite jokes about Hollywood(mainly agents) is: You know how you can tell an agent is lying?…their lips are moving.

        Thank you both John and Carson. Great stuff. Cheers.

  • jae kim

    but I ask you, if given the chance, would you go back in time and take that $65000?

    • carsonreeves1

      I want to know the answer to that too. John?

      • john writer

        Nah. Like I told you earlier, Carson — there’s a price for trying to keep your soul in this town… and it ain’t cheap :)

      • john writer

        Nah. Like I told you before, Carson — there’s a price to pay for trying to keep your soul in this town… and it ain’t cheap :)

        • CyclopsRobot

          I for one really commend you. It ain’t all about cash and fame. Morals and integrity are great things.

  • FD

    Brilliant. A great – if somewhat demoralising – start to the day.
    Thanks for sharing.

  • carsonreeves1


  • Kay Bryen

    As for unmasking Producer X, the big giveaway is that only one film in that decade was about racial harmony… CRASH

    • john writer

      Kay — please remember that names have been withheld and dates juggled to protect the guilty (who else?) So what looks like simple math may not be… :)

      • Kay Bryen

        Well it’s not as if I wouldn’t grab a deal from Producer X if it were offered to me. Pantsless, if necessary :-) But yeah, I get why you don’t want to burn any bridges; it’s not the world capital of Crocodile Smiles for nothing.

      • Mercutio

        Tom Rosenberg? he won for million dollar baby, but the rest of his movies are shit

    • Jarrett_H

      Obviously the quote above isn’t verbatim. And the time may be different. Hell, it might even be a totally different genre and the whole story is about something else.

      But Forrest Gump would fall in too, and the acceptance speech is somewhat close. Hmmm…

      Either way, nice post.

      • john writer

        Right on, Jarrett! Good to see someone finally getting it :) I want you in my class, brother! All the best…

      • Loopta

        It’s Steve Tisch. He seems appropriately tool-ish. And the speech is essentially spot on:

  • john writer

    Bobby — please remember that names have been withheld and dates juggled to protect the guilty (who else?) So what looks like simple math may not be…

  • FD

    Oh, Kay beat me to it.

  • Poe_Serling

    For obvious reasons I haven’t read today’s post yet…

    The above pic of Mr. Jarrell is both fascinating and kind of disturbing. I’m curious – was the publicity shot for this article, his upcoming Tweak class, or something else all together?

    And as for those scripts clutched in his hands? Some of my guesses would be The Naked Kiss, The Naked Jungle, The Naked Prey, The Naked Spur…

    • john writer

      Poe — This was actually a pic taken in the early ’90’s by a close friend. We were both really struggling, new to L.A., and as a joke I had him take this shot. We always called it “Will you please buy my script now, please?” in homage to Raymond Carver, and I thought it would fit nicely here as it gave me the title for the piece. And yes, it is disturbing… as are most photographs of me.

      • Poe_Serling

        Hey John-

        Thanks for the quick response, the clever nod to Carver’s short story, and the
        great zinger at the end.

        Let me tell you – I lapped up your war stories in record time. :-)

        I definitlely see a book in your future. And it’s been like what? … 30 years
        since Bill Goldman’s Adventures in the Screen Trade hit the market.

        The town of Inner Sanctum has only grown more unruly over the years… It’s
        time for a new sheriff.

        So, I encourage you to go in Buford Pusser mode, break out that big stick, and
        take a swat at the hornet’s nest… of course, in a humorous and incisive
        manner, which you seem quite adept at doing.

        Best of luck with all your future endeavors.

        • john writer

          Thanks for the kind words, Poe. Believe me, these tales are just the very, very tip of the iceberg. (think Roy Batty — “I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe…”) Email me so I can tell you more about the class — Cheers!

          • Poe_Serling

            Roy Batty… what a cool reference and it would make a kickass quote for a chapter head if someone was writing a book on the inner workings of Hollywood and screenwriting. Hint. Hint.
            Hey, just watched Rutger Hauer in The Rite….
            Am I the only that thinks Rutger Hauer has the looks and mannerisms nowadsays to play Marlon Brando in a film.

  • CyclopsRobot

    I thought this was absolutely class A stuff. Really dug the interview. Thanks for your time and personal words John J.

    Sharky’s Machine, and “I am shocked, Shocked to find…” awesome.

    Loved the stories from the Holly’hood…

  • Gerald

    I’m not sure I understand what’s supposed to be shocking or horrifying regarding the Robin Hood deal that went sour. It sounds like typical poor communication, which is a hallmark of any round table business meeting regardless of whether the people there are discussing Gilligan’s Island: The Revenge, or how best to cork an oil well spewing into the Gulf of Mexico.

    I mean, if Hollywood is really that bad, then why not just self-publish everything you write and completely forego those big bad illegal immigrant hiring decision makers? Getting paid $35k for what amounts to a ruffling of feathers ain’t all that bad. Shit, I’ll take $35k if all I gotta do is sit and listen to some egomaniac blabber on about his Mexican maid. Most porn stars only get a few thousand per movie, and they might have to do a scene where they literally get shit upon. Hell, even James Cameron got disrespected by the English crew on the set of Aliens, and that was after he made a bazillion dollars with The Terminator.

    If anything, I think screenwriters just need to have a mature understanding that Hollywood is about business first, art second (if at all). As far as other industries go, you could do far worse. You could work in law, for instance.

  • GYAD

    Great first story but not sure what the point of the second one is – not least because you have to be an established writer to even be in that position (I can only dream). Now, not knowing the details or having read the treatment or anything else, I have to say that Producer X doesn’t appear to be guilty of anything other than being patronising and naive (and I’ve had a Hispanic girlfriend too, despite not even being an Americano). I’d have said his definition of Che Guevara as “sexy…hot…cool” was rather more disturbing (my dad’s old buddies at Hermanos al Rescate definitely would). Still, very interesting (and I’d have watched that Brazilian/LA MMA flick), so thanks for the insightful war stories John.

  • Nigel Quinn

    Genius. Thanks for sharing John, you’ve definitely got to write this book. Then we can see the film based upon said book

    • john writer

      LOL. What would they call it? “Lose The Poetry, Hemingway” staring Luke Perry and Denise Richards (cast for budgetary concerns, of course) :)

      • Mercutio

        that’s a good title. but you must not only tell the truth. you need to overdramatize it. plus you can always put in some other writer’s stories as your own. brian helgeland told a brilliant story in his bafta writer’s speach thing, where clint eastwood came to his house to convince him to write mystic river. it was the weirdest and most hillarious thing i’ve heard.

        great article, really loved it. kind of reminded me about kevin smith’s story about the hairdresser turned producer that ridiculously wanted him to put a giant spider in the ending of his superman film. then when that didn’t work out kevin smith saw some years later that wild wild west had a giant spider in the end with that same producer making it.

        • Malibo Jackk

          Great BAFTA speech. Thanks for the heads up on Brian Hedgeland.

      • Crazdwrtr

        I so love that title for the book! haha. It needs to be catchy like Dawn Steel’s “They Can Kill You, But Can’t Eat You!”

  • Citizen M

    Great stories warning us Here Be Dragons.

    Re the pic: I thought you were asking, “Which paper is softer?”

  • Colin

    That. Was. Awesome. Basically the hollywood experience in a nutshell.

  • Zadora

    Enjoyed your article. Having experienced some of that myself even if on a tiny tiny scale. Not a pretty business…

  • ripleyy

    This was a brilliant read – and what better to read this when it’s 21st of December? John needs to write the book, I loved it. I would buy it five times over if I could.

    By the way, do Producers still get on like that? Do they still hate writers as much as they did?

    • john writer

      ripleyy — Ya think? Even after the crash and de facto end of the quote system for the middle-class writer, many STILL think we’re overpaid and not particularly important. That’s not always the case, as I’ve been EXTREMELY fortunate to work with some of the very best Producers in the Business, which makes the experience unbelievably good.

      But as a general rule of thumb, IMHO, every average, mid-grade producer believes deep in their heart-of-hearts that they can write just as well as any screenwriter. Of course, they can’t or they’d already be doing it. Regardless, there are all types out there.

      • ripleyy

        I didn’t know that. Without writers, they wouldn’t exactly have a job but they still see writers as just another gear in the system and not apart of the structure Hollywood thrives on to flourish. I guess that’s all we really are in the grander scheme of things.

        That said, there are good producers out there – like you said above – who aren’t as harsh and egotistic, but good people. It’s just finding them :)

  • ThomasBrownen

    What a great article! Thanks for writing it John.

    It’s so easy to think that if we can just write a good script and get it noticed then we’ve reached the end of the road, but really, this is a great reminder that it’s just a first step.

  • Graham

    A great read; and I’m another vote for the ‘I could read a whole book of these stories’ movement.

    Thanks for sharing.

    • john writer

      Thanks Graham. Appreciate the support and glad you enjoyed!

  • cjob3

    For a time, I had a pet theory that the horror movie replaced by the urban film. Cheap scares were replaced by horrifying realities. What’s REALLY more frightening; supernatural slashers or the crack epidemic? Elm street or Martin Luther King Blvd? Who needs Micheal Myers when innocent people are being killed in drive-bys? I’ve never seen that theory confirmed until now

    Thank god we solved all those societal ills back in the 90s and can now focus on the real problems facing America. Like all the damn paranormal activity.

    “The Willies” btw, great title.

  • cjob3

    Producer X sounds almost exactly like Mr. Lipnick in Barton Fink.

    “This is a wrestling picture.The audience wants to see action, adventure, wrestling! They don’t want to see a guy wrestling with his soul. All right, maybe a little for the critics.but you make it the carrot that wags the dog!”

    We don’t put a UFC Fighter in a fruity movie about suffering. I thought we were together on that!

  • cjob3

    I really should read the whole thing before commenting but arggh! You didn’t take the 65k?
    But you did the work! Who cares if they didn’t want it. You spent all that time writing it. You know how much Taco Bell you can get with sixty five thousand dollars? All of it!

    • john writer

      cjob3 — Happy to inform you that despite that short-term setback, I’ve since upgraded to both Red Lobster and Sizzler… on occasion :)

      • cjob3

        Dude, you must be rich! I can still only afford off-color lobsters :(

  • SeekingSolace

    There’s a great comedy movie to be had from John’s experience. I still can’t stop laughing at the bit about allowing the maid to gather the old flowers.There’s also hope for the Robin Hood project that John envisioned. WB’s “Arrow” is a marginal success, which shows there is still interest in such properties, and MMA fanfare is at an all time high.

    As luck would have it, two of the most beloved MMA champions are Brazilian; Anderson “The Spider” Silva and Jose “Scarface” Aldo. The latter would be perfect for the role and maybe Dana White and his associates could co-finance the project the way WWE has begun to do for properties involving their stars. Zuffa films sounds quite catchy and I’m certain there are more scripts like “Warrior” floating around that would only create more intrigue and respect for MMA, thus more fans and money.

  • JAlexanderB

    If Crash is the film in question, here is a link to a video clip of the Oscar acceptance speech by the producers of Crash.

  • FD

    I once wrote a romcom about a guy with three personalities. The entire comedic potential was based around the three guys not being able to be in the body at the same time and having no cognicance of what the others were doing when they were in the body. One producer “loved it” and promptly asked me if the three guys couldn’t have the ability to meet in the brain in a kind of virtual room to discuss things; that would be so great.
    Thank god he didn’t offer me 65 grand: I don’t know if I could have turned that down, even if it meant writing a whole new script that sucked dead iguanas.
    kudos to John for being a better man than I.

  • blue439

    You know, for the most part Hollywood is really, really averse to showing race and class issues in L.A. — basically the ugly side of life there. So while they can dig the “Robin Hood” aspect of the story which is an easy reference point, actually READING about the underclass and their problems probably hits too close to home for them.

    Of course, then Crash wins an Academy Award. Go figure.

  • NajlaAnn

    “…the company blew a sure-thing co-financing deal,…” Been there done that. Except in my case the financing was total. BTW, excellent “horror stories” article.

  • CyclopsRobot

    I don’t get it. Who Cares what the movie was, who the Producer was?

    I just love the stories John is talking about. It is real world, real life stuff. If any of us make it, we will have our own crazy meetings, crazy stories, with different people.

    I don’t want to out a Producer, or slam some Hollywood people. I just want to congratulate John for having made it through it all, and finding his way into the Maze and being successful at it. Way to go.

    • john writer

      Cyclops — Couldn’t have said it better myself, brother. The movie and the producer are TOTALLY irrelevant to what it’s all about. And believe me, you WILL have your own crazy experiences and stories to tell… and the PTSD to prove it :) Cheers my friend!

      • CyclopsRobot

        Already got the PTSD, just looking for my crazy tales of being behind the Hollywood curtain. I can’t wait. Thanks John for sharing your great stories with us. I really enjoyed it, and am extremely grateful you also commented here in the comments section. A very special bonus, as no other interviewee’s ever do that. Thanks a million.

  • Marija ZombiGirl

    Great article, John :-) Please write a book !

    • Crazdwrtr

      Yes write a book and then write the screenplay!

  • john writer

    Hey Lee — yeah, I’ve been discussing this with some people. It’s a cool idea, but it would really have to replicate the “full contact” quality of being “in the room”. My students constantly tell me that unique interaction is what elevates our thing above and beyond other classes they’ve taken. The last thing I want to be part of is some limp-dicked “webinar” where students don’t learn anything real. But you’re right, I need to give this some serious thought and see if I can make it work for next year. Cheers man!

  • carsonreeves1

    you shouldn’t be moderated. try again. I had to reapprove everybody once I moved this over to the new site.

    • Murphy

      Hey Carson, for some reason I am being moderated too…

      • Murphy

        Though weirdly it appears not for replies, just for new comments…

        • Brainiac138

          Same situation here.

          • carsonreeves1

            you should be fine now Brainiac. Let me know if you’re not.

  • john writer

    Now you’re cooking, bruckey! ;)

  • Chris Mulligan

    Not seeing the point of this, nor how it should inspire me to take John’s course. I’m surprised at all the positive comments actually. Also, it should in no way be difficult to find out who the producer was IF that’s a true story. All you’d need to do is look at movies that have won best picture during the timeframe that would make sense, compare them against subject matter & acceptor of the award. Bingo-Bango-Django.

    • john writer

      Sorry you’re not digging it, Chris. Perhaps the “nuts and bolts of the class” interview Carson did last summer might help? Give it a look. Cheers and all the best!

      • Chris Mulligan

        Thanks, John. I read the previous piece and enjoyed it. Was hoping to get even more insight into your class room today, but I suppose that’s what people pay for!

  • kent

    Really great stories. Write a book and I’m buying. And if you’re accepting guest chapters, I have one that makes The Willies look like a walk in the park.

  • amuller

    Great article. I’d read similar stories before (like in David Hughes Tales from Development Hell book when he discusses some of the ideas of Jon Peters). Sort of makes me want to take my ideas and turn them into novels instead.

  • john writer

    Berringer — you’ve hit on a fundamental truth, my friend. As an actor friend once said, “Hollywood doesn’t change people, it just brings out more of what’s already there.” I think you have to be SOMEWHAT FUCKED UP to want to be in this Biz in the first place. God Knows I was/am! Accordingly, my goal has simply been to try and control HOW NUTTY I allow myself to get — not always an easy task ;)

  • AJMockler

    Thanks John and Carson, that was a great read. And as much the whole experience plays out as suitably horrific and slightly surreal, you won’t find many of us on here who wouldn’t figuratively lube up for the shot at those kind of meetings! But congrats on retaining your dignity and your principles, and it obviously didn’t do your career any harm in the long run.

    Looking forward to your next guest column already. Love to hear about your favourite worst script notes.

  • Murphy

    Thanks very much for this, John and Carson.

    Very entertaining, very interesting, very good.


  • Dane Purk

    Okay, so let’s inject some healthy dissent into this issue:

    “The meaningless remnants of our too brief lives”

    That’s probably the lamest, most pretentious and irrelevant line of scene description I’ve read all year. I would’ve told you to “lose the poetry” too. There’s a difference between giving your script an entertaining voice and just dicking around. You were just dicking around, wasting people’s time. If you dick around and waste someone’s time in any other industry, do you get congratulated? I’m just saying, if you’re gonna write “poetic” scene description, it has to actually describe a relevant object in the scene or give a sense of a character. That line above is just vague and meaningless.

    So I completely dismiss the first story. Totally your fault. No offense. Live and learn, right?

    And as far as the second story goes, I understand your position and admire your integrity/compassion. But seriously, it’s your job to make it work. Maybe you could’ve made the protagonist’s general attitude toward his plight more upbeat, so even if he had a terrible life, his personality would keep things from being too dark and melodramatic (and more likable). Maybe you could’ve “distracted” the producer from his racist points by coming up with better ones. I don’t know. That second story sounds like a tough one.

    And you know what? “Hollywood hates writers” is the most counterintuitive, self-involved martyr cry I’ve ever heard, and yet I hear it all the time. I get really tired of this cynical “no one appreciates me” vibe you get from writers, and I just don’t get it. Maybe that’s why everyone you meet in Hollywood hates you. Because you’re incompetent. You can’t take feedback. Can’t deflect bad feedback with better feedback. Can’t keep your pretense out of the room or your work. CAN’T GET THE JOB DONE. I just don’t understand why writers aren’t more upbeat, resourceful, and willing to adjust. I just don’t get it. If you truly have talent, enjoy the work, and want to succeed, you should be able to offer something for even the worst job. Call me naive, but I’m writer, and sometimes I really hate writers. They complain more than anyone, and they wonder why everyone hates them….is it the chicken or the egg…..

    So when I hear a writer say “Hollywood hates writers,” it’s a huge red flag for me, and I sincerely question the value of any advice given within that context. Just my 2 cents. :)

    • john writer

      Dane, you’ve sold me — I think you’re going to make a brilliant studio exec someday :)

    • ChinaSplash2

      That first story had me wondering as well.

      But I don’t agree that “The meaningless remnants of our too brief lives” is ‘vague and meaningless’, nor is it necessarily lame, pretentious or irrelevant. I think it all depends.

      If this was a plot-based project where the lead just needs to find the damn macguffin, then yes, that’s a line that needs to be killed with fire. Ditto most of the previous sentence.

      On the other hand, if this really is a meaningful character beat, as the context seems to suggest, then damn it, this line (or something like it) needs to be there. Because what’s the point of setting up an emotionally impactful character moment and then rushing right past it?

      On the information available, without knowing exactly what this project was aiming at, and without having read the preceding 51 pages, I think the question is undecidable. However, like you, I’m definitely leaning toward the VP. Bearing in mind that we’re talking about a [comedy?] horror called The Willies, if the VP said ‘cut it *all* out’, then I’m thinking there was way too much of this throughout the script, when there really shouldn’t have been any. I mean, I like a bit of lyricism as much as the next guy, but in a retread of Carrie, I sure as hell don’t want no ‘poetic’ unless it comes right before ‘justice’.

      It’s also entirely disingenuous of Mr Jarrell to equate ‘poetry’ with ‘good writing’. Especially in the context of a screenplay.

  • RayFinkleLacesOut

    Great read, John. Love reading this kind of stuff, for people that enjoyed this Doug Richardson’s site is pretty much exclusively devoted to stories from trade, and they’re just as good (not to take any attention away from John).

    On another note, Carson I hope you review Echo Station. Best script I’ve read in a while.

  • Michael Lee

    Hey guys, try and not judge me but I am looking for Immortals script. I really wana see how the writers wrote the action sequences amongst other things, I am hoping one of you can help me. I am
    One Love

  • Michael Lee

    Has anyone got immortals script? Random question. Im on

  • Crazdwrtr

    Not only that — but the point of the second story is that hypocrisy runs amuck in tinseltown!

  • Crapper John, MD

    Fantastic stories, man. Keep ‘em coming.

  • Rodney92

    “You’ve got to choose your hills to die on.”

    That is the best advice.

  • Mac

    I’d be pretty disgusted at all the ‘illegals’ talk as well. Not 65 grand worth of disgusted, but disgusted. It’s great to have issues you’re willing to take a stand for, but sometimes you gotta play the game. Producer X saying he didn’t want to make an ‘irresponsible’ movie sounds like someone gave him the message to tone it down.

    Great stuff. Found it very interesting.

  • JaredW

    Wow, what an amazing and enlightening article about the horrors of moviemaking. Like a lot of posters here, the film that immediately sprang to mind in reference to Producer X was Crash. John, hopefully you do make a book out of these stories as I’d gladly buy a copy!

  • Michaelo

    Pretty funny anecdotes. Thanks John. Hope you continue to retain your perspective in midst of the bullshit. So many who find success forget how tough it was at the outset and turn into the characters they once despised.

    • john writer

      Cheers, Michaelo. Thanks for the kind words. Great to see people enjoying it.

  • MrTibbsLive

    This article is great. The second time reading it was just as good as the first.

    • Michael Lee

      Haha agree. Forget the money and the oscar’s, I will judge my level of success when I can walk away from 65k based on principle. On the plus side, he did have a consolation bong. Hooray!

  • Goofs

    Book would be nice to read about other events that happened to John in Hollywood.

  • Poe_Serling

    With the threat of a global doomsday in our rearview mirror, what a better time than right now to celebrate this breaking news:

    “Gangnam Style” hits a record-breaking 1 billion views on Google’s video service.

    I’m pretty sure when Carson turned everyone on to the dancing and singing dynamo known as Psy that he had like 7 total views… nice job of backing a winner, C. ;-)

    • carsonreeves1

      It was closer to 7 million, but I’ll take what I can get!

      • Poe_Serling

        My mistake… 993,000,000 apologies. ;-)

  • Warren Hately

    This isn’t really the kind of anecdotes I need to hear right now.

  • john writer

    FD – You’re way out in the weeds here, brother. Here’s a hint — NOT CRASH. But like it says above, what film it was doesn’t really matter. Cheers!

  • john writer

    CJ — Now THAT’S funny! Thing is, neo-Nazis and gang bangers aren’t making film business money! LOL

  • Poe_Serling

    Carson has been hinting that he’s getting a new roommate for 2013… I just assumed it was the young Jane Seymour aka ‘Lady Friend’ but I guess Psy could be in the mix… or could it be both.

    Exactly how big is your secret lair, Carson? And how in the heck are you going to get any work done this new year with gangnam style dance-offs and R2D2 dress fittings?

  • Ambrose*

    An interesting read, John.
    I don’t know if it’s possible but I’d love to see a list of the movies for which you worked on the scripts.
    Good luck with your writing career.

  • Poe_Serling

    Ho, ho, ho… with the Holiday Season upon us… Here are a few of my favs:

    *** We’re No Angels – After escaping Devil’s Island, three prisoners help a goodhearted family outwit a scheming relative during Christmas.

    Directed by legendary director Michael ‘Casablanca’ Curtiz. Starring Bogart, Aldo Ray, Peter Ustinov, Basil Rathbone… need I say more.

    *** The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek – After a going away party for the troops, a small-town girl, Trudy Kockenlocker, wakes up to find herself married and pregnant, but with no memory of her husband’s identity.

    Pretty racy stuff for the ’40s, right? Don’t worry…. writer/director Preston Sturges keeps all the pots from boiling over in this classic screwball comedy. A real holiday gem!

    *** A Midnight Clear – France. 1944. An American Intelligence squad and a German platoon put aside their differences and spend Christmas together before the surrender plan turns bad and both sides are forced to fight the other.

    Directed by Keith Gordon. Starring future stars Ethan Hawke, Gary Sinise, Kevin Dillion, and A-list director Peter Berg.

    *** Black Christmas (’74 version) – A sorority house is terrorized by a stranger during the holiday break.

    My tasty treat for the horror fans out there. One of the first of its kind in this genre. Directed by Bob Clark of A Christmas Story, Porky’s ,etc. fame.

    *** Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale – Christmas eve. Northern Finland. An excavation crew unearths the ‘real’ Santa Claus…. a supernatural being with a nasty edge.

    A really offbeat fantasy/horror film worth checking out.

    • bruckey

      On the theme of ‘The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek’ there is a script floating around the black list website worth a read ‘Sweet Baby Jesus’

      • Poe_Serling

        hey bruckey-

        Thanks for the tip. I’ll have to check it out.

  • john writer

    D&OLA — Yes, unlike the Truby’s of the world, if people are legitimately hard up, I always try to work something out with them. So email me and let’s discuss. Cheers and happy holidays!

  • Malibo Jackk

    There are 9 million stories in the Naked City…

    Heard of a screenwriter who turned in draft after draft to satisfy a producer. (A producer who kept changing his demands.) Finally, after two years of writing for free, the screenwriter realized that the man had grown tired of the script. (Probably not uncommon.)

    Heard another, a man nominated for the 2011 Academy Award, talk about how he changed agents — and later discovered that his old agent had taken two of his scripts, cut and pasted, and SOLD IT as his own script. (Lawyer told the screenwriter it would cost $250,000 to bring suit.)


    I happened to come across this in William Goldman’s “Which Lie Did I Tell”: He talks about two Hollywoods.

    (Granted, some films can be a mix of the two.)

    The point is that BULLSHIT HOLLYWOOD gives the audience what they want to hear — or reinforces it. Here’s some of that bullshit — Good always triumphs over evil. Perfect romance is waiting for you. Slackers can win, or discover the true meaning of their slackerness. (OK… so that last one happens to be my personal favorite.) The point is- these are messages that sell tickets.

    And Forest Gump is five star bullshit. Great movie — but a complete fairy tale.

    Then you have INDEPENDENT FILM. Films that purport to offer a real message.

    (FULL DISCLOSURE: Rarely, do I know what I’m talking about.)
    I leave that up to William Goldman, and other professionals like John Jarrell.

  • EZ

    Interesting read, albeit a bit scary as well, once you start thinking about it..

  • ernstdegeer

    Love these kind of inside stories. Even if who the producer was shouldn’t really matter I cant help kind of wanting to know.

    But really, it’s not important, and it should also be remembered that this is just one side of the story.

  • Erik Vidal

    Best. Post. Ever.

  • Bella_Lugossi

    Cool story bro! Why does the writer always come across as the good guy? ;)

    Thanks for sharing. It was a dark but helpful tale.

  • Paul

    Simply, I loved this post. Filled with wit, honesty and the type of scenarios that scare me shitless. It’s kind of like going through spy training on how to survive torture.

  • Eman

    Why would an exec ask a writer to change the wording of a line of description doing so does not change the content of the line. Hollywood is full of nut jobs

  • Eman

    Oh and I think the Oscar winning movie may have been Crash

    • john writer

      Eman — might want to read the comments first. NOT CRASH. :)

  • OscarColumbo

    Interesting read. I enjoyed the article. That said, I’m with those who agreed with the VP who highlighted the flowery, purple prose as something to be edited out. The last sentence did nothing to enhance or clarify anything within that scene.

    Also, whilst the second story was intriguing, it seemed like nothing out of the ordinary. Beyond the producer’s laughable backfire at coming across liberal and PC on the subject of immigration, the rest was just your typical pitch to treatment break down of communication.

    In fact, John, you even state that the feedback they came back to you with was exactly what they initially pitched you. So why wander so far from the original pitch?

    To me, it seemed from the way you wrote this account that, beyond the producer’s antiquated, somewhat draconian policies on immigration, they were actually quite fair in terms of the project. They’d already pitched you Brazilian street urchin kicks over a few LA garbage cans. You’d instead gone with more meaningful, poignant faire. Tonally off-base with what they pitched you.

    I don’t mean to be argumentative. I thought it was a fantastically written account. I just failed to see the real ‘Hell’ here. Not to mention one other little doozy.

    That protective sheen of cannabis… did you smoke the plastic too?

    Because no producer from 1999-2012 has ever used those words in a Best Picture acceptance speech. Not once. Not ever. The only movie that could even fit the words used is CRASH, and even then… THOSE WORDS ARE NEVER USED.

    I hope you do compile your stories of screenwriting hell into a book. I’d love to read it. I just hope that when you do, the accounts will be as factual accurate as possible rather than, like your script extract in story one, having to employ artistic license to end with a poignant, (albeit in this case erroneous) flourish.