Battleship Latest Poster (1)
So there I am, watching “A Good Day To Die Hard” this weekend, and asking myself the question that moviegoers across the world ask a dozen times a year at their local cineplexes: “Who writes this shit?”

Terribly written movies with dreadful dialogue are a huge reason why people all over the country move to LA to pursue a career in screenwriting. They’re convinced that, “I can do better than that!” And yet, thousands of these “I can do better than that,” screenwriters show up in Hollywood every year and the same dreadful terribly-written movies still get made.

Is it a conspiracy? Is Hollywood purposefully keeping good writers out of the business for some reason? Are there thousands of amazing screenplays that have been buried under a Los Angeles landfill somewhere, a conspiracy headed up by 20th Century Fox so they can keep making more “A Good Day To Die Hard” movies without having to worry about competition?

I can answer that question easily. No. The truth is, there are only a dozen great screenwriters out there, and maybe less than a hundred truly good ones. Since a few hundred movies are released each year and countless TV shows with multiple writers are produced on the networks and cable, there are more spots to fill than there are good screenwriters.

And it’s not for lack of trying that the average screenwriter isn’t very good. Screenwriting is just REALLY HARD. A lot harder than it looks.  Moviegoers assume all screenwriting is is coming up with a cool hook and some witty dialogue. But screenwriting is way more complicated than that. Outside of learning how to write within its unique bastardized format, there’s a ton of stuff under the hood that audience members never think about.

The most obvious of which is creating a seamless story. That’s something most people outside the business take for granted. They assume seamless stories are a given. However, when those same people come to Hollywood and give screenwriting a shot then send their screenplays to people like me, they learn the hard way that their stories are borderline incoherent and that it actually takes years of hard work to create a seamless story.  Not even a GOOD story.  Just one that makes sense from beginning to end.

But we’ve established that there ARE good screenwriters out there. As many as a hundred of them. That should be enough to take care of most of the movies we see. So why do movies still suck? Why are films like Transformers so badly written? Or Dark Shadows? Or John Carter? Or Battleship? Or Mirror Mirror? Why are these embarrassingly written projects given hundreds of millions of dollars? The answer to that question isn’t simple. In fact, it’s very complicated. But if you want to know, read on.

TIME – Unless you’re writing a spec, you’re usually up against the gun in a project. And since only one out of every ten produced movies is a spec script, most writers are racing to beat a deadline. The faster you’re forced to work, the lower the quality that work tends to be. That’s because creativity takes time. It takes trial and error. It takes seeing what works and what doesn’t. It takes rewriting and rewriting and then more rewriting. Without time, you’re likely to write something lousy, no matter how good of a writer you are.

DIRECTOR AND ACTOR ARE STILL SUPERIOR TO SCREENWRITER – When putting a project together, studios know that the two most important elements are the director and the lead actor. A good director is going to give you the best chance for making a good movie, and a big actor is going to give you a large enough budget to get a wide release. When looking at the director, the actor, and the screenplay, then, it makes sense that a studio would pay the least amount of attention to the script. With that said, most actors and directors won’t sign onto a project without a good script (or good source material). So the screenplay is still important. The problem is…

DIRECTORS COME ON LATE THEN SCREW SHIT UP – While there are directors who will shepherd projects over a long period of time, a lot of times a director will come onto a project as it’s greenlit and given a production date. Since directors are creative people, they’re going to want to play with the script and get it the way they want it. Which means if a writer has been perfecting that script over three years, they now have to rewrite the whole damn thing to the director’s vision – a vision they may not entirely agree with – within a matter of months. More times than not, this results in a worse screenplay.

PASSION – You want to know the truth about Hollywood? Passion may be the most important factor in getting a movie made. That’s because this business is designed to KEEP movies from getting made. It’s much easier and safer for people in all factions of the business to say no to a project than yes. Yes means their ass is on the line if the movie fails. Why put yourself in that position? For that reason, the stuff that gets through is often the result of a producer or group of producers who will stop at nothing to get their movie made. These producers, who may be experienced vets or total newbs, will gladly go to every shop, every studio, every production company, and keep racking up ‘no’s’ until they find that one yes. And guess what, it’ll have nothing to do with how good the script or project is. It will just be because these guys refused to take no for an answer. This means, ironically, a lot of badly written projects get made because of passion.

BIG IDEA WRITERS AREN’T OFTEN THE BEST WRITERS – Lots of “big idea” writers who are good at coming up with concepts and trailer-worthy set-pieces will slip past the Hollywood gates and into the system. These writers aren’t necessarily “bad,” but they didn’t make it to the top because they’re experts at character or theme or structure. They made it because they came up with some big futuristic time-travel spec that got some pub all over town. These writers then get big-movie assignments due to their spec and the best of these subpar writers become premiere summer tent-pole movie scribes – scripting such classics as Battleship and Transformers. Sure, you could bring in someone like David Mamet to write Transformers and the script would be better in areas like character and dialogue. But it would probably lack a lot of the fun and “bigness” that you want from these movies. So you’d be gaining something but you’d lose something as well. Since an executive knows that the last thing a 14 year old in Kansas cares about is theme, he’s likely to go with the big idea writer over Mr. Mamet.

MO MONEY MO PROBLEMS – The other day a producer told me that this one well-known indie writer-director who’s had a hard time breaking into Hollywood called him and basically said, “I want 20 million dollars to make my movie and I don’t want you or anyone at your company to bother me.” Unfortunately, that’s not the way it works. Money comes from a bunch of different places these days (foreign financing, private investing, production houses, studios, etc.) and the bigger the pot, the more people want to be involved in the decision-making. If you’re making a movie like Transformers, with a budget of 250 million, you will have TONS of people sticking their finger in the pie. And chances are, a lot of these people won’t know jack-shit about writing. In these cases, the screenwriters aren’t even really writing a script. They’re MANAGING a dearth of strange and sometimes terrible ideas and trying to turn them into a story that makes sense. This is one of the main reasons why these giant movies are so terribly written. Too many cooks in the kitchen.

There are, of course, other reasons for badly-written films. Endless development. Foreign financing that puts little emphasis on the screenplay. Producers who hire their friends instead of good writers. And the bar for sequels, like “A Good Day To Die Hard,” just isn’t that high.

So what’s the solution here? Is there a way out of this mess? The thing that studios don’t realize is that it’s in their best interest to write a good screenplay. Not only does a well-written movie encourage positive word of mouth, which means more audiences members and repeat business, but the film has a better life in the post-theatrical market. It also increases the likelihood of building that all-important franchise everyone’s chasing.

In order to get scripts in better shape, Hollywood needs to make some sacrifices, stuff that they probably don’t want to do because it goes against everything they’ve done up to this point. First, they should look closer at the Pixar approach. Pixar screens multiple storyboard previews of their movies in order to get a feel for how the story is playing. The writer, who’s usually on the project for years, is then able to see what isn’t working and fix it. This perk is available because it takes so long to make an animated movie, time live-action films don’t have. Live action films are usually backed into tighter schedules, giving the writer less freedom to figure things out. But you do find the occasional live-action project that takes its time, like the Batman films and anything directed by James Cameron.  And we see the results when those films finally come to screen. I realize studios have corporate commitments and need to meet certain financial forecasts, but with a little more planning, they should be able to take that extra time and get the script right.

Producers and studios also need to keep the same writer on the project if possible. I realize this means less work for writers (since only one writer will be on the job), but if you want to make good movies, you need to keep writers around who understand the project. A huge reason movies feel so unfocused and disjointed is because Writer F had no idea what Writer A was trying to do when he wrote the original screenplay and therefore changed everything that made everyone fall in love with the script in the first place!

If agents and writers hate this idea because it means less jobs, what about doing what the studios did back in the old days where they kept 20-some writers under contract every year? Those writers would then be available to come in to give notes on the studios’ key projects. This is essentially what Pixar does and it’s proven to be an effective model. In addition to this, hire smart producers who actually understand storytelling and screenwriting. A reason a lot of writers get replaced is because the producer who hired them doesn’t know how to get the most out of them. Therefore when the script stops improving, they just hire someone else. A good producer will guide a writer into overcoming any problems a script may encounter.

Production companies and studios also need to take more chances on scripts that are ready to go, even if they’re afraid of them because they don’t fit into their proven paradigm. When The Streetlights Go On, After Hailey, Desperate Hours. Everyone loves these scripts but they’re still not being made. If you already have a script that people love, don’t fuck with it. Just make the damn thing. I’m not saying you have to put a hundred million dollars into these projects. You have to make them for the right price. But moviegoers out there want better writing. You have it. All you have to do is greenlight the film and make it.

Let the scripts be critiqued online. It always makes me laugh when studios spend 50 million bucks to fix movies they’ve already shot, usually because of story problems. Why not put your scripts online and let the fans critique them? Let them spot what’s wrong ahead of time so you don’t have to pay the price later. Your everyday moviegoing audience won’t pay attention to this, so you won’t spoil the film for the masses. And your core cinephile fan who participates is going to see the next Spiderman or Guardians Of The Galaxy film anyway. In all likelihood, being a part of the development process, even indirectly, is going to get them even more excited to see the film. This has gone on on a smaller scale on Scriptshadow for years. I’ve been told from numerous producers that they made changes to their scripts based on the comments from people who read them here. So I know it works. The question is, will studios put their egos aside to do that for their bigger projects? That remains to be seen.

As you can see, there are no easy answers here. There are a lot of things working against good writing. In many ways, you can consider it a minor miracle when a well-told story DOES reach the screen. But I think with a few changes, we could make sure good screenplays happen more often. And besides, by treating America (and the world) to better movies, our industry wouldn’t be the butt of so many jokes across the country about how they “could’ve written something better.” And with that, I’m out of here. What do you guys think?

  • Poe_Serling

    Taylor Kitsch is the perfect poster boy for an article on bad movies.

    • carsonreeves1

      tell me about it!

  • ThomasBrownen

    Great article. One of the things that I like the most about Scriptshadow is its constant emphasis on the writing. By critiquing bad writing, showing off good writing, and putting our own work out there, we constantly emphasize the importance of writing. This is good for us, and good for the industry as a whole.

    This comment raised a question I’ve been wondering about: “if you want to make good movies, you need to keep writers around who understand the project.”

    Why don’t writers contract around this issue? When they sell a script, or temporary rights to it, why don’t they require that they remain the primary writer, or at least have the option of being the primary writer? I thought I read somewhere (here, maybe?) that this is what the writer of Limitless did. Do the studios resist it? Does the WGA resist it? Should the WGA take up this cause? I dunno. Just wondering.

    • carsonreeves1

      I don’t think many writers have the power to make these demands. They’d be laughed out of the room. But good question. I’d love to know if there are writers who are able to circumvent this issue.

    • Joe Beatty

      It can be done.

      Leslie Dixon on “Limitless” did do this.

      However, I believe the way she did it was to also be a producer on the film as well as the screenwriter. In her contract, she had it so she had a say on such things as casting and it restricted the ability for her to have her replaced. She talks about this on the Q & A she did with Jeff Goldsmith. Also, she said she gave up a lot of money that she normally gets to get this contract.

      Another example is Laeta Kalogridis and her deal to write “Shutter Island.” She said in a lecture I attended that she insisted in her deal with Mike Medavoy’s production company that they not give her any notes as she wrote the spec script. She first met with Dennis Lehane, the writer of the book, and pitched her take to him and then she was left alone to write the screenplay.

      So you can contract things for things like this, but it is very difficult. You have to be a pretty powerful screenwriter, and you have to be willing to give up money.

  • Max

    That was a good article. It’s very depressing to think Hollywood doesn’t give a shit. I was watching ”The Kid Stays in the Picture” last night, (Bob Evans) and I kept thinking to myself, ”I wish I was born then”.

    Sometimes I get extremely depressed/anxious that my only passion in life…films…is in such a dreadful state.

    They say never give up on your dreams, but…

    • carsonreeves1

      I don’t think this should depress anyone. I look at it more as a call-out to people to change things. The industry is changing. It wouldn’t be difficult to institute some of these suggestions.

      • Max

        Still, I believe the effect is irreversible. The industry lost whatever soul it had left in it.

        • scribbler

          i read that saying a lot these days. what does ‘has lost its soul’ mean?

          • Max

            uhhh.. remember that time when movies like Taxi Driver, The Godfather, Raging Bull, Marathon Man, etc were getting made?? That’s what I mean kid.

          • Malibo Jackk

            Reminds me of what the producer of ‘Scrooged’ said about the difficulty of pitching his idea of a studio exec who had lost his soul — and pitching that idea to studio execs.

          • scribbler

            again. where did this statement come from?

          • Malibo Jackk

            It’s all about movie history.
            Studios used to be headed by men who loved movies.
            Eventually large corporations bought the studios and
            number crunchers were brought in to manage the business.

          • scribbler

            i don’t follow. thanks anyway, dudes.

          • scribbler

            well, just what if i don’t recall? can you still explain that phrase? or do i just have to “get older”? by the way…i ain’t a 80’s baby, old man.

          • 21BelowZero

            I take it to mean the movie is shallow, it’s just functioning as eye candy (Transformers) vs a movie with soul, with meaning, with a message (Silver Linings Playbook).

            Another way to look at it, the LOUDER the movie is, the less soul it has ;)

    • Nate

      That’s exactly how I feel at times. I really wanna write scripts, it’s something I’ve wanted to do since I was fifteen, but everytime I read an article like this I get a little disheartened with it all. To think that one day the script I’ve been writing for years could get made into a movie only for it to barely resemble the final product is quite upsetting.

      • brianbergquist

        I feel your pain Nate. I’m a newb writer and middle aged at that. I don’t have the time to play and pray for my big chance. I think sometimes the best chance we got is to make our own films. Start small (short) and hopefully do something that makes enough noise. Establish yourself first. Somehow. Then you can do more stuff on your own terms. Good luck, man.

  • Shaun Snyder

    I think a big reason why Hollywood prefers sequels, set pieces, and explosions over story and character these days is television. When television came out, ticket sales at movie theaters plummeted, so Hollywood needed to come up with new ideas (color, Cinemascope, 3D, blockbusters) to bring people in. The length of television shows allows for more complex stories and better character development. Therefore, in order to compete, Hollywood had to offer something different, and they had the money to make movies that were bigger and flashier than anything offered on television. They also needed to cater to a younger generation, because the older generation would rather sit in the comfort of their home and watch TV then get dressed and go to the movies, and younger people generally are more interested in eye candy and cheap laughs than good stories. I think if anything is going to change with the quality of movies that come out, audiences need to be held accountable, too. Save your money and don’t go see the newest Transformers film, because it will only bring you two-and-a-half hours of mindless, so-called “entertainment.” Go see something that will challenge you to pay attention and that you will remember in the long run. If we stop spending money on things like Transformers, Twilight, and Adam Sandler, Hollywood is going to notice and do something about it. I’m done rambling.

  • Kevin Fataki

    Dude just because you loved Desperate Hours that doesn’t mean the the public will :) – 70 minutes of walking around followed by a 20 minute generic gun battle.


    Besides, I don’t know why people keep using Transformers as an example. Transformers 3 made over a billion dollars, so do you really think studios will listen when you tell them that Megatron should have more feelings and a backstory involving Optimus’s sister?

    • carsonreeves1

      that’s the scary thing. If the script to Transformers was actually good, it would’ve made even more. I like the Optimus Prime sister idea. But only if she’s got cancer.

      • Kevin Fataki

        And the only way he can save her is if he uses the allspark which will cause the demise of humanity. So now Optimus Prime has to stop him, but that means his sister will die…!!!

        Must. Open. Final. Draft.

        • carsonreeves1

          See? A little discussion and we’ve already improved the script. :)

    • Montana Gillis

      maybe if Optimus’s Sister had a nice rack of hydraulics, Megatron would not have had time to attack. I mean, besides attacking her nice rack of hydraulics… excuse me I have to go the bathroom right now…..

    • John Bradley

      I think Transformers would have been better if it had been made as a “competitive dance off” type movie where Optimus Prime beat Megatron in some type of dance battle….oh and a sparkly vampire, those sell really well…..make those 2 changes and you got yourself an extra billion dollars!

  • scribbler

    everybody wants exactly what they like all of the time. if you had the golden chance to influence a nation, and, by extension of that opportunity, the world, how much of that influence, that unusual and unique power would you be willing to relinquish to folks who’ve never even tasted it? not a lot is made of the psychological aspect of moviemaking. in my view, much of it boils down to plain old people having it their way which is not going to change. we all want it that way. i’ve seen it on this very site where certain people are restive when it comes to being broad in terms of the scripts that they would like to read, review or see developed. what’s your favorite three meals? what would you do to ensure that, any day you pleased, you could have either or all of those meals? so, while there may exist a dearth of diversity in the film industry where writers and their work are involved, one can’t force it down people’s esophaguses and foster change. in fact, you’ll likely ruin something that in the minds of those whom you would presume to change doesn’t need fixing. but their is hope for change after all. but how many of us are going to stop tripping to the theatre, redbox or ‘flix for our usual dosages? not nearly enough, i surmise, to bring down an iconic system.

  • WrathofChakaKhan

    I think it’s almost more important to make the movie than to make it well. And I’m sincere about that. You can spend 10 years perfecting a script. Or you can just make a movie. If it doesn’t work out move onto the next one and make another. People just want to make stuff. But opinions on that vary. Some believe in holing up and emerging with a masterpiece. Others believe it can be just as important and if not more rewarding going on instinct, trusting your gut about some things. If they don’t work out it doesn’t mean the script was shit, there could be plenty of other factors involved. Look at Little Miss Sunshine. The writer was absolutely right – if it was in the wrong hands it could have been a disaster.

  • bruckey

    the most powerful hollywood writer’s are thus because they also have another title namely producer

  • Petra Quilitz

    You’re the voice of a new generation, Carson.

    Commercial businesses are are just now the first ones to get warm with the idea of letting the consumer in on designing the product. And what a rolercoaster ride it is for them. (an inspirational example is the U.K. sanpro brand Bodyform social media coup. Read about it on

    Entertainment and publishing businesses are next in line for the social media treatment. It’s going to be an awesome ride and I hope you’ll continue to be one of the front row voices for the next couple of years.

  • sal

    “The truth is, there are only a dozen great screenwriters out there, and maybe less than a hundred truly good ones.”

    Love you, Carson, but easily the dumbest thing I’ve read this week.

    • carsonreeves1

      Do you think there’s less or more?

      • jae kim

        I would have thought 3-4 great and a dozen good.

      • brianbergquist

        Carson, what good to great writers would be on your list so we can read their scripts and watch their movies.

  • denisniel

    I pretty much agree with everything – which is unfortunate, because it means this industry is really going downhill… I just have doubts regarding posting the screenplays online for critique before the release, since word of mouth is a powerful tool – way more powerful than we give it credit for, in my opinion – and even if the average movie goer won’t get to read the script, or wouldn’t want to anyway, the word of mouth is still going to rule over these projects, from the screenwriter to the fan to the average movie goer, until it eventually does “ruin the surprise ending”…
    Although that’s a great idea, I don’t see how it could possibly work right now, but the “back-in-the-day” studio approach of having hired writers to go over several house projects would definitely be a good choice, and I can say there are a number of production companies outside the US already employing that approach – and it seems to be working.

  • CineDave

    Given the meager tastes of the largest segment of the movie-going public and the general nature of our culture, its no wonder studios have become nothing more than facilitators of an enormous orchestrated money grab. Studios are only seeking ‘butts in seats’. In no way are they attempting to make quality cinema nor using the cinematic form to further explore the human condition in our ever evolving culture. Their aim is to trick and entice you into the theatre. While one would conclude otherwise, ‘Good’ has nothing to do with it.

    And in their favor, great is rare-in any endeavor. The bell curve is aptly relevant. A pop song, a flambé, a novel, painting; these do not require the participation and input of an army of participants. Filmmaking, at least of a certain scope and above, requires multiple partners. A films length, complexity, sheer size and magnitude makes for thousands of variables that can go wrong. Add to this the profit potential and the number of thumbs in the pie multiplies making derailment of whole far more likely.

    In my opinion, as an adherent of something akin to the auteur theory, the most successful films retain the halmarks of a single voice and vision. This is not to say that crucial, even indelible, contributions aren’t made at regular intervals by participants ( and yes I do concede producers) throughout the process. It just seems more than self-evident that film is no differant than any other art form. The results of the process are an expression of the experience of an individual
    at one particular point and time in the universe. This only gets muddied, confused and unfocused as ulterior motives and generalized choices find their way into the finished product.

    • DrMatt


  • BananaDesk

    Great article, Carson. But I do disagree with you on one point: the Online Critique. If twelve Producers throwing their two cents at you is bad enough then how is a thousand super-fans throwing their ideas at you going to work? Keep the writing to the professionals.

    The model that Pixar has adopted is truly incredible. I couldn’t agree more that studios should simply keep writers on contract. Such a great idea.

    • carsonreeves1

      the thing with the producers is, you HAVE to incorporate the notes. Use the fans to spot problems in your script early on. But ultimately, you don’t have to do anything they say.

  • jae kim

    fantastic article. a long time coming.

    this reminds me of what’s going on with world war z. I read the script and loved Michael J. Straczynsky’s version. but then I see the trailer and it looks like somebody down the pipe said ‘we need a summer action blockbuster’. so instead of trying to write in more personal conflicts and character challenges, they’re going with the ‘transformers’ route.

    hopefully I’m wrong, but by the fact that there is extensive re shoots going on, I wouldn’t count on a good flick.

    how about making it a requirement for producers to be able to write a decent script before they can take on any projects?

    • carsonreeves1

      I don’t think we’d ever have a movie project again if we instituted that rule. :)

  • Midnight Luck

    I think something gets missed here.

    It seems the more screenwriters you get
    together, the more they agree that everyone
    watching movies wants better screenplays.
    Wants better stories.

    I disagree. All you need to do
    is watch their patterns.

    People think Google is a good way to find
    shit on the internet. What Google is good at is
    finding out your PATTERNS.
    They break down all kinds of numbers and
    figure out what you will buy, where you will search,
    who YOU ARE in your Habits.

    Production companies, movies, money.
    They follow the same thing.

    How can Fast Five get made?
    Watch the patterns
    of movie goers in the inner cities.
    In the population
    dense hubs of the countries.
    They could care less if
    a screenwriter is
    involved. Or what a screenwriter is

    I am not saying I am any different.
    I believe people want better written stories,
    more character pieces,
    more nuance.
    Alas, I am full of the same
    crazy notions as the rest.
    The Box Office doesn’t agree.

    Numbers don’t lie. People don’t want that,
    they want
    their heads removed
    something to take them away from their
    unhappy, un-fulfilled lives.

    The only time Hollywood interesting stuff is
    for the one month Oscar rush.
    These movies don’t make money.
    They shine the Producers balls, and
    chrome domes into a gleam so sweet
    all the others follow them around hoping to
    carry their giant egos in their hot little hands.

    These movies don’t make the money.
    Yet they are integral to keep the machine moving.
    But all the studio needs is one or two of these at a precise
    For the attention.

    All the rest of the year, they need asses in the seats. And
    those asses don’t care about scriptwriting, or character
    arches, or dialogue, or beats, or any of that crap.

    They care what their friends care about. What is being twitted
    about, who is talking about what. Who LIKES what on Facebook.
    Who Pin(ned) their interest.

    It all comes down to
    Number crunching.
    Who Can lead the sheep
    to wherever they want them to go.

    It would be a fantastic world if all the billions of people
    cared as much about story
    as a writer does.
    But they don’t.

    The asses will forever fill the seats to see
    Transformers 9 (if it has a couple hotties in it)
    Battle: Detroit (if it has enough explosions and testosterone)
    Legos: The Domination (if it has a Happy-Meal tie in)

    All numbers.
    Google will run the earth some day
    (along with
    Costco &

    I cry for the every quickening future
    The short attention spans
    The illiteracy
    the poor

    And only 1 out of 30 of you
    made it to the
    end of this LONG post

    because I couldn’t keep your attention
    It moved on to more !!! Flashy !!!! affairs

    That is the new world of ENTERTAINMENT!

    I would LOVE to be wrong.
    but numbers don’t lie.

  • Somersby

    Movie making is a business. Everybody wants to make money. I get that. Yet financial success and good story-telling seldom go hand-in-hand.

    Producers want to get their hands on the next big thing. And they want it to be exactly like the last big thing. Writers dutifully climb on board because they can make a boatload of cash. Hollywood demands product – product – that can be hawked to the masses and, hopefully, make a killing on opening weekend.

    Writers aren’t victims. They’re complicit in the process. Successful writers – and by successful I mean those who are actually working as writers, not necessarily those whose scripts might be judged as extraordinarily competent and original – know that if they don’t adhere to the producers’ wishes, the next guy in line will.

    For a place that considers itself the center of the creative universe, Hollywood can be a remarkably unimaginative place.

    Carson, given your GSU approach to screenwriting, one might argue that you are partially responsible for the steaming pile-of-sameness that shows up weekly at the local Cineplex. Okay, I’m saying this tongue-in-cheek (partially!), but your advice IS based almost entirely on previous box office successes (“500 Screenwriting Secrets Hidden Inside 50 Great Movies”.) There’s nothing wrong with that – other than it encourages sameness over originality. Why not? Sameness sells. If you want to be successful, at least by Hollywood standards, then here’s how to do it!

    But am I wrong in thinking this attitude contributes to the predominantly mercantile way we view screenwriting? Is it even possible to look at screenwriting differently, say, from a more creative, less money-driven perspective? Personally, I don’t think it is. Too many young writers have been schooled in selling the story instead of telling the story.

    If a change is going to come, I don’t see it coming from within.

    To paraphrase William Faulkner, taking risks is the only way of doing anything really good. Ironically, I guess that’s why so much of what comes out of Hollywood just isn’t very good.

    • Midnight Luck

      What you said.

      I agree.

      All the producers do DREAM of finding
      the Next DIE HARD
      as we have Nine to show for it.
      or the next LETHAL WEAPON
      as there are a bunch of those.
      TERMINATOR too.
      With 4 or 5 to follow.
      And Never would their be
      a crappy Prometheus if not for
      the Original: ALIEN!

      But when was the last discovery
      of one of those?

      They were made in the 80’s! (one in the 70’s)
      Nothing like them has been found since.
      But Die Hard 2,3,4,5,6 have followed in the
      30 years since.

      If they could just understand,
      Someone has to find that new
      good voice, with great ideas.
      But they don’t.
      They fall back on the old.
      Never will part 2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9
      possibly be as good, memorable
      as the first.
      But lord will it bring the CASH!
      Rinse, Repeat (the Hollywood Motto)

      But they all started with
      Incredible ORIGINALS!
      Die Hard
      Lethal Weapon

      Without those BEGINNINGS
      they would never have made
      the BILLIONS off the Sub-par

    • JakeBarnes12

      You think screenplays without GSU are somehow more “creative?”

      Check back on any given Friday to see that theory exploded.

  • Will Vega

    I agree with everything but the last bit. I know most of us like to read and critique other people’s work cause it’s fun and informative to make a story stronger. But the reason why I couldn’t enjoy Inglorious Basterds and Django Unchained as much as I probably would have is because I read the scripts first…and they were better than the finished product.

    Even Tarantino said that if he really wanted to, he’d stop at the script stage. Cause he knows what he’s writing is going to be infinitely better than what will end up being on the screen. His classics like Pulp Fiction are meant to be made into movies, but if it was just in novel form they would’ve been better or just as good. Cause it’s all in the power of imagination. That’s why he’s contemplating a career in writing novels in the future (among other things like the advent of digital projection).

    Sure the masses are not going to read or critique whole scripts, but if the latest blockbuster script is put on a pedestal…the specifics are going to be posted on blogs everywhere. And everyone reads news bytes. It happened with the now-shelved Michael Bay TMNT project, people read it and posted a blog highlighting the top 5 or 10 terrible moments in it. Even if the script was different for the better, would you want to see it with the top 10 terrible moments burned in your brain? I wouldn’t waste my time. It’s commercial suicide to let that happen.

    So what do you do to make a script better if you’re gonna put it behind closed doors? What i’m doing is assembling a team of people:

    a. That I known very well for years.
    b. Understand narrative, story structure, and dialogue like it’s their second nature so they can catch the “off” things in the script.

    c. Are on the same wavelength I am in terms of style so they can bring in new ideas I never would’ve thought of and are perfect for the story i’m telling.

    When you work with people that tight-knit and know they’re more than capable (they breathe, eat, and live on good storytelling), that’s all you need. When I think of quality blockbusters, that mesh “eye-candy” with awesome storytelling, I think of the classics. Back to the Future, Indiana Jones, Jurassic Park, Ghostbusters. All of them had exciting high concepts and delivered, which is why they’re classics and still money makers today. No excuse why it can’t be the same now (Avengers and Amazing Spiderman are two recent examples that, in my opinion, are doing it right).

    Anyway, rant over.

    • scribbler

      do we actually make others’ stories stronger with our opinions? how can you quantify that assertion?

      • Will Vega

        That’s based on the comments, where people point out the same mistakes and the author admitting or acknowledging the weaknesses.

  • peisley

    These action movies may not be the best example of what’s wrong with screenwriting these days. The producers are pandering more to the foreign (non-English speaking) market where dialogue is almost perfunctory to action, explosions and set pieces. There’s also a problem with cultural references. For the more accomplished and even cerebral films, including the action pictures with a brain, there are many talented screenwriters. A major problem is a lot of these writers are considered has-beens. A producer friend of mine met a writer who’d won an Academy Award about eight years ago and he can’t even get arrested today. True, the writers could be at fault for their choice of subject matter, but there’s a long feeding chain starting with managers and agents up to the producers and studios. They want what can be sold quickly and they want consistent work from the writers or they’re out. You can’t blame them for wanting to make a buck. Problem is, one false move and you could be as good as dead. There are a lot of other reasons. All I can say is, thank the stars for tv and cable. If you’re lucky enough to break that tough nut, you have a chance in Hell of getting somewhere.

  • Mr. Thomas Ripley

    I think the problem is that you’re never going to please everyone with your writing. There’s always going to be someone who dislikes it for whatever reason. But, there’s going to be someone who likes it as well. An even balance.

    It also comes down to if you got paid for the job, the movie made money, and the money people still want to work with you, who cares about what others think about the film. It’s done. It’s out there. You’re never going to get everything right. Gotta take a few falls in order to appreciate not falling. :)

    Mr. Thomas Ripley

  • ripleyy

    I think you summed it pretty perfectly with the article but they have a business model they won’t fix. Good article.

  • r.w. hahn

    I think you just said a mouthful and someone needs to sit up,pay attention, and lead the way, like Pixar has done…..Really great article Carson….I’m sharing it…..

  • bluedenham

    Well said. The time issue has become more and more obvious to me. Studios just don’t allow enough time in the schedule for a writer to really develop a script. The first Die Hard was a brilliant script. The second was middlin’. The rest? Blech. All your points are valid. Maybe someone, somewhere, will pay attention. Let’s hope.

  • carsonreeves1

    I LOOOOVED Searching for Sugarman!

    • Poe_Serling

      Really? Your lack of enthusiasm for it paints a different picture.

      Oh, yeah… just finished reading tomorrow’s AF submission Emma… a strange little script indeed.

  • Dane Purk

    Great stuff in here, well thought out. It’s also worth noting, that a lot of the sub-par writing is due to new writers themselves not embracing the industry, so to speak. They show up with this “Hollywood hates me because I’m a writer so I’m just gonna do what I want” attitude and it turns people off. It doesn’t matter if you’re the most talented writer in town, if you’re a pretentious D-bag, no one is gonna work with you, period. People want to work with people they could easily have a beer with, especially if you’re gonna be up long nights in development hell. And when all the new people have all the wrong attitudes, it makes people want to work with the established writers, regardless of how “good” their writing is.

    I think writers tend to group themselves into this little cult where it’s “us against the industry” and people don’t want to work with them. I think you have to learn to share your talent gracefully. You have to take bad ideas and make them good. And you can’t claim that the “industry is against you” and then try to convince someone that you still want to work in that industry. Isn’t going to happen.

    I’m pretty sure actors, directors, and producers get fucked over just as much as writers. Writers are just slightly more self-involved and less industry friendly so we hear about it more when it happens to them.

    We know the demand for good scripts is eternal, so by definition, HOLLYWOOD DOESN’T HATE WRITERS. THEY NEED THEM. Us new people just have to learn how to develop our talent and share it like someone who actually wants to be doing this.

    All the points Carson touched on are true, but I just thought this one was worth adding. As an aspiring writer, I don’t want the industry to think that we’re all these sad little anti-social dreamers who think our coming of age indie drama about a writer moving from somewhere to L.A. and “discovering” himself deserves a $100 million budget and full distribution so it can “change the world.” Some of us are ready to work with you. If you’ll let us. :)

  • scribbler

    curious. are you among the masses?

  • MrTibbsLive

    What Hollywood figured out some years ago was that the people who go see movies over-and-over again are teenagers. Teenagers will spend all their allowance going to see the same crappy movie with their friends, their boyfriend or girlfriend, on a double date, etc. instead of on porno tapes and weed like I did when I was a teenager.

    So the solution to the problem is, KILL all teenagers! And force Hollywood to return to making movies for adults again :)

  • Montana Gillis

    Like any business, if your product consistently disappoints, your customer base migrates to a competing venue. The only approach worth taking as a screenwriter is to be your best authentic self and create from your imagination and heart. (Damnit! I hope my crap sells!)

  • Montana Gillis

    IMBD: Box Office
    Budget: $209,000,000 (estimated)
    Opening Weekend: $25,534,825 (USA) (18 May 2012)

    In addition: The Marketing Budget was revealed to be $110 million (not part of the movie budget) This was a big Money LOSER for Universal…

  • Todd Walker

    Someone explain this one to me: Why film a movie if your story already has problems before day one of filming begins? You’re getting the actors,director and crew together before taking a 2nd look at a script?! That’s just nuts.

    I remember they were filming Gladiator ten or so years ago and on the dvd commentary they said that the writing was a day ahead of filming. That’s not to say Gladiator is a bad movie, far from it, but why take such a heavy risk by not being fully prepared?

    • Malibo Jackk

      It’s not unusual.
      Movie making is all about feeding the machine.
      (Making the release date.)

  • 21BelowZero

    Hey Carson, just got the newsletter. Idea for next Thursday article, how about what you/producers/agents/manager/studios/God are looking for in regards to the script’s Genre? The requirements for an Action script have got to be vastly different from a Rom Com.

    Break down what’s needed for the top 5-10 Genres: Action, Adventure, Comedy, Drama, Horror, Rom Com, Thriller, Sci-Fi…

  • 21BelowZero

    3rd time’s a charm/2nd Repost (damn, Disqus is hungry)

    Hey Carson, just got next week’s Newsletter. Idea for Thursday’s article. How about you tell us what you/agents/managers/producers/studios/God are looking for in regards to a script’s Genre?

    I’m sure some people will say, “Just tell a great story.” I don’t think that’s good enough. Each Genre has it’s own beats, yes?

    The requirements for an Action movie have got to be vastly different from that of a Rom Com, and a Horror movie is a lot different from a Drama.

    Tell us what’s needed for the top 5-10 Genres: Action, Adventure, (Rom)Comedy, Drama, Horror, Thriller, Sci-Fi…

    With the picture, I think #10 could just be re-titled: Tyler Perry

  • John Bradley

    I disagree with you on one main issue J-E-B…I loved The Frightners that Peter Jackson did!=p

  • Malibo Jackk

    Should we call it Amateur Friday… or Kiss of Death Friday?
    And where is Benny Pickles since he won the honor?
    What has happened to all the… ‘Disappeared’?
    Is Carson sharpening his knife? Again… ?

    • Poe_Serling

      lol. You’re right, Malibo… it’s almost like an episode of the Twilight Zone.

      Aspiring screenwriters clamor to get their script reviewed on SS’s Amateur Friday… and once they do – poof! We never see hide nor hair of them ever again.

      Perhaps Carson is really the Grim Reaper of up-and-coming writers. Getting kickback money from Sorkin, Tarantino, etc. for thinning out the competition.

      • MWire

        Hey! I’m still around.


        • Poe_Serling

          Hey MWire-

          That’s right… you are an AF survivor!

          To be on the safe side, I just wouldn’t answer the door if someone says there the In-and-Out delivery boy and always keep one eye open when you’re sleeping.

  • Film_Shark

    The movie I saw the weekend, ‘A Good Day to Die Hard’ opened was Nicholas Sparks’ latest tearjerker, ‘Safe Haven.’ Before you roll your eyes, let me explain why. First, it’s tough to do a romantic drama well and second, never underestimate the power of the female moviegoer. Sure, it was schmaltzy but young women were clapping at the closing credits. This film almost beat out a huge action flick at the box office (movie distributor Relativity Media is pleased). I don’t want to give away any spoilers but it also had a suspenseful plot twist to it. The heroine was running away from a dark past. It also had a Kleenex zinger thrown in at the end that some may consider a cheap shot but it is what you would expect in a Sparks’ drama. Women go see these kinds of movies with other women (same as they did with the ‘Twilight’ series). Sparks (who is a movie producer now) is already in negotiations to get another one of his novels made into a love story. Where are all the good romantic comedy screenplays? Nora Ephron was good at it but sadly she passed away. Besides David O. Russell’s ‘Silver Linings Playbook’ (which actually is adapted from a book), I cannot think of one recent original romantic comedy/drama screenplay and that’s a shame because women eat this genre up at the box office.

  • Zadora

    After having read a lot of the comments here, I wonder if people think only good movies were made in the old days? People are quick to name classics from years ago, but those are classics because they were great. We don’t remember the tons of movies that have always been made and always will be made that were crap.

  • carsonreeves1

    No, I think a good producer with story knowledge can really help a script. And I know that most people set out to make a good movie. But I’d still argue that many of them still think that the script has very little to do with achieving that, and that’s a problem.

  • Guess who

    Why do screenwriters have to be pitted against each other. They’ll have a writer replace another writer and just rewrite him/her. Why not sometimes try having the writers work with each other and bounce off ideas… sometimes one person might not have all the answers, but when they have some extra sounding boards they can come up with better stuff, especially a fellow creative mind.

    I think a lot of crappy movies are made mostly because it’s incredibly hard to write a good movie. I collect a ton of scripts…and even the superstar writers have some clunkers that they’ve written. It’s a miracle that some of these genius movies get made. Think about it… a person has to come up with something genius like the Godfather from whole cloth…. you’re not going to be able to come anywhere near that.

    Someone made an interesting reference to George Lucas’s movies. Just like many people probably have one good movie in him, that might have been George Lucas. The stuff that he dreamed about and really inspired him were the ones that he threw into the original Star Wars. He also spent every waking hour rewriting and rewriting the hell out of that story. Anyone who’s read the original Luke the Starkiller knows how terrible those original drafts were. Lucas also rooted his original closer to tried and true formulas and structures that secretly give us comfort and pleasure. I don’t know what the hell his most recent 3 were.

  • Richard Dreyfuss

    Yes, Hollywood moguls taking notes from the comments sections of websites to find out if their screenplay is any good. That is exactly what Hollywood needs to make good movies (add sarcasm). This is the best Idea since the producers of ‘A Good Day To Die Hard’ said, “Hey, why don’t we get that guy who wrote G.I. Joe?”

    • carsonreeves1

      Only the good ideas. :)

  • Cfrancis1

    Great article.

    One thing I do disagree on is the comment about letting screenplays be critiqued on online. I think this is a really bad idea.

    While the Scriptshadow community is a good one and there are a lot of bright guys on here, overall, there are way too many armchair quarterbacks on the Internet whose opinion matters about as much as your Uncle Lou’s. There would be so many moronic suggestions that the studio would spend more time separating the wheat from the chaff than actually implementing some of the good notes.

    I also think it would be overwhelming and scare the crap out of everyone at the studio. Nothing would ever get made because of insecurity. Because no matter how good the script, you’re always going to have trolls who shit all over everything.

    Instead, I think a small pool of talented writers would be more beneficial. People who know what they are talking about and have intelligent opinions. As they say on NPR, “Less tempest. More teapot.”