“Why the Hell does THAT guy keep getting work?”
I know that’s what you’re thinking. You read my past credits (Halloween 8, Cube 2, The Crow 4) and you say to yourself, “Those movies were CRAP. I could do better than that.” Maybe you have a horror script in your drawer right now that is you think is pure gold. Maybe you’ve read in the blogs that I wrote a script called Hercules for Millennium films, or that I will be re-writing Subterranean for Beacon, or that I’ve handed in a draft of Stigmata 2 for MGM and your rolling your eyes with indignation and disgust.
Well I’m going to explain to you why I keep getting work, why self-respecting writers and filmmaker’s like me would ever do straight-to-video sequels like Stigmata 2, and why when you are offered the job to write Stigmata 3, you should take it.
First off, when movie executives decide to hire me as a writer, let’s say on Stigmata 2, they do it because they have read screenplays I’ve written for movies that never got made. That screenplay in your drawer? Yeah, I’ve got a dozen of those, and the primary reason I get work is that mine are better.
Secondly, one of the first hard lessons of screenwriting is that a good script is no guarantee of a good movie, and that when the movie doesn’t turn out well, very few people will know or care that your well-written screenplay didn’t make it through the process.
In 2002, the original script for Cube 2 was good enough to land me a multi-picture deal at Dimension Films. Afterwards however, my Cube 2 script was completely re-written by two other writers, one of whom was the producer. The movie that came out contained virtually nothing from my original script. That’s how it goes on most films. It’s just the nature of the film production.
And, I shouldn’t complain about being rewritten. On both Halloween 8 and Crow 4, I was hired as a script doctor to “polish” other writers’ scripts. I did the rewrites on the eve of production, and tried my best to make improvements. Again very little of my work made it to the screen, but the money was good, and enjoyed collaborating with the people involved.
You see, that’s what screenwriters do. They work on films, both high and low. Before he wrote Lone Star, John Sayles wrote Alligator. Before he wrote award winners like Eastern Promises and A History of Violence, David Cronenberg did movies like Rabid and Parasite.
Take the example of the purest, film-artist I know, Jacques Thelemaque. His films have won awards in European Festivals from the kind of judges who only like movies by Ingmar Bergman and Andrei Tarkovsky. He’s president of Filmmaker’s Alliance, a grassroots organization dedicated to supporting film artists outside the studio system. You’re not going to find an artist more dedicated to his personal vision (read his excellent blog, A Filmmaker’s Life). But do you want to know what he does as his day job? He produces little straight-to-video horror films with titles like “Within,” “Midnight Movie,” and “Augie and the Wolf.”
The fact is that you CAN do both.
But what’s that? You say you can’t possibly compromise your vision? Then finance your films yourself. Join a group like Filmmaker’s Alliance. Learn the perils of independent filmmaking and self-distribution. That’s just what I did. And as a result, I won a contest and a grant at the DGA given by FA, Kodac, and Panivision to make a short film just the way I want to, with no rewrites and no compromises.
Meanwhile, I make my living writing little genre movies. I write action. I write horror. I write thrillers. I do it because it’s fun. I do it because it’s a lot easier than loading trucks and more interesting than making lattes. I do it because I love the thrill of writing “the car explodes” and then watching, months later, a REAL CAR EXPLODE.
How can I stand having my name on movies that some people mock and despise? It’s part of the job. No matter what movie you work on you must be prepared for the possibility that it could turn out to be an embarrassing disaster. You have to be prepared to take the heat, or worse yet, the complete… unmitigated… indifference.
That’s the risk I’m taking writing Stigmata 2, and so far it’s worth the risk. People are telling me, in mildly shocked tones, that the first draft is “actually, really good.” As rewrites continue I will continue to throw all my passion into the project, and I remain optimistic that this time, against the odds, my work will make it to the screen, and that this time... it will turn out really, REALLY well.
So, maybe that horror screenplay in your drawer really is pure gold. Maybe it will win screenwriting contests and score you an agent. Maybe movie executives will read it and be so impressed they will offer you the opportunity to write Stigmata 3, the follow up to the surprise straight-to-video hit Stigmata 2. If that happens, don’t be a jackass…
… take the job.