Screenwriters Reveal Their Worst Notes From Studio Execs

Hidden Figures

In the world of movies, screenwriters have one of the toughest jobs in creating a script and storyline that both fans of the franchise they’re writing for will be into, as well as the big bosses pumping their cash into the film. Every year, some of the biggest names in the business gather at the Writers Guild of America Beyond Words panel. The most recent took place earlier this week.

Whilst at the event, screenwriters including Damien Chazelle (La La Land), Allison Schroeder and Theodore Melfi (Hidden Figures) shared some of the worst notes they’ve ever received from studio executives. Find out more from their revealing admissions below:

Damien Chazelle (La La Land): “It was on Whiplash, it ends with a kind of long drum solo, which was the whole point of making the movie. And the note was to get rid of all that. The note was written out – ‘He’s good at drumming. We get it.’”

Allison Schroeder (Hidden Figures): “I was really excited, I was pitching this thriller with two female leads, about espionage. [The exec] said, ‘Oh! We love it! It’s great. Can you either change it to incest or two men?’ I said, ‘If you’ll really hire me? Yes.’

Theodore Melfi (Hidden Figures): “Most of the notes you get are from actors. They’re bad. This one studio [Fox Searchlight] person said, ‘Do we have to have so much math?’ So I pretended to be interested but, no, it’s about math. And then Kevin Costner calls me one night and says, ‘I’ve been thinking about a receding hairline.’ I said, ‘OK. Why?’ He said, ‘I just think this guy would have a receding hairline.’ And so I call the studio because I love to torture them, and said, ‘Kevin Costner wants a receding hairline,’ and they flip out, saying ‘We want Kevin Costner just the way he is!’ So I went back to Kevin and said everyone at the studio thinks it will make you look old. He went, ‘Oh. Can I chew gum?’”

Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick (Deadpool): “We wrote a parody of The Sopranos called The Tomatoes. It was all fruits and vegetables in the leads. It was the Tomatoes vs. The Bananas. The note came back, ‘We love it, but do they have to be fruits and vegetables?

Whiplash - Miles Teller Drum Solo

Kenneth Lonergan (Manchester by the Sea): “I’m trying to think of a really bad note that I’ve gotten, but for the past 20 years when executives give me notes I go into a kind of self-induced hypnotic trance in which I just nod and say… ‘Oh that’s interesting.’ I pitched a comedy once and someone said, ‘Where’s the fun?’ I said I didn’t know.

Barry Jenkins (Moonlight): “So, where are the white people?

Eric Heisserer (Arrival): “It was the start of a pitch, I said ‘There’s a spy and his wife.’ The executive said, ‘There is no wife. Continue.’

Taylor Sheridan (Hell or High Water): “It just starts to sound like the teacher from the Peanuts cartoon. I was in a meeting, I wrote this pilot for AMC, and we’re all sitting there and they’re giving me all their notes and I’m listening and at one point I say, ‘What the f--- are you people talking about?’ And they said, ‘Taylor, you have to look for the note within the note.’ I said, ‘OK, but why don’t you just give me the note?’ They looked at me dead seriously and said, ‘Well we don’t know what the note is.’

Todd Black (Fences): “We made a Western called The Magnificent Seven [with Sony Pictures]. And the biggest note in development and shooting it was, ‘Do they have to wear cowboy hats and have facial hair?’ And I said, ‘Do you not want them not to have horses either?’ That was a huge note on a daily basis.

Imagine a world where Damien Chazelle’s first feature Whiplash was without its iconic and climactic drum solo or a Western from Todd Black where the leads were hairless Ken Doll types. It's funny to hear how misunderstood some of these projects were by the studio execs funding them, but also a little scary. It's deflating to think about the repercussions studio executive notes may have had on movies that were destined for greatness, but were released only to fall flat.

Looking at some of the most expensive movies that failed makes it easy to wonder what went on behind-the-scenes that may have led to their demise. With talented headliners, Oscar-nominated screenwriters and flashy special effects, perhaps studio execs need to start looking at themselves when they wonder why things didn't come together in the end.

Source: The Wrap

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