Monday, July 11, 2005

A Rainbow of Disaster

In my continuing efforts to de-mystify the movie industry (in other words, to explain how things can and do go wrong so often), I present to you...

The Rainbow Script.

This script is a shooting script for a film the studio is doing in another country. In the interest of discretion, I will not mention the title of the film, nor any details. It's not really relevant, other than for the purposes of idle curiosity. The tale I'm about to tell applies to so many movies at so many studios, the details are really a footnote.

Please note right off the bat that the script sits in a three-holed, D-ring binder. Immediately, you should be aware that this facilitates the removal and addition of individual sheets of paper with little fuss or muss (What is "muss" anyway? Is it a word Madison Avenue invented to rhyme with "fuss?" But, I digress). Also note, if you will that the pages are colored. I will explain the rationale behind this in a moment. Also note (because this factors into said upcoming explanation) that it's not just one color, but several.

One day, a few weeks ago, we were in preproduction for this film. The "shooting script" arrived, on white paper. I've learned that the words "shooting script" are really never to be taken literally. See, you might think that the first thing one needs to shoot a film is, well, a script. You know... character, plot, some dialogue, a couple of cool "kablams," all laid out on 8 1/2" by 11" paper, to be used as guide as to what this film might actually be about. Oh, naive fools! You know nothing! Aren't you glad I'm here to divest you of that preposterous notion.

Meanwhile, the movie starts shooting with their clean, white script. Over the course of the next two weeks, as they're shooting, two writers have been hired to do rewrites -- as they're shooting. Every couple of days, new pages for the script began to arrive every day or so. Each set of revisions comes on a different color paper. The title sheet lists all the colored pages. So, each time you replace the changed pages with the new ones, you replace the title page with the new one. That way, everybody knows that everybody got all the revision. Little by little, the white screenplay began to be laced with other colors -- blue, pink, green, yellow, goldenrod, salmon. Now, there are only so many shades of colored paper in the world, and if the script changes keep on coming (did I mention that the movie was shooting? That's important, so I wanted to make sure that you guys got that), you run out of colors. Then you start getting "2nd blue," 2nd pink," etc.

Then one day, as if by a miracle. And entire new script arrives for this movie that's currently shooting. The pages are all green. It is called, appropriately enough, "2nd green draft" (it being a whole new draft, and green and all). So, now, there are no white pages. At all. It's all color, all the time. And the pages keep arriving. 2nd yellow. 2nd goldenrod. 2nd salmon. Salmon's pretty much the end of the line, colored paper-wise. So, now we're on 3rd blue.

It's a veritable smorgasbord of colored pages. And the movie is shooting. Right now. And the script keeps changing. Frank Darabont, who directed two of the best films I've ever seen, The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile makes a big point in many of his interviews (including the Q&A he did in October, 2002, which I moderated) about not liking the colored pages. He has this wacky notion that, before you start shooting the movie, it would probably be a good idea to have a completed script. You know. Done. Like almost as if you knew what was going to happen in the movie before you started shooting it. That Frank. He was born in France, so he can be forgiven a wild hair. It's crazy talk. Way ahead of it's time. If it were to catch on, all hell could break loose.

So, what is our movie about? I really can't say. Not just because it's a confidentiality breach, but because, I really can't say. I have this general idea. But new pages are arriving every other day or so, so that could change. It doesn't matter, though. If you've been wondering (especially this summer) how it is that you keep paying $10.50 to see these movies that are so mediocre-to-bad, I urge you to look at the top photograph. Colored pages. There's your answer. A finished screenplay in Hollywood is a luxury, not a necessity when beginning to shoot a movie.

So you take a little blue, pink, some goldenrod, mix it with some yellow, throw in a dash of salmon, and what do you have? A recipe for box-office disaster.



  1. That right there is why I REFUSE to work in Hollywood and take the filthy money they keep offering me to bastardize (bastardise? bastard-eyes?) my own stellar efforts.

    That and the fact I wake up soon after such offers are made.

  2. Don't you hate when the dream faeries do that? The least they can do is wait until AFTER you've had your wild night in bed with Johnny Depp before waking you.

    Damn dream faeries....


  3. I'm going to have to ask you to get off Johnny now Catharine. He is MINE. Our love is something you could know nothing about. It is REAL...and TRUE...and FOREVER! So back off!
    Quick someone call a psychologist...or a scientologist!

  4. fix it mother.....fix write it......oh...and I think I know what GREAT movie you're talking about!

  5. For the record... I was on a movie once... A big budget thing with A-list stars. This particular movie had no fewer than 8 screenwriters (because rewriting and re-rewriting someone's work always makes it better, right???). We were done shooting. Then we were shooting again. (They call it, oddly enough, "reshoots")

    On the LAST day of RESHOOTS, I visited the soundstage and saw the lead actor saying to the director and script girl, "What if I said this... yeah..." and the poor script girl was writing the dialogue he was making up - on giant cue-cards. So they could shoot it.

    We went throught he rainbow probably twice and a half on that show... and STILL they were making shit up on cue cards on the last day of reshoots. Sometimes... there's never a finished script. Not even when you're actually finished shooting!!

  6. I wonder if this is what happens when you have the market communication guys thinking up movie ideas based on market research of what the average consumer likes and dislikes in movies? The marcom guys then send these ideas down to the script rewriting dungeons, where legions of scriptwriting nobodys are chained to their desks, clanking away on old, manual Royal typewriters, clanking out multi-colored pages of rewrites, to the harsh snap of a leather-clad overseer's bullwhip.

    I remember a movie calles Sweet Liberty, where a college professor's life is turned upside down as a film company comes into his New England Town to film his book. One thing I remember about the movie was the director's philosophy on what the public wanted to see in films. There were three things:

    1. Defy authority
    2. Destroy property
    3. Take each other's clothes off (Especially important regarding those intimate scenes which includes Johnny Depp).

    I sort of wonder if the marcomm guys in Hollywood have yet gotten past that philosophical stage yet?

  7. ChrisC9:55 AM

    Deirdre said: "Sometimes... there's never a finished script. Not even when you're actually finished shooting!!"

    And hence, ADR! I love looking for those lines that end up being heard when we can't see the actor's mouth.

    I do agree that the script rainbow probably hurts most movies, but I can think of one film that is famous for having been rewritten all through the shoot that is clearly a capital-C classic: Casablanca. See, near the bottom of the page.

  8. ChrisC10:02 AM

    Last try :- )

    Casablanca history,
    near the bottom of the page.

  9. Thanks, Chris. (I deleted the second broken link, so as not to confuse the already addled and unbalanced bunch that make up my readership).

    It's interesting, and true. Not all movies that have major difficulties with cast, script and direction end up being dogs. My ex-husband's grandfather worked on Gone With the Wind, and the stories he had to tell of fired directors, script debacles and the enormous animosity between Vivien Leigh and Clark Gable would curl your hair. In fact, he was the second-unit director who shot the burning of Atlanta, and they were in the midst of shooting it when they cast Vivien Leigh. The movie was already shooting BEFORE they cast the female lead.

    And, golly, that turned out okay.

    But usually, it just... well... doesn't....