Who are These Schmucks with Underwoods?

Get thee to writing thy screenplay, thou hack.

Get thee to writing thy screenplay, thou hack.

2013 was an annus horibilus in terms of my filmmaking life, a year in which I’d look aspirationally at this blog’s tagline “laughing off the slings and arrows” and doubt whether I’d get to a place to be able to do that again.

But I did learn a lot about the process of putting together a film and there was this weird thing that I kept bumping up against with the script for the project. “Did you write this thing? All of it? How? Did you write it with your husband, your friends, anyone else?”

There is always a level of angst about who wrote the script, the ownership, the intellectual property. I’ve gotten it from investors and lawyers who may have had bad experiences of folks coming out of the woodwork to attack the most obvious target…the source material that the film is based on, but while I was eager to talk about moving forward, the prep, the picture, the money, there was always this backward glance. I couldn’t figure it out. Having been with the script for years, I couldn’t see it from their perspective and couldn’t understand their skepticism, until the excellent book I’m reading “What Happens Next”, Marc Norman’s History of American Screenwriting put me in their shoes for a moment.

Here’s Marc Norman (screenwriter “Shakespeare in Love”) writing about Hollywood in the ’20s, which is a pretty apt summary of what I came up against.

“Stars and directors did their work in plain view– a mogul could visit a set and understand what he was paying for, the heart-stopping performance, the magisterial leadership.  In fact, none of them were quite sure what a screenwriter did or even how he did it. Certainly he delivered an artifact, a screenplay that worked or didn’t, but where did it come from? […]
Did it take them a year to write a screenplay, or only one day and then they waited a year to hand it in? There was no telling because no one could see the work occur; the screenwriter functioned in private, secluded, unwatchable. […] They were like football kickers, specialists — they didn’t pitch in, didn’t get tackled, they weren’t part of the movie company, the gang that went on the floor and bashed the damn thing out; they finished their work before the company gathered and were gone when it began.”

Schmucks With Underwoods as Jack Warner, the Warner Brothers studio head, famously called his writers around this time… but it’s no longer relevant.
Now we’re Schmucks With Laptops scrimmaging for desks and plug points  at the coffee shop.