For Stephen Susco, “The Grudge” in 2004 represented his first success as a screenwriter.
“It was my 25th screenplay,” he says.
Billy Ray, who worked on words for “Shattered Glass,” “Hart’s War” and “State of Play,” hears Warner Bros. has 360 movies in development. “They’re gonna make 10 a year, 12 a year?” he asks. “So where are all those scripts going? They’re going nowhere.”
William Goldman, the dialogue man for Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, believes people who want to create stories for the big screen must expect unhappy endings and quick fades to black for much of their work.
“If you want to write movies, you can’t stop after you get pissed on and rejected,” he says. “Because you’re gonna get pissed on and rejected.”
‘Tales From the Script’
WHAT: Peter Hanson’s documentary about screenwriting
WHERE: Spectrum 8 Theatres, 290 Delaware Ave., Albany
WHEN: 6:30, March 17
HOW MUCH: $8.75 to $6.
Sour bunch, those screenwriters. But Peter Hanson and Paul Robert Herman know they’re also a tenacious bunch. The Beverly Hills-based producers have put more than four dozen writers on camera for their documentary film “Tales From the Script,” which will get a special Albany showing on Wednesday, March 17 — St. Patrick’s Day — at the Spectrum 8 Theatres, 290 Delaware Ave. Show time is 6:30 p.m.
The timing is great — March is a movie lover’s month, and cinema fans will be up late tonight watching the 82nd annual Academy Awards. The Oscars show starts at 8 p.m. on ABC, locally WTEN (Channel 10). If movie lovers can’t make the “Script” appearance at the Spectrum, the movie will be out on DVD April 20.
For the 40-year-old Hanson, the one-night movie show is a homecoming. He studied journalism at the University at Albany and spent 10 years, from 1993 until 2003, working at local publications such as Metroland, the Delmar Spotlight, the Times Union in Albany and the now-defunct The Source.
Securing some big names
Hanson, who also studied film at New York University, has put big names into his 105-minute movie. In addition to Goldman, the two-time Academy Award winner who wrote “All the President’s Men,” “Marathon Man” and “The Princess Bride,” Hanson filmed interviews with John Carpenter, who created the maniac-against-teens genre with “Halloween” in 1978; Frank Darabont, who wrote and directed “The Shawshank Redemption;” and Shane Black of the “Lethal Weapon” franchise.
Hanson said the movie comes with a “Tales From the Script” book, which was released in January by HarperCollins Publishers. The idea for the cinema treatment came from Paul Robert Herman, an aspiring screenwriter who first proposed a study about the rejection writers experience as they work on prospective blockbusters.
“I expanded the idea into a broader conversation about everything that screenwriters experience because once I realized I was able to get in the room with amazing people like John Carpenter and William Goldman, I discovered I wanted to talk with them about more than just one subject,” Hanson said. “That ended up being a good strategy because once it came time for me to sell the project, there was resistance in the marketplace to a story just about the rejection people experience — for the obvious reason that it was just too downbeat.”
Provoking a reaction
Men and women telling stories about the movies may not be as exciting as Superman saving an out-of-control jetliner or Indiana Jones slapping around thugs inside the Temple of Doom, but Hanson promises people will be entertained by people who work with keyboards instead of capes and whips.
“When I was going through the transcripts, I really focused in on stories that were entertaining above and beyond their value as education,” Hanson said. “I was looking for stories that had celebrity name drops, I was looking for stories that had jokes, I was looking for stories that were angry. I was looking for anything that would provoke a reaction in the audience because my feeling was that unless this movie was really entertaining, nobody who wasn’t already interested in the subject matter would be inclined to discover it.”
Hanson relied on friends and moxie to secure interviews.
“I don’t necessarily know a lot of household names personally, but I know people who know household names personally,” he said. “Someone like John Carpenter . . . is actually a friend of a friend. I don’t know Carpenter at all, but I was able to get an invitation to him very quickly and that happened with several people.”
In addition to Hollywood networking, Hanson called talent agents and managers. “I discovered a lot of people were really eager to participate for an altruistic reason,” he said. “They’ve learned a lot and they’re willing to share with people who are coming up the ladder behind them.”
Hanson’s writers name names. One who takes a hit is Uwe Boll, the German director who works in the horror genre.
“He’s notorious among cult fans for making bad movies like the vampire movie ‘BloodRayne,’ and Guinevere Turner, the screenwriter of that movie, tells a hysterical story about how she submitted a very sloppy draft of the script at an early stage in the process, because conventional wisdom is your script will get rewritten several times before it gets made,” Hanson said. “But Uwe Boll, who had already been acting very badly toward her, announced he was going to make the script immediately, and then proceeded not only to rewrite it himself, even though he doesn’t really speak English as a first language, but he also let the actors rewrite it while they were working on it. Guin has a great attitude, because she said the movie that began from her script was so awful that she actually just went to the premiere like a party and laughed out loud and heckled at it like you would watching a bad movie on television.”
A stinging set of circumstances
Another story from the “Tales From the Script” book reveals how a project that might have become a box office champ became a reel loser. That’s David S. Ward’s story; he wrote the screenplay for 1973’s “The Sting” and wrote a sequel to the celebrated con man film during the late ’70s.
“It was always intended to bring Robert Redford and Paul Newman back to their roles, but neither actor wanted to do a sequel,” Hanson said. “It wasn’t that they didn’t like the story, they just didn’t think they could make another movie as good as the first one, so they elected not to participate. David Ward said at that point . . . he would have preferred the script just went back on the shelf. But because the studio saw there was money to be made they went ahead and made the sequel, and they hired Jackie Gleason to play the Paul Newman role and they hired Mac Davis, who moviegoers probably don’t even remember anymore, to play the Robert Redford role. And when Ward talks about “The Sting II,” it’s nothing against any of the people, but the end result is an embarrassment, because it just wasn’t the movie he set out to make.”
Hanson said the interview with William Goldman was a key component to his film.
“He’s the king of American screenwriters, a two-time Oscar winner and has written a number of best-selling books filled with behind-the-scenes stories about Hollywood,” Hanson said. “He most famously coined the phrase ‘Nobody knows anything,’ by which he means that if anyone could predict why a movie will be successful, then every movie made would be successful. Because of my personal admiration for his work, he was really the person I most wanted to include in this project. If I got him, I considered the project a success; if I didn’t get him, I would consider the project unfinished. Strangely enough, he ended up being one of the easiest people to get. . . . the kicker, of course, was it took a year to get it scheduled.”
Hanson also was glad he signed up Frank Darabont, whose adaptation of Stephen King’s short story “Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption” helped make him a Hollywood player.
“He tells a story about putting together another Stephen King adaptation, a horror movie called ‘The Mist,’” Hanson said. “He was working for a $30 million production budget and he had gotten permission from King to change the ending of the story to something very, very downbeat. That was the deal that he was offering to people, give me a check to make the movie, but I’m going to make it with this dark ending.
“Frank tells the story of sitting down with this independent producer who said ‘I’ll give you $30 million today,’ and as Frank says, the guy literally had his pen poised over the checkbook, ‘But I’ll only give you the $30 million if you change the ending.’” Hanson continued. “Frank turned it around on the guy, and said, ‘What ending do you want me to have?’ The guy said, “I have no idea, I just don’t want this one.’ Frank said, ‘I can’t think of another ending either, this is the only one that works for me.’”
The story ends with Darabont leaving the room without the big check, but with his artistic integrity. He made the film with another producer for half the budget, but kept his bleak ending for the monster movie.
Too much tinkering
Good scripts can turn into bad movies. People sitting in front of the screen may never know it; people sitting behind the keyboards know it happens all the time.
“Let’s say you’ve written an original script and it’s wonderful and everybody thinks they want to make it,” Hanson said. “Movie stars get hired and a lot of money gets spent on the movie. What often can happen in between the moment when everybody is excited about a script and when the movie actually comes out, is that a hundred people will put their hands into it and make changes. The people who work for the studio, the people who work for the actors, the actors themselves, the directors.
“And then there are business decisions. The budget gets cut, they can’t get a location, they can’t afford the special effects. It’s not so much that a good script gets turned into a bad movie; it’s that a good script can get turned into a bad script because so many people screw around with it.”