Sean Paul Murphy, Writer

Sean Paul Murphy, Writer
Sean Paul Murphy, Writer

Monday, February 22, 2010

Writer Tip #4: Make The Changes

You've written your masterpiece.

You've sold it.  Yay!  Your vision will finally be realized.  Or so you thought.

Now come the changes.  And, trust me, there will always be changes.

Some are completely unavoidable.  Many of them are made for strictly for budgetary considerations.   You set your tale in rural Alabama, but you have to change it to Michigan because the producers want to take advantage of some local tax incentives.  Or, say, your protagonist has five high school buddies he pals around with.   The producer tells you to combine them into three friends to cut some speaking parts.  Or he tells you to cut some locations.  Things like that happen.  It's hard to avoid.  If they can't afford something, they can't afford something.  You can't squeeze blood from a stone.

Then there's the actors.  If you get a name actor, he or she will probably want some changes.  In my experience, those changes usually aren't bad.  Actors usually have a pretty good idea of who they are and what they can do.  They want to look good and you want them to look good.  Make it happen.  I can tell you that I have often been the beneficiary of some good ad-libs thrown in by actors.  More power to them.

However, there are changes which are harder to deal with.  Say you've written a role with Bruce Willis in mind and the producer calls and excitedly tells you that he got Cher for the role.  It'll just mean a few little changes here and there....

So what do you?

You make the changes.  Why?

Because if you don't, they will hire someone else to do it.  And they will.  Or, worse yet, they will simply rewrite it themselves.

If you stay with the project you will at least have the opportunity to mitigate the damage.  You might find a way to keep these changes consistent with your original vision.  Who knows?  You might even be able to talk the producers into nixing some of the worst changes.  But that isn't going to happen if you quit.   Once you're off, you're off.

A director once gave me a backhanded compliment about my ability to compromise my vision.  He admired that I could do it even if he couldn't.

Perhaps it is easy for me because I have worked for so long as a film editor.  As an editor, I have had tremendous influence over the final product, but, in the end, I could always be overruled by the director or the producers.  I was  just a craftsman.  The movie belonged to them.

It's the same when you're a screenwriter.

When you sell your script or write one on assignment, it belongs to the person who paid for it.  They can, and will, do whatever they want with it.  The best you can hope is that they hired you because they respected you, and that they will give your opinion value when it comes time to make the changes.

Sometimes they will, sometimes they won't.

And, you know what, everyone once and a while the changes aren't bad.  In "Hidden Secrets," one of the characters was an intellectual, Jewish atheist.  The producers cast blonde-hair, blue-eyed John Schneider of "The Dukes of Hazard" in the role.  Not exactly what we had in mind.  But you know what?  He's the best thing in the film.  It sings when he's around.  He had some great ad-libs too.  I look forward to working with him again.  And again!

A friend of mine once worked for a well-known director that was so respectful of the screenplay that he called the screenwriter to discuss the fact that he had to use a different kind of car in a scene than the one specified in the script.

That's perhaps giving us writers more respect than we need, but I appreciate it.

I should pitch him something.

Other Tips:

Be sure to check out my book The Promise, or the Pros and Cons of Talking with God.  It is available in paperback and on Kindle courtesy of TouchPoint Press.

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