With so much money at risk why are so many major motion picture scripts so terrible?

I’'ve just seen Men In Black II on DVD - God what a stinker! - and the first one was so enjoyable. The script was just so poor there was not much the actors could do. There are number of expensive to make movies out there getting bankrolled based on just godawful scripts. Why do scripts this awful get bankrolled? Fifty to one hundred million dollars or more are at stake in some of these stinker movies.

Assumedly the people making these decisions have some artistic acumen and taste with respect to quality movie making or they would not be in positions of power. How in the world do these expensive stink bombs get the green light? What are the mechanics of approval involved that allow these things out the door? Do they even have scripts before these projects are approved or is this an after the fact task in some cases.

I saw on a documentary on TLC that they were three months into filming for Charlie’s Angels and they still hadn’t written an ending. I think it’s pretty obvious that art never comes into play with many of these companies.

But at the same time, look at all the money that many of these pieces of crap pull in. You get good movies like “Adaptation” and “Almost Famous” that pull in much less than they should, but crap like “Charlie’s Angels” pull major profits. To an extent, they’re giving the public what it wants.

The money at risk cuts both ways: Studios don’t want to lose their money on bad films, but they also don’t want to take a big risk on unusual or original films. The moviegoing public is fairly predictable in what it will and won’t like, so there’s a strong financial impetus to keep things safe and familiar.

Something like Gigli (which I haven’t seen) could easily sound good on paper: “Two mob hitpeople both assigned to guard a good-hearted simpleton end up falling in love.” You could take that premise, rewrite the actual script, and probably make a decent movie, but apparently most major studio films get the go-ahead at a very early stage in the production process; a lot of things can go wrong between the premise and the premiere.

Other factors:

  1. Some pretty poor scripts have turned out to be very popular movies (e.g., Episode I). For certain types of films, the quality of the script is less important than the special effects.

  2. Sometimes Hollywood falls in love with the concept and figures that they can fix things later. Sometimes they can. Often, they can’t.

  3. Lots of people in the position to greenlight a script don’t know a good one from a bad one.

  4. The scriptwriter is not well thought of in Hollywood; many think the actors and directors are more important.

Well… It’s called “show business”, not “show art”. It comes down to the lowest common denominator. Studios want to make the most money possible, so they want to draw the largest crowds. LCD. I’ve heard many people say, “I don’t want to have to think when I see a movie. I want to be entertained!” Good scripts (IMO) should challenge a viewer. This can be through a complex plot, or it could be through getting the audience to empathise with a character. Or it could be something else. The point is that the audience needs to become “involved” in the story. If you’re a studio, do you want to take the chance that some people won’t “get it”? Or do you want something that will draw people into the cinemas? Bubba Jones is probably not going to look at Vagabond and say, “Oh, that poor dead girl! Look at how many chances she had to save herself!” Buba Jones might say, “Dumb bitch. She was stupid.” On the other hand, our friend Bubba might laugh his head off when he sees [insert generic comedy here]. “Hee hee! That little dawg jumped up and bit him on the crotch! Day-yamn, that’s funny!”

But what about films that are supposed to be good? Often an idea looks good on paper, but doesn’t trnslate well to film. Look at MiiB. You have the “high concept”. You have the established characters. What went wrong? I saw MiiB at the cinema, and have not yet received the DVD. (Yes, I bought it – even though I know how it is.) The studio bigwig says, “Hey, MiB was great! Let’s make a sequel. Hey! The gags were great in the first one. Let’s do them again!” It’s as if they didn’t want to mess with a winner, so they recycled instead of creating something new. I felt, “Okay, I’ve seen this already.”

Why was Titanic bad? Because they thought a love story between a poor kid and a poor little rich girl would draw in the Romantic crowd. And it did. There are people who love the love story. But I thought it detracted from the drama of the sinking.

Pearl Harbor was supposed to be great. Could they take a cue from Tora! Tora! Tora! and make an exciting, historically accurate film? No, they used a generic love story that could have taken place in any time and in any location. “But we have great CGI!” So what? Tora! Tora! Tora! used real airplanes and full-sized models, and they looked like real airplanes. Pearl Harbor used CGI that looked like fake airplanes. That’s another reason films that are supposed to be good turn out bad. They get too clever. “Why research historical accuracy when we can make a love story? It’ll save money!” “Who cares if it looks real? These new computer images look more real than the real thing!”

Me? I’d rather see a low budget film with “heart”.

I don’t know this for sure–I’m only 31–but I suspect that there have always been bad movies in abundance. We remember the good ones because they’re on everyone’s top 100 and show up on TCM so often.

That’s a complete WAG, I know, and it also doesn’t answer the question of how these things get greenlighted.

very true, skeptic. honestly, who will remember spy kids 3d in 50 years? not nearly as many people as will remember other, more artisticly-driven films. studios love movies that bring in money. most movies that bring in money succeed in the box office because of names and commercials and special effects, which cost a lot of money, but dont necessarily up the quality. as upsetting as it is, the general public loves a shallow, fast-paced piece of hollywood fodder. but sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.

To paraphrase what I said about the WWE: platinum production, golden players, nickel writing.

Putting “Star Wars” in the title doesn’t hurt either.
Who gives a shit about historical accuracy? I would rather watch an engageing story that captures the essence of the time period than some dull documentary. Maybe William Wallace was or was not at the Battle of Falkirk. Who cares? Braveheart is still a great movie. Is Armageddon any less entertaining because it wouldn’t pass a NASA review board? There’s this little thing called “suspension of disbelief” that a lot of people seem to have forgotten. That’s why we go to the movies instead of watching the news all day.

These action films all seem to make a lot of money so some of you are going to see them. Let’s not pretend you’re all sitting around watching Bravo and IFC all day.

I found Armageddon to be unwatchable. I tried. It was even worse than Independence Day.

Suspension of disbelief is one thing, but total crap is another. We suspend our disbelief for Chitty Chitty Bang Bang because it is a fantasy. If they tried to put something totally unbelievable in Apollo 13 I’d have a problem with it.

I love a good action film. The key word being “good”. Terminator was a good action/science fiction film. Commando was laughable.

The truth is, many independent films are boring and pretentious. Many of them cut too many corners (often because of low budgets). But many are very good.

I think the question posed by the OP isn’t why Hollywood doesn’t make more "great’ films or “art” films but why scripts are so bad that they can’t even make mediocre films.

How can people read some of these scripts and not know that they are crap? Doesn’t the obviousness of their crapitude radiate from the script as it radiates from the silver screen?

It’s as if aircraft engineers look at blueprints for airplanes in which the the wings are on upside down with brick turrets around the airframe and a wooden outhouse hanging out the rear compartment doors, and don’t realize that it ain’t gonna fly.

I blame the premium on youth in Hollywood and on TV for this. It’s well known in the scriptwriting community that if you are over 30 and you have not ever sold a script, there is almost no point in trying. Remember the writer who got exposed for faking her age so she could get a TV scriptwriting job? It wasn’t a fluke.

Writing well is a process that demands al ot more mental wherewithal than almost any other creative form (it takes nothing, of course to write crap). Some young writers are up to it, but most of them are not. And it shows. They are learning their craft, or failing to learn their craft, on the job, and we get to view as finished work what in a saner artform would be shelved as journeyman efforts.

So long as the money keeps pouring in for poorly-written pictures, Hollywood just doesn’t care.

What’s disheartening is that so many people in Hollywood just don’t have any internal ethic of craftsmanship. “It’s only a movie-lighten up!” is their excuse for shoddy work.

Jurassic Park 2 is perhaps the most depressing example of this. It was produced and directed by the most powerful guy in Hollywood. He’s also a guy who also knows a good script from a bad one (unlike, say, a Jon Peters or a Jerry Bruckheimer.) He could have easily have gotten a top quality script if he had demanded it. But he didn’t, and the script that he filmed read like it was written by brain-damaged third graders. And if Spielberg doesn’t demand a decently crafted script, who else in Hollywood will?

Yes precisely! The dialog in some of these big budget death blimps is so bad it makes your ears bleed and the incoherent, inane plot makes your brain want to batter it’s way out of your skull. I mean you hear the words coming out of the actor’s mouths and think with absolute conviction “I could write better stuff than this”…and you probably could!

The sums at stake are so vast doesn’t someone with some degree of an artistic or esthetic sense for quality writing and filmaking get to pass muster on these things? It boggles my mind that some of these poorly scripted and incoherently plotted dogs get made. Isn’t there a gatekeeper to the green light process somewhere?

But many of these “dogs” made tons of money - Armageddon, for example. And Men In Black 2 did fine … it did something like $420 million worldwide!

Given that crap is often profitable, is it really so surprising that Hollywood continues to make crap? As Mencken said, no one ever went broke underestimating the taste of the American public.

It’s very simple: the original script probably wasn’t that bad. There’s a heck of a lot that can go wrong between the point when the original screenwriter sells the script and the point when the movie hits the theaters. Once the script is sold the screenwriter often has very little further input. There are plenty of other people who have creative control, and their ideas may or may not have much to do with the original script. The studio execs, the producers, and the director frequently call for rewrites, often from a completely different team of writers. Sometimes multiple different teams of writers. Even if the actual shooting script is good, there can still be problems with the directing, the acting, the editing, etc. And then there are the movies that have been focus-grouped to death…

When you see a bad movie you know that somewhere something went wrong, or that at many places many things went wrong, but unless you’ve read the original script there’s no way to be sure that was the real problem.

Screw movies, just about all are bad nowadays. Big budget movies have worse and worse writing, even when you think it couldn’t get worse; most “art” films are pretentious and look like they were filmed and edited by a coked-up monkey.

There is hope though in cable teolevision. HBO has paved the way by providing the best programming television has ever seen with The Sopranos, Band of Brothers, Oz, The Wire and Six Feet Under. And the best thing about this other cable networks are trying to compete with HBO by creating their own high quality shows, like F/X with The SHield and Nip/Tuck. Television is rapidly surpassing film as a form of art and entertainment and I for one am glad.

A recent example of a script which a studio was willing to back was for the new Superman movie. It had Lex Luthor as a Kryptonian and Krypton not exploded, and otherwise sounded pretty sucky, but the studio thought it would work as a twist on the classic tale.

It was leaked: the public opprobrium was such that the studio panicked, and the screenwriter made public statements as to how it was only a first draft, or something like that.

There is something in the nature of film making which leaves out early quality control.

The problem lies with the target audience for most big-budget movies: teenagers.

Most adults don’t go to movies all that often (“that looks good- we’ll have to rent it when it comes out on DVD”), and even when they do, they rarely go back to theaters to see a movie they liked a second or third time. Teenagers, on the other hand, regularly go to movies that even they don’t expect to be very good (“hey, it’s just something to do”), and more importantly, will go back to see movies they like repeatedly.

So, increasingly, studios put out movies specifically designed to appeal to 14-16 year old boys and girls. Now, I don’t know about you, but when I was 14, I wasn’t interested in clever plots or complex characters- I wanted to see action. Big fights, cool explosions, spectacular stunts! The story was secondary, if it was on my mind at all.

That means that, if studios want to appeal to kids who think the way I did back then, they start with a bunch of ideas for cool stunts and spectacular special effects, and come up with a more-or-less serviceable script that will justify all the action sequences.

I think it usually works the other way around: the studio takes a promising script and crams as many action sequences and effects into it as possible.

Really, you guys are being far too hard and screenwriters. Much of the time it honestly is not their fault that a bad movie is so bad.

I read an article by a screenwriter a while ago which describes very well how good scripts can turn into crap.

Here’s what can happen. A great script comes along. A script so good, it kicks off a bidding war between studios. The script sells for hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars.

So now the winning studio has a big investment in the script, so it’s going to make an ‘A list’ feature from it. Get a big name director, big name actors, etc.

Big name director is hired. He demands artistic control, or at least input. So he ‘improves’ the script. Original screenwriter asked for rewrite to incorporate director’s changes. Rewrite occurs. Studio head doesn’t like rewrite. Artistic battle ensues between writer, director, and studio. Script goes back for another rewrite.

Cue the actors. Big name actors who ALSO demand artistic control. Now they complain that the dialog doesn’t sound ‘right’ for their character, or they just start lobbying for changes to give their more screen time or sexier scenes. Script goes back for another rewrite. Now original director or producer gets fed up and leaves. New one comes on board, and has HIS own ideas.

Along the way, the suits in accounting have been going over the script, trying to figure out how much it’ll cost to shoot. They decide that several scenes need location changes or other fundamental changes to lower costs. They demand yet another rewrite. By now, the original screenwriter is long gone, and studio script cleaners are on the job, making little changes to ‘smooth production’.

Now the script is back being rewritten, but other deadlines are looming. Shooting must start on a certain date, to avoid weather complications, or because locations have been booked and permits are in place for those days only, etc. So the crew gets in place, and shooting starts without a script.

Bear in mind that this was a movie which was created in the first place on the strength of its script, and is now being filmed without a script at all.

Then there’s the editing process. After the movie is shot, the editor goes through all the scenes and puts them together into a coherent whole. That introduces yet another ‘artistic’ process.

Then there’s test screening. After the movie is done, the suits demand test screenings. Parts of the movie that are met with negative reaction are often sent back for a re-shoot and changes. This can make the whole movie less coherent, or in some cases totally destroy the whole point to the film.

Given all this chaos, it’s a wonder that any good movies get made at all. And it’s no surprise that the best ones seem to be those where a powerful hollywood personality champions the project and sees it through from start to finish. Think ‘Dances with Wolves’, “Schindler’s List”, “Apollo 13”, etc. These movies have one thing in common - the artistic process stayed centered around one person with vision.

It’s those big corporate blockbusters pushed through the system by the suits that turn out to suck really badly.