A lot of aspiring screenwriters think that when they become established screenwriters they will be able to preserve their vision in their work.  However, unlike playwrights and novelists, they will never have the last word on their screenplays.

Even the best screenwriters get rewritten.

The most important reason for rewrites is to get a film — that’s not yet green lit – off the fence and into production.  You can envision various scenarios where this might happen.  Let’s say a director is brought in who can get the film made because he’s hot.   If he wants rewrites he’ll get them.

Similarly, an actor may sign on to a film and have script problems.  Since audiences buy tickets to see their favorite stars, they have a lot of  leverage, much more than the writers.  Rarely do audiences care who writes the script.

The money people, the executive producers, will have plenty to say about how the film should be rewritten.  They need to protect their investment, and often have notes aimed at making the project more like a previous successful film.

Sometimes while a film script is in development, studio executives are replaced. The new execs generally want their stamp on the project – so if it’s successful, they can grab more credit.  Similarly, sometimes directors are replaced.  When that occurs, the new director will most likely insist on making his changes.

A director or producer might have a “favorite” writer they trust to rewrite, polish or punch up the script.  They may have some history together, or they might just be poker buddies.   The new writer might have a great record as a script doctor, or might just be their “lucky charm.”

Let’s look at a few examples. Back in the 1980s,  Tony Scott directed a big-budget  Simpson-Bruckheimer action thriller called  “Crimson Tide,’ with Denzel Washington and Gene Hackman. They played naval officers in command of a nuclear submarine who struggle to fend off  World War III.

Scott  had recently directed Tarantino’s film True Romance, and was a big fan of the young writer.  There was a scene in the film in which the crew members talked about their favorite submarine movies.  Tarantino, an expert on pop culture, references was just the guy to rewrite the dialog.

Robert Towne was also brought in to rewrite the actors’ most important speeches.  Why  Towne? Most likely because he had a pretty good track record  as a script doctor on some of the best films of the 70s and 80’s.

Another writer, Steve Zallian, who’d written some great scripts, including Awakenings,  was brought for in for rewrites on Crimson Tide.  Zallion would go on to write the screen adaptation of Schindler’s List.

So, a lot of high powered writers are brought in to rewrite Crimson Tide.  The film’s original writer, Michael Schiffer,  was a well-known and well respected writer at the time.   He’d written screenplays for Colors and Lean on Me – and was an acclaimed screenwriter in his own right.

Even the best screenwriters get rewritten.

Look at the writers involved in writing Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Among the credited writers are George Lucas, Menno Meynjes, and Phillp Kaufman for story and characters, and Jeffery Boam for screenplay.

You know about Lucas’ writing credits.  Meynjes is credited with writing The Color Purple and The Seige. Kaufman wrote The Right Stuff and The Unbearable Lightness of Being, which was nominated for Best Screenplay.  Jeffery Boam wrote Straight Time, The Lost Boys, and two of the Lethal Weapon sequels.

Producer/director Steven Speilberg brought in screenwriter  Tom Stoppard to rewrite all of these writers.  Stoppard, who won four Tonys, one for Rosencranz and Gildenstern Are Dead, and an Oscar for Shakespeare in Love — was known for writing sharp, brilliant, and witty dialogue.   According to Speilberg, he was “pretty much responsible for every line of dialog.”

Stoppard was apparently Speilberg’s go-to writer for script polishes.  On another occasion, he brought Stoppard in to do rewrites on Schindler’s List.  Meanwhile,  Steve Zallian (an uncredited writer on Crimson Tide)  was the original writer on Schindler’s List.  Here’s an example of a go-to rewrite guy being rewritten by other go-to rewrite guys.

Robert Towne’s name comes up again in rewrites of  The Godfather.    Coppola, of course will be remembered as  one of the greatest screenwriters of all time, winning Oscars for The Godfather, Godfather II, and before that for Patton.

However, he was not entirely happy with his own writing on The Godfather.  Coppola called Towne, an old friend and acclaimed writer to rewrite his own screenplay.  At the last minute, the writer-director had Towne rewrite a pivotal scene towards the end between Don Vito Corleone, and his son Michael.  As the story goes, Towne finished the rewrite at 4:00 am the day of the shoot.

The scene, which has been called “the succession scene,” takes place in Don Vito Corleone’s garden. In the scene, the elder Corleone expresses his regrets about the past and misgivings about the future.  “I never wanted this for you,” Vito says to Michael, explaining he wanted better for his son, for example to become a senator or governor.

Vito laments, “Well … There wasn’t enough time, Michael … wasn’t enough time.”  Michael replies,  “We’ll get there, Pop. We’ll get there.”

Robert Towne, then help to improve a pivotal scene for Coppola.  Coppola felt the need to convey the emotions felt by both characters and to give the story a societal context.  The writing is uncredited.  However, when he received the Oscar for best adapted screenplay, Coppola thanked the writer saying, “That was Bob Towne’s scene.”

Even the best screenwriters get rewritten.

If you’re having trouble finishing a draft,  or a re-write, feel free to talk with me, a produced screenwriter,  at 310-850-4707.

Image credit: Creative Commons, clogfodder likes his oil,  2008,  by STOP VIVISECTION-USE YUPPIES, is licensed under CC By 2.