A couple of years ago, I became that person: a replaced screenwriter.
It was a screenplay I dearly loved and had put my heart and soul into and, on top of the rejection of being booted off whilst I was circus performing on that roll, the whole thing wasn’t handled brilliantly either.
Recently, I was at a party and I happened to mention said project and announced, rather grandly, that a draft of that project (Draft Two, in fact) was probably my best work ever to date, BAFTA worthy even, and I could provide up to five people who had read it and had given me homemade paper rosettes with glitter edging to prove it.
At this point, it became clear that one of our number was an agent who repped the new writer of this project.
My ‘replacement’. The ‘rewriter’. The ‘thieving interloper’, as I like to call him.
Dealing With The Pain
“I’m so sorry” she said, as if I had just announced a horrible, violent, family death, “It’s going brilliantly. His draft’s amazing and they’re probably going to film it this year”.
I dealt with it as best I could which, as you can imagine, was an almost certainly rubbish rictus face of pleasant hatred and then went home and stewed and spewed and spat and swore that someone else was going to take my beloved project on to the next level.
It’s not something we used to do in the UK, replace writers, and it’s something that had begun to happen more frequently when I was in development, much to my chagrin.
I realised that I was wishing achingly itchy small pox and worse on all concerned with that project, hoping among hopes that all of his pens and all future pens he was ever going to use broke and that no-one’s telly ever worked again to watch it on Catch Up which is the only place they would ever watch it anyway because it had bombed at the flicks in the first place, which was not the most healthy thing to be up to in a New Year where I had resolved that what goes around comes around.
I was not going to be this giant co*kwaffle I had wasted the past 7 hours being.
I was going to channel this anger into the positives. I was going to think original.
I love the films of the early days when writers were kings and movies were lumpy. I like a voice to come through whether it’s right or wrong, and a mistake to be made that doesn’t get ironed out by years of development and millions of dollars.
I know, I know, it used to be my job to wield that very iron but I like to think that I didn’t have it brutally hot and if a person really fought for something or conceded that there was an issue around that area that might not quite be the part grating on me, there was a battle there that could be won.
I’m on your side, I used to implore to their suspicious faces as I suggested there might be something utterly nonsensical to people with ears and eyes going on around the midpoint.
Sometimes, this happened to come out another way. “Choose the hill you’re going to die on” I had been known to say sinisterly, to also let them know that there was a bullet with their name on if they didn’t want to make any changes at all, and generally, it worked.
I wanted the best for them, see.
Because I was a secret writer and I knew that little fact deep down inside of me but couldn’t damn well tell them!
The game here was to ‘develop’ the original idea into its best and most fecund form, not to ‘develop’ it into a totally different film of executive’s own choosing or, more often than not, of film that executive has seen recently and noted had made mucho moolah at the BO.
Worst of all could only be when said writer brings original idea to company, executive deems them ‘not able to get there’ (code : keeps bloody arguing with me), and executive suggests for the good of the project that we ‘bring in another voice on this’.
OWCH. That’s all I can say to you.
More often than not, said project dies.
If it lives, it’s because it’s like The Flintstones, something we all know had a good idea rolling all over it but took THREE DOZEN writers to fail at finding it.
I weep. I really really weep.
In the spirit of full disclosure here, I have done plenty of rewrites. A lot, in fact. They combine the script editing aspect of my old life with the scrummy scribblings of my new.
Also, let’s make no bones about this, they’re very lucrative so that makes me an enormous hypocrite, who needs to eat. If I did any more of them, in fact, I could also be a giant hippo-crit, the amount some idiots throw around to try and save a bad movie.
But I would rather, any day, watch the work of one talent (or writing partnership or ships, one united thought) rumbling its way through the maelstrom of dissenting voices to produce something of great genius.
The Apartment, Sunset Boulevard, When Harry Met Sally, In the Company of Men, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, All About Eve…I could go on and on and on.
But I’ve got hills to die on.
Tamzin Rafn is a screenwriter and former Development Executive, represented by Casarotto Ramsay in the UK and WME in LA. She wrote ALBATROSS, worked in the main vein of script development in the UK, and gets unlucky quite often with London’s winged rats doing their business on her head. No she will not read your fu*king script, Industrial Scripts do that and do it well thanking ye kindly. You can follow Tamzin on Twitter.
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