Nineteen Years Ago, Thelma & Louise Drove Over A Cliff

Photo by bradleygee @
Nineteen years after Geena Davis and Susan Sarandon took their famous turn in a ’66 Thunderbird convertible, screenwriter Callie Khouri discusses her Oscar winning screenplay for “Thelma & Louis” with Sallie King of the Los Angeles Times. Discussing the ending, she says:

People either thought it was an uplifting ending or they thought they committed suicide at the end. It kind of depends on how they see it.

Uhm? If it isn’t suicide, what is it?


Here is a very abbreviated version of a question by Rick from Scottsdale:

When you (or anyone) are hired to rewrite a script, is it industry practice to mimic the voice of the previous writer(s)?

In his full question, Rick explains that he was hired by a writer/producer to rewrite two of her scripts. Despite explaining to her what he would be doing to the scripts, at the end of the process, she was incredibly unhappy that he changed her tone and feel. (His full original question is set out below.)

Well, Rick, you got screwed. You had the worst of all possible worlds, being hired to rewrite the work of your employer. How could you possibly have passed that test? All writers know, we hate being rewritten.

To answer your question, there is no standard. In studio circles, writers are ordinarily hired to rewrite based upon their existing work, so the employer knows somewhat what kind of voice they can expect on the rewrite. However, that in no way guarantees the employer will be happy. Development executives really don’t know what they want until they see it. They give notes, but their notes are just a guess about what will work. As every writer also knows, outlines are just outlines and notes are just notes. Something happens in the process of execution that is different from notes and outlines. If you slavishly follow the executives’ notes, you are no more likely to satisfy them than if you simply nod nicely while they give you the notes, then write whatever you think will work.

At the end of the day, you listen diligently, work hard to understand the executive’s point of view, consider the rewrite work you intend to do carefully in light of the employer’s goals for the piece, then execute in whatever manner you think will turn out the best story for the intended audience. Your own ultimate judgment is your best guide.

By the way, congratulations on being hired for rewrite work. That is the meat and potatoes of the motion picture screenplay industry.

For more on rewriting, you may want to check out the Artful Writer.

Enough. Now go rewrite….
Continue reading “REWRITERS IN HELL”


Carolyn from Los Angeles asks:

I submitted a revision 12 days ago, with agent’s permission. What is a reasonable time to follow through?

There is no standard time, but a couple of weeks is usually not unreasonable for a follow up call. I have had revisions considered immediately, i.e. I got a call back hours after submitting them, and I have had revisions languish for months, which is an unmistakable signal that there was no real interest in the first place and my work revising the material was a waste of effort. I recommend that you ask your agent what he or she thinks.

Also, if your agent submitted the material and you do not personally have a working relationship with the producer, make the agent do the follow up. If you do follow up directly and your revised version has not been covered yet, ask the producer (or whoever you submitted it to) when you should follow up next. Always be professional and courteous in your communications, but do not hesitate to ask when you should follow up again.


R.D. from Texas asks:

A producer told me (at the Austin Film Festival) that if I can’t get an agent, I should get a lawyer, so I won’t be an unsolicited writer. I have found some verification for this, but I’m not exactly sure how it works.

Do I still represent myself, or does the lawyer do it?

What are some guidelines for narrowing down the very long list of attorneys?

All of my work has placed in contests, and I have done a lot of work on it since then. I would like to approach producers without the routine snub (assuming that loglines, synopses, etc. are up to high standards).

So how does the “lawyer” thing work? — Thanks!

There are a number of myths floated by Hollywood insiders in order to stem the overwhelming deluge of unqualified (i.e. crappy) scripts. One is that producers do not accept unsolicited scripts because they fear potential liability. The other is that producers do accept unsolicited scripts from lawyers. The truth is, liability has nothing to do with it and producers do not accept unsolicited material from lawyers any more than from anyone else. Most producers only accept material based upon some indicia that considering it is worth there time.

Here’s how lawyers sometimes fit in. There are some lawyers in the entertainment field who build contacts and reputation just the way agents do. These lawyers can send scripts to companies because the companies know they will not ordinarily send crap. Even they do not send the material unsolicited. Rather, they attorney picks up the telephone and make a call to a development executive he or she knows. The attorney discusses your material and, if requested, sends it over. This is no different than what an agent does. Like an agent, this kind of submission is based upon personal relationships. By virtue of the attorney’s reputation, he or she has contacts in the industry. The trick for the writer is finding one of these lawyers as opposed to the many lawyers who are willing to “submit” your script, but still never get it read. Just having any attorney send an unsolicited script is essentially no more likely to get it read than sending it in yourself.

Because you have won some contests, some attorneys who do submit material may be willing to speak with you. Some of them tend to be a little more accessible than most agents. You will need to query them just as you would an agent. Or, better yet, get a referral. If you have the email of the producer you met in Austin, ask him for the names of some lawyers you should speak to. See if he will actually refer you. (It is much easier for a producer to refer a writer than to actually read a script.) Even if he will not, when you approach the lawyer, use the producer’s name as the basis for your contact.

Here’s where to be careful: you should not pay a lawyer to send in your script any more than you should pay an agent. Lawyers that actually do submit scripts charge in the same way agents do – that is, only if the script sells. The going rate is the same as an agent’s rate – 10%, although some attorneys charge more because they are acting as agent and lawyer for the writer. You should be careful to select a lawyer in the same way you would be careful to select an agent. (Producers do not accept scripts from unknown agents, either.)

The only exception to all of the above is in the occasional circumstance where a producer actually requests your material. The “liability” myth is so often repeated that even some producers believe it and, even when they agree to see your material (which happens because of some other connection – a recommendation from a film professor, a mutual acquaintance, a chance meeting at a film festival, etc.), they want a lawyer to submit it if you don’t have an agent. In that occasional circumstance, you can have any attorney that regularly represents writers send it in, even if the attorney is not known for submitting material.

Enough. Now go write….