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When the Screenplay Reader is Wrong

Hey, it happens.

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When people find out I work as a screenplay reader, a question they often ask is: “Have you ever rejected a script that became a movie?”

I think what they’re really asking is whether I’ve ever regretted passing on a script, or looked back in hindsight and thought, “Yep. Really f’d that one up.”

when-the-screenplay-reader-is-wrong

The truth is, there are MANY scripts that get passed over by one reader or company and still go on to find a home elsewhere. Happens all the time. After all, there are any number of reasons a given company has to say “no” to a project, even one that starts with a great screenplay.

In the past I’ve read scripts I knew I couldn’t do something with but were so good I sent them on to friends at other companies.

But that’s not what people want to know. What they’re curious about is:

Do screenplay readers ever make the wrong call?

And yeah – that happens too. Of course it does. I mean, you’ve heard that famous William Goldman quote:

“Nobody knows anything… Not one person in the entire motion picture field knows for a certainty what’s going to work. Every time out it’s a guess and, if you’re lucky, an educated one.”

If nobody knows anything, there’s no way we’re going to get it right every time.

So is there One That Got Away? Or — more accurately — one I let get away? A script I passed on and shouldn’t have. One that’s still keeping me up at night.

Here are three screenplays I read and didn’t push forward in any way that went on to become movies. Someone else put their money behind these projects.

Some other screenplay reader said yes.

Could you look at that as failure on my part? Shouldn’t I have recognized they were viable movie projects?

Maybe. Let’s look at them and see where I fell down on the job.

A note: Now, in fairness, it’s been a long time since I’ve read any of these scripts. The coverage is long gone, on some computer or email account I no longer have access to. All three of these projects have stuck in my mind for one reason or another, but I can still only offer what I remember of my impressions rather than real analysis of the screenplays.


#1 The Family Stone (2005)

Written and directed by Thomas Bezucha

From imdb: An uptight, conservative businesswoman accompanies her boyfriend to his eccentric and outgoing family’s annual Christmas celebration and finds that she’s a fish out of water in their free-spirited way of life.

the-family-stone

When this came across my desk, it was a screenplay titled, “Hating Her.” At the time, I was working for an independent producer who preferred to spend more time golfing than producing. So he was looking for his passion projects, and that was about it.

“Hating Her” went on to become a 2005 movie starring Dermot Mulroney, Sarah Jessica Parker, Claire Danes, Rachel McAdams, Craig T. Nelson, Luke Wilson, and DIANE KEATON…. I know, right? That’s a cast.

Why did I pass?

From that logline, the story sounds kind of promising. I’m sure the screenplay was well-written and of a professional level. What I remember most about the script, though, is thinking, “What an accurate title…” I remember disliking not just the “her” of the title, but almost every character in the script.

I couldn’t imagine anyone wanting to spend time with these people, or watch this family act like jerks to each other for two hours. But that aside, my boss didn’t have a strong interest in movies about family dynamics. And since he was looking for projects to fall in love with, this one had to be a pass.

Was I wrong?

Budget: $18 million
Box Office: $60 million domestic / $32 million foreign
Metacritic score: 56
Rotten Tomatoes critics score: 52%
Rotten Tomatoes audience score: 63%

When I heard about the lineup of amazing actors they had secured for this movie, I did feel a stab of regret. If so many talented people signed on, I must have really missed the mark. Audiences seem to have liked it okay, even if critics scored it a bit lower. But still — money-wise, it was a success for someone else.

#2 I Want Someone to Eat Cheese With (2006)

Written and directed by Jeff Garlin

From imdb: About a man who has trouble with his job, trouble with women, and uses food to deal with it all.

The movie stars Jeff Garlin, Sarah Silverman, and Bonnie Hunt.

iwantsomeonetoeatcheesewith

Why did I pass?

I remember telling my boss, “It’s okay… he just doesn’t do anything.” For me, the story was lacking momentum, drive, an engine of some sort. The main character didn’t really have a goal to pursue, from what I recall. As a result, the script felt kind of meandering.

Obviously that’s not always a deal breaker, but I was still working for that same producer (see #1) and any project he was going to get involved with had to be so compelling it would make him want to come in on off the golf course. This wasn’t it.

Was I wrong?

Budget: $1.5 million
Box Office: $194K domestic / no foreign
Metacritic score: 60
Rotten Tomatoes critics score: 73%
Rotten Tomatoes audience score: 39%

Well, this one scored quite a bit better with critics. Audience scores, on the other hand, were pretty low. In terms of dollars… this one doesn’t seem to be a win for anyone.

#3 Fanboys (2008)

Written by Ernest Cline and Adam F. Goldberg
Story by Ernest Cline and Dan Pulick
Directed by Kyle Newman

From imdb: Star Wars fanatics take a cross-country trip to George Lucas’ Skywalker Ranch so their dying friend can see a screening of Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace (1999) before its release.

The movie stars Sam Huntington, Chris Marquette, Dan Fogler, Jay Baruchel, and Kristen Bell.

fanboys

Why did I pass?

This one was probably the most distinct case of wrong reader / wrong time. From what I remember, the script was very good. A lot of people around the industry loved it. If I were just writing coverage on it, I might even have recommended it up the chain of command.

But at the time, I was working at a production company and had a tiny bit more autonomy. I was expected to find projects I was excited about. And, as much as I would like to be, I’m not a fangirl.

I knew there were other people at my company who would back this project; it didn’t need to be me.

Was I wrong?

Budget: $3.9 million
Box Office: $688K domestic / $272K foreign
Metacritic score: 45
Rotten Tomatoes critics score: 32%
Rotten Tomatoes audience score: 57%

Despite the industry excitement over this project, I think the production ran into problems. There was some drama and controversy, and that contributed to the lackluster numbers. It seems like the critical consensus is that the movie ended up being an okay road trip movie, but nothing to write home about. Audiences (I’m assuming that built-in fanboy fan base) liked it a bit more.


Each of these movies found support and money and cast without any help from little ol’ me. Actually, in spite of me. One screenplay reader’s pass won’t break a project. If another one says yes, that might be all you need.

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