Netflix was founded in 1997 as a mail-order company that rented and sold DVDs over the internet. Today Netflix is the world’s leading internet television network with more than 36 million members in 40 countries enjoying more than one billion hours of TV shows and movies every month. On a normal weeknight, Netflix accounts for almost a third of all internet traffic entering North American homes. That’s more than YouTube, Hulu, Amazon.com, HBO Go, iTunes, and BitTorrent combined. What’s more, like other networks that started out broadcasting other peoples content (e.g., AMC, HBO), Netflix has recently begun creating new content in the form of original series such as House of Cards and Hemlock Grove. So how did a DVD mail order company become the world’s largest provider of on-demand internet streaming media? Let’s find out.
Netflix was established in 1997 with a new business model of renting DVDs through a mail-order service and in 1999 they launched their subscription service, offering unlimited rentals for one low monthly subscription. By 2007 Netflix had 7.5 million members in their subscription service. That was also the year they introduced streaming, which allows members to instantly watch television shows and movies on their personal computers. Streaming had already been out for a few years, thanks to Microsoft, RealNetworks, and Macromedia, and really caught on when YouTube was launched in 2005 as a video sharing website. And in 2007, Hulu, a joint venture of NBC Universal Television Group, Fox Broadcasting Company, and Disney-ABC Television Group started as a website offering on-demand streaming video of TV shows, movies, webisodes and other new media, trailers, and clips, and from NBC, Fox, ABC, TBS, and many other networks and studios.
By 2011, Netflix had 20 million members and realized that most of their customers were trending toward the streaming service. Seeing this change in customer preference lead the company to a rare misstep. To enable Netflix to focus its resources and energy on acquiring streaming content and to phase out the less profitable DVD-by-mail service, Netflix unveiled plans to raise prices and separate into two companies—a DVD mailer called Qwikster and a streaming entity still under the Netflix name. The split was never well-articulated and Netflix lost millions of customers (and market capital) in the process. But after realizing this move had backfired, they killed Qwikster and mounted one of the all-time great comebacks. Not only did they focus like a laser on streaming movies and television shows, but began to developing their own original content.
In a move that has industry insiders saying that Netflix wants to become the next HBO, the company has invested hundreds of millions of dollars in original series, such as the political drama House of Cards, which stars Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright, the murder mystery Hemlock Grove and Orange Is the New Black, a show set in a women’s prison that will air in July. They also acquired the rights to and produced the fourth season of the critically-acclaimed comedy Arrested Development, which will air later this month, and co-produce the second season of Lilyhammer starring Steven Van Zandt. If that wasn’t enough, they have also created a Ricky Gervais show called Derek and a children’s show called Turbo: F.A.S.T. that is co-produced with DreamWorks Animation.
Currently Netflix is taking a big gamble that a lot of people will want to stream entertainment to their mobile personal electronic devices rather than stay stuck in their living rooms and their cable boxes. If they’re right, the next few years could see a monumental shift in how we watch ‘television.’
By now we would imagine that everyone has heard of “Bollywood,” the informal name for the vast Hindi-language film industry in India. But did you know that Bollywood also includes a huge television component as well as film? As it turns out, Bollywood is one of the biggest entertainment industries in the entire world today. In fact, Bollywood produces more films and television shows than any other country, even more than the United States. India’s large population and its people’s strong interest in entertainment, has made Bollywood a force to rival even Hollywood. So let’s find out more.
The name Bollywood is really more of a concept than an actual place. Unlike Hollywood, which is a town, Bollywood represents all of the Hindi-language film and television in India. The name is a mash-up of Bombay and Hollywood but the industry is not based only in Bombay (now called Mumbai) but all over the country. And global interest in Bollywood has been increasing in the last decade. In fact, Hollywood produced crossover films such as The Guru and Marigold: An Adventure in India in an effort to popularize Bollywood-themes and bridge the gap between Indian and American cinema. And with the recent success of films like Slum Dog Millionaire and The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, interest in films made in India and about India has now become more mainstream.
Film in India goes all the way back to the beginning of cinema itself. The Lumiere Brothers—the first film makers in history—introduced cinema to India when they screened Cinematography in Bombay in 1896. By 1913, the home-grown Indian film industry began production on the first silent feature film made entirely in India. By the 1930s, the Indian industry was producing over 200 films per year, and in 1931 the first Indian movie, a musical, was released. The movie was such a big hit (like The Jazz Singer in the US) that most production companies quickly switched to sound.
After this, developments in the world of Indian cinema were rapid. World War 2, massive social changes, and independence from Britain completely reshaped Indian cinema. Before these changes, films were being made in various Indian languages with religion being the dominant theme. By the 1950s and 1960s, the themes changed to social issues relevant at the time. And by the 1970s, the “masala” film—the quintessential Bollywood movie—burst onto the scene. It included the elements we all think of when we think of Bollywood: bright colorful costumes, and a lot of song and dance numbers. In fact, song and dance remains the signature of Hindi films, which is why many Bollywood films tend to be musicals.
Also by the 1970s, television in India began to really expand. With such a large and diverse population, speaking several different languages, it’s not hard to imagine thousands of programs being broadcast in many languages. In India, film and television go hand-in-hand; and almost always they incorporate Bollywood-type dance numbers. Today, about 33% of all Indian households own a television, and with a population of 1.27 billion people, that’s a lot of television sets. As of 2010, the country has over 565 channels, of which 150 are premium pay channels.
So now we can see that Bollywood is not just a ‘want-to-be Hollywood’, but a sector of the entertainment industry that has a signature of its own. And as its popularity grows globally, it should be an entertainment force for many years to come.
When a screenwriter is creating a script for a movie or television show, they always have much more information than they can ever use to tell their story. It is up to them to decide which pieces of information are important and which are not, and then determine how they will present that information to the audience. Characters, events, settings, circumstances, and objects in the story may have a history or significant details that are important to the understanding of the story. Information that is essential to the audience’s understanding of the story may need to be revealed at a specific time and in a particular way in order to prevent audience confusion. The conveying of this essential information is called exposition. Screenwriters use exposition to reveal relevant information about the backstory or explain what is difficult to understand. Exposition presents the information that the audience needs to make sense of the story.
In most well written screenplays, this essential information is presented in the most natural way possible: through the story’s action, through images, and, when necessary, through realistic dialogue. The written word can also be used for exposition, and is usually used to establish time and place or a short history of events which are about to take place in the story (“London 1891” or “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…”). Voice-over and flashbacks are often used for exposition and, though there are many examples in film and television where they are used very successfully, many critics believe that they are often used inappropriately, especially by novice screenwriters. Voice-overs can be used to simply explain the necessary information directly to the audience, but they can also result in less creative and visually dramatic story telling. Flashbacks, if not done extremely well, can actually add to audience confusion.
In discussing the proper use of exposition, Alfred Hitchcock said that “these scenes are a must,” especially when “accounting for a number of strange, bizarre events.” In his films, Hitchcock strove to use exposition only when necessary and to make it as natural and unnoticeable as possible:
“…like all exposition; it’s a pill that has to be sugar coated. In other words, you are telling the audience, giving them some information, that at the time you give it, it must appear to be something else.”
The opening sequence of a film or television show is often used to convey the information that the audience will need to understand the characters and the context of the story. This is often done through the use of visual images and action rather than through dialogue. In the first four minutes of the pilot for the series LOST, before any character speaks a full line of dialogue, we get an incredible amount of the information we will need to make sense of the story. We meet a character lying in a jungle but wearing a suit and tie; he is confused, afraid and hurt; there’s a mini liquor bottle in his pocket; he runs toward loud noises and ends up on a beach; a passenger jet has crashed on the beach; the engine is still running so it just happened; he runs toward the crash; people are crying out in pain and confusion; he runs to help; he is capable and brave. Presenting the exposition at the beginning of a story visually rather than through dialogue is usually much more effective.
Presenting exposition in a natural way can be very challenging, especially if it must be placed within dialogue. Even when written and acted extremely well, exposition in dialogue can seem awkward and unnatural because these types of explanations are rarely part of real life conversation. The following dialogue is an example of exposition from the scene in Skyfall where M (played by Judi Dench) has been summoned to Gareth Mallory’s (played by Ralph Fines) office:
M: “Forgive me, but why am I here?”
Gareth Mallory: “Three months ago, you lost the computer drive containing the identity of almost every NATO agent embedded in terrorist organizations across the globe. A list, which in the eyes of our allies, never existed. So, if you will forgive me, I think you know why you’re here.”
Yes, M does know why she’s there, and she knows exactly when the computer drive was lost, and what was on the computer drive, and the international consequences of losing the list; but, the audience needs that information to make sense of the story, so it needed to be expressed in some way. This type of exposition—presenting information that the audience needs but all the characters already have—is the most difficult to do well.
The other type of exposition—presenting information that some of the characters don’t already know—is much less challenging to accomplish. But even with this type of exposition, the necessary information is usually presented as quickly and unobtrusively as possible. This can be done through simple techniques such as one character showing something to another, a conversation in which questions are answered, or when a character confesses a secret. When exposition is presented in a conversation, it can be more effective if one of the characters has to work at obtaining information from the other.
When a lot of detailed information needs to be given at one time, certain techniques are used to make the presentation of the information seem a natural part of the story. Some commonly used techniques include briefings (presidential briefings in The Day After Tomorrow and 24), a visual presentation of collected clues or evidence (the collage in Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows and the touch screen in Hawaii Five-0), short videos or films (the ‘dino’ DNA video in Jurassic Park and the Dharma training films in LOST), and questioning an expert (the shark expert in Jaws and CDC expert in The Walking Dead.) The list could go on and on, there’s the guided tour, the press briefing, the network news report, and of course, the detailed confession—no James Bond movie would be complete, or comprehensible, without the villain’s detailed confession of their sinister plan.
As Alfred Hitchcock said, like it or not, exposition is necessary to make sure that the audience doesn’t leave the theater completely confused. When done badly, exposition disrupts the story’s action and draws attention to itself; but when done well, the necessary information can actually be added in such a way that it moves the action forward, thereby creating a much more interesting and enjoyable story for the audience to follow.
We all know Warner Brothers as one of the major film studios that has produced thousands of pictures including Argo, The Dark Knight trilogy and the Harry Potter series. But, Warner Brothers has many subsidiary companies involved in television, interactive entertainment, animation, home video and music. Now known as Time Warner, Warner Brothers Entertainment Inc. was once an independent and thriving production company started by four brothers named, you guessed it, Warner. So, how did four brothers from Pittsburgh break into the movie business in Hollywood and later become a major force in television with The WB and the CW television networks? Let’s find out.
The Warner brothers were actually four in number; Harry, Albert, Sam, and Jack. Their real name was Wonskolaser, changed to Warner after the family immigrated to North America from Poland following the take-over by Russia of their home region. Sometime around the turn of the 20th century, the three older brothers (Jack was the youngest) got their hands on a movie projector and traveled around the mining towns of Pennsylvania and Ohio, showing films to the miners. One of the first pictures they showed was The Great Train Robbery, the first motion picture to tell a definite story.
With the profits from their traveling movie show, in 1907 they converted a small store into a nickelodeon movie house in New Castle, Pennsylvania which they named the Cascade Theatre. The brothers did everything; sold the tickets, ran the hand-crank projector, and even got their sister, Rose, to play piano and sing songs during the intermissions. Within a year, the Warner brothers had opened two more theaters in New Castle. In a short amount of time they had acquired about 200 different film titles and began to distribute films around the Ohio River Valley under their newly formed company, the Duquesne Film Exchange. As business grew, they expanded their distribution network to include Norfolk, Virginia and Atlanta, Georgia.
Not satisfied just to show movies, or even distribute them, Harry Warner (the oldest) decided to get the brothers into the movie making business; a bold move for immigrant brothers from Poland. He established a film production company, which he called Warner Features, and the brothers were off to Hollywood. Their first full-scale picture premiered in 1918, a film called My Four Years in Germany, which was based on the best-selling book by America’s German ambassador. The film grossed an amazing $1.5 million (around $30 million today).
Over the next decade, Warner Brothers expanded and established itself as a complete film company, showcasing both successful commercial and artistic properties. They produced F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Beautiful and Damned, and hired Fitzgerald to adapt his novel for the screen. They also produced Beau Brummel, which starred the great stage actor John Barrymore. In 1924, they created the world’s first animal superstar, Rin Tin Tin, whose popularity would always bring money into the studio. They also hired the famous German director Ernst Lubitsch as head director, and his movies The Marriage Circle and Kiss Me Again brought critical acclaim to the studio.
Despite all of these successes, the Warners were still unable to be seen as equals to the other Hollywood powerhouse studios. That all changed when they produced The Jazz Singer. Released in 1927 and starring Al Jolson, The Jazz Singer was the first “talking picture” to be released to the public, and was an instant blockbuster, playing to standing-room-only crowds throughout the country. The Warners quickly followed up with the first “all-talking” movie and their first “talking” gangster film, The Lights of New York. By late 1928, all of the other studios were scrambling to get in on the sound craze, and the Warner Brothers were well out in front.
Warner Brother’s television story began in 1955 when the studio decided that they had to be in the new arena and debuted a show called Warner Bros. Presents; which featured a rotating series of shows based on three of the studio’s film successes, Kings Row, Casablanca and Cheyenne. The company expanded Cheyenne into a one hour TV show and began the era of television Westerns with such later hits as Maverick, Sugarfoot, Bronco, Colt .45, and Lawman. By the 1960’s Warner Brothers television began producing a series of popular private detective shows beginning with 77 Sunset Strip, followed by Hawaiian Eye, Bourbon Street Beat and Surfside Six.
By the 1970’s, Warner Brothers created another innovative concept when they were at the fore-front of a new genre of television programming–the mini-series. The studio produced some of television’s most-watched and most-honored productions, including Roots, The Thorn Birds, North & South and Alex Haley’s Queen. In the late 1980’s, Warner acquired entertainment powerhouse Lorimar Studios, a highly regarded production company that had created such Emmy Award-winning series as The Waltons and Dallas, as well as a number of other noteworthy series, including Knots Landing, Falcon Crest; Eight is Enough, Full House, and Family Matters. The new consolidated network went on to produce such giant hits as ER, Friends and The Drew Carey Show.
The 1990s were critical for the Studio, starting with the 1990 merger of Warner Communications, Inc. and Time Inc. to form Time Warner, Inc., one of the world’s largest communications and entertainment companies. In 1995, Time Warner launched The WB Network, finding a niche market in teenagers. The WB’s early programming included an abundance of teenage fare like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Smallville, Dawson’s Creek, and One Tree Hill. The WB also helped launched the careers of such writer/producers as Joss Whedon, who was able to get Buffy on the air because the fledgling WB network was eager for innovative programming.
Two dramas produced by Spelling Television, 7th Heaven and Charmed also helped bring The WB into the spotlight, with Charmed lasting eight seasons and “7th Heaven” surviving eleven seasons and being the longest running family drama and longest running show for The WB. In 2006, Warner and CBS Paramount Television decided to close The WB and CBS’s UPN and jointly launch The CW Television Network.
So, the company that began one hundred years ago became a dominant force in the production of movie megahits and first-run syndicated programming. Adding to the innovations that Warner brought to light was the early adoption of the internet as a promotional tool and outlet for original content, and they led the development and the launch of both DVD format and now Blu-ray. Pretty amazing accomplishments for four Polish immigrant brothers who started with a movie projector in Pittsburgh.
For many famous writers and producers, their big breaks came when someone gave them an opportunity to prove their talent. For George Lucas, things happened a little differently. While he has been helped by people who recognized his talent, he also created a lot of his own breaks by seeing opportunities that other people failed to see. By taking advantage of those opportunities, he was able to find the resources he needed to launch his career, create blockbuster films, and build a business empire that will ensure that his stories and his characters will live on—in new films, television series, books, toys, and video games—for many years to come.
George Lucas was born on May 14, 1944, in Modesto, California. Unlike so many other successful writers and producers, Lucas didn’t want to be a film maker when he was growing up. He loved reading history books, art, building things, photography, and racing cars. In his teens, he wanted to be a mechanic and a race car driver. That all changed when he had a very bad car accident that came close to taking his life.
After that, Lucas became much more focused on his studies at Modesto Junior College, where he became interested in anthropology, sociology and psychology. He also became more interested in photography, and wanted to transfer to an art school where he could pursue this new passion. As fate would have it, he transferred to University of Southern California (USC), which didn’t have a major in photography, but did have a major in film studies, so he decided to study film.
Lucas’s first break came when he was at USC. Many of his fellow first year film students were upset because they couldn’t get into production classes and, therefore, couldn’t get film to make a movie. But Lucas saw an opportunity that no one else did:
“The first class I had was an animation class. It wasn’t a production class…They gave us one minute of film to put onto the animation camera to operate it, to see how you could move left, move right, make it go up and down. It was a test…I took that one minute of film and made it into a movie, and it was a movie that won like…twenty or twenty-five awards.”
The awards Lucas won for that sixty-second film, Look At Life, were the first of many he would receive while at USC. He won first prize at the 1967/68 National Student Film Festival for his short film Electronic Labyrinth THX-1138 4EB, and in 1967 he was awarded a Warner Brothers scholarship to observe the filmmaker of his choice. He chose to observe Francis Ford Coppola who was working on the film Finian’s Rainbow. They became friends and started a film production company called American Zoetrope. Their first project was a full-length film remake of THX: 1138.
When Coppola started production on The Godfather, Lucas started his own company, Lucasfilms, and started production on his new movie American Graffiti. He had trouble getting it made until Coppola, who by now was a big name in Hollywood, signed on as producer. Getting the movie made turned out to be a long process, but getting it released was even more challenging. After it was finished, the studio decided that they didn’t want to release the film. Lucas went from studio to studio showing the film to everyone he could in the hope of getting it released. One person he showed it to was Alan Ladd Jr., who was then President of Twentieth Century Fox. Ladd was impressed with the film and wanted to know if Lucas had any other projects he was working on:
“…he said I love this movie, you’re very talented, and what do you want to do? Well I said that I’m trying to get this space thing off the ground, and he said okay well I’ll fund the screenplay. And so I got the deal to do the screenplay, and it wasn’t really until six months later that American Graffiti came out and was a hit. This was all done while I was starving, and the twenty thousand dollars I got to write the screenplay was like more money than I had seen in two years. So I was very relieved that I could sit back, write a screenplay, have a job, eat a decent meal…”
So Lucas spent that year writing his six hour screenplay for his “space thing”—which of course turned out to be Star Wars. In the meantime, all those screenings Lucas did in his effort to get American Graffiti released finally paid off: a positive response from many of the people at those screenings caused the studios to release the film. American Graffiti was a big hit. It won the Golden Globe for Best Motion Picture: Musical or Comedy, and received five Academy Award nominations (including best director). This changed everything for Lucas:
“After I did American Graffiti, and it was successful, it was a big moment for me because I really did sit down with myself and say, “Okay, now I am a director. Now I know I can get a job. I can work in this industry, and apply my trade, and express my ideas on things and be creative in a way that I enjoy.”
Fox, the studio that funded the screenplay for Star Wars, expected Lucas to use his new found fame to negotiate more money for his work on Star Wars; but Lucas had other ideas that were more important to him than negotiating a bigger salary. He knew his screenplay for Star Wars was clearly too long to be just one film. So he divided it into three separate screenplays, and now his biggest concern was making sure all three of them would be made. He didn’t expect the first movie to be a great success, so rather than ask for more money, he decided to negotiate for a few other things that would make it more likely that his other two films would be made.
Along with requesting part of the profits, he asked for the sequel rights—so that the decision to make any future movies would be up to him—and the licensing rights—so that he could promote the first movie and make it successful enough to get the other two made. The studio didn’t see much value in the sequel rights and didn’t see any profitable licensing opportunities, so they agreed. Of course, Star Wars became the biggest blockbuster hit in the history of film:
“After Star Wars came out, I looked at it and I said I have a chance now to be really independent from the system, the studio system…I’m going to set myself up now, using the profits from Star Wars, to build a company, completely independent up here in San Francisco. And that’s what I did.”
In his 45 year career, George Lucas has created some of the world’s most loved films, created the popular television shows The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles and Star Wars: The Clone Wars, and has built a business empire that completely changed the way films and television are made. Recently, Lucas sold Lucasfilms to Disney, and turned over day-to-day operations of the company to Lucasfilms’ new co-chair Kathleen Kennedy. Lucasfilms is currently working on three new Star Wars sequels (Star Wars: Episode VII, which will be directed by J.J. Abram, is in pre-production) and a live-action television series Star Wars: Underworld.
Now that Lucas is semi-retired, he plans to work on a few much smaller film project (films without deadlines that he calls hobby movies), but has said that he will definitely be involve in the new Star Wars films as a creative consultant on the screenplays. He loves the characters and the world he created for Star Wars, and said he will always be there to answer questions and serve as “The Keeper of the Flame.”
When it comes to figuring out who did what in the production of our favorite movie or television show, the credits can be so confusing. Why are there so many producers? What did they contribute to the production? These questions can be difficult to answer based on producers’ screen credits alone. Writers, however, have screen credits that give us much more information about how each writer contributed to a production; but, to understand that information, we have to know what each of the different screen credits actually means. There is a very big difference between a “Story by” and a “Written by” credit.
The definition of the various writing credits for film and television can be found in the “Guild Policy on Credits” section of the Writers Guild of America’s (WGA) Screen Credit Manual. The WGA is the “sole collective bargaining representative for writers in the motion picture, broadcast, cable, interactive and new media industries.” Their key role is protecting the economic and creative rights of writers, a big part of which is accomplished through the “administration of an accurate and equitable system of determining credits.” Learning the WGA’s terms for writers’ credits will help you understand who wrote what when watching your favorite movie or and television show.
Here are a few of the most frequently used writers’ screen credits:
Story by: The words “Story by” are used when the writer’s contribution is “distinct from the screenplay and consisting of basic narrative, idea, theme or outline, indicating character development and action.” The story can take several forms, such as a detailed outline, a treatment, or even a screenplay that was later rewritten. However, if the production’s story is based on source material that could also be considered a story (but the production’s story is “substantially new or different” from that source story) then a “Screen Story by” credit is given.
Screenplay by: The words “Screenplay by” are used when a writer has “contributed substantially” to the “individual scenes and full dialogue” of the final shooting script. Writers get this credit when they write a screenplay based on source material that can be considered a story, such as a novel, or when the production has another writer who is entitled to the “Story by” credit.
Written by: The words “Written by” are used when the writer is entitled to both the “Story by” and the “Screenplay by” credits.
Now, let’s look at two examples of writing credits—one from The Avengers (2012) and one from Star Trek Into Darkness (to be released in May, 2013):
Story by Zak Penn and Joss Whedon
Screenplay by Joss Whedon
Based on a Comic Book Series by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby
Based on a Character Created by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby
Star Trek: Into Darkness
Written by Robert Orci & Alex Kurtman & Damon Lindelof
Based on the Television Series “Star Trek” created by Gene Roddenberry
The Avengers has separate “Story by” and “Screenplay by” credits; and, even though Joss Whedon worked on both the story and the screenplay, he was not entitled to a “Written by” credit, because the production had another writer who was also entitled to the “Story by” credit. These credits contain one more piece of information that you may find interesting; the use of the word “and” between the story writers names mean that they did not work together on the story.
Star Trek: Into Darkness has three writers who shared the “Written by” credit. All three of the writers created both the story and the screenplay. The use of the ampersand symbol (&) between their names indicates that they worked together as a writing team. A team of writers is treated as a single writer; therefore, it is not necessary to keep track of how much each member contributes to the final shooting script.
You may have also noticed that both of these movies were based on source material. The WGA defines source material as “material assigned to the writer [of the story, screen story, or screenplay], which was previously published or exploited and upon which the writer’s work is to be based.” The writers of the source material are given credit for their contribution using wording similar to the following: Based upon a Character Created by, Based upon a Comic Book Series by, Based upon the Television Series created by, From a Play by, From a Novel by, Based upon a Short Story by, From a Series of Articles by, and Based upon a Screenplay by.
What we see in the credits are only the writers who have received screen credit for the production. There are often other writers who contribute to a production without receiving official credit. This may be because they didn’t contributed enough to the final shooting script to be entitled to credit; or they are a member of the production team and haven’t fulfilled the special requirements that are necessary to receive credit; or they are working as a script doctor and agreed to work anonymously.
Therefore, we may never have all the information we would like to have about who wrote every line of our favorite screenplay; but, by knowing these terms, we can have a much better understanding of who contributed what to the writing of our favorite films and television shows. And, thanks to the WGA’s easy-to-understand crediting system, we’ll be ready with an answer the next time you hear someone say: “Wow that was Brilliant! Who wrote that?”
When you are watching the opening credits for a movie, you will usually see only one or two names after the “screenplay by” or “written by” credit. Though only one or two names are mentioned, there is a good chance that other writers worked on the screenplay too. Those writers are often referred to as script doctors.
Script doctors, also known as a script consultants or script surgeons, are highly-skilled screenwriters who are hired to rewrite portions of other writers’ screenplays. They are usually hired to solve problems with the screenplay that have been identified by the studio, production company, or cast members. This usually occurs either right before the project gets the final greenlight or during the pre-production phase. Sometimes, script doctors are called in to make last-minute changes in a script just weeks before a film is scheduled to go into production, or even during production, to fix problems that have developed while shooting the film. In rarer cases, they are brought in during post-production to rewrite scenes that the director wants to reshoot.
Production companies and studios like to work with script doctors that have had success at fixing specific aspects of a script—such as dialogue, action sequences, and romantic or comedic scenes. Sometimes, script doctors are known for their ability to fix broader issues with a screenplay, such as story, structure, or pacing. They are brought into a film project with the hope that their superior writing skills in a particular area will make the screenplay better in some way; companies want them to make it funnier, more thrilling, more romantic, easier to understand, or less expensive to shoot.
Though a script doctor may contribute a great deal to the final screenplay, or even rewrite most of the script, their contribution is often not acknowledged in the film’s credits. Their work is usually done with the understanding that they will not seek recognition for their work, much like a ghostwriter working on an autobiography. According to the Writers Guild of America (WGA) screenwriting credit system: “Any writer whose work represents a contribution of more than 33% of a screenplay shall be entitled to screenplay credit…In the case of an original screenplay, any subsequent writer or writing team must contribute 50% to the final screenplay.” But, even when a script doctor is technically entitled to receive screen credit under the WGA system, they often don’t seek credit for their work.
But, that doesn’t seem to bother them, because being a script doctor can be one of the best-paying jobs in Hollywood. The most in-demand screenwriter can make $250,000-$300,000 a week. And it’s not just the top film screenwriters who can make a nice paycheck rewriting other writers’ screenplays; television writers often spend time during their show’s hiatus working as script doctors (often earning $1,500 a day, but sometimes much more). Writers from hit comedies are especially in demand for their joke-writing skills.
Although the use of script doctors has been increasing over the last few decades, it is hardly anything new to Hollywood. Throughout most of the history of film, screenwriters have been brought in to solve problems with other writers’ screenplays, and they have usually been more than happy to do their work anonymously. Famous screenwriter Ben Hecht— who did uncredited work tightening up the screenplay for Gone With the Wind—worked on or wrote over a hundred screenplays during his career, and only took credit for half of them. Robert Towne (who won an Academy Award for his screenplay for Chinatown) refused Francis Ford Coppola’s offer to give him credit for the scenes he wrote for The Godfather, and instead, asked only that he be thanked if Coppola won an Oscar for the screenplay (and, of course he did).
Many of today’s top screenwriters are Oscar winners too, and most of them seem equally happy to do their work anonymously. For those of us who like to know everything about our favorite films, this anonymity makes it challenging to find information on who wrote specific parts of our favorite films. In the 2010 Variety article Top Scribes Reap Pic Rewrite Riches,Tatiana Siegel named Hollywood’s top script doctors:
“a pack of script surgeons that includes David Koepp, Jamie Vanderbilt, Aline Brosh McKenna, Steve Zaillian, Akiva Goldsman, Brian Helgeland, Simon Kinberg, Dana Fox, Eric Roth, Gary Ross, John Logan, Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel, Paul Attanasio, Allan Loeb, Aaron Sorkin, Susannah Grant and Ron Bass”
However, she said that it was hard to find anyone willing to talk about their work because of the “hush-hush” nature of job. Their reluctance to talk about their work and their willingness to work without credit makes perfect sense when you consider that many of the top script doctors have probably had parts of their screenplays rewritten too.
Therefore, for those of us who want to know everything there is to know about our favorite movie or TV episode, we’ll just have to accept the fact that we will probably never know for sure who wrote our favorite lines.
Now that your resolution to sit less and exercise more has inevitably fallen through, it’s time to look ahead to what movies you can blame for plopping yourself in a seat and shoveling Snow-Caps into your face.
Twenty-thirteen is shaping up to bring theatergoers more of the same. And we’re not saying that’s a bad thing.
Reboots, comic action and adaptations top the list of the most anticipated offerings for 2013.
Christmas comes early (Dec. 20) with the release of “Anchorman: The Legend Continues.” Will Ferrell, Paul Rudd, David Koechner and Steve Carell return to provide your unfunny, close-talking co-worker with an entirely new set of overused, poorly impersonated quotes.
Your other resolution of reading more books can also be curbed until next year, as 2013 will bring us “Oz: The Great and Powerful,” “The Great Gatsby,” and “Great Expectations.” If you are starting to feel guilty about not following through, wait for the video releases and turn on the subtitles. That’s pretty much like reading the book anyway.
Just in time for summer blockbuster season, comic fans can look forward to “Superman” reboot, “Man of Steel” (June 24), “The Wolverine” (July 26) and “Thor: The Dark World” (November 8.) The precursor to this yearly actiongasm (we just made up that word) brings back crowd favorite Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark in “Iron Man 3″ (May 3.)
More tantalizing entrees for 2013 include: the second installment of “The Hunger Games,” the 20-years-in-the-making “Ender’s Game,” “Star Trek Into the Darkness,” “The Lone Ranger,” the reboot of “Carrie” and many, many others.
While the next couple weeks of releases won’t bring any Oscar contenders, the dog days of winter are slathered with hearty helpings of popcorn pleasers.
Zeta-Jones, Wahlberg and Crowe … oh my! “Broken City” (Jan. 18) is the tale of ex-cop-turned-private eye (Mark Wahlberg) who gets mixed in a bit too deep after a man (Russell Crowe) hires him to look into his cheating wife. “Book of Eli”‘s Allen Hughes directs, while an always-watchable Catherine Zeta-Jones and the underused Barry Pepper round this substantial cast.
Jason Statham and guns go together like teenagers and used cars, public pools and snack bars, early winter and big-budget action movies. So if you’re looking for some serviceable action played out by a journeyman cast, check out “Parker” on Jan. 25.
That same week features “43,” the all-star cast equivalent of movies like “Valentine’s Day” and “New Year’s Eve.” The formula is simple: Assemble a smorgasbord of A-list actors and keep costs down by only requiring said actors to appear in two scenes. Hugh Jackman, Emma Stone, Elizabeth Banks, Naomi Watts, Kristen Bell, Richard Gere, Halle Berry, Uma Thurman — the list goes on — star in what is described by IMDB.com as “an ensemble comedy intertwining different tales.” We describe it as simply “eye candy.”
So, don’t fret that the holidays are over. Grab some leftover stocking stuffers, head out to the theater and treat yourself to another year of not reading, not exercising and not caring that you accomplished anything.
Because this article is about J.J. Abrams, a more accurate title might be How Famous Writers, Producers, Directors and Composers Got Their Breaks, because Mr. Abrams has done all that and more in his twenty-five year career in film and television. He has written, produced or directed hit movies such as Mission: Impossible III, Star Trek, Super 8 and Mission: Impossible-Ghost Protocol; and he has been a creative force behind some the most innovative shows on television, including Alias, Lost, and Fringe.
J.J. Abrams started making moves on a Super-8 camera when he was just 10 years old. He had developed an interest in film from spending time on the sets of popular television shows (Happy Days and Mork & Mindy) with his father who was a producer at Paramount Studios. But even before that, he knew he wanted a career making movies and television ever since he took a trip to Universal Studios with his grandfather when he was eight years old. In fact, it’s his grandfather that he credits for helping him discover and develop his many talents. In his informative and entertaining TED.com lecture (The Mystery Box), Abrams explains how his grandfather was a big influence on his creative development:
“My grandfather was the sort of guy who…kind of got me into all sorts of these things. He would also supply me with tools. He was an amazing encourager…and got me a Super-8 camera when I was 10 years old…I had a synthesizer when I was 14 years old…this kind of stuff. And it let me make things, which to me was a sort of dream.”
While still in school, he met like-minded people who would play an important role in his early career. He created his first television series (Felicity) with childhood friend Matt Reeves, whom he met when he was 13 years old. He composed his first film score for director Don Dohler’s horror flick Nightbeast, when he was just 16 years old. And, he wrote the treatment for the movie Taking Care of Business with his friend Jill Mazursky during his senior year at Sarah Lawrence College. In the following quote from Steven Priggé’s book Created By: Inside the Minds of TV’s Top Show Creators, Abrams explained how he got this early break as a writer:
“When I was in college, I wrote nine or ten screenplays. I think each one was worse than the one before it. I was just trying to write a screenplay that I liked and I couldn’t do it. I was in my senior year of college and while I was on a trip back to L.A., I ran into a friend of mine named Jill Mazursky…and we decided to collaborate on a project together. We wrote a treatment for a film and her father showed it to Jeffrey Katzenberg, who at the time was the head of Disney.”
After college, Abrams went back to LA and began working on his film career. He and his friend turned the treatment for Taking Care of Business into a screenplay. He then wrote screenplays for other movies such as Regarding Henry, Forever Young, and Armageddon. Then he turned his attention to television and created his first series—Felicity, a story about college life in New York City. As Felicity was winding down, he wanted to create a series that had more potential for interesting stories. He felt he needed greater challenges for his main character, so he created Alias, a story about a young woman who was a spy. While both Felicity and Alias were popular, it was the series Lost that made J.J Abrams a household name.
That all started when Lloyd Braun, then President of ABC, said he wanted to do a series about people stranded on an island. Abrams, and co-creator of the show Damon Lindelof, were given just a few days to come up with a concept for the series, and less than three months to get it on the air. In his TED lecture, Abrams explained how quickly they created the pilot:
“We were basically tasked with creating this series that we had very little time to do. We had 11 and a half weeks to write it, cast it, crew it, shoot it, cut it, post it, turn in a two hour pilot.”
Lost’s two-part pilot was the most expensive in ABC’s history; and fortunately, despite the tight development and production schedule, it was a great success. The pilot received three times the audience they were expecting, and remained a huge hit for the next six years.
Abrams got back into making films when Tom Cruise hired him to direct Mission: Impossible III. Cruise had seen some early episodes of Alias, and liked what he saw, so he gave Abrams the opportunity to direct his first feature film. The movie was a great success, and since then, Abrams has directed films such as Star Trek and Super 8; and produced films such as Cloverfield and Mission: Impossible-Ghost Protocol. And Star Trek fans are eagerly awaiting the release of Star Trek: Into Darkness on May 17, 2013.
Near the end of his TED lecture, Abrams showed two online videos that had special effects that impressed him with their creativity and quality. He said he was happy to see that technology has given even more people the tools they need to develop their creativity as filmmakers:
“What I’ve realized is what my grandfather did for me when I was a kid, everyone has access to now…so now the creation of media is everywhere…And I feel like this is an amazing opportunity to see what else is out there.”
Created By…Inside the Minds of TV’s Top Show Creators, by Steven Priggé
Christmas is ensconced in tradition. It’s one of the few days of the calendar year when people are not only not worried about eating the same old food, drinking the same old drinks and watching the same old programs — but welcome back these old standbys with open arms. Even if we stopped enjoying that green-Jello salad years ago, it just wouldn’t be Christmas without it. So, in the spirit of building a better holiday now, and for years to come; buy, rent or stream these must-see holiday classics.
Miracle on 34th Street: The department-store Santa has inspired fear and dread, hope and excitement in countless children since the dawn of time — and department stores. This 1947 classic plays to the mystery of the Santa myth, asking viewers, “What if Santa were real?” And what if he were at the same place you bought your dress ties? And what if he were just some demented old codger on trial as a lunatic?
Your, honor! This is a film for the ages! I rest my case.
A Christmas Carol: Chock-full of ghosts, unwashed, under-privileged children and George C. Scott’s steely grin, “A Christmas Carol” is a feel-good tale about a greedy old man’s redemption to a giving and caring member of society.
A Christmas Story: “You’ll shoot you’re eye out, kid.” “A Christmas Story” chronicles the life and times of a child navigating the perils and victories of Christmas during the 1940s. Ralphie’s overbearing father is the portrait of patriarchal holiday tyranny; his mother, the comforting balance; and his brother the comic foil. This is a tale of getting what you wish for — and almost losing your eye for the honor.
Home Alone: Uncle Frank calls him a “little jerk.” The French call him “les incompetents.” And Buzz calls him every name in the book. No matter what you call him, Kevin McAllister deserves the label of hero. Kevin defends his home from two incompetent intruders using bb guns, high-impact clothing irons, blowtorches and other dangerous items that are readily available to a child who’s been abandoned at home over Christmas vacation.
Home Alone 2: Lost in New York: Take the first movie of the series and set it in New York City. Just as quotable, just as violent and just as enjoyable. Just don’t go anywhere near Home Alone 3, which includes a cast you’ve had never heard of before and never will again.
National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation: A proud father. Tangled Christmas lights. A repulsively endearing cousin-in-law. Chevy Chase plays Clark Griswold, a man hell bent on holding the best possible Christmas celebration, even if it means completely ruining Christmas in the process. Starring Juliette Lewis and Johnny Galecki, this is quite possibly the best iteration of the Griswold-family cast.
Gremlins: “Gremlins” is the strangest blend of holiday spirit since eggnog and rum. But much like that delicious blend of booze and dairy, “Gremlins”’ marriage of Christmas festivity and Halloween mayhem hits all the right notes. Billy Peltzer is given a strange little Chinese animal by his father for Christmas. But when Billy fails to follow the three mysterious rules necessary for keeping the pet safe, blood-curdling screams, dead neighbors and sporting-good-store shootouts begin to put a damper on the town’s Christmas spirit.
Incorporate any three of these films into your regular Christmas programming rotation, and you’re building the foundation of an entertaining holiday for years to come.