Written by Duana
With all respect to the Rubik’s people, what I am about to write is the Rubik’s cube of a response to an article. It’s complicated, is what I’m saying. I don’t usually start articles with ‘all due respect’ either. There’s sort of an acknowledged acceptance in the ‘spitting about pop culture’ world that says you borrow with impunity as long as it can be seen as an ‘homage’ to the original.
But then Justin Timberlake had to go and ruin all that. Or maybe he didn’t.
This article about Friends With Benefits appeared in AfterElton, an awesome website along with its sister AfterEllen, which focuses on the LGBT community as portrayed in the entertainment industry. I’m sure they had no idea they were about to stumble into what they did.
The article starts to be about the unusual portrayal of a gay man (played by Woody Harrelson) in the film, where he’s neither effeminate nor stereoptypical nor essentially sidelined and out of the action. He’s funny and has insightful things to say and a sex life of his own just like all the gay people you know. You know what I’m talking about. Gay people, by virtue of the fact that they are oh, I don’t know, PEOPLE, have as many varied traits as anyone in the entire world. But on film, they tend to be uniformly sage, sassy, and have opinions on what the heroine is wearing. Here, apparently, Harrelson is funny and delightful and refreshing. Great. We’re all in.
But then the article turns…because Timberlake and Kunis, in roundtable discussions, say that they created that (sadly unusual) spin on the gay sidekick character. They call the original script ‘dated’ and “PG13” among other things. Basically Timberlake, with interjections from Mila, says he and Mila and the director, Will Gluck, essentially rewrote the script together, 20 pages at a time. It sounds like a great, wonderful, collaborative experience, moving a script from the not-that-great place it was to something exciting…
…except that the screenwriters were in the next room doing a roundtable of their own, and apparently this was news to them.
Okay. Big healthy sidebar time. The idea that scripts get workshopped and changed, sometimes beyond recognition, is nothing new. (Did you hear that This American Life about the writer who was asked to write a film about young revolutionaries? He wrote and wrote, revised and worked, and finally they shelved it. But then - years later it was made! …
…as Dirty Dancing 2: Havana Nights.)
This is the contract that you take. You agree as a youngish screenwriter, who isn’t also a producer, (and this is much more prevalent in movies than in TV, where the writer is king) that you’ll hand in your product and walk away. Sometimes you luck out, and they make the movie you wrote. Sometimes they don’t.
Often they keep your names on the film, but rewrite it all to hell. There are the notorious open secret occasions that Matt and Ben know nothing about, and then there are the ones where you see five writers’ names appear on the screen. You can tell whether a writer was rewritten via one tiny word.
If two writers create something together, as was the case in this movie, their credit reads “Keith Merryman & David A. Newman”. Sometimes there are even three or four ampersands – a hilarious jig reel of people writing together.
But the word ‘and’ means “Hey, I wrote substantial portions of this, more than just moving a comma, and I want that known, because I cleaned up the mess the people before me did”. This movie reads “and Will Gluck” under the screenplay.
(If you ever see a movie which has two or more ‘ands’ in the writing credits – not ampersands, but ‘ands’, it is not worth it. Go sneak into something else).
End sidebar! So this movie was rewritten. No big , except that according to this article author, the original screenwriters were A) at a roundtable immediately after and B) horrified to hear that the actors – the ACTORS – were talking this way about their script, implying it needed some serious working over…and by ACTORS. Obviously someone at the studio thought enough of them to include them in the press junket, so this would have felt like a kick in the balls.
Okay, fine. Let’s say actors are egotistical and think they’re brilliant and “why don’t the writers just let us make up the words on our own?” (actual statement spoken by professional actress). And let’s say writers are overly precious and love their own words (note the length of this article) and can’t always see the forest for the trees.
Well, isn’t it still NOT GOOD GODDAMN MANNERS to sh*t on someone who not only put their sweat and tears into this, but who you know is sitting in the next room? And who will inevitably read what you say? Remember when Chloe Sevigny complained about the writing on Big Love? She was apologizing pretty soon after – even though she was right.
Because you don’t trash your family in public – it’s …trashy. You can talk about them behind whispered hands, to your friends, to your coworkers – but it’s unnecessary to make a public show of it like this. Especially when you made probably 10 times what they did on this picture.
And that sours me a little, even though, dare I say it, I kind of chortled at the trailer.
I know what you’re going to say. “Who cares who wrote it if it’s funny now! Maybe the actors are great writers!” Maybe they are, and Timberlake seems to have a real comic touch, and Kunis too. But isn’t it unseemly to brag?
Thanks to Daniel for this tip…and tell me what you think of the movie.
File photo from Wenn.com
Actors With Opinions
Written by Duana