“He’s Good At Drumming, We Get It”
Ah, the good ol’ Hollywood executive. It seems that behind every successful screenwriter in Hollywood comes a story about a crotchety studio exec who wants to give every film a PG-13 in order to collect as many pennies as possible, regardless of what interfering excessively may do to the writing process. This year’s Academy Award-nominated screenwriters including La La Land‘s Damien Chazelle and Moonlight‘s Barry Jenkins shared some of the most ridiculous notes they have received for their works.
These attempts at corrections range from Andrew (Miles Teller) playing the drums too much in Chazelle’s 2014 Oscar-nominated film about a young man attempting to achieve greatness by playing the drums, Whiplash, and there being too much math in Theodore Melfi and Allison Schroeder‘s Hidden Figures.
Check out some of the most revealing stories from this year’s other writing nominees stated during the annual Writers Guild of America Beyond Words panel.
1. Eric Heisserer (Screenwriter For ‘Arrival’)
The screenwriter for this year’s sci-fi hit Arrival, mentions pitching an idea to an exec who was not a fan of the prospective characters:
“It was the start of a pitch [and] I said ‘There’s a spy and his wife.’ The executive said, ‘There is no wife. Continue.’”
2. Barry Jenkins (‘Moonlight’)
Jenkins’ revelation is short and sweet, particularly following the OscarsSoWhite controversy of last year:
“So, where are the white people?”
Arrival‘s Heisserer jumped in and replied, “in the audience.” The quick quip received a big laugh from the audience.
3. Damien Chazelle (‘La La Land’)
This year’s BAFTA recipient for Best Director for La La Land is no stranger when it comes to creating films that utilize music to convey its message. Whiplash‘s Chazelle describes the note that could have potentially diminished the tension-filled effect of that entire final sequence:
“[Whiplash] ends with a kind of long drum solo, which was the whole point of making the movie. And the note was to get rid of all that. The note was written out — ‘He’s good at drumming. We get it.’”
4. Allison Schroeder (‘Hidden Figures’)
As one half of the Hidden Figures screenwriting duo, Schroeder mentions pitching an idea for a female-led espionage thriller. An idea the exec loved, however they wanted to make just a few changes:
“I was really excited, I was pitching this thriller with two female leads, about espionage. [The executive] said, ‘Oh! We love it! It’s great. Can you either change it to incest or two men? I said, “If you’ll really hire me? Yes.’”
5. Theodore Melfi (‘Hidden Figures’)
Now comes the director and second half of the screenwriting duo for this year’s surprise hit details two hilarious moments he experienced during the process of writing Hidden Figures. The first one has an exec asking if a film about NASA engineers could cool it with the arithmetic:
“Most of the notes you get are from actors. They’re bad. This one studio [Fox Searchlight] person said, ‘Do we have to have so much math?’ So I pretended to be interested but, no, it’s about math.”
The second involves Kevin Costner, who gives a brilliant performance as the leader of the Space Task Group, Al Harrison, and his inquiry about the possibility of a receding hairline:
“And then Kevin Costner calls me one night and says, ‘I’ve been thinking about a receding hairline.’ I said, ‘OK. Why?’ He said, ‘I just think this guy would have a receding hairline.’ And so I call the studio because I love to torture them, and said, ‘Kevin Costner wants a receding hairline,’ and they flip out, saying ‘We want Kevin Coster just the way he is!’ So I went back to Kevin and said everyone at the the studio thinks it will make you look old. He went, ‘Oh. Can I chew gum?’”
6. Kenneth Lonergan (‘Manchester By The Sea’)
Manchester By The Sea‘s Kenneth Lonergan reveals going into a trance when execs give him notes, an idea I am sure many of us can relate to when dealing with our higher-ups:
“I’m trying to think of a really bad note that I’ve gotten, but for the past 20 years when executives give me notes I go into a kind of self-induced hypnotic trance in which I just nod and say… ‘Oh that’s interesting.’ I pitched a comedy once and someone said, ‘Where’s the fun?’ I said I didn’t know.”
7. Taylor Sheridan (‘Hell Or High Water’)
The screenwriting genius behind 2015’s Sicario and this year’s Hell Or High Water gives a hilarious insight into his psyche when notes are given to him:
“I’m with [Manchester’s Lonergan]. When I start getting notes, it just starts to sound like the teacher from the Peanuts cartoon.”
Sheridan goes on to detail an experience he had pitching a pilot for amc. His recollection includes immense confusion from both parties and sheer frustration from the talented screenwriter… Just give him the notes, damn it!:
“I was in a meeting, I wrote this pilot for AMC, and we’re all sitting there and they’re giving me all their notes and I’m listening and at one point I say, ‘What the f— are you people talking about?’ And they said, ‘Taylor, you have to look for the note within the note.’ I said, ‘OK, but why don’t you just give me the note?’ They looked at me dead seriously and said, ‘Well we don’t know what the note is.’”
8. Todd Black (producer of ‘Fences’)
The producer of this year’s Denzel Washington and Viola Davis collaboration, Fences mentions working on this year’s remake of The Magnificent Seven, starring Chris Pratt and Ethan Hawke. According to Black, certain execs believe a Western could possibly work better with no cowboy hats and facial hair:
“We made a Western called ‘The Magnificent Seven’ [with Sony Pictures]. And the biggest note in development and shooting it was, ‘Do they have to wear cowboy hats and have facial hair?’ And I said, ‘Do you not want them not to have horses either?’ That was a huge note on a daily basis.”
9. Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick (‘Deadpool’)
Although it didn’t receive an Oscar nomination, the writing minds behind last year’s colossal (thank you) hit Deadpool once envisioned a parody of the classic HBO series, The Sopranos… Only replace the mobsters with nutritious food! The execs apparently loved it, however they seemed to have missed out on the entire point of it:
“We wrote a parody of ‘The Sopranos’ called ‘The Tomatoes.’ It was all fruits and vegetables in the leads. it was the Tomatoes vs. The Bananas. The note came back, ‘We love it, but do they have to be fruits and vegetables?’”
featured image source: Sony Pictures
Fret not, movie buffs! The 89th Academy Awards, hosted by Jimmy Kimmel, will be presented on February 26th, 2017.