Damien Chazelle, Barry Jenkins And More Oscar-Nominated Screenwriters Share The Most Ridiculous Notes Given To Them By Studio Execs

“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.

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‘Mad Men’ [Credit: amc]

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.’”

| Click here for my review of ‘Arrival’ |

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.’”

| Click here for my review of ‘La La Land’ |

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‘Whiplash’ [Credit: Sony]

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?’”

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‘Hidden Figures’ [Credit: 20th Century Fox]

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.”

| Click here for my review of ‘Fences’ |

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‘Parks and Rec’ [Credit: NBC]

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?’”

| Click here for my review of ‘Deadpool’ |

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‘The Sopranos’ [Credit: HBO]
Source: TheWrap
featured image source: Sony Pictures

Fret not, movie buffs! The 89th Academy Awards, hosted by Jimmy Kimmel, will be presented on February 26th, 2017.

Which Film Are You Hoping Takes The Best Writing Honors?

Arrival (2016) Movie Review

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Based on the Ted Chiang short story “Story Of Your Life”, Arrival tells the story of twelve mysterious alien “Shells” landing across the Earth, with linguistics professor Dr. Louise Banks (Amy Adams) leading a team of elite U.S. military investigators to understand why they are here. It is directed by Denis Villeneuve (Prisoners, Sicario) and also stars Jeremy Renner and Forest Whitaker.

My Thoughts On The Characters And Story

The film places emphasis on Adams’ character and how she attempts to understand these extraterrestrial beings. Adams owns the role entirely, she had chemistry with virtually everyone. Her character arc is one of my favourite aspects to the film because it is explored immensely and as each scene progresses, you want to learn more about this woman and the way her mind works. The revelations she makes throughout the film are brought on logically and although there are certain instances where the jargon used would be exclusive to those groups, the film works it in in a way that doesn’t fly past one’s realm of comprehension.

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Forest Whitaker’s character works as a somewhat surrogate for the audience by asking the pertinent questions to move the story along and his insistence to move things along in order to appease the higher ups, I thought stayed incredibly true to a person in his position. Jeremy Renner was arguably the weakest part of the film. I really felt no connection to him and his comic reliefness plus the few quips he said here and there made me roll my eyes.

The secondary characters were all serviceable but there was one moment with a couple characters I just couldn’t believe occurred… I don’t wish to get spoilery with this review so I will just say, a major event unfolds that I wish was explored a bit more following it and/or some type of consequence for such a decision made.

The unfolding of events is one of my favourite aspects of the film. Every bit of progress made to communicate with these beings had me on the edge of my seat because I wanted to know what the hell they were trying to say! The final act does feature some quick conclusive moments because it felt like they needed to wrap everything up in a more rushed way than the first two acts were, however I was ultimately intrigued to the very end and forgive that wrap up since the overall picture was immensely enjoyable.

Every moment they were in the Shell dripped of suspense, I could feel my neck tense up during certain instances. This film is best to watch in a theatre because it is an immersive experience. (My Humble Opinion Alert) You really won’t feel the same awe and wonderment of it watching it on your couch on Netflix scrolling through reddit on your phone.

How Were The Other Aspects Of ‘Arrival’?

This movie is one of the most beautiful looking films of the year. Denis Villeneuve is a fucking mastermind behind the camera, as indicated by his entire filmography thus far, Prisoners being my personal favourite. If I had a dollar for every time I thought “wow… That is a gorgeous shot” or “wait, how did he film this?” I’d have like, a lot of money.

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The direction by Villeneuve is easily my favourite aspect of the film. There really are no issues with the directing as I found it essentially flawless. It is a slow-burning piece with an emphasis on its characters rather than the bombastic action-alien-killing-spree similar sci-fi films have, and with his direction & the focus on deliberately slow yet intriguing sequences shot really work to grip the audience.

The music is composed by Villeneuve regular Jóhann Jóhannsson, who also composed the aforementioned Prisoners and Sicario plus the upcoming Blade Runner 2049, and the score is incredible in Arrival. It is so atmospheric and the sounds coming off the screen is simply brilliant. Max Richter, the composer for the ridiculously spectacular HBO series The Leftovers, also has a contribution to the soundtrack with “On The Nature Of Daylight“, that man can genuinely do no wrong in my eyes.

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If you’re looking for a gorgeous-looking, slow burn of a sci-fi picture, check out Arrival.

Hungry For More Reviews? Check Out The Following:

Arrival receives 4/5 Matt Damon heads.

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sources used: [1], [2]

What Is Your Favourite Film Directed By Denis Villeneuve?