Often, a screenwriter doesn’t know what he/she has written. What started off to be about one character winds up being about whom you thought was the second lead. What started off as a coming of age story about a lovesick teenage girl obsessed with her teacher turns out to be about him. What was supposed to be a comedy turns into a bittersweet drama.
Why does this happen?
There’s no easy answer. It’s just the process of writing. Ideas beget ideas. You can write a detailed outline and maybe even a pretty detailed treatment that follows your original idea, but when you get to script and the characters start coming alive things can go in a direction you never anticipated.
This is good as long as you known what your creative vision is. It’s when you lose sight of what you’re writing that problems arise.
Similarly, a finished movie sometimes doesn’t know or hasn’t decided what it is.
Case in point. Early in 2011 there was The Dilemma. I couldn’t wait to see this movie. Big fan of its stars, Vince Vaughn and Kevin James. Huge fan of its director, Ron Howard. Liked the previous work of the screenwriter, Alan Loeb. The film got uniformly bad reviews. I saw it opening weekend.
Now we all know (or if you don’t know, you should) how the rewriting process goes, so maybe one or more people got their hands involved in the script. It started off pretty funny so you think you’re watching a comedy. I mean, Vince Vaughn? Kevin James? We’re not expecting Eugene O’Neill here. Then it turns a corner and it gets serious.
Well, a little serious. We’re kind of not laughing, but we’re waiting for things to get funny again. Problem is, it doesn’t. It gets more serious and a key plot point makes us uncomfortable. We’re waiting for some kind of Act Three payoff, but none comes. The story changed gears. And what they gave us bums us out. And it ends, but the ending isn’t even remotely satisfying.
What went wrong with all these talented people involved? Who knows? Maybe they don’t even know. When a studio and talent and a director gets involved, lots can happen.
But when you’re writing your screenplay and you make changes from your original idea, make sure you stay in control. When other hands get involved you often don’t have a say, but when your story is still in your hands, and your hands alone, there’s no excuse to lose sight of what you intended.