Kevin Arbouet tagged me to answer 10 questions about mistakes and bad practices.
Taken the wrong way, the whole exercise could be kind of negative and bleak. But one (hopefully) learns from one’s errors, so it’s in that spirit that I further the meme.
1) WHAT’S THE WORST THING YOU’VE EVER WRITTEN?
With hindsight being 20/20, probably Fantasy Island. My concept was probably interesting only to people familiar with the show. (Short version: Roark dies on page 13, and shit goes haywire.) There were too many characters, and it was all too arbitrary. Years later, “Lost” did everything I was trying to do, and so much better.
2) WHAT’S THE WORST LINE YOU’VE EVER WRITTEN?
From Demonology: “Somewhere between fuck me and fuck you — there’s the problem.” I held onto that dumb line for far too long, until the exec finally called me on it.
3) WHAT’S THE WORST ADVICE YOU’VE EVER GIVEN?
To my former assistant, Rawson: “I don’t think anyone is clamoring to see Vince Vaughn playing dodgeball.”
4) WHAT’S THE ONE TIME YOU KNOW YOU SHOULD HAVE SPOKEN UP BUT YOU DIDN’T?
I did a rewrite of a movie for a pretty big producer. In the original script, the sister of the protagonist was a flight attendant. I changed her into a pilot, just because I thought it was more interesting. The producer insisted that I change it back, because, “That’s absurd. I’ve never seen a female pilot. I just don’t believe it.”
I know a female commercial airline pilot; I had recently been on a flight with a female pilot; four seconds of Googling could give me the exact statistics that I needed to prove that female pilots are not the Yetis of aviation. But I said fuck it, it’s not worth fighting about and changed it back. I regret not making my point, though it wouldn’t have really amounted to anything meaningful.
5) WHAT’S THE WORST PITCH MEETING YOU’VE EVER HAD?
Just this year, I pitched my take on Black Monday to Paramount. I had this bad feeling going in, sort of like when you think you might be catching a cold. Except this wasn’t a case of the sniffles, but rather some kind of aphasia. I couldn’t get three words together. It was awful.
David Hayter is writing it now. God bless him.
6) WHO’S THE ONE PERSON YOU’D NEVER WORK WITH AGAIN AND AREN’T AFRAID TO NAME?
Don Murphy. Runner up: Bernard Rose.
7) WHAT’S THE WORST SCRIPT IDEA YOU’VE EVER HAD?
Highlanders. Early in my career, I was up for writing one of the sequels. I probably spent a solid week working on my take, without ever once stopping to think, “Seriously, Highlanders?”
8) WHAT’S THE WORST THING ABOUT YOU BEING ON SET?
After a certain point, I have a hard time masking my boredom. Every other person on set has a job to keep him or her busy. My job is to watch rehearsals, then stare at the monitor during each take, silently whispering the dialogue I wrote. During the 95% of the time we’re not rehearsing or shooting, I get incredibly restless.
Come to think of it, the script supervisor has largely the same job (and lack thereof). I could probably never be a script supervisor.
9) WHAT’S YOUR WORST WORKING HABIT?
Particularly when I’m re-writing a script, I suffer from what my friend John Gatins refers to as the line-painter dilemma. Here’s the short version:
A guy is hired to paint the yellow line down the middle of a country road. The first day, he paints five miles. His supervisor is impressed. The second day, he only paints two miles. His supervisor thinks, “Well, maybe he had a bad day.” But the third day, the guy only paints half a mile. The supervisor asks the guy what’s wrong — why is he getting so much less done?
“Well,” the guy says, “I have to keep walking back to the paint can.”
The screenwriting equivalent, of course, is that at the start of each day’s work, one’s instinct is to go back to page one and read-slash-revise up to where you left off. Which is a very counter-productive habit.
10) WHAT’S THE WORST MISTAKE YOU’VE EVER MADE?
I could have bought Muhammad Ali’s old house. My real estate agent got me in to see it, and I loved it. I went back to see it twice, once with my contractor, to figure out exactly how I’d redo it. But I chickened out at the price. Now, of course, it’s worth three times that. I drive by it twice a week when taking my dog to swimming lessons. And every time, I think, damn. That should have been my house.
Not that my current house isn’t perfectly fine. It’s great. But it’s not epic-great. It’s not a house that I’d happily die in. That’s the Muhammad Ali house, my San Simeon.
Looking back, almost all the things I regret are non-actions — chances I didn’t take. I actually got a tattoo to help me remember that.