On the first CHARLIE’S ANGELS, you came on after the original writers, and, though numerous writers worked on the script, you stayed on the whole time and were credited along with the first team (whose script, save for the opening scene, has no resemblance to the movie). On the second film you were the original writer, but another writing team came on after and shares screenplays credit. In the end, is it better to be the last writer on these types of projects?
In the end, it’s better to be the only writer on a movie. That’s
how it was with GO and BIG FISH, which turned out to be the best movies
I’ve been involved with in any capacity. Unfortunately, One Writer
per Movie doesn’t happen as often as it should. The problem is
that any sort of absolute maxim – there must only be one screenwriter
on a film – is unrealistic and probably detrimental.
The CHARLIE’S ANGELS movies show how the process works, for better
and for worse.
I came on to CHARLIE’S ANGELS after the writing team of Ed Solomon & Ryan
Rowe had done a draft. In fact, they weren’t even the first writers.
The studio had hired others to write different versions as far back as
the early 90’s. But Ed & Ryan wrote a brand new draft that
had elements the studio liked, notably the opening sequence on the plane.
The rest of their script revolved around cloning supermodels, and definitely
reached further into the AUSTIN POWERS/MEN IN BLACK school of wide-angle
comedy. I was brought on board when Drew Barrymore and Nancy Juvonen
joined the project, with the mandate of finding not just a new plot,
but a new tone.
I worked for the better part of a year on the script, which very closely
mirrors the final movie. Just before production began, another producerinformed me that they were planning to bring in a roundtable of comedy
writers to “look for jokes.” After some heated words, I quit
the project. During production, a revolving door of very talented writers
came on board for a week at a time, making surprisingly few meaningful
changes to the script. In the end, none of these subsequent writers sought
credit on the movie, so Ed, Ryan and I agreed to share writing credit.
It was all very civil.
I went into the sequel knowing it would be difficult. Although I have
great affection for each member of the team individually, the combination
of personalities makes it very turbulent – anyone on the production
would agree with me. Both for the good of the project and for my emotional
self-preservation, I adopted a judo-like attitude about my writing. I
rolled with the changes, happy to try anything, and worked to build consensus
among the many powerful voices. Ultimately, I was asked to squeeze the
plot of the proposed third Charlie’s Angels (including the Madison
Lee character) into the storyline, and I balked. The writing team of
Cormac and Marianne Wibberley were hired to do the job, and did the best
anyone could at an impossible task. I came back after them to patch some
cracks, but ultimately remained frustrated the movie would be so overstuffed
Unlike the first movie, there wasn’t a slew of writers on the
project, just two others. The arbitration for credit was remarkably civil,
the Wibberlys and I recorded a commentary track together for the DVD.
The CHARLIE’S ANGELS movies show the pros and cons of multiple
writers on a project. The first movie would never have been made with
Ed & Ryan’s script, so it’s hard to argue that hiring
a subsequent writer (me) was detrimental. In my opinion, the second movie
would have been considerably better had certain changes not been made,
but if hiring other writers kept the production from falling apart, maybe
that was ultimately for the best.
In the end, it’s hard for me to be too high-and-mighty about protecting the original writer. I’ve worked on BLUE STREAK, JURASSIC PARK III, MINORITY REPORT, THE RUNDOWN and other movies as the second, third or eighth writer. In many cases, it’s perfectly clear why these movies need rewriting. But I’ve refused work where I felt the studio was dumping a writer arbitrarily, and sought out the original writers wherever possible to find out what happened.