How often do original screenwriters, who’ve been rewritten by other fellows, get hired back onto their original scripts? Does it matter if the script is revving up to go into production? I’ve heard of a few other guys like Josh Friedman (Chain Reaction) and Michael Arndt (Little Miss Sunshine) hopping back on, but are they the exception or the rule?
It’s not uncommon. I was on and off both Charlie’s Angels movies several times, and I can think of at least half a dozen other cases where the original writers came back in before (or during) production.
In order to understand why the original writers are sometimes rehired, you have to understand why they leave projects. Sometimes, it’s simple availability: at a crucial moment during development of the first Charlie’s Angels, I was shooting a series in Toronto, so someone else got the gig (a long string of someone elses, as it turned out). In other cases, a new element (director, producer, star) wants to take the script in a new direction, which generally means a new writer — often someone they’ve worked with before.
You’re not always fired, and it’s not always acrimonious. That’s important to understand. The screenwriter wants the movie made, and wants to maintain relationships with the filmmakers and the studio. So it behooves everyone to make sure the original writer is at least peripherally involved, even if he’s no longer the active writer on the project.
The original writer might get asked back for several reasons. The simplest is cost: she may be willing to do a lot of piece work essentially for free because it’s her movie. But more often there is something about the original writer’s voice or vision that remains important despite subsequent revisions, and the producers (or director, or stars) recognize this. So she comes back in to make the new stuff feel like her stuff, and let it read like one movie rather than a patchwork.