The road from script to screen is a famously rocky one, and being a Hollywood screenwriter is one of the most frustrating jobs on the planet. It can be pretty lucrative, of course, and one imagines that's why writers like William Martell keep plugging away at it. But as Martell says on his blog, Sex in a Submarine, "... [M]ost of the time, your script ends up just a sample so that you can get an assignment writing BEETHOVEN 7 or something ... Even if you land assignments, it's not unusual to write for a decade -- paid to write -- and have nothing ever go to screen."

In an exhaustive piece titled "Robbing From the Poor (Writer),' Martell summarizes the journey of the screenplay originally titled "Nottingham" by Kung Fu Panda writers Ethan Reiff and Cyrus Voris and how it was turned into the poorly received -- and completely different -- Robin Hood remake. Culling his facts from two years of insider information and trade journal reportage, the story is a sad, stupid, and fascinating example of how the studio system often goes terribly wrong.
Martell recounts how this version of Robin Hood actually started life as a story told from the Sheriff of Nottingham's point of view, a whodunit with the Sheriff using "period forensics,' like tracking and arrow trajectory, to find a terrorist who was robbing respectable members of society." To what must have been Reiff and Voris' utter delight, the screenplay became a hot property in Hollywood and, after a bidding war, Imagine Entertainment nabbed the script. Russell Crowe was brought on board to play the Sheriff, and his frequent collaborator, Ridley Scott, signed on to direct.

It's at this point, according to Martell's research, that everything started to go sideways. Scott had become fascinated by archery, and he demanded rewrites to include more stuff about archers. Brian Helgeland (Man on Fire, Green Zone) was brought in to retool the script. Scott postponed production, which meant the studio lost the chance to position Nottingham as last year's summer tentpole release. Then there was the Screen Actor's Guild strike and more rewrites, some of them downright bizarre:
So, Ridley Scott wanted to change the NOTTINGHAM script which featured period forensics to a script about archers and archery... Then he came up with a brilliant idea! What if the Sheriff Of Nottingham and Robin Hood were the *same person*! Kind of like FIGHT CLUB. He'd be chasing himself for the whole damned movie! And there were some drafts of the screenplay written like that, until someone (maybe Helgeland) must have hinted that it might be a little silly. And draft after draft, the script changed - evolved - twisted - becoming something completely different. The way the most expensive meal you have ever eaten turns into something else when it goes through the digestive process.

Martell's conclusion is inescapable. In Hollywood, the director is always considered to be the ultimate author of a movie. The director is always right, and the bigger the director, the less likely anyone will shoot down their crazy whims. So what happens, Martell asks, when the director is wrong? If Universal/Imagine had taken Robin Hood away from Scott when it started to go off the rails and had handed it to a younger, cheaper director -- one interested in actually making the script that Imagine had bought -- then it could have been delivered on schedule, wouldn't have cost a reported $200 million-plus, and might have actually been good.

In the end, Martell doesn't fault Scott ("he's just doing what directors have become used to doing -- being always right") or Helgeland, or producer Brian Grazer. The problem, he says, is the way Hollywood makes movies:
The *system* is broken, and ROBIN HOOD is a perfect example of that. If producers used this as a call to arms, they might be able to get the business back on course and not turn that screenplay that everybody loves into a film with a 44% Tomatometer rating.
It's an interesting read, and an educational one. Oh, and that original Nottingham script? You can read it online and judge for yourself.
categories Cinematical