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E.C. Henry

Wow, great post! I've never thought studio exec's were morons, just that they're maybe a little jealous of the writer's ability to write a creative story, and felt the need to, "put the writer in his/her place."

This myth of mine, actually, started many years ago with my first encouter with a working screenwriter, who roll played as a studio exec at ta writer's conference I attended on Widbey Island in WA. In this pannel a Hollywood screenwriter listened to pages of an audiences screenplay then reacted -- as he said a studio exec would. When I read my entry the screenwriter turned studio exec started lauching f-bombs in a kind of Texas oil barrow drawl. Needless to say I was shocked -- but I kept my cool and dutifully listened to what he had to say.

So in the theme of myth busting, does this brand of studio exec really exist? And how much of "putting a writer in his/her place," can a writer expect to experience?

- E.C. Henry from Bonney Lake, WA


Really good stuff, Billy.

I'll just say this. In every job I've had, in and out of the industry, there are people who excel at their jobs and go the extra mile, people who do what they are told or expected to, and those that slack and try to fly under the radar. This applies equally to execs. A good one is worth their weight in gold and it isn't about you or him or the credit, it's about the work and ultimately what is ending up on the page and the screen. So try giving your exec the benefit of the doubt, try to believe that if you look good, they do too, and that if you let them, they might really want to be on your team.

Paul Lacques

On the money, Mernit-meister! For further evidence check out any number of "director's cut" DVDs. ZZZzzzz . . .

Mystery Man

I felt a gazillion reactions to this post. (I loved it.) I'll narrow the reactions down to 3:

1 - much of the blame for the sorry state of today's films should be layed squarely on the screenwriters.

2 - in my circle of writer friends, we've been reading and reviewing each other's stories for so many years now that we're extremely familiar with both sides of giving AND receiving notes. Many of them have moved on to screenwriting careers. They all, without exception, have enjoyed great healthy working relationships with producers because they're not only so completely accustomed to criticism and notes, they LOVE GOOD NOTES, they'll keep their cool if they're told something completely ridiculous, and if they disagree with a note, they're capable of articulating what it is they're trying to accomplish so that there's an open discussion about that aspect of the story. And their movies have been better for it. I also believe that, thanks to sites like TriggerStreet, the next generation of screenwriters will be a much more engaging, dynamic group than the old guard, because they will bring with them years of experience in receiving criticism, writing endless revisions, and mastering the craft BEFORE they ever talk to a studio. And therefore, I also believe that a new, golden age of cinema is ahead of us.

3 - not every studio is lucky enough to have Billy Mernit offering sensational notes. I've never worked with you before. And ya know, I've become so curious about how good your notes are that when I finish my next script, I may very well plunk down the $500 or whatever just to see what the Billy Mernit experience is all about.



Thanks for another great post Billy!

Are there any female screenwriters in the "closer" group?

What about female/male cowriting teams?

If not, do you think a female could make it to this "closer" group?

Thanks for giving us the view from both sides!

Writer hugs all,



Any man who likes Jessica Alba has to do worse than trash a myth before I wont talk to him.

I'd rather know the truth than be influenced by myths. I think the thing is the dumb studio notes make great entertainment. E! Notes coming soon Thursday afternoons when all screenwriters are strung out on Starbucks. Kindly brought to you by Starbucks and Kinko's and of course, hosted by the highly experience screenwriter Ryan Seacrest. Did I miss anything?


MM, MUCH of the blame for the sorry state of today's films should be layed squarely on the screenwriters? Ouch. To the degree that writers need to grow a pair and stop selling out just to sell maybe. Make no mistake that while there are many a fine exec out there, control still lies in the wallet, not the pen.


I.e...those who fund have the power.

Frank Conniff

Billy -- I enjoyed your comments about how wonderful development executives are, but in your next draft I think you need to raise the stakes and make the protagonist more likeable.

Mystery Man

Hey MaryAn, yeah, I honestly believe that. You can make a great film from a good script. You can even screw up and make a bad film from a good script. But you can never make a good film from a bad script. I think McKee is right when he says that we're really seeing films being made from the best scripts that are out there right now, and thus, much of the blame should fall on the screenwriters.

It's really sad. There are so many great people who are capable of accomplishing great things, but more often than not, I view most films as lost opportunities for real greatness because the script pulled the rug out from underneath all that wonderful talent.



I think it's quite funny that David Fincher is complaining about studio executives. Considering Se7en and Fight Club, I'd say the executives have pretty much given him free reign with his vision.

Let's end the movie with her head in a box! Awesome!


Sorry, MM, but a statement that generalized is disconcerting.

Screenwriters have no control over budget, distribution, production, release dates, casting, directing, set development and a whole host of other gigantic components that make up the overall quality and success of a film.

Even IF writers always maintained full editing control of their stories and were always on the set to protect the integrity of the screenplay once it left their hands, which of course we all know know isn't the case, what makes you think writers aren't writing quality stuff? BORAT was nominated for an OSCAR for crying out loud!!

We live in a consumer driven society. Filmmakers make what the consumer will pay to see. You want to point a finger at the sorry state of films? Point it at the people carrying the wallets. Point it at the people who buy the tickets and the studios who make the films. Point at the crappy theaters and the lack of ushers that make people stay home and wait for DVD's. Point at anything you want, but making the writers shoulder the blame? On the rare occasion, perhaps, but "much" you say? I don't think so.

Studios used to make character driven films and if that's what the consumer wants to see then films like Little Miss Sunshine will move out of the indys and into the studios again.

I hope it happens. But if it doesn't, DON'T BLAME THE WRITERS!


What a provocative post! All sorts of questions come to my mind. Are we just getting what we pay for? Are we the consumers to blame for all the "with a vengeance" sequels? I notice there are two ways a new movie is touted: by how many millions it made in the first and then subsequent weekends and then also how many reviewers were taken with it. (I do look at all those shaded moons, and know they influence me to at least consider the movie.) I would be curious to know how much the two overlap--and whether people 10 years from now will be watching today's so-called blockbusters. But about your main thesis...If the director does not seem to have been present, or the actors don't have a clue, I suppose that falls in the lap of the executives? What a huge collaborative effort a film is. The intention will be realized only if every single person involved is on board and has absolute integrity. Doesn't the whole effort begin--and end--with the writer? Who is not writing for the page, but for that screen...Helps if that writer can walk on water.

Mystery Man


Great post, MaryAn. I have no complaints about what you wrote, except the "don't blame the writer" part. You assume that all screenwriters actually care about the "integrity" of their scripts. Many of them don't. Some should be called "crooks." They're hacks looking to make big bucks and they don't truly care about the craft or the "integrity" of screenwriting for that matter. We have our own fair share of wolves in our flocks, and they are actively working in Hollywood. I'd love to name names, but I won't. Of course, it could be said "blame the studios" and the people with wallets for hiring them. They can get conned like everyone else in the biz, and they don't want to spend another six figures on another writer to fix it. So they just go with what they have.

By the way, Billy, I saw "Zodiac" over the weekend. I wouldn't have minded the almost 3 hours of intense exposition if it led to something really great, but it didn't. The movie ended with an anti-climactic third act and "reasonable speculation" about who the killer was. File that one under "BFD."

The studio was right.


Miriam Paschal

Right now I'm working with a fellow Triggerstreet member whose dream is film-making, not so much writing. He's been rubbing shoulders with the writers and I've ended up writing 3 scripts for him of varying quality, all based on his ideas.

We've been looking for that great first project, and we think we've found it. It needs to be a great story with great characters that can overcome a very low budget and unknown actors.

It's been a GREAT experience working with the guy who wants to film my words, and I've been trying to be very responsive to every single request of his. He, for his part, is very open to hearing my advice that this or that idea won't serve the story or the characters, but he's also given me notes that have prevented me from making some basic mistakes.

We had one scene during the first act (set-up) that he didn't like. So I went back and re-wrote it several times and he kept giving me notes and I re-wrote it and gave him more notes and it finally became something that is really meaningful.

Another scene at the end of the second act was scrutinized just as hard. His input showed me a better twist to the scene AND that I was allowing my character to be moved by external forces when he should have been moved by internal forces. He needed to make the decision himself, not let the other person make it for him.

Kudos to my director for guiding me through this process. Our first review was all praise and no criticism.

Of course, I have yet to receive Mystery Man's review.


MM, I'm not assuming "all screenwriters" do anything. I haven't met all screenwriters so I wouldn't make an absolute assumption like that. I am, however, okay with your statement that "some" writers have no integrity and that "many" are crooks or hacks because I feel certain that you've met some who don't and many who are.


McKee's a joke, MM.

Nice post, Billy.


EC: Generally, the entire industry "puts the writer in his/her place" by continually underplaying the vital importance of the screenplay in the moviemaking process... if certain execs add specific insult to general injury, that's not wholly surprising.

Caroline: Absolutely.

Lacquesman: Yes, indeed -- I believe Oliver Stone's 4th cut of ALEXANDER will shortly take the place of Ambien as the sleep narcotic of choice.

MM: The Trigger Street paradigm sounds ideal. And re: consults, I look forward to the pleasure.

Debbie: I wish there WAS a famous female Closer. To my knowledge, Nora Ephron has come closest to closer as a comedy fixer...

Dave: No, but you're giving me great material for my next nightmare.

Frank, you Philistine! I'm taking a walk on this project, or as someone else once said (before donning a wig to act in the soaps): "Not with ME as Tolstoy!"

Brookeleenster: More awesome would be the head of Joe Eszterhas.

Patty: More writers who can walk on water -- that's what we need.

But seriously, you've nailed it:
the thing is collaboration. Thing is, it can't begin to BE a collaboration until there's a viable writer's draft to bring the project into being.

Miriam: What a great relationship.
That's how it s'posed to be!

MM: Slowly I turn, step by step...

Hi MaryAn! I know you're really having a conversation with MM here, but I'm just waving from the next barstool. Most "dialogues" these days seem to take place between two positions frozen in stone, so I like how you're willing to get off your dime in reasonable time.

Thenkew, Mr. Eddie.


Lovely post...

Laura Reyna

Great post.

I missed it when 1st written. Found it thru MM's site.

From everything i've read--
1. even talented, experienced pros turn out crappy scripts.

2. Only a handful of writers do everything well: concept, dialogue, structure, set peices, etc... this has lead the the specialized re-writing business where one writer is called in to fix one thing, & another writer is called in to fix another thing.

So, no, not everything that comes out of a particular writer is golden.

Writers have to own up to the fact that we're not perfect, & our scripts aren't always perfect.

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