In terms of genre movies, there has been a lot of talk about reshoots and studio executives tinkering with movies until they no longer resemble what was once supposed to be. Just over the past year, we’ve heard that Suicide Squad and Rogue One were both victims to too many cooks in the kitchen. But guess what? Oscar nominated movies aren’t exempt from this either. The Wrap recently gathered a number of Oscar nominated screenwriters and directors to talk about some of the bad advice they’ve been given while trying to bring their magical ideas to life. And most of these are pretty laughable.
Studio executives, producers and even actors sometimes think their ideas are better than what has landed in their hand from the screenwriter. Take Hidden Figures for example. It’s a science drama that is essentially about math. Screenwriters Allison Schroeder and Theodore Melfi, attending the annual Writers Guild of America Beyond Words this past Thursday, confirmed that Fox Searchlight executives asked that there be ‘less math’ in the three-time nominated movie, which is up for Best Picture. Melf went onto explain how sometimes actors also get in the way of their art. He says this.
“Most of the notes you get are from actors. They’re bad. This one studio [Fox Searchlight] person said, ‘Do we have to have so much math?’ So I pretended to be interested but, no, it’s about math. And then Kevin Costner calls me one night and says, ‘I’ve been thinking about a receding hairline.’ I said, ‘OK. Why?’ He said, ‘I just think this guy would have a receding hairline.’ And so I call the studio because I love to torture them, and said, ‘Kevin Costner wants a receding hairline,’ and they flip out, saying ‘We want Kevin Costner just the way he is!’ So I went back to Kevin and said everyone at the studio thinks it will make you look old. He went, ‘Oh. Can I chew gum?'”
Allison Schroeder went onto say this about another project she was working on.
“I was really excited, I was pitching this thriller with two female leads, about espionage. [The exec] said, ‘Oh! We love it! It’s great. Can you either change it to incest or two men?’ I said, ‘If you’ll really hire me? Yes.'”
Damien Chazelle, who has earned the most nominations possible this year for his musical La La Land, offered some insight into the creative process behind his previous Oscar nominated movie Whiplash, about the relationship between an ambitious jazz student and an abusive instructor. He says he was asked to ditch the drum solo at the end of the movie. He explains.
“…It ends with a kind of long drum solo, which was the whole point of making the movie. And the note was to get rid of all that. The note was written out, ‘He’s good at drumming. We get it.'”
Everyone expected that Deadpool might get nominated for an Oscar this year, as it was recognized by the Golden Globes and got nominated for a number of other prestigious Awards. Alas, it was not meant to be. But the two writers behind the much championed superhero movie did have this to offer about their own worst studio notes.
“We wrote a parody of The Sopranos called The Tomatoes. It was all fruits and vegetables in the leads. It was the Tomatoes vs. The Bananas. The note came back, ‘We love it, but do they have to be fruits and vegetables?”
Perhaps the funniest note comes from writer/director Barry Jenkins, who wowed this year with his critical hit Moonlight. The movie centers on a vital portrait of contemporary African American life and is an intensely personal and poetic meditation on identity, family, friendship, and love. Jenkins says this about the advice he was given.
“So, where are the white people?”
Manchester by the Sea is another critically acclaimed movie that has racked up numerous awards. And its hard to believe that writer Kenneth Lonergan would be struck by obnoxious changes. But apparently he is quite often, and he has a unique way of dealing with it.
“I’m trying to think of a really bad note that I’ve gotten, but for the past 20 years when executives give me notes I go into a kind of self-induced hypnotic trance in which I just nod and say… ‘Oh that’s interesting.’ I pitched a comedy once and someone said, ‘Where’s the fun?’ I said I didn’t know.”
Taylor Sheridan, the man behind Hell or High Water, has had similar experiences. He continues where Lonergan left off. He has this to say about working with certain studio executives.
“I’m with [Lonergan]. When I start getting notes, it just starts to sound like the teacher from the Peanuts cartoon. I was in a meeting, I wrote this pilot for AMC, and we’re all sitting there and they’re giving me all their notes and I’m listening and at one point I say, ‘What the f are you people talking about?”And they said, ‘Taylor, you have to look for the note within the note.” I said, ‘OK, but why don’t you just give me the note?’ They looked at me dead seriously and said, ‘Well we don’t know what the note is.'”
One of the funnier notes arrived at Todd Black’s trailer door. he produced the Oscar nominated drama Fences starring Denzel Washington. He also worked on Washington’s September release, the remake The Magnificent Seven. About putting that project together, he claims he received quite the note.
“We made a Western called ‘The Magnificent Seven’ [with Sony Pictures]. And the biggest note in development and shooting it was, ‘Do they have to wear cowboy hats and have facial hair?’ And I said, ‘Do you not want them not to have horses either?’ That was a huge note on a daily basis.”
Of course, what we don’t ever hear about is the time or two an executive or actor got it right. We know that Ryan Reynolds actually contributed a lot to making Deadpool a blockbuster hit. And you can believe that if some faceless studio executive offered up a note that made the movie better, there’s some screenwriter in Hollywood taking credit for it. But there are probably plenty of big box office bombs that are directly the victim of these exact kind of notes, too. However it plays out, all of the above have their work recognized by the Academy this year. The Oscars air live February 26, 2017, 5:30 PM from Los Angeles.