When I read this article about Worldwide Motion Picture Group–an outfit that runs screenplays through statistical analysis in hopes of figuring out what’ll make them bigger hits–my thoughts turned to South Park’s Eric Cartman as Awesome-O, pitching endless Adam Sandler comedies to eager movie executives.
This actually isn’t too far off. Apparently, studio executives are beginning to take notes from Worldwide’s number crunchers, who claim to be able to tell screenwriters exactly how many “She’s gonna blows” and “I just wanted to say…I’m” sorries a movie needs to break $200 billion worldwide.
The New York Times article quotes Vinny Bruzzese, Worldwide’s chief statistician, as saying his outfit is there partly to be used as a go-to excuse “when the inevitable argument of ‘I am not going to take the blame if this movie doesn’t work’ comes up.” I’m sure that’s part of it, but there’s something else more fundamental. Studio execs want to lean on Bruzzese’s techniques to cover up their (world-renowned) brain melting stupidity:
Some examples of this stupidity (from Terry Rossio):
What can you say about a town where —
- Every studio passed on BACK TO THE FUTURE.
- Someone paid $2 million for a Joe Esterhaus story outline written on a napkin.
- When the script CASABLANCA was sent out as a spec (under a different title) only a third of the people recognized it, and of those who didn’t, most all of them turned it down.
It’s the Brain Cloud, I tellya. Okay, those are classic, well-worn examples. I, myself, personally have seen —
- Studios routinely spend millions — MILLIONS — to get a script right, and then trash it all the second a director is hired.
- A smart development executive passes on a project because, ‘there were too many rules.’ This on a fantasy script that had exactly one rule.
- A company options the rights to a book without anyone at the company actually reading the book.
- A Writer’s Guild arbitration committee, after careful review, gives the highest credit on a film to the writer who did the least amount of work. And another case where they award no credit to the writer who wrote every word of a finished script. (There appears to be a lethal concentration of the Brain Cloud down near 3rd Street. That odd smell isn’t from Farmer’s Market, it’s whatever those WGA arbitration committee folk are smoking. But that’s another column.)
- A smart studio executive, faced with a two-month deadline to get a script written on a green light picture, spends the two months in story meetings talking about a single secondary character.
It’s amazing any good movies get made, isn’t it?
When a writer, on condition of anonymity, says that Bruzzese’s program gave him the best notes he’s ever received, what’s left out is what that implies about the quality of notes writers usually get from executives. Bruzzese’s notes sound pretty unsophisticated, really, but they’re also probably harmless. If Bruzzese’s process can spare screenwriters from having to take notes from some 28-year-old-3rd-tier-B-school grad in Vuarnet shades who’ll be out on his ass in 18 months, it’s probably an improvement.