Came across this article today: that details the story of a struggling screenwriter who sold the script to what would become the movie Yesterday.  In a nutshell, the writer sold his original script which was later wholly rewritten.  He received a co-story by credit, the purchase price of the script, and a share of the film’s profits which amounted to approximately zero dollars because his agent was an imbecile who negotiated a deal for net rather than gross.  The original screenwriter, Jack Barth, is clearly ticked because he feels his initial contribution to the movie was dismissed by the credited writer, Richard Curtis.

I found this article and the online response it has garnered very interesting. There are those who are outraged because they feel Bart was mistreated.  And there are others who are outraged because he was totally rewritten and, thus, should have no cause for complaint.

I am equally unsympathetic to both sides of the argument.

First, Barth has really no one to blame but himself, and his agent, for his predicament.  At the end of the day, that was the deal he signed in order to: a) get paid and b) get the movie made.  Rewrites are part of the business.  As a showrunner, I have to rewrite scripts – sometimes because of production issues (ie. we lose a location, the script won’t board), and sometimes because of creative issues (ie. the writer didn’t deliver on the page, the studio had an 11th hour change of heart and decided to throw out the script).  Sometimes, these rewrites are cosmetic in nature.  Other times, they are page one rewrites where nothing is left of the original draft outside of the story (which was broken in writers’ room). And who gets credit for that final version?  Almost always, the original writer. Why?  Because that’s the way the business works.  Rewriting scripts is part of my job as a showrunner.

Of course another way the business works happened to me on a miniseries my former writing partner and I wrote.  We delivered two drafts, a polish – and then were rewritten by another writer who claimed a co-writing credit.  Now, in order for a writer to claim a co-writing credit, they had to have changed 50% from the last draft.  And God knows, he tried: changing names so that Bob became Bill, and Bob’s car became Bill’s car, and Int. Bob’s Office -Day became Int. Bill’s Office – Day, but that wasn’t enough to reach the 50% threshold, so we won the arbitration and kept our original sole credit.

In Barth’s case, he was completely rewritten.  He didn’t deserve the co-write.  But he did deserve the nod for coming up with the original idea – and some degree of respect, something – it could be argued – he did NOT receive.  From the article:


I guess the reason why I’m playing Devil’s Advocate here is because I’ve experienced both sides.  As I said, I’ve written countless uncredited page one rewrites.  On the other hand, I can sympathize with new writers who, desperate to make a name for themselves, sign a crappy deal in order to get their script produced.  I also really despise gatekeepers who minimize the contributions of others – or take credit for it.  The latter happens a lot more than you realize. Last year, I was brought on to a development project looking for a showrunner.  The pilot script was co-written by a young, inexperienced writer and a fairly prominent director whose production company was attempting to set up the series.  Eventually, the young writer sheepishly admitted that the script was his but he had to agree to a co-write credit in order to bring this dipshit marquee director on board (because, evidently, the money to be made from being both a director and an Executive Producer on a show he would own through his production company wasn’t enough).

That, unfortunately, is also how this business works.

4 thoughts on “May 23, 2020: On rewrites, credits, and substituting Bob for Bill!

  1. Over your many years of experience, during all stages of development/production, I understand you would try to surround yourselves with good people than those slime balls … I hope.
    Life’s too short. 🙂

  2. Geez, this movie business makes the mafia look like choirboys.

    On a different note, here is a headline about covid that puts the deaths from covid into perspective:
    “At least 80 million children under one at risk of diseases such as diphtheria, measles and polio as COVID-19 disrupts routine vaccination efforts, warn Gavi, WHO and UNICEF”

  3. He’s gotta blame his lawyer for a bad deal, but he can use that film credit to open doors. He could have had his contract reviewed by a good legal clinic like Cardozzo Law School’s Indie Film Clinic. Legal clinics provide low cost or even free legal help especially to screenwriters; when you are presented with 30 pages of legal gibberish it’s easy to miss things.

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