Subject: Re: The Film ( 2 of 9 )
Posted by Douglas Adams
The issue of "control" has a lot of mythology around it. People often ask me 'Do you have creative control'. The answer is very simple - I'm not Steven Spielberg, and therefore the answer is no. SS is the most powerful film-maker in Hollywood. He gets control.
The point is this. You either have complete control, or you don't have control. If I had control, that would include being able to say "I don't like the way this movie is being made. Stop making it." Try to come up with any definition of control which doesn't include this and you'll quickly realise that you can't. A lot of lawyers have made a lot of money trying to come up with definitions of limited control, but in all seriousness it can't be done. Limited control is like a very slightly punctured balloon. So - is any entity putting tens of millions of dollars into something going to put real control into someone else's hands? No. If someone is paying, say $100,000,000 to make a movie, guess who has control?
What you have instead are things that lie outside legal definitions (and legal enforceability), mostly trust.
What?! Trust?! In Hollywood?!
Yes. It really is all you've got to go on, but you can do a lot to bolster it. First of all, let's talk about the Executive Producer position. That means exactly as much or as little as anybody wants to say it does. All it actually guarantees me is my Executive Producer fee. But the reason it's there is that the producer wants me to be involved, and needs to be able to pay me for my time. If he doesn't like my input, he doesn't have to pay attention to it, all he has to do is pay me.
So why should anybody listen to me at all? Simple. Because my input is valuable to the production. If it stopped being valuable I'd suddenly find myself out in the cold. So my job is to make sure that I am valuable. This means that (in exactly the same way that normal life works) I have to be prepared to negotiate and compromise to achieve the things that I think are important. I won't win every argument. The truth is that if I did the film would probably suffer. I don't know everything, and I'm not always right, so I have to negotiate, and I have to learn.
I'm really enjoying this process, and here's why. When I started out, working in Radio and TV, I was constantly (like anybody else) having to negotiate with script editors and producers. I'd often get terribly frustrated with the things they wouldn't agree with or (as it seemed to me) understand, and I'd have to rewrite and rewrite, and negotiate and negotiate. And the interesting thing is that as a result the scripts always got immeasurably better. Not because I necessarily agreed with (or did!) what the script editor or producer wanted me to, but because I had to recognise that if they had a problem other people would do too and I had to solve it - my way.
When I suddenly - and inadvertently - became a best-selling author, this feedback system of feedback and argument and negotiation suddenly vanished, and to be honest, I floundered about. I needed to argue things through. Eventually I got a brilliant editor, Sue Freestone, who was unique in being willing and smart enough to put in the time and energy to argue everything through with me for four books.
Now that I'm back in the world of script-writing - though at a somewhat different level - I'm suddenly a new boy who has to prove himself all over again. I have a certain amount of residual respect and credibility because of my track record as a novelist, but being screenwriter is a different skillset from being a novelist, so I have to earn respect as a writer all over again. So I'm rewriting and negotiating, rewriting and negotiating etc etc, and I'm learning a huge amount.
The popular romantic idea of the writer as anointed genius whose work has a special integrity that no one should impinge on is pure nonsense. Writing is an iterative process, and the best - and most effective - writers are those who win the most important arguments by having the best ideas, and learn from the arguments they lose.
So, no, I don't have creative control. But I maintain a crucial amount of creative influence by continuing to earn it.