#2. Most Producers Are Insane
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The producer is one of the most important people in every movie, because a producer has money (or at least knows how to talk to the people who do), which means everyone else has to do what he or she says. There are good producers and terrible producers. Most are terrible. Would you like to know HOW terrible and crazy? Let's look at an example.
Wild Wild West features a giant mechanical spider. You probably remember this giant mechanical spider, as it took up a large chunk of the third act of the film, was featured heavily in all of the promotion for the film, and is also in general a pretty difficult thing to forget. Just in case, it looks like this:
Note its distinct "mechanical" nature and a certain subtle "giganticness" all around the parts
that could be considered "spideresque."
As it's been over a decade since I've seen Wild Wild West, the giant mechanical spider is one of the only things that DOES stick out in my memory about the film. It's such a big and important set piece in the movie and CLEARLY an expensive scene to shoot, so it's reasonable to assume that the giant mechanical spider was always part of the script, as it's so ingrained in the film's DNA. It also totally fits in the world of that movie, where ridiculous steampunk inventions are everywhere. You can imagine the writers of that movie pitching it to studios, saying, "Hey, we've got this great idea for a Western with a CRAZY MECHANICAL SPIDER at the end, everyone will be talking about it!"
You'd be wrong. There was a producer on the film named Jon Peters. Peters was previously a producer on a now-obviously-shelved Superman V film that was written by Kevin Smith. In An Evening With Kevin Smith, Smith revealed that Peters had only three demands of the Superman script, one of which was that it needed to involve "a giant spider in the third act." Huh. Weird that, before the script was even written, Peters knew that the story NEEDED a giant spider, but sure, whatever, let's move on.
Hulton Archive/Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Keep in mind that this guy broke into Hollywood working with Barbra Streisand ... as her hairdresser.
Peters was also a producer attached to a film based on Neil Gaiman's The Sandman. The source material already existed and was great, and two writers were brought on to write the screenplay, and they were also great, but when Peters came on board, he, having not read the graphic novel, "had figured out that what the movie needed to be successful was a giant mechanical spider," according to Gaiman, in an interview with Comic Book Resources.
So it's clear that Peters (who, remember, has never been hired to write a movie) had been determined to wedge a giant mechanical spider into a film -- any film -- for years, and nothing was going to stop him. Wild Wild West is a buddy Western movie with neat inventions. Superman is about an alien that fights other aliens, monsters, and, sometimes rich bald guys. The Sandman is a 2,000-page story about the Lord of Dreams attempting to rebuild his fallen kingdom after being wrongfully imprisoned (and, like, a hundred other things). You can't really get three properties that are more disparate, and yet one producer tried to force a giant mechanical spider into every single one of them. No one story was calling out for a spider, and the spider was never inherently right for any of these. It only exists in Wild Wild West because Superman V and The Sandman movies never got made. If Wild Wild West hadn't come along to satisfy Peters' bizarre robo-spider boner, you can bet your ass he'd be trying to cram it into Ali.
"Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee. I'll bring a spider down to all eight knees!"
The thing is, 9 times out of 10, the writer has to listen to the producer. Maybe you signed on to write the Wild Wild West reboot because your late father loved Westerns and you wanted to honor his memory, or because you have a deep and intense personal connection with the source material and you know that you're the only person alive who can do it justice. You've been thinking about this movie your entire life, and it is the only story you will ever want to tell. Doesn't matter. You still have to put in a giant metal spider, because that's what the guy with the checkbook told you to do.
That's how producers (Pro Tip: the people with money) function. Most of them are more concerned with putting their own personal stamp on a movie than anything else, because they want to be able to turn to their friends/children/fancy prostitutes and say, "Hey, see that giant spider? My idea. This guy, right here. Bingo, makin' movies is easy."
"Now whaddaya say we go back to my place and do just a SILLY amount of cocaine?"
#1. Most Studios Are ALSO Insane!
20th Century Fox
Slow down, producers, you can't hog all the crazy! Since the studio is at risk to suffer the greatest loss if a movie flops, they're more likely than anyone else to panic, freak out, and make rash and arbitrary decisions that many industry insiders refer to as "fucking idiotic."
Remember what a train wreck X-Men 3: The Last Stand was? The first X-Men movie was pretty good, and X2 was damn near flawless, so what happened? The studio. See, Bryan Singer was the director of the first two X-Men movies and was largely responsible for how good those movies were. He was going to do the third, but left to work on Superman Returns. In February of 2005, the studio decided to announce that the film would be released in May of 2006, before a script had been written and a director had been hired. The studio had already signed contracts with its now expensive actors and had already sunk a lot of money into the project, so rather than say, "Hey, we don't know what we're doing and we can't seem to find a director and we might not have a big summer blockbuster," they confidently announced, "Keep Memorial Day weekend open, because that's when THE BEST X-MEN MOVIE EVER is going to come out GUARANTEED! Now where's that robot spider fella's cocaine?" The studio had signed and courted other directors, all of whom either dropped out or turned the offer down (as a result of the absurd deadline), and they still told the public, "Don't worry, the movie will be out next year, and it'll be GREAT! Not even GOD HIMSELF could stop this movie from being amazing. DO YOU HEAR ME, GOD? YOUR MOVIES SUCK!"
Newmarket Films, Cloud Ten Pictures
"Don't blame me. Those assholes are the ones that rewrote my original script."
It never had a chance.
Eventually the studio settled on Brett "I'm an Objectively Unlikable Meatball-Hamster of a Person" Ratner, who looked at impossible deadlines and a lack of script with the kind of undeserved confidence for which he is known, and said, "I can make this [expletive deleted] movie, [homophobic slur deleted] [racist remark deleted], and furthermore [obviously fake boast of sexual conquest deleted]."
But Ratner isn't solely to blame for X3. If that movie felt uneven to you, it might be because they started filming the biggest special effects sequences in April of 2005, before a director was even hired. That's not uncommon, by the way. Because movies are expensive and big special effects shots take a long time, the special effects scenes are more often than not the very first things that get shot. They started filming the motorcycle chase in Mission: Impossible II before anyone had written the scenes that come before and after the chase. The studio hired a writer and basically said, "We already filmed Tom Cruise climbing a mountain and riding a motorcycle on the beach; here's some money, please figure out what happens in between, and maybe add some running? Tom likes to run."
"And make sure to combine it with doves. John likes to dove."
You could write a political thriller that features one scene where President The Rock ramps a pod racer over an active volcano, for example, and then in the second draft decide, "You know what, I'd rather make a movie about gay rights." That's fine, you're welcome to do that. Just know that while you were rewriting the script, a special effects team in New Zealand was shooting the Rock-Ramp scene, and it cost a lot of money, so you'd better figure out a way to work it into every single version of this script you ever write.
Even the writer of X-Men: The Last Stand admits that it was a "nightmare" and treats X-Men: Days of Future Past (which he also wrote) as "a chance for me to go back and do differently what I did 10 years ago on X3." His problem 10 years ago, by the way, involved caving to the studio's pressure to make his movie louder, shorter, faster, and dumber.
It all comes back to that first rule that some very intelligent guy introduced at the top of this article: As soon as lots of money's involved, people will freak out. X Men: The Last Stand cost $200 million to make; that means a lot of people are VERY dependent on that movie doing well, and most of those people have no idea WHY movies do well, because they spent their education learning how to turn one dollar into five dollars instead of, you know, making movies. But their total lack of understanding won't stop them from demanding that a movie have a giant spider ...
... or a spiky mutant who can only kill people by hugging them ...
20th Century Fox
... or Brett Ratner as a director.
Christopher Polk/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images
Why would they let their lack of understanding stop them? The cocaine gods would HATE that.