A week or so ago I was reading a review of David Lindsay-Abaire’s new play where the critic basically blamed the crappy ending (in his opinion) on Lindsay-Abaire’s foray into Hollywood:
“…The actors perform skillfully, but Lindsay-Abaire, who won a Pulitzer Prize for his play “Rabbit Hole,” has been spending time in Hollywood, and the industry’s habitual glibness infects the ending of the play, which seems as fraudulent as it is bewildering.”
That “habitual glibness” (which, I think, means a consistent paint-by-numbers approach no matter the film’s subject matter, although it’s such a wide-open phrase that it’s hard to tell) is definitely a part of screenwriting, but what this critic and many critics across the board seem to miss is that unless you’re one of the few high ranking writers known by name, there really isn’t any other way to get a movie made in Hollywood.
So by saying Lindsay-Abaire’s new play was “ruined” by a Hollywood sheen, what the critic is really saying is, “you know that ‘habitual glibness’ [excuse my vague phrase] that’s basically essential to getting a film made and screenwriter paid? I don’t like it. And it makes for terrible endings. And I refuse to get to the root of the problem which is that it’s really, really difficult for a writer to simultaneously make a critic and producer happy [even in theater] – so I’ll just blame it all on the writer. For refusing to be creative.”
Critics and producers are like divorced parents who are so obsessed with their own agenda, they can’t possibly see that they’re tearing their child into pieces with their vastly diverging opinions.
“I don’t care what your stupid idiot of a father says, you need to give your lead character the typical sarcastic best friend.”
“Your mother is a lunatic. Get edgy. Who cares about linear story telling? Give me originality!”
And so well meaning screenwriters (who are sometimes also playwrights or novelists) aren’t ever really sure what they’re supposed to do. Do they deny their uniqueness to get a paycheck and just deal with the onslaught of nasty critique? I mean, maybe that slightly cheesy ending will actually play out better on screen than it does on the page… Or do they go for broke, create a script that critics haven’t seen before, and watch as it sits for years on a shelf, withering away while audiences make Saw 7 a billion dollar success? What do they do? Whatever. Producers don’t care. Critics don’t care. They just want something they agree with to happen.
“I don’t care if it hurts your father’s feelings – you’re not spending Christmas with him this year.”
And don’t even talk to them about the word commercial. Don’t even try to get in the middle of that argument. Because most critics think it’s bad and most producers think it’s good. But guess what? When it comes down to it, that word does not exist. At least not when it comes the movies and their success rates. Because for every Waterworld there’s an Iron Man. For every big giant commercial failure there’s a big giant commercial hit, and for every awful cheesy ending that just kind of works there’s an awful cheesy ending that ruins the entire thing. And I promise you, for the most part, the people writing and working on the steaming pile of crap feel just as good as the people writing and working on the golden egg until one tanks and one becomes a huge success.
But that doesn’t mean mom and dad won’t try to convince you that not only do they know what commercial is or isn’t, they know it so much better than the other person in the equation.
You know, if Lindsay-Abaire’s new play was ruined by his newfound Hollywood habit of digestible endings, then instead of pointing figures squarely at his head – why not look into what’s going on at home? How many rewrites full of producer-infested critiques did he have to do before he felt accepted? How many critics made him feel like he could have always done better? And maybe this is a stupid argument and the guy doesn’t care what anyone thinks – but even if Lindsay-Abaire himself hasn’t been torn apart by these two worlds, hundreds of other young writers have.
Will anything stop producers and critics from loudly asking for opposite things? Probably not. But it’d sure be nice if mom and dad grew up a little and at least admitted the truth: when things go wrong, some the blame is most decidedly theirs.