Hollywood is filled with people who know people, just as in Chicago everyone knows a guy who knows a guy. If you want something done in Chicago, you need the right guy to introduce you to the guy that can get things done. In Hollywood, you need to be in touch with the people who are in touch with the person that can get things done.
Unfortunately, some times a person who can get you to the next right person wants more than you are willing to give up. Other times, they just want to add in their expertise to make the project better, which means you have to sift and sort through everything you hear before making a decision that might take your property in the wrong direction, or save it.
The difficult thing is trying to maneuver through the ideas while maintaining what makes your story great. Years ago I was a part of an incredible motion picture titled Legend of the Lightstone. The script was the most fantastic story I had read in years and I was thrilled to be brought on to direct it.
But, about the time I was working with Lucas Films Ltd, on the special effect storyboards, the producer and writer were in Hollywood to get a distribution presale. Every executive that had the power to suggest certain changes did so with a promise that it would make the story more marketable or bankable. The writer got excited and pumped out the changes, only to find that it wasn’t quite what the executive was looking for.
In the meantime, the writer went to additional meetings and met with the top executives in the business, who all added to the story. By the time the trip was done, I reread the story and hated it.
The thing that made the story unique was replaced by something familiar – More marketable. Its uniqueness was gone and it no longer had the luster that could make it great. The cast was no longer interested in being a part of the story, the distributors were no longer interested because there was nothing unique about it, and I was no longer willing to direct it.
With “Working Title” I’ve met with several top people in the industry and they each had something to share about the story. I’ve taken about 10% of the suggestions to heart and have walked away from the rest. In some cases, it didn’t change the connections, but in others it cut off our possibilities. Each incident was handled in its own way.
One Hollywood heavyweight read the script and was excited about the story. She was amazed that the story was so unique and fresh, yet captivating. She too had a few suggestions for the story, but told me to only consider it, if it helps the story. She was emphatic about me not changing the story unless her idea would work, because the story was already so well crafted.
David Coleman and I spoke on the phone yesterday. He is a co-producer at The Nerd Machine, a company he and Zachary Levi (Chuck, Thor: The Dark World, Tangled) started. Dave and I talked about co-producing “Working Title” and the strengths of the story. He too had a few concerns about possible changes, but not due to the story itself, but rather due to the actors we were interested in having star in the picture.
The conversation reminded me that some films are based on star power and others are based on story. The ideal film being one with a great story and great actors attached, which seldom happens. Only Sandra Bullock could play Ryan Stone in Gravity, only Robert Downey Jr. could play Iron Man, and only Michael J. Fox could play Marty McFly in Back to the Future.
No one is able to separate the great combinations. When one name comes up, so does the other. If I were to say Rocky, you couldn’t help but think Sylvester Stallone. The same holds true for Tom Hanks as Forest Gump, Dustin Hoffman as Tootsie, and Johnny Depp as Captain Jack Sparrow.
The key is finding the right balance between enough star power to draw an audience to the box office and enough story power to stir word of mouth for the film’s staying power in theaters.
I gave Dave the names of four stars I was interested in having play our lead character. It turns out he is best friends with two of the four, which can do wonders for our film. However, the actors need to decide if they can live with the story as it was intended, suggest minor changes to improve the development of their characters, or suggest significant changes if they are interested in being a part of something different.
My next decision would be to determine how important the star is compared to the story and decide to what degree I’m willing to be flexible, if at all. The core elements of the story can’t be compromised without changing the story to something different. I can always find a different story for an actor, but right now I’m focused on finding an actor that wants to be a part of this unique story.
We’ll see how the collaboration process works when adding in the actors. It took the writing team hundreds of days of intense collaborating to finalize the story that has been received well by many. Now we have to tweak it for the actors, but not change the core of it. After all, we don’t want another Legend of the Lightstone.