It isn’t unusual for a studio to hire different screenwriters to carry out additional works on scripts both before and during filming. Indeed, the process is actually quite common. Often, the person doing the rewrite will get a credit alongside (or even instead of) the original writer, depending on the level of work and the changes made.
On some occasions however the person doing the rewrite is not credited. This is either because the changes they made were not deemed to be sufficient to warrant a credit, their work was finally discarded, or the they requested their name not appear for one reason or another.
Below, we look at some of the most famous screenwriters who have done some uncredited (and surprising) rewrites.
1. Joss Whedon – Waterworld
Before he became a cult figure as the genius behind Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Whedon worked on a number of projects, most notably Toy Story (for which he received an Oscar nomination) and Alien: Resurrection. But he also worked as a script doctor on a number of high-profile projects for which he received no credit. These included Speed (for which he wrote almost all the dialogue, and was initially going to receive writing credit), Twister, and X-Men (pretty much all of which was thrown out).
Most interestingly though, he actually did some script work on the the infamous epic Kevin Costner passion-project, Waterworld. Famously one of the biggest flops of all time, Whedon described the script he was given to rewrite as “the classic, ‘They have a good idea, then they write a generic script and don’t really care about the idea.’”
His experience working on it wasn’t all that great either. He said of the experience:
“I was there basically taking notes from Costner, who was very nice, fine to work with, but he was not a writer. And he had written a bunch of stuff that they wouldn’t let their staff touch. So I was supposed to be there for a week, and I was there for seven weeks, and I accomplished nothing. I wrote a few puns, and a few scenes that I can’t even sit through because they came out so bad.”
2. Kevin Smith – Coyote Ugly
Since shooting to fame with micro-budget slacker comedy Clerks, Smith has been known for his razor-sharp dialogue and, shall we say, risqué humour. So it was a bit of a surprise to find out that he actually did a rewrite on Coyote Ugly. Unsurprisingly, this was apparently one of the reason Smith’s version was rejected. According to director David McMally, whilst the script was “terrific”, it was also “pretty raunchy” and “missing an emotional element to the relationship thing.”
Writing of his experience on the film, Smith said:
“When I’m hired to do rewrites, I always imagine it’s for dialogue. Oddly enough, on this flick, they kept scenes, scenarios, and set-pieces I wrote, but used someone else’s dialogue.”
He was also keen to point out that a scene revolving around the discussion of comic books (of which he is famously a massive fan) actually had nothing to do with him.
3. Charlie Kaufman – Kung Fu Panda 2
Best known for his, for lack of a better word, Kaufmanesque films, the writer of classics such as Being John Malkovich and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, also worked on this animated sequel.
Starring the voice of Jack Black, Kaufman was brought in to do a couple of weeks of “polish work” . How much he contributed to the final movie is difficult to say. Though some have pointed out some decidedly Kaufmanesque themes, it seems unlikely the fundamental structure of the script was altered in such a short period of time. Furthermore, having started out on writing for TV sitcoms, the addition of a few jokes wouldn’t be at all surprising.
4. Tarantino – It’s Pat
Saturday Night Live has a terrible record for turning their sketches into feature length movies. Although there have of course been exceptions such as The Blues Brothers and Wayne’s World, It’s Pat is not one of them.
The very definition of a one-note gag, said sketch revolves around the sexual ambiguity of the titular character. So it was not that much of a surprise that the movie bombed, both critically and commercially, receiving 0% rating on Rotten Tomatoes and making only $60,822 at the box office.
What might be more surprising is that Quentin Tarantino actually did an uncredited rewrite of this. Whilst some sites have claimed that he “co-wrote” the script, the conventional wisdom is that he lent his assistance to the project because he was a friend of star Julia Sweeney.
Thankfully, his association with the movie didn’t derail the director’s career, which at this point only had one film under his belt. Two months after It’s Pat was released, Tarantino released his sophomore effort upon the world, Pulp Fiction, which was slightly better received.
5. Aaron Sorkin – Schindler’s List
Best known for his verbose and expansive use of dialogue, Aaron Sorkin might not be the obvious choice to work on a piece as delicate as Schindler’s List. Yet, he was personally invited by director Steven Spielberg to do a polish on Steven Zaillian’s epic script.
Fresh from the success of the movie A Few Good Men (based on his play of the same name), this was his first job as an uncredited script doctor. Whilst there are no “obvious” Sorkin moments, he is credited for performing a “dialogue wash”.
The script went on to win a Best Screenplay Oscar at the 1994 Academy Awards, though Sorkin wasn’t included in the list of nominees. However, Zaillian and Sorkin would both be nominated at the 2012 Academy Awards for their work on Moneyball, for which they both received writing credit. Although they ultimately ended up losing out to The Descendants.
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