By Sean Tuohy
All writers want to be artists. They want to be respected. They want to be loved by the public. That’s all great, but nothing beats paying the bills. Sometimes even the best artists have to work for a paycheck.
Screenwriters are well known for this. A screenwriter can win an Oscar on Sunday, and by Tuesday is working on “Failure To Launch 2: Lifting Off Harder.”
Sometimes you need to pay the rent by writing an awful movie!
Oscar-nominated writer/director Kenneth Lonergan has an impressive resume of films under his belt. “You Can Count On Me,” “Gangs of New York,” and, 2016’s critical darling, “Manchester by The Sea.” He is one of the most beloved screenwriters because of his in-depth character studies.
Paycheck Script: “Fool’s Gold”
Remember when Matthew McConaughey was the “alight, alright, alright” guy and not “Oscar-winning actor” guy (okay, maybe they are the same person)? Back in those days, McConaughey paid the bills by showing up in every rom-com he could he find. The gold star—this will be funny in a second—being “Fool’s Gold.” A married couple gets a divorce but then finds gold. That’s the plot line. And, yes, Lonegan did an uncredited rewrite on the movie that features Kevin Hart saying “fakade” instead of “façade.”
Simply say Joss Whedon’s name and somewhere within a 26-mile radius a nerd gets a boner. The man is a storytelling treasure on both the big and small screens. He has written some of the greatest episodes of television (“Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” “Angel,” “Firefly”), and he assembled “The Avengers.”
The guy knows how to write.
Paycheck Script: “Waterworld”
Back in 1996, Kevin Costner was what we like to call a “bankable star.” During this time, he decided to make a film that took everything we love about “Road Warrior” and put it on water. Despite all the snickering, “Waterworld” was not a giant bomb. It actually made a profit, but it was panned by critics and, behind the scenes, it was considered a “hellish set.” Between actors almost drowning, a director abandoning the film, and the movie going over budget, it must have felt more like “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.” Whedon was called in at the last minute to work on rewrites. He famously called this time period “seven weeks of hell.”
John Patrick Shanley
John Patrick Shanley—“JPS” as the cool kids call him—is considered one of the greatest American playwrights. His plays have won respect and awards. In Hollywood, his’ scripts have been called “fantastic,” and his 2006 film “Doubt” won every award under the sun.
Paycheck Script: "Congo"
A talking gorilla.
“Congo” features a talking gorilla. I know that isn’t the whole plot, but for the life of me I don’t remember the actual plot. I know the film was based off of a Michael Crichton novel, and I know that Tim Curry is awesome in it (when is he not awesome?). Otherwise, this a movie filled with awful stereotypes and a talking gorilla with lackluster special effects (even for 1995). There’s also this exchange:
*Shit hitting the fan*
Ernie Hudson’s character: “What about them?
Laura Linney’s character: “Put them on the endangered species list.”
Somehow listed among the credits, after gorilla handler but before craft services, is John Patrick Shanley as the screenwriter.
There is one upside to this train wreck of a film. The great Ernie Hudson has stated that his character is his personal favorite from his career.