Sunday, March 16, 2008

If a major studio gave notes on JUNO

Diablo Cody won an Oscar for the screenplay of JUNO. Whether you like the movie or not you’ve got to agree that the film had a distinctive voice and clear vision. But that’s because it was sold to an independent. If Cody had sold the spec script to a major Hollywood studio however, this is the notes memo I imagine the producer would receive:

First of all the title is confusing. JUNO. It’s the same name as that city in Alaska, even spelled the same way. Research tells us that Nina is a popular name with the target demographic. Also Kristin, Chloe, and Caitlin (but with a C, not a K).

When Juno says “it all started with a chair”, we’re missing an opportunity for a block comedy scene and a trailer moment by not seeing the actual sex act between Juno and her boyfriend. Make it funny and not explicit of course. We’re missing a bet for physical comedy – two horny teenagers, a chair – imagine young versions of Jim Carrey and Carol Burnett. Wow!

In this current draft the parents react to Juno’s pregnancy announcement by accepting it. This seems false. We’ve certainly never seen a scene like this. We believe they should be furious. Unless they really scream at Juno we don’t believe they love her.

The very notion of an abortion clinic is a downer. Not to mention controversial. Do we even have to raise this issue? How ever they handled it in KNOCKED UP, just do that.

Are there really cheeseburger phones? Let’s just make it a cellphone so we can sell the product placement.

Can Juno’s girlfriend be funnier? Give her a “tude” as the kids say. As it is now she’s just supportive and quirky and allows Juno to describe her true feelings so what’s the point?

We love when Juno’s mother tells off the ultra-sound person. Do more of that. Let her tell off Juno’s teachers. Let her tell off the kids who don’t approve of Juno. It’s even worth adding characters so the mom can tell them off too.

You set up this great potential relationship with Juno and the yuppie husband but never pay it off. What if they sleep together? Think of all the fun complications that could cause. Not to mention all the possibilities for comedy. Sex with someone with a big belly – clumsily trying to find a good position, she could be on top of him and crush him with her weight, he could hurt his back. Again, nothing explicit but there’s got to be a way of making sex with a middle aged man and a pregnant teenager hysterical.

At the end the teen boyfriend/father should declare that he won’t let Juno give away her baby – THEIR baby. Just picturing that moment gives us chills. And when Juno sees her baby for the first time, her heart melts…and trust us, test scores will go right through the roof. Juno realizes there’s no way she could give up this precious child to someone else and she and the father agree to raise it themselves. It’s more satisfying and sets us right up for the sequel. Remember, we’re not making movies, we’re making franchises.

Casting: Ellen Page will not sell tickets. We’ve taken the liberty of slipping the script to Miley Cyrus along with a firm offer. If she passes we feel Amy Adams could play young.

We like your suggestion of Jennifer Garner but not as the yuppie wife. The part of Juno’s mother is bigger and has that great scene with the ultrasound technician. Not that Allison Janney isn’t a gifted actress but with that much screen time we’d prefer someone who is more attractive. Jason Bateman we’ve never heard of. We understand he comes from television. Ben Affleck would be a better choice. For the friend we envision that girl from HAIRSPRAY. The minute you see her on the screen you know – comic relief.

Jason Reitman is a talented director but very “independenty”. Tom Shadyac is looking for something after EVAN ALMIGHTY. We’ve been trying to get into business with him since THE NUTTY PROFESSOR. This could be the project. We’ve also taken the liberty of making a firm offer.

And finally, the dialogue in this script is way too stylized. Half the time we have no idea what the characters are saying. We have grave concerns that this baby writer does not have the skill or experience to elevate this script to the level of AMERICAN PIE, which is how we envision it. We strongly recommend you replace her. We have a list of approved writers – all Ferrally Brothers veterans.

JUNO has the chance to become a breakout hit. Funny, provocative, and deeply touching. But first we have to change it radically from its present form.

36 comments:

sephim said...

You forgot one thing... a talking dog voiced by Bruce Willis.

Mike said...

That was quite hilarious. One other possible note: For that block comedy sex scene with the chair, film two versions: an explicit one and a not-so-explicit one. The explicit one, of course, can be used later on, in the "Juno: In Your Face and Totally Unrated" DVD release.

sandofsky said...

This post is great. I love it. But Jane Doe in Tennessee doesn't follow Hollywood. Couldn't we make this a high school english teacher criticizing Juno as a short story?

Tim W. said...

Could send the link for this post to all the studio executives? Then again, they might just want to hire you because they'll say you give great notes.

Bitter Animator said...

Then when they get all of their 'fixes', they realise something just isn't working. Maybe it wasn't such a great script after all? Better drop it and see if there's another American Pie film knockig about.

And back on the pitches, hows this for genius -

Fox in the Henhouse - Robert Fox pretends to be gay to get to share his dream apartment with three sexy ladies. Can he date all three while keeping up the charade?

Shark in the Water - Pat Shark is afraid of water. But when he passes a drowning victim, he has no choice but to try to save them. From then on, Pat Shark wanders the earth's shoreline as a freelance lifeguard.

mental mosaic said...

Lol! Makes me realize what an anomaly 'Juno' was to escape the gauntlet. She's lucky a flock of execs didn't turn her script into a homogeneous (but so easy to digest) mess.

Am I a complete Pollyanna to think that the success of indy scripts like this are helping to make Hollywood more open to originality?

Btw, you do realize the city in Alaska is spelled 'Juneau,' right?

Ciao from Naples!
Tui

Tallulah Morehead said...

A movie about my Internet provider? Sounds dull.

You know, if they'd only taken all those notes, JUNO would be a successful movie, something that opens in April (No competitiion) and does $57 mil the first weekend and $187 mil by May, instead of just some indie sleeper. Make Adam Sandler the boyfriend/father and Will Ferrell the middle-aged husband she now has the funny sex scene with (Will loves working nude), make Eugene Levy Juno's dad (He'll be perfect for Garner, and he knows the director's dad.) and you've got something Judd Apatow would kill his mother for. What do you want: Screenplay Oscars or $57 mil opening weekend? I'd rather be rich than just watch some strpper pick up an award. (I've already got her award, in my pants!)

Cheers darling.

james said...

Funny article but the truth is that your big studio version wouldn't have been any worse than the real thing - just bad in a different way. In other words, Juno sucked.

If you want to see an oscar-winning performance out of Ellen Page, check out "Hard Candy". I'll never be able to watch that girl again without placing my hand over my privates (and not because I am aroused).

A. Buck Short (& the Paycock) said...

Calling in sick today. Potato famine. Will get shots. Thinking of going homeopathic. Start with 86 proof.

TC said...

This reminds me of a radio interview with Tony Kushner that I heard a couple of years ago. He was talking about meeting with a network exec about a TV adaptation of "Angels in America", and the guy gushed about how much he loved the script, then said very seriously, "Do they have to be gay?"

Sebastian said...

This depressed me more than the movie did... honestly, I would cry if I read this stuff if I'd written JUNO even though I really dislike dislike the movie I like its integrity and for somebody not to get that is just plain hurtful.

Mike Bell said...

Also, include a scene where Jay Leno comments about Juno's pregnancy in his monologue. A Leno appearance will help older demos to relate to the story.

Mary Stella said...

AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH! Run, Diablo, run.

I liked Juno for all the things that the studio execs want changed in Ken's mythical notes.

Great post, Ken.

Gail Renard said...

And does it have to be a chair?

Hunky said...

FOX SEARCHLIGHT IS A MAJOR STUDIO.

Please write this on the blackboard 100 times.

It exists so people like you can write posts like this to market movies like that.

tb said...

Why don't they just write it themselves then? You ever send back that note? Just let the writers write. Demographics. "Franchise", now there's a dirty word. Can't beleive you have to listen to this type of crap, and then DO it!
But thats showbiz, huh? sigh.

Ken Levine said...

Yes, the misspelling of JUNO was a joke to illustrate their ignorance.

Fox Searchlight is hardly what I would call a major studio.

Joshua Corin said...

Thank you, thank you, thank you!

So topical, so specific, so very amusing.

On the other hand, though, as with the best satire (e.g. Jonathan Swift), your subtext is wonderfully vitriolic. Your disgust with Hollywood's idealization of pragmatic neutrality is dead-on.

In the brief time I've spent dealing with Hollywood producers, I've received notes similar to the ones you satirized above. All of the notes were well-intended, and many of them were helpful, but some were as - if not more - ludicrous than your semi(?)fictional examples.

Pragmatic neutrality is all about pleasing the masses and offending no one. If that is a recipe for great art, then the Carpenters would be the peak of 20th century music and The Waltons would be the best TV show of all time. But great art must takes risks. Great art is confrontational (even if that tension comes in the "low" forms of farce or slapstick). When risk and confrontation and, save us, originality are whittled away, all that's left is pap.

Yes, pap sometimes makes money at the box office. The Carpenters sold a bunch of records and The Waltons boasted a high viewership. And a confession: I like the Carpenters and The Waltons. Sometimes I'll listen to the Carpenters, watch The Waltons, and enjoy a box of Wheat Thins. Blandness has its place. But shouldn't we encourage our artists to aspire to something greater?

Your blog is consistently enjoyable, and always results in a smile. Thank you again.

zadig said...

AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH! Run, Diablo, run.

That gives me a great idea for the Juno sequel.

Dramatic, quirky, yet hilarious scene where Juno is mistakenly accused of a horrible crime, and then has to roam the country trying to find the evidence to exonerate herself while helping out those she meets along the way. We can call it Run, Juno, Run.

I'll wait for my check now.

Susanne Sanstra said...

I just want to know if Joshua Corin used a thesaurus to come up with *vitriolic*? Good one, that's a ten cent word if I ever saw one! lol!

Paul said...

Hilarious! However, Fox Searchlight films are by no means independent. They're owned by Fox, and are even housed right on the Fox lot. Just because a major studio creates a department where they purposely underfund their movies doesn't mean they're indie films. Independent means completely separated from any studio influence.

Kevin said...

Susanne, if you think vitriolic is a "10 cent" word I seriously worry about your vocabulary.

And to be honest Fox Searchlight are a mini-major.

D. McEwan said...

"Vitriolic" is good, but could you make it "Acidic"? That way we can save 5 cents on the word, and we attract citrus growers.

I'm with you, Kev. Vitriolic is an everyday word to me, but then that may have something to do with people referring to me as vitriolic most of my life.

Joshua, the studios aern't remotely interested in making art. They're in the business of making money. Why is this news?

So could Juno be gay, and have gotten pregnant through gay sex? Our research shows gay viewers like Semi-Independant movies.

Joshua Corin said...

Yes, commerce has always been involved in a sordid relationship with art. Shakespeare was one of the investors in the Globe Theater and most definitely paid attention to the bottom line (whilst composing lines for Bottom). For much of its history, Hollywood has balanced these factors - art and commerce - with at least a semblance of parity.

What tipped the scales, however, was the decline of the studio system in the 50s and 60s and the rise of conglomeration in the 80s and 90s. The notes don't come anymore from people who worked in the trenches and know what makes a movie or TV show tick. The notes come from MBAs who answer to Rupert Murdoch and Ryoji Chubachi. This is what "30 Rock" is parodying with the character of Jack Donaghy.

Susanne Sanstra said...

I agree, my vocabulary is inadequate, that's why I read blogs by such erudite writers. Learn somethin' everyday!

Anonymous said...

Still think the "Who's the kid?" exchange was contrived as hell, re: her unrealistically going on to describe the baby.

More realistic exchange: "Who's the kid? ..."

Juno (confused) Mine?

A. Buck Short said...

Ran Vitriolic through your word verification feature. President of Serbia from 1994 to 1994-and-a-half. Oh wait, maybe that was his brother the cinematographer?

Anonymous said...

Joshua Corin is right. Commerce was always in the mix. In the studio days, the controversy factor was whited out when possible, and the Hays code neutered a lot of movies. But they were made by people with a sense of pride--the movie moguls were often immigrants without a lot of formal education, but they still wanted to be proud of themselves, and wanted to have a good name, as well as make money. Now shame is for chumps, and respecting yourself or your audience is, too.

TCinLA said...

Ken - you have such a baaaaaad attitude toward those otherwise-unemployable pinstriped pimps. Thanks!

I'll never forget the look on one of their faces ten years ago when he was telling me what good friends we were and I stopped him and said, no, when the show was cancelled I was going to come onto the lot with a .357 and blow his frakkin' (I didn't use that word) head off. He actually got scared when he realized I wasn't joking. Unfortunately, I chickened out at the last minute.

What has pissed me off for 20 years is all the money formerly paid to writers before that idiot strike in 1988 is now paid to these putzes (for those who don't know the word "putz," it's Yiddish for "a penis that thinks it's a person" - which describes these morons to a T). These idiots used to make low-five figure sums, and now make $200K for destroying everything they touch.

I can't believe I am now working on possibly creating a series that the Sciffy Channel wants because it's being put together by "two sci-fi legends" (me and the other person), and we have yet to talk to them about the fact that viewers now lose an IQ point for each minute they watch a show on that channel. Every tinme one of these halfwits uses the term "sci fi" as if it means they're cool and knowledgeable, I want to grab the little 20-nothing by the throat and choke him as I yell "using the term 'sci fi' means you're a moron!"

This business would be so much better if there was a six week summer hunting season on these proofs that some bipeds lack both frontal lobes and opposable thumbs. You know, maybe a $20 infraction for nailing one...

(for all you who aren't in the business, I remember when I was there, hearing Billy Wilder go on for 10 minutes without using the same curse word twice describing these people and thinking "it can't be that bad." But it is.)

D. McEwan said...

"Every time one of these halfwits uses the term "sci fi" as if it means they're cool and knowledgeable, I want to grab the little 20-nothing by the throat and choke him as I yell 'using the term 'sci fi' means you're a moron!' "

Well you've just hurt Forry Ackerman's feelings. He's been bragging about coining the now-reviled term "Sci-Fi" for 40 years. And why are SF fans and writers looked down on by the "Mundanes"? (Yes, I know the terminology.) Because they think using SF rather than Sci-Fi, or Trekker rather than Trekkie, matters.

And I don't lose any IQ points watching the remount of DOCTOR WHO on the SF (See? I'm not a moron.) Channel.

Stratma said...

Not a bad film, all this considered. Definitely too cool for school and indie for no reason, but still solid.

Mary Stella said...

"Vitriolic" is good, but could you make it "Acidic"? That way we can save 5 cents on the word, and we attract citrus growers.

Funniest comment! Ha!

I'm with you, Kev. Vitriolic is an everyday word to me, but then that may have something to do with people referring to me as vitriolic most of my life.

Sesquipedalians of the world unite!

jbryant said...

Sesquipedalian -- that's someone who takes a walk every 150 years, right?

Anonymous said...

That's right get your own Juno action figures

Get Juno in either pre or post coital condition. She comes with accessories: hamburger telephone, thrift store clothes, and sardonic wit.

The happy meal box could be printed to look like a little abortion clinic

S. said...

Getting back to topic, I think they'd give this note, too:

"Do they have to look for adoption couples in a PennyMarket magazine? So archaic. Let's make a great googling scene here. Actually, Apple is crazy about showing the new MacAir. We're missing a great opportunity for product placement."

(Sorry about the ten percent)

andrewjs said...

this blog post is absolute genius, Ken! i remember you referencing Juno in another post, so I did a blog search on "juno" and found this post, which I'm glad I did! Excellent!