Friday, September 10, 2010

What movies NOT to remake

It’s Friday Question day!!

scottmc kicks it off:

A question inspired by a NY Times article on the remake of 'Arthur', starring Russell Brand and Helen Mirren. Hopefully this won't misfire like 'The In-Laws', but it isn't promising. My question: what two or three movie comedies would you least like to see remade?

Well, first of all – ARTHUR. Making that movie without Steve Gordon’s brilliant script is like buying a Rolls Royce with a Kia engine.

I’d hate to see any of Woody Allen’s early movies like TAKE THE MONEY AND RUN and BANANAS remade. Knowing Hollywood, they would probably get Michael Cera to play the Woody Allen roles. Don’t touch anything by Billy Wilder or Preston Sturgess. Keep THE GRADUATE away from Judd Apatow. Keep any comedy that doesn’t have a thousand shit jokes away from the Ferrelly Brothers.

Hollywood loves to change genders in remakes. Don’t redo TOOTSIE but with a woman.

Don’t remake any Jewish themed comedies such as HEARTBREAK KID (a vile reboot) or GOODBYE COLUMBUS and then take the Jewish element out of it.

Billy Wilder had a great line. He said, “Why remake great movies? Why not remake movies that didn’t work and do them better?”

Remake the last six Kevin Smith movies.

From Doug Barry:

Shouldn't a good spec run about 20 or so pages for a show like MODERN FAMILY?

Just confused on how many pages a spec script should actually be and what's acceptable in the industry.

It depends on the show. But there’s an easy solution. Get a copy of a script for the show you wish to write. This can be accomplished in several ways. Write the show and ask if they’ll send you a script. Check on-line and see if scripts from that series are posted.

There are some Hollywood bookstores that sell scripts, usually at bargain prices.

And if you live in Manhattan, there are always two or three guys selling scripts at the entrance of Central Park. I think one of my BECKER scripts was going for $5.

Judith has a FRASIER question:

I just wondered: were there rules, formal or informal, about how episodes treated the main character, Frasier, in terms of how much the story line revolved around him, for example? Or was it just more common sense, we know who the star of the show is?

Frasier had to be integrally involved in every episode. Most of the time the stories revolved around him but not always. Martin, Roz, Daphne, and Niles could be the focal point of an episode but Frasier always had to be pivotal.

But this was not a chore since Frasier was such a great character with strong attitudes and moral positions.

And finally, from Stephen:

The subject of Saturday night TV has been brought up in this blog before, but I wanted to ask, why can other countries make it a viable night for original programming? In the UK, Saturday is by far one of the most watched nights of television. So why is the US failing on a night others thrive on in your opinion?

I’m just speculating, but US television is geared primarily to the 18-34 demographic. They’re the group most likely to go out on Saturday night. And have DVR’s and computers to watch shows whenever they want.

This is certainly a sea change from the 70s when CBS’s biggest night was Saturday. ALL IN THE FAMILY was so popular that people stayed home until it was over to go out. And the other shows that followed (MASH, MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW, BOB NEWHART SHOW, CAROL BURNETT SHOW)all finished in the top 10.

But that was even before VCR’s. Appointment television really meant something. And networks were striving to capture the largest audience they could. I’m guessing at the root of the difference between the US and UK now is that in Jolly Olde they still covet old people in their 40s.

What would you like to know? Please confine your questions to the industry and sexual advice. Thank you.


Mike said...

Re: "how many pages a spec script should actually be".

How does one find the address (email or otherwise) to write the show? Via the network itself, in care of...?

Bryan said...

You seem to love to deride afterMASH. Yet, it had Larry and Burt at the helm, yourself and David as writers, and did reasonably well in the ratings until put up against the A-Team.
So what went wrong?

Mac said...

"The Big Lebowski." If they remake that we will know that the apocalypse will shortly follow.
"Some Like It Hot." Starring Russell Brand and Rob Schneider. Comedy Jihad.
"Planes, Trains and Automobiles." With Jonah Hill in the John Candy role. No. Just, no.
Any Marx Brothers film. Unless you can get the Marx Brothers. And you can't.
"The Pink Panther." No-one would ever be deluded enough to try to replicate the singular genius of Peter Sellers. Oh, hang on . . .

Anonymous said...

Hey Ken, love ya but what's you problem with Apatow anyway? If nothing else, you gotta admire his TV work (Freaks & Geeks, Undeclared, The Ben Stiller Show, and esp. the immortal Larry Sanders Show), and most of his movies ARE pretty funny (if not "politically correct", but what does PC have to do w/being funny anyway? NOTHING!)...could it be that he's not old/liberal enough for you not to fully embrace?

MATT said...

Regarding the UK/US difference, I think you are right Mr. Levine when you speak to coveting over 40s. This is highlighted by non-profit organisations like the Beeb, which are not trying to sell people stuff, and the liberation of the almight quid enables them to give a crap about your Grandma.

By Ken Levine said...

I too think some of Apatow's movies are funny but lately they've been long, indulgent, and the same jokes over and over. And for the record, I was a fan of FREAKS & GEEKS and UNDECLARED.

David said...

Beware of so-called "scripts" online. Many of them are just transcriptions of TV shows in something of a script format.

Even the mere suggestion of Apatow remaking The Graduate makes baby jesus cry.

I feel like a small minority, but I loved Freaks & Geeks, yet find his movies self-indulgent and just not that funny.

Penis jokes have their place (Farrelly Brothers' movies), but I prefer my comedies to have that seemingly effortless wit that I associate with Neil Simon and Billy Wilder. Apatow can't hold a candle to either in terms of story, character, humor, or anything that makes a script good.

I'm done now. :)

amyp3 said...

Answer to the headline question:


Also - everything else.

David Hlubbard said...

Sexual advice? Ok, here goes: how do I keep it fresh. You can define it any way you choose.

Edward Copeland said...

I won't even see remakes of good movies. I can think of one example where a remake improved on the original (Ocean's 11) and one remake of a good movie that actually was better AND switched genders (His Girl Friday) but in general, remakes are bad and lazy ideas. The only exceptions are when they try to do an American version of a foreign film, but they usually screw those up to. I do have to admit though that as much as I love Blood Simple I can't wait to see what the great Chinese director Zhang Yimou has done with it with his Chinese remake. One example of almost equals: Here Comes Mr. Jordan and Heaven Can Wait then Chris Rock pushes it too far by doing it again. And don't get me started about when they turn them into musicals!

Edward Copeland said...

Re: Apatow. As a general rule, the longer film comedies go past the 90 minute mark, the less funny they get. Apatow is one of the worst offenders at this. I fully expect his next comedy to come with an intermission and Entr'acte score.

YEKIMI said...

Hmmmm, keep the questions about the Industry and sexual advice. OK, if I make it to Hollywood, how long would it take till I get screwed over?

Jackson Pratt said...

They already DID remake "Tootsie" with a woman. It was called "Yentl."

Anonymous said...

I don't see the point of remakes. The idiots in hollywood have obviously run out of ideas.

Pat Reeder said...

I blame the Farelly brothers for making an entire decade's worth of Hollywood comedies unwatchable. I haven't thought that poop in people's faces was funny since I was about five years old, and even then, I had enough taste not to laugh at vomit. The idea of them remaking "The Heartbreak Kid" was like hiring Walter Keane to spruce up the Mona Lisa.

BTW, I asked a Friday question in the comments last week, and I don't know if you didn't see it or just preferred not to answer. But on the off-chance that it was the former, here it is again:


Kelsey Grammer is talking about doing a "Frasier" reunion, or possibly a reboot about Niles and Frasier's sons, with the older characters making occasional appearances. What do you think about reunion shows in general (I usually watch them out of nostalgia, but am just saddened by the results)? And if he did do a "Frasier" reunion or spin-off, would you want to be involved or would you avoid it like a month-old ham sandwich? Thanks.

vw: "Couster" - Gen. Custer's cousin who was slaughtered by Ann Coulter.

benson said...

@amyp3...obviously NBC didn't agree as they put David Soul in the Bogie role back in the early 80's.

Which leads to a question from me to the assembled...this Casablanca series ran in '83, which means folks like Grant Tinker and Brandon Tartikoff would've been in charge, no?
What were they thinking?

Anonymous said...

OK Pat, can you tell me WHAT Farrelly Bros. movie featured someone with "poop" on their faces (something the latest Katherine Heigl travesty features, BTW)? As though there were so many GREAT Hollywood comedies in the years before the Farrellys (granted, their last few movies have bit hard, esp. the Heartbreak Kid remake) and Judd Apatow emerged...

Val Vadynia said...

Dear Ken: I recently moved to Hollywood and slept with a staff writer who promised he could get me work. The thing is, I have a new and startling "condition" in a rather, ahem, intimate area now. So my question is, do you think I will get ahead faster if I concentrate on writing TV specs or if I badger agents to represent me? I'd really like to end up on top!

Thanks for any advice you can give me!

<3 <3 <3

Simon H. said...

Here's one I'll try to put as delicately as possible: In the past on your blog, you've made several allusions to working with Mary Tyler Moore, one about having nightmares about her running you over with the car from DEATH CAR 2000, and one about how working on her show in the 80s wore you and your writing partner to a frazzle. As great a comedic actress as she is, she also has a reputation for being...shall we say very demanding. The question is, what was the experience like actually having worked for her as you and Mr. Isaacs have done?

RolloSuplex said...

I hate to sound like such a nerd, but someone should remake Star Wars Episodes I, II and III. They sullied an otherwise brilliant franchise. I personally would like to see JJ Abrams get his hands on those three, considering what he did for Star Trek a couple years ago.

Chas Cunningham said...

As a general rule, no remakes of a movie in which the opening credits ended with "And introducing ..."

Arthur F. said...

First: I think Hollywood should just market the remakes clearly, like products do: "New and Improved ARTHUR! Special new recipe of the same old-time British accent but now with added youth-factor nonsense! And with added, extra-strength fart jokes!"

Second: As for "Frasier" I have a question - I don't recall at the pre-internet/tabloid time, but looking from the context of today, considering all the hoopla about sexual proclivities and orientation today, and the constant discussion whether a gay man can do convincing "straight" relationship roles -- was it ever discussed among the execs and writers if there might be some problem with the Niles/Daphne relationship going into full swing? Would it happen today as easily?

l.a.guy said...

re: Modern Family Spec--

I've seen about 10 of the scripts and around 30 pages (+/- a few pages) would be typical. The 1st draft of the pilot was 33 pages. Specs may be a little less but not dramatically less (i.e. 20 pages).

jbryant said...

Don't know if it's been mentioned, but script page count is also determined by whether the series is single camera or multi-camera. One-camera scripts are formatted pretty much like a regular screenplay, which very roughly works out to about a page per minute. Three-camera shows have double-spaced dialogue and all-caps stage directions, so that a half-hour episode may run closer to 50 pages. My FRASIER spec from back in the day was over 50 pages, for instance, whereas my MALCOLM IN THE MIDDLE was a bit over 30. I'm pretty sure these were within the industry standard, unless it's changed since I got out of the TV game.

mikeinseattle said...

@val vadynia HaHaHa
I wonder if Billy Wilder said that in response to the crime against humanity that was the remake of Sabrina? And I say this with all the love in the world for Sydney Pollack.
Don't remake A Hard Day's Night.

KallenK said...

$5.00 for a Becker script. That's almost a #1 combo meal from Wendys. No thanks.

Pat Reeder said...

To Anonymous,

If you're defending the Farrelly brothers, I can understand why you prefer to remain anonymous.

I wasn't citing a specific disgusting use of fecal matter from any particular Farrelly film, although I've seen it in many TV shows and movies, and I think we have their groundbreaking work in the field of cinematic excrement to thank for it. I was just using it as a polite form of shorthand for the entire school of poopoo-caca-peepee-vomit-pustule-animal abuse-physical deformity "humor" that they pioneered and inspired, and that led to an entire decade of witless cinematic effluvia. This was a school of filmmakers who could actually look at the original "Heartbreak Kid" and think, "That could be a good film if only it had some pubic hair jokes."

And I'm confused: are you suggesting that there were no greater comedies in the decades before they came on the scene? Seriously? Do the names Chaplin, Keaton, Lloyd, Laurel & Hardy, the Marx Brothers, W.C. Fields, Preston Sturges, Tracy & Hepburn, Cary Grant, Billy Wilder, Peter Sellers, Blake Edwards, Neil Simon, Woody Allen, Mel Brooks and Zucker-Abrahams-Zucker ring a bell? In fact, I'm hard-pressed to think of just about any comedy that came along before the '90s gross-out era that I wouldn't rank as superior. I'd rather watch a double bill of late-period Jerry Lewis and "The Three Stooges Meet Hercules" than sit through "Kingpin" again.

Anonymous said...

The most-watched TV show in Britain right now is "X Factor", on the ITV commercial channel, which is on Saturday nights, and features Simon Cowell of "Idol" fame as creator and panelist.

If 18-34 year-old Brits don't mind staying home on a Saturday night to watch a popular show like that, then try to explain why the major US networks can't create content for 18-34 year-old Americans to stay home and watch.

Phillip B said...

As a very young movie fan, I used to wonder why negative reviews could be so savage. I assumed the sheer accomplishment of getting a film done and seen was worthy of praise.

Now I favor the death penalty for really bad movies - especially bad re-makes and sequels which degrade the value of the original material.

"The Heartbreak Kid" was a particularly flagrant offense- and I am only slightly comforted that Ben Stiller now seems cursed, doomed to at least one more "Night at the Museum" sequel.

Anonymous said...

It should be noted that Dudley Moore himself did a disastrous, unnecessary remake, namely the 1983 remake of UNFAITHFULLY YOURS, which, thank goodness, lacked bodily-waste jokes, but featured more gore than necessary, not to mention Nastassia Kinski, who had already done a ghastly remake of the wonderful 1942 horror movie CAT PEOPLE.

As for Apatow, I think he worked better under the censorship regulations of television--he had to come up with funny, not just f-world cluster-bombs. I also think that both Seth Rogen and Jonah Hill need to be forbidden to work with him for a while--they are both capable of playing something besides foul-mouthed stoners (Hill was much better in THE INVENTION OF LYING than in any of his Apatow-orbit films) and need to start proving this to Hollywood at large or they may find themselves back in Toronto before they know it . . .

Anonymous said...

Some remakes do improve the original. By all accounts John Carpenter's 1982 The Thing was better than the 1951 version (The Thing From Another Planet). Despite the presence of Steve McQueen in The Thomas Crown Affair (1968), I thought the Pierce Brosnan 1997 version was at least more coherent while still maintaining the cool, sexy qualities of the characters. I liked all three versions of A Star Is Born, but for different reasons. I liked both the Humphrey Bogart version of The Big Sleep (194) and the Robert Mitchum version (1978) - despite an inexplicable move of the story to England. Both The Philadelphia Story (1940, Katherine Hepburn and Cary Grant) and High Society (1956, Grace Kelly and Bing Crosby) are highly enjoyable.

You could say that in such cases perhaps the strength of the story transcends the production. How many times has Robin Hood been remade? Or Beau Geste? Or Hamlet? Or Zorro? Or A Christmas Carol? Can anyone say there has been a definitive version of these stories made yet?

Despite some examples which would seemingly disprove Mr. Levine's premise, I generally agree with him. Some movies are just too iconic to be remade, no matter how skillful the production's cast and crew are. Think of that dreadful Psycho remake from a few years ago. Who thought THAT was a good idea? How can someone even begin to think that the Judy Garland version of The Wizard Of Oz could ever be improved? (Which, by the way, had already been filmed at least twice before, making it a remake.) Could you even make a screwball comedy anymore, much less remake of one?

And to think, we haven't even touched on remaking foreign films for the American market.

Brian said...

Hi Ken, here's a question for you. Do you know any writers/producers/directors/actors involved in the soap opera industry? How can the possibly keep up with writing and filming for a one hour daily show? - Brian

Anonymous said...

If anybody remakes SINGIN' IN THE RAIN, I may have to follow through on one of my many murder threats...

Todd said...

Ken, Here's my question. Every show is different, and every crew is different. But, generally speaking, how would you define the position of "showrunner"? Is it occupied exclusively by one of the creators of the show? And is it exclusively a creative position, or are there significant managerial tasks involved, a'la Unit Production Manager tasks?

Strippers said...

hi excellent way of putting positive pragmatic ideas keep it up

sophomorecritic said...

By the way, Ken, I love your blog and I'm so thankful that you voluntarily choose to share your experiences with so many of us who are fascinated by the TV industry.

You mostly see yourself as a writer and TV producer. At the same time, you've directed but you seem rather non-chalante about it, because as I understand directing a TV episode is a much smaller deal than directing movies (correct me if I'm wrong).

How many steps were you away in training and expereince from being the kind of director that gets nominated for Oscars and gets recognition for a distinct style. For example, if the same exact production team existed but you were susbstituted in for Danny Boyle, Sophia Coppolla or Martin Scorsessee, do you think you could have directed Lost in Translation, The Departed or Slumdog Millionaire and got close to the same result?

Michael said...

Hi Ken,

Excellent discussion of '70's sitcoms at the AV club that I'd be interested to hear your thoughts on.,45254/?utm_medium=RSS&utm_campaign=feeds&utm_source=avclub_rss_daily


Wojciehowicz said...

Speaking of movies with Jewish themes that should never be touched, A Serious Man should be left as-is for the rest of time. There is no possible way it could be any better than it is, and infinitely many ways that it could be cataclysmically worse.