When we talk about movies, we mention the stars or other people responsible for directing, scripting, camera etc. But a person is almost never mentioned, because no one is supposed to know they exist…

Sony Pictures

If you want to make a lot of money behind the camera in Hollywood, the best thing to do is to hire yourself as a so-called script doctor. Several hundred thousand dollars for a few days or weeks of work are not uncommon here. In 2016 the Hollywood reporters finds that the most sought-after script doctors in the industry today can charge $400,000 a week for work. Prices have certainly not fallen to their peak since then. But what do script doctors actually do? And which well-known names, which may surprise you in some cases, have already practiced the profession?

Script doctor: Help in need

The name explains a lot. It’s about the script and a kind of doctoring. Script doctors are usually used when time is of the essence. It will be recorded soon or the cameras are already rolling and the script still appears to have weaknesses. But maybe the original authors just don’t have the time or you don’t trust them, because they are jointly responsible for the earlier problems. Then (nowadays several) script doctors are called.

They usually do not revise the entire script, but are regularly used selectively. Perhaps the dialogues here need to be refreshed? Or does an action scene need to be added or rewritten? Does it need more humor and better jokes?

Incomprehensible! A real life killer stars in the horror classic “The Exorcist” – and it didn’t come out until years later!

The high salary of the script doctors is not only due to the fact that they usually work under time pressure, but have days or at most a few weeks at their disposal. Usually they have to keep their work secret and sign non-disclosure agreements. It’s not just about wanting to avoid potential negative press, but also about the complicated rules of the authors’ union about who and how is credited in a movie’s credits.

Script doctors usually refrain from this attribution, although there were also cases where their revisions became so extensive that they could subsequently claim script credit. In addition, the transitions are smooth. There are also writers who are known as good script doctors and are therefore brought in early on and are officially on board with the project at the end.

Hiring script doctors is often viewed negatively at first – but that is unjustified. The hiring does not indicate that it is a “chaos production” or that something is going horribly wrong. After all, realizing just in time that something could be better is better than closing your eyes and moving on. There are also great classics like “The Godfather” or “Schindler’s List” where there were such last minute corrections. In addition, many cases may not even be known to us – see the non-disclosure agreements.

The Story of the Script Doctors

But who does these jobs? Notably, they tend to be younger screenwriters and directors who are in between their own projects and may not yet have made the big bucks to survive multi-year dry spells without their own film. But there were always authors who showed a special talent and practiced it for a long time.

Today, the legendary author is considered the ancestor Ben Hecht, who worked with directors such as Howard Hawks, Alfred Hitchcock and Ernst Lubitsch – although the term “script doctor” didn’t really exist at the time. At that time it was still quite normal for authors to work together, they were often under contract with studios together and films were made in writing rooms. But Hecht, who hated Hollywood and only spent a few weeks there a year, was particularly sought after when it came to a polish.

There are myths about how many movies he was involved in besides his 70 or so screenplay credits. Only a few titles such as “Gone with the Wind” or “Mutiny on the Bounty” have been documented through historical letter finds. More conservative estimates suggest he was involved in more than 50 additional screenplays, some of which realistically claimed more than 100 titles.

Scientists clarify: this is how you no longer fall asleep on the couch while watching a movie

But the term really became known Robert Towne. As a young writer, he had just sold his second movie script for a Western (which would become, disrespectful to Towne, The Merciless Ride). This came into the hands of Warren Beatty, who, as the protagonist of Bonnie and Clyde, was dissatisfied with the previous script. He asked Towne to lend a hand, and then word got around Hollywood that the young writer saved the hit movie. After the success of “Bonnie and Clyde”, Towne was inundated with similar requests, quickly charging six-figure sums for his work.

He’s been the script doctor on dozens of projects, including The Godfather, which we know because Francis Ford Coppola thanked him at the Oscars. Although he became one of the best and highest paid screenwriters with works like Chinatown, he continued to work as a script doctor until at least the 2000s. Towne appreciated the job’s flexibility and independence. He spent months working on his own scripts, investing a lot of heart and soul, and in the end perhaps had to watch as the studio and the director intervened to not film the way he had envisioned. As a script doctor, he was able to lend a hand for a few days, collect the money, and go on his way without any emotional attachment to the project.

Famous script doctors – including a “Star Wars” star

In Hollywood, anyone who demonstrates screenwriting talent is also offered a job as a script doctor. Therefore, no list can be complete, so here are just a few sample names. Christopher McQuarrie, for example, long before his success with the more recent “Mission: Impossible” films, was considered the best man to turn to when an action sequence needed improvement or reworking. Even today, Tom Cruise involves him in almost every project he does, if not with McQuarrie already. Unsurprisingly, Quentin Tarantino used to be brought in to help improve the dialogue, a job Aaron Sorkin has done time and time again.

But there are also surprising names in the list. The “Star Wars” legend who passed away in 2016 Carrie Fisher was even considered the best in its field for years, studios literally tore it to pieces in the early to mid-90s. At the time, the actress once referred to herself as a “script nurse”, rejecting the masculine term “script doctor”. She reworked “Hook”, “Lethal Weapon 3” and “Mr. And Mrs. Smith”. What else she worked on and if she might also lend a hand to “Star Wars” movies, we already have for you in 2017 explained in this article:

Carrie Fisher – Hollywood’s blockbuster savior: the unknown side of Princess Leia

She’s not the only largely acting star with script MD experience. Donald Glover (“Community”) and “King Of Queens” star Patton Oswalt were also successful in this profession for a while. Joss Whedon, Charlie Kaufman, Judd Apatow, Michael Arndt, Simon Kinberg, Chris Miller & Phil Lord and Shane Black are among the most sought-after script doctors of the past two decades.

Anyone dreaming of a career as a script doctor should be warned: in most cases, you would have had to make a name for yourself in the industry with your own screenplay (but it doesn’t have to be filmed) for this to be on the studios’ radar in the first place. do and get requests. And in this day and age, there is an oversupply of talented emerging writers vying for those jobs.

Particularly with medium-sized productions, it has probably even become common practice to hire a wide variety of even less experienced script doctors and only pay a fee if they are successful – in other words, only those whose changes are made get the money. Because only the really big names can demand $400,000 a week, regardless of success, which will then be happily paid for big blockbusters.

This hauntingly beautiful sci-fi gem is a must for The Last Of Us fans – stream for free on Amazon!