Naturally, I thought I was money. He was going to keep me onboard to keep punching up the script, the movie would be made and be riotously funny, yada, yada, yada … All I had to worry about was the WGA credits arbitration that would inevitably follow in which I would merely have to do battle with about a dozen other scribes to get my name on the poster.
All that is par for the course. Been down that road before. I might as well have called a contractor right then and there and put an addition on my house. I was that sure.
Until he stopped laughing. In fact, he got kind of sad. As if he was recalling all the great comedies his company had made in the past, especially all the great comedies with funny dialogue.
But now that would end.
He started by complimenting me. Turned out he loved all that funny reparte I’d penned and thought it made the script smarter and sharper. It was, frankly, more than he expected. He thought I’d just re-shape the set pieces to make them flow better. But I had gone too far and given the script a dash of verbal wit, which he appreciated. He really did.
But it wouldn’t play in Korea.
That’s right. The marketing folks at the studio had told him that this movie –- like so many others in this new century -– could easily make more money overseas than an home. But, to do it, the script needed to lose everything that wasn’t visually funny. After all, he told me, if you translate my clever chit-chat into Korean or Mandarin or Arabic or Tagalog or any other language than English, the jokes are lost. No point in wordplay when the audience can’t understand you.
Naturally, I put up a spirited protest. Couldn’t some of my jokes translate through subtitles?
No, he told me. Nobody has laughed at a subtitle since the days of Buster Keaton, unless you count Mel Brooks’ Silent Movie. And that was 1976 and they didn’t make a sequel.
So I took the verbal gags and clever dialogue out. I still changed the lead characters’ names, of course, because that helps you convince the arbitration committee that you’ve made substantial changes to the story, thus justifying credit. Common practice.
In any event, the movie never got made, also common practice. As you probably know, most of what screenwriters get paid to write never gets made. I think I found a way to recycle some of those verbal gags into a sitcom spec script that I squeezed out about a year later. Also never got made.
Recently my movie Bride Wars was re-made in China. I haven’t seen it yet, but I’m told it’s heavy on visual gags and light on verbal ones. I’ll have to take folks’ word on that, of course, because the movie is in Mandarin Chinese. Not that it’s a problem for me. After all, the only two words I really wanted to show up in that movie did make it into the final cut -- Greg DePaul. I got screen credit for my original script. And those are the only words that really matter.