Written By April/May 2011 : Page 2
fAde in the MAGAzine of the Writers Guild of AMericA, West THis issue OF Written By explores the art of adaptation. We visit Andrew Davies in England to discuss his legendary adaptations of Charles Dickens and Jane Austen. We learn how Robert Crais transposes the teleplay structure into crime fiction. We travel with screenwriter Steve Kloves on his 13-year odyssey with the Harry Potter series. Screenwriters adapting novels are often attacked by readers or authors who want every paragraph of their favorite book to appear on the screen. Steve Kloves has clearly escaped that danger, and this issue includes an exclusive appreciation by none other than Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling. What’s an even greater challenge than adapting a popular novel? For many screenwriters, it’s the effort to transform current events into compelling drama. How do you create suspense when everyone knows how the story ends? What happens if the true-life characters appear on the news so often that they start to seem like members of your family? The champion example of this difficult genre remains the 1976 political film about the Washington Post newspaper investigation of the famous Watergate burglary that led to President Nixon’s resigna-tion: All the President’s Men, screenplay by William Goldman, based on the book by Post reporters Bob Woodward & Carl Bernstein. But wait. Is there a credits cover-up? Robert Redford recently al-leged that William Goldman did not write All the President’s Men . Who does Redford imply should have received full credit? None other than himself and the film’s director, the late Alan J. Pakula. On the classic film’s 35th anniversary, Redford claims that Goldman’s screenplay efforts proved so disastrous that, had the movie star not taken over the writing, the film would have imploded. “Redford booked rooms at the Madison Hotel, across from the [ Washington Post offices], for one month, and he and Pakula repaired [sic] there to redraft the screenplay,” writes Michael Feeney Callan in “Washington Monument,” a chapter adapted for Vanity Fair from his forthcoming Robert Redford: The Biography. “About one-tenth of Goldman’s draft remained in the end.” Let me repeat, for the record: Redford, the film’s co-star, alleges that the dean of American screenwriters, William Goldman, did not deserve his Writers Guild Award, Academy Award, and numerous others given for adapting the 1974 book by journalists Carl Bern-stein and Bob Woodward. Yes, All the President’s Men is a famous film about a major incident in American history. But why is this issue of attribution important for the readers of Written By? As I began to investigate this contentious topic, I gradually realized that it goes to the heart of what our Guild members face every time they stare at a blank page. The creation of All the President’s Men is a textbook example of the mix of hard work and frustration, craft and creativity that result in a pitch-perfect screenplay. Although I’ve never met him, William Goldman was my first screenwriting guru. I analyzed his original scripts, especially Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and The Great Waldo Pepper (the Sundance Kid role made Redford a megastar). I studied how the mae-2 • WGA W Written By APRIL/MA Y 2011 W ritten B y © © WGAW officers President John Wells Vice President Tom Schulman secretary-treasurer David N. Weiss MARK HANAUER WGAW BoArd of directors Linda Burstyn, Ian Deitchman, Carleton Eastlake, Katherine Fugate, David A. Goodman, Mark Gunn, Chip Johannessen, Chris Keyser, Kathy Kiernan, Aaron Mendelsohn, Billy Ray, Howard A. Rodman, Robin Schiff, Steven Schwartz, David Shore, Patric M. Verrone, Dan Wilcox executiVe director David Young GenerAl counsel Tony Segall WGAW Phone inforMAtion The Guild (All Departments) 323.951.4000 FAx 323.782.4800 WeBsite: WWW.WGA.orG WGAW dePArtMents Administration Agency Awards & elections claims contracts credits dues diversity executive offices film society finance human resources legal library Member services Membership organizing Public Affairs Publications registration residuals signatories theater operations Written By Pension & health 323.951.4000 782.4520 782.4502 782.4569 782.4663 782.4501 782.4528 782.4531 782.4589 951.4000 782.4508 782.4637 782.4615 782.4521 782.4544 782.4747 782.4532 782.4511 782.4574 782.4699 782.4500 782.4700 782.4514 782.4525 782.4699 818.846.1015 800.227.7863 800.890-0288 Writerscare info. Written By welcomes your comments. Send letters to: 7000 W. Third St., L.A., CA 90048 Or E-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org
This issue OF Written By explores the art of adaptation. We visit Andrew Davies in England to discuss his legendary adaptations of Charles Dickens and Jane Austen. We learn how Robert Crais transposes the teleplay structure into crime fiction. We travel with screenwriter Steve Kloves on his 13-year odyssey with the Harry Potter series.
Screenwriters adapting novels are often attacked by readers or authors who want every paragraph of their favorite book to appear on the screen. Steve Kloves has clearly escaped that danger, and this issue includes an exclusive appreciation by none other than Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling.
What's an even greater challenge than adapting a popular novel? For many screenwriters, it's the effort to transform current events into compelling drama. How do you create suspense when everyone knows how the story ends? What happens if the true-life characters appear on the news so often that they start to seem like members of your family?
The champion example of this difficult genre remains the 1976 political film about the Washington Post newspaper investigation of the famous Watergate burglary that led to President Nixon's resignation: All the President's Men, screenplay by William Goldman, based on the book by Post reporters Bob Woodward & Carl Bernstein.
But wait. Is there a credits cover-up? Robert Redford recently alleged that William Goldman did not write All the President's Men.
Who does Redford imply should have received full credit? None other than himself and the film's director, the late Alan J. Pakula. On the classic film's 35th anniversary, Redford claims that Goldman's screenplay efforts proved so disastrous that, had the movie star not taken over the writing, the film would have imploded.
"Redford booked rooms at the Madison Hotel, across from the [Washington Post offices], for one month, and he and Pakula repaired [sic] there to redraft the screenplay," writes Michael Feeney Callan in "Washington Monument," a chapter adapted for Vanity Fair from his forthcoming Robert Redford: The Biography. "About one-tenth of Goldman's draft remained in the end."
Let me repeat, for the record: Redford, the film's co-star, alleges that the dean of American screenwriters, William Goldman, did not deserve his Writers Guild Award, Academy Award, and numerous others given for adapting the 1974 book by journalists Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward.
Yes, All the President's Men is a famous film about a major incident in American history. But why is this issue of attribution important for the readers of Written By? As I began to investigate this contentious topic, I gradually realized that it goes to the heart of what our Guild members face every time they stare at a blank page. The creation of All the President's Men is a textbook example of the mix of hard work and frustration, craft and creativity that result in a pitch-perfect screenplay.
Although I've never met him, William Goldman was my first screenwriting guru. I analyzed his original scripts, especially Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and The Great Waldo Pepper (the Sundance Kid role made Redford a megastar). I studied how the maestro adapted his own novels to the screen: Magic, Marathon Man, The Princess Bride. His craftsmanship proved even more compelling when applied to other authors’ work: Ira Levin’s The Stepford Wives, Stephen King’s Misery, Cornelius Ryan’s A Bridge Too Far, Ross Mac- Donald’s Harper, and of course All the President’s Men.
So I emailed William Goldman, asking if he wanted to set the record straight in Written By. I received a gracious rejection: “Thanks for thinking of me. It was not a happy experience, and I don’t want to write about it any more.”
A chapter in his indispensable Adventures in the Screen Trade: A Personal View of Hollywood and Screenwriting provides a more detailed explanation: “…If you were to ask me, ‘What would you change if you had your movie life to live over?’ I’d tell you that I’d have written exactly the screenplays I’ve written. Only I wouldn’t have come near All the President’s Men.”
Rules For a Knife Fight
Credit disputes can get ugly. Who wants to fight the Sundance Kid, the once-handsomest star of them all, a prominent liberal activist, revered by the public and media as the quintessential good guy?
AARP the Magazine even made Redford its cover boy last month. Still, Goldman’s tough: When actor Chevy Chase, struggling with incoherence and a teetering career, demanded bizarre revisions for a draft of Memoirs of an Invisible Man, Goldman simplified matters by saying, “Fuck it, Chevy. I’m too old and too rich to be bothered.”
Still, such arguments often boil down to she wrote/he wrote what, when, and where to whom. Unless there’s a paper trail, no substantial proof exists.
But I’m a former daily newspaper guy who wants to know. So I gave myself an assignment to set the record straight. If Goldman only wrote 10 percent, so be it. If Redford, despite having not a single screenplay credit and but one story credit in his career, did write 90 percent of the script, so be it.
My investigation begins in the newspaper vaults. Had there been a credits controversy back in 1976 for All the President’s Men? Had Robert Redford and Alan J. Pakula claimed to be participating writers? No. The final credit became just as Warner Bros. Proposed: Screenplay by William Goldman, based on the book by Carl Bernstein & Bob Woodward.
Next stop, the invaluable Writers Guild Foundation Library. That cozy corner is no elitist members-only club. It’s a populist sanctuary where anyone—WGA professional or private citizen, magazine editor or Vanity Fair fact checker—is welcome. You can’t remove material or make copies, but you can research its treasure trove of scripts, and you can take notes.
In the library I discovered a paper trail.
I found All the President’s Men, second draft, dated September 25, 1974. I found the “pre-rehearsal” version of March 1975.
And the July 7, 1975, draft, including numerous revised pages and scenes dated 6/5/75 (k), 6/8, 6/27, 7/3, 7/10, 7/11, 7/17, 7/18, 7/21, 7/22, 7/23, 7/24, 7/28, 7/30, 7/31, 8/6, 8/7, 8/8, 8/14, 8/15, 8/19, 8/26, 8/27, 9/22, plus omitted sequences.
Each a “Screenplay by William Goldman.” I read each to the final fade out. Afterward, I recalled Goldman’s misery, recounted in Adventures in the Screen Trade: “I’ve never written so many versions for any movie as for President’s Men. There was, in addition to all the standard names, the ‘revised second’ version and the ‘prehearsal’ [sic] version. God knows how many.” Each opens with the president’s burglars breaking into the Democratic National headquarters at the Watergate complex. Of course, minor alterations abound: the 9/25/74 draft starts with a failed break-in—the team tried more than once before ineptitude finally led to their arrest—but at the scene of their capture, the dialogue and action are the same.
The March 1975 pre-rehearsal draft starts with the famous close-up of a manual typewriter key hammering onto blank paper. Same with the 7/11/75 draft. All three drafts end with the two reporters, Woodward and Bernstein, typing at their desks at the Post while we learn that all the president’s men have been indicted. Nearly a year’s writing with nary a major change, turned in by Goldman.
And so? In the Vanity Fair article, Woodward says, “Bill gave the start point and the ending, and those never changed.” Is that referencing Redford’s 10 percent claim?
Between each script’s start and finish, I found similar, sometimes identical scenes throughout. Complete sequences of dialogue carried from draft to draft to draft, verbatim.
In each, we cut from the burglary, to Woodward receiving the assignment for covering the arrests, to the arraignment of the Watergate burglars. Action and dialogue in court is the same, except for very minor alterations. Each has the incongruous presence of a high-priced, elegantly dressed lawyer in the seedy courtroom telling Woodward, “I’m not here.” Burglar James McCord telling the impatient judge, in a whisper, that his occupation is “security consultant… for the Central… Intelligence… Agency.”
In each, Woodward asks, “Who’s Charles Colson?” And in each, Metropolitan Editor Harry Rosenfeld answers, “I’m glad you asked me that…” Because, Rosenfeld explains, had Woodward asked the Post Executive Editor, Benjamin C. Bradlee, he’d be fired for his ignorance of White House politics. (Colson was President Nixon’s “hatchet man.”)
In each of the three drafts, a scene of a bookkeeper for the Committee to Reelect the President (CREEP) being cornered in her home by Bernstein, fearfully describing how massive amounts of campaign contributions funded illegal activities.
Those unforgettably dramatic, sinister scenes in the parking garage at night with FBI informant Deep Throat? So much remains identical in each draft, with the climactic scene always occurring when Woodward explodes in rage and the informant decides to finally be overt, growling, “Get out your notebook. There’s more…” Cut to Woodward telling Bernstein their lives are in danger, and then the panicked reporters rush to Bradlee’s house after midnight. There the notorious editor delivers the film’s famous speech—“nothing’s riding on you except the First Amendment of the Constitution”— that concludes, “But none of that counts as much as this: you fuck up again, I’m gonna lose my temper.”
Are some scenes found in one draft but not the other two? Of course. The 7/11/75 draft contains a romantic interlude suggested (demanded?) By Redford because Carl Bernstein had insisted that his character be a charming seducer. But even with intrusive, experimental subplots that vanish in later revisions, the essential structure of the final movie remains. And, according to Goldman, that’s what screenwriting is all about: structure.
He should know: Three of his scripts were voted by Guild members into the WGA hall-of-fame’s 101 Greatest Screenplays.
Get out your notebook Yet something obviously went terribly wrong during the process. What made this particular experience so miserable for the revered Oscar-winning professional?
A veteran survivor who’s endured every conceivable form of treachery from the Hollywood studio system?
Documentary extras on the twodisc special edition All the President’s Men provide insights. In one, Telling the Truth About Lies, Woodward recalls that, “Goldman took me to a hotel room when he started working on the screenplay. He said, ‘Now, don’t look at notes. Don’t look at the book. Just talk.’” In the same documentary, Goldman adds, “Woodward was a fabulous help to me… I was terrified because everyone [in the story] had been in a newsroom. My goal was not to Hollywood it up.”
How could he have known that the goal would become not to Washington it up? After six month’s work crafting a first draft out of chaotic history, Hollywood became the trustworthy party while D.C. journalists behaved like entry-level agents. As a courtesy, and to gain the Post’s cooperation, Goldman’s first draft was provided to many of the journalists associated with the story. The script that Redford approved and that prompted Warner Bros. To give a “go” to the project? At the Post, it was copied, circulated, and greeted with derision, hostility, suspicion, and gossip.
“Bill Goldman put a lot of work into the script,” says Bob Woodward in the Vanity Fair article about Redford, “but it wasn’t accurate to the Post.” This statement could read two ways: 1) The script didn’t accurately portray the newspaper’s work; 2) the Post staff couldn’t accept a true portrait of themselves. Goldman’s research had included access to top-level editorial meetings, during which he copied verbatim the staff’s dialogue.
No one was satisfied. They were not in it; they were in it. They were named; they were not named. Sure, we said that, but it makes us look like clowns. The printing press isn’t like it’s described. Publisher Katharine Graham’s office isn’t like it’s described.
Following an inordinate silence, the notes began coming. And coming.
By late summer 1974, Bernstein and Woodward typed a memo to Redford concerning the first draft: “Because the film [i.e., screenplay] works so well, we are understandably reluctant to recommend any fiddling which might affect its basic quality, the great feel and texture that it has, etc. So, following are some minor points—mostly of fact— and then some more general thoughts… The Rosenfeld line about Colson’s sign, ‘After you have them by the balls, their hearts and minds etc.’ It seems to us that this works badly—too heavy, makes a statement that is out of character with the subperb [sic] understated quality of the rest of the film [i.e., screenplay].” (Note: Colson’s profane line stayed. The typed memo is in the Harry Ransom Center’s Woodward/Bernstein collection at the University of Texas.)
The Post later published an exhaustive lifestyle story on the production’s impact during a two-week location shoot (“When Worlds Collide: Lights! Camera! Egos!” by Tom Shales, Tom Zito, and Jeannette Smyth, April 11, 1975) . The story employed unnamed sources (“a New York journalist”) to make negative, false descriptions of Goldman’s screenplay. And it reported gossip at face value: “The first draft, written by Goldman, was apparently a loser, though [producer Walter Coblenz] says movies are never shot from first drafts anyway… Bernstein and Woodward read the script and did not like it. Redford asked them for ‘suggestions.’ But, instead, Bernstein and writer Nora Ephron wrote their own version. [Neither Bernstein nor Ephron had written a screenplay before this.] Redford read that. He didn’t like it. ‘A lot of it was sophomoric and way off the beat,’ he says. Goldman read it. He didn’t like it. He hadn’t written it. Rewriting of the rewrite commenced.
“Pakula says he doesn’t want to comment on the script until the movie has been made,” continues the paper of record. “Coblenz says, ‘William Goldman is our writer’ and that’s all there is to it. Redford says the talk about script squabbles is ‘a mushrooming cloud.’ He intends to let Post editors and others involved see the finished script, but they have no legal right of approval. They cannot demand anything. But they can refuse to let their real names be used.”
In the midst of naïve opinion trading, Goldman the professional worked on, supplying all those revised pages in the 7/11/75 draft. Pakula and Redford responded with contradictory notes.
After absorbing the Post demands for more “accuracy” about journalists and their daily routines, a gathering despair is revealed by Goldman’s introductory comments in the March 1975 prerehearsal draft: “this is the ross macdonald version: Watergate looked at primarily as a mystery. It is too long. It is not interested primarily in personal relationships. It attempts to show, step by step, how the reporters got their story. It does not have Woodward’s social or personal life yet… Whatever else it may lack—it was turned in a week ahead of schedule. The author would like that fact remembered.”
Goldman was signaling his dissatisfaction with contentious, ambiguous, contradictory notes, as well as the treachery he felt about the unsolicited Bernstein/Ephron amateur revision. (After reading it, Woodward said to his partner, “Carl, don’t you know Errol Flynn is dead?” After reading it, Redford encouraged Goldman to borrow parts from it.)
Please him, please her, please them. Dustin Hoffman’s Bernstein suddenly had girls, so Redford’s Woodward required a love interest. The Post editors wanted less humor and more noblesse oblige, so out went dramatic license and in came “authenticity.” Reporters wanted a serious lifestyle POV that somehow elevated their work, while Redford sought “an affirmative statement and not another negative commentary about Watergate.”
Near the climactic scenes in the March 1975 pre-rehearsal draft, Goldman declared his independence. Page 141: “this is where the source burning scene would come but i am not writing it for this version. My reasons are as follows: (1) it is a complicated long scene to put down; (2) we are terribly late in our story; (3) it would mean, here, two hours into the movie, we are bringing in an entirely new character, the FBI agent’s head to whom they go, and I think that is unnecessary and confusing…” After deconstructing the proposed scene, he concludes: “… if we’ve got anything going by this point, I can’t conceive of much an audience will be less interested in than the reporters misbehaving. However, if the scene is requested next time through, I shall be only too happy to oblige.”
Could this be why Redford says in Vanity Fair that after this “reluctantly reconstructed script” was delivered, “All hope was lost. Alan [Pakula] hated the script, and we immediately made arrangements to rewrite it ourselves… I was furious, but to what purpose? The friendship was gone…”
Or maybe it was Goldman’s next “aside” that enraged Redford. “What I would like to do,” Goldman wrote, concluding his commentary on page 141, “is cut from the FBI saying ‘fuck you fuck you fuck you’ and locking his door to the following…”
You don’t have to read between the lines to get that Freudian point.
“You can only write what you can make play,” Goldman says in the Writers Guild Foundation’s Writers Speak DVD. “It’s all about the story. You’ve gotta think, I can make this play.”
After that draft, Goldman knew he couldn’t make all those notes play. No writer could. But he dutifully plowed on and on, “writing blind,” trying to make notes meet ends. Finally: “It ended when the phone stopped ringing.”
That’s when Redford says he came to the rescue. In the Vanity Fair article, Redford describes his writing process: “Spending long hours driving around with Woodward and Bernstein as they continued their investigation of Charles Colson, an indicted Watergate conspirator… ‘This was exactly what I’d wanted Bill Goldman to do,’ says Redford. ‘We needed to get in there with those key figures, to dig into the life.’”
It is to laugh.
Wait, there’s More
But my investigation still needed absolute proof, a final draft, to obliterate Redford’s claim. After reading those three early versions in the Foundation Library, I resumed my search, trolling from industry libraries to Internet sales sites. Finally, I walked into Larry Edmunds Cinema and Theatre Bookshop on Hollywood Boulevard. Among the many screenplays for sale in three-holepunch format was an unnumbered, undated draft lacking a title page. It had been Xeroxed so many times that it appeared transparent. For $16 I took that All the President’s Men home and, after reading and comparing it to the film, concluded that I must have found the final draft.
How did I know? Even without a “screenplay by” credit, the script had William Goldman’s distinct signature on each page. Whether unconsciously or intentionally, Pakula and Redford’s work on the script had circled back to Goldman’s drafts. Goldman was the sole author of All the President’s Men.
Period. End of paper trail.
However, one can’t help but be concerned about Robert Redford’s memory. I’m haunted by that unforgettable line from Sunset Boulevard, written by Charles Brackett & D. M. Marshman Jr. & Billy Wilder: “Audiences don’t know somebody sits down and writes a picture. They think the actors make it up as they go along.”
But what does it imply when the actor thinks he makes it up as he goes along?
That’s another investigation for another journalist. This one didn’t require a Deep Throat. He just required a script.
But I suspect that Goldman couldn’t care less. In the Writers Guild Foundation’s Writer Speaks DVD, taped a year ago, Goldman says of All the President’s Men: “It doesn’t matter if you had a shitty experience on a movie. The movie itself is what matters.” That’s a consummate pro talking.
Besides, his ultimate vindication had come in a June 14, 1992, Washington Post story. Headlined “Journalism’s Finest 2 Hours and 16 Minutes,” written by Ken Ringle, it’s the final judgment by the newspaper of record.
“There are countless examples of such dramatic license in the film All the President’s Men,” concludes the Post staff writer, “and both as viewers and as journalists we can probably thank God there are. For few of us thought it possible to fashion from the tangled opacity of the Watergate scandal a film even remotely watchable by those outside the ranks of the politically obsessed. After all, there were more than 40 people involved in the Nixon administration alone—so many the book version needed the cast of characters listed on the opening pages.
The supreme triumph of Goldman’s Academy Award–winning screenplay is the way it slices through that kelp bed of interlocking relationships and, quite literally, cuts to the chase.”
This “Fade In” essay isn’t an episode of Cold Case, the recently canceled TV series where attractive detectives solved old crimes. But studying the various drafts of All the President’s Men helped me further understand the mix of creativity and hard work that go into any screenplay. Writers write, and actors— for the most part—speak their lines. After reading Goldman’s script, that distinction seems both clear and indisputable.
— Richard Stayton, Editor
Read the full article at http://www.bluetoad.com/article/Fade+In/705145/67460/article.html.