That’s the question Sean Hood answered in a recent post to Quora. While not quite a household name, Sean Hood has been around the Hollywood scene for more than a few years, first as a set dresser, prop assistant and art director, and the past decade as a screenwriter. His writing credits include Halloween: Resurrection, The Crow: Wicked Prayer, and his most recent endeavor, reworking the shooting script of Conan the Barbarian, which opened this past weekend with an underwhelming $10 million at the domestic box office.
While these are not necessarily the types of films that interest me, when I was emailed the above link – which contained some refreshing brutal honesty – I was intrigued. He likens the long filmmaking process to that of a political campaign, a multitude of people working together for the common goal of success, but differing ideas on how to get there. After the filming is completed, it’s a long waiting game, when anticipation builds as to the film’s outcome: success or failure?
You hope that advertising and word of mouth will improve the [tracking] numbers, and even as the numbers get tighter and the omens get darker, you keep telling yourself that things will turn around, that your guy will surprise the experts and pollsters. You stay optimistic. You begin selectively ignoring bad news and highlighting the good. You make the best of it. You believe.
In the days before the release, you get all sorts of enthusiastic congratulations from friends and family. Everyone seems to believe it will go well, and everyone has something positive to say, so you allow yourself to get swept up in it. You tell yourself to just enjoy the process. That whether you succeed or fail, win or lose, it will be fine. You pretend to be Zen. You adopt detachment, and ironic humor, while secretly praying for a miracle.
Soon, the forced optimism begins to dwindle – the numbers aren’t improving, the trade magazines are proclaiming failure, and the exit polls are alarmingly negative. That, Hood says, is “when the reality of the loss sinks in, and you don’t sleep the rest of the night.” He describes the next few days:
For the next couple of days, you walk in a daze, and your friends and family offer kind words, but mostly avoid the subject. Since you had planned (ardently believed, despite it all) that success would propel you to new appointments and opportunities, you find yourself at a loss about what to do next. It can all seem very grim.
You make light of it, of course. You joke and shrug. But the blow to your ego and reputation can’t be brushed off. Reviewers, even when they were positive, mocked Conan The Barbarian for its lack of story, lack of characterization, and lack of wit. This doesn’t speak well of the screenwriting – and any filmmaker who tells you s/he “doesn’t read reviews” just doesn’t want to admit how much they sting.
It’s a rather fascinating read on some of the less glamorous sides of filmmaking – screenwriting and flopping. We constantly see the box office champions and award winners talking about their successes, but how often do we see the other side of it? Whether you love these movies that Hood wrote or, like me, have been mostly uninterested in watching them, it’s still captivating to see only days afterwards the thought processes of a man who has invested so much time in a project only to see it deemed a financial and critical failure. Despite all of this, he ends his piece on a positive and even a little bit of an inspiring note, appropriately quoting the infamous Ed Wood: “My next one will be BETTER!”