EDITORIALS

'Conan' Writer Sean Hood on 'What's It Like to Have Your Film Flop?'

by
August 24, 2011
Source: Quora

Conan the Barbarian

I've always wondered what that's like. How do you feel if the movie you spent years working on barely opens and is forgotten at the end of a weekend? What do you do when you make it all the way to the Oscars, but your film doesn't win a single award? Tough questions, and situations, but screenwriter and self-described "script doctor" Sean Hood took it upon himself to write a lengthy essay on Q&A site Quora about the poor performance of Lionsgate's Conan the Barbarian, which barely made $10 million its opening weekend. I thought this was important to feature, at the least so other aspiring writers can read it and stay motivated.

Thanks to Deadline for the tip. Hood answers the question on Quora of "What's it like to have your film flop at the box office?" They also threw in this jab, too. "Don't they know how bad it is before it comes out?" Ouch. I highly suggest reading Hood's entire response, as it's a fascinating read, but I've pulled a few of the best sections/quotes worthy of highlighting, to give you an idea of some of the stuff he's written. Hood is one of the three writers credited for Conan (along with Thomas Dean Donnelly & Joshua Oppenheimer) and if I'm accurately reading between the lines, he wasn't satisfied with the end result either. A few excerpts:

"One joins a movie production, the same way one might join a campaign, years before the actual release/election, and in the beginning one is filled with hope, enthusiasm and belief. I joined the Conan team, having loved the character in comic books and the stories of Robert E. Howard, filled with the same kind of raw energy and drive that one needs in politics."

"Any film production, like a long grueling campaign over months and years, is filled with crisis, compromise, exhaustion, conflict, elation, and blind faith that if one just works harder, the results will turn out all right in the end. During that process whatever anger, frustration, or disagreement you have with the candidate/film you keep to yourself. Privately you may oppose various decisions, strategies, or compromises; you may learn things about the candidate that cloud your resolve and shake your confidence, but you soldier on, committed to the end. You rationalize it along the way by imagining that the struggle will be worth it when the candidate wins."

"…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."

All of this so far is still before it even opens! Hood frames the context of his feelings around the idea of a politician running for a major election, and what he must feel like after losing that as well. He continues on:

"By about 9 PM its clear when your 'candidate' has lost by a startlingly wide margin, more than you or even the most pessimistic political observers could have predicted. With a movie its much the same: trade magazines like Variety and Hollywood Reporter call the weekend winners and losers based on projections. That's when the reality of the loss sinks in, and you don't sleep the rest of the night."

"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."

"Unfortunately, the work I do as a script doctor is hard to defend if the movie flops. I know that those who have read my Conan shooting script agree that much of the work I did on story and character never made it to screen. I myself know that given the difficulties of rewriting a script in the middle of production, I made vast improvements on the draft that came before me. But its still much like doing great work on a losing campaign. All anyone in the general public knows, all anyone in the industry remembers, is the flop. A loss is a loss."

"…So with my father's example in mind, here I sit, coffee cup steaming in its mug and dog asleep at my feet, starting my work for the day, revising yet another script, working out yet another pitch, thinking of the future (the next project, the next election) because I'm a screenwriter, and that's just what screenwriters do."

While that gets depressing a few times, he ends on an enthusiastic note, at least one that should have all writers cheering "huzzah!" That's what they do, plow along, writing their hearts out for who's satisfaction? Their own, and anyone who can appreciate their work. As long as some of it actually ends up on screen. I'm admittedly one of those people who has problems with Conan, but I'm not here to put blame on anyone, as it sounds like it was just the Hollywood process that turned this into something that even Hood barely wants to admit he's worked on. Though it's still a bit sad to read about someone's personal experiences with all of this. However, there's not much else to do except look forward to the next job and keep his writing sharp.

I just thought Hood's full response on Quora was worth featuring, for anyone who sometimes loses their own motivation to work, as it's hard to always keep that passion. Especially in Hollywood, where opinions run rampant, and it's such a subjective industry that it's near impossible to escape criticism, especially as a writer/director/producer or actor. Thanks to Sean for being so open and honest about his own experiences.

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  • anonymous
    "...So with my father's example in mind, here I sit, coffee cup steaming in its mug" Coffee cup steaming in its mug? Pick one, cup or mug. Screenwriter? Dear god.
    • Kaim
      True that sounds funny, but relating something someone says to their writing ability makes little sense.
      • Richie G
        "he took it upon himself to write a lengthy essay" literally in the first paragraph of Alex's post.     So "anonymous" was quoting something Hood wrote to illustrate his opinion of Hood's writing ability. Here to explain
    • Da_Bomb
      Obviously a typo. Why don't you offer your services as a snarky proof reader? Otherwise, try to actually comment on the quality of the post.
      • Richie G
        If he can't proof read his own work, how does that reflect on his skill as a script doctor? Also you have 2 comments on this thread so far, both of which comment on other people's remarks and not the quality of the post. Maybe you should take your own advice
    • Awesomealvin
      There are coffee mugs where you can place a coffee cup inside, hence "coffee cup steaming in its mug". I'm just guessing though.
    • Richardokewole
      really that's what bugs you mug or cup??  you're same type of person that never reads the comic but hates the movie.  oy
  • And that's why I won't write scripts.  Too many other factors determining your success - like directors that decide whether or not to actually adapt what you've written.
    • astroboy3000
      really ? THAT'S why you're not a script writer ?
      • ..
        LOL ^^
      • MACRO
        ^^^ LMAO!
    • POVwriter
      John, I remember you from a certain screenwriting message board. You were a hack back then, and you're a hack now. Probably best that you quit trying to write screenplays. Leave it to people who actually posses talent.
  • Spider
    This was a good read and a prime example of someone taking it on the chin and still moving forward! I give major props to Hood for having the balls to write about this sour experience.  He knows all to well how Hollywood works and the same yields for actors/directors,etc. Most flicks don't turn out the way they were written on the page. I am sure he will bounce back bigger than ever, though! 
    • Tester
      Although he takes it on the chin and is moving forward, he should have known better !!! At some point the relentless stupid unnecessary remakes + 3D is going to catch up !!!
      • Jules
        @Tester......too bad we can't all be perfect like you, eh?
        • Tester
          So any negative comment by me ( and maybe others ) is a  reflection of my superiority complex ?  
      • Spider
        Tester, you a have a piss-poor way of showing support.....I sure hope you don't praise your family with a, "See, I told you so!" or a "You should have know better!" when they try something and fail. No one can tell how an effort or endeavor will turn out beforehand! Hollywood productions are a crap shoot. "The Karate Kid" reboot made mega-bucks (no one saw it coming) while many other re-boots tanked! 
    • Anonymous
      Good point, Spider.  The truth is that, well, nobody sets out to make a bad movie--but you know what they say about the road to hell. "Most flicks don't turn out the way they were written on the page."  Indeed.  Scripts will go through many drafts and things might be vastly different once filming starts.  That's why I don't bother reading "script reviews" that only look at the first draft of the script! And it seems that some of the people who b***h the most about the scripts have never bothered reading the mags Creative Screenwriting or Script. If anything, track down Terry Rossio's essay on the experience he had co-writing (with Ted Elliot) the film adaptation of Heinlein's THE PUPPET MASTERS.  You can find it here: http://www.nitrosyncretic.com/rah/rossio.html The hard truth is that screenwriters face numerous trials in Hollywood.  Kudos to this guy for talking about it.
  • peloquin
  • Voice of Reason
    I havent seen Conan, it looked pretty terrible, I was hoping for some positive reviews to help change my mind, but it seems confirmed to be a terrible movie. Nice feature, though, its clear he tried despite the odds. Makes me want to hear more from people behind the bombs....especially Green Lantern folks.
  • Very interesting for sure.
  • Manuel
    Green Lantern movie is a perfect example of what Sony Imageworks can screw the script up. The CGI was not bad... was a massacre. A living horror. EVERY SINGLE bit of CGI was a monstruosity. I think that was the main drama for the filmakers. Not even Martin Campbell was able to handle the movie. Thanks Sony Imageworks for literally screw up the entire movie.
    • redguy
      green lantern is not actually a flop..check the worldwide box office stats...they got their money
  • Anonymous
    This man has shown great humility. I wish we would see this more often, someone talking straighforward about their flops. I think everyone here can agree, yes, the movie flopped, but at least he is working on a medium we love so much. He should be thankful for that at least. And yes, being a screenwriter in Hollywood must feel like S***, especially in blockbusters like this. You may think you have an extraordinary script, but along comes some big studio that crushes your dreams like it was nothing. But the opposite also happens...sometimes (Planet of the Apes is an example). Just to express my opinion: Green Lantern »»» Captain America 😛
    • Anonymous
      "And yes, being a screenwriter in Hollywood must feel like S***..." Yup.  Check out Harlan Ellison's writings on being a screenwriter in Hollywood; some real horror stories there (but some funny ones as well).
  • tir na nog
    Great article and I respect his honesty,personally I dont think it looks that bad but like most I will probably wait for the dvd rental. The film has not flopped yet by the way,its only been released in America{to my knowledge} and as long as it makes it money back and  a profit its not a loss. Releasing a film without a major star is always a risk,having said that District 9 did great.
  • Richie G
    This guy compares his work on the Conan script to joining a failing political campaign and says that most of his ideas never made it to the screen. That ain't taking it on the chin. That dude is distancing himself from responsibility. It'll be interesting to see how that works out for his career ...also his metaphors were massively laboured.
    • Da_Bomb
      Wrong! Anyone with any understanding of the big-budget moviemaking process knows that these scripts go through interminable tinkering so that the work of previous writers is barely recognizable by the time it gets to the final writer. And then when the film is actually shot/edited, it can yet again become something totally different. I would imagine EVERY writer feels he’s made vast improvements on what’s handed to him or he shouldn’t be writing.As to the metaphor being massively laboured, not sure what you mean, schoolteacher. Educate us.
  • ...so you expect a movie you've written to be a huge success, just like that? Pfff!
  • McWilly
    Good read, Thanks
  • Anonymous
    I wonder what the screenwriter of "Freddy Got Fingered" felt like after he completed that....
  • rain
    I totally see how this happens. A dude writes a good story, and then..... the execs come in with: "NO!,NO!NO! We want more Kick ASS action scenes! Less story please!" "More visual,forget the plot,YES that's the ticket!!" "Give a light show!!" "Give us the MONEY SHOTS BABY!!" We need 70's style cinema to make a resurgence.
  • Ako
    The dude needs to man up more...who f'd it up and why...if he knew it was sketchy say something do something
    • equustel
      Um, if you think a screenwriter has the power to "say something do something" you're sadly mistaken. Writers probably have the least amount of power of anyone in Hollywood once production starts rolling on a film.
      • Anonymous
        Yep. And the only way that screenwriters like Cameron, Nolan, Smith and Lucas can get away with it is that they also direct their scripts.  And even then, they have to make changes to the screenplay.
  • No offense, but how can these screenwriters not get the negative vibe these remakes get? Especially when that negative vibe is plastered all over the web?  Its as though he is truly shocked it was not better received.
  • scott elder
    To put his writing work into perspective, let's look at his previous films and their IMDB rating... Halloween: Resurrection (3.9)Cube 2: Hypercube (5.6) The Crow: Wicked Prayer (2.9) Besides writing bad movies, we can deduce, that he loves the colon :0
  • Carl
    It is an ironic twist that the downfall of the Conan film is the storyline,which was the only thing they decided to change from the original Conan.Conan originally appeared in pulp fiction books of the 30's & his entire success was the ingenious stories of the character.
  • David Banner
    Good read, but really, what is the timeline for a film to have "flopped"? 1 year? 2 years? 6months? 1 week????   Can one say now allready that the new Conan movie has idd "flopped"? It's barely been out 1 week(!!).   If it breaks even with international gross + maybe even Blu-Ray sales, tv-rights and rentals, has it then "flopped"?   Let's not forget the new Conan got a MPAA Rating of "R", R rated movies often don't make alot at the boxoffice.    I'd say give it a year or two, then we can conclude it has idd flopped.  Infact, maybe a studio looks at any given movie like this: If it has made money within 10years, it has not flopped.   I'm not defending Conan, I havent seen it yet and the shy of $18mill at the worldwide boxoffice; I agree it doesnt look good, but not all movies can make back their costs within a week. It can take years for a film to make back it's costs-but that doesnt mean one should stop making movies or they have flopped.   Dont think I am wrong in saying that 75% of all movies ever made have just barely made their money back? Gunna dig on the net and see if I can find out where I got this last tidbit from.   PS Did Green Lantern flop or not? $194million worldwide, cost $200million to make. Before you decide, concider this: what kind of flop is $194million at the boxoffice? 
    • Richie G
      You kinda answered your own question, if they lost six million making the film then that'd be a flop...? What is "idd"?
      • David Banner
        Sry, "idd" is short for indeed. Sometimes I forget myself and type such, even ppl for people. So, $194million grossed worldwide is a flop? :) Hmmm...
  • Richie G
    If he had've written an essay denouncing his involvement with the production before the movie was released I would respect the man, but it seems he was willing to take credit for a movie, in which he claims to have had no input, so long as it was successful. Now that it wasn't successful he suddenly had nothing to do with it... pathetic
    • Jeff X
      He never said he had nothing to do with it and was not denouncing his involvement. Did you really even read the post?
      • Richie G
        Did you read mine? "if"
  • It looks no one until now got the point ,, even the writer himself too  .. People it is not about the story at all ... it was about the production companies  .. Both (Nu Images) and (Millennium Films) who Produced the movie are the reason for such mess ... give them the best story and best actors and directors ... even a huge budget and in end the movie will come out cheap and  lame ... because they mostly shoot their movies in Bulgaria with unprofessional crew .. and that is why their "movies" always come out so weak .
  • Richardokewole
    It was a good movie
  • Supermanx
    ^^^^ not!
  • Tips from the article: 1. never take responsibility. 2. never have a clear vision that you fight for- for example, racial casting a white character as some kind of islander / mulatto and similar issues is irrelevant to success or failure. 3. pay no respect at all to the original author's source material. Instead, just keep hacking away. 4. remake a movie, don't bother going back and actually reading the stories.

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