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