Speaking as a member of the WGAw since 1995, I am disgusted whenever I hear that a studio is doing parallel development on a film. It’s a terrible process for the writers, and it reduces the idea of authorship, handing all of the power back to the producers.
It’s easy to see why a studio would do it. After all, they’re in a rush right now at Warner Bros. to get into the game that Marvel has been winning non-stop for the last few years, and Aquaman is already set to appear in “Batman v Superman: Dawn Of Justice,” with Jason Momoa signed to play the character. For Warner Bros., they’re trying to get these films up and ready to go as quickly as they can. Having two writers each work on a script to see what ends up working best sounds like a great way to short-cut things.
For the writers, though, it’s a grotesque process. We’re not talking about unknown nobodies, either. Will Beall wrote “Gangster Squad” for Warner Bros., but I’m guessing the reason he ended up landing this job is because of his “Justice League” script that was developed a few years ago. Kurt Johnstad wrote “300” and was also part of the “300” sequel. In both cases, these are writers that Warner Bros. already knows and likes, so either one of them would have been a great pick to write an “Aquaman” movie.
By commencing both of them on scripts, the studio is telling them right up front that someone’s going to win this process and someone’s going to lose. That’s not the way a creative endeavor should work. You can’t do great work if you’re stressed that you’re going to lose the job or worse, that you’re going to turn something in that’s simply going to disappear into the process. It’s hard to get motivated to do your best work if there’s a chance it’s just not going to be seen by anyone.
It also demonstrates to anyone observing the process that Warner must not have much of an idea about what they want from the character. If they did, they’d hire one writer to follow that vision. Instead, they’re treating this like it’s a reality show, and they’ll vote some writer off the island at some point.
This is a relatively recent evolution, and at some point, the Writer’s Guild is going to have to step in and do something about this. There’s a reason the Minimum Basic Agreement exists, and if it’s not addressed there, then it’s not something the studios take 100% seriously. I mean, they already push and push and push to try to shift the definition of a “draft” in a way that saves them money, and they end-run any number of other things in the MBA when it is convenient for them, but if we at least have the language in there that says “no parallel drafts,” then studios can’t be this open about pitting people against one another.
Right now, there’s no word on what date Warner is looking at for “Aquaman,” but considering they just claimed about 20 dates over the next five years, there are plenty of options. Let’s see if either of these scripts motivates the studio to finally get Vincent Chase suited up and in the water.
“Batman v Superman: Dawn Of Justice” is in theaters March 25, 2016.