Screenwriter Bob Sáenz on Rewriting for Hire
Screenwriting sage, author, and editor Jeanne Veillette Bowerman always shares excellent stories from the silverscreen on ScriptMag.com, but this interview with screenwriter Bob Sáenz is particularly pertinent to ghosting and the process of rewriting for hire. In the interview, he takes readers deep into the world of a professional screenwriter, with an extensive discussion on networking strategies, the mindset needed for rewriting, his upcoming movie, Extracurricular Activities, and more.
This excerpt is particularly pertinent for ghostwriters and editors working in any medium. In it, he discusses his first screenwriting gig for a Hallmark movie, which was actually a rewrite of a previous script. As it happens, the rewriting process in particular has quite a bit in common with ghostwriting and editing. Read on…
Bob Sáenz: After a producer read it as my writing sample, she wanted me to look at a script they had bought but needed help with. The anti-Hallmark movie got me my first Hallmark job. They wanted to see what I could do with it. I did a page-one rewrite. Not knowing any better, I made it my own script, top to bottom. It was Help for the Holidays. It ended up being the seventh largest Hallmark movie audience premiere of all time.
Jeanne V. Bowerman: That’s a great result, especially for a first writing assignment.
Bob: Very funny movie, and I’m proud of it. That’s how I became a Hallmark writer, again even though my sensibilities, if you read Extracurricular, or my newest script, which is called The Business Trip, are very twisted and dark.
Jeanne: I’m a fan of versatility and writers who don’t want to be boxed into one genre.
Bob: As a writer, I think you need to be able to write anything. I don’t want to have people think, “Oh, all he can write is Hallmark movies. Or all he can write is dark, twisted movies.” I want people to think, “Hey, this is a guy that if we go to him, he’s going to be able to write what we want him to write.”
I think the biggest mistake writers make when they get hired to rewrite, or when they read other people’s scripts to give them notes, is instead of looking for what the original writer intended, or what they want out of the notes, they say, “Oh no, this is how I would do it.” That’s not a way to constructively criticize someone. I made that mistake with Help for the Holidays, I think. It worked out, but I was lucky they loved it.
Jeanne: Taking the ego out of rewriting and giving notes is an art form in and of itself. You need to serve the story first.
Bob: Agreed. You work to give people what they want, not your personal version, unless they happen to match up. Which actually happens sometimes.
Jeanne: It’s not about you, it’s about the story.
Bob: It’s a fine line you have to walk, but you have to really subjugate yourself and look at the whole picture of what the company intends for it to be. You have discussions with them, “What do you want out of this?” The first question I always ask when I’m given a script to rewrite is, “Why did you buy this script?”
Jeanne: That’s perfect. Regarding notes, when I ask for notes on my own work, I always clarify, “Don’t tell me what you think I want to hear, tell me what I need to hear.”
Bob: Not only that, but don’t tell me how you would do it. Tell me how I can improve what I’m trying to do.
Jeanne: There is a skillset that people have or don’t have, to be able to look at a screenplay and to give guidance as to what they thought the person was intending to write, as opposed to just injecting their ego into it.
Bob: You have to take your ego and put it someplace else.