Merry Christmas, You Filthy Animal (Or, The Faux Assumption That Genius Screenwriters Do It In A Weekend)

If you’re home this holiday, there’s a great new Netflix series called The Movies That Made Us — which takes an hour to investigate the backstories of films like Dirty Dancing, Die Hard, Ghostbusters and our all time holiday favorite, Home Alone.

The show itself is a fascinating look at all the machinations of making a movie from the script stage through theatrical release, and confirms a very astute observation from Confucius-like Seth Rogen, who once said on The Howard Stern Show, “it’s amazing that any movie, ever, turns out good” based on the fact that there are so many things that can go wrong.

But like all astute industry folk say, it starts on the page and so the development of the screenplays behind each of these movies is an aspect that the show spends considerable time digging into. It’s a fascinating look at how ideas are generated, nurtured and released into the world.

Yeah, but no. That’s not the story.

The screenwriting wisdom takes a back seat to a statement that is both amazing and unbelievable at the same time, while also being a lie. In the Home Alone episode, Director Chris Columbus and other Producers are very clear to proclaim that writer John Hughes pumped out the script in one weekend.

One weekend. Twenty-four hours. An inhuman act of almost unbelievable skill.

John Hughes has been one of those lauded screenwriters over the decades who industry folk have always held in high regard. And why not? The guy was a God for 80’s movie goers and still represents the high watermark of teen authenticity in a world where the adults often don’t totally understand or “get” what they’re facing. Over the course of Hughes famous run throughout the 80’s, he was rumored to have written multiple movies “in a weekend” — including Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Weird Science, Sixteen Candles and yes, Home Alone.

But dig deeper into the Netflix series and one perfect little gem comes out. Sure, Hughes wrote a script in a weekend, but it was one that he and Columbus then went back and forth rewriting for weeks if not months. Who knows what that first script looked like, and what shape it was in. In fact, to Columbus’ point, the script wasn’t the sweet Holiday comedy that we all know and love today. It was far more slapsticky, and never approached the poignant realm it exists in today. Which is just to say…

Scripts take a long time to perfect. And whatever anyone writes in one weekend is not the finished product. Someone smart and annoying once said, a script is never finished…it’s abandoned.

Troll #FilmTwitter long enough and you’ll find an overabundance of screenwriters lamenting their latest screenwriting hurdle. You’ll witness the support group mentality of writers across the sphere, simply looking for advice and support to get to that one draft. Screenwriters universally agree on one point and one point only…finish the damn thing as fast as you can.

Oh, and also? That first thing is going to suck balls.

Which is only to say…going out on a limb… The first draft of Home Alone sucked balls. So, too, did Weird Science. And it’s quite possible, so too, did Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. Or maybe not Ferris. Maybe the script that was finished in a Saturday and a Sunday was the genius script that landed on screen in theaters.

And I’m about to cough up a lung.

All this is to say one very important thing — the illusion of genius in forty-eight hours is highly unrealistic and overrated. People love to tell imaginative stories of genius being created in a short time; of overnight sensations coming out of nowhere. It’s an unrealistic expectation that doesn’t do any creative person any good whatsoever.

Because being creative takes work. And time. When you come across something created in less than forty-eight hours, it’s probably going to suck. In fact, it always does.

Yes. Even this post.

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