When Robert Ben Garant and Thomas Lennon created the sublimely ridiculous Reno 911 TV series in 2003, the show stood out as a masterpiece of raunchy surrealism funnier than nearly anything else on air at the time.
They also wrote Lindsay Lohan's 2005 Disney bomb Herbie: Fully Loaded, which the duo freely acknowledges as "a total piece of s#!t." So what happened? How is it that these quirky, talented guys wound up authoring films like Queen Latifah's stinker Taxi?
Garant and Lennon also scripted Night at the Museum and The Pacifier. Their screenplays have cumulatively spawned more than $1.4 billion in box office receipts. They understand the game. Here are five excerpts from their hilarious new book, Writing Movies For Fun and Profit (Simon & Schuster; July, 2011), that help explain, as Garant and Lennon put it, "Why most Hollywood movies suck donkey balls."
Executives are morons. In Hollywood, they write, "There are a lot more idiots than smart people. The president of the studio is usually a very smart woman. . . but there are executives who have to approve your script. Smart people give good notes, dumb people give bad notes."
Producers play rough. "The position of producer is one for oversexed, megalomaniac uber-humans who for some reason feel the desire to play wedding planner to a group of dim-witted rodeo clowns, who are also, for the most part, oversexed and megalomaniacal," Garant and Lennon write. "Note: Throwing a phone, paperweight or fax machine at an intern is never acceptable in Hollywood. Unless your last movie made a shitload of money. Then -- go nuts."
Herbie: Fully Bloated. "The president of the studio loved our take. She had one note. It was too sexy for Disney. We took out the sexier stuff and turned it back in -- and here's where it gets interesting/horrible. We were now dealing with the studio executive under the president. . . dumb as a stump and mean as a rattlesnake. We did about ten drafts for this executive: dumbing down the plot, making everything cuter, taking out things that made the movie make sense." Garant and Lennon got fired. Twenty-four more writers followed.
Once upon a time. . . The Fun and Profit authors describe studio development with this analogy: "You have a Volkswagen Bug. You sell it to someone. He says, deliver it in eight weeks. Make it pink. Then that person's underling says, 'I know we bought a Bug but all the other studios are buying SUVS this year, so lets make it a big SUV. Then: 'I read an article about boats today and how they're going to be popular this year - let's make this thing kinda like a boat.' Then they say, 'Teminator made a lot of money, let's make this thing kinda like Terminator.' Then. 'Make it green.' You go back to the person who bought a pink Bug and they say 'What the hell is this giant green Terminator boat?'
The Zen of getting reamed: When executives critique your screenplay, Garant and Lennon advise, "Write down everything they say. Keeping your hands busy like this will help prevent you from making the 'rage faces' that you will be inclined to make when you hear their crappy ideas. . . Don't be argumentative. It's way too easy to get fired. Be thoughtful. Practice turning your 'mad' face into an 'I'm thinking about it' face."