Hollywood Grind: SNOW WHITE and the Five Writers
How many writers does it take to write a movie, anyway?
The script for Snow White and the Huntsman originated with Evan Daugherty, who receives the sole "Story By" credit. Daughterty began working on the script as a film school assignment in 2003; his original pitch was "Snow White Meets The Profesional." After moving to Hollywood, he eventually finished it and got it in front of veteran producer Joe Roth. The script sparked a bidding that was won by Universal in September 2010, with the final price reported to be worth $1.5 million against $3 million upon production.
What sparked the war? Was it the quality of the writing? the freshness of the ideas? the appeal of a well-known, pre-sold, public domain heroine and villain? the luck of the draw? the appeal of a veteran producer, coming off a huge hit (Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland)? the competitive juices that fire Hollywood studio executives (two other Snow White projects had already been announced at rival outfits Disney and Relativity Media)?
Daugherty's original conception of the Huntman as a grizzled mentor was changed to make him a potential love interest for Snow White. Rupert Sanders, who'd made stylish commercials (Nike, Microsoft, Axe) but never a feature, got excited about the fairies in the script, and so Daugherty expanded on that. Daugherty says he worked on the script for a couple of months after it was sold.
Kristen Stewart came on board to play the title character in December and Charlize Theron was cast as the Evil Stepmother / Wicked Queen, though it though several more months to finalize the casting of Chris Hemsworth as the Huntsman (Viggo Mortensen, among others, had been considered.)
By May 2011, Universal had enough confidence in the project, which had not yet begun production, to move up its planned release date of December 2012 to June 1, 2012, trumping Relativity's announced date of June 22 for its fairy tale project, formerly known as Brothers Grimm: Snow White, but finalized as Mirror Mirror. (Relativity eventually moved their film up to March.)
Within a few weeks, it was reported that Hossein Amini, known for adapting Drive, was in talks to do a rewrite in advance of the production start date. In the report, it was mentioned that Evan Spiliotopoulos had done the most recent draft.
Ultimately, three writers received official credit for the Snow White screenplay: Daugherty, Amini, and John Lee Hancock (The Blind Side). Jez Butterworth (Fair Game) is also unoficially credited on multiple sites with working on the project. So we're up to five (unofficial) writers, two shy of the number of dwarfs in the movie.
None of this would matter very much if the finished product sang clear, bright, and true from beginning to end. After all, a number of classic films cobbled together the work of multiple screenwriters, fusing them into a seamless whole.
Snow White and the Huntsman, however, will not be mistaken for a classic. It's a lumbering, lugubrious piece of work, giving every appearance of being cut from the bits and pieces of cloth left over from Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings trilogy, sown together with outtakes from Ridley Scott's Gladiator, and glued haphazardly with the sticky residue of a Game of Thrones hangover.
Rather than synthesize those influences into something new or fresh, however, Snow White and the Huntsman is content to copy the somewhat varied templates -- the look and feel -- and then replace the original content with its own generic material. The handful of individual screenwriters all seem to have worked on different aspects of the script, with the result that the film reflects multiple perspectives on the story.
Seldom have the seams been so readily apparent. Who's to blame? The writers, the director making his feature debut, the veteran producer? Success has many fathers, so if the film is a big financial success, everyone will claim responsibility. On the other hand, if it fails, or even underperforms at the box office, fingers will be pointed. Ultimately, however, it's moviegoers who lose.
It's enough to make a wicked stepmother grin with dead-eyed satisfaction.
"Hollywood Grind" is a weekly column. Snow White and the Huntsman opens today (Friday) throughout North America in wide release.