In a graceful and funny column for Quora, screenwriter Sean Hood — whose most recent project was Conan the Barbarian — explains what it feels like to write a movie that tanks at the box office. He compares the excitement (and occasionally self-deluded expectations) as similar to joining a political campaign. He writes:
One joins a movie production, the same way one might join a campaign, years before the actual release/election, and in the beginning one is filled with hope, enthusiasm and belief. I joined the Conan team, having loved the character in comic books and the stories of Robert E. Howard, filled with the same kind of raw energy and drive that one needs in politics.
Any film production, like a long grueling campaign over months and years, is filled with crisis, compromise, exhaustion, conflict, elation, and blind faith that if one just works harder, the results will turn out all right in the end. During that process whatever anger, frustration, or disagreement you have with the candidate/film you keep to yourself. Privately you may oppose various decisions, strategies, or compromises; you may learn things about the candidate that cloud your resolve and shake your confidence, but you soldier on, committed to the end. You rationalize it along the way by imagining that the struggle will be worth it when the candidate wins.
A few months before release, "tracking numbers" play the role in movies that polls play in politics. It's easy to get caught up in this excitement, like a college volunteer handing out fliers for Howard Dean . . . As the release date approaches and the the tracking numbers start to fall, you start adjusting expectations, but always with a kind of desperate optimism. "I don't believe the polls," say the smiling candidates . . .
The Friday night of the release is like the Tuesday night of an election. "Exit polls"are taken of people leaving the theater, and estimated box office numbers start leaking out in the afternoon, like early ballot returns . . .
By about 9 PM its clear when your "candidate" has lost by a startlingly wide margin, more than you or even the most pessimistic political observers could have predicted. With a movie its much the same: trade magazines like Variety and Hollywood Reporter call the weekend winners and losers based on projections. That's when the reality of the loss sinks in, and you don't sleep the rest of the night . . .
You'll definitely want to read Hood's heartfelt conclusions at the end of his post. Though I was one of the critics who suggested that the best way to enjoy Conan was while stoned, I'm not under the illusion that this flick was any one person's fault. And after reading this honest, insightful account of the script doctoring process, I'm looking forward to more movies with Sean Hood's name in the credits.