30 Rock

The Art of Script Doctoring

Fisher quickly became known as a script doctor who could flesh out female characters and add some sharp humor to dull dialogue exchanges. WebMD once asked Fisher what it takes to heal bad dialogue, and her response was “Make the women smarter, and the love scenes better.” Fisher explained to the Columbus Dispatch that she is “a good script doctor because I respect the original tone or dialect of the original and try to rewrite it according to what it is already.”

I write good love scenes and I write good women. I have good lines in different films… There’s usually not a lot of me in it, just some line I put in it. Sometimes I forget which movies I did and then they’ll come on TV.

Asked which of her script doctoring work she was particularly proud of, Fisher has cited 1994’s The River Wild, “because it was taken on right after I split up with Bryan [Lourd]. That was, not therapeutic, but distracting, at least.”

There were a lot of ones that I had fun on. The Wedding Singer. … My favorite films are ones that have my lines in it, and I like those lines. And I like to hear them.

Last Action Hero

Sister Act to Action Blockbusters

Fisher was brought on board for Sister Act by Whoopi Goldberg herself, reportedly to help “Whoopify” the female-led project. EW has a great time capsule article from 1992, which features Whoopi angrily yelling into her car phone with Fisher on the other line about then-head of Disney (now head of Dreamworks Animation) Jeffrey Katzenberg. Apparently, Fisher not only helped doctor the script but also served to maintain the comedian’s relationship with the studio. It’s a fun read.

Goldberg was impressed by what Fisher brought to Sister Act, which became a huge success with Whoopi and co-stars being nominated for their comedic performances. Fisher later did some script doctoring work on Goldberg’s 1993 film Made in America, which was a critical failure but made significant money internationally.

For Outbreak, Fisher was one of a couple of screenwriters brought on board to help improve the screenplay. It was reported at the time that she was being paid $100,000 per week for her work.

And after Sister Act, Fisher was being sought after by the biggest blockbuster movies of the time. She was called in to rework Rene Russo’s character and dialogue in Lethal Weapon 3, before being hired for Last Action Hero. The original screenwriters were removed from the project, replaced with Shane Black. But the studio reportedly wanted someone to bring “a woman’s touch” to the mother/son relationship in the film. So Fisher came on board to revise Mercedes Ruehl’s character’s dialogue and the parental relationship.

Shane Black, who was the first writer hired to rewrite Zak Penn and Adam Leff’s screenplay, has said that back in the 1990s, high-priced script doctoring “was an insurance policy for keeping your job at an executive level.” Black has explained that:

A script would be questionable and the trembling executive would give it to a famous writer with a million bucks, so he could say, ‘Yeah, it’s fortified now. We’ve given it vitamins. Wait, wait, wait… It needs the woman’s touch. Give it to Carrie Fisher!’ It just made people breathe easier, throwing money at this enormous behemoth. Even if the movie sucked, now they could say, ‘It’s not our fault.’

Very Funny

After being hired to co-star in the Adam Sandler romantic comedy, Drew Barrymore says that Fisher was brought on board The Wedding Singer to “write the girl’s part to make it balanced.” Judd Apatow and Adam Sandler also did uncredited rewrites on that script. The video above talks about how Fisher’s version of the script was notably different from the final film, including an alternate ending.

Fisher worked on a bunch of comedies in the 1990’s, including doing a rewrite on So I Married an Axe Murderer when Chevy Chase was originally set to star. Her signed contract recently sold on eBay. In 1994, Fisher did a rewrite of Intolerable Cruelty, although it’s not known if any of her work remained after the Coen brothers rewrote it for their 2003 film.

What follows were some of the projects that probably fits into Fisher’s  classification as “some really bad ones.” Those movies included Milk Money (1994), My Girl 2 (1994), Love Affair (1994), The Mirror Has Two Faces (1996) and The Out-of-Towners (1999). Not all films can be saved.

Fisher worked with Harvey Weinstein on a bunch of movies, including Scream 3, in which Fisher wrote a cameo for herself. In the film, she played Bianca Burnette, an actress who is mistaken as Carrie Fisher. As you can see in the clip below, Fisher’s character jokes, “Yeah, I was up for the part of Princess Leia. But who gets it? The girl who slept with George Lucas!” Fisher also worked on 2000’s Coyote Ugly, 2001’s Kate & Leopold, and 2005’s Mr. and Mrs. Smith.

Why Carrie Fisher Stopped Doctoring Scripts

So after doctoring scripts for nearly two dozen movies over the course of one decade, why did Fisher suddenly stop? According to Fisher, the bureaucracy of the process became too much work. In a 2011 interview with AV Club, Fisher explained why she stopped doing script doctor work in the early 2000s:

Probably there are still people who get the job without having to jump through hoops, but there’s more hoop-jumping now. As maybe there should be, because it’s a very lucrative thing to do, but I don’t like the hoops. And you wouldn’t either, as a writer. They say, “Well, what would you do if you got this job?” So basically, you’re giving them your ideas, you’re giving them your writing [for free]. And then generally, they go, “Nah, we found someone else.” And they probably always wanted that someone else. … So I don’t want to play, and they still have tried to engage me. They still are like, “You essentially have the job. You just have to come in and talk to them.” And you don’t! It’s bullshit. I don’t like being treated like that, and no one does, but I have a particular thing about it.

She told Newsweek in December 2008 that “younger people came to do it and I started to do new things.”

It was a long, very lucrative episode of my life. But it’s complicated to do that. Now it’s all changed, actually. Now in order to get a rewrite job, you have to submit your notes for your ideas on how to fix the script. So they can get all the notes from all the different writers, keep the notes and not hire you. That’s free work and that’s what I always call life-wasting events.

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