Jessica Alba: Screenwriters Don’t Need You, Either

by Peter Hanson, contributor to Script

Jessica Alba in Into the Blue

Jessica Alba in Into the Blue

Dear Jessica Alba: We haven’t met, but I’m a screenwriter. I’m one of those pale, intelligent-looking people you occasionally notice on the set, looking upset every time you put your own spin on a line of dialogue. Sorry if I distract you when I’m on the set, but if strangers didn’t enjoy looking at you, you wouldn’t really have a career, so I hope we’re cool.

Listen, here’s what I wanted to talk to you about. I saw those quotes online last week from your upcoming interview in Elle magazine. Just to refresh your memory, here’s what you said: “Good actors never use the script unless it’s amazing writing. All the good actors I’ve worked with, they all say whatever they want to say.” I can’t wait to read the rest of the interview, because it sure sounds like you’re including yourself among the gifted thespians who don’t need to rely on screenplays. If so, that’s awesome! It’s so impressive that you can walk onto the set and figure out what to do and say in order to advance the story. In fact, if you’re not consulting the script, then I guess you made up the story, too. Wow, you really can do everything, can’t you?

It seems like only yesterday you invented that cool sci-fi character you played on Dark Angel, the TV series James Cameron had the nerve to say he created. And then you danced your way back onto the big screen with Honey (2003), giving one of your most important performances in a midriff-baring tank top. From that point onward, it was one dramatic triumph after another for a few years. In Fantastic Four, Into the Blue, and Sin City, all released in 2005, you displayed every single aspect of your talent. In fact, you showed off pretty much everything you could fit into a spandex superhero costume, a drenched bikini, and a cowboy-themed stripper outfit. You probably said some words in those movies, but I guess I was distracted by the power of your acting.

You’ve really been stretching lately, inventing a series of exciting roles for yourself without consulting scripts. You were in that Hayden Christensen movie nobody saw, Awake (2007), that Mike Myers movie nobody saw, The Love Guru (2008), and that Casey Affleck movie nobody saw, The Killer Inside Me (2010). Oh, and I can’t forget your crowning achievement, playing a tough federal investigator in Machete, the Robert Rodriguez movie that came out last summer. The way you took a shower in your underwear and posed just right so that Rodriguez could digitally erase your clothes and create the illusion you were naked—boy, I can’t wait to hear James Lipton interview you on Inside the Actor’s Studio to learn how you came up with that unforgettable moment!

All in all, I’ve got to admit that you’ve made your point: Working “off-script” is the way to go. I mean, look at all the terrible movies featuring actresses who respect the written word, losers like Annette Bening and Meryl Streep and Hilary Swank and Kate Winslet. Has any one them made something like Honey or Into the Blue? You bet they haven’t!

So listen, Jessica, here’s the thing. I’d like to tell you a little bit about what I do, since it’s a real pleasure to talk about my craft with someone who doesn’t know anything about the subject. After I finish, of course, I’d love to hear all about the magical process you use for creating characterization and dialogue and story without reviewing what people like me wrote. As a screenwriter, here’s what I do. When I have an idea, I spend weeks and weeks figuring out how to fit that idea into a story with a beginning, middle, and end. After that’s done, I populate the story with characters, sort of like a chef adding ingredients. Finally, I give the characters things to do and say that help readers, and eventually viewers, understand where the story is going and what it’s supposed to mean. If a producer buys the thing I wrote—y’know, a script—the producer hires a director, who coaches actors through performing the scenes in the script in such a way that the story’s themes are communicated to paying audiences.

Oh, who am I kidding? We both know that’s not how it goes. How it really goes is a producer buys the script and makes me change it, then hires a director who makes me change it again or fires me if I can’t or won’t make the changes. After that, my script—or at least the document that started out as my script and turned into something else—gets shown to fantastic people like you. And if you agree to play one of the roles in the script, all that means is you like the paycheck (which has a whole lot more zeroes than my paycheck), so you agree to show up on the day shooting starts and do your magic act, inventing your character’s name, motivation, occupation, physical actions, and speaking style. I mean, when you really think about it, it’s a shame the screenwriters of your movies even get to put their names in the credits, since you do all the hard work!

So let’s make a deal, Jessica. You should take all the credit for the wonderful things you do in front of a movie camera. No screenwriter should get the praise you deserve for that special way you probe deep into the mysteries of the human condition while wearing low-cut shirts and skintight jeans. That’s why I think it’s better for everyone if you make movies without screenplays. Let the world see how you do on your own. And in return, I think it would be great if movies that have screenplays don’t have Jessica Alba.

15 thoughts on “Jessica Alba: Screenwriters Don’t Need You, Either

  1. Travis

    Kudos. Any true fan of film knows that writers and directors make the movies, actors are just a dime a dozen. I would love to see the writers and directors make more than the actors.

  2. Jeremy

    Great article. We need to make an example of Jessica Alba – and rake her over the coals again and again for her comments, until she apologizes. Dumb actors and dumb people in general need to stop kicking writers around just because they feel they can.

  3. MLE SEA

    Brilliant. Major major major props. This was amazing and I completely agree. I respect an actor’s desire to put a spin on a line or two, but to dismiss a script completely is preposterous. Kudos to you, seriously.


  4. casualmrpat

    Peter Hanson,

    I can understand why you, or any writer, could be upset with that comment; however, your action to write this “article” only makes her case stronger for why she shouldn’t listen to writers. Your “article” isn’t legitimate criticism. It’s heckling. I find that Script even allowed this article on the website ridiculous. A contributor somehow publishing a piece just to flame someone demonstrates an outrageous use of your power. I would expect a professional in general, let alone a professional writer, to handle himself better. The more effective way to combat Alba’s misleading quote would include demonstrating how each word in a script appears there through a meticulously decision process by the writer. Unfortunately you took the approach of crying like a small child using exaggeration after exaggeration after exaggeration to prove only one thing: I don’t want to read your writing. She had two lines. You had an article. Considering your colossal failure to articulate an actual argument, Alba leads 1-0.

    If you feel the need to respond to any of the criticism in the comments, I assure you I will not respond again. If you would like to take that as a victory of shutting me up then I guess you enjoy being an ostrich. A long time will pass before I consider coming back to this site for legitimate material, and an even longer time before I give your writing my time.

  5. Pingback: Scénario-Buzz » Blog Archive » A propos de l’affaire Jessica Alba

  6. sam_g

    Very interesting. I feel a lot of frustration and I am not sure it is only because of Alba or about more. I won’t give any comment as I wanna read what she actually say and see what was the contest. Still I though it was pretty funny even if it is a lot over the top.

  7. AlwaysEditing

    Funny stuff. Good core concept. If you ever get the budget for a Story Editor, I can help you get those eight paragraphs down to four. It seemed to lose me at around line 23. AlwaysEditing dot com.

  8. Film Slate MagazineFilm Slate Magazine

    For the life of me, I cannot figure out why a screenplay does not get the same respect as a stage play or a novel. Is there not an editor that tweaks and changes a novle – making it just write? A play goes through the same direction as a film, but the written word is respected in the theater.

    Can someone explain to me how and when this absurd thinking started?!

  9. Charles

    Okay Peter. Lets be real. First, You are completely glamourizing writing a script! There are high school students out there writing hollywood scripts, so lets not pretend it is some “lost art form”!!
    Second, I am in the business and I know for a FACT that script improv happens in ALL MOVIES WHERE VETERAN ACTORS ARE INVOLVED!!! If you can pay attention to what she is saying, you would understand. NOBODY strictly follows a script to the letter anymore!!
    Do you seriously think George Clooney, or Brad Pitt never stray from the words on a script page?? If so, you are DELUSIONAL!!

  10. THN

    Cool man, so much energy lost. It sounds as coming from the heart, but its a lot of frustration there… That frustration hits spots and moments in time that a screenwriter can find as being special, and probably the reason for all that… What does an aging, mortal soul has to do with it? After all the Star makes the front page and it is still called marketing. Screenwriting is the mother of psychology…if you know what I mean, it is meant to open one’s mind to deeper stages of perception, so when written back on paper it’s well researched and very believable…

  11. Chris

    Peter – well done – love it. I, too, will be very interested to see how Jessica’s first completely script-less movie turns out. We might want to alert the Academy, so they give it the attention it will deserve.