Sean Hood speaks on Conan’s lukewarm box office returns

Sean Hood has a very frank discussion on his Quora page in regards to the underwhelming weekend takings for Conan:

You make light of it, of course. You joke and shrug. But the blow to your ego and reputation can’t be brushed off. Reviewers, even when they were positive, mocked Conan The Barbarian for its lack of story, lack of characterization, and lack of wit. This doesn’t speak well of the screenwriting – and any filmmaker who tells you s/he “doesn’t read reviews” just doesn’t want to admit how much they sting.

Unfortunately, the work I do as a script doctor is hard to defend if the movie flops. I know that those who have read my Conan shooting script agree that much of the work I did on story and character never made it to screen. I myself know that given the difficulties of rewriting a script in the middle of production, I made vast improvements on the draft that came before me. But its still much like doing great work on a losing campaign. All anyone in the general public knows, all anyone in the industry remembers, is the flop. A loss is a loss.

This ended up on Deadline Hollywood, and led to some interpreting his mention of “making vast improvementsas throwing Donnelly & Oppenheimer under the bus, so to speak. Still others felt he was trying to blame everyone but himself, much like I’d been of Avi Lerner and Joe Drake. However, Sean himself commented at the site, and wanted to assure readers that this was not his intention:

Actually my words “I made vast improvements on the draft that came before me” weren’t very classy because it does sound like I’m throwing the previous writers under the bus, and I need to publicly apologize to Thomas Dean Donnelly, Joshua Oppenheimer, and Andrew Lobel. All I can say is that I didn’t mean it that way and I should have chosen my words more carefully.

What I meant to say that I was proud of the work I did solving problems that that had emerged in the development process, over many years and dozens of drafts. To suggest that I did better work than the writers before me would be both un-classy and flat out incorrect.

Many people have read Thomas Dean Donnelly and Joshua Oppenheimer’s early drafts of Conan when it showed up on the internet, and a great, great number of them think theirs was the best draft of any, including the shooting script. Andrew Lobel’s draft was filled with great humor, which some critics thought the movie lacked.

I didn’t write this to point fingers. As the last writer on the project, the criticism of the story, dialogue, and characterization should fall primarily on me… not my peers, not producers, not studio executives, not the director.

The offending line has been taken from the Quora page, but I’m going to address it all the same.


Given that I’ve been following this project for two years, and that I’ve read nearly every iteration of the script, I feel I’m fairly qualified to speak upon the evolution of the film’s story over the past two years.

From this point, I can say that, yes, Sean Hood did improve upon the earlier scripts by a substantial margin, and even though not nearly enough of the script made it to the screen, he did make a clear improvement over the previous drafts, from my point of view. I may have been incredibly harsh on the film, but compared to what could have been if Hood wasn’t brought on board to filter out the dross, it could’ve been worse. I’m talking Uwe Boll-level, and it truly isn’t quite at that echelon. For all my disdain for the film’s direction, editing, story and acting, I stand by my praise of the digital sets, the locations, and Jason Momoa. If this film was anything like the earlier drafts, I don’t think I would be able to do that.

I’m also going to take this opportunity to offer my sincere apologies to Thomas Dean Donnelly and Joshua Oppenheimer. I read their scripts and hated them back in 2009, and still do, but I blamed them personally for the decisions that were made. I accused them of having no understanding of Howard’s character, writing or depth, and felt that all the problems of the project came down to them. After all, it was in their draft that we saw the Cimmerians wiped out by their own dogs turning against them, Corin’s ghost haunting the tormented Conan, and Khalar Singh using the Ceti Eels to get information. Yet as I started to learn more about the production process, I started to understand just how many factors were involved in making this story, how many different cooks were tossing their seasons in the broth, budgetary and logistical concerns overriding creative and logical ones. In effect, I came to the conclusion that Donnelly & Oppenheimer were as hamstrung as Sean Hood was: they were given the locations, props and settings available courtesy of Nu Boyana, given tons of ideas from Nispel (and no doubt also Rattner when he was still in talks) and the producers, and told to write a story from there. Not exactly the best way to write a great story.

However, it’s one thing to just say a script is better or worse than the end result, and another to explain why it is so. Thus, I’m going to get started on a series of posts where I discuss the evolution of the Conan screenplay: from the early days where Khalar Zym was Khalar Singh, Marique was Farique, Ukafa had gold teeth and Alina was still in the story, to the saga of the wounded elephant and Stygian Siege Beetles, on to the shooting script with the villains’ internal scheming and Conan actually showing some vulnerability. Hopefully then you will understand why as bad as I found the film, it’s still, by far, the one I’m happiest to see in the end product – and that even if the scripts I relate do sound better to you, you’ll understand why I came to that conclusion.

EDIT: Some have mentioned concern that this may become be another 20,000 word monster like my critique of the film. Believe me, spending anything more than the bare minimum on the Conan film is the furthest thing from my mind at this point! This will be nothing more than bullet points arranged into a few synopses. I’d be surprised if the word count for each script went into four figures. All my energy of late has been going back into all the projects I neglected: the book, the other blog, and other things not directly related to the film. So don’t worry, I won’t be subjecting you to another dissertation!