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9 Films Punched up by Famous Screenwriters

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Rotten Tomatoes

Whether a script needs to be completely re-written or simply have its dialogue punched up, Hollywood isn't wanting for scribes who can get the job done—including a few well-known names who have worked on projects you might not expect. Here are nine famous screenwriters who helped write other people's movies. 

1. She’s All That (1999) — M. Night Shyamalan

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Before Hollywood writer/director M. Night Shyamalan dazzled audiences with his films The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable, the Indian-American filmmaker had a career as a screenwriter, ghostwriting scripts that needed additional work. The most notable (and inexplicable) screenplay Shyamalan had a hand in crafting was the teen movie She’s All That in 1999. 

While promoting his film After Earth, Shyamalan told Movies.com that he co-wrote the Robert Iscove-directed film. Although Shyamalan had already revealed his contribution to She’s All That during the press tour of the film Signs in 2002, the teen movie’s credited screenwriter, R. Lee Fleming, Jr., took umbrage with Shyamalan’s claims. The reality is Fleming wrote the original screenplay, but Shyamalan was hired to re-write and punch up the story and dialogue. Shyamalan didn’t receive a film credit for his rewrites, but Iscove mentioned his work on the film’s DVD commentary.

2. It’s Pat: The Movie (1994) — Quentin Tarantino

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Director Quentin Tarantino and Saturday Night Live alumna Julia Sweeney are good friends. They met through Harvey Keitel when he was hosting SNL in 1993, and the pair got along so well that Tarantino wrote a part specifically for Sweeney in his 1994 film Pulp Fiction.

Tarantino was also a big fan of Sweeney’s recurring SNL character Pat, an androgynous person who searches for love in Los Angeles. Tarantino co-wrote the film adaptation's script, but refused credit and considered helping with the script as a favor to his friend.

3. Kung-Fu Panda 2 (2011) — Charlie Kaufman

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Academy Award-winning screenwriter Charlie Kaufman is mostly known for writing weighty films featuring introverted, self-doubting characters. So when news broke that he was hired to consult during the early development on the screenplay for Kung-Fu Panda 2, DreamWorks’ decision almost made sense considering the fragile emotional state of the animated film’s protagonist Po (voiced by Jack Black). Kaufman only worked on the film for two weeks and merely polished the screenplay.

4. The Rock (1996) — Aaron Sorkin

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During the mid-'90s, after the success of A Few Good Men, Academy Award-winning screenwriter Aaron Sorkin worked as a script doctor in Hollywood. He was one of many screenwriters hired to re-write and polish Michael Bay’s sophomore effort The Rock in 1996. While it’s unclear which parts of the action film Sorkin was personally responsible for, there are a number of scenes involving the White House that are reminiscent of his TV series The West Wing.

Screenwriters Jonathan Hensleigh and Quentin Tarantino were also brought on to re-write The Rock, while British screenwriters and long-time Connery collaborators Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais were hired to punch up Sean Connery’s dialogue.

5. Speed (1994) — Joss Whedon

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Before director Joss Whedon delivered the third highest-grossing movie of all time with Marvel’s The Avengers in 2012, the geek icon spent a majority of the '90s as a screenwriter and script doctor. While Whedon worked on scripts for X-Men, Waterworld, and Twister, the 1994 runaway action film Speed was Whedon’s most notable uncredited work.

Although screenwriter Graham Yost received the only writing credit on the film, Whedon wrote almost all of its dialogue and contributed some of its characters. Ultimately, Whedon’s writing credit was arbitrated off the final version of the film, but the 49-year-old filmmaker owns one of the few movie posters of Speed that includes his name. 

6. Fun with Dick and Jane (2005) — Joel & Ethan Coen

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The film remake of the 1977 film Fun with Dick and Jane had been floating around Hollywood for years until screenwriters Judd Apatow and Nicolas Stoller and director Dean Parisot brought the Jim Carrey and Téa Leoni starring vehicle to the big screen in 2005. But in 2003, director Barry Sonnenfeld was attached to the film along with The Mask co-star Cameron Diaz, who was slated to play the housewife-turned-criminal with Jim Carrey as her on-screen husband. The screenplay also received an uncredited re-write from Joel & Ethan Coen, who had a knack for writing comedies featuring criminals with The Ladykillers, O Brother, Where Art Thou?, and Raising Arizona

7. Lethal Weapon 3 (1992) — Carrie Fisher

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While Carrie Fisher is best known for playing Princess Leia in Star Wars, she branched off into professional writing after the success of the series' original trilogy. She showed off her razor-sharp wit with the novel and film Postcards From the Edge and the soul-piercing memoir Wishful Drinking. Fisher also worked as a script doctor on the films Hook, Sister Act, and The Wedding Singer, among others.

Her unexpected work on Lethal Weapon 3 was her most notable job as a ghostwriter in Hollywood. The strange pairing received mostly mixed reviews, but garnered hefty box office receipts with $321.7 million worldwide in 1992.

8. Coyote Ugly (2000) — Kevin Smith

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In the late '90s, writer/director Kevin Smith was the toast of Hollywood, known as a writer producing sharp and snappy dialogue. After the success of Dogma in 1999, he was hired as a script doctor on the film Coyote Ugly. While Smith admitted that there were eight writers brought on to revamp the screenplay, only one, Gina Wendkos, received credit.

Smith also mentioned that he’s usually brought on to punch up a screenplay’s dialogue, but on Coyote Ugly, a number of Smith’s contributions involved scenarios and set pieces.

9. Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith (2005) — Tom Stoppard

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Thanks to Rosencrantz & Guildenstern are Dead and Shakespeare in Love, British playwright-turned-screenwriter Tom Stoppard is mostly known for putting a post-modern spin on the work of William Shakespeare—but he's also worked as an uncredited script doctor, notably on Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, for which he wrote a majority of the dialogue. While the dialogue and wordplay in the third movie in the Indiana Jones film series is punchy and clever, Stoppard’s unexpected re-write and polish on Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith is mind-boggling. Sith is flat and wooden, until its third act encounter between Obi-Wan Kenobi and Darth Vader (formerly Anakin Skywalker) in an epic lightsaber battle. Stoppard’s characteristic pathos can be felt as a struggle between good and evil unfolding on the big screen.

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5 Killer Pieces of Rock History Up for Auction Now (Including Prince’s Guitar)
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Karrah Kobus/NPG Records via Getty Images

If you’ve ever wanted to own a piece of rock history, now is the time. A whole host of cool music memorabilia from the 20th century is going up for sale through Julien’s Auctions in Los Angeles as part of its “Icons and Idols” sale. If you’ve got the dough, you can nab everything from leather chairs from Graceland to a shirt worn by Jimi Hendrix to never-before-available prints that Joni Mitchell signed and gave to her friends. Here are five highlights from the auction:

1. ELVIS’S NUNCHUCKS

Elvis’s nunchucks
Courtesy Julien's Auctions

Elvis’s karate skills sometimes get a bad rap, but the King earned his first black belt in 1960, and went on to become a seventh-degree black belt before opening his own studio in 1974. You can cherish a piece of his martial arts legacy in the form of his nunchaku. One was broken during his training, but the other is still in ready-to-use shape. (But please don’t use it.) It seems Elvis wasn’t super convinced of his own karate skills, though, because he also supposedly carried a police baton (which you can also buy) for his personal protection.

2. PRINCE’S GUITAR

A blue guitar used by Prince
Courtesy Julien's Auctions

Prince’s blue Cloud guitar, estimated to be worth between $60,000 and $80,000, appeared on stage with him in the late ’80s and early ’90s. The custom guitar was made just for Prince by Cloud’s luthier (as in, guitar maker) Andy Beech. The artist first sold it at a 1994 auction to benefit relief efforts for the L.A. area’s devastating Northridge earthquake.

3. KURT COBAIN’S CHEERLEADER OUTFIT

Kurt Cobain wearing a cheerleader outfit in the pages of Rolling Stone
Courtesy Julien's Auctions

The Nirvana frontman wore the bright-yellow cheerleader’s uniform from his alma mater, J.M. Weatherwax High School in Aberdeen, Washington, during a photo shoot for a January 1994 issue of Rolling Stone, released just a few months before his death.

4. MICHAEL JACKSON’S WHITE GLOVE

A white glove covered in rhinestones
Courtesy Julien's Auctions

A young Michael Jackson wore this bejeweled right-hand glove on his 1981 Triumph Tour, one of the first of many single gloves he would don over the course of his career. Unlike later incarnations, this one isn’t a custom-made glove with hand-sewn crystals, but a regular glove topped with a layer of rhinestones cut into the shape of the glove and sewn on top.

The auction house is also selling a pair of jeans the star wore to his 2003 birthday party, as well as other clothes he wore for music videos and performances.

5. WOOD FROM ABBEY ROAD STUDIOS

A piece of wood in a frame under a picture of The Beatles
Courtesy Julien's Auctions

You can’t walk the halls of Abbey Road Studios, but you can pretend. First sold in 1986, the piece of wood in this frame reportedly came from Studio Two, a recording space that hosted not only The Beatles (pictured), but Pink Floyd, Stevie Wonder, Eric Clapton, and others.

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5 Dubious Historical Antidotes for Poison (and What Actually Works)
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An artificial bezoar stone from Goa, India
Wellcome Images // CC BY 4.0

When it comes to their health, humans will believe just about anything. In this extract from the new book Quackery: A Brief History of the Worst Ways to Cure Everything, authors Lydia Kang, MD, and Nate Pedersen discuss some of the more questionable ways people once tried to protect themselves from poison—whether or not the methods actually worked.

Poison is everywhere. Naturally or unnaturally, it can be in the soil (arsenic), in the air (carbon monoxide), in your drinks (lead), and in your food (cyanide). With so much danger around, it’s no wonder humans have obsessed over finding a universal antidote—the one thing that could save us from all toxins. Imagine you’re a medieval prince about to inherit the throne. Chances are, there are a lot of power-hungry wannabes waiting in the wings. A little arsenic or hemlock might be your best friend or your worst nightmare. Just in case, best have an antidote on standby.

For millennia, a certain amount of magical thinking was employed when arming oneself against poison because science was inconveniently slow to catch up. So grab your handy unicorn horn and a bezoar, and let’s take a look.

1. BEZOARS

Bezoars have been used for centuries as antidotes to poisons. A bezoar is solid mass of undigested food, plant fibers, or hair found in the digestive tracts of animals, including deer, porcupines, fish, and, yes, humans. Anyone with a cat is familiar with the less-cool feline version: hairballs.

Bezoars and other stone-like items created by animals often had a good story behind them. Legends told of deer that would eat poisonous snakes and become immune or cry tears that solidified into poison-curing stones. First-century Arabic author al-Birumi claimed bezoars could protect against one poison called “the snot of Satan,” which we hope never ever to encounter. By the 12th century, when Europe became plagued with, uh, plagues, the bezoar crept into pharmacopeias as panaceas and alexipharmics (poison antidotes).

Bezoars were a seductive notion for the rich and royal, who were at risk of assassination. The stones were often enclosed in bejeweled gold for display or worn as amulets. Indian bezoars, in particular, were sought for life-threatening fevers, poisonous bites, bleeding, jaundice, and melancholy. Consumers were also known to scrape off a bit of bezoar and add it to their drinks for heart health and kidney stones. These tonics were sometimes adulterated with toxic mercury or antimony, which caused vomiting and diarrhea, making buyers think they were effective.

But were they? One team of researchers soaked bezoars in an arsenic-laced solution and found that the stones absorbed the arsenic or that the poison was neutralized. Hard to say if it worked well enough to cure a fatal dose. Ambroise Paré, one of the preeminent French physicians of the 16th century, was also a doubter. The king’s cook, who’d been stealing silver, was given the choice between hanging or being Paré’s lab rat. He chose the latter. After the cook consumed poison, Paré looked on as a bezoar was stuffed down his throat. Six hours later, he died wracked with pain. Perhaps he chose ... poorly?

2. MITHRIDATES

This antidote was named after Mithridates VI, the king of Pontus and Armenia Minor. Born in 134 BCE, he pretty much invented the phrase “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” by consuming poisons daily to prevent his own assassination. His royal home was stocked with stingray spines, toxic mushrooms, scorpions, mineral poisons, and a poisonous plant–filled garden. He was so unpoisonable that after his son took over his kingdom and he faced execution, he couldn’t even commit suicide by poison! He begged a guard to stab him to death. (It worked.)

Though the king’s actual recipe for the antidote is nowhere to be found, versions began to circulate after his death, and they became synonymous with the king himself. Compounds with lengthy and expensive ingredient lists prevailed, including iris, cardamom, anise, frankincense, myrrh, ginger, and saffron. In the first century, Pliny the Elder snarkily remarked, “The Mithridatic antidote is composed of fifty-four ingredients ... Which of the gods, in the name of Truth, fixed these absurd proportions? ... It is plainly a showy parade of the art, and a colossal boast of science.”

Showy or not, people would take the extensive mix of herbs, pound them together with honey, and eat a nut-sized portion to cure themselves. At least it endowed them with expensive-smelling breath.

3. HORNS

An apothecary shop sign in the shape of a unicorn
An ivory pharmacy sign in the shape of a unicorn's head
Wellcome Images // CC BY 4.0

Unicorn horns have been considered a part of antidote legend since the mythical beast galloped into literature around 300 BCE. For centuries afterward, real earthly beasts would sacrifice their lives and their horns to slake our thirst for the miraculous, nonexistent animal, including rhinoceroses, narwhals, and oryx. Even fossilized ammonites were used. It was believed that drinking vessels made of such horns might neutralize poisons, and wounds could be cured by holding them close by. In the 16th century, Mary, Queen of Scots reportedly used a unicorn horn to protect her from poisoning. Too bad it didn’t prevent her beheading.

4. PEARLS

Pearls have long been thought to be powerful antidotes. A beautiful, rare gem created by the homely oyster, a pearl is born out of annoyance (the mollusk secretes iridescent nacre to cover an irritant, like a parasite or grain of sand). Pretty as they are, they’re about as useful as the chalky antacid tablets on your bedside table; both are chiefly made of calcium carbonate. Good for a stomachache after some spicy food, but not exactly miraculous.

Pearl powder has been used in traditional Chinese medicine to treat a variety of diseases, and Ayurvedic physicians used it as an antidote in the Middle Ages. It was also reported to make people immortal. An old Taoist recipe recommended taking a long pearl and soaking it in malt, “serpent’s gall,” honeycomb, and pumice stone. When softened, it would be pulled like taffy and cut into bite-sized pieces to eat, and voilà! You would suddenly no longer need food to stay alive. Cleopatra famously drank down a large and costly pearl dissolved in wine vinegar, though in that case she wasn’t avoiding poison. She didn’t want to lose a bet with Antony—which might have fatally injured her pride.

5. THERIAC

Albarello vase for theriac, Italy, 1641
A vase for theriac, Italy, 1641
Wellcome Images // CC BY 4.0

Theriac was an herbal concoction created in the first century by Emperor Nero’s physician, Andromachus, who was reported to have Mithridates’s secret notes. It was a mashed formula of about 70 ingredients, including cinnamon, opium, rose, iris, lavender, and acacia in a honey base. In the 12th century, theriac made in Venice was branded as particularly special, and Venetian treacle (derived from a Middle English translation of theriac) became a hot commodity. Its public, dramatic production often attracted curious crowds.

By the 18th century, cheaper golden syrup was substituted for honey. As treacle began to lose its luster as a treatment, its definition as an herbal remedy disappeared from common vernacular. But the sweet syrup remained. Which is why when we think of treacle, we think of treacle tarts, not a fancy means of saving ourselves from a deathly poisoning.

BONUS: WHAT ACTUALLY WORKS

Thankfully, science has brought us a wide range of antidotes for many items we shouldn’t be exposed to in dangerous quantities, if at all. N-acetylcysteine, fondly referred to as NAC by doctors, saves us from acetaminophen overdoses. Ethanol can treat antifreeze poisoning. Atropine, ironically one of the main components of plants in the toxic nightshade family (such as mandrake), can treat poisoning from some dangerous fertilizers and chemical nerve agents used as weapons. For years, poisonings were treated with emetics, though it turns out that plain old carbon—in the form of activated charcoal—can adsorb poisons (the poisons stick to the surface of the charcoal) in the digestive system before they’re dissolved and digested by the body.

As long as the natural world and its humans keep making things to kill us off, we’ll keep developing methods to not die untimely deaths.

We’ll just leave the fancy hairballs off the list.

The cover of the book Quackery: A Brief History of the Worst Ways to Cure Everything
Workman Publishing

Excerpt from Quackery: A Brief History of the Worst Ways to Cure Everything by Lydia Kang, MD and Nate Pedersen/Workman Publishing. Used with permission.

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