It goes without saying that screenwriter William Goldman is a legend. His scripts are practically textbooks for any aspiring writer and his filmography boasts stuff like “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,” “Marathon Man,” “The Princess Bride,” “Misery” and countless others. But his crowning achievement is arguably “All the President’s Men,” the thrilling account of Woodward and Bernstein‘s investigation into the Watergate break in. The film earned him his second Oscar, a Writer’s Guild Award and other honors, but it also became one of the benchmark films about the intersection of journalism and politics. However, according to Robert Redford‘s forthcoming biography excerpted by Vanity Fair, the actor claims that most of Goldman’s script was tossed out and that he and director Alan J. Pakula largely rewrote the film. Huh?
“Redford booked rooms at the Madison Hotel, across from the Post offices, for one month, and he and Pakula repaired there to re-draft the screenplay. About one-tenth of Goldman’s draft remained in the end,” the biography says with Woodward claiming, “Bill gave the start point and the ending and those never changed.” However, a blistering, brave and fascinating piece by Richard Stayton in the latest issue of Written By gets to the bottom of Redford’s claims, revealing the actor’s recollections to be…severely misinformed at best.
I read Stayton’s article in Written By and for screenwriting fans, it’s a fascinating piece of investigative journalism involving source criticism, something I studied extensively at Yale. In comparing the many script drafts available of All the President’s Men, Slayton concludes:
William Goldman was the sole author of All the President’s Men. Period. End of paper trail.
Having been involved in numerous WGA credit arbitrations, I can safely say there is a tendency of later writers to think what they are writing / have written is new when in fact it is heavily shaped and influenced by the original script. And the original writers always deserve credit for any narrative elements they decide to include in their drafts. Those are critical choices, oftentimes overlooked by subsequent writers who may change every word of dialogue, but not alter the substance of the story in terms of structure, scenes, sequences, characterizations and themes.
For more of the IndieWire article, go here.
For more of the Written By article, go here.