Hollywood's Top Rewrite Man
Although his name will prompt few nods of recognition, Warren Skaaren helped write many of the top grossing movies of the 1980s, including Top Gun, Batman, Beetlejuice and Beverly Hills Cop II. Before his death in 1991, he was Hollywood’s top rewrite man, able to turn rough drafts into box-office gold.
Alison Macor’s Rewrite Man: The Life and Career of Screenwriter Warren Skaaren (University of Texas Press), is a biography that also examines one of the most contentious questions in the movie industry: the apportionment of screenwriting credit. Writers Guild of America rules favor the first writer(s), as if everyone that comes after—and many do because of the star struck, profit-powered politics of Hollywood—is engaged in mere hackwork. In fact, the movies that emerge at the end of rewrite are often significantly different than earlier iterations.
Skaaren was one of many prominent writers whose claim for a share of the credit passed through the seemingly capricious arbitration process administered by the Writers Guild. According to Macor, he was bolder than most. Working with Hollywood as head of the Texas Film Commission, Skaaren apparently felt more like a leader than a follower. He didn’t always get the credit he felt he deserved and was engaged in arbitration disputes even as he began to succumb to bone cancer.