As the film “Les Miserables” continues to do well at the box office, I cannot help but look at its success and wonder ‘what if.’ You see, I was actually asked by Universal Pictures to adapt the musical into a screenplay a couple of years ago. Unfortunately, studio executives were anything but pleased with my work. Below are their notes on my script:
P.1 – You state that convict Jean Valjean is released on parole after serving 19 years in prison for ‘the French version of jaywalking.’ It’s hard to believe that anyone would be sentenced to any time in prison for jaywalking, let alone 19 years, unless ‘the French version’ involves something truly awful. Also, this is Revolution era France, jaywalking wasn’t likely even a crime so let’s lose this, as well as the part where Jean Valjean thanks the guard and then “walks away, carelessly into traffic. The guard just shakes his head.”
p. 9 – Jean Valjean steals the Bishop’s silver, Valjean is arrested by authorities, but the Bishop tells them the silver was a gift so Valjean is set free. Valjean, ashamed, vows to start a new life under a new identity, yet you have him doing so by stealing the Bishop’s identity. How is this starting a new life?
p. 21 – Valjean interrupts Fantine here, mid-conversation and says “crap, shouldn’t we have been singing this entire time?” Clearly, you forgot this was supposed to be a musical, but why subject the audience to your mistake? Why not just go back to the beginning and work in the songs?
p. 22 – What?! Fantine’s response is really ‘no, I don’t think we have to sing.’ This is one of the most famous musicals in the world! You’re really going to leave out all of the songs?!
p. 27 – After Fantine is fired from the factory, she has no other option and turns to a life of prostitution. After she is arrested, Valjean asks the police chief if they can work out a deal to avoid jail, the chief tells him he has no other option and then the chief turns to a life of prostitution. Why would people automatically become prostitutes simply because they don’t have options?
p. 31 – Where did the talking parrot come from? For the next five scenes you have the parrot inexplicably sitting on Jean Valjean’s shoulder, repeating everything he says. The audience would likely find this extremely annoying, not to mention the fact that this adds at least another 15 minutes of unnecessary time to the film.
p. 52 – Now the parrot is inexplicably gone. It’s like you forgot you forgot about him.
p. 53 – Valjean promises a dying Fantine that he will look after her daughter, Cosette. Fantine dies, a tear falls down Valjean’s cheek, then he looks over his shoulder and her daughter is nowhere to be found. She’s run off. Valjean shakes his head and says ‘toddlers.’ Then you ask that ‘a laugh track roll.’ This would likely jar the audience in that we have had no laugh track for the first hour of this film.
p. 62 – The line of dialogue here where the “King of France’ asks his advisors ‘hey if World War Two ever happens, want to surrender?” doesn’t make sense and seems like an unnecessary dig that won’t sit well overseas.
p. 75 – the French Revolution did NOT start due to ‘an argument over whether the Eiffel Tower should be a triangle or a rectangle.’
p. 99 – You have Javert committing suicide by ‘waiting 52 years.’ That’s not suicide. That’s natural death.
p. 102 – What do you mean ‘To Be Continued’???? We did NOT want this to become a sequel. Also, there is literally like one more thing that is supposed to happen before this film ends. How do you possibly think we could build an entire second film around it??
Thank you for your adaptation, but we’re going to go with a different writer.