Seth Grahame-Smith is a super nice guy. He's 100% the kind of guy you would want to hang out with. I've met him, and he was smart and funny and very charming and, most of all, perfectly self-effacing. Not so much that it feels like schtick or self-defense, but just enough that you know he gets the essential silliness of the stuff for which he's best known. I honestly liked him.
Which is why I've been bummed that I haven't liked any of his work. He had two major movies released in 2012 - Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter and Dark Shadows - and both were flops. I think they're both interesting failures, but they're failures all the same. And I mean that on an artistic level - they're not very good movies.
They were both pretty high profile bombs, which means Grahame-Smith's not exactly the most sought-after guy in Hollywood. But he's well-liked, especially at Fox. In those situations guys like that will often find themselves polishing scripts. Guys who do that - sometimes called script doctors - come in and make some changes in dialogue, some tweaks in structure, enhance some scenes, but don't do a rewrite from page one. Script doctors are almost never credited; Robert Towne, one of the great American screenwriters, did tons and tons of doctoring. Patton Oswalt has been a modern go-to guy for joke punch-ups in scripts.
As a rule of thumb you never hear about these guys. Sometimes they go to arbitration if they think they've changed enough of the script to warrant it, but most just cash their checks and go home happy. Robert Towne did some work on The Godfather, and when Francis Ford Coppola asked if he wanted credit, Towne said, 'No, just thank me if you win the Oscar.'
That's all lead up for the next bit: The Hollywood Reporter has broken the news that Seth Grahame-Smith has done a polish on Fantastic Four, the reboot of the superhero franchise to be directed by Chronicle's Josh Trank. He's working from a script by Jeremy Slater*. I've heard that there are a couple of specific things that he was brought in to 'doctor.'
That's life in Hollywood. Unless you're Tony Kushner, your script is probably getting punched up a time or two along the way. It's quite possible that it'll get punched up twice and then brought back to you again for a final smooth-over. So the good news for those hoping this might be a good reboot of Fantastic Four - it still could be! The presence of Grahame-Smith doesn't automatically mean the film is going the way of Dark Shadows. There's no telling what will happen to the script next, but Grahame-Smith didn't get hired to rip out the guts and start over.
What gets under my skin is that script doctors usually work invisibly. This trade break was clearly the work of Grahame-Smith's agents, trying to let Hollywood know their client wasn't totally toxic. That's gross to me, and it's disrespectful to the previous writer. What's more, it makes every nerd in the world go back to getting worried about Fox fucking up Fantastic Four.
So mazel tov to Seth Grahame-Smith for getting the work, and for whatever other job he's in the running for that made his reps want to place this story in The Hollywood Reporter. But at the same time, uncool. And also at the same time: let's not panic about Fantastic Four just yet. There's still plenty of time for that.
* Full disclosure: Slater is a friend. He was in no way consulted for this article.