Madame Web Screenwriters Are Taking Heat For The Film Flopping — But Should They?

Madame Web Sydney Sweeney

There’s a pretty popular meme getting passed around that seems to have seeped into the fan collective consciousness when it comes to the Madame Web screenwriters. Specifically pointing out that Matt Sazama and Burk Sharpless have written some real stinkers, at least by Rotten Tomatoes estimation. So surely Madame Web flopping is their fault, right?

Actually, it’s far from that simple… Though Hollywood does love to play the blame game. And those outside the film industry, or simply not familiar with how it actually works are quick to hop on memes like this. While we don’t have any inside information on what went wrong behind the scenes of Madame Web, we can explain why throwing tomatoes at Matt Sazama and Burk Sharpless might be a waste of good tomatoes.

As Shakespeare once said, the play’s the thing. Unless, of course, you’re talking about screenplays.

Who is credited as the Madame Web screenwriters?

According to the WGA (Writer’s Guild of America), as of November 16, 2023, here are the writing credits for Madame Web:

  • Screenplay by: Matt Sazama & Burk Sharpless and Claire Parker & S. J. Clarkson
  • Story by: Kerem Sanga and Matt Sazama & Burk Sharpless
  • Source Material: Based on the Marvel Comics
  • Additional Literary Material (not on screen): Chris Bremner

That’s… Pretty confusing, right? But it points to the central idea of what we’re going to get to here, that when it comes to a studio movie like Madame Web, it’s never as simple as the words written on the page ending up on the screen.

So who wrote Madame Web?

Madame Web Post Credit Scene

Here’s what we know of the continuity of the writing of the movie, based on what was revealed to the trades (Variety, The Hollywood Reporter, Deadline).

On February 3, 2022, it was officially announced that Dakota Johnson was joining Madame Web. In the article, it was revealed that Kerem Sanga had written a draft of the movie. Sanga had previously written and directed movies like Trigger Finger, The Young Kieslowski, First Girl I Loved, and The Violent Heart. It’s not too much of a stretch to think Sanga was looking to write and direct. But in fact, as early as 2019, the script was passed to Sazama and Sharpless.

This is completely normal for movies, by the way. Someone will write a first draft and either the studio brass/director/star is thinking of a different direction and brings someone else on, or the original writer will get busy and a new writer will enter the project.

Additionally, at this point, the duo had already written Morbius, which was clearly set up to be the true beginning of Sony’s Spider-Man-adjacent universe, along with Venom and the long-in-the-works Kraven the Hunter. That didn’t really pan out, but back in 2019 having the same guys write both movies would have made a lot of sense.

Regardless, this explains the “story by” credit. Sanga wrote the first draft, and Sazama and Sharpless wrote the second draft (there may have been more drafts, but I’m simplifying here).

What about that “Screenplay By” credit?

So how about “screenplay by”? That credit in this case, since it’s material adapted from Marvel Comics, is granted if the writer(s) work is at least 33% of the finished screenplay. So whatever ended up in the script as of November 16, 2023 included — as determined by the WGA — at least 33% of what Sazam and Sharpless wrote.

Then there’s the credit for Claire Parker & S. J. Clarkson. Clarkson was brought on to work on a “secret” Spider-Man-related movie around May 20, 2020, both as writer and director. While we don’t know when Parker was brought in, the duo worked together on both the (superior) U.K. version of Life on Mars, as well as Anatomy of a Scandal. So it stands to reason (speculation here) that Clarkson brought Parker on board to work with her on revamping the script from Sazam and Sharpless.

Same as previously, whatever was in that “locked” WGA script accounted for at least 33% of the final product, so Parker and Clarkson got a “screenplay by” credit. You can probably figure out this part, but that also means they pretty significantly revamped whatever Sazama and Sharpless wrote, the same as when they took over from Sanga.

…And that Additional Literary Material credit? What’s the deal with that?

tahar rahim madame web

Additional Literary Material (not on screen) is a relatively new credit for the WGA. Basically, it’s a way of giving credit on screen if you did work on a movie, but didn’t reach those official thresholds in order to get residuals, etc.

There are a lot of reasons you could get a credit like this, from writing a draft where only some lines are used, to doing punch-ups on set. While we don’t know what Chris Bremner did on Madame Web, the point is he definitely did something, whether it was used or not. So he’s on there, too.

…But Madame Web is all Matt Sazama and Burk Sharpless’s fault, right? Right? I saw that online so it must be true.

Well, first of all, Sazama and Sharpless wrote a script based on another script, which was then rewritten by at least two other writers. That doesn’t even include whatever happened on set, the copious and egregious uses of ADR which were written by someone — that stuff doesn’t just get improved on the day. And then there’s the actual movie itself, which is edited together based on multiple takes and options filmed. In fact, it’s rare to see a big-budget superhero movie like Madame Web where the script matches exactly what you see on screen. There are a ton of changes that go into these things.

Are Sazama and Sharpless easy punching bags? Sure. Their writing credits as a duo include Dracula Untold, The Last Witch Hunter, Gods of Egypt, Power Rangers, Morbius, and Madame Web. None of these have been either critically acclaimed or widely beloved by audiences — though the 2017 Power Rangers definitely has its fans.

As a counterpoint, I’ll mention they were the showrunners and executive producers of Lost in Space on Netflix, which is a thrilling blast of a show. I don’t know these guys. I don’t have a dog in this race. But I’d venture a Netflix show they were actually in charge of is probably a better representation of their talent than multiple work-for-hire movies where they wrote an often intermediary version of a screenplay.

Could they suck as writers? Surely. Could they also be inconsistent, putting it all on the table for Lost in Space while phoning it in for Gods of Egypt? Yeah, for sure. But — and here’s the shocking part — they could also be great screenwriters, or even “just” good screenwriters, who keep ending up in situations where between studios, stars, directors, and other writers, their work isn’t what we see on screen.

Even with all the strides made through the recent WGA strike, writers are still at the bottom of the barrel when it comes to making movies in Hollywood. Unless you were involved in making the movie — and even then — you don’t know who was actually responsible for what.

Point being: watch the movie, enjoy it or not, but don’t go throwing the blame around unless you actually know what you’re talking about. And don’t let online troll accounts write your lines for you.

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2 thoughts on “Madame Web Screenwriters Are Taking Heat For The Film Flopping — But Should They?

  1. Sounds like a lot of bias for these writers- reality is their names are on multiple extremely bad movies back to back- not just regular ok movies, like comically bad to the point where it seemed like there has to be some sort of nepotism or special favor for them to keep getting hired. When there’s thousands of talented writers that are struggling to get work nowadays, this kind of consistently bad work getting funded hundreds of millions is a slap to the face for the fans and the industry as a whole

    1. Well, this isn’t bias on the part of these writers, because like I said: no dog in this race. It’s an explanation of particularly when it comes to writing credits it’s never as simple as “this person delivered a bd script” or not. In this case, they delivered the 2nd version of a script that went through at least one more major overhaul (if not more). Kind of impossible to tell if you weren’t involved in the process.

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