The deliberate tricks in the Good Will Hunting screenplay

Good Will Hunting Robin Williams and Matt Damon
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Ben Affleck and Matt Damon were determined to get Good Will Hunting made – and so wrote two specific elements into their screenplay.

Around the time of the release of Good Will Hunting, a Hollywood legend started to bubble up. The film had been penned by a pair of then-unknowns, Ben Affleck and Matt Damon. They wrote the film with the view of one of them starring in it, opting for Damon to take the lead. The plan was to later pursue a project that Affleck could star in. That didn’t happen, but Good Will Hunting certainly did.

The movie was a hugely profitable hit, that would win Affleck and Damon an Oscar, as well as one for Robin Williams, as Best Supporting Actor. As its momentum built, the legend was that the screenplay had actually been rewritten by the late, great William Goldman.

Script Changes, and Tricks

Goldman wrote about this in his book, What Lie Did I Tell. In it, he revealed that there was originally a subplot in the film about Damon’s character being asked by the US government to do subversive work on its behalf. It threw in some action moments. Director Rob Reiner was circling the project at the time, and he advised the pair to lose that bit of the story and stick with the characters.

William Goldman read the draft, did a day with Damon and Affleck, and told them Reiner was right. That was his entire contribution to the film.

The film ultimately ended up at Miramax, and it secured the project thanks to a little trick Damon and Affleck wove onto page 60 of their screenplay. There, they penned a completely out of context sex scene, between two male leads of the film.

When it got to the point where lots of Hollywood studios were interested in the film, it was only a call from Miramax that queried that scene. It turned out that they’d put that scene in simply to test who would actually read the script, and who was giving them a blind offer. Miramax, being the only ones to bring it up, got the film. The script sold for $600,000.

Creating an Attractive Role

But there was something else Damon and Affleck had worked into their screenplay. They were keen to make sure that the story sold, and took influence from Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs.

The pair were savvy enough to know that having a movie star involved would greatly enhance the chances of the movie getting made. In the case of Reservoir Dogs, they were keenly aware of stories whereby Tarantino’s debut feature got its budget together off the back of Keitel saying yes. Thus, they wrote the role of Sean in the movie, with an eye if being attractive for a movie star with some stature.

As Damon would tell The Bill Simmons Podcast a year or two back, “we wrote specifically a role, it could have gone anywhere from a Harvey Keitel or a De Niro or an Ed Harris or a massive star like Robin or Tom Hanks…. it could have gone Meryl Streep”.

“It was made to be as flexible as possible because we were just trying to get it made, that was a bit of calculation I guess”.

Robin Williams in Good Will Hunting

The calculation absolutely worked. The script got to the late, great Robin Williams – apparently via Francis Ford Coppola, with whom he’d been making Jack – and once he expressed his interest and jumped aboard, everything else fell into place. The greenlight was given, and Williams agreed a $5m salary along with a sliding scale of revenue should the film go above $60m at the box office.

The script was pretty much adhered too as well, albeit with some wiggle room for improvisation. It was Williams who added the final line in the movie too, that I won’t be spoiling here.

Everything gelled. Affleck and Damon’s movie careers were launched in earnest. Robin Williams, meanwhile, had not only got the movie over the line, but he also delivered an excellent performance, and one of his most-loved. Furthermore, it would be the movie that finally won him an Academy Award, after notching up nominations previously.

Oh, and his wallet didn’t do too badly out of it either.

The film would go on to gross over $200m worldwide, and as Damon noted, the producers thought they’d initially managed to get Robin Williams on the cheap, but the final bill was anything but. Worth every cent, though…

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