Bleed for This writer/director Ben Younger shares the huge blunder he made in the script


Miles Teller in Bleed for This. Photo courtesy: Verdi Productions

Miles Teller in Bleed for This. Photo courtesy: Verdi Productions

Movie-goers love a real-life comeback story, especially if it’s about a boxer. The American cinema has a rich history of films in the boxing genre, Rocky being the most iconic, and writer/director Ben Younger’s new film, Bleed for This, starring Miles Teller and Katey Sagal, continues the tradition.

Based on the life of Vinnie Pazienza (Teller), a champion boxer who shattered his neck in a near-fatal car accident in 1991, the film highlights the American dream of achieving victory in the face of overwhelming obstacles.

Despite having the well-documented true story as a blueprint for his screenplay, Younger (Boiler Room, Prime), admits he made a substantial structural error in the script. It wasn’t until the producers showed the film at test screenings that he realized where he went wrong.

“I made a huge error in the script-writing process. I put the car crash at the midpoint. In the script it’s page 60 and we shot it like that,” says Younger.

Traditionally, screenplays set up the characters and story in the first act, then around page 30, the protagonist enters a “whole new world,” establishing act II, with the mid-point to follow 30 pages later. But Younger found the real Pazienza family and story so rich and entertaining, he held the crash until the middle of the film. Test audiences responded unfavorably.

Photo courtesy: Verdi Productions

Photo courtesy: Verdi Productions

“We showed it to people with the first half of the movie being all this great stuff about Vinnie gambling, Vinnie with women, more family-life stuff. People loved it until they got to the crash. In retrospect, they said, ‘Why did you waste an hour of our time? As colorful and great as the first hour was – the crash [and Vinnie’s recovery] is what we’re here for. We want to see this.’”

Understandably, Younger panicked since the movie was already shot.

“I thought, ‘Oh shit, I blew it.’ I thought I’d reinvent the wheel and it didn’t work. I ended up having to cut everything out of the first half of the movie to move the crash up to minute 34. It used to happen an hour in. It was a huge error and it killed me in the editing room.”

Luckily, Younger had plenty of post-crash footage in the can, claiming he shot seven to eight pages a day. “I might have cheated on the margins in Final Draft. I made them tighter, so really, I think we shot a 150-page script. There’s so much good stuff that didn’t make it in.”

It’s become a cliché that filmmakers despise test screenings, but for Younger, it was a godsend.

Miles Teller in Bleed for This. Photo courtesy: Verdi Productions

Miles Teller in Bleed for This. Photo courtesy: Verdi Productions

“The test-screening process saved me. If 95 percent of people in a room tell you the same thing, I don’t care how smart you are, or think you are, you should probably make that change.”

The other question Younger had to answer was whether or not to put a title card at the beginning of the film, clarifying that it was based on a true story. Younger resisted adding the card, but again, the test screening saved him.

“I’ve realized that people really do love movies based on true stories, even though these people don’t go to see documentaries. There’s something that grabs their imagination – or lack of imagination. I don’t really understand it. I didn’t want to put ‘Based on a true story’ in front of the film. There’s so much archival footage in the movie, I thought people will just know. Then, Black Mass came out and they tested it with putting, ‘Based on a true story’ and without it.

Younger was shocked by the results.

“The test score for Black Mass jumped up like 12 points with one title card. That was the only difference!”

Needless to say, Younger added a title card to his film making it very clear it is based on a true story. Sometimes, the audience knows best.

Bleed for This opens in theaters Nov. 18.


Shanee Edwards graduated from UCLA Film School with an MFA in Screenwriting and is currently the film critic for She recently won the Next MacGyver television writing competition to create a TV show about a female engineer. Her pilot, Ada and the Machine, is currently in development with America Ferrera's Take Fountain Productions. You can follow her on Twitter: @ShaneeEdwards

6 Replies to "Bleed for This writer/director Ben Younger shares the huge blunder he made in the script"

  • comment-avatar
    Jon_in_LA November 17, 2016 (8:08 am)

    Interesting story. Did Younger obtain financing for the film on his own? If not, I’m surprised the script got through the development process and no one else saw or pointed out the rather obvious structural problem.

    I certainly understand when a writer misses something like that in his own script, but any halfway competent studio reader would’ve easily picked up on the fact the story was “treading water” for the first half!

    Seems more likely Younger “was” told (earlier on), but didn’t care or believe it, until the screenings made it painfully clear. His comments about his “wanting to reinvent the wheel” and the bit about “no matter how smart you are or think you are” I think, put it into proper perspective. Thankfully for him, he had shot a ton of footage and it saved him.

    The lesson here: Even if you’re directing your own script, get feedback from talented readers you trust, and fix any problems before anyone else sees it.

  • comment-avatar
    William Colby November 17, 2016 (8:37 am)

    Great story! This really takes us into the strategic and logistic process of creating the film. They were fortuitous since they had extra footage available. The restructure makes the plot more linear instead of a frame story. As long as it works, as indicated by the test audience’s reception, move forward.

  • comment-avatar
    Nic November 17, 2016 (1:52 pm)

    Okay, but explain this one. In the 154 page shooting script, Titanic hits the iceberg on page 84, which makes Act I more than half (55%) of the script. And it didn’t do too bad at the box office (over $2.2 Billion)

  • comment-avatar
    scottso November 17, 2016 (3:58 pm)

    …should be ‘of interest’…

  • comment-avatar
    BrianE November 17, 2016 (5:20 pm)

    I would surmise that the majority of Titanic filmgoers knew the story and the ending of the ship. Therefore they knew that the ship sank. Not many people have probably heard of the story behind Bleed. I think most people want to see how he overcame his injuries. Maybe the special effects of Titanic to a degree overshadowed an already known story. Just some thoughts I had…

  • comment-avatar
    Paul Clarke November 21, 2016 (7:15 am)

    Mmmmm…. very valuable piece – but interesting regarding Titanic, mentioned by Nic.
    Anyone who knows and appreciates James Cameron’s films would acknowledge that he tends to script/scene flabbiness; the longer Aliens, for example, having a little too much of Ripley’s hospitalisation before she gets back into action… The Abyss – great, but definitely flabby… some lengthy/excessive desert scenes in Terminator 2… the set-up scenes in Avatar…. We put up with them, because, that aside, Cameron is a great dynamic film-maker…. and yes, Titanic was/is a huge real-life drama that has captured the world’s imaginations since the real ship went down…. and, yes, Titanic’s slow movie build to the sinking is somewhat extended… But who’s going to have the courage to challenge Big Box Office Bucks Cameron? He tends to go his own way and win regardless! And we all know James Goldman’s motto, don’t we…?? ” Nobody knows…” , etc., etc….
    Nevertheless….this personal piece seems very good advice for all those who aren’t James Cameron…!

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