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Carrie Fisher’s Remarkable Legacy As A Script Doctor

Carrie Fisher has had a long career in Hollywood, spanning from her breakout role as Princess Leia in “Star Wars: A New Hope” in 1977, to various guest spots and voice over roles on “30 Rock”, “Family Guy”, and the new series “Catastrophe”. In addition to her many acting roles, Fisher is also an accomplished screenwriter, specifically earning her stripes in Hollywood as a script doctor.

For those unfamiliar with the term, a script doctor is someone called in to make changes to a script. Typically a script goes through a few writers, but sometimes a writer is called in to “punch up” jokes, dialogue, characters, or other story elements. Script doctors are often the unsung heroes of the screenwriting business, as they seldom get credit for their contribution to the project. Other famous script doctors include Joss Whedon, Aaron Sorkin, Patton Oswalt, Tom Stoppard, and Quentin Tarantino.

News of Fisher’s career as a former script doctor has been making the rounds lately, with The Mary Sue sharing the story via a Mary Sue history lesson:

Comic Book Resources (a site I also contribute to) ran a lengthy article about how Fisher got her start in script doctoring. Apparently her earliest experience in writing came from changing some her own of dialogue in the first “Star Wars” films. Then she adapted her autobiography, “Post Cards from the Edge”, which starred Meryl Streep and Shirley MacLaine. Her “Postcards” script was so praised she was immediately hired by Steven Spielberg, who brought her on to write dialogue for the Peter Pan inspired film “Hook”.

Her success in polishing “Hook” led to her getting hired for a string of films including “The River Wild,” “The Wedding Singer,” “Outbreak,” “Sister Act,” “Lethal Weapon 3,” and more. Fisher was even brought in as a script doctor for the “Star Wars” prequels.

In an interview with Newsweek, Fisher said that she finally got out of the script doctoring business when the model changed:

I haven’t done it for a few years. I did it for many years, and then younger people came to do it and I started to do new things. It was a long, very lucrative episode of my life. But it’s complicated to do that. Now it’s all changed, actually. Now in order to get a rewrite job, you have to submit your notes for your ideas on how to fix the script. So they can get all the notes from all the different writers, keep the notes and not hire you. That’s free work and that’s what I always call life-wasting events.

Fisher’s current project includes promoting the new Star Wars films, mainly “The Force Awakens,” in which she is back to reprise her role as Princess Leia, almost 40 years after the first film was released. Whether she is most remembered for her famous “Star Wars” role or for her contribution to screenwriting, one thing is certain: We owe a great deal to Carrie Fisher and her legacy as an actress and as a writer.

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