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Life Arts

How My First Movie Got Made

By       Message John Blumenthal     Permalink
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Like everything else in Hollywood, my first movie - "Short Time" --- was made because of a combination of luck, timing, and some shameless groveling on my part. But mostly luck. For once in my life, the cookie fortune was right and the stars were aligned in my favor, not that I believe in any of that crap.

Unfortunately, the stars shifted. The astrology changed. Not in a good way.

It helped that "Short Time" could be made for peanuts --- $35,000,000 - and that people predicted that it had a fair chance of attracting a star or a name director. These are the same people who thought "Death to Smoochy" would get an Oscar.

It doesn't often happen that way on a first sale. Many - perhaps most --- screenwriters spend years developing ideas and rewriting other peoples' scripts that never get made. Most of them earn barrels of lucre doing this, but success eludes them, unless they have a close relative in the business. Lacking that, they are eventually perceived as bad bets and the money train grinds to a halt.

That year - 1988 - there was a dearth of fresh material because the writers' strike had cut off the flow of scripts - which was the whole point of the strike. (Duh.). Writers were allowed to write screenplays, but they were forbidden from taking meeting or pitching stories or making development deals, although you were allowed to scrawl Hitler mustaches on images of your agent.

Old TV shows were recycled and re-aired, but movie producers were stuck and had to reconsider the garbage they'd already rejected. The truly amazing thing was that our script was rushed from rewrite to production in less than a year. This rarely happens in Hollywood, unless the studios are desperate.

"Short Time" was a cop film, a hack comedy, about a detective who tries to get himself killed to collect his life insurance, which can only be paid out if the cop dies in the line of duty. Some people thought this was hilarious. I wasn't one of them.

Granted, it wasn't "Schindler's List," but admittedly my writing partner and I were brazen whores -- both of us were in it for the money. Getting an Oscar was not a high priority. Getting the back-end money was.

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As soon as the strike was over, our agent sent the script around. Joe Wizan - a well-respected producer --- liked it and took it to the studios. He told us that the majority of spec scripts he had received after the strike were snore-inducing, sentimental coming- of-age stories.

Fox bought our script and, for reasons that stumped me, put it on the fast track, which meant that nobody had the time to realize that it wasn't really that good. This worked in our favor.

After our rewrite, three other writers were hired to tweak it, which basically meant that they changed all the character names. A production office was set up in Vancouver, and the hunt began for stars. We came close to getting Bruce Willis, but he had a prior commitment (probably a dinner date with Demi) and turned us down.

Since the money clock was ticking, we ended up with the only decent actors who were free -- Dabney Coleman and Teri Garr. We also got a first-time director, which didn't help either.

Shooting began. Once again, dreck was making it to celluloid. But this time it was my dreck, so it was special.

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I like Dabney Coleman but he's not known for attracting movie audiences. Fox, perceiving that the movie was headed for the dumper - partly because of its cast and director -- killed it by putting it out there just before the big summer blockbusters were released.

It lasted 3 weeks and made a whopping $4,000,000. Had Demi cancelled her date with Bruce, the outcome might have been different. Or not.

But I'm still getting residuals. The last check was for 35 cents.


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John Blumenthal has been a professional comedy writer for 25 years. A former associate editor and columnist at Playboy Magazine (following a short stint at Esquire), he's written 8 books and 2 produced movies. His films include "Short Time," (major (more...)

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