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Life Arts    H4'ed 2/5/10

How My First Movie Got Made

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John Blumenthal

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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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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