Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Levine & Isaacs -- you're fired!

It’s not uncommon for writers to get fired off of film projects. You turn in a draft, the phone stops ringing, and then you learn that someone else has been hired to rewrite you. Larry Gelbart, at a WGA membership meeting debating one of our many contracts, spoke to the crowd of about a thousand and said, “At one time everyone in this room will rewrite everyone else in this room”.  He's right. 

But how many writers have been fired even before they wrote a single word? Not many. The only two I can think of are me and my partner, David Isaacs.  What a dubious distinction!

It’s 1980. Director Randal Kleiser is hot based on an unlikely hit movie he megged (I love that bullshit Hollywood term) called BLUE LAGOON. A young nubile Brooke Shields (before becoming the toast of Broadway) and pretty boy, Christopher Atkins are trapped on a tropical island together. They frolic for two hours and this audiences wanted to see.

So Kleiser gets a big development deal at Columbia. He has an idea for a coming-of-age movie set in an amusement park. David and I are hired to write it. We do. He loves it. The studio loves it. Everybody loves it. No one makes it but everyone loves it.

While we are writing the screenplay, Kleiser is busy writing and preparing the next movie he was going to direct, SUMMER LOVERS. This classic starring nubile Darryl Hannah and pretty boy, Peter Gallagher, is about a gorgeous young couple who fall in love one idyllic summer in picturesque Greece. BLUE LAGOON with Lachanodolmades.

We turn in our screenplay to much praise and get a call from Randal. He’s going off to Greece in a week to begin principle photography of SUMMER LOVERS. But he’s getting a little nervous about the script. Would we be interested in doing a fast rewrite? Nothing major. No story or structure changes. Just round out the characters and maybe add a little humor and dimension. A messenger drops off copies of the script. We read it overnight, meet in the morning to discuss what we’d like to do, and then drive over to Burbank to confab (another favorite bullshit Hollywood word) with him in his office on the WB/Columbia lot.

The meeting goes swimingly. He loves our suggestions. He laughs at the jokes we propose. He couldn’t be more effusive and enthusiastic. What we pitch is just what the script needs he says. So he sends us off to write it, complete with his blessing and thanks.

We drive back over the hill to my condo on the Westside. Takes about a half hour. We walk in my place and immediately the phone rings. It’s our agent. No pleasantries. She starts out with, “Just what happened in that meeting?” I was sort of thrown by the question. “It went great. Why?” I asked. “Well, it couldn’t have gone that great,” she said, “Columbia just called. They fired you.”

"What?!"

"You're no longer on the project."

"Even if we were never on the project."

"Yep.  Your services are no longer needed."

"What services?  We never started service."

"You're fired!"

So that was that.  We never found out why. My guess is Randal didn’t like our suggestions but was just too much of a wimp (an expression I shall use in place of the one I really want to use but am taking the high road – although you know the word I mean) to tell us face-to-face. Randal went off to the make the movie. I never saw it. It bombed. I don’t think our rewrite would have made a damn bit of difference.

By the time he had returned, our amusement park project was dead. We learned later that Columbia had no intention of ever making it. They wanted another BLUE LAGOON, not a teen comedy out of Randal Kleiser. They were just indulging him.  We didn’t know it at the time but we were always just spinning our wheels (back in the days when studios still paid for the spinning).

There’s no real moral to this story. The only advice I could give writers so that this never happens to you is, I guess, don’t ever come home taking Laurel Canyon.

25 comments:

sephim said...

Can we get a vocab on those terms you used? "megged"?

As bad as Blue Lagoon is, it made for some of the best visual jokes in ZAZ's Top Secret!

Max Clarke said...
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Max Clarke said...
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Don Porges said...

"Megged" as in "directed using a megaphone, like silent film directors did"?

Roger Owen Green said...

is the word 'wuss' or something worse?
OK, it's something worse.

Jymbo said...

Don't diss "Summer Lovers". Any movie that has beautiful women in a two-on-one and can now be shown unedited can't be all bad. It puts two women in the Mr. Skin directory and that's OK by me. Also, wasn't it THE reason we all wanted to visit Greece?

Janet T said...

I'm still reeling over the line

and pretty boy, Peter Gallagher

Philipp said...

Am I the only one who needed to google "Lachanodolmades" ?
Very nice article, I relay enjoy you Blog Ken.

RCP said...

"Lachanodolmades" the next Woody Allen film set in Greece with a cast headed up by Olympia Dukakis.

roger said...

Somewhat related -- Harlan Ellison was fired during his first day as a writer at Disney Studios, although it was admittedly his own fault.

http://snopes.com/disney/wdco/ellison.asp

Eduardo Jencarelli said...

Wow! You learn something new every day. Talk about the pitfalls of miscommunication in the business.

Truth be told, I hated Blue Lagoon. Apparently, Kleiser's last film was a remake of Red Riding Hood (one that was received even worse than Catherine Hardwicke's).

BigTed said...

To be fair, at least "Summer Lovers" starred Gallagher and Hannah, both of whom are decent actors. Whereas "The Blue Lagoon"....

David said...

So what does "megged" mean? Urban dictionary doesn't give anything useful.

Jen said...

We so need a "Hollywood Terms as Defined by Ken Levine" post.

te said...

So what does "megged" mean? Urban dictionary doesn't give anything useful.

Don Porgest answered it, accurately, upthread. A Daily Variety coinage, like "ankled" (walked away from), "Ten-percenter" (agent), "nabes" (neighborhood theaters), etc.
Another word for "directed" is "helmed."

bettyd said...

Friday Question - now that the Dodgers are officially broke and creating a public mess of one of the best MLB franchies, are you glad you are not doing Dodger Talk anymore? I can't believe they owe the great Vin Scully $150K. The only good thing is that maybe Manny will loose out on $31M.

Mac said...

Frank Cottrell-Boyce (British Writer) tells a story about a conference call he had with Hollywood producers where they told him his script was the funniest thing they'd read in ages. Then, when they tough he was disconnected after the meeting - the line was still open and they bitched about how this guy had the nerve to even call himself a comedy writer.
For all the reputation these guys have for being hard-ass, time and again you hear what wusses they actually are. Or that other word you're thinking of.

Mac said...

That should be "when they thought" as opposed to "when they tough" which is, of course, meaningless.

Phillip B said...

Randal Kleiser's IMDB bio (written, oddly enough, by Randal Kleiser) says he was internationally known since he directed Grease. (He makes no specific mention of directing "The Boy in the Plastic Bubble")

Just a coincidence you also had a post 70's encounter with Grease producer Allan Klein?

Leo Lassen said...

I forgot the M's had an afternoon game, today. But apparently they did, too.

RB said...

Great story, Ken. Thanks for sharing (I say, as a young writer who ought to know better than using such a cliche).

I guess the lesson is: just do your best to get your pitch over the plate, and realize that the call may get changed by the ump later on instant replay? (Like how I threw in a baseball analogy there, huh, huh?)

Anyway, thanks, RB

Joey Beeson said...

I want to say there is a moral to the story, but it's hard to put into words.

Bill White said...

I would love to hear the plot details of the amusement park film, Ken.

Tallulah Morehead said...

I've seen SUMMER LOVERS two or three times, ALWAYS with the sound off, as it's is too dopey to listen too, but pretty and sexy as all hell to look at.

Direct Axis said...

Blue lagoon remains a classic! My mother still tells me how the term "blue-movie" (porno...) originated from Blue lagoon, because of the mild pornography. Funny stuff!