Saturday, March 08, 2014

How Michael Douglas helped us stick it to 20th

Everyone in Hollywood has great Hollywood stories.  For your approval: one of mine.

My partner David Isaacs and I were hired by Michael Douglas to do a rewrite on JEWEL OF THE NILE, the sequel to the hugely successful ROMANCING THE STONE. One of the great movie star perks, especially when you’re hot, is being able to wield a little power. Michael did that on our behalf and I’m still grateful.

Two months before we were producing the notorious AfterMASH for 20th Century Fox. We had a great office on the lot in a building that looked like a Swiss Chalet. You’ve seen it in a million great shows and STARKSY & HUTCH.

The president of the TV division called us one morning with the tragic news the show had been canceled. We feigned the obligatory “No? CBS is crazy! Can’t they recognize quality?” all the while silently pumping our fists in the air. The prez then offered us an overall deal. We were part of the 20th family. We thanked him profusely but said this was kind of sudden, we needed a little time to see what we wanted to do next. He understood and reiterated that 20th would love to keep us in the fold.

An hour later we got a call from business affairs. They weren’t going to pay us for the backup script that CBS had ordered. We reminded them they had to and they said “tough”. So we called the Writers Guild and ten minutes later business affairs called back to say. okay, they’d pay us. But they wanted us out of the office in one hour. What happened to “we were part of the 20th family???”

We got an office and secretary as part of the rewrite deal. I noticed that our old one was still vacant. So I told the story to Michael and asked if we could have THAT office. He gleefully got on the phone. The facilities people freaked. That was a television division office, not features. It couldn’t be done! The answer to that of course is:

“Do you know how much money I’ve made for this Goddamn studio?”

Ten minutes later that same business affairs weasel had to sheepishly call us and welcome us back. It was a beautiful thing. We were thrown off the lot again when we finished the rewrite but still!

19 comments:

Johnny Walker said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Johnny Walker said...

Reading Roger Ebert's review of the movie, I'm intrigued as to what state the script was in when you got it, what problems there were, and what you and David managed to add to it.

It seems they lucked out with Avner Eisenberg?

Edit: Fixed link.

Anonymous said...

Bahaha! Reminds me of the time they threw Bryan Singer off the Fox lot for jumping ship from X-Men to do Superman, later realizing they had to let him back on because he was producing House at the same time.

Michael said...

I think the college where I work is run by the people who ran 20th Century Fox at that time.

Dan Ball said...

Can I have Michael Douglas intercede on my behalf with a studio to buy one of my scripts? Ha.

Eduardo Jencarelli said...

I thought the whole being 'part of the family' deal was an urban myth. I didn't believe anyone ever actually used that line.

They used that same line on an episode of ENTOURAGE. A studio exec character called Alan Grey (supposedly a mixture of Alan Horn and Brad Grey) invited Vince Chase to become part of the Warner Bros. 'family'.

Warner wanted Vince to headline the Aquaman superhero franchise. When Vince chose to pursue an independent project called Medellin instead, they tossed him out to sea, disproving the whole family pick up line.

Jon said...

I don't know, Eduardo. Sounds like family to me. I got tossed out of mine for being gay and for deciding not to go to law school.

Hamid said...

Great story but how much of your rewrite ended up on screen and why weren't you credited? I like Jewel, though it's inferior to Romancing the Stone, which is a classic. The performances by Danny De Vito and, as Johnny Walker mentions, Avner Eisenberg are the highlights of the movie.

I read a hilarious bit of trivia somewhere that the speech the villain makes to the crowd in the climactic scene was actually made up of the arabic translations of titles of Kirk Douglas movies.

Pat Reeder said...

I'm currently reading Bill Carter's book, "The War for Late Night," about the Leno-Conan debacle. This reminds me of a passage in it about how Conan O'Brien naively thought that because he'd been a loyal, undemanding NBC employee for 20 years and generated millions upon millions of dollars for the network, they would show some loyalty in return and not screw him over. Guess again!

Dale said...

The Industry Of Human Happiness sure has some stories. I recall being in a young band and after years of toil we were told a certain man of importance could take us to the 'next level' if only we slept with him. Told to us all formally in our business office by our manager.

Later in shock we played a 10,000 seat stadium. Then broke up an hour later before a club gig after the bigger show.

If I recall, I overplayed hitting every damned cowbell I owned. All those years working together toward a single artistic goal destroyed by a predatory pretender in a cowboy hat.

I often tell people that both actors and musicians were members of the Guild of prostitutes in ancient Rome. Attitudes have not changed that much. Considering what happened to Ovid, I suppose authors are not much better off.

Any stories like that Ken when you were trying to break into radio or the studios? Now there's a Friday question! ;-)

Kevin said...

You should have taken that overall deal. Those aren't as easy to come by these days!

Canda said...

Reminds me of the great Daryl Zanuck quote, after he threw a writer off the lot.

"Never let that son-of-a-bitch back in here..unless we need him".

LouOCNY said...

looks like Ken didn't reset his posting clock! :P

Bubba Gurney said...

Yeah, Ken...don't you realize we set our clocks by your morning postings...we better read about an epic Saturday night in today's posting...we don't pay you good money to be late...ohh, we don't pay you?

Chester said...

If you have nothing else, please just shoot us a picture of Natalie Wood to let us know you're okay..!

Bubba Gurney said...

No rush, Ken...on my way to Amazon to buy the Kindle version of MUST KILL TV for only $2.99.

Johnny Walker said...

Ken is currently in Maui. I would guess he didn't set the automatic time/date on the next post correctly -- either that, or he decided to have the day off!

Dirk said...

As a former business affairs guy, often called on to message an untenable position, we are also tasked with waving the surrender flag and tucking corporate tail between legs when studio backs down. Been there, done that, not fun. "Weasel" is a bit harsh though.

Liggie said...

Johnny, Hawaii (Maui) doesn't observe Daylight Savings Time. (Too close to the Equator to make a difference.) Ken's computer was simply living on "Island Time"; and people who have Hawaii connections will get that joke.