Tuesday, August 04, 2015

Size does matter

The perfect follow-up to my ANT-MAN review.

As I’ve mentioned before (ad nauseam) David Isaacs and I wrote the 1985 Tom Hanks-John Candy movie, VOLUNTEERS. Happily, it still airs some thirty years later. Recently it was on HBO. (Ka-ching!)

The director, Nicholas Meyer graciously allowed David and me to participate in editing. Basically, we just watched. We’re not stupid.

Back in those days the editors worked on movieolas, splicing strips of film, physically attaching them, and then previewing on a machine with a monitor the size of an ipad mini.

In VOLUNTEERS, Tom Hanks, John Candy, and Rita Wilson play characters who join the Peace Corps and wind up in Thailand in 1962. Tim Thomerson plays the Peace Corps leader who is sweet on Rita Wilson. He’s also a fucking nutcase. We wanted to hint at that by having him give Rita a little present – a small statue of a Siamese Prince. These were common items. But the key feature on this particular one was a large protruding penis.
Nick cut the scene together and we noticed he cut to a close up of the statue. David and I said, “You can’t do that. On the big screen that's going to be horrifying. You can’t tell here on a 5” monitor but on a giant silver screen all hell will break loose.” Nick worried that if we stayed in the master that the statue wouldn’t have enough impact, and the penis might not even register.

He was the director so we bowed to him.

Once the film was all assembled we put together a screening for a test audience. It was held in the main theater on the 20th Century Fox lot that seats – I dunno – five or six hundred. Maybe a thousand?  Who knows?  David and I sat in the last row taking notes.

The infamous moment arrived when the statue was revealed and this giant penis filled the entire screen.  Every woman in the theater screamed in bloody horror. David and I had to slip out into the lobby where we were proceeded to laugh hysterically through the rest of the picture.

Needless to say, the close up came out. I’m only sorry the preview wasn’t on an IMAX screen in 3D. I think I’d still be rolling on the ground.

The moral here is that size does matter – but sometimes the smaller the better.

18 comments:

Jim S said...

Ken,

Did Mr. Meyers say anything like "wow, you guys made a good call, I should have listened?" That would be so cool from the guy who killed Spock. And just from a director admitting that he was wrong.

Bill Avena said...

My father had one of those movieolas and I remember watching silent 8mm WC Fields movies on it (I don't think he knew how to use it). The movie "CQ" has a character working on one of those.

norm said...

Now that is hilarious! Grazie Ken.

Ken Levine said...

Yes, Jim S. Nick was a GREAT guy. Terrific collaborator. Hey, let's face it -- how many directors even LET writers watch the film while it's being edited? And that's what those previews are for.

Diane D. said...

How on earth did you and your partner know that and a Director didn't? That is one of your funniest stories ever!

BTW, I recently found VOLUNTEERS in one one of those $5.00 bins at Wall-Mart. I loved it!

Matt said...

If the same scene happened today do you think they would cut it?

Rock Golf said...

@Matt: Based on a scene in this summer's funniest film, "Spy", absolutely not! (Still got a similar reaction.)

Pat Reeder said...

Reminds me of Howard Hughes' tag line for Jane Russell in the 3D release of "The Outlaw":

"Jayne Russell in 3D will knock BOTH your eyes out!"

scott said...

It's true. Sometimes less is more.

Dan Ball said...

TWO FRIDAY QUESTIONS:

1.) Nick Meyer seems to take the cerebral approach to a lot of his projects (Star Trek, Time After Time, The Seven Per-Cent Solution). Do you feel like he did that with VOLUNTEERS or was it just a pretty standard approach in your book? He included you guys in post, so that was one genius stroke, I reckon. :)

2.) That leads me to another question: have you ever done below-the-writer's-line work on a show where you were actually pushing buttons, adjusting dimmers, editing a sequence (film or video, linear or non-linear editing), adjusting a fresnel light, creating a graphic, or white-balancing a camera? Don't you step on union toes doing that? I just didn't know if you ever found yourself learning or having to do those things or if you'd be shot dead for it by the unions.

VP81955 said...

Pat, right on Russell and Hughes, wrong on the film. It was for "The French Line." (Had 3-D existed more than a decade earlier, when "The Outlaw" came out, I'm sure Howard would have used it.)

You also wrote "Jayne" on the second reference. Mansfield on your mind in the midst of mammary madness?

Anonymous said...

Just ask Lenny Kravitz...
Janice B.

Bill Always Pulled Out He Ain't Your Baby Daddy said...
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Let's Talk About Rape said...
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Donald Benson said...

I recall reading where Alfred Hitchcock, on one of his first wide-screen films, included a gigantic closeup of lips whispering into an ear to purposely mock the new fad.

i could be a bob said...

Ken, will we ever see your by-line on Hollywood Dementia? Nikki says she's paying...

Francis Dollarhyde said...

Ken, I wonder if Nick Meyer was especially sympathetic to you and David because he's a writer himself (and had gone through the experience of someone else directing his script, i.e. "The Seven Per-Cent Solution").

Pat Reeder said...

To VP81955:

Yes, thanks, it was "The French Line." And you're right, the misspelling was probably because I'm working on an expanded e-book update of "Hollywood HiFi," and I just finished the chapter on singing sexpots that focuses primarily on the recordings of Mamie Van Doren and Jayne Mansfield, so I'm used to typing "Jayne." If those two had made 3D movies, they would've been advertised as "Triple-D."