Monday, February 06, 2006

How to get Tom Hanks to star in your movie

This is a true “Hollywood” story of how my writing partner and I got Tom Hanks to star in our 1985 movie, VOLUNTEERS (airing Tuesday at 3:45 pm and Wednesday at 7:45 am on AMC – okay, I’m shameless).

We wrote the first draft five years earlier (so far this is a “typical” Hollywood story). The movie centers around a preppy Yalie who ducks a gambling debt and winds up in the Peace Corps. Hilarity ensues (at least on the page). Sergeant Shriver, then the head of the Peace Corp, read it and said it was like spiting on the flag. I knew we were onto something.

The producer asked whom we thought might be good to star and we suggested this guy who at the time was in BOSOM BUDDIES on ABC – Tom Hanks. The producer scoffed. Tom Hanks couldn’t get a movie made.

We were at the same agency as Tom so for grins and giggles we sent him the script anyway. He loved it but reluctantly agreed the producer was right.

Flash forward a few years. VOLUNTEERS has gone through two studios, two directors, and nine drafts. HBO/Tristar greenlights it. Time to look for stars.

Tom had just done SPLASH. It was a huge hit. He was the Will Ferrell-of-the-month. Offered every project in town. He couldn’t find anything he liked (even BACHELOR PARTY II). So he said to his agent he had read a project about the Peace Corps several years back. What about that one? The agent said he would try to track it down but without even knowing the title it would be like finding a needle in a haystack.

ONE HOUR LATER the agent gets a call from our producer. Would Tom be interested in a Peace Corps movie? The agent almost fell on the floor. He said to messenger it right away. We did. Tom skimmed it, recognized a Margaret Dumont joke we had in there, said “Yep, this is the one” and a half hour later the deal was closed.

Pretty cool, huh?

The person really responsible for making this deal happen was Cupid because it was on VOLUNTEERS that Tom met his wife, Rita Wilson.

Hey, wait a minute. Maybe THAT should be a movie!!


SkookumJoe said...

back when "watching a video" meant renting the machine as well, one of the first films I rented was Vollunteers. You didn't mention John Candy, just out of SCTV, bless him.

Anonymous said...

First time reader,first time commenter.

This site is... (if I might offer contemporary parlance)... "the shizz nitt" (man I hope that was the right west compton phrase, its so hard to keep up with the current lexicon when Lee Tamahori is your only connection)
As you have discovered, Margaret Dumont references are where Hollywoods heavy hitters hang there hat.


Anonymous said...

Hey Ken --

This site is a daily read for the "aspiring" sitcom writer.
Congrats on your continued success... and keep the travelogues a comin'.

I was recently in Maine (Peaks Island) looking for a summer retreat. One of the places the realtor showed me had an orignal, framed, and signed poster of "Volunteers". Turns out the cabin was Keith Critchlow's. (On imdb) he is credited with the story for "Volunteers". Can you please discuss how that all came about? And your process for writing it?


Julie O'Hora said...

Thanks, Ken. You know I've been looking forward to your VOLUNTEERS stories.

A couple bits in particular that strike me as probably having some backstory -- the Burmese prince (snerk!) and Coca Cola. Curious what the deal with Coke might've been and which direction the money flowed.

Warming my toes by the campfire...

MaryAn Batchellor said...

Well, I suppose that's better than following him into the men's room and tossing the script under his stall door with a twenty dollar bill attached to the cover but that doesn't mean I won't try it my way... just in case.

Law Student & Aspiring Sitcom Starlet said...

Hi Ken,

Great blog. I'm a first time reader and I enjoy your writing style. Also, I really like the "script under the stall" idea proposed by Maryan! Ha!

By Ken Levine said...

Thanks for all the interest in VOLUNTEERS. My next post will go into more backstory. Stay tuned.

KRYPTO said... I remember debra greenfield singing your praises at the william morris agency always sprinkling that script around like so much epsom salt...she really believed in you guys...nobody cared...but she was guys were very funny very talented and very unknown. All Hail Debra!