Saturday, April 25, 2020

Weekend Post

A lot of people ask me about the Coke scene in the movie David Isaacs and I wrote, VOLUNTEERS. We took a lot of heat for it because the studio that produced it also owned the Coca Cola company. It was viewed as a shameless plug. The truth is it was a complete coincidence.

Here’s the notorious scene but first an earlier scene setting up the animosity between Lawrence (Tom Hanks) and Beth (Rita Wilson). They are flying to Thailand to begin service in the Peace Corps in 1962. Lawrence is a rich preppy who is only there because he switched places with his roommate Kent to skip a huge gambling debt. Beth is an idealistic coed. They’re about to land.



Bangkok already? I can’t believe it.

Yes, we’ve been talking now for … (checks his watch) … Ooh, ten hours.

Kent, I’m really lucky to be assigned with you.

You know, Beth, we’re going to have so much to do when we get to…

A beat.

Loong Ta.

Of course. What do you think about taking tonight for ourselves? A bit of dinner, a few drinks, see a little of the city. And then, who knows? (taking her hand) There’s only one thing we haven’t shared together yet.

Beth smiles, not taking him seriously.

Very funny.

Lawrence smiles back at her. He’s serious. She looks at him, takes her hand back.

(cool) Thank you just the same.

Oh, come on, Beth. We’ve been moony-eyed since Istanbul. Why fight it?

(flustered) Kent, why are you doing this? I thought we were becoming friends.

This is what I do with my friends.

You’ve just been trying to go to bed with me?

(checking his watch) Well, I think I’ve put in the hours, don’t you?

Okay. And a few months later they’re in Loong Ta, a dirt poor village of thatched huts and nothing else. We needed a way to break the ice, to start getting them together. In interviewing former Peace Corps volunteers we learned that Coca Cola was one of the things they missed most, especially if stationed in a hot jungle. So taking that info, we wrote this scene.  Thank goodness we didn't do a scene where they both caught COVID-19. 


Beth enters to find that Lawrence has transformed the hut into an exotic, albeit small, nightclub. There are bamboo chairs and tables, plants, and a makeshift bar, fully stocked with liquor. Lawrence, wearing his dinner jacket, sits at the corner table smoking a cigarette. An old villager sits off to the side, trying his best to play, “As Time Goes By” on his primitive Thai sitar.

Welcome. I call it “Lawrence’s”.

I don’t believe it… even from you.

It was easier than you think.

How did you…?

Lawrence waves at the villager to stop playing.

A little elbow grease, a few connections and voila: Loong Ta’s first public service. Are you as proud of me as I am? Can I get you a drink?

What’s this for?

For a job well done. I’ve got Jack Daniels, Johnny Walker, Jim Beam… the whole gang.

You’ve got liquor?

And wine. The house special is a delightfully articulate Chablis.

I haven’t seen a tube of toothpaste in two weeks and you have a bar?

Don’t fight it, Beth.

Goodnight, Lawrence.

You’re taking the narrow view again.

She starts for the door, then stops and turns back.

Do you have a Coke?

Plain, cherry, lemon or vanilla?

Plain. A plain Coke.

Lawrence reaches beneath the bar, grabs a bottle of Coke, and with much panache, removes the cap.

(handing it to her) You more than earned it.

Beth takes the Coke, looks at it, then takes a long swig.

Oh, that is fantastic… I miss these so much. Lawrence, damn you, you’re a life saver.

(toasting her with another Coke) To friends. Would you care to dance?

Beth thinks it over, takes one more good chug of Coke, and steps into Lawrence’s arms.

(to the villager) Try it again, Sam.

The sitar player strikes up “As Time Goes By” in the same monotonous way. Lawrence snaps his fingers, ordering him to pick up the pace. THE CAMERA SLOWLY PULLS BACK, and THROUGH THE WINDOW we watch Lawrence and Beth dancing slowly around the room, Beth shyly looking into Lawrence’s eyes. Electricity flickers.


We wrote that Coke scene in the first draft, 1980. It stayed in every draft and wound up on the screen. Originally the movie was set up at MGM. After a couple of years it went into turnaround, finally landing at HBO Silver Screen in partnership with Tri-Star. This was 1984. Tri-Star was a division of Sony, as was the Coca Cola company. No one from the studio ever asked that that scene be in. No one from the studio ever mentioned that scene period.

A year later the film was released and we walked into a major shitstorm.

I look back and think, all of this could so easily been avoided if he just offered her a joint.


Anonymous said...

Sony owned Coca Cola?

Griff said...

Coke -- through its ownership of Columbia -- at the time of the production of VOLUNTEERS owned one-third of Tri-Star Pictures; CBS and HBO also each owned a third. [Columbia's distribution system released the Tri-Star product.] HBO was actually the primary backer of VOLUNTEERS. Within a few years both CBS and HBO sold their interests in Tri-Star to Coke/Columbia. In 1989, Coke sold Columbia, Tri-Star and all of its film and television concerns to Sony.

Ken, David and the VOLUNTEERS company did run into some cultural flak regarding the Coke reference in the movie, but not nearly to the extent that poor Paul Mazursky had earlier suffered regarding a very brief moment in his 1982 film, TEMPEST.

There's a scene in the mostly Greece-set movie in which John Cassavetes says to Susan Sarandon, "I could use a cold Sprite." [Mazursky later said that he had asked what sort of soft drink was favored in the small town where he was shooting, and was told that Sprite (a product of the Coca-Cola company) was by far the most popular beverage.] Mazursky's picture was almost completed by the time that Coke purchased Columbia in mid-'82, and the acquisition certainly had nothing to do with the reference to Sprite in the film, but the scene was much discussed and ridiculed when TEMPEST opened that August. There were abrupt gales of laughter after the scene at industry and film festival screenings of the movie, to Mazursky's great embarrassment.

-3- said...

Honestly, when we saw Volunteers we never thought twice about that scene. Having grown up in Asia with a father on detached military duty, one often saw that attitude about Coke. It was a tangible link to the States and some nearly worshipped it. And that was common going back at least as far as WW2.
Back in those days there were two brands that symbolized the USA Coca-Cola and Levis. Of course, thanks to Wallmart, Levis is no longer a manufacturer and nobody gives a dren for them any more. But Coke still has some of that cachet.

Anyway, that scene rang very true and authentic.

Watching Volunteers again recently was a nice experience. As enjoyable as the movie was originally, watching it again knowing that Tom and Rita would spend the next few decades together added a lovely texture to the film.

I watched it just a couple weeks before it was announced that Tom & Rita were infected with the Trump Flu, which added a whole 'nother level of emotion to that news, too.

Mike Bloodworth said...

The movie differs from the above script in one significant way. When Beth says, "Goodnight, Lawrence." and then heads for the door Lawrence, in a last ditch effort to get her to stay says, "How about a Coke?" Then Beth stops and says, "You have a Coke?" The dialog continues from there. The "...narrow view..." line is excluded.
I was wondering why the final version isn't word for word the same as your script? Was the posted script a draft? Or were you and David changing lines as they filmed?


thirteen said...

About the Coke-identity thing: During WW2 Coca-Cola built and shipped small bottling units to the Pacific theater so combat troops could be supplied with Coke. I've seen quotes from veterans as late as the '80s still praising Coca-Cola for thinking of them.

Daniel said...

"Tri-Star was a division of Sony, as was the Coca Cola company."

Actually, I think you meant that Tri-Star was a division of Columbia Pictures, as was the Coca-Cola company. Sony bought Columbia around 1990.

Cap'n Bob said...

Pepsi is more fannish.

Cap'n Bob said...

Pepsi was more faanish. (Faanish was the faan spelling.)

Smilodon said...

Imagine what trouble it would have caused if Columbia had released One Two Three.

Troy McClure said...

The 2005 Fantastic Four (much more fun than the tepid 2015 reboot) is legendary for product placement. So much so, while watching it at the cinema, I became distracted by the sheer amount of product placement in the background of almost every scene.

If you want a drinking game, have one every time you see a product logo.

It gets so ridiculous, they really should have just called it Nike & Burger King Present Fantastic Four.

-3- said...

Cheryl - I've been digging through the archives quite a bit in the past few months, and one post i noted covers this for you.
The True Tale Of Tom Tuttle From Tacoma, posted on 19 November, 2010.

DBenson said...

I remember lots of filmed TV shows including such credits as "promotional consideration by" some brand name. Not sure if that was for stuff used onscreen (Did all sitcom men wear Botany 500 suits?), for supplying off-camera needs, or simply buying or bartering for an onscreen credit.

In the days before product placement became a "legit" big business, was there was anything like product payola? To wit: Studio execs "unofficially" pressing to get certain products onscreen or mentioned for under-the-table personal profit.

Was there ever pressure on "Cheers" to show or mention specific beers? Or for that matter, not mention products that were rivals of sponsors?

Mike Doran said...

A classic joke from Jack Benny's radio show, circa 1950:

Rochester, would you go upstairs and get my General Electric blanket?

Boss, we don't have a General Electric blanket.

We do now.

Everybody knew, then and now.

(Acknowledgement to Milt Josefsberg's memoir.)

Andy Rose said...

@Mike Doran: Jack Benny's first big sponsor was Jell-O. Instead of saying hello, he would begin each show by saying, "Jell-O again!"

Any program that is on broadcast television (over-the-air) is legally required by the FCC to divulge their product placement, which they usually do in the form of "promotional consideration" credits. Or on a game show where prizes are provided by sponsor, the credit may say something like "The following manufacturers provided their products for free or at reduced cost."

I don't think this is legally required for the streamers, although I noticed Netflix tagged on a "The product contains product placement" notice onto the end of Ozark, at the end of all of the other credits and vanity cards.

Probably the earliest regular use of product placement on U.S. TV series was with cars. Because they're a very expensive prop, producers have long accepted free use of them in exchange for credit. Watch The Andy Griffith Show, and you'll usually see a credit that says "Automobiles Furnished by Ford Motor Co." The general rule of thumb is that car companies would loan their vehicles for free as long as they wouldn't be destroyed and would only be used by a protagonist. Want a car for the bad guy? Buy it yourself.

Unknown said...

When you are in a 3rd world country, drinking water isn't easy to find. When I was in PC in Africa, there was not much bottled water (back in the 80s, even in the US, bottled water wasn't easy to find, and in the 60s where the movie takes place, nada), and if there was bottle water, it was expensive. So if you are traveling, you get thirsty, you have a coke or a fanta. Of the many different 3rd world countries I visited, it is rare to find pepsi.
Good scene, you should have no regrets. Although, many wrong parts about PC. But hey, was a movie, not a documentary.

(expense of bottle water is important, as a volunteer, you have very little money)

Tommy Raiko said...

Author Tom Standage has a great book "The History of the World in 6 Glasses" where he takes a look at human history--from ancient to modern times--through the development of six beverages. What are these six beverages he identifies as historically significant? Beer, wine, spirits, coffee, tea---and Coca-Cola.

MSOLDN said...

Well as a fan of this blog who was a Peace Corps Volunteer working with cocoa farmers in Equatorial Africa in the early-mid 1970s, let me assure you that locally-bottled Coke was usually always available, even in the smallest and most remote villages, and served cold from propane-powered refrigerators of small merchants. A local habit that I never adopted, although some of my fellow Volunteers did, was mixing Coke in the same glass with Guinness Stout dark beer, also locally-brewed and bottled! Yuck! :)

Joe said...

One of my very favorite moments from this film is the way Tom Hanks (in his intermittent upperclass new England accent) delivers the line to sound not like "...elbow grease..." but, rather like "...elbow grace..." which was perfectly in character.