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Posts Tagged ‘Bruce Springteen’

“All stories are about transformation.”
Blake Snyder

“Movies are all about rewriting.”
Garry Marshall

“When Disney first sent me the script for Pretty Woman, it was a dark tale about a cold and heartless corporate raider and a drug-addicted prostitute who had been hooking for six years. The relationship ended with the raider’s giving the prostitute three thousand dollars and knocking her to the ground. Vivian then screamed, ‘You go to hell! I hate you! I hate your money! I hate it! as he drove away leaving her in the gutter where he found her….What bothered me about the script was that it didn’t make me care about either of the characters. Neither of them generated much sympathy and I rooted for no one.”
Garry Marshall

In the book Wake Me When It’s Funny, Garry Marshall wrote that Jeffrey Katzenberg (then with Disney) brought him in to “supervise the rewrite and lighten it up” the script that would become the movie Pretty Woman.

“We had five different writers on Pretty Women and the first to attempt the rewrite was the original screenwriter, J.F. Lawton. Even  after Lawton took a stab, the studio still felt that the script needed some more work. Our approach to the film was to make it the story of two people from totally different backgrounds united in a fairy tale. In all the rewrites, the part of Vivian, the prostitute, came quite easily. It was the character of the businessman, Edward Lewis, that presented the most problems. Only Barbara Benedek, the sole woman writer in the group, got the voice of Edward down by creating a Donald Trump-style executive with a vulnerable side.”
Garry Marshall

One of the writers was Stephen Metcalfe;

“Whenever people ask me what I’ve ‘done’ as a writer, the easiest answer is Pretty Woman. Instant credibility. But what I don’t go into is the fact I never got screen credit on it. I feel I should have, but at the end of the day it doesn’t really bother me. It wasn’t my story. The original script – 3000 – was written by a fine writer, J.F. Lawton. The Julia Roberts character was a coke addicted street walker. The Richard Gere character was a manipulating socio-path. It was gripping, dark and moody and was very real. What it wasn’t was a romantic comedy. And yet someone at Disney – perhaps it was Jeffrey Katzenberg – thought it could be. They believed it so much they’d already hired the director, Gary Marshall, who was sort of the Sidney Lumet of comedy and they’d hired Julia Roberts, who was not yet Julia Roberts but was undoubtably going to be.”
Stephen Metcalfe
From 2008 article Pretty Woman on his website

So if you’re keeping track, so far the writers attached to Pretty Woman were J.F. Lawton, Barbara Benedek and Stephen Metcalfe. Robert Garland did a version of the script and I don’t know if Marshall counted himself as the fifth writer or if it was someone else. I don’t know who to credit with writing this excellent opening description of the Richard Gere character:

EDWARD HARRIS stands at the window, impassively looking down at the party. Edward is a handsome, well groomed man around forty. He looks tired: the kind of fatigue that can’t be cured by a night’s sleep.

What I do know is that Lawton is single credited on the screenplay and received an WGA nomination for the script.

And while there is no shortage of essays about Pretty Women’s role in feminism, capitalism, and morality, or debates about the cliche of the “hooker with a heart of gold” and the businessman with daddy issues—the simple fact is Pretty Women captured the magic.

The film has sold more tickets in the United States than any other romantic comedy (yes, including My Big Fat Greek Wedding). And I think it captured the magic many ways using several tried and true methods including sex, shopping, and Cinderella. Along with a touch of Pygmalion,  rags to riches, fish out of water, low class/high class, the American dream of pulling yourself up by your bootstraps (even if they are knee-high hooker boots), finding the love of your life, and the classic transformation theme.

Of all of those, I think the transformation theme is what resonates the strongest. It’s one we put the put our personal hopes in. Nowhere is that more evident than in a class I once had with evangelist Billy Graham’s grandson (Tullian Tchividjian) who once surprised and amused the class in a talk by saying his grandfather really liked the movie Pretty Woman.

I’m guessing that it was the transformation aspect that emotionally connected with Billy Graham rather than the sex or the shopping spree. After all, Graham has spent his life in the transformation business.

“It is true that I look for the Cinderella aspect when I am making a film. Most good stories are Cinderella. Audiences like to watch characters whose lives change for the better.”
Garry Marshall
Interview with Leslie Elizabeth Kreiner

Yes, one side of Pretty Woman is silly, superficial, and demoralizing to women, etc., etc.—but another aspect of it touches a universal longing. And that is that no matter how low we are in life that there is hope that the winds of change will blow in our direction.

Have you ever seen a scarecrow filled with nothing but dust and weeds?
If you’ve ever seen that scarecrow then you’ve seen me
Have you ever seen a one-armed man punching at nothing but the breeze?
If you ever seen a one-armed man then you’ve seen me
Bruce Springsteen
The Wrestler

While I’m no expert on world religions, I imagine that most deal with the concept the broken made whole,  the weak becoming strong, and the lost being redeemed. And for the broken, weak, and lost—what else is there but hope?

Hope is why some people buy lottery tickets, some go to church, and why others go to movies. Check out my post Hope & Redemption to see a list of films that I think follow those themes and have found large audiences, critical acclaim, and awards. Kind of the triple crown of filmmaking.

Interesting Pretty Women triva—considered for the role that Julie Roberts shined in were Molly Ringwald, Jennifer Connelly, Michelle Pfeiffer, Winona Ryder, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Daryl Hannah, Mary Steenburgen, Karen Allen, and Meg Ryan. Film historian David Thomson compared Roberts beauty in Pretty Woman with Elizabeth Taylor’s role in George Stevens’ A Place in the Sun. (A once every fifty years kind of thing.)

Screenwriter Ben-Hur Sepehr wrote a screenplay called Temporary Arrangement in 1984 and sent the screenplay to an employee at Disney. He sued for copyright infringement but lost in court in 1992. The Entertainment Law Reporter wrote, “Sepehr argued that in both stories ‘a Hollywood  Boulevard prostitute is transformed emotionally, socially and morally through her employment by a super-rich business tycoon. A further result of the encounter is the transformation of the businessman also.’ The theme of ‘transformation’ was an unprotectible plot idea, stated the court. Judge Byrne, citing the ‘well established’ principle that broad character types are not protected by copyright law, concluded that the characters in the two works were not substantially similar – other than the fact that the two heroines were both prostitutes, they were entirely different characters, as were the two ‘successful, hardworking business executives.”

Scott W. Smith

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Life is a series of hellos and goodbyes
I’m afraid it’s time for goodbye again
Say goodbye to Hollywood

Billy Joel
Say Goodbye to Hollywood

There is a lot of finger pointing going on in the film & TV business right now. (As I write this L.A. County has an unemployment rate of 12.7%, and the film industry has not been spared. The Writer’s Guild of America reported for the fiscal year 2009 that screenwriter’s earnings decreased 31%. )

Who and what is to actually blame for Hollywood’s economic downturn that has resulted in fewer script sales and a greater loss of production jobs? Is it the general downturn in the economy or the rising cost of production? Is it the tax incentives that states outside L.A. and even countries outside the U.S. are giving to lure business away from California? Is it the Internet and the fact that spending two hours on Facebook is more interesting than many two hour movies?

Yes. It’s all the above and more.

Once upon a time there was this company called Fotomat. (Yes, I’ve written about Fotomat before but it is a favorite metaphor of mine.) They started in the 60s, seemed like they were everywhere in the 70s, but by by 1980 they had peaked. Their little yellow huts in parking lots were cultural icons back in the day. Now they’re cultural relicis and every once in a while you can spot an old converted Fotomat building that is now converted into a coffee hut or a wind-tinting business. What happened to Fotomat? Well, it’s pretty simple.

They niche they careved out was turning around photos in one day. That was cutting edge in the 70s, but as one hour photo places starting gaining ground in the 80s and then the digital boom in the 90s they had nothing to stand on. (The chant “Obsolete! Obsolete” from the The Twilight Zone (1961) episode The Obsolete Man comes to mind.) In an instant world there wasn’t a big demand for people wanting to get their photos the next day.

From 1800-1840 Nantucket was the “Whaling Capital of the World.” Youngstown, Ohio was once the seventh largest steel producer in the nation. My grandfather used to work for the Youngstown Sheet & Tube and I found an old book the company put together in 1950 to celebrate 50 years in the steel industry. In the opening paragraph of the book there is this line, “This Company looks forward to another fifty years, and then another, ad infinitum….” There wasn’t a Youngstown Sheet & Tube around to celebrate in the year 2000.

Seven hundred tons of metal a day
Now sir you tell me the world’s changed
Once I made you rich enough
Rich enough to forget my name
Youngstown
Bruce Springsteen

I’ll spend the next few days looking at how Hollywood got to be Hollywood and then look from a creative and economic standpoint at where I think screenwriting, production and distribution is all heading.

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (part 2)

Scott W. Smith

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