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Stephen Schochet

 

 

 

I'm Just the Writer

by Stephen Schochet

 

Writers are often are greatly surprised and disappointed by how their work is changed when it is adapted for the big screen. When Irwin Shaw's World War II novel The Young Lions was shot in Paris in 1958, the Nazi character was played by Marlon Brando. Ever the method actor, Brando provoked uproar by strutting around town in his SS uniform, even going into restaurants to dine. The thirty three year old stud was unsure if the Parisians ripping his clothes were doing it out of adulation or disdain. Like most actors Brando wanted to be loved and he took his concern to Shaw that the Nazi be made sympathetic. "You just don't understand the character", Brando told the amazed writer. "It's my character," replied Shaw. "Not anymore", replied Marlon.

Some writers grow resigned to their voices being lost. George S. Kaufman wrote the screenplay for the Marx Brother's comedy Animal Crackers in 1930. He attended rehearsals and realized that nothing Groucho, Chico and Harpo were doing resembled his original draft. He watched as the director Victor Heerman was driven to distraction by the brothers showing up late, placing bets on horses, playing the stock market and never sticking to the script. Heerman literally threatened to imprison them in cages till they behaved. Kaufman took their antics in stride falling asleep through much of the tomfoolery. At one point the writer woke up with a start and shouted," Oh my God! I thought I heard one of my lines."

A few years ago comedy playwright Neil Simon announced he was moving from Los Angeles to New York. In Los Angeles he was isolated in his car all the time and he felt it is was hurting his writing. Better to be in New York where you walked everywhere and met people. His departure may have been hastened by writing and showing up to the set of The Marrying Man (1991). He got to witness Kim Basinger holding up the production with tardiness, temper tantrums and her much publicized love affair with co-star Alec Baldwin. Simon was humiliated when she held up her copy of the script and stated for all to hear," Whoever wrote this knows nothing about comedy!" The Odd Couple writer was too insulted to help fix the plot problems and the picture bombed.

It can be awesome to see your words on a page turn into movie reality. When Margaret Mitchell (1900-1949) was a young girl in Atlanta, various relatives took her on tours of Confederate battle sites, describing the Civil War so vividly that she imagined she took part in it. It took her ten years to write the text for Gone With The Wind. Mitchell's classic prose was scribbled on yellow legal pads which the author would shove under her couch when friends would visit her. The unexpected best-seller was turned into a movie in 1939. Mitchell visited Hollywood for the filming of Scarlett O'Hara (played by Vivian Leigh) nursing wounded soldiers at the Atlanta railway station. The novelist was awed by the sheer vastness of the scene. "My God", she told producer David O. Selznick. "If we would have had this many soldiers we would have won the war."

Screenwriters don't always make great casting directors. Novelist Tom Clancy was initially unhappy with the fifty-year-old Harrison Ford cast as the thirty something CIA agent Jack Ryan in Patriot Games (1992) and Clear And Present Danger (1994). He also berated the actor for suggesting plot changes to his stories. Ford angrily retorted that writers who sell their work to the big screen have to expect it to be changed, otherwise don't sell it. After the two films did great at the box office, Clancy hinted that he would be willing to bury the hatchet to get Ford to star in the next Jack Ryan installment, The Sum Of All Fears (eventually made with Ben Affleck in 2002). Ford demured by saying," Maybe when I'm sixty."

Movie Stars often ignore the writer's instincts at their peril. Lou Holtz Jr. was disappointed that Jim Carrey brought in a team of writers to change his lighthearted script The Cable Guy (1996) into a dark tale about a stalker. Despite Jim Carrey winning the MTV award for best villain, the movie was panned by critics, led to several executives being fired at Sony pictures and became known in Hollywood as "The Straight To Cable Guy".

 

 

Stephen Schochet is the author of the upcoming book

Hollywood Stories: Short Entertaining Anecdotes About the Stars and Legends of the Movies. He is also the author of two acclaimed audiobooks

Tales of Hollywood: Hear the Origins of Hollywood!

and

Fascinating Walt Disney: Hear How Walt Disney's Dreams Came True!

These entertaining gift items are available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, 1-800-431-1579 or wherever books are sold.

View samples at www.hollywoodstories.com

 

 

 

 

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