Though I spent many many years as a film exec, I've also been writing my entire life. I mean, I sold my first screenplay at 17. It was crap, but hey. This is the gist of it. Nifty short story, but neophyte screenplay. Then first article at 18 about how TV news purely for mindless entertainment. There's my brag.
So-- of course I have been through the preposterous Rube Goldberg landmine of TV and screenplay development. You know, agents, producers, executives get the script, can't believe they finally found something so brilliant, so funny, so amazing, they just have to sign you, work with you, capture you, enslave you.
The funny thing is I don't take this very seriously or personally. Because a week later, you receive 20 pages of notes from 10 different executives telling you what needs to be changed. This is how they justify their jobs. Cool enough.
Here is what is looks like after an hour of trying to figure out what the hell they are going on about.
In the time it takes for me to decipher d-code, I could have written another screenplay or at least three great short stories.
Oddly, the screenplays that were made were never rewritten. Now, we're only talking two, but whatever.
Because I'm a writer, as an executive there is an advantage. I like working with talent and I certainly know what it takes to write. It's not easy, I don't care if the end result is not film-able, the writer put in hours of hard work. Be kind! The things that come out of these peoples mouths is often unfathomable. But that's another little story.
As a buyer of films, often times a company is spending anywhere from 1M to 15M on a picture for their country. I bought movies for large corporations all over Europe for years and only worked with the owners, which is nice, because it's me and the important guy. No tiers of people to go through. Probably why I gravitated toward this line of work and plus I love to travel and love film festivals and the South of France.
Okay, so when it came to certain movies where I was laying down the big bucks on behalf of company, sometimes I had to say something. Always in a very kind way and typically to the producer or director or studio head since by that time the project was out of the writer's hands.
I thought of this because in cleaning out files, I found this memo to a studio head. I remember telling my boss that if Hannibal kept the original ending, it would be a disaster. The film was already veering way off course (staying true to book) as clearly underlined by Jodie Foster's passing on the role.
My boss told me, "Well, go ahead. Tell the studio head."
I love when bosses do that. You take the blame. Good luck with that.
So I did. I could not see Clarice, a character I loved, portrayed in such a thoroughly disgraced manner. Julianne Moore does a good job with the material, but the new Clarice is harder, bitter, yet weaker. For those who may or may not remember, in the end of this horror story in the book, Clarice and Hannibal fall in love and run off into the sunset together. Literally. They move to an exotic island after eating Ray Liotta's brain.
Not Julianne Moore obviously. I love her... she would never do this.
I couldn't take it. There was already too much depravity in the new film that was beyond revolting, the deadly fat pigs, the pedophile who fed his face to dogs, just ugh. The screenwriters kept everything from the Harris Hannibal book but the book had none of the genius of Silence of the Lambs. The least I could do was save Clarice. So,
"Dear Mr. Studio Head,
We are thrilled to have the sequel to Silence of the Lambs as we did very well with Silence. But as a woman, I must make my voice be heard. If Clarice throws away all of her integrity, scruples and just folds into a weightless character because she is caught under the spell of Lector, I'm afraid you will lose a huge portion of your audience. Clarice is such a captivating character and though she has changed in Thomas Harris' Hannibal, I fear this ending will not translate well cinematically. Clarice has to stand up to him, despite her weakened condition, and fight for her life. Then she MUST try to arrest him. We know he will elude her, but she will nonetheless have kept her character intact. Otherwise the audience will not know who this woman is and they will be greatly disappointed. Thank you for reading."
I sent it off, and forgot all about it. A year later I was out of town during the premier of this film, but caught it in San Francisco. The theater was packed. All of the disgusting scenes remained, but to my surprise and delight, Clarice does try to fight for her life, does try to arrest him and does NOT run off to Fiji with him.
The film grossed $390M not including ancillaries. Which is to say, it did extremely well. The reviews were not great on any level and certainly there was no talk of any Oscars for anyone.
But I do sometimes wonder if my little memo had an impact. A memo I was shocked they even read and further used. The memo was actually longer, in that I detailed exactly how the movie could end with little work to the script because they didn't want to spend anymore money re the screenwriters.
I will never know. But I do know there was a lot of repeat business and a lot of female movie goers. If Clarice had eaten the brains and had sex with Anthony Hopkins on some sandy shore I am certain women would have been appalled.
I didn't write this to pat myself on the back, believe me. I wrote this because often times people never believe they can have an impact in this town. Studio head, schmudio head. Sometimes it's fun to clean out your file cabinets.