Introduction – I have written 39 full-length
feature screenplays over the past 30 or so years. Four of these scripts
(Thou Shalt Not Kill . . . Except, Lunatics: A Love Story,
Running Time and If I Had a Hammer) I have made into films
myself independently; one, Humans in Chains which was retitled
Alien Apocalypse, I just made for the SciFi Channel; and one
other script of mine, Cycles, was sold to Beacon Entertainment
(producers of Air Force One) and after nearly ten years in development
hell, finally went into turnaround. I heard that director/writer Phillip
Kaufman (The Right Stuff) was attached to it for a while, and
it's title was inexplicably changed to Griffin.
Gary Jones and I came up with this story last spring, and had a first draft by July. Our plan was to shoot the film very cheaply, then open it in New York City on 9/11/11, the tenth anniversay of the 9/11 attacks. We budgeted the film, got prices on theater rentals in Manhattan, and were entirely ready to go . . . but couldn't get the financing. Good thing, too, because we would have been in post-production when the news of Osama Bin Laden's death was announced. Anyway, this is how Gary and I envisioned it.
"It's a Lost, Lost World" was the third script that Paul Harris and I wrote together. It was intended for Bruce, Ted, Renee O'Connor and Lucy Lawless. Paul is a much bigger Lost World fan than I am, so it pleased the hell out of me when I came up with that title (in the shower), laughed, thought, "Paul will love this," pitched it to Paul and he laughed, too, and immediately wanted to write the script. It was actually quite a difficult script to write, but no one ever said art, particularly comedy, was easy. To me, "It's a Lost, Lost World" is a sure-fire moneymaker, but clearly, what do I know?
I came up with the title, "The Horribleness" (which is an homage to "The Ghost and Mr. Chicken"), and the first gag, then asked my very good buddy, Paul Harris, to help me write the script. Although Paul and I are close friends, our one attempt at collaboration ten years earlier, "Buds," had been rather contentious, and neither of us was happy with the final results, so we avoided writing together for a decade. It turned out, however, that writing "The Horribleness" with Paul was the most enjoyable writing experience of my life. It wasn't an easy script to write--slapstick comedy may well be one of the most difficult genres to write--and me and Paul worked hard on this for about five months. But we had a terrific time, and laughed a lot. I hope you do, too.
–I came up with the idea in 1988, wrote the script in 1990, then finally shot the film in 2004. It was shown on SciFi Channel in 2005 and became their highest-rated stand-alone movie ever (for further details please read "The Making of Alien Apocalypse"). This is the numbered shooting script, but does not contain the lines and shticks Bruce and I inserted during production, like the running hand-shake gag, or pointing at the green alien blood on his sleeve and saying, "This isn't coming out."
–President John F. Kennedy was assassinated when I was
six years old, and though I don't remember the actual occurence, I do
clearly remember the funeral. I didn't give Kennedy's assassination
another thought for about the next ten years, until they finally released
the Zapruder film. Very little in life is as clear to me as where
the killing head shot bullet, the shot that throws Kennedy back and to
the left and takes off the side of his head, is coming from, which is
in front of him on the grassy knoll. Every single eye witness who
was interviewed said that they heard a bullet come from the grassy knoll,
yet none of that testimony is in the official record, the Warren Report.
So what really did happen? I've been mulling that over in my head
for years. Finally, Oliver Stone made the brilliant film, "JFK,"
and it got me thinking about the subject again. And since I flatly
don't agree with Mr. Stone's conclusion, that LBJ was behind it all, then
there still remains the real story to be told. Since I believe a
writer must be like a detective and try to get at the real motivations
for things, this event has always intrigued me. What really did
happen that day in November, 1963? This script is my attempt to
make sense of the facts, apply the proper motivations to the correct people,
and put it all in chronological order, something no one else has yet done.
–My very good, late friend Rick Sandford, and I really
put our hearts and souls into the writing of this script, way back in
1989. It was then critically ripped to shreds by nearly everyone who read
it, the main gripe being that it was about the film business. Also, that
the female lead was not "likable." But Rick and I specifically
didn't want her to be all that likable. We made her beautiful and intelligent,
but somewhat unlikable, because (we surmised) if you're beautiful and
intelligent, you don't have to be all that likable. Anyway, I just saw
"Adaptation," which is also about a screenwriter and the film
he's writing, and was put in mind of "Above the Line." Obviously,
nobody has a problem with films about filmmaking at the moment, so maybe
it was just ahead of its time.
–I love the idea of the change of eras in Booth Tarkington's
"The Magnificent Ambersons," of the old days ending and the
modern world beginning. Tarkington chose the 1800s as the old days and
the 1900s as the modern world. I used pre-Beatles on "The Ed Sullivan
Show" and post-Beatles on the show, as the change in eras from folk
music and it's ethics to rock & roll and its accompanying mindset.
Within that change I believe that both a sense of innocence and commitment
were lost. That was the basis for the story of "If I Had a Hammer."
–This is the script that was rewritten more times
than any other script I've ever written (14 times. See both "The
Making of 'Lunatics: A Love Story'" and "Monsterization"
for further details). There are quite a few differences between
the script and the film.
–Scott Spiegel and I wrote this
script for Renaissance Pictures under a development deal. We wrote,
and rewrote, and rewrote some more for over six months before the whole
project was dropped. Clearly, Scott's and my big influence was "Rosemary's
Baby." But this script, I'd say, is not a rip-off or a remake,
it was "inspired by" Ira Levin's story, and I think it's important
to be inspired by something, otherwise you just end up stealing.
–This was my homage to "It's a Wonderful Life."
It also contains a premise I think is still interesting – how does a homeless
person get that way? I believe that it's probably a somewhat difficult
script to read, but hey, nothing says that drama necessarily has to be
fun. Sometimes it can be painful and difficult. But I do think
this script knows what it's about and does pay off, so I'm still pleased
–Scott Spiegel and I wrote the first draft of this script
in nine days, then spent the next six months rewriting it trying to get
it to make sense. Interestingly, at some point over a year after
we had pitched this script all over town, and had been back to Columbia
a few times, they released a picture called "Breaking In" (starring
Burt Reynolds and Casey Siemaszko, with a script by John Sayles) with
a very similar premise and a very, very similar opening scene. Coincidence?
You tell me.
–This is the next script Scott Spiegel and I wrote after
making "Thou Shalt Not Kill . . . Except." There was serious
talk for a month or two of Renaissance Pictures making this film right
after completing "Evil Dead 2," but alas, it did not come to
be. It's too bad, though, because I think it's a funny script.
–"Cleveland Smith Bounty Hunter"
was originally a 9-minute 16mm short film that Scott Spiegel and I, with
the assistance of Bruce Campbell, Sam Raimi, and Rob Tapert, made in 1981.
Scott and I spent the next three years attempting to raise the money to
make "Cleveland Smith" a feature, which we never managed to do.
The script went through a number of drafts and this is the final one,
dated 1984, with illustrations by Jeff Ginyard.
At the end of 1991, feeling utterly defeated by the film business and
Los Angeles, I moved back to Michigan and got a job selling furniture. My good buddy, Paul Harris, who was working the night-shift at a self-serve gas station at the time, and I wrote this script in the evening and on weekends, and then I actually typed it up at the furniture store while waiting for customers to come in.
–This is the
script of mine that's been out to the most places over the years and that's
gotten the biggest responses. It still hasn't been made, but it
seemed like it might get produced a couple of times. When Scott
Spiegel and I initially wrote this story in 1989 our intention was to
come up with a no-bullshit, no-nonesense cop movie. I wish they'd
still make movies like this, too.
– This script
was initially entitled "Average Joe," which may be more apt, but it kind
of bored me. This was written specifically with Bruce Campbell in
mind to play the president. It was written in 1996, when Clinton
was running for re-election against Bob Dole and the idea of a young,
stupid Republican president –
we were envisioning Dan Quayle –
actually being president seemed absurd. I wrote this with the idea
of shooting it as an independent feature, but ended up making "Running
I began writing this script in 1993, before I went down to New Zealand
the first time to work on "Hercules." I noodled around with it for
a couple of more years, then updated it once or twice over the next several
years (it's dated 1998), then dropped it from my consciousness entirely.
It's my only script based on a sexual fantasy, and I found it to be a
rather interesting creative enviornment. The female lead is based
on two women I know well, neither of whom have I ever been involved with.
I must confess that I've always liked this script.
was probably the most difficult script I've ever written. It's a
true story that involves quite a few characters and it took a lot of research.
I would think that I'm as up on Gunnery Sgt. Dan Daly as anybody presently
living on the planet. Trying to get into Sgt. Daly's head to figure
out his motivations was probably the most difficult writing task I've
ever given myself. You can judge for yourself my level of success.
– I am one of the very few people that I know of that's sold a spec screenplay.
I know a number of people that have made a lot more money than me writing
screenplays, but they were all commissioned or developed. The script
that I am referring to is called CYCLES and it was purchased by Beacon
Communications (producers of AIR FORCE ONE). Although I have recently
heard that CYCLES is on the development "fast-track," it has not been
produced, nor do there seem to be any immediate plans to do so.
Nevertheless, I did sell it.
(Read Josh's related essay, "Writing
and Selling a Screenplay.")
– Writing the script was by far the single most difficult
aspect of making "Running Time." I spent over eight months writing
and re-writing this script. The big trick with a story like this
was having every scene be contiguous with the previous scene, which is
not how movies are written. We are all very accustomed, at this
late date, to have a character exit one scene and simply arrive at the
next scene, without being bothered about how they got there. If
every scene is directly connected to every other scene, then we must see
the characters go from one place to the next with no loss of time and
this makes things very difficult. I attempted within this very limiting
structure to tell a story that has a theme, a point, and some level of
subtext, something you don’t get in most movies these days, let alone
one that has these sorts of structure and time constraints. Whether
or not I pulled it off, however, is for you to decide.
This script was written over the course of five years—1979 through 1984.
I began writing it under the title "Bloodbath" with Sheldon Lettich (writer/director
of "Lionheart" and "Double Impact," to name a few). Our first draft
was 185 pages long and very, very serious. I decided that this was
not the direction that I wanted to take this story and Sheldon and I dropped
it. After completion of principal photography on "Evil Dead" in
early 1980, Bruce Campbell and I re-worked the entire story on the drive
back to Michigan from our location in Tennessee. I then re-wrote
the script into a 32-page draft, entitled "Stryker’s War," and shot it
as a 45-minute super-8 movie starring Bruce Campbell and Sam Raimi.
With this pilot-version of the film, I then attempted to raise money for
the next two years and failed. I put the whole thing aside and moved
onto other projects. These other projects all crapped-out too over
the course of the next two years. I was ready to throw in the towel
and move back to L.A., but Scott Spiegel (co-writer of "Evil Dead 2" and
writer/director of "From Dusk ‘til Dawn 2") suggested that we resurrect
"Stryker’s War," which we promptly did. Scott and I then very quickly
re-wrote the script and shot the film.
– This script was written as a two-hour TV movie, meaning
that it has seven acts and is 90-minutes long, thus leaving space for
30-minutes of commercials. This story is entirely true except for
the big finale, which ought to have happened, but didn’t. Sadly,
the only place left that produces historically-based drama is TNT and
since they already made a Teddy Roosevelt film – "The Rough Riders," which
totally sucked – they probably won’t be making any more films about TR
Historically-based action dramas (like "Bridge on the
River Kwai," "The Sand Pebbles" or "Lawrence of Arabia," to name a few)
are what I miss most about the contemporary movie scene. I believe
that it is a complete and utter shame that these sorts of stories have
been relegated to the shit-heap of TV movies.
P.S. I have adapted this script back into the normal
screenplay form because I liked it too much to have to keep seeing it
in TV movie form. If it's not going to be made, the script may
as well be in the form I like most.
– At some point during 1985 Bruce
Campbell and I wrote the treatment for this story. Bruce then
went off to make "Evil Dead 2" and I moved to Los Angeles.
In 1988 everything in my life had hit rock bottom: I couldn't get any
sort of work in the film business, nor could I get the distributor of
"Thou Shalt Not Kill . . . Except" to return any money. My
brain locked up and I didn't know what to do. I was 30 years
old with no prospects. One day Bruce came by and casually
dropped the treatment for "The Winds of Fate" in my lap. He
said, "I always liked this story. Write the script, you haven't
got anything better to do." I couldn't think of a single objection,
so I wrote the script. Over the intervening years, Bruce and
I have never stopped liking this story. I hope you like it,