The Concession Stand

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

A Star is Born! Central Casting

During Hollywood’s Golden age, most studios signed their actors to seven year contracts for a set weekly salary. If  actors made themselves available to do whatever they were assigned, they would get their weekly check regardless of whether they actually worked that week. The studios would sign actors of various types- lead actors, character actors and supporting actors, all with different salaries as determined by  studio management. Even within these types, there were A-Listers and B-Listers. An A-Lister would only get cast in A-List productions. B-Listers mostly got cast in B-List films, though they could often get supporting roles in A-List films.

Sometimes a studio might put a newly hired actor who they eventually saw as being an A-Lister into B-List productions to get them acquainted with the filmmaking process. These actors often took bit parts in the B-List films, many times hidden under wigs, so that when they were ready to jump onto the A-List, the studio’s PR machine could pretend they were newly discovered. This process made it easier to make films without costly delays. If an actor had to bow out of a project, the studio could quickly replace him with a call to the casting office instead of starting from scratch. 

MGM and Louis B. Mayer perfected the system, optimizing it by making sure there was always a steady stream of talent available to feed its machine.

Monday, August 27, 2018

Hooray For Hollywood! Home of the Stars

These days, celebrities are more reclusive when it comes to their private residences. While they might share quite a bit on social media, very few of them make their really private moments public. Drive through Beverly Hills or other wealthy neighborhoods near Hollywood and you’ll see winding roads surrounded by high fences and privacy hedges. In the Golden age of Hollywood, however, not only were celebrities a bit more accessible, but tourists could actually buy postcards of celebrities’ houses, an unbelievable  prospect these days.

Sunday, August 26, 2018

Blind Kiyomi Website Announcement

Have you been enjoying the week long deep dives into Hollywood’s most famous and notorious productions? If so, you’re not alone. The increase in traffic to the site has been noticeable, so we’re making these “Feature Presentations” a regularly scheduled part of Blind Kiyomi.

Expect to see a Feature Presentation every other week on Blind Kiyomi, alternating with a week of regular posts following our usual posting schedule:

So this next week will follow our regular posting schedule with a Feature Presentation the week after. Thank you for your continued support!

Friday, August 24, 2018

Back to the Future: The Legacy

As Back to the Future got closer to its release, there was a lot of stress to go around. Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale had a lot riding on the picture. Zemeckis was afraid that he would not be trusted with another big project if the movie bombed. Michael J. Fox’s career was on the rise, but a failed project could undermine his career before it really started. Oddly enough, the studio that was footing the bill had the least to lose. While the project went overbudget, it wasn’t by a crazy amount. Even if Back to the Future lost every penny the studio spent on it, it still wouldn’t make a dent in the massive profits brought in by E.T. Making Back to the Future would keep Steven Spielberg happy and that’s all that mattered to Universal Pictures.

Of course, Back to the Future was a phenomenon. It made Michael J. Fox a superstar. Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale could now walk into any studio they wished (without Steven Spielberg) and make any project they wanted. Universal had a massive hit, bigger than even it had expected or hoped for. The studio’s famed tour would now make a point of driving past the film’s sets. “Mockingbird Square” so named after being used in the classic film To Kill A Mockingbird, became forever known as “Courthouse Square” after it stood in for Hill Valley in Back to the Future.

Universal Pictures obviously wanted a sequel. Zemeckis and Gale wanted to complete their trilogy on their own terms. Thus they required Universal to approve both part two and part three to go into production at the same time. It was an unprecedented request that was wholeheartedly approved by Universal Pictures.

The film inspired a slew of spinoffs, including an attraction built at Universal Studios theme parks around the world. While the attractions have been replaced, the film still has a large presence at Universal Studios Hollywood, where it was filmed. 

In recent years, the film’s fans have further embraced it, with its 30th Anniversary garnering much attention and interest. The film might have had a rocky beginning and an even rockier production, but it was the one in a million film that rose above all that to become a classic blockbuster. The wise words spoken by Doc Brown in the end could have been inspired by the film’s rocky production. What could have been an epic failure became an epic success.

“It means your future hasn't been written yet. No one's has. Your future is whatever you make it. So make it a good one.”

- Doc Brown

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Back to the Future: Outta Time

With Eric Stoltz out and Michael J. Fox in, the stress on Back to the Future director Robert Zemeckis was immense. He had staked his directing career on this film and his reputation on the change from Eric to Michael. On the outside, the film sounded like it would be a mess. Every studio rejected it; Columbia Pictures only bought the script to get Zemeckis to do something else for them. In the beginning, Universal Pictures was only doing it as a very expensive favor to Steven Spielberg, who it wanted to keep happy. With a major recast, ballooning budget and possibly catastrophic delays, there were few outside of Amblin Entertainment who expected much from the film.

Production, however, moved forward. Michael J. Fox would spend the day at Paramount, working on Family Ties then heading out to Universal for Back to the Future. He now describes that time period as a rough one, getting as much sleep as he could in between makeup and costuming changes. By day he was Alex P. Keaton. By night, Marty McFly.

Once the grueling shoot ended, a rush was put on finishing the post-production special effects. Universal Pictures had posted a billboard near its famed studio that counted down the days until Back to the Future would be unleashed in theaters. The ironic thing about the billboard was that the film was not yet finished when it was erected. Cast and crew were regularly driving past the billboard to get to work each day, so the billboard not only promoted the film to potential ticket buyers, it was a stark reminder to everyone involved in the film’s production that they were almost running outta time.

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Back to the Future: A Universal Collapse

Having already staked a claim on the Fourth of July weekend, production on Back to the Future began in 1984 with Eric Stoltz and Christopher Lloyd in the lead roles.

When Stoltz’s tenure as Marty McFly is mentioned, it is often inferred that he might have only been in a few scenes before he was replaced. Stoltz, however, had already filmed most of Marty’s scenes.

In fact, Back to the Future had been filming for a month before Robert Zemeckis decided to make the tough call and convince Universal and Spielberg that they needed to replace  Stoltz.

While Universal was onboard with the change, they were only willing to throw away a month’s worth of film if Zemeckis and Spielberg could get Michael J. Fox. Armed with a sizable check and willing to work around Fox’s Family Ties schedule, Universal was able to convince NBC and Family Ties producer Gary David Goldberg to let them use Michael J. Fox. 

Aside from the obvious problems this change caused, Eric Stoltz had ingratiated himself with the rest of the cast. He socialized in the same circles as co-stars Lea Thompson, Thomas F. Wilson and Crispin Glover. Not only was Michael J. Fox an interloper, the cast was going to have to do major reshoots in the dead of night to accommodate his schedule. The producers gracefully handled the situation, however, stating that the issue wasn’t that Eric wasn’t good in the role, but that he wasn’t right for it. This caused the cast to rally around each other, despite the catastrophic turn of events.

With the film overbudget, delayed and its star replaced, Hollywood was beginning to talk about how Universal’s big budget blockbuster for 1985 was shaping up to be a bust. Only a miracle (or a passionate director) could save this shrinking ship. Time was ticking away.

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Back to the Future: Getting to 88 MPH

With their dream project backed by Steven Spielberg and setup at Universal Pictures, Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale probably thought that their troubles were mostly over. They would soon realize that their troubles were just beginning.

Since Universal Pictures was going to be footing the bill, its executives were jittery about the project. Sidney Sheinberg had been assigned to shepherd the project through pre-production. He made some small suggestions- like naming Marty’s mother Lorraine and changing “Professor Brown” to Doc Brown. Other changes were larger, like making Doc Brown own a dog instead of a chimpanzee. One was a nonstarter- changing the film’s title from Back to the Future to Spaceman From Pluto, because he believed there had never been a successful film with Future in the title. After an emergency meeting with Steven Spielberg, Bob and Robert were able to keep their film’s title and their sanity.

The next big challenge was casting the role of Marty McFly. Universal, Steven and Robert & Bob were all in agreement- Marty had to be portrayed by Michael J. Fox. Despite the show’s slow start, Family Ties had become a juggernaut on NBC, catapulting Michael J. Fox to stardom. With everyone in agreement, Universal Pictures began negotiating to get him onboard. Michael wanted to play Marty McFly, but he was under contract to NBC, and they were unwilling to be flexible with his schedule or even let him star in the film. Michael was unwilling to anger NBC, so he passed on the project. Universal cast Eric Stoltz in the role of Marty McFly.

With the script finalized and the cast onboard, Universal Pictures staked out the July 4th weekend in 1985 as the release date for its big summer hit. Certainly, everyone involved could breathe a sigh of relief, since the worst was behind them, right? Despite the trials and tribulations experienced so far, the worst was yet to come.

Monday, August 20, 2018

Back to the Future: A Shaky Beginning

It was a project that had been rejected by virtually every major studio. The first star approached for the leading role had to turn it down. The actor who did take the role was deemed unsuitable for it by the director and replaced, resulting in the film going overbudget and threatening its schedule release date of Summer 1985. One of these setbacks could doom a project. But all of them? Surely no project could overcome these hurdles to become one of the biggest blockbusters in movie history. Back to the Future, not only overcame these hurdles, it is still fondly remembered as one of the most beloved films of all time.

It wasn’t an easy project to sell. One quick glance at the script was all anyone needed to see that this would be a hugely expensive undertaking. Making the film would be a very expensive risk. Walt Disney Productions, which was in desperate need of a hit at the time, considered it, but they didn’t like the subplot in which lead character would get wooed by his own mother back in 1955.

Robert Zemeckis and his co-writer Bob Gale had been shopping the film around since 1980. Columbia Pictures considered making it and signed a deal with the pair to complete the script and present it to them. After reading the script and seeing the presentation, Columbia rejected it, putting the project in “turnaround”, which is a process in which a studio declares a the project as a loss on its tax returns. This means that the studio can’t ever legally produce  the film under tax laws and makes it easier to sell the project elsewhere. Columbia then tried to get the guys to take the film to Disney, which they initially declined to do, shopping it around town elsewhere. With the explosion of teen sex comedies in the early 1980’s, the major studios felt that the film was not raunchy enough and that its special effects budgets would be too big. As noted above, Disney had opposite reasons for turning the project down.

In 1984, however, Robert Zemeckis’ fortunes would change. Romancing the Stone, which he would direct for Twentieth Century Fox would be a huge hit, giving Zemeckis the pull he needed to get his favored projects made. Projects like Back to the Future. Having brought Stephen Spielberg’s Amblin Entertainment onto the project, Back to the Future was now on the fast track. Amblin Entertainment was based on the Universal Lot, but could take its projects anywhere. Universal was not initially interested in Back to the Future, but it did want to keep Spielberg happy. It didn’t, however, want to pay Columbia for the script. A fortuitous event would allow Universal to get the script for free.

John Cassavetes was directing a film for Columbia called Big Trouble, which studio lawyers felt had a plot too close to Universal’s Double Indemnity. If the studio wanted to release the film, it would need to make a deal with Universal to obtain a license to use Double Indemnity or else it wouldn’t clear legal. A deal was arranged to trade the rights for Double Indemnity for the Back to the Future script. If Zemeckis thought there were only blue skies ahead, he would be mistaken. The torturous path the film followed to get to this point would look tame in comparison to what was ahead.

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Die Hard: Yippee Ki Yay, Mister Falcon!

Fox released Die Hard into theaters in July of 1988. Following CinemaScore’s recommendation, it de-emphasized Bruce Willis and heavily featured the action in print and on television. Several ads didn’t even feature Willis in them at all.

The ads that did have Bruce Willis in them didn’t feature him prominently. It was an odd choice, considering how much Twentieth Century Fox had paid him for the film.

The film, modestly budgeted at $28 Million ended up grossing over $140 Million, exceeding Fox’s wildest expectations and three times the box office gross of Commando. By the end of the summer, Twentieth Century Fox had the mega franchise it wanted and Bruce Willis became an A-List superstar.

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Die Hard: Under Production

With Die Hard surviving obstacles that would have felled greater projects, 20th Century Fox finally began production on its long awaited action film. Director John McTiernan was not satisfied with the script and thus production began before the script was completed. The original book had the crimes being undertaken by terrorists against a building owned by a German company. One of the first changes made by McTiernan was to change the owners of the building to a Japanese company to take advantage of the American belief at the time that Japanese companies were buying up the country. Thus, the action would take place at Nakatomi Plaza.

It just so happened that Twentieth Century Fox was building a new office building on its lot. McTiernan thought that the fortuitous timing would give him an easy place to film; after all, wouldn’t Fox easily approve the use of its building by one of its own productions? It turned out that it would, but it wouldn’t do it easily. The negotiations would drag on far longer than McTiernan had hoped or needed.

McTiernan never liked the idea of the criminals being guided by politics and terrorism. A few weeks into filming, he finalized the script, making the terrorism a red herring meant to disguise a theft. Since many scenes had already been filmed using the requirements of the original script, a few continuity errors made their way into the film. The compressed production time and budget didn’t allow for many reshoots, so the production pushed ahead. With the film’s casting and script issues, nobody was expecting much from the film. Fox desperately needed the movie to become a hit. By July 1988, Fox could only cross its fingers and hope for the best.

Rest In Peace, Morgana King 1930 - 2018

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Die Hard: Cast Harder

With the ancient Sinatra out of the way and Schwarzenegger having turned down the role, Twentieth Century Fox was desperate to find a big star to play the lead in what was now being called Die Hard. They wanted to get a big name who could jumpstart the action franchise they envisioned. Director John McTiernan and Fox studio executives put together a short list of actors who they thought would make an excellent John McClane

Die Hard Director John McTiernan

Fox began wooing a who’s who of big name action stars for the role. Fox worked its way down the list, but they shockingly kept getting rejected. Clint Eastwood, Sylvester Stallone, Richard Gere, Burt Reynolds, Don Johnson and Harrison Ford all turned down the role. Twentieth Century Fox was desperate- why were all these actors turning down the role? There was a fear that the project was dying before it even had a chance. They did have one actor who was interested, but neither McTiernan nor Fox was seriously considering him. That actor was Bruce Willis.

Up until then, the only film that Bruce Willis had a starring role in the modest hit Blind Date, whose success probably had more to do with its director Blake Edwards than with Bruce himself. He was best known for co-starring with Cybill Shepherd in the gigantic hit Moonlighting, but that was a talky television show, not a big screen action hit. 

Bruce, however, had bigger aspirations and he felt that Die Hard would get him where he wanted to go. If only he could convince McTiernan and Twentieth Century Fox. Bruce was a hot commodity at the time, but was he right for a blockbuster film? Fox turned to Hollywood consultants CinemaScore to see if their research could predict Bruce Willis’ potential. They believed that he would be an excellent choice, provided that the marketing focused more on the action than him. This convinced both Fox and McTiernan. Despite its initial hesitance, Fox offered Bruce Willis a staggering salary. This project had to progress quickly and Willis would need to juggle both Die Hard and Moonlighting. The high salary, criticized at the time, was seen as being necessary to keep things rolling. Die Hard now had its John McClane.

Monday, August 13, 2018

Die Hard: Origins

Hollywood’s biggest secret isn’t related to someone’s scandalous misdeeds. The biggest secret is that despite everyone’s best efforts, there really isn’t a way of knowing if a film will be successful either critically or financially. Some producers might claim to have a sense of what people will like and how well a production is going, but until the film is edited and released, there really is no way to know how it will be received. Some easy and seemingly surefire projects fail spectacularly while other difficult, messy and problematic projects turn out to be huge successes. While we now know that 1988’s Die Hard was practically an instant classic, its troubled production might have led one to believe that Twentieth Century Fox had a disaster on its hands.

Is my career over here somewhere?

The story of Die Hard begins decades earlier at around the same time that our previous subject Skidoo was causing headaches for Otto Preminger. Much like Preminger, Twentieth Century Fox was looking to connect with the young people of the day. No longer hamstrung by the strict Hayes Code, studios could now feature more complicated characters in their films. Previously, the police had to be depicted as always being ‘good’ and ‘right’ with little room for anything in between. Criminals had to be either dead or in prison by the end of the picture. The new freedom granted by the ratings system meant that more adult situations and complex characters could now be depicted. Twentieth Century Fox, therefore, purchased the film rights to Roderick Thorp’s crime novels looking to turn them into gritty dramas.

An adult look? Like a stag film?

The Detective was a grittier take on a detective film, featuring a homosexual character and a detective who wasn’t afraid to blur the lines. That it featured Frank Sinatra was even more amazing. The film was a modest hit and spurred Twentieth Century Fox to sign a contract with Sinatra guaranteeing him first right of refusal if another film based on the Roderick Thorp novels were made. None were proposed until nearly twenty years later. Thorp released a new book called Nothing Lasts Forever in 1979 in which the character portrayed by Sinatra was forced to rescue his daughter and grandchildren who were trapped in an office tower. Sound familiar?

There might be some subtext to this picture.

After the blockbuster success of Beverly Hills Cop and its sequel, the studios were rushing to find properties they could turn into mega action franchises. Twentieth Century Fox thought Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Commando was just the film that could spawn an action franchise. Since it already owned the rights to Roderick Thorp’s books, it wanted to turn Nothing Lasts Forever into Commando 2. One thing stood in its way, however. The contract with Sinatra stipulated that he get the first right of refusal to star in any adaptation of Thorp’s novels. He was obviously way too old for the role, but he could force Twentieth Century Fox into making the sequel with him in it. Luckily for them, he declined it, leaving the path open to adapt the book into an extension of the Commando franchise. Arnold Schwarzenegger, however, was uninterested in a sequel.

I won’t be back!

With the Sinatra roadblock lifted and Arnold not on board, Twentieth Century Fox took the basic premise of the Thorp novel and turned it into something completely different- an action film it hoped it could turn into the franchise it desired- Die Hard.