And all his other works are poorer for it.
We all know who's responsible for most famous movies. George Lucas made Star Wars. Ridley Scott made Alien. Humanity's collective sins willed Minions into existence. But sometimes the people behind famous movies aren't that well known, and can even be the last person you'd expect. For example ...
Speed is of course the famous transit-related movie about a poorly thought-out ransom plot. Its script was credited to Graham Yost, but Yost would later admit that Joss Whedon, creator of Buffy, The Avengers, and countless sweaty Internet superfans, "wrote 98.9 percent of the dialogue."
Not "Pop quiz, hotshot," though. That was evidently the missing 1.1%.
Whedon was tasked with doing heavy rewrites on a script that had already been re-written once, possibly because Yost was too busy high-fiving himself for coming up with the idea of a bus that would explode for driving too slow. Aside from touching up dialogue, Whedon's changes included rewriting Alan Ruck's character as a sympathetic tourist instead of an asshole lawyer, and making Keanu Reeves a friendlier, straight-edge hero instead of the maverick cop we had already seen in 500 movies. He also, wisely, dropped a plotline where Sandra Bullock was a stand-up comedian who spent the crisis on the lookout for new material.
"Have you ever noticed how men jump buses like this, but women jump buses like this?"
Whedon ultimately got zero credit for his work thanks to Writers' Guild of America rules that encourage studios to credit the original writer. This initially caused a rift between him and Yost, and while they eventually patched things up, Whedon would never be able to bring himself to write another movie about a bus that couldn't slow down.
And all his other works are poorer for it.
Everyone who's watched A Christmas Story during the holidays to fulfill their legal Christmas obligations knows that it's a pretty inoffensive family comedy. The darkest part comes from realising that the narrator Ralphie would now be in his mid-40s, and quite possibly a divorced accountant who has long since lost the Christmas spirit.
But nine years before its release, director Bob Clark made a very different kind of Christmas movie.
Black Christmas features a mysterious killer stalking and murdering a group of sorority sisters, and is credited with helping to kickstart the slasher genre, including ground-breaking ideas like an ambiguous killer whose identity is never resolved, and the idea of filming several scenes from the perspective of the killer. Most notably, Black Christmas influenced Halloween.
Compass International Pictures
There's more. A Christmas Story was only greenlit by MGM after Clark made a ton of money with Porky's, a famously family-unfriendly teen comedy about trying to get laid whose most memorable scene is a bunch of high-school boys spying on the girls' shower. The success of Porky's ushered in a wave of raunchy teen comedies, which means that the director of one of the most beloved family movies ever helped popularise two genres that parents never let their children watch. Worse, Clark would also later give the world The Karate Dog and Baby Geniuses, which no-one should ever be permitted to watch.
Oh! Speaking of Halloween ...
Michael Myers is one of those villains who's famous despite no-one being able to name the man behind the spray-painted William Shatner mask. Well, that man is Nick Castle, and despite sounding like the Punisher's equally badass cousin, his career has been surprisingly wholesome. When he wasn't busy stalking teenagers, Castle was writing and directing movies that, for the most part, were about as family friendly as, well, actual Halloween.
Castle wasn't originally supposed to be in Halloween -- he was just hanging out on set because he was friends with director John Carpenter -- but eventually he got talked into playing the majority of the killer's role. He only ever had a couple of other minor acting roles after that, but would find success as a director, helming amongst other films the cult classic The Last Starfighter, the Dennis the Menace movie (ask your parents (or not)), and the universally beloved Tag: The Assassination Game.
He also co-wrote Escape from New York with Carpenter and performed the theme song for Big Trouble in Little China, also for Carpenter, because John Carpenter is evidently the kind of dude who has no problems hitting up his friends for favors. But perhaps Castle's most surprising work was with Hook. It was Castle's idea to make the film about an adult Peter Pan, and he was brought on-board to direct. He even recruited Robin Williams to the film, and while the two of them wound up not seeing eye to eye, Castle did get a half million dollars when he was ushered out the door.
Spielberg was of course brought in to take his place, and the result is ... fine. Hook is fine. So maybe Castle dodged a bullet there? Although he also didn't go on to make Jurassic Park and Schindler's List so ... maybe "some bullets are worth taking" is the lesson here.
That can't be right.
Gates McFadden is famous for having a name from a random name generator, being Dr. Crusher on Star Trek: The Next Generation, and that's pretty much it. However, one of her major talents that not a lot of people know about is her work as a choreographer, including doing the choreography for Labyrinth.
McFadden's responsibilities mostly involved getting a bunch of people in goblin costumes to move so it wasn't obvious that they were a bunch of people in goblin costumes. But she also choreographed the dance between Jennifer Connelly and Bowie's Goblin King, which implies that she became more than familiar with the movement of Bowie's crotch bulge. So that's exciting.
Still if nothing else, this single-handedly validates all of the reams of Dr. Crusher/Ziggy Stardust fanfic we've produced over the years. Yours too.
Danny DeVito has had dozens of roles in everything from One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest to Batman Returns to It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia. But less famously, he also co-founded Jersey Films, which has produced an eclectic collection of movies that are staples in college dorm rooms across the country. Just for example, here's a 1993 article about the troubles DeVito had in finding a studio to make a little film called Pulp Fiction.
Heard of it? We didn't think so.
TriStar feared that it would be too hard to market this low-budget movie, and sure, lots of decisions look dumb in retrospect, but they also said no to another DeVito flick, Reality Bites, which was also pretty seminal. That's a lot of retrospect sneaking up on you there, TriStar. Anyways, according to DeVito, he hadn't even seen Tarantino's breakout movie, Reservoir Dogs before agreeing to produce Pulp Fiction, nor had a script been written yet. Instead, he said "I liked the way he was talking about it. The guy was just so cool. It seemed simple to me." That seems like a pretty laid-back approach to a multi-million dollar project, but hey, he's the genius with a string of hits.
His instinct for talent is hard to deny; DeVito also trusted a couple of unknowns to make the cult hit Super Troopers after they had been rejected by pretty much everyone else in the business. And his name can also be found on Gattaca, Garden State, Erin Brockovich, and Man on the Moon. He is somehow, improbably, one of the biggest hitmakers in the industry. And to think you've been laughing at him this whole time.
Jack Abramoff is a lobbyist who spent 43 months in prison for committing fraud. Dolph Lundgren is an actor whose roles typically involved punching and/or shooting. Their paths inexplicably crossed in the late '80s when, years before he became a lobbyist and the poster boy for corruption, Abramoff tried to make it in Hollywood. He only made one movie, Red Scorpion, but what he lacked in quantity he made up for in quality.
Abramoff and his brother raised 16 million dollars to produce a story about a Soviet special agent who's sent to a fictional African country to kill an anti-communist rebel leader only to find himself sympathising with the locals. And, at the risk of ruining your new Friday night plans, the blatant propaganda movie produced by a man with no filmmaking experience did not turn out to be very good.
The crappiness of the movie was matched by Abramoff's methods. Red Scorpion was made in Namibia, which was occupied by South Africa at the time. South African military equipment was even used on set with some of their soldiers serving as extras. Remember that this was during the height of apartheid; working with South Africa ranged from being illegal to just not very cool. Anti-apartheid protesters soon popped up on set, and Warner Bros. pulled out as distributors. Think about that for a second. Do you have any idea how hard it was in the 80's to get Americans mad at you for making an anti-communist movie?
Beyond that, the production was hellish; many cast and crew went unpaid, and Abramoff ended up borrowing a bunch of money from friends and never paying them back. Abramoff would never work in Hollywood again - he'd end up pursuing a rich career of slandering teen sex slaves, offering his services to a genocidal government, and cooking up fake wire transfers. Basically, Abramoff is the sort of person that Dolph Lundgren characters punch out of helicopters.
Mark is on Twitter and has a book that was produced by Ryan Gosling.
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