Entertainment Weekly

Subscribe

Stay Connected

Subscribe

Advertise With Us

Learn More

Skip to content

Article

'The River Wild': Jeffrey Katzenberg and the stream team

The true-life inspiration for the new Meryl Streep thriller

Posted on

It’s no surprise that when Disney Studios chairman Jeffrey Katzenberg invited 21 top Hollywood players—agents, producers, screenwriters, and a studio chief—to travel with him on a trip down the Colorado River (for a mere $6,300 each), an idea would come out of the adventure. After all, several big-screen sagas—-Top Gun, The Running Man, and the currently filming action flick The River Wild, starring Meryl Streep—were formulated during Katzenberg’s male- bonding vacations. The difference on this trip is that the first project to emerge wasn’t the brainchild of the chieftains but of ex-anthropology professor Michael ”Doc” Ghiglieri, one of the guides hired to shepherd the group.

It took Ghiglieri most of the four-day expedition to get a word in edgewise. ”It’s like a feeding frenzy,” says Ghiglieri, 46, who has taught at the University of Arizona in Flagstaff. ”They never shut up.” But he worked up the courage and unfolded his tale—about honeymooners who disappeared on a run down the rapids in 1928—to a boatful of captive CAA agents who never saw it coming. Says agent John Ptak, ”He’s a great storyteller. He had us (enthralled by the story), then he does a switch and says, ‘The way I would approach this in the script…’ We’re this jaded group and (didn’t know) it was a pitch!”

Ghiglieri’s sneak attack landed him with CAA, where his script is currently being mulled over. ”I think it could be the most beautiful movie ever made,” says Ghiglieri. ”I just had to create my opening.” With survival instincts like that, the man could go far in Hollywood.