Little-known fact: Arnold Schwarzenegger’s latest action vehicle is titled Eraser because the film’s script underwent so many revisions, director Chuck Russell’s most important tool during filming was the rubber end of a No. 2 pencil. All right, not really. In the Warner Bros. film, which opens on June 21, Schwarzenegger plays a government agent who aids people in the federal Witness Protection Program by ”erasing” their pasts. Hence Schwarzenegger’s code name: the Eraser. However, the movie’s screenplay did chew up more than its share of rubber: More than half a dozen scribes took a whack at the script, making it a textbook example of Hollywood’s writing-by-committee practice. ”That’s usually the way it goes on a big picture like this,” says William Wisher, one of the screenwriters. ”After a while you can forget who came up with which line.”
Officially, Eraser was written by Tony Puryear and Walon Green, with the story credits going to Puryear, Green, and Michael Chernuchin. ”Anything that’s cool in this f—ing picture,” submits Puryear, ”I wrote it.” And although that might be difficult to prove, it is possible to clarify what a mini-army of uncredited writers contributed to this shoot-’em-up. Here’s a breakdown from one of the last drafts of Eraser‘s shooting script:
1 No, this isn’t an order form from a J. Crew catalog. To keep the movie’s producers abreast of all the script changes, rewritten pages were color coded. That way, everyone could quickly tell by looking at the chart that for example, the salmon-colored pages were the ones revised on Nov. 30, 1995. According to Chernuchin, the final shooting script ”looked like a rainbow.”
2 Puryear wrote the original screenplay, which told the story of a man with a troubled past called the Eraser, who is charged with protecting a witness (played by Vanessa Williams) from the Mafia. Although Puryear’s script was the one that lured Schwarzenegger to the project, little of his dialogue remains in the final version.
3 Screenwriting veteran Green (The Wild Bunch), who worked on the TV series Law & Order, was brought on board by Schwarzenegger. (Green also wrote the script for Crusade, a medieval action picture on which Schwarzenegger has an option.) Green, in turn, brought in Law & Order colleague Chernuchin, who is not listed on this particular draft of the script. Green and Chernuchin replotted much of the story, coming up with much of the critical high-tech weaponry and adding a zoo sequence with menacing crocodiles. ”There’s a tongue-cutting scene,” adds Chernuchin. ”I own that.” The pair also transformed the Mafia villains into a defense contractor named Cyrex, a name that had to be changed to Cyrez after filming was completed because a real semiconductor company named Cyrix caught wind of it and complained to Warner. Nearly 1,800 frames had to be digitally altered to make the fix.
4 According to the screenwriters, director Russell constantly brushed up dialogue and scenes throughout the filming, at times stitching together bits and pieces from various revisions. He also enlisted screenwriter Frank Darabont (The Shawshank Redemption), who shaped a pivotal abduction scene and beefed up the role of a gang that helps out the Eraser at an important moment near the end of the film.