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A Tense Exchange

Awkward exchanges and obvious digs abound in the mock documentary about Hollywood, ‘An Alan Smithee Film’

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Parody isn’t pretty. That’s what director Arthur Hiller and screenwriter Joe Eszterhas have discovered. The makers of An Alan Smithee Film, a mock documentary about the trials and tribulations of Hollywood moviemaking, are, ironically, suffering a few trials and tribulations of their own.

Filled with celeb cameos à la The Player, Smithee (the title refers to the pseudonym often used in the credits by directors unhappy with a film’s final cut) ran into a snag just after it wrapped in January. Executives at Cinergi, the film’s financier, were demanding that all references to Disney, the film’s distributor, be deleted. Only after Eszterhas appealed directly to mouse-house chief Michael Eisner was the movie allowed to remain intact. ”I guess Arthur and I won’t need to steal the master negative,” jokes the scribe.

But Smithee‘s troubles aren’t over. The filmmakers are now faced with a factual error in the film’s opening sequence that focuses on Disney’s recently departed ex-prez, Michael Ovitz. In the scene, Eszterhas and Hiller, playing themselves, have the following exchange:

Arthur: But who would distribute this film?

Joe: Disney.

Arthur: Disney? Michael Ovitz is at Disney!

Joe: I’ve got the greatest respect for Michael Ovitz.

Arthur (quickly): So do I. So do I.

Not to worry. Hiller has a solution for updating the scene and saving the joke — a reference to Eszterhas’ bitter 1989 feud with Ovitz and his former company, CAA. ”It’s very simple,” says Hiller. ”When I say ‘Michael Ovitz is at Disney!’ we’ll hear Joe say, ‘Was.’ I’m also playing with the idea of putting was in big letters superimposed [on the screen].” Fine by Eszterhas, who merely wants to ensure that his sentiment stays in. ”Bygones are bygones,” says the screenwriter. ”Whatever we have to do with the film, I will find some way to toast Mike Ovitz.” And why not? There’s no reason the real world should get in the way of a good parody.

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