The pirates of Hollywood
Pssssst. Wanna read a hot property? How about an early draft of Francis Ford Coppola’s upcoming Dracula? Or a sneak peek at Steven Spielberg’s next fantasy feature, Hook? Bootlegged copies of scripts for these and other unreleased movies — Alien 3, Basic Instinct, and The Last Boy Scout — are being casually passed around the power alleys of Hollywood more than ever, with filmmakers devising ploys to stop their top secret material from circulating off the set.
Making a bootleg script is as easy as pressing the print button on a copy machine. And since every big feature requires dozens of scripts, it’s fairly common for unauthorized copies to fall into the wrong hands. Some movie moguls fear these pirated scripts might give away plot twists or, worse, inspire a flood of quickie rip-off pictures.
”The CIA could take a lesson from us in security-that’s how paranoid we are,” says Larry Kasanoff, head of Terminator 2 director James Cameron’s production company. Indeed, everybody who read the T2 script had to sign a secrecy oath, and serial numbers printed in red ink ran diagonally across each page so any bootlegged copies could be easily traced. ”People got really nervous when they signed that piece of paper,” Kasanoff says with a laugh. ”But it prevented rampant copying — that talent agency let’s-make-a-bunch-and-send-them- out-type thinking.”
The system worked; no one absconded with a T2 script. Director Oliver Stone wasn’t nearly as lucky. Reporters from The Washington Post, the Chicago Tribune, and Time magazine obtained an early draft of his controversial JFK, and all three ran stories criticizing its conspiracy-theory approach to the Kennedy assassination. Stone went ballistic over the leaks, blasting the media for judging his movie long before it was finished. In addition, he instructed his attorneys to threaten legal action against any suspected scriptnappers. ”A script is a private document…not the Pentagon Papers,” Stone told the Los Angeles Times.
The underground market for scripts attracts more than just nosy journalists and Hollywood insiders. In the musty back room of a cluttered memorabilia shop in L.A. called the Hollywood Book & Poster Co., film buffs and celluloid scholars can choose from 5,000 different movie and television scripts selling for $10 to $15 each. But you won’t find goodies like Hook or JFK there…not anymore. Store owner Eric Caidin, who buys most scripts from the screenwriters themselves, says he stopped dealing in screenplays for unreleased movies a few years ago ”as a courtesy to studios and filmmakers,” and he now holds back on stocking new titles until weeks after a picture opens.
Ironically, the current scripts don’t do nearly as well as time-proven classics, like The Godfather and Casablanca. ”It’s funny,” Caidin says, ”the studios are starting to buy back scripts of their own movies that they never bothered to keep on file.”