Bringing ''The Flintstones'' to the big screen
Answers to many of the behind-the-scene questions of the new stone-age family film
Also written by Dana Kennedy
1. Why did this movie need all 32 writers and what did they do?
The Flintstones might be a cartoon easy enough for generations of children to follow, but turning it into a movie was anything but simple. Bringing the modern Stone Age family to the screen took nine years and involved two producers, two directors, 14 screenwriters, 18 TV gag writers, and a tense fight with the Writers Guild of America over final credit that put the concept of movies-by-committee up for debate. It all began back in A.D. 1985, when producers Keith Barish and Joel Silver, who owned the rights to The Flintstones, commissioned Steven E. de Souza (Beverly Hills Cop III) to write a script. But the project didn’t pick up steam until it bounced to Universal and Steven Spielberg’s Amblin Entertainment. According to director Brian Levant, Spielberg’s brainstorm came while filming Always with John Goodman in 1988: “He looked at him and said, ‘You should play Fred Flintstone,’ and acquired the rights.”
Levant, who claims to own the “largest Flintstones collection in the Directors Guild,” jumped at the chance to replace Richard Donner, who had been attached to the project. But the five scripts he inherited (by eight writers, including De Souza) had all been nixed by Spielberg.
So Levant recruited what he calls an “all-star writing team” — TV buddies from shows like Family Ties, Night Court, and Happy Days who were accustomed to so-called “gang bang” TV writing. They reviewed all the scripts. “This is a sitcom on steroids,” says Levant. “We were just trying to improve it.”
Dubbed the Flintstone Eight, the group wrote a new draft in February 1993, but it still wasn’t good enough. Four more roundtable sessions ensued, each of which was attended by new talent as well. (At one point, high-profile Parenthood screenwriters Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel took home a reported $100,000 for just two days’ work.) “It flips me out that there were so many writers, and on any other kind of movie it wouldn’t have worked,” says Dava Savel, the lone woman in her roundtable. Savel doesn’t know if anything she wrote made it onto the screen. “I have no idea if I have one line in there,” she says. “Can you believe it?”
That kind of confusion didn’t help when Universal submitted the names of the Flintstone Eight (including Levant) for shared screenplay credit. After complaints by guild members, who feared it would set a dangerous precedent by altering a standing rule that only three writers or teams may be credited for a film, the writers withdrew from arbitration. Ultimately, credit went to just three writers — De Souza and the team of Tom S. Parker and Jim Jennewein (Getting Even With Dad). And even one of them is unhappy. “We had no contact with the script after Levant came,” says Jennewein. ”Everyone thinks drama needs a single unifying voice, and I think the same holds true for comedy. Screenwriting is a real craft, and movies are different from TV.” Well, some movies.
2. What plotlines were considered and rejected?
Would you believe Fred Flintstone as Tom Joad? Mitch Markowitz (Good Morning, Vietnam), one of the first writers to take a crack at the Flintstones script, crafted what he called a “Grapes of Wrath-type thing.” Insisting he’s “a guy without a lot of bitterness,” Markowitz nevertheless sounds a little testy when talking about his passed-over screenplay: “I don’t even remember it that well, but Fred and Barney leave their town during a terrible depression and go across the country, or whatever that damn prehistoric thing is, looking for jobs. They wind up in trailer parks trying to keep their families together. They exhibit moments of heroism and poignancy.” Markowitz’s version was apparently too sentimental for then-director Donner, who didn’t like it.