An Alan Smithee Film: Burn Baby Burn Backstory
The dark and stormy tale of Burn Hollywood Burn, or how a Jaded screenwriter looking for fun turned Tinseltown upside down
It’s February of 1996, and I need some fun in my writing life. Showgirls and Jade have hara-kiried themselves and been chain-sawed to death. A young producer’s assistant turns to me in a meeting and says, ”How does it feel to be the most reviled man in America?” I decide to write something for my own enjoyment, as a sort of a goof.
The original title is Amok!, although I change it to An Alan Smithee Film before I am finished with the first draft. It’s a Hollywood satire that incorporates many anecdotes and incidents I have either heard, experienced, or suffered in the course of 23 years of screenwriting. It uses the names of real Hollywood players and calls for three industry superstars — Schwarzenegger, Willis, and Stallone — to play themselves.
We’re sitting in the agency’s fanciest conference room and my agent, the first nonfamily member to read the script, says: ”Put it in a drawer, forget you wrote it, it’s going to hurt your career and mine. It’s bad for the industry.”
”What are you,” my wife, Naomi, says to him, ”the poster boy for the movie industry?”
It’s a bruising meeting that ends with a dent that I leave in the conference room’s ornate table and a promise by my agent that even though he doesn’t believe in the script, he’ll try his best to get it made. And since he represents Bruce Willis, he’ll send the script to Bruce in the hope that Bruce’s body double will agree to play Bruce in it.
His body double? When your agent doesn’t believe in your script and he’s the one in charge of getting it made, you just might have a problem. We’ll samizdat the damn thing, I decide. Do what Solzhenitsyn did. My producer, Ben Myron, and I make 300 photocopies of the script and send them to anyone and everyone in town. At least this way, I think, the town will read it, maybe someone will nibble at it, and I can get around my agent’s fear of it.
As the script circulates around town, the Hollywood trades write about it. One immediate result is that Arnold Schwarzenegger gets very angry, his brother-in-law tells me. Arnold doesn’t like reading about a movie he’s in whose script he hasn’t even read. I write Arnold a letter:
”Dear Arnold, you are an Austrian. I am Hungarian. There was once an Austro-Hungarian empire. In 1848, the Hungarians revolted against the Austrians. We lost. The Austrians were very gracious to the Hungarians after the Hungarians made such fools of themselves in 1848. I guess history repeats itself. Can we get together and discuss changing the course of history?”
I sign the letter with my name, and, in parentheses, the word Forehead. It is Arnold Schwarzenegger’s personal word, I know, for people he considers fools.
Arnold isn’t amused either by my letter or by the word Forehead. He doesn’t answer me.
Sly Stallone gets the script through a mutual friend in Miami. I worked with him 20 years ago in my first movie, F.I.S.T. Sly thinks the script is hilarious and says he’ll do it. ”If I can’t laugh at myself after all the good things that have happened to me in this business,” he says, ”who can?” I don’t disagree with him.
An Alan Smithee Film: Burn Hollywood Burn