Miramax ordered "54" director to lighten up his first cut after disastrous test screenings

The “54” that enters theaters today is a disco saga that dances to a different beat than did its original incarnation. As Rebecca Ascher-Walsh reports in this week’s EW, first-time feature director Mark Christopher was forced by Miramax to alter the movie drastically after a disastrous test screening.

The film studies the hipper-than-thou New York nightclub of the ’70s, Studio 54, as seen through the eyes of an impressionable New Jersey teenager (Ryan Phillippe) who works there as a bartender. The original cut, however, was significantly darker, with Phillippe disrupting the lives of a couple who befriend him (Salma Hayek and Breckin Meyer) and spiraling into drugs á la “Boogie Nights.” But sneak-preview audiences thought the characters were too unlikable and sinful — and particularly hated a moment when Phillippe and Meyer kiss.

Miramax quickly ordered a none-too-pleased Christopher to do major reshoots (the film was to open in two months). In the end, the kiss vanished, and the characters lightened up dramatically, with Hayek’s and Breckin’s roles shrinking, while Mike Myers (who plays club co-owner Steve Rubell) and Neve Campbell (as a soap star club habitué) gained screen time. (As a whole, the movie was trimmed by a half hour.) Many of the cast members were surprised by the extensive changes, but not Myers, who says he was surprised that the movie is “as unchanged as it is. I’ve written four screenplays, and they’re never what you think they’ll be. You always have to scramble and change. A screenplay is a blueprint, it’s not the house. The movie is the house.”

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