This article originally appeared at Den of Geek UK.
Fate plays a huge part in writing. For anyone penning a story, be it a movie, a stage play, a novel, or a short piece just for themselves, there has to be a spark of an idea that’s come from somewhere.
Every movie on the planet has a moment like that, and thus what we’re about to present isn’t even close to being a definitive list. But what we hope to demonstrate is just how the smallest nugget can spark a story that then turns into a film that many of us really love…
Jerry Maguire – The box office failure of Dick Tracy
When Warner Bros scored a massive hit with Tim Burton’s Batman in the summer of 1989, it would be fair to say that Disney was watching. It had lined up in 1990 a comic book blockbuster of its own, with Warren Beatty directing and starring in Dick Tracy, along with Madonna (who would also contribute music to the movie).
But when Dick Tracy finally arrived, off the back of a mass marketing campaign pretty much unheard of for a live action film from the-then very frugal Disney, the movie didn’t quite deliver. Its box office tally was much lower than had been hoped for, and Disney’s Jeffrey Katzenberg – who had backed and championed the movie – was left musing about the state of the film industry.
He thus wrote a now-legendary memo, that we looked at in some detail here, which was a view of how the industry was, where it was going, and how it should be. Quickly leaked to the Hollywood press, it was ridiculed in many quarters, only for most of what Katzenberg predicted to come true.
For Cameron Crowe, though, that memo would be the starting point of what would become the hit movie Jerry Maguire. Jerry, played by Tom Cruise, writes his own mission statement in said film, the catalyst for a film that then goes off in a very different direction. But, were it not for the relative failure of Dick Tracy, Jerry Maguire may simply not have happened…
Monsters – Portuguese fishermen
Director Gareth Edwards’ excellent debut feature, Monsters, came to him while on holiday in the Maldives. As he told us back in 2010, he was on holiday with his girlfriend, and they were watching fishermen at work. “I remember saying it out loud: ‘Watch these fishermen. Imagine there was a creature on their boat. Watch how they behave. It would be totally realistic.’ And she said, ‘Yeah, it would.’” And from there, Edwards developed the idea that would become his debut feature. Off the back of the excellent Monsters, he would land the director’s chair on 2014’s Godzilla, and subsequently the upcoming Star Wars: Rogue One.
Our full 2010 interview with Edwards can be found here.
RoboCop – The poster for Blade Runner
A sci-fi classic in its own right, RoboCop was, in turn, inspired by Ridley Scott’s immortal Blade Runner. Edward Neumeier got the seed of the idea that would become the final film when he was walking past a poster for Blade Runner. Curious, he enquired of his friend what the film was, and was told “it’s about a cop hunting robots.” Neumeier, at that point, put the words robot and cop together, and the first draft of the film was thus penned in 1981. Three years later, he brought Michael Miner on board, who was working on a project called SuperCop. Miner brought the idea of a cop who was heavily injured and was rebuilt as a robotic police officer. The union of the two ideas led to 1987’s RoboCop…
In and Out – An Oscar acceptance speech
An infamous story, this one. Frank Oz’s 1997 comedy scored Kevin Kline a minor hit, in the story of a teacher who gets thrust into the limelight courtesy of the Academy Awards. One of his former students wins Best Actor at the Oscars, pays tribute to his teacher, and drops in that “he’s gay.”
The entire movie – penned by Paul Rudnick – was inspired by Tom Hanks’ acceptance speech at the 1994 Oscars, when he picked up the Best Actor gong for his role in the film Philadelphia. In his speech, Hanks paid tribute to his high school drama teacher, Rawley Farnsworth, along with classmate John Gilkerson, declaring them “two of the finest gay Americans, two wonderful men that I had the good fortune to be associated with.”
In and Out‘s journey to the screen started right then…
Brassed Off – A motorway queue
Writer/director Mark Herman was, following the commercial and critical disappointment of his feature Blame It on the Bellboy, struggling to get a new project off the ground. After taking advice from his agent to write something he really cared about, he found himself stuck in a traffic jam on the A1. He was near Doncaster, so he decided to turn off and cut across to the M1, in the process going through the town of Grimethorpe.
Herman used to work as a bacon salesman, and Grimethorpe was his patch. But as he drove through he saw first hand the effects that the 1980s miners’ strike in the UK had had on the region. “Seeing the shops I used to visit all boarded up, seeing these places like ghost towns, seeing that it was now easier to buy drugs than bacon, made me want to write something about it,” he told us back in 2008. At the moment, Brassed Off was born.
We looked back in more detail at the movie, here…
In the Line of Fire – Meeting the vice-president as a child
Producer Jeff Apple began working on what would become the Clint Eastwood-headlined 1993 thriller In the Line of Fire in the 1980s. But the idea for the film went right back to his childhood. He met the-then Vice President of the United States, Lyndon B. Johnson, as a child. He was struck at the time by Johnson, and how he was surrounded by Secret Service agents, all with their earpieces. When he then saw a television replay of the assassination of John F. Kennedy, he put the pieces together.
Not until 1991, though, would the film get real traction, when writer Jeff Maguire was hired to put a screenplay together. Wolfgang Petersen would go on to direct the acclaimed thriller.
Hudson Hawk – Some wind in New York City
Haters: I still like Hudson Hawk. So ner. I looked back at it in detail here.
The genesis of the film, though, goes back over a decade before we actually got to see the movie. Bruce Willis was working behind the bar at a club in New York, where musician Robert Kraft was performing some of his music with his group. The two soon became friends, with Willis in particular taking interest in a song of Kraft’s called “The Hudson Hawk.”
Kraft got the idea for said song when reading an article in the paper that told of a strong wind that came in off Lake Michigan that had the nickname The Hawk. He was walking past the Hudson river in New York, and a similar bracing wind caught him. He figured that was the Hudson Hawk. That’s where the title came from.
It was Willis who, enamored with the title, would collaborate with Kraft on lyrics for the song, and the story of the world’s greatest cat burglar – one Willis was keen to tell – was woven in.
The Knot – The Australian actors’ union
The Australian wedding comedy A Few Best Men was a mild hit for director Stephan Elliott. It found roles for British actors Kris Marshall and Kevin Bishop, who lined up alongside Rebel Wilson and Olivia Newton-John. And originally, it had a role for Noel Clarke in it as well.
Clarke, whose latest directorial work Brotherhood lands in cinemas next month, was due to play one of the leads. He’d written his own wedding comedy beforehand, but that was on the backburner. However, it came back to life when the Australian actors union objected to the number of British actors lining up in the cast for what was supposed to be an Aussie comedy. Clarke was the one who got dropped from the ensemble.
“I was not chuffed about that,” he told us. And when he got dropped from the film, he decided to resurrect his own project. “I thought fuck ’em, we’re going to make our own one, and kill ’em,” he said.
It didn’t quite work out like that. Neither The Knot nor A Few Best Men set the world or the box office alight in truth. But the significantly lower budget for The Knot may just have made it the better business decision.
Mad Max – An Australian hospital
George Miller, before he broke into writing and directing his own movies, used to work as a doctor in Sydney, Australia. Even before he landed that job, he’d seen more than his fair share of car accidents, but in his role as a doctor in the emergency department, he saw first hand the injuries – sometimes fatal – caused by auto accidents.
He met Byron Kennedy while working in the hospital, and the pair would team up for a short film by the name of Violence in the Cinema Part 1. A few years later, the imagery that Miller had been surrounded with would fuel the first Mad Max movie, not least the fate of some of its characters….
Jingle All the Way – A 6am hunt for a Power Ranger toy
It’s part of the Christmas tradition that there’s usually a much-wanted toy that goes out of stock and thus has frantic parents, friends, and relatives clamoring to find one somewhere. That was certainly the case in the early 1990s with Power Rangers, and back then, you couldn’t just hit F5 on eBay in the hope that said toy would reappear. No: you had to queue.
That’s what Randy Kornfield’s in-laws did, when they were trying to get hold of one of the aforementioned Power Rangers for his son. This germ of an idea then was fleshed out into the first draft screenplay for the Arnold Schwarzenegger vehicle Jingle All the Way. As it happened, the script was subsequently rewritten by Chris Columbus, who had experienced similar problems a few years later trying to get hold of a Buzz Lightyear…
Office Space – Putting purchase orders into alphabetical order
We’ve discussed Mike Judge’s glorious Office Space at Den of Geek before, and somewhat inevitably, its origins lay in some of the work that Judge had done before he broke into filmmaking.
The early catalyst for the project was a temp job that Judge once had, where he had to put purchase orders into alphabetical order. He described said job as “soul-sucking torture,” and he channelled this – and an assortment of other temp jobs he took – into some short films that he made for Saturday Night Live in the early 90s. In turn, they would pave the way for one of the finest, and most criminally underseen, live action comedies of the 90s…