Thursday, January 8, 2015

"Celluloid Dreams"


The kid was doing technical work on a Francis Ford Coppola Sci Fi film.  That's where his interests lay.  He had already filmed a rough version of a Sci Fi film he believed in...but no one was interested so he put it on the shelf and went to work for others.  Then one day, on a hiatus from Coppola's film, Coppola walked over to the kid and challenged him to expand his horizons, to make a mainstream film that might attract a wider audience.

So, the kid went home, picked up a pencil, and began sketching out the idea for a film based on his own years growing up in the small farming community of Modesto, California.  It would be about childhood innocence, hot rod cars and rock n roll.  It would attempt to capture a time of growing up in the early sixties, of dragging main street, of drive-in movies and drive-in diners and of teenage yearnings.  And it would capture the angst of teens living under the cloud of the Vietnam War, and the draft and wondering what their role might play in that crazy Asian war.

So the kid did what Hollywood told him to do; he hired a couple of screenwriters to write the treatment.  And when they were done the kid read all the sex and violence injected into it, and fired the writers, and washed his hands, then went home and wrote the screenplay himself.

And when he was done writing, he pedaled that screenplay around Hollywood and every studio in town turned it down; said it didn't have enough sex and violence.

Then, when the story was on its last legs, Francis Ford Coppola read it, liked it, vouched for it, and got Universal Studios to buy into it.  Universal gave them a pittance to make it, gave the kid $600,000 dollars, a sum that would barely cover the copyright fees for the songs to be woven into the soundtrack.  And, though the movie was made on a shoe string, the production came to a halt when the $600,000 was spent.  So Francis Ford Coppola took a look at the rough cut and chipped in $175,000 of his own money to keep the film alive.

So, when the Universal "Suits" sat in the theater to watch the final cut of the film, they didn't like it; still not enough sex and violence...and they wanted to hire an outsider to edit the film.  But the kid's best friend was Francis Ford Coppola said "hey, I'll give you back every penny you put into the film and we'll release it as it is."   And while the Universal "suits" were considering the offer old Francis won the Academy Award for "The Godfather" and figured maybe old Francis knew something about film making...and if he trusted the kid''s work, well it must be okay.

So the film was released just as the kid made it.  And damned if America didn't go wild over the film. And so did Hollywood.  The film was nominated for Best Picture, the kid was nominated for Best Director, and for writing the Best Original Screenplay, and, ironically Best Screen Editing, and two of the actors were nominated for acting awards.

And that little film introduced us to a grown up Ronnie Howard and a new kid named Richard Dreyfus and another kid named Harrison Ford who didn't even make the opening credits.  And that little $775,000 dollar film titled "American Graffiti" earned $140 million dollars at the box office in 1973 dollars!

The kid's name?  Fella named George Lucas...and the Sci Fi film he had put on the shelf?  "Star Wars".


Jerry Carlin said...

Nice story! and "American Graffiti", of course, is a cult classic and worth watching again or for the first time!
Another example how hard work and persistence can pay off.
This "little story" would play well on the radio. Have you considered that?

A Modest Scribler said...

Jerry, I love the film for many reasons; the music, that little scene at the end when the kid is getting on the plane, the actors, and, most of all, because it was about a time and a locale when and where I grew up.

Good morning.