I needed an ice pack. Without a warm up, I’d just tossed what felt like a hundred fastballs to a Little League team I’d been coaching. I was doing a traffic-crawl to my home office, my right shoulder was in spasm, and Lucas Foster, who at the time was running development for Simpson/Bruckheimer, was calling me on my mobile.
“First I need to ask you if you’re available for a quick rewrite?”
“Depends on what and how quick,” I said.
“Can you get right over to Disney?” he asked.
“Only if there’s an ice pack waiting for me.”
Lucas assured me that despite Disney’s reputation for cold-war-era frugality, there would be plenty of ice for my shoulder and a bottle of Advil waiting for me.
Oh. And if the meeting went well, a writing gig.
I’d never met Don Simpson or Jerry Bruckheimer. As a producing duo, they were the present box office Kings of Hollywood. Dynamic. Powerful. Intimidating didn’t quite describe.
Jerry framed the situation as this. A year prior to our meeting there’d been a trade announcement. Disney’s Touchstone Pictures was in preproduction on a cop comedy called Bad Boys, starring SNL alums Dana Carvey and Jon Lovitz. Making his directorial debut on the picture would be a TV commercial-slash-music-video-whiz-kid named Michael Bay. According to Jerry, the script for the movie was never right. Both the studio and the producers had gone cold on the package and put the whole enchilada into turnaround. The producers brought the project to Columbia Pictures with the plan to retool it for Will Smith and Martin Lawrence, who were both starring in their own network sitcoms.
Great. So what’s the problem?
Problem one? The movie needed to be prepped and shot immediately because both Will and Martin’s television hiatuses began in six weeks. Problem two? Yes, there was this script. But it was only half a script. Literally. Barely sixty pages of re-worked farce written by a pair of Tonight Show joke-jockeys. Problem three? Will and Martin wanted to star in a kick-ass action movie.
There’s a dialogue snippet in the finished movie where actor Joe Pantoliano barks to Will and Martin, “Just do what you do. Only faster!” I stole that line from Jerry Bruckheimer because that’s precisely what he said when I asked him what would be expected from me if I said yes the gig.
Less than a week later I’m in Miami, vomiting script from my brain to my laptop. And thus began the hundred hysterical and tragic tales I can’t print in this very public forum. I seriously can’t tell you the story about the day of Don Simpson’s arrival or the story about casting the dogs or the one about busting the fish tank or how I negotiated which ethnicity of bad guy I could kill or what Tea said about the O.J. Simpson murder or how she was nearly handicapped for life in a stunt gone wrong or why I had to blow up the hangar at the end or why Marge Helgenberger as Alison Sinclair had to be a redhead or how writing Don Simpson out of the movie was the smartest thing I ever did or how I dealt with getting orders not to return the studio’s calls or why I was working in exchange for items circled in the Sony catalogue…
I can’t even tell you how and why we nearly set the historic Biltmore Hotel on fire.
Let’s just say there were many days when I was writing on Tuesday what we would film on Wednesday. We wrapped. We hugged and exchanged personal information. Everybody moved on to the next gig.
Sometimes after the first of the year, I received a call from the Writer’s Guild. A Notice of Tentative Credits had been submitted by Columbia Pictures to the WGA Credits Department. The proposed writing credits for Bad Boys listed screenplay by yours truly along with Michael Barry & Jim Mulholland, with a lone story credit assigned to George Gallo, renowned for having penned Midnight Run from his counter seat at Jerry’s Famous Deli in Studio City. The representative from the WGA explained to me I’d have ten days to protest the proposed credit or otherwise it would become final.
I was happy enough with the result. But I’d been around the arbitration block before. There were at least six other writers who’d worked on earlier incarnations of the movie and whose names weren’t in the proposed credit. Arbitration was a probability.
Side note. It has been my experience—both personal and anecdotal—that as belly-wretching as the WGA credit arbitration process is, credit generally ends up where it’s due. Of course, there are the stories where the process has gone completely sideways. And it’s usually the last guy to the party who gets robbed.
On Bad Boys, I was the last writer.
That wasn’t so much the problem. As far as anybody could tell, there was never an actual final shooting script with my name on it. Yes, there’s a digital draft floating around the internet, but that was something strictly for budgeting that was tossed a week before we started shooting.
The true script was always in pieces. I wish I had a photo of my Biltmore Hotel production office. One of the walls was plastered in corkboard onto which were pinned open manila envelopes. The envelopes were named for potential scenes. When a draft of a scene was finished, it would go into the envelope for distribution to the various departments. The night before the scene was shot, I would polish and pray for the funny to show up.
Months later, I was feeling royally screwed before the screwing had been officially executed. The idea that I might not get credit after I’d bled through practically every sprocket hole of the film left an indescribably foul taste. Lord knows I’d heard tales of writers who’d been the last mechanic on the assembly line. Writers who had toiled through the production, always at the beck and call of directors and movie stars and every damned producer’s whim. Each expressing ill feelings toward a credit process that often left them without their name anywhere on the picture. Hell, the freaking caterer gets credit on the movie. Why the hell not the last bloody writer?
I gave myself the same pep talk I’d been given by my attorney. He’d repped plenty of writers who’d been in the same ugly spot.
Listen to yourself, pal. You knew the job when you accepted it, not to mention the risks where credit was concerned. You said yes to the money. Move the hell on.
I prepped myself for the days, maybe weeks, of assembling written material in defense of my case. I was mentally forming arguments to a trio of invisible arbiters.
Then came the expected call from the WGA Credits Department. It was George Gallo who had filed to protest the proposed credit. He’d written the original script called Bulletproof Hearts. Eleven years later, that former screenplay had morphed many times over into Bad Boys. It was George Gallo’s certain right as a writer and an artist to dispute the proposed credit and seek something more than just “story by” if he truly felt it was due him. I needed to respect that.
As I was expressing my thoughts and concerns to my attorney, super classy and cool Alan Wertheimer, he reminded me that George Gallo was also his client. And though it would be obvious malpractice for him to advocate or dispense arbitration advice for either of us, nothing in his code of ethics prevented him from encouraging George and me to get on the phone and talk. Alan assured me George was a stand up guy.
So I took Alan’s advice. I dialed. George answered in his trademark gruff voice, and I introduced myself. And as the last writer talked to the first writer, I wondered how often that had ever occurred. Not too damn often, I reckoned.
George and I must’ve talked for an hour. As veteran writers, we commiserated over his original script and the trials and tribulations of navigating through a tortured studio development process neither of us would wish upon terrorists. We also pored over the completed Bad Boys, the blood and sweat equity I’d invested in the picture, and the pending arbitration for credit.
“You think you deserve a credit?” George eventually asked me.
“I honestly do,” I said.
“And if I don’t protest, I’ll still get the story credit.”
“All yours,” I said. “Nobody can ever jack that from you.”
I fully expected George to say he’d sleep on it or he’d have to ruminate on the situation and eventually get back to me. Instead, George just quizzed over the idea for a few seconds and said, “What the hell. What do I gotta do?”
The next day, George withdrew his protest. The proposed credit would stand. The rest is history.
Whether I’d deserved credit or not on the movie, no matter the result of an arbitration that never happened, what George did for me was the biggest gift ever.
Months later, George Gallo got married. I did a bit of investigating and found out where he and his bride were registered for gifts and ever-so-gladly purchased an entire crystal set for them.