A few things happened around the “release” of Jack and Sarah in the US. I had gone over to Los Angeles two weeks before the release date at the behest of my American agents, UTA, who I’d had for just over a year. This was for them to set up various meetings at studios and take advantage of the buzz my movie would hopefully create in the US. I did as I was told and duly turned up to find that not a single meeting had been set up. Not one. I thought this was puzzling and that they probably happened at the last minute, as peoples’ schedules changed so much. But no, after a few days and with my agents quite difficult to get on the phone and not exactly focused on what had been sold quite persuasively as my “window of opportunity” in the weeks around the release, still no meetings had been set. One of them actually expressed surprise that I was in town and asked what I was doing there. I kid you not. The final straw was when I had to go up to the Santa Barbara film festival which J & S was opening. I and the film were to be introduced to the festival by Michael Douglas. All very exciting. But not a single agent – I had three – were going to make the short trip up with me. Pippa Cross, Janette Day and I all made the trip up in the statutory stretch limousine and when I go to my hotel room I found a couple of bottles of Californian wine in my room. I thought it was a gift from housekeeping. But no, it was from my absent representatives. I don’t know, there was something about the wine – I think it looked a little cheap – that made me decide, in the instant, how I would deal with my agents’ collective lack of interest in me or my career. I would sack them. I had no idea where I would go, but I felt that no representation was better than crap “representation”. I also figured that with a new, admittedly small, movie opening in the next couple of weeks I could probably find someone else.
My mood wasn’t improved by the fact that Michael Douglas had been delayed and wasn’t at the cinema in time to introduce the movie. But the organisers had found someone else to step in. “It’s another Brit!” they proclaimed enthusiastically. I turned to be introduced to the celebrity deemed big enough to introduce my masterpiece – the first of many I thought at the time – and was faced with Peter Noone. Yes my movie and I were to be introduced by the erstwhile, ex-pat, perma-tanned singer of Herman’s Hermits. This was not going according to script.
At the after party Dennis Davidson, the movie PR guru and head of his eponymous company DDA, grabbed me, saying he wanted to introduce me to someone. I found myself shaking hands with a bespectacled man in a tweed jacket and tie. He looked like a local academic or teacher. He was telling me how much he enjoyed the movie and how he was going to make a few calls to friends on my behalf if that was okay. I was thinking how well intentioned this kindly man was, offering to call some of his friends in the Santa Barbara teaching community and urge them to go and see the film, when I realised, emitting an involuntary squeak, that I was in fact speaking to Michael Douglas. He was indeed offering to call his friends but they happened to run various movie studios in town. Now people often make these offers in the moment and just as often don’t come through. But over the next few days various calls came in asking me to meetings with very senior execs at all the studios. It was only when I was with John Goldwyn, President of production at Paramount at the time and he opened the meeting with “Michael Douglas loved your movie and told me I had to meet you,” that I realised Douglas had indeed made several calls that Monday and had been true to his word. What a nice man.
I was also busy on the phone that Monday dispensing with the services of UTA. The senior partner called me and was charming, saying that they’d taken their eye off the ball. The youngest of the three wrote an aggressive letter somehow managing to lay the blame for their lack of interest/failure to do their job properly at my feet. I guess that’s why he was an agent. Their lack of focus was explained three weeks later when the young one left to become a (very successful) movie producer at a studio with a couple of other clients and the other one left UTA to go to William Morris where he promptly tried to sign me with no compunction. They had both been too busy in the preceding weeks negotiating their own deals to concentrate on their clients – this one in particular.
I soon found another home in ICM being looked after by Rosalie Swedlin and Nick Reed. Quite soon after this I landed my first proper Hollywood writing and directing commission. It was a movie based on the novel Walking Papers by Jay Conley and it set in motion the way my Hollywood career would go from being a director who wrote to a writer/director and finally just to being a screenwriter. New Line had a script that was looking for a rewrite and a writer/director was the perfect solution from them. The next eighteen months was set.
We went through various drafts until we finally came close. Then the Head of the Studio who was a young man by the name of Michael De Luca became involved. He had a reputation of being the bad boy, wunderkind of Hollywood at the time. A party animal but also a kind of instinctive genius. He was a few of years younger than me at 31 and was absolutely charming. What was really interesting about him, though, was that his instincts about script and his notes were quite incredible. This guy really knew his stuff. He came in late and the last draft really benefited from his touch. We got on well so much so that when he was in London later that year he called and we met at the Met bar for a drink. We started to go out to cast. The budget was around $40 million dollars. It was a high concept piece about a successful author who has lost his way, put on hundreds of pounds in weight and is killing himself through substance abuse. His wife divorces him, taking pretty much everything he had, and in an epiphanous moment he gets his act together, loses the weight, has plastic surgery and goes back to seduce his wife and wreak revenge on her. In doing so he does, of course, fall back in love with her. We started going out to cast which in itself was exciting as they were all major stars. The problem was they would take at least
three months to come back with an answer. Despite the fact that the movie was financed by a studio and they were being made a firm offer. At one point Robin Williams was reading which I thought was pointless. For me it was too similar a role to Mrs Doubtfire for him.
Why would he do it? Four months later he passed, quoting its thematic similarity to Mrs D but making a point of getting a message to me that he had really enjoyed the script and would have done it but for that. John Travolta flirted, but his agent was apparently using it as a stalking horse for another move. He was exercising it as leverage on the other deal. I wanted Robert Downey Jr but it wasn’t possible at the time – because of his personal problems he was uninsurable. The last roll of the dice – it would have been the first if I’d had anything to do with it – was Steve Martin. He promised to read over a weekend. It had been a fight because the foreign sales team at New Line were no longer convinced of his pulling power at the box office overseas. I realised after Martin had turned it down that I should have enlisted Richard E Grant to introduce me to his friend and get me in the room with him. I’m sure I could’ve persuaded him. Martin was going through something of a wobble about his not being funny enough at the time which had been exacerbated by “Dennis Pennis” the comedian interviewer doorstepping him in Cannes and asking him why he wasn’t funny anymore. Martin had been clearly upset by this and other things.
Anyway he turned the script down because he didn’t find it funny enough. A shame. It was slightly dark (actually years later Will Ferrell passed as it was way too dark for him. Which I took as something of a compliment.) But over a year had passed since I’d finished the script and it was now five years since I’d shot my first movie.
The film never got made but one of my favourite scenes was where the lead character goes to an art class his ex-wife attends and in an attempt to get her back (she has discovered who he really is) gets a job as a nude model for the life class. He is lying in front of her naked, but for a sign in front of his crotch. I paid homage to the famous Bob Dylan video where he throws all the lyric cards over his shoulder. My character has a series of cards proclaiming his love for his wife, which he throws away, one by one, until it gets to one that says – “Please say something as this is my last card.” He is naked behind it. Some years later Richard Curtis made this idea famous in Love Actually with Andrew Lincoln on a doorstep. So it goes to show I was doing something right somewhere I suppose.
Five years later I was working for Jeffrey Katzenberg at Dreamworks Animation on the Aardman movie Flushed Away. I needed to get a sponsor for my 01 visa application. I suggested Michael De Luca who had just joined Dreamworks in the feature division. He somewhat surprisingly declined (people often sponsored visa applications for people they hadn’t even met) on the grounds that not only could he not remember meeting me he had absolutely no recollection of the project whatsoever. Maybe those party animal rumours had more truth to them than I’d previously thought.
But all was not lost. Universal read the script and wanted to send me a movie that needed a rewrite. The director was Ron Howard.