JULIE SALAMON REWINDS THE TAPE TO BRING 'THE DEVIL'S CANDY' TO 'THE PLOT THICKENS'
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While Prince of Thieves was shooting, producer Art Linson (The Untouchables) brought the script for The Ghost and the Darkness to Paramount with Costner as Col. John Henry Patterson on board, to star opposite Connery who agreed on playing Charles Remington, Brian De Palma was set to direct. however the flop of The Bonfire of the Vanities made Paramount febrile and consequently shelved the project.
Bauer found "Bonfire"'s production problems plaguing his negotiations for De Palma's next project. He'd been talking to Paramount Pictures for more than a month to sign De Palma for "Ghost in the Darkness," and African adventure story De Palma nicknamed "Jaws in the Veldt." Kevin Costner, who had become a star in "The Untouchables," had indicated he was eager to make the picture with De Palma.
Paramount's initial enthusiasm had been damaged by the publicity out of New York. The studio was already contending with several big budget pictures that seemed unlikely to recoup their costs: "Days of Thunder," the Tom Cruise picture about a race car driver; "Another 48 Hours," the sequel to the Nick Nolte-Eddie Murphy buddy picture; "The Godfather, Part III," which was plagued with its own production problems. The last thing the Paramount executives wanted to commit themselves to now was sending Brian De Palma -- a director with big budget problems -- to a remote continent with Kevin Costner to make a brutally difficult film.
Drew: Did you send any early drafts or run any of the ideas by your buddy and neighbor David Koepp?
De Palma: No, not really. I think we sent... yeah, because he read the book and gave us a quote. Yes, only when we were finished.
De Palma: Basically.
Lehman: Here's a trade secret: Brian is very big on don't show your work to anybody until it's finished.
Drew: Oh, really. But you famously have chimed in on other people's work in progresses, like, correct me if I'm wrong, but you really, uh, heckled Lucas on using [begins to laugh while talking] "The Force" in that early Star Wars screening.
De Palma: Will we never live down this meeting over the first screening of Star Wars. Everybody's.. I mean, when I talk to everybody that was involved in that movie, everyone has a different version of what happened.
Lehman: Well, give your version.
De Palma: But my version-- I mean, my version is pretty close to... I was just watching Steven's, um, the biography they did of Steven. And he related how he saw it. Everybody, you know, they always portray me as the guy that says the worst thing that drives everybody crazy. But if you're gonna to show me something, I'm gonna tell you what I think about it. Why am I there unless I'm gonna give an honest appraisal of what I've seen? And in this case, you know, the fact that Steven says that only he saw the possibilities of Star Wars, that's not really true. We all saw it as a terrific thing that George had done. And you know, we were well aware of where the special effects weren't there, and how they had cut in all these planes from other movies to be things they were supposed to be-- you know, the ships and stuff like that. But I did make a joke about The Force. That's true. [everybody laughs]
Lehman: Tell us what your opinion of The Force was.
De Palma: I just thought the idea of The Force was like, you know, "THE FORCE!" I would say, but I kept repeating it, you know. But, it doesn't seem like a great name for this kind of spiritual guidance. So, "The Force." So, needless to say, I had a lot to say about The Force, which obviously I was terribly wrong about. But the other thing was that no one knew what was, you know, the movie starts in chapter 3, we're in a world nobody's ever... knows anything about, he's got all these funny names for people, and I said, "George, you've gotta set this up somehow. Like those scrolls in the Flash Gordon movies." You know, George had that idea, but it was all gobbledygook, basically. So I and Jay Cocks went over the crawl and basically rewrote it. So it made some sense. And that was our contribution.
But, I mean, I said some things very direct to my director friends about their movies that went on to be extremely successful. Sometimes I was right, sometimes I was wrong, but they did the same for my movies. I mean, I think when George saw Mission: Impossible, he said, you know, "There's no set-up for this thing. You've gotta set this thing up. 'You're gonna do this. You're gonna do that.You're gonna do that.' You gotta have that scene where they're all sitting around the table and everybody gets their instructions about what's gonna happen." In the beginning, we had this very strange scene. It's hard for me to remember now. But with Voight, and somehow the jealous thing with the wife and Tom and then we got into the first mission and when George saw the movie, it's the first thing he said: "What are these people doing? You know, this is Mission: Impossible, a group of guys going to do stuff. So you've gotta get 'em all around a table and tell the audience what they're supposed to do." And that's what we did. We went back and re-shot it. So that was an example of us helping each other.
Charles: And so is that scene with Jon Voight at the head of the table and Kristin Scott Thomas is off to the side, was she not able to come back for scheduling? It kind of seems like she was sort of isolated in a corner?
De Palma: Correct. An astute student of cinema. In fact, Kristin could not come, so I had to shoot her over to the side, and we doubled her in the master shot with her back to the window.
Charles: I don't think I can take credit, I think someone else pointed that out for me, but...
Lehman: Go ahead, take credit.
Drew: I don't know if you know this, Brian, but we have done, like, over 150 episodes on the Mission: Impossible franchise, and talked to many of your collaborators on the first movie. And they told us everything. No, I'm kidding. So we were wondering, you know it's the 25th anniversary now, and you had an interesting sort of history with writers on this one, too, which is why I'm glad Susan's here to hear about your relationship with other writers.
Lehman: No, I've heard this before.
Drew: Did you use anything from that original Katz and Huyck draft of the movie, or was that just...
De Palma: Which draft are you talking about?
Charles: Supposedly there was a draft that Willard and Gloria Katz did...
De Palma: Correct.
Charles: And did you end up using anything from that?
De Palma: No. What happened was Sydney Pollack worked with them originally. He worked for a year on a draft that was set in the midwest. There was a storm. I don't even remember what it was. But Tom was unhappy with it. And when the head of CAA said to me, "Would you be interested in doing Mission: Impossible with Tom Cruise," and I said, "You bet," and they sent me off to... because Sydney wanted to do Sabrina. He wanted to get out of the Mission: Impossible situation. Because it wasn't going well. So Sydney went on to Sabrina, and they plugged me into Mission: Impossible. So I proceeded to work with the Huycks, who I knew way back from working with, you know, George many years ago. And we worked on a version still all set in the United States. I think the... and I don't even quite remember what the mission was, but it had something to do with a storm. And I knew Tom was not gonna like this. I was forced to go through with another draft of this thing where everybody was looking around for new writers to start all over again. And then Paramount had a commitment to Zaillion, and Zaillion and I went off to his office, we smoked a lot of cigarettes, I think we ate a lot of, well, I ate a lot of popcorn, and we worked for a couple of weeks, and we worked out this ten-page treatment of what ultimately became the basis for Mission: Impossible. But then Zaillion had other things he wanted to do so he bailed out. And then I ran into David, who was about to do a remake of something. And I said, "Don't do that! Come over and let's do Mission: Impossible." So he said, "Great." So I handed David this ten-page treatment, and he and I worked out the initial script for Mission: Impossible. That's act number one.
Act number two is, I'm trying to convince Jon... all Paramount wanted to do was make Mission: Impossible. To get Tom Cruise into Mission: Impossible was all they cared about. What the script was, who cares, as long as Tom is in Mission: Impossible. Tom was always having problems with characters or something. And I said, "Tom, you gotta go in and tell Sherry that you're gonna make this movie or we're going nowhere." So ultimately, Tom said okay, we're gonna make this script. And everybody said good, we have a go picture, we're going to London, we're starting to build all the sets. But I got a call the next day, and it was from Paula Wagner. And she said, "The good news is we're all go. The bad news is you have to fire David Koepp." I said, "What?!?" "Because Tom wans to bring on Bob Towne." "Fire David Koepp??" David's never been fired in his life. He's an old friend of mine, and I said, "You've gotta be kidding." "No. That's what Tom wants to do." So I had to call up Dave, I said, "Dave, the good news is, it's a go, the bad news is, you're fired." So what I did was keep David in the loop, let him know what we were doing, when we were starting to go into production, and Towne was up in the hotel for about six weeks, writing God-knows-what. Tom and I used to come in from rehearsals and act out these scenes in front of him. And he would work some more and smoke a few more cigars, and...
Lehman: Are there any tapes of that? Of you and Tom acting out the scenes?
De Palma: I don't think so. Finally, when he had to submit a script, the new script, Paula was appalled. I mean it just didn't work at all. So I said, "We've gotta bring David Koepp back on. And we've gotta take some of the good stuff, the good scenes that Towne had done..." See, what Towne did, he re-wrote the whole script. That's not what needed to be done. The characters had to be fleshed out a little bit. There have to be some clever lines. That's what he did. And then I brought David back on, I made them pay him a lot of money for two weeks. He took what Towne had done and integrated it into his script, and that became the script we shot. Of course, until the famous story about pulling off masks in the boxcar. Which we had a big fight over that. I said, "I've got this big helicopter chase in the tunnel! Him on the train, Voight on the helicopter..." And then Towne looks at me and says, "Oh, one of those, you know, helicopter-going-into-a-tunnel sequences." I said, [sarcastic] "Oh, okay, maybe you're right. Let's do pulling off masks in the boxcar. That's how we'll wrap it up. Great!" And I left it at that. I walked out of the room. And Tom came around and thought that maybe the helicopter thing would be better than pulling the masks off in the boxcar as a finale.
Drew: So how much of the Towne stuff ultimately made it in, would you say? Not much?
De Palma: There were some good Towne lines in there, but basically it's David's script. And I was very disappointed with Towne. But, you know, he has such a great reputation. I was very disappointed in what he did, and then look what he did to the next Mission: Impossible. It's a mess!
Drew: That's true.
De Palma: That is the... no good.
Drew: He was riffing on Hitchcock, though. I mean, did you have any sympathy in that?
De Palma: You mean in the one he did after mine?
Drew: Yeah. It's Notorious.
Charles: Basically, it's Notorious.
De Palma: Yeah, you know, I heard that idea so many times, "Let's do Notorious," blah-di-blah-di-blah. That's what he did, and it was not good.
Charles: When you say you heard that idea so many times, do you mean Tom Cruise was saying to you, "Let's do Notorious"?
De Palma: No, no, this was an idea that Towne had about doing a kind of Notorious element.
Charles: Oh, okay.
De Palma: We all love Notorious, but it didn't work for Mission: Impossible. As you've probably heard.
Charles: You know the sequence in the diner with Jon Voight, when he's revealed to be alive, and Tom Cruise is seeing the truth while Jon Voight lies. I think that Paul Hirsch had some hilarious comments about how critics were dumbed-down from Twister coming out a couple of weeks before [laughing]. He told us about that. But I'm wondering where that... that sequence is so brilliant, and I just love it so much. I'm wondering when did that come about? Was that with Koepp, or was that, you know, when in the process?
De Palma: Now you're getting into an area that I don't quite remember. I remember the way I shot it. And the idea of... I think it must have come from me and David. Because I had this idea that Voight should be saying one thing and Tom should be thinking what the truth was. And then, you know, I had laid out the sequence like that. But I think that's something we had right in the beginning of the script. I guess you can check in the versions David has on his website.
De Palma: In the initial script, and how it changed in the final version.
Lehman: I think those are all included in the De Palma archives, by the way.
De Palma: [laughs] No, they're in the David Koepp archives.
Charles: In one of his earlier scripts, there was a great set piece with a military wedding. Where, you know, Ethan is tricking Kittridge by showing up, and he does a quick change of his outfit to, like, fit in with this whole military wedding that comes out of the church. Do you recall that?
De Palma: No.
De Palma: We had a great sequence where they got one of the members. I think it was...
Charles: Ving Rhames?
De Palma: Ving? I think it was Ving, where he was in prison, and they break him out of prison. We had a great sequence with a, breaking him out of prison, in which they give him a shot so he looks like he's dead, and they bring him up to the roof, and they're gonna incinerate him. And then the helicopter arrives and it saves Ving, you know, from being incinerated, and he becomes... Otherwise, we had the, you know, this, The Seven Samurai recruiting the group.
De Palma: We kind of lost all that. We just stuck 'em all on the train, and they were all there. But we had sequences for each one where they're recruited.
Charles: That was never filmed, was it?
De Palma: No. Though, I laid out that sequence at the escape from prison. We were even starting to build a set for that. Which was, it was too much, too expensive. You know, we gotta cut this thing out.
Drew: Wow. But you seem to have had a relatively good time on this movie, all things considered. Correct?
De Palma: [sarcastic] A good time?
Drew: [lughing] Maybe hindsight is making it... yeah, I've heard you talking very warmly about the move recently. I don't know if maybe time has colored your perception of it, but...
De Palma: [ponderous] A good time...
Charles: You made a comment recently about how Carlito's Way and Mission: Impossible might be... I forget the exact phrase that you said, but it was something about you being at the top of your game, you had the biggest, you know, sandbox to play in, and...
De Palma: I had all the, you know, all the great things that you [want to have] when you make a big studio movie. You know, all the great technicians, all the great...all the money, you know, big stars. Yeah! you know, you can make something extraordinary. But it was like, after it was over, I said, get me outta here. Talk about stress in order to get the thing done.
Drew: Well, I was going to ask if this was ever conceived as a movie, but it sounds like it was always a book.
De Palma: Well, you write a lot of scripts that never get done. Then you've got a lot of ideas that are sitting on a shelf somewhere, or in a computer. And you say, well, this movie never got made, but maybe we can use this idea in a book. And that's sort of how it evolved.
Drew: Okay. And what was the collaborative process like?
Lehman: A lot of fun.
Drew [laughter from Charles]: Really? Okay.
De Palma: Yeah, it was a lot of fun. I would basically write some stuff and send it off to Susan, and she would rewrite it and then send it back to me.
Lehman: Brian, as you can imagine, has a very visual imagination and a great eye for story structure. And so he put down the tent poles, and then we sent it back-and-forth. And we kind of played a game, which was send it back-and-forth and see if you can amuse the other person more than you were amused.
Charles: Did you have an ending from the start?
Lehman: No, we were a couple of pages short, so... [she laughs]
[some other laughter]
De Palma: What do you mean a couple of pages short?
Lehman: As I recall, [we were at this some time?]...
De Palma: And?
Lehman: I think there was a whole section that we just decided to add on after we'd sort of mapped everything out.
De Palma: Sounds good to me.
Charles: Was it the whole Paris section or something? Or was it one of the characters that you were following?
De Palma: Well, we had some broad ideas...
Lehman: It's that kind of attention to detail that makes Brian remiss.
De Palma: You know, we had the political story, and then when we got the deCarlo character involved, then we got into her doing the column.
Lehman: And I think the final revenge, I think we took the revenge up a notch there at the end.
Charles: What was the biggest challenge of writing together? Or I guess, in writing your first novel, in general?
De Palma: Well, as you can imagine, we had a lot of time together, and it sort of fills out the day. Because, I sort of wake up very early in the morning, I have all kinds of ideas, and I sort of go to the computer and write them down, and then I sort of confer with Susan, and... sometimes I'm either developing a screenplay, but then, I have all these other ideas from the other screenplays, and it's a kind of unique collaboration, because Susan kind of fits it to the things I don't have. You know, I'm a visual storyteller, and blah-di-blah-di-blah. And she's able to get the characters' meat on the bone. You know, in movies, you just say, "He...", "She...", "The reporter...", you know, and you're very... sketching things in, because when the actors come in, they give the body to the character. But Susan did a lot of this, filling in the characters and their backstories.
Drew: The book came out a year ago, and we're nearing the paperback release. Is there going to be a followup? Are there going to be more of these books?
Lehman: Many many more.
De Palma: Yes. We, in our confinement, came up with another idea for a book, and we've been working on that for quite a while. So...
Lehman: It's finished.
De Palma: Yes, it's finished.
Charles: That's great!
De Palma: When our public calls out to us, we will release it.
Charles: Well, we'd love to see this, for sure, I hope that happens.
Drew: Yeah, we're calling out for it.
Charles: I'm interested to know: the book feels so much like a Brian De Palma movie, but also has more... it feels like a lot of your movies are so laser-focused on the narrative of a singular character or a couple of characters. This is much more of an ensemble. It's almost like a Brian De Palma movie by way of, like, Robert Altman, almost, with all these different characters. Was that always...
Lehman: Who gets to be the Robert Altman character in this portrayal?
Charles: Was that always the idea? Or did it start... I know a lot of your movies are like sequences that you start from and then build around. Was it more like that? Or how did the whole thing begin?
De Palma: What happens when you can't answer these questions?
Lehman: You ask me for help.
De Palma: Okay.
Lehman: So Brian had a number of ideas. The book is built around set pieces that are easily recognizable as trademark De Palma moments. The Eiffel Tower is one, and there are others. And so, I think... Brian plots things... he's a really good plotter. Like, he knows exactly how things are going to be structured, and how different scenes are going to speak to other ones. So I think we started with his basic idea. Structural idea. And then we played around with it a lot. Is that accurate?
De Palma: Yeah. You have to explain "played around."
Lehman: Well, we made up new characters, and we complicated their stories, and we, you know, twisted...
De Palma: Washed them out...
Lehman: Twisted their pathways to one another.
De Palma: And had many laughs doing it.
Drew: Susan, would you agree with the laughs part?
Lehman: Yeah yeah yeah. Yeah. I mean, writing with somebody is, especially if the somebody is Brian, takes all the loneliness of writing alone, and removes that, and replaces it with, you know, a sense of mischief and play.
Lehman: I really recommend it.
De Palma: If you have the right partner.
Drew: Were any of these set pieces left over from projects that you either couldn't fit into projects that were already completed, or, you know, from abandoned projects as well?
De Palma: Well, that's hard to answer-- I'm trying to think...
Lehman: I think Brian operates with a ragtag bag of tricks and ideas. I mean, he's always working. He has a million ideas, a treasure trove of unproduced scripts, and some are filled with good ideas, and some probably are filled with less-good ideas.
De Palma: They're all filled with great ideas. [Susan laughs, then the others laugh, too]
Thérèse Raquin is a novel that deals with the subject of adultery, which, of course, is also a main subject of Raising Cain (if Laure falls asleep in Femme Fatale while watching Double Indemnity, it can also be suggested that Jenny falls asleep in Raising Cain while leafing through Thérèse Raquin). And, of course, Thérèse Raquin is the inspiration for the upcoming novel by Brian De Palma and Susan Lehman, to be titled Terry.
In a La Repubblica interview from last year, Brian De Palma is asked by Silvia Bizio whether he and Susan Lehman will write together in the future. "We have already written another book," De Palma responds. "It's called Terry. It is inspired by Emile Zola's Thérèse Raquin and it's about a film production that is making a film about the book. There is a love triangle in the film, a lover, and a murder. And the same thing happens among the characters who are making the film."
In March of 2019, in an on-stage chat at the Quais du Polar in Lyon, France, De Palma had mentioned Thérèse Raquin as both a film idea he's had for years, and also as the subject of their next novel. With Lehman on stage with him, the subject came up during the Q&A when an audience member asked De Palma, "Are there any French characters, authors or films that inspire you?"
"I've made a lot of movies here," De Palma began in response. "And Thérèse Raquin is an idea I've... always had an idea for a movie for. Thérèse Raquin's been made many times, but I think I have a new way of... in fact, that's sort of the subject of our next novel, isn't it? We love the French, that's why we're here. They're very kind to me."
In fact, De Palma was close to getting his film version of this story, to be titled Magic Hour, made in 2013 with producer Saïd Ben Saïd. The pair had just made Passion together the year before. Screen Daily's Geoffrey Macnab reported that Emily Mortimer was to play the lead in the film, which was described as a "loose adaptation of Emile Zola's Therese Raquin, featuring both period and contemporary elements." Macnab added that "the story is about a film director and two actors shooting a movie version of Zola's novel and finding that it reflects experiences in their own lives."
"IT IS A KIND OF FILM TESTAMENT"
Earlier in 2013, without naming the project, Ben Saïd told Nicolas Schaller about a film he was then developing with De Palma: "This is a film about cinema that is not devoid of humor or cruelty. It happens on a shoot between a director, an actor and an actress. De Palma wrote it by drawing on things that have happened to him. It is a kind of film testament."
Interestingly, The Uses Of Enchantment is one of three books that David Mamet recommends in the first part of his 1991 book, On Directing Film:
The mechanical working of the film is just like the mechanism of a dream; because that’s what the film is really going to end up being, isn’t it?
The images in a dream are vastly varied and magnificently interesting. And most of them are uninfluenced. It is their juxtaposition that gives the dream its strength. The terror and beauty of the dream come from the connection of previously unrelated mundanities of life. As discontinuous and as meaningless as that juxtaposition might seem on first glimpse, an enlightened analysis reveals the highest and the most simple order of organization and, so, the deepest meaning. Isn’t that true?
The same should be true of a movie. The great movie can be as free of being a record of the progress of the protagonist as is a dream. I would suggest that those who are interested might want to do some reading in psychoanalysis, which is a great storehouse of information about movies. Both studies are basically the same. The dream and the film are the juxtaposition of images in order to answer a question.
I recommend, for example, The Interpretation of Dreams by Sigmund Freud; The Uses of Enchantment by Bruno Bettelheim; Memories, Dreams, Reflections by Carl Jung.
All film is, finally, a “dream sequence.” How incredibly impressionistic even the worst, most plodding, most American movie is. Platoon really is not any more or less realistic than Dumbo. Both just happen to tell the story well, each in its own way. In other words, its all make-believe. The question is, how good make-believe is it going to be?