Wednesday, March 25, 2015

The secret histories of Lost and Pretty Woman

It's Hollywood legend that Pretty Woman was originally a much darker story about prostitution called 3,000. Instead of a fairy tale ending, that version of the script ended with an overdose and the two leads not being together. In a true example of Hollywood rewrites in action, the "darker, grittier" version was thrown out and turned into a film that most women of my generation regard as a sweet romantic comedy,

Kate Erbland (who seems to write for every site I read), has penned an interesting Vanity Fair article looking back on the evolution of the original 3,000 script, talking to several of the surviving key players. The whole thing is worth a look, but I'm most amused by the comments from screenwriter J.F. Lawton, who says he decided to do 3,000 after his comedies weren't getting any attention. He figured the only way to get any heat was to write something "serious and dramatic."

This probably comes as a surprise to those familiar with stories of screenwriters bemoaning all the ways that "the suits" bastardized his or her script, but Lawton is pretty pragmatic about the whole thing, speaking without a hint of bitterness.

“If I had written the final draft, or somebody else had written the final draft, I don’t think it ever would have gotten produced,” he offers. “I think it got produced because the original script had gone to Sundance, it was prestigious, it was viewed as serious art, so it was allowed to touch into this area of sexuality and money and prostitution and all of that. It gave Hollywood permission to do it, and then Garry was smart enough, because he’s got incredible pop instincts, to say, ‘O.K., this is what people want to see, they want to see the fairy tale.’ ”

How's that for irony? It had to be edgy and serious so that it had the credibility to turned into an uplifting rom-com. It's kind of like if While You Were Sleeping got its start as a spec about a lonely woman raping a coma patient.

One the favorite bits of trivia I discovered is that Lawton wrote and directed the B-movie Cannibal Women in the Avocado Jungle of Death, which was a mainstay of Comedy Central's lineup in the mid-to-late 90s. I swear there was a year there where Comedy Central owned only three movies and this was one of them. I always seemed to land on the scene when the Cannibal Women were preparing to boil Bill Maher - yes, that Bill Maher - alive in a large pot. That the film also stars Adrienne Barbeau and Shannon Tweed probably gives you an idea what to expect. It's free on Amazon Prime, but fair warning, if you watch it, you'll be explain for months why the site keeps suggesting "jungle girl" movies.

Maybe someday Erbland will write an oral history of Avocado Jungle. Until then, have a look at her Pretty Woman retrospective.

And TV writer/producer/creator/showrunner and one-half of Children of Tendu, Javier Grillo-Marxuach has just made available a comprehensive, nearly 17,000 word essay on his time working on LOST. If you ever wanted a window into the kind of work that a TV writing staff does - particularly in the early development of a series - I would go so far as to call this essay essential. From figuring out the characters, to discovering the show's format, to the evolution of the series's mythology, it's all here, told from a man who spent two years working on that mysterious island.

Perhaps of the most interest, he answers the question "Did we know what we were doing, or were we just making it all up as we went?" In fact, he answers it repeatedly and I think the answers might cause some viewers to meditate on exactly what it means to have a plan, and if rigid plans are really the aspirational peak when it comes to television stories.

I'll also take the opportunity to get in a plug for Grillo-Marxuach's recently-released book of essays about television, SHOOT THIS ONE! It's available on Amazon for a mere $7.99 - or free if you have Kindle Unlimited!

How do you become a television writer? What does it take to create your own show? Did the writers of Lost really have a plan, or were they making it all up as they went? In a career spanning far longer than he cares to admit, Javier Grillo-Marxuach has not only written for some of your favorite (and not-so-favorite) shows — from the Emmy Award-winning Lost, to Charmed, Medium, Law & Order: SVU, and seaQuest — but also worked as a network executive, created a comic book that became a cult television series, co-hosted a popular podcast, and contributed essays on the entertainment industry to such publications as The Los Angeles Review of Books, and Apex Magazine. 

Collected for the first time, Grillo-Marxuach’s occasionally far-too-revealing essays offer a true insider’s look into the good, the bad, and the frequently bat-guano insane inner workings of the entertainment industry. If you have ever wondered how shows actually get on the air, how it feels to win an Emmy Award, and why a grown man would have to swear off watching Star Wars for an entire year, then this irreverent collection is not only the book you want, it’s also the book you need! "Javi is willing to open up the hood and tell you exactly how it's done... if it is your ambition to be a writer -- or any kind of storyteller, really -- reading this book will not just entertain you but spare you some heartache and headaches as you embark on this magical, heartbreaking, brain-melting path." -- from the introduction by Maureen Ryan, TV Critic, Huffington Post


  1. Javier Grillo-Marxuach has just made available a comprehensive, nearly 17,000 word essay on his time working on LOST.
    It's there supposed to be a link to this or am i missing something obvious?

    1. Whoops! Screwed up the link. Should work now. Thanks!

  2. I actually have a guilty pleasure in Lawton's action film The Hunted.