I’ll never forget the day my buddy and former student Randy called me to tell me that Clint Eastwood was going to star in his movie, “Trouble with the Curve.” This was his first script. His dream came true, and it was really happening.
I was sitting in a café doing a dialogue polish for an animated movie (“Tad, the Lost Explorer”) I’d been working on for a group of renegade Spanish producers. The next day, I was flying to London for a dubbing session. Now mind you, working on Spanish animation wasn’t exactly what I thought I’d be doing at this point in my 25-year Hollywood screenwriting career, but I was/am exceedingly grateful to be a working writer. I was glad to be alive.
Until … Randy called me with his BIG NEWS. (The ALL CAPS are mine because Randy’s a low key, down-to-earth guy.) “Trouble with the Curve” just got a green light from the president of Warner Bros. Clint Eastwood was un-retiring from acting to headline. How thrilling was this? How happy and proud was I of Randy’s major accomplishment?
The truth was, I wanted to shout out my jubilation from the top of the tallest building -- and then hurl myself off of it.
Okay, I wasn’t actually suicidal, but I did sink into a deep depression that traveled with me to London. One of my fantasies had always been to work in England on a film shoot, and I was doing it – but there was this dark cloud over my head beyond the London fog. Sure, I was thrilled for Randy. I just wanted that thrill ride to be for one of my original pet projects. The green-eyed monster roared. Out of control.
Clint Eastwood is notoriously averse to script development. In this case, the green light from Warner Bros. was more like a starter pistol. Bang! Casting news poured out in the trades. Amy Adams! Justin Timberlake! It was all happening at a breathless pace. Randy’s little, personal movie -- his first script -- a surefire project. Who wouldn’t want to line up to see legendary Clint in his first starring role since “Gran Torino” made almost $300 million in 2008?
After principal photography ended and production wrapped on “Trouble,” director Robert Lorenz holed up in the editing room. Justin went back to being Justin. Amy Adams went back to being Hollywood’s stellar go-to girl. And Clint waded back into politics.
Clint was/is a devout Republican, and was now throwing his weight behind candidate Mitt Romney. Could there be a bigger, safer bet for the surprise guest at the Republican National Convention in Tampa?
I didn’t catch Clint’s now-infamous talk with the empty Obama chair, because it happened to coincide with the premiere of “Tad, the Lost Explorer” in Madrid. “Tad” had a lot riding on it. A budget of around 8 million euros that Jordi and his other producing partners (Nico and Edmon) had raised over several years. If “Tad” failed to make more than one million euros during its entire run in Spain, Jordi risked losing everything.
The “Tad” movie premiere was on a hot Thursday night, August 30th, in Madrid, with Paramount releasing. The voices for the Spanish version were all done by famous Spanish actors and a popular comedian. We also lucked out that one of the main songs on our soundtrack was the monster hit “What Makes You Beautiful” by New Direction. Jordi had liked the song and bought the movie rights before these kids shot into the stratosphere. Lucky break. Would there be more to follow? I’d have to wait until Sunday night to find out the box office results. Us versus Adam Sandler in “That’s My Boy,” and “Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter.” I was nervous.
In the morning, I logged back in to the real world – and the top story was Clint Eastwood’s oddball performance at the RNC. Clint talking to the empty chair in front of thousands of fervent Republicans who even got him to say, “Go ahead, make my day.” The Clint empty chair video went viral. The Republican machine went into full damage control. The Romneys tried to laugh it off and distance themselves from Dirty Harry. Rinse and spin. Hard to believe, but the 82-year-old Clint was more popular now than ever before. This would either be very good for “Trouble.” Or very bad.
Meanwhile, halfway across the globe, “Tad, the Lost Explorer” opened in Spain on the same unfortunate day that the Spanish government raised the tax on movie tickets by more than 20%. With unemployment at an all-time high in Spain, I was justifiably worried about who was going to shell out the euros to buy an already more pricey ticket for a low-budget, 3D movie with no track record, not a sequel or based on a comic book or Disney character or ride or toy or video game or classic TV show? I was convinced that we were toast.
By Monday, “Tad, the Lost Explorer” (aka “The Adventures of Tadeo Jones”) was #1 at the Spanish box office. Week two: Tad was #1 again. Week three: #1. Week four: #1. Week five: #1.
As I write this, we are still breaking box office records in Spain. “Tad” has outperformed almost every major Hollywood release, including “The Dark Knight Rises,” the Spider-Man reboot, “The Hunger Games.” “Tad” leaves Fox’s new “Ice Age” installment, Pixar’s “Brave,” and Dreamworks’ latest “Madagascar” in the dust. My Spanish producer friends and I are all stunned. For whatever reason, “Tad” has become a cultural phenomenon in Spain … and was about to expand into wide global release: China, Korea, France, UK, and Russia. And just yesterday it was announced in Variety that Vivendi won the U.S. distribution rights after an intense bidding war with other studios and distributors.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. Back in September, I’d flown home to L.A. after “Tad Jones” was #1 for the second week in a row. Jordi was still dancing on air. The sequel -- “TJ2” – got a green light, and our second animated feature continued to inch closer to pre-production with the same super-talented director, Enrique Gato, at the helm. Could I be more elated?
On the drive home from LAX, I started seeing the “Trouble with the Curve” media blitz. Instantly my big triumph in Spain was dwarfed by CLINT’S FACE plastered on the side of buildings, on billboards, bus shelters. “Trouble” was EVERYWHERE – with the tagline: “Whatever life throws at you.”
By now, my sour grapes for Randy had softened into sweet desire for my pal’s first movie to hit a grand slam at the weekend box office. Hey, he wrote the first draft in my class at UCLA. He’s a great guy. Maybe he’d even get an Oscar nomination and give me a shout out? I was cheering from the sidelines and ready for “Trouble.” Anything could happen.
Despite Warner Bros. valiant marketing campaign to make sure that “Trouble” opened on top, the movie stumbled. “No homerun for Clint” tweeted TheWrap. More like a ground rule double. The first weekend box office was not terrible – just disappointing for a Clint Eastwood movie. It opened #3. Here was a heartwarming, PG-rated baseball movie, packaged to be a crowd-pleaser. What happened? Was it Clint’s tarnished, now controversial image? Was it political backlash? Was it just that the younger generation doesn’t give a shit about Clint? Were the mostly tepid reviews on the mark?
I knew Randy’s script was quite good. I hadn’t read it for more than 12 years, but if memory served, it was a terrific premise with strong characters, distinctive characters, funny dialogue, and familial fireworks. But I had no idea what first-time director Robert Lorenz could do, nor how hands-on or -off Clint was behind the scenes. I went to the Cineplex to see for myself.
I’ll refrain from a harsh critique. I’m not a movie reviewer, and I know how much time and energy and money goes into filmmaking. I don’t live to tear people down.
Still, I didn’t love the movie. For all these years, I’d had this vision in my head of what this movie could be. I enjoyed many aspects of the film. I chuckled when the legal case that Mickey (beautifully played by Amy Adams) was working on at the law firm was referred to as the “Landau” case. I enjoyed seeing Clint grumbling at everyone. But the script had been rewritten. A new back-story subplot had been introduced. The new ending ran afoul. I wondered how Randy felt about the finished product.
The next day, Randy and I met at our usual lunch spot. I shared with him the unexpected success for “Tad, the Lost Explorer” in Spain. Randy shared with me his phenomenal adventures in Hollywood – the hype, the reality, up and down and every which way but loose. He told me about the new TV pilot he sold to CBS. He told me that he and M were happily living together. I told him that, no matter what, this was still a HUGE achievement for him. He told me that maybe “Tad’s” success in Spain could help reinvigorate my Hollywood career. And I thought: Hollywood? I’m global, baby! Working on the sequel. It’s all good, man. I’m on top of the world. Spinning.
As we walked to our cars, we both knew that as long as there are movies, there are going to be Hollywood stories. And the most satisfying conclusions are almost always the ones you never anticipated.