Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Hey! They Stole My Idea!

About a dozen years ago I wrote 5 action ideas for ex-American Ninja star Michael Dudikoff - that was the business I was in. Oscar caliber material. One of the producers I worked for always wanted to do rip-offs of some other movie - and there’s an upcoming blog entry called *Imagine That!* with more about this guy. So he’d says something like, “Come back in a couple of days with some ideas - and it’d be cool if you can come up with something like TRUE LIES and that Steve McQueen movie HUNTER.” So I’d come up with 5 ideas, with one like TRUE LIES and one like THE HUNTER... and 3 that were original... or, at least, more original.

My theory on the “ideas like” was to take the movie and come up with some high concept twist on it. So here’s what I did when they wanted something like THE FUGITIVE...

PURSUIT
When blue collar waste management exec Jack Caplan finds out his business partner, Fischer, is illegally dumping toxic waste, he confronts him at a convention. But Fischer is murdered, and Caplan is set up as fall guy. Now, Caplan must search the hotel for the real killer, while evading both the police and the killer's henchmen. (Think "The Fugitive" in a hotel, played in real time.)

Toxic waste instead of drug tests, and it all takes place in the hotel in real time. That’s the twist that makes it different... but usually the first thing the producer would say is, “Well, why can’t he be accused of murdering his wife, and get rid of the real time thing, and open it up - take it out of the hotel, have it take place in the whole city.” Turning into a carbon paper version of THE FUGITIVE... and something I wasn’t interested in writing. I ended up doing a full treatment for the HUNTER idea... and then jumped ship when it became a carbon copy.

For the TRUE LIES thing, I added a cool twist - THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE (original) is one of my favorite movies, so what if Harry in TRUE LIES didn’t know he was a spy? What if the phone rang in his suburban home and a they triggered him with a phrase (“Why don't you pass the time with a game of solitaire?”) or series of sounds to become James Bond? After they mission, the phone would ring and he’d be triggered back to being suburban dad Harry. So here’s what I wrote a dozen years ago for Dudikoff...

THE SECRET LIFE
Rob Keller's job as a civil engineer takes him all over the world, building bridges in strange countries. When he’s home with his pregnant wife Mary, he’s the perfect husband, taking Lamaze classes and pricing strollers. But Keller’s hard hat job is a cover for his real work as a spy... only he doesn’t know it. A special sonic code activates him, like The Manchurian Candidate, turning the suburban husband into a lethal spy. When the mission is over, another phone call returns him to his regular life. But when Rob returns home from a mission, he brings trouble with him: A terrorist cell bent on revenge. Now Rob must juggle his home life, pregnant wife, and his secret life. When the terrorists kidnap Mary, unactivated suburban Rob has no choice but to stop them... permanently.

So Monday night I caught MY OWN WORST ENEMY with Christian Slater... which I liked, but had too much “personality bleed” which kind of lessens the impact of the end. It would be easy for me to say they stole my idea - only I don’t think they ever had access to it, and it’s obvious that they started with TRUE LIES meets TOTAL RECALL - from the brainwash device to the bit where one side of his personality sends the other side a video to give him information. The funny thing about that - in my action book, I describe TOTAL RECALL as a movies where Ah-nuld discovers he’s his own worst enemy. Hey, did they read my book?

The thing is, this idea was kind of sitting there waiting for somebody to use it. If we look at the two Ah-nuld movies, how many people have those two DVDs sitting next to each other on their shelf? All someone had to do is look at what they had in common, and mash the stories together. Hey, it’s been over a dozen years - how come it took so long?

Hmmm, think I can sell my dozen year old idea to someone today?

- Bill

2 comments:

Cunningham said...

"So here’s what I did when they wanted something like THE FUGITIVE..."

Here's what Jeff Miller and I did with THE FUGITIVE...which was a great starting point for us. It has gone through many iterations including a gender change:

(Oh, and FYI -the story was originally written with an action star in mind who shall remain nameless but currently has a movie out called JCVD)

WOLFSBANE:

When a young couple is attacked by a werewolf on their way home from a party, the surviving widow (whom everyone believes insane) is accused of murder and has until the next full moon to evade the police and find the real murderer before she too becomes a bloodthirsty creature of the night.

And yes, it's a lot of fun to use people's expectations to surprise them in the story. We did it several times - both with "the fugitive" expectation, and the "werewolf" expectation. Twist, twist, twist the cliche's and suddenly you have something that goes beyond.

James said...

The BOURNE IDENTITY is basically THE FUGITIVE with a high concept twist -- What if instead of a doctor, he's a spy that has lost his memory... so when people chase him, he kicks butt!

I caught MY OWN WORST ENEMY. I actually don't think it is really that much of a twist of two movies. To me, it just seems like TOTAL RECALL minus Mars.

It plays heavily on the Jekyll / Hyde thing. The personalties are even named Henry and Edward.

But I do agree, it does seem very, very familiar in a way that doesn't quite let me enjoy the show fully.

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