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Tuesday, April 20, 2004
Back in the Hollywood hot seat

By Rob Ryder
Page 3

Hey, I'm back. I avoided the sack.

So I'll say it loud. I'm back and I'm proud.

I saw in Variety that Jerry Bruckheimer's finally gonna make "Glory Road," a movie about the all-black starting five from Texas Western who defeated Adolph Rupp's all-white Kentucky Wildcats to win the 1966 NCAA championship.

Now that's a story worth telling.

Adolph Rupp
If Rupp had smartened up, who knows how many titles he would have won?
Some have called Adolph Rupp a racist, others disagree. To me, one thing is very clear. As a college basketball coach in the '40s, '50s and most of the '60s who refused to recruit a single African-American player, Rupp was either a racist or one of the stupidest guys on the planet, take your pick.

"Glory Road." I gotta look into this.You know there's gonna be some serious basketball action in this movie.

And I need a job. (Every time I conveniently forget that fact, Providian and Cross Country and American Express are happy to remind me.)

The last basketball advisor job I had paid me $3,500 a week for four straight months.

That's a lot of money for telling millionaires to quit hanging on the rims.

"Glory Road." I'm not sure who's gonna be cast as Adolph Rupp (with any luck, Dick Cheney will soon be available). But Don Haskins, the Texas Western coach, is gonna be played by Ben Affleck.

Yeah, that Ben Affleck.

Now there's no reason to start with the cheap shots when Ben's been doing a pretty good job of it himself this past year.

He's just now staggering out of that Celebrity House of Mirrors, dazed, bleeding, eyes wide open in disbelief that the paparazzi flash bulbs have stopped popping.

Maybe this whole Bennifer thing is just what he needed -- take some of that peach fuzz off his chin.

And now he's gonna play Don Haskins. This absolutely shocks me.

Not because Haskins was a seasoned, crusty good old boy and Affleck is a young Bostonian whose mother still cuts his French toast for him.

Gigli
Ben would like to pass on a message: "Friends don't let friends make Gigli."
And not because Haskins looked like a vulture on a fence post and Affleck looks like J-Lo's latest discarded boytoy.

No, I'm shocked because in 1966, Don Haskins was wearing flaming yellow and red checked sports jackets that even Andre 3000 wouldn't be seen in, while Ben leans towards Armani.

(I'm assuming it's Armani. What do I know? My taste in clothes parallels my taste in cars. As in, if I could buy a used Camry from J.C. Penney, I would.)

So, "Glory Road." Could be a job for me.

Now I'm sure some of you are thinking, "How does this smartass think Bruckheimer's ever gonna hire him when he just trashed his movie star?"

Good question.

There's a guy named Harry Knowles who's got a movie website called, ain't-it-cool-news.com. This guy had a penchant for sneaking into sneak previews and posting such scathing reviews that some bigwigs in Hollywood actually broke down and gave him a nice fat development deal in a thinly veiled attempt to buy his silence.

Maybe it'll work like that.

Besides, I didn't trash Ben Affleck. He trashed himself.

But maybe it's something bigger. Maybe it's a flaw in my character.

It's like how I have to keep pushing the envelope with my editors in New York. (Ah, they're groaning again.) That's what got me killed last week.

Seems there was a slight misunderstanding. Like the late, great character actor Strother Martin said in "Cool Hand Luke," "What we have here is a failure to communicate."

As in -- Here's how much rein we're gonna give you. And not one inch more.

So I'm back on track. Cinch yanked tight, halter in place, blinders on and spittin' the bit as I barrel down this week's backstretch. (Having at least made the case that geldings might run but they sure as hell can't write.)

I'll just have to write off last week's effort in which I solved the war in Iraq, fomented revolution against super-rich tax-dodgers, called Mel Gibson the worst comedic actor on the planet, cried out for our troops and made a case for polytheism - all in under 1,100 words.

Because what does all that have to do with sports and Hollywood?

"Absolutely nothing!" Or at least not enough.

Iraq
Solving the Iraq crisis will have to wait another day.
So it's sports and Hollywood. Hollywood and sports. My new mantra.

Nam myoho renge kyo. Nam myoho sports and Hollywood.

Hey, how about those Iraqi soccer players that ... uh, nah ... forget it.

But look, to me life isn't about results, it's about process.

The doing, the creating, the arguing. That's why movie-making is such a fascinating endeavor. And that's why sports are so important.

Everybody's getting all worked up about stuff and no one's getting killed in the process. It's cool. You take a few lumps, have a few laughs (even at your own expense. Right guys? Guys ... ?)

Maybe Ben Affleck will make a good Don Haskins. Let's hope so for the movie's sake.

But there are perils in casting. Or miscasting.

Just ask the executives at Paramount who recently released that boxing movie, "Against the Ropes."

I talked to someone close to the production.

They'd put together a talented director, good script and great surrounding cast (Omar Epps in particular) but for the longest time, they couldn't get it made.

Not until Meg Ryan committed to star.

But the audience didn't believe her as a gritty broad capable of handling the rough and tumble of the fight game, and the movie died a quick death.

How ironic.The star actually responsible for getting the film greenlit is the principal reason the movie tanks at the box office.

It happens more often than anyone wants to admit.

Against the Ropes
Sure, Meg is a star, but a tough girl? The box office says no.
You gotta think to yourself; Why don't these people wise up? Why do they keep spending these huge salaries on "stars" who can't even open a movie?

Because there's a certain comfort factor that comes with the decision.

Meg Ryan has starred in movies that made gazillions of dollars. Ergo, if Meg Ryan stars in our movie ...

The same thing can be said for writers. It drove me crazy when Kurt Rambis and I were doing the basketball coordinating on "Eddie."

We were in Charlotte, North Carolina, scrambling to pull things together when it became clear that the script was in dire need of a rewrite (if not all-out triage).

Hey, what about me? I knew the script well. I had clear ideas on how to fix it. I'd had writing deals at Fox and Warners with A-list directors like Ron Shelton and John Hughes, so it wasn't like I didn't have credentials.

I made my case, but no way. I was the basketball guy. I was pegged. It's the danger of wearing more than one hat.

Besides, I was too cheap. That's right. My price for a rewrite hadn't risen into the stratosphere -- proof that I wasn't up to the task.

What did the bigwigs do instead? What they always do. They hired these hot shot Hollywood rewrite guys to come in and fix it.

To the tune of $100,000 a week.

That's right, a week.

But when the first team only made things worse, they brought in some new rewrite guys.

And the weekly fees climbed into the $125,000 range. A buck and a quarter in Hollywoodspeak.

And the script got progressively worse.

There are about 30 of these highly-paid screenwriters in Hollywood. It's an elite club. Since the making of "Eddie," their weekly rates have climbed even higher as the studios keep going back to them, movie after movie.

$100 bill
The almighty dollar enables Hollywood's pecking order.
Even when their efforts fail.

The comfort factor.

It's the safest way for an executive to save his job.

"Look, I hired the best, most expensive rewrite guys in the business, so don't blame me if the movie sucks."

And who decides who are the best rewrite guys in the business? The Best Rewrite Guys in the Business Fairy.

So we all watched helplessly as "Eddie," scene by scene, shot by shot, line by unfunny line, went straight into the toilet.

And the rewrite guys flew off into the sunset, tens of thousands of dollars richer, on their way to the next assignment.

Leaving the rest of us to clean up the mess.

NEXT: HOW TO SELL AN OLD SCRIPT LIKE IT'S BRAND SPANKING NEW.

Rob Ryder played basketball at Princeton and works in Hollywood as a screenwriter and sports advisor. He can be reached at robryder@adelphia.net.