After seven-year absence, writer-director W.D. Richter returns

September 20, 1991|By Stephen Wigler

W.D. Richter says there's no mystery about what's become of him in the seven years since he made "The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai," an eccentric and imaginative science-fiction movie that has become a cult classic.

"I haven't been on drugs, I haven't dropped out and I certainly haven't been in a deep freeze like Willie and Frank," he says in a telephone interview, referring to the two characters in his new movie, "Late for Dinner," who come back to life after being on ice for 29 years. "I've been right here in Gloucester, Mass., sitting in an a chair working on screenplays."

Richter, now 45, is considered one of the most brilliant screenwriters of the '70s and early '80s. A short list of his scripts includes: "Slither" (1973), "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" (1978), "Dracula" (1978), and "Brubaker" (1980). But in the seven years since "Buckaroo" -- a film so popular that there are "Team Banzai" clubs in places as disparate as the Mathematics Department at Cal Tech and the Pacific submarine fleet of the U.S. Navy -- there have only been two Richter screenplays produced. And neither of those, "Big Trouble in Little China" (1986) and "Hang Tough" (1990), were successful movies.

Who's kidding whom? What's Richter really been up to?

The writer laughs.

"You folks who don't really know Hollywood have such misconceptions about the business. It's both stranger and more ordinary than you think. You can stay totally active in movies and not seem -- to outsiders, anyway -- to have stuck your head above water for years. I've been making a very good living, writing scripts for which I get paid very good money [but which don't get produced] and turning down chances to direct films that I don't find interesting.

"Hollywood needs a lot of people to crank out films. Unless you're deranged and totally irresponsible, the studios will give you work. But while you can be hired to write a script there's no guarantee that the film will be made."

Richter said he was attracted to "Late for Dinner" because of its human aspects, not its science-fiction possibilities.

"There was something audacious in the idea of Willie still being in love with his wife, who's now old enough to be his mother. Audacity means a lot to me. I worked with a lot of directors in the '70s who made sharp, observant films and who are now making movies in a desperate attempt to find what sells. I think that's sad, and I'd rather not make them at all than do that."

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