Some of the best films remain on paper

January 22, 1992|By Los Angeles Times

HOLLYWOOD -- Asking Hollywood insiders what their favorite unproduced scripts are is a lot like asking chefs to name their favorite dish -- it's hard to get a consensus. One thing is certain: Around town, there's a "list" -- albeit an informal one -- of favorite unproduced screenplays.

Like stocks and municipal bonds, the fortunes of certain unproduced scripts seem to rise and fall depending on which way the wind is blowing. For instance, if "quirky" scripts are popular, you're liable to find more of those on the list. Another year, it might be science fiction and fantasy. Then again, the list may lean more toward comedies.

Some favorites finally made it to the big screen. "Total Recall" was a script that was on everybody's list for years. When the film finally made it to theaters in 1990, it was a commercial success, but many felt it didn't live up to its reputation as one of the "all-time" great unproduced screenplays. Similarly, many felt Bruce Joel Rubin's "Jacob's Ladder" did not live up to its reputation, nor was it a box-office success. And let's not forget "Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure," which was not only long-unproduced but almost didn't get released. So here's the current list of favorite unproduced screenplays culled from conversations with studio executives, agents, producers and screenwriters.

* "Fata Morgana." The first screenplay written by cult novelist William Kotzwinkle ("The Sandman," the novelization of "E.T.") has been around for 10 years. Described as "magical and hypnotic" by a development executive, it's an "Inspector Clouseau" story set in Victorian England. A "period picture," it's considered a very hard sell.

* "Field Trip." Tony and Cathy Peyser's script about a new-to-Los Angeles 15-year-old who gets lost on a class field trip during his first day of school, has been around since 1985. Described as a cross between "Home Alone," and "Risky Business," it was originally set to go into production at New Century-Vista, but the project stalled when the company went under. Some studio executives feel it's too derivative of "Home Alone."

* "Harrow Alley." No list of great unproduced screenplays would be complete without the granddaddy of them all. Written by Walter Brown Newman ("Cat Ballou," "The Man With the Golden Arm"), the script has been around since the early '70s and has achieved legendary status throughout Hollywood. Set during the Black Plague, the film has always been considered compelling but a tough sell because of its subject matter. At one time, it was discussed as a project for director John Huston, who wanted to make it but couldn't secure financing. Eventually, George C. Scott bought it as a starring vehicle for himself, but, because of his difficult reputation, most studios didn't want to get involved. The project is still owned by Scott.

* "Heat Wave." Written by acclaimed novelist and screenwriter Alice Hoffman, ("Independence Day"), whose recent novel "Turtle Moon" was sold to Universal for big bucks, this is the story of a wild, small-town teen-ager and his love affairs with two young girls. Like much of Hoffman's work, this project is character-driven, which always makes it a tougher sell.

* "Pin Cushion." John Raffo's futuristic action-adventure script became famous during the 1988 Writers Guild strike. Raffo, who at the time was not a member of the guild, received $500,000 from Columbia. It is considered unusual because its protagonist is a very tough woman.

* "Prognosis Negative." Written by "Seinfeld" executive producer Larry David eight years ago, this black comedy is about a man who has trouble making a commitment, until he learns that his ex-girlfriend has a terminal disease and realizes that he can be with someone without having to worry about ending the relationship -- until it turns out she's going to live. Although most studio executives agree the script is hilarious, they also agree that it might be too dark for most audiences.

* "Salerno and Finnegan." Written by Joel Oliansky ("The Competition"), it's the true story of Pete Finnegan and Frank Salerno, the two Los Angeles police detectives who cracked the infamous Hillside Strangler case.

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