It was 1983 and I bought my first-ever computer from Apple, which arrived in an enormous colorful box and sat unopened for better than a month. In those days, you couldn’t plug in and go. This formidable machine didn’t do anything. It had to be programmed from scratch.
That’s how I met Jonathan, a talented 23-year old earning his livelihood as a beta software tester, who was also editing trailers for Cannon Films, a company renowned for churning out ultra-low budget action B-pictures by the dozens each year throughout the 80’s.
I shared with Jonathan the ins and outs of my work as a literary manager, and my need to be able to track meetings and script submissions and so many other important details. This was key to launching careers for newly-discovered screenwriters and directors.
Three weeks of programming and living in my offices lead to the beginnings of a friendship. It turned out Jonathan had dropped out of film school, written a half-dozen screenplays that sat unread in a pile in his one-room studio apartment.
“Let me read something you’ve written and, if I like it, I’ll help you find an agent.” Three scripts later, I changed my tone. “Forget an agent, you’re talented and I want to work with you, represent you.”
But there was one condition. His early scripts were quirky. I insisted he write a ‘spec’ script, a fresh story I would use to introduce his writing talent to the Hollywood professional community. I asked him to write a classic romance, a two-hander with irresistable male and female lead roles, a story with a ‘clock’ that would take place over a tight time frame, and that didn’t require expensive locations. If I got lucky and attracted big name actors or a great director, we could embellish the script and justify a larger budget.
Mostly, it had to have real power. I wanted Jonathan’s story written from a deeply personal life experience to emotionally ground the characters and narrative.
Jonathan had just ended a serious relationship. He lived in a tough part of town, on an alley that looked out on a steady stream of pimps and prostitutes, drug dealers and homeless, police with their lights flashing. He was sensitive and I felt he was ready to tell a different kind of story.
Less than two months later, Jonathan handed me a first draft of a new script titled “Three Thousand”. That evening I read a riveting, beautifully-written, emotionally powerfully story. That script would later be re-named “Pretty Woman”.
This was a turning point, but like every film I’ve ever produced, it was also day one for a new film project that would be pockmarked with surprises, challenges, failures, left turns, rejections, frustrations, small successes, that all ultimately turned an ‘indie’ into a major studio film, a realistic drama into a romantic comedy, a project that kept running off the rails into a beloved film that’s withstood the test of time.
Long before Julia Roberts ‘attached’ herself to the project, long before I introduced a charming, loveable prostitute to the heads of Disney, the most family-oriented of all the major Hollywood studios, I introduced ‘Vivian’ and ‘Edward’ to Robert Redford’s Sundance Institute…
More of that story soon.