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Focal Point

In-depth interviews with directors and cinematographers by Jim Hemphill

Director Ron Shelton on Making Play It to the Bone, Fighting Gratuitous Insert Shots and Why White Men Can’t Jump Tested Well

Woody Harrelson, Lucy Liu and Antonio Banderas in Play It to the Bone

How many filmmakers are capable of writing a script that not only invites comparison with Casablanca but earns it – and then surpasses its source on nearly every level? That’s what Ron Shelton did with his first produced screenplay, Under Fire (1983), which riffs on Casablanca’s combination of romance and international intrigue but strips it of all sentimentality and gives it a concrete political context (the 1979 Nicaraguan Revolution) that intersects seamlessly with the film’s intimate character studies and relationships. The love triangle between the journalists played by Nick Nolte, Joanna Cassidy, and Gene Hackman is as mature, complex, and honest as anything that has ever graced American screens, yet it’s also clear, straightforward, and entertaining – and it wasn’t even the best thing Shelton would write in the 1980s.

That came in 1988 with his script for Bull Durham, which marked Shelton’s directorial debut. Inspired by Shelton’s own experiences as a professional ball player, Bull Durham took the incredibly difficult and rare blend of complexity and clarity that distinguished his earlier scripts and honed it to perfection in the form of a hilarious, poignant, and deeply romantic sports movie. The film eschewed the clichés of baseball and sex but managed to be one of the most enduring films ever made on either subject, and it announced Shelton as a unique comic voice who was as literary as he was accessible. And it wasn’t a one-off – Bull Durham was only the first in a quartet of terrific Ron Shelton sports comedies to valorize and satirize the men who play games and the women who love, indulge, and spar with them. Taken together, Bull Durham, White Men Can’t Jump (1992), Tin Cup (1996), and Play it to the Bone (1999) comprise a series of behavior-driven comedies every bit as singular and indispensable – and every bit as American – as the works of Preston Sturges in the 1940s.

The first three of those four films were commercial and critical successes, a fate that eluded Play it to the Bone in spite of the fact that it was one of Shelton’s most audacious and original pictures to date. The audacity is built into its premise, which follows two best friends (Woody Harrelson and Antonio Banderas) as they hit the road with the woman they both love (Lolita Davidovich) to box against each other in an undercard fight in Vegas. Shelton carefully sets up a situation that goes against the grain of nearly every other sports movie I can think of, removing the audience’s option of a clear rooting interest in favor of an equally weighted match where we want both men to win, and neither to lose – an impossibility that Shelton cleverly subverts in the film’s final scenes. The twist on the Hollywood cliché of the “big game” ending (something Shelton continually plays with in his work) would be enough by itself to make Play it to the Bone a significant work, but the film’s originality extends further to its uniquely beautiful love triangle as well as some of the best staged boxing sequences in the history of movies. I recently met with Shelton to ask him about the making of this underrated gem in particular and his approach to filmmaking in general.

Filmmaker: I want to start by asking you about what I think is the most unique aspect of Play it to the Bone in terms of the writing, which is that it’s a sports movie where the audience has an equal rooting interest in the two sides. Do you remember how and when you came up with that idea?

Ron Shelton: Let me start by saying that the fact that people didn’t know who to root for really hurt the movie – the very thing that drew me to it pissed off the audience. They wanted to have someone clear to root for, like in Rocky. I thought there was a supreme irony in the story ending in a draw. The problem is that nobody saw it that way but me. [laughs]

The movie was inspired by a real event. I have a lot of friends in the boxing world and I used to go to a lot of fights, before I had kids and before boxing kind of lost its heroes. Everybody would tell me about this fight that happened forty years ago, between two journeymen fighters who were working out together in a local gym. They were best friends, and they got a call from a promoter in Vegas saying that he had a cancellation on his undercard and could give them a fight if they could get there that night – probably for something like $200 each. The only way to get there was to drive together, and when they got to Vegas they put on a fight that boxing fans and experts are still talking about – then they blew all their money in the casino and drove home. When I heard that story, I thought, “There’s a movie in here somewhere.” To add more drama and make it compelling, I came up with the idea of adding a woman who had a connection to both of them; I saw it as an odd, utterly unromantic love story in which these three people were together against the world in some way. The conceit was that the woman had the car that they needed to get to Vegas, forcing them all together on the road.

Filmmaker: The Lolita Davidovich character serves as a kind of surrogate for the audience, in that she’s simultaneously rooting for both guys and afraid for both of them. There’s this kind of lovely romantic triangle between the three of them, and then in a way the movie is also a kind of Hawksian love story between two men in terms of the friendship between Woody Harrelson and Antonio Banderas’s characters. There’s a constant juggling of identification between the three characters, and you emphasize that visually by letting a lot of takes play out without a great deal of cutting. The ’scope aspect ratio allows you to keep all three characters in the frame at the same time so that we really see their interaction and can, in a sense, choose whose point of view we want to share. It makes the movie really rewarding on repeat viewings because there’s so much going on in the frame but you don’t underline any of it or force it down the audience’s throat. Was that by design going in, or do you shoot all the coverage and then decide whether or not you need it in the editing room?   

Shelton: I always shoot the coverage just because I believe in coverage, but I love it when I don’t have to use it. I thought going into Play it to the Bone that I wouldn’t have to use much, because as you pointed out, it’s a movie about the connection between these three people who have shared lives together, so you want them to share the frame with minimal interruptions. We had Steadicam shots in the car – we put the car on a low trailer and then got on it with a Steadicam, which enabled us to do things like a shot where the conversation plays out in one two minute and ten second take. I shot the coverage there, but when I gave the footage to the editor, Paul Seydor, I hoped he would at least try just letting the long take play out. He did, and it stayed in the movie.          

Filmmaker: Those long takes and the widescreen frame give the movie such a nice, loose feel – the style is precise and controlled but also organic and natural. How do you strike that balance?

Shelton: Well, I don’t storyboard unless it’s a complex sequence that involves multiple departments. For instance, the wild ride down the mountain in Cobb had blue screen, first unit, second unit, stunt drivers, etc., and I had to storyboard it just so that everybody would know what their assignment was. I storyboarded the riot sequence in Dark Blue because we had two days to shoot eight pages of extremely complicated action, so I needed to give everyone a road map for where we were going. I do have a shot list, mainly just to make sure I get everything I need – when it’s getting dark and we’re running out of time, I can look at it and remind myself if there’s anything I need that I don’t have. But that shot list changes and I respond to what I see happening in front of me. I prefer to let the action tell the camera where to go rather than the other way around. For me it’s all about bringing life to what’s on screen and letting life feel like it’s spilling off screen, as opposed to imposing my will on it.

I’ve gotten in fights with studios over them wanting inserts more than I do. They’ll say, “Where’s the shot of the guy’s wedding ring?” and I say, “We know he’s married, why do we have to see it?” And I’m a guy who shoots a lot of coverage. But there are certain kinds of shots that have now become almost de rigueur in movies that I think insult me as a viewer – constant cuts to little details that you don’t need.       

Filmmaker: I find them emotionally disruptive at times. They throw me out of the movie, as opposed to your kind of filmmaking, where I’m lost in the story because you’re only cutting when there’s a very good reason to cut. Of course, you need really skilled actors who can pull that off – there’s that great early scene in Play it to the Bone, for example, where Woody and Antonio are on the phone together and talking over each other in this hilarious kind of verbal ballet, and the camera just stays on them and lets the interplay build without interruption. Do you write with specific actors in mind who you know can deliver what you need?

Shelton: I definitely wrote Lolita’s part with her in mind because I wanted to work with her again after Blaze and Cobb. Woody and Antonio both came into my head as I was writing and I had a way to get to both of them, which is the trick in this town. I had worked with Woody and could just call him up, and my producer Stephen Chin had worked with Melanie Griffith, so that was our connection to Antonio. It was put together without agents and done as an independent film; my partner went to Cannes and sold foreign rights while I got a commitment from Joe Roth to put up a certain amount for the domestic rights, and that way we were able to hit the number that we needed to make the film.

Filmmaker: So it was distributed by Touchstone but it was basically a kind of negative pickup deal.

Shelton: Exactly. We showed it to them when we were done, because they were our partners, and Joe Roth is a good partner. We all worked together during the testing process, trying to find the best possible movie for everyone. I always say final cut is overrated if you have honorable partners, because the audience will tell you when the movie’s done.

Filmmaker: What kind of testing do you do on your films? Do you get recruited audiences from malls and all that?

Shelton: Test screening, for me and many other directors, is a horrific process that doesn’t really tell you what you need to know. The problem is that the people who go to test screenings aren’t necessarily the audience for the movie. Distributors want test screenings, and understandably so. My problem isn’t so much that they exist as that I might learn different things from them than the distributor. With the exception of White Men Can’t Jump, I have never had good test screening scores.

Filmmaker: Even Bull Durham?

Shelton: Bull Durham had horrible scores. But it played like gangbusters – audiences were laughing and cheering, but we kept getting bad scores. I finally made the case to Orion to let me put the final music and color correction and all that on it and screen it outside of LA, which is a screening hellhole. I said let’s go to a professional town, like Palo Alto. So we took it there, and the response was incredible: they laughed at every joke, got every ironic nuance, cheered where they should cheer…and then the scores were the lowest you’ve ever seen. I was standing in the lobby with everybody, devastated, but then I talked with Mike Medavoy from Orion, and – this is why we love the old time studio heads – he said “I don’t know what these cards mean, but I know what I just saw and heard. We’re going out in June against the big boys.” And we did and we won.

Filmmaker: So how do you account for that discrepancy?

Shelton: The problem with test screenings is that if you hand a person a piece of paper and a pencil, you’ve, in a certain sense, empowered them beyond what they’re qualified to do. What they’re qualified to do is sit there and respond to the movie, which they just did. Now, it’s sort of like you’re challenging them: “Think about something that you didn’t care about before, because you’ve got to fill out your test score!” So I’ve always done horribly, even on my most successful movies, Tin Cup included. The one exception was White Men Can’t Jump, which went through the roof when we took it to the black theatres in Baldwin Hills – the scores were so high it was like a Balkan election. Then a week later we went to a white theatre in Woodland Hills and it scored something like 12%. I was drinking and devastated, and the late, great Tom Sherak, who was head of marketing and distribution, said, “Don’t worry. They will follow Baldwin Hills.” And he was right. Most of the time when I screen my movies for people, they’re not equipped to give real critical analysis. What’s helpful is just to hang out in the theatre and feel what’s working and what’s not. You can tell.

Filmmaker: And the problem with the cards is that they often ask the wrong questions. Brian De Palma said that on Blow Out, the cards asked the audience if they wanted Nancy Allen’s character to die. Well, of course you don’t want her to die! But that doesn’t mean it isn’t the right choice for the movie.

Shelton: They are always asking the wrong questions, and these market research companies cannot be challenged. They’ll ask, “Did you like what the bad guy did?” and when the audience responds, “No, of course I didn’t,” they’ll come back to you and say “less bad guy.” When really the answer might be more bad guy, because then the triumph of the good guy is more satisfying.

Filmmaker: Was that problem you mentioned earlier, that in Play it to the Bone people didn’t like not knowing who to root for, something that came up as an issue in test screenings?

Shelton: Yeah, it was a problem we couldn’t do anything about. [laughs] We figured we just had to hope for good reviews, and then we got very mixed reviews and that was that. The release didn’t really work. We put it out in December hoping Antonio and maybe Woody would get some attention on the awards circuit; I thought they gave really strong, nuanced performances. I also thought the script was pretty smart and funny and clever, but nobody else did. [laughs]   

Filmmaker: I think all three lead performances are terrific. You really believe that these three people are friends and share pasts…they’re just so natural together. How do you achieve thay effect?

Shelton: That thing you’re talking about is something that’s very important to me in all my movies, and the answer to your question is that I work hard at it to hide the work. I believe in rehearsal, and it’s hard to do these days because agents don’t want to give you their actors for rehearsal – even though the actors like it. The more rehearsal you have, the more relaxed everybody gets, and the more unrehearsed it feels. One of the reasons I think Kevin Costner and Tommy Lee Jones and Kurt Russell have all endured as top leading men for as long as they have is that they love to rehearse. They love to work hard. They’re off book for rehearsal – rehearsal isn’t the time to memorize lines. Not on my time! Beyond rehearsal I spend a lot of time with my actors getting to know them. I have drinks with them, smoke a cigar with them, whatever it takes to give them complete trust in me so that they know they don’t have to worry about pleasing me – all they have to do is inhabit the character and forget about everything else.

Filmmaker: Well, actors have to want to work hard on your movies, because there’s often a strong physical component. In your sports movies, the actors are really believable as athletes. What kind of preparation and training did you put Woody and Antonio through? Their boxing scenes are as convincing as any ever put on film.

Shelton: I’ve always resented the fact that no reviewer commented on how good the boxing was. I happen to love Raging Bull, but the boxing in it is not believable. It’s effective in its way, but it’s about as convincing as Gary Cooper’s baseball playing in Pride of the Yankees. We found a really brilliant guy named Darrell Foster who was Sugar Ray Leonard’s physical trainer for most of his career; I found him by accident, actually, because he was set to train Ving Rhames, who was playing Sonny Liston in a movie that fell apart. I told Darrell we only had so many weeks to train Woody and Antonio, and he worked with them every day; they got up before dawn, we had a training bus on the road to Vegas, and Darrell worked with them every possible minute, not only training them but helping them learn choreographed fight sequences. Woody and Antonio were really committed to it – I think Woody broke his nose and Antonio broke a couple ribs. They watched miles of footage of boxers who they were modeled after. Not the fighters the script was based on – believe me, nobody ever filmed those two guys – but a couple others whose technique they studied obsessively.

Filmmaker: Well, the fight scenes are remarkable, and it seems to me that those would be the most challenging places in terms of making your drama look unrehearsed. How do you stage the fights in a way that’s planned but looks spontaneous?

Shelton: Long before shooting, I worked out a system of choreography for each round. We would assign different moves numbers; for instance, a left jab is 1. A left hook is 2. A straight right is 3. There are five or six basic punches and we gave numbers to each of them, and then Darrell, with my input, broke down each round into a kind of dance card for the actors. We would prepare it the way you would a musical number, only with punches instead of dance steps. If somebody had to take a horrible fall, I had a double for each of them, professional boxers whose sizes and skin tones matched the actors exactly. Everything was very carefully choreographed, but then at the end of the shoot at Mandalay Bay Woody and Antonio asked if they could really go after each other. I let them, and I think they lasted about two minutes. [laughs] That’s how exhausting this sport is.          

Filmmaker: How were you covering those scenes? Did you have multiple cameras?

Shelton: I had at least two…I might have had three, I can’t remember. The good thing about boxing is that once you establish the scene your light isn’t going to change and you’ve only got an eighteen-foot space to worry about.      

Filmmaker: Yet the boxing scenes here have an enormous sense of scale because of all the material you shoot around the ring and at the hotel. I know you didn’t have much money, so how did you get all that footage?

Shelton: The idea was that the fight would start with a few hundred people in the arena, and then more people would come in for the main event and notice them – by the time the fight gets to the last couple of rounds the arena is full. We did that by building our shoot around an Oscar De La Hoya fight that was scheduled in the hotel – that way the arena was dressed by HBO and the promoters, and the wide shots you’re seeing are of the crowd for the Oscar De La Hoya fight. All of the celebrities you see were just coming to the fight, and I would go up to them and say, “Can I shoot you? I’ve got no money.” They all said yes – Tony Curtis, Jimmy Woods, Costner, whoever. The only person we cut a check to was Rod Stewart, because I thought it would be funny to have him walking in with Lucy Liu’s character. So we flew him in and put him in that scene.

Filmmaker: Bringing up Lucy Liu reminds me of something else I wanted to ask you about, which is your approach to sex scenes. They are so adult in the best way – not in the sense of being explicit, but in the sense that they’re funny and sexy and real. They’re not gratuitous and they’re not prudish. Do you have a, for lack of a better word, philosophy regarding writing and shooting sex?

Shelton: I do. That particular Lucy Liu scene…we had been shooting for three weeks and she suddenly showed up, and she wasn’t the big star then that she is now. We all had this camaraderie and she was the outsider who needed to figure out how to get into this club. By the way, when you’re based in Barstow you get close quick – there’s not a whole lot to do, so you drink and have a good time and you share. Poor Lucy came into the middle of this and I figured we would give her a couple little scenes to ease her in, but then it poured. Rain like you’ve never seen, and we were going to lose a whole day’s shooting. The only thing we could shoot in the rain was the sex scene. So I took Lucy aside and said, “Lucy, I really meant to give you a couple days to get used to everybody, but you and Woody are getting down.” [laughs]

The key to all of them, going back to the bath in Bull Durham or the scene between Lolita and Paul Newman in Blaze – you know, Paul had never done a sex scene before that, believe it or not – is to make them fun. Let’s not pretend we’re recreating the greatest orgasm anyone ever had – let’s make everybody flawed. That takes the curse off of the actor, so there’s not all this pressure when I say, “Okay, take your clothes off and get in bed.” Now, before we ever sign a contract, that conversation is happening between me and the actor. I say, “Look at my other movies and trust me. I’m not going to embarrass you,” and they also know that when the scene is cut together they’re free to look at it, and if they’re uncomfortable with something I’ll change it. When you give them that safety net, then they can have fun – and sometimes I like to make it a little ridiculous, which is fun too.

Filmmaker: I also think that in your films the sex is genuinely expressive of character and tells you something about the relationships. I’m thinking of something like the toenail painting scene in Bull Durham.

Shelton: We came up with that on the spot.           

Filmmaker: How often do things like that happen? Would you say that a lot of things find their way into your films that you didn’t plan?

Shelton: A fair amount, but only because we rehearse and prepare. I grew up with jazz because my dad played jazz trumpet, and I think subconsciously the idea of really rehearsing, and really knowing the chord changes in a song so that you’re then free to improvise…it found its way into how I work. If I’m going to rewrite I do it in rehearsal and not on set, because if you’re the writer-director and one of the producers, there’s no time to change things around once you’re shooting. During rehearsal I bring a script supervisor in and a P.A. who keeps giving us coffee, and the actors and I can work through every bad idea we have – and every good one. The good ones get incorporated into the script, so that by the time we start shooting I’m not planning to rethink anything. But the other side of that is that I’m ready to respond to whatever happens, so that if something unexpected happens on a take we can explore it, because we’re grounded in the chord changes of the script. I’ll give you an example: in Bull Durham, it was not in the script that they run around and splash in the mud. In the script the field gets flooded, and then there was a whole sequence where the guys spend the night with the ice skaters. While we were shooting, Kevin looked at me and said, “What if after we start the sprinklers, I lead them running out into the mud?” I said, “Let me get everything else I need first, because once you jump in the mud the costumes are dirty and we’re done for the night.” So we did, and then the second he dove into the mud I knew it was gold. That’s an example of being completely prepared in one part of your brain, and completely open in the other.

Filmmaker: I want to go back to something you mentioned earlier when you said you were shooting in Barstow on Play it to the Bone. It speaks to what I think makes your movies great, which is that they take place in an America I recognize. Even when you shoot in Los Angeles, where everybody shoots, it doesn’t look like anyone else’s movies because you actually shoot on location in places that real Angelenos know and occupy…it’s not the same places that have been shot to death. In my opinion, White Men Can’t Jump is right up there with Chinatown as one of the great L.A. movies of all time.        

Shelton: Well, I grew up in Southern California. I was born in Whittier, I lived in Santa Barbara, and I played sports all over the area. There aren’t a lot of neighborhoods in Southern California that I haven’t been to or played high school and college games against. I made a point in White Men Can’t Jump of shooting the blue line, the light rail between L.A. and Long Beach that had only been open for about a week at the time, but that over a million people use every month. We shot the Watts Towers, we shot in some of the toughest neighborhoods in the city using the Fruit of Islam as our security. They would go into neighborhoods ahead of us and navigate the gang turf wars and all that so we would know exactly where we could shoot safely. They were terrific.

Filmmaker: How did you choose the locations on the road trip for Play it to the Bone?

Shelton: I love Barstow. I love Victorville. I love Baker and the restaurants – I love the history of the war between the Mad Greek and the Bun Boy. I love all these American towns and I love making movies set in them. Play it to the Bone was a rare movie, in that we could shoot it pretty much in continuity – we actually took the road trip the characters take in the movie, getting off the main highway whenever we could and exploring the old ones. I love that wide open America.

Filmmaker: It looks like a John Ford Western.

Shelton: I’ve been saying my movies are Westerns for years! Bull Durham is a Western; Crash Davis is a gunfighter who has no past, he may not have a future, it’s all about the present. He’s a hired gun who’s really good at what he does, and maybe he’s a little out of his time.

Filmmaker: Let’s talk about the editing in your films. It seems to me that one of your most important collaborators over the years has been Paul Seydor, who I knew as a film scholar from his book on Peckinpah. How did you guys first hook up, and what is it about his sensibility that meshes so well with you and the way you work?

Shelton: I had a fabulous editor on Bull Durham and Blaze, Bob Leighton. He’s the guy who took five hundred thousand feet of “What the hell’s going on?” and turned it into the great movie that is Spinal Tap. He was unavailable for White Men Can’t Jump because he was appropriately loyal to Rob Reiner, who had given him his start, and I suddenly needed an editor. Bob recommended several people, all of whom turned me down. I was kind of shocked and kind of pissed, but in those days you could still go to a studio and say, “I want to bring somebody in who you’ve never heard of.” You can’t do that now. I knew Paul through Roger Spottiswoode, to whom I owe everything. They were friends because of Roger’s connection to Peckinpah [Spottiswoode edited Straw Dogs and Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid], and I met Paul when he was teaching at USC; I attended one of his lectures around the time we were making The Pursuit of D.B. Cooper.

Filmmaker: What was your involvement in D.B. Cooper?

Shelton: Joel Silver was just starting out, and he was Jon Peters and Peter Guber’s physical production guy at their production company, I can’t remember the name of it. They had shot this movie Pursuit with Treat Williams and Robert Duvall and it had gone really badly. They fired Robert Mulligan, a very good director, because he took seven days to shoot a whitewater rapids chase – which, by the way, was the only good thing in the movie – and brought in another director who couldn’t figure out what to do with it. Meanwhile, Williams and Duvall were getting into fisticuffs…it was a mess. They shut it down and had to try to figure out how to make the movie releasable. Joel Silver had been partners with Larry Gordon on Walter Hill’s first movie, Hard Times, and they remembered Roger as a brilliant editor who could fix anything. By this time Roger had directed Terror Train, a gorgeous horror movie that he pulled off with no money. Joel went to Roger with the Pursuit footage, and Roger said he needed to shoot new scenes to pull everything together. They agreed to pay for a million bucks’ worth of new material, and Roger said, “Get Ron Shelton,” because he had discovered my script Antelope Valley. We never got that made, but Roger was trying to help me get off the ground as a writer and he got me a job doing the rewrites for what became The Pursuit of D.B. Cooper. What I did was take the existing footage, and if a character walked through a door they would end up on the other side in a whole new sequence that I wrote. I wrote thirty or forty pages that we shot in a week in Tucson, and then I was there on the set with Roger, who trusted me enough to bring me on Under Fire as both a writer and a second unit director.

Filmmaker: And that brings us back to Paul Seydor, because he was an assistant on Under Fire, right?

Shelton: When we got Under Fire off the ground, Paul made the bizarre and heroic decision to give up his teaching position in literature and film to start as an apprentice in the editing room. I got to know him a little bit on that film and we stayed in touch over the years, and along the way he worked his way up to have a few credits. So I told the studio I wanted him to cut White Men Can’t Jump and they said great. Answering your original question about what Paul brings to the table…I try to overload a script and still be economical – it’s sort of a contradiction. Paul will try to carry as much of the original idea to the finish line as he can. It’s like you have a hot air balloon and you load up the basket, but for the movie to take off you have to get rid of things that may have been important to you. Paul will fight to have it both ways – to make as much of what you started with work without compromising the overall narrative. I’m a “have it both ways” guy too, so once I realized that about Paul it was the beginning of a lifelong collaboration. He’s also fast – he can give you five versions of a scene just minutes after he’s started cutting it.

Filmmaker: Your films tend to be behavior driven rather than plot driven, and I’m wondering if that makes things more challenging in the editing since things don’t have to happen in the order they’re written the way that need to in a more conventional movie.

Shelton: You can’t just move stuff around willy-nilly, especially because I try to layer my scripts and pay a lot of attention to flow and rhythm. But there have been times when we’ve found a better way of doing things in the editing room. For example, Paul moved the Don Johnson arrival scene in Tin Cup up ten minutes, because Don Johnson is the complicating factor. It was taking too long for the movie to shift gears, and Paul had an idea for how to fix it that recharged the movie’s energy just as it was starting to lag. On White Men Can’t Jump we had a problem where the movie just wasn’t working in the middle and we knew it. The problem was getting Rosie Perez on Jeopardy!; I had an overly complicated way to do it that came out of needing to get Merv Griffin to sign off on how we were using the show. It was killing us in the screenings, so three weeks before delivery date I asked Fox give me two days of reshoots and I wrote a half-page that didn’t really make sense but worked as movie magic. It worked beautifully, but I couldn’t have seen it earlier in the process.      

Jim Hemphill is the writer and director of the award-winning film The Trouble with the Truth, which is currently available on DVD and iTunes. His website is


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