Kevin Smith: How ‘A Couple of Dicks’ became ‘Cop Out’
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I just got off the phone with Kevin Smith, who is -- as always -- perhaps the most quotable filmmaker of the modern era, especially if you count all of his inspired profanity, which sadly I can’t reproduce on this blog because I work for a family newspaper. I’ll be writing up a bigger post soon that deals with how Smith got his first studio gig, how he got along with Bruce Willis and -- of course -- what he thinks about the media coverage of how he was bumped off a Southwest Airlines flight for being too fat. (I’ll give you a hint: Most of the profanity came during his discourse on the media coverage.)
But I was especially curious about how ‘A Couple of Dicks,’ which was the original title of his movie, ended up being changed to ‘Cop Out.’ To hear Smith tell it, it could’ve been much worse. Smith fought for the original title, even citing the old W.C. Fields film ‘The Bank Dick’ as evidence that the term ‘dick’ wasn’t necessarily a naughty word. Warners marketing chief Sue Kroll was willing to give the title a try, until the studio got feedback from the Big Three networks.
‘All three of ‘em -- NBC, CBS and ABC -- said they wouldn’t run any ads for the movie before 9 p.m., and that was it,’ Smith told me. ‘The title had to go away. It just was a killer in terms of reaching the broadest audience for the movie. I thought about fighting it. If I’d been 26, I’d have put up a huge ruckus.... But I realized we’d really be painting ourselves into a corner. After what I went through with the title of my previous movie -- ‘Zack and Miri Make a Porno’ -- which was a real marketing hurdle, I knew I had to give it up.’
The only problem was that the studio’s backup title was ‘A Couple of Cops,’ which Smith thought was a real stinker. ‘I really put my foot down on that. I didn’t sign on for that. So the studio came up with a whole new list of titles, which really blew. At one point, I just said that if we went with ‘A Couple of Cops’ it would be a total cop-out, and suddenly we all went -- hey, how about that?’
Unfortunately, ‘Cop Out’ was a title registered to the great comedy director Blake Edwards, who wasn’t interested in giving it up to Warners, owing to some old bad blood. Luckily, Michael Pitt, Smith’s first assistant director, had an Edwards connection: His father, Lou Pitt, was Edwards’ agent. When Smith heard that Lou Pitt and Edwards were having dinner together, he immediately called.
‘I got on the phone with Mr. Pitt and said, ‘Would you please pass along to Mr. Edwards that ‘S.O.B’ is my sixth favorite movie of all time and that ‘Victor/Victoria’ is in my top 25 and if there was any way that he would help out a fellow filmmaker and save him from being stuck with a lame title, I’d really appreciate it.’ ‘
The personal plea worked. Edwards agreed to let Smith have the title. ‘It was a huge save for us,’ Smith says. ‘He’s not just a great filmmaker, but he’s a class act too.’