As president of production for the De Laurentiis Entertainment Group (DEG), Gary DeVore oversees and approves for production dozens of movie scripts every month. "Traxx," described as a "vigilante comedy," is one script DeVore is likely to pay particularly close attention to.
He wrote it.
That arrangement puts DeVore in the rather unusual position of playing the movie game from both sides of the desk. He's the only production chief who is both a buyer and a seller. However, he is not in the habit of selling to himself. DeVore's script was purchased by DEG before he was brought on board last December as production chief. (He insisted that he has no plans to purchase any of his other scripts for DEG.)
Of course, that doesn't prevent him from selling his work to his competitors. In fact, DeVore's contract specifically says it's OK for him to do so. A couple of weeks ago, DeVore left his Beverly Hills office and, like any other top-flight writer, walked into MGM Chairman Alan Ladd Jr.'s office to pitch an idea called "Rock and Reel." The story pits some contemporary rock and rollers against a hot band from the '60s. Ladd listened to the pitch and told DeVore that he'd get back to him.
In another business this might all seem like a rather unusual working situation, but hyphenates--i.e., writer-directors or actor-producers--are becoming more and more common in Hollywood. Since the arrangement is approved in Devore's contract, DEG Chairman Dino De Laurentiis and the other top officers at DEG are well aware of the agreement. DeVore also promised not to take on any outside writing assignments in the first four months of the job.
While the 43-year-old DeVore may appear more casually dressed than his suited peers--he often wears blue jeans and designer work shirts to his Beverly Hills office--his approach is anything but laid-back. The one-time truck driver is a show-biz moonlighter: DeVore's name has been cropping up on a lot of billboards and contracts. Some of his recent credits and ongoing projects include:
--Co-screenwriter credit (with Jimmy Huston) on MGM's "Running Scared," which has taken in more than $19 million to date.
--Co-screenwriter credit (with Norman Wexler) on "Raw Deal," the Arnold Schwarzenegger revenge shoot-'em-up released by DEG.
--Rewriting his "Hard Knox" screenplay for Columbia Pictures, a drama for Sidney Poitier.
--Rewriting "Wish You Were Here," a Vietnam picture that he says Kathleen Turner has committed to.
Just how unusual is DeVore's working arrangement? This year he will probably earn more money from his screenwriting (he was paid about $300,000 to write "Running Scared," industry sources said) than from his executive chores, which is a substantial load. In 1986, DEG will release at least a dozen features under his aegis.
What stops DeVore from bolstering his own credits and bank account by backing his own screenplays? "I've been very circumspect about self-promotion around here," DeVore said. "It would be an enormous responsibility to be in this position producing your own movie. The world would come down on your shoulders like bricks if the picture didn't work.
"I think a good part of this industry is still interested in me more as a writer than an executive," DeVore said in an interview at his DEG office. "I still get a lot of offers."
Perhaps DeVore is living testament to an alleged shortage of available top-quality writers, but competing executives said they still would want a shot at DeVore's latest screenplays. "He's extremely well thought of and very talented," said Fox production President Scott Rudin. "But if he brought me something, I might wonder why he hadn't bought it himself."
DeVore's personal story is one that might have been instantly rejected by the studios as too much of a long shot to be credible. A college dropout who joined the Army in 1961, DeVore had always fancied himself a writer. When he got out of the Army, he decided to pursue a writing career.
He got his first "writing job" through contacts. A friend knew someone who produced game shows and DeVore was hired to write questions for programs like "The Newlywed Game." Several months later he found a job as a continuity writer for a local three-hour public-service show called "Tempo."
In 1970, a friend hired him to work on "The Steve Allen Show." When the friend left the show, DeVore, with little TV experience, was named his successor as producer of the show. That lasted a year. ("I've been fired from a lot of jobs," said DeVore with a laugh.)
Next, DeVore and a friend came up with an idea for a TV show about golf called "Golf for Swingers," which starred Lee Trevino. It aired in more than 120 markets for two years.
When the show ended in 1972, DeVore packed up and moved to a horse farm in Massachusetts where he started writing full time. (In 1969 he married Nat (King) Cole's widow, Maria, who hosted "Tempo." The marriage ended in divorce in 1976.)
At 36, he returned to Los Angeles broke and moved into his father's West Los Angeles apartment--with writing samples from the farm, including a short story called "Back Roads" about a love affair between a prostitute and a drifter. DeVore later adapted the story into a screenplay for director Martin Ritt; the movie, starring Sally Field and Tommy Lee Jones, was released in 1981.
But the first screenplay of DeVore's to end up on the screen was his adaptation of the Frederick Forsyth best seller "Dogs of War," released in 1980. Former United Artists president of production Steven Bach, who had read the "Back Roads" script, was impressed with DeVore's writing and hired him.
Cut to fall, 1985. Dino De Laurentiis and the rest of the production team on "Raw Deal" decided that a fast rewrite of the script (then called "Triple Identity") was needed even though the film was already in pre-production. DeVore was flown to Wilmington, N.C., where he and De Laurentiis developed instant rapport.
When De Laurentiis initially offered DeVore the job of production chief, the writer insisted that he be allowed to continue his outside scripting. The deal fizzled.
Weeks later, Robert Lawrence, then the newly named production president at DEG went to United Artists. De Laurentiis called DeVore back and offered him the job--this time OKing the outside-writing provision. "There was no way in the world I was going to quit writing," DeVore said.
And so, he hasn't.
DeVore has discovered the frustration of creativity by committee. "The product that winds up on the screen has had so many hands on it," DeVore said. "To put the blame or the glory on the executive that put it into production is asinine."
Nonetheless, this will of course be the ultimate criteria used to judge DeVore's executive acumen. That said, here is a sampling of several of the movies he has had a strong hand in putting into production at DEG.
--"Cops R Us": A comedy about two average guys who get fed up with the lawlessness in their town and disguise their car as a police car. They decide to clean up the town. In pre-production.
--"Weeds": Stars Nick Nolte. The story of a group of ex-cons who take the play they wrote and put it on in prison on the road. DeVore describes this as " 'Cuckoo's Nest' on wheels."
--"From the Hip": Bob Clark ("Porky's" director) wrote and will direct this comedy-drama about a hotshot young lawyer who so impresses his superiors with his courtroom antics that he gets assigned a murder case he can't possibly win. Stars Judd Nelson. Starts production this month.
--"Nutty Professor II": As a writer, DeVore has been known for hard-hitting drama. As an executive this project shows he's no elitist. "Jerry Lewis wants to revive Prof. Kelp. I thought it was a good idea and still do." Scheduled to go into production in September.
DeVore considers himself lucky--he has another career to fall back on if his latest assignment doesn't work out. "I have not been bred as a studio executive, nor would I seek to replace this job when I leave," he said. "I wouldn't want to see how far I could go with this. This is the only stop on this tour."