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A look inside Hollywood and the movies. : HOLLYWOOD UNDERCOVER : As You Ponder the Movies in Sneaks ’92, Consider ‘The Best’ Still on Paper

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 (in alphabetical order), 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. Originally attached to actor Tom Skerritt, the film was later considered a project for Peter O’Toole, who then decided he would only do it for director Federico Fellini. 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. Although the script has bounced around for years, most agree it was responsible for launching the careers of the Peysers, who have since written scripts--albeit unproduced--for TriStar, Universal and Disney. “Field Trip” became “hot” again after the success of “Home Alone,” although some studio executives feel it’s too derivative of that film--although, ironically, it was written years before.

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* Folks--Another script that’s been around for 10 years, this is a dark tale of a man who gets out of prison and goes back to live with his mother, who happens to be a madam. Written by John Karlin, it was originally mentioned as a project for Richard Gere and has bounced around to ifferent actors. Nicolas Cage is attached to the project now and most insiders feel that because of his involvement, it has a good shot at getting made. (Don’t confuse this with the film of the same name starring Tom Selleck that’s listed in Sneaks ’92 for spring release.)

* 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. Recently, it was discussed as a project for director Bruce Beresford (“Driving Miss Daisy”), but that eventually fell through. 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-age 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, although most agree it’s a terrific piece of writing. Because it’s considered “soft and small,” “Heat Wave” will probably only get made if it has a heavy-duty cast attached to it.

* Nomad--Written by William Hjortsberg (“Legend”), this action-adventure script has been around for many years. Currently in development at Columbia, it’s set in the future and is described as a classic love story between an aristocratic woman and a warrior, whom the woman first exploits and then helps start a revolution against her own people.

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* 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, which like every other studio in town was hungry for material. Considered unusual because its protagonist is a very tough woman, “Pin Cushion” tells the story of a female courier who, in a plague-ridden future, has to take a cure across state lines. Originally discussed as a starring vehicle for Cher, who ultimately dropped out of the project, the script has since been rewritten by Jeb Stuart (“Die Hard”).

* 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. All is fine, until it turns out she’s going to live. Originally optioned by producers Jack Barry and Dan Enright, the script made its way to other studios before ending up at Hemdale, where it still languishes. 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. Currently being developed by producer Steve Roth (“Mobsters”), who has a deal at Columbia, the script has been around for five years. Considered a great vehicle for actors, the subject matter of the Hillside Strangler apparently scares some executives off, even though the script concentrates more on the relationship between the two detectives. Most agree, though, that it will eventually get made.

* A 29 Cent Romance--Originally titled “A 22 Cent Romance"--the title keeps changing as the price of a stamp goes up--this romantic comedy was written by Randi Mayem Singer, who won first place at the UCLA Diane Thomas screenwriting competition. Immediately, most studios in town bid for it and it was eventually sold to Orion for $400,000 and attached to Dennis Quaid, to star as an ex-con who gets romantically involved with a meek librarian in what starts as a pen-pal relationship. Since then, Quaid’s career has cooled considerably, which most attribute to why the script still sits gathering dust. Also, blame Orion’s current financial troubles for the film not getting made.


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