Dan Curtis has always been someone who likes to be in control. The director/producer has grown accustomed to it, having spent most of the '80s transforming the Herman Wouk novels "The Winds of War" and "War and Remembrance" into television miniseries extravaganzas.
So when the Emmy winner ("War and Remembrance") decided to get into feature films with a project based on a Stanley Cohen novel he had long admired, he knew he needed to do it his way.
The result: a $4-million family film called "Me and the Kid," which Curtis claims to have financed entirely out of his own pocket. The PG-rated road adventure, about a lonely young boy and his well-intentioned kidnaper, stars Danny Aiello, Joe Pantoliano, Cathy Moriarty and newcomer Alex Zuckerman.
In addition to bankrolling the project based on the novel "The Taking of Gary Feldman," Curtis also directed and co-produced with Lynn Loring. The film will be released Oct. 22 in selected cities by Orion Pictures, still recovering from almost a year in Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection and looking to "Me and the Kid" as a step in the right direction.
Curtis is quick to say the project was "not an act of passion" designed to buck the traditional movie-making system or the people who control it; he simply grew frustrated shopping his screenplay around to studios.
Studio after studio told him the screenplay needed some fine tuning before anything could be done with it. It seemed to Curtis that everyone he talked to was an expert on just how his movie should be made.
"Finally," Curtis recalled, "I said to myself, 'I don't need this' . . . I decided I'd make it myself."
He believed that he would back a film if he could find at least one "name" actor to lend credibility to the venture. He found just that in Danny Aiello, who took a liking to the role of Harry, the ex-con who befriends the boy he has kidnaped from his wealthy but uncaring parents.
With Aiello signed on, Curtis moved full-speed ahead. "I didn't have to go through greenlighting, I just said, 'OK, I'm going to make the movie.' "
Several of the actors deferred their normal salaries, and the cast and crew worked long days to complete the film in just a month. He shopped the finished product around to several studios before making a distribution deal with Orion that gives the beleaguered distribution company all domestic rights, while Curtis retains foreign rights.
"I figured, how bad could I get hurt? I'll get some kind of distribution deal, I'm sure. There's certainly a large home video market for it. I know I'll sell it foreign, and I know I'll make a television sale of it," he said.
"I can't get killed. I don't even think I'll lose money (even) if everything goes against me."