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Screenwriters Want to Tell Own Stories

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Whenever Hollywood rolls out a big movie, studio publicity machines kick into high gear, staging junkets for the press at which actors, directors and frequently producers are paraded to hype the film.

Almost always missing from the junkets, however, are those whose inspiration and work provided the genesis of the movie: the screenwriters.

For the record:

12:00 AM, Jun. 13, 1996 For the Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday June 13, 1996 Home Edition Calendar Part F Page 2 Entertainment Desk 2 inches; 39 words Type of Material: Correction
Screenwriters--The public relations firm hired by screenwriter Patrick Sheane Duncan for the film “84 Charlie Mopic” was incorrectly reported in Wednesday’s Calendar section. The publicity was handled by Clein Feldman White, which assigned publicist Bumble Ward to the film.

Now, encouraged by the Writers Guild of America, a growing number of screenwriters are hiring personal publicists to champion their talents and raise their public profiles when they have films coming out.

“We’re tired of being the forgotten man,” said Charles Edward Pogue, who wrote the film “Dragonheart,” spending six years on the project.

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Pogue, who shares a story credit with Patrick Read Johnson, claims that prior to the film’s release, he learned Universal Pictures had left him off “Dragonheart’s” press junket and he blamed director Rob Cohen--not the studio--for the snub.

“I got a publicist for one reason only,” Pogue told The Times. “Director Rob Cohen was trying to cut me out of all publicity on ‘Dragonheart.’ . . . This is a script that when it was first written six years ago, studio executives wept. Everybody told me how brilliant it was. There is no way Rob could present himself as a visionary on it without muzzling me.”

Pogue said he discovered “that an edict had come down not to give me anything [in the way of publicity].”

“I was not part of the press junket,” he said. “We tried to get in it but we were not allowed. . . . I thought it was catty and small-minded and petty.”

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Cohen was unavailable for comment, but his publicist, Pat Kingsley, strongly denied that he ever attempted to muzzle Pogue. Kingsley said she herself participated in planning the press junket and at no time did Cohen ever issue an edict barring Pogue.

"[Cohen] was not in any of the meetings,” Kingsley said. “He was in the editing room editing his next film, ‘Daylight.’ ”

Pogue went on to say that he and Cohen had “many yelling matches” about changes in the script and that he has not talked to the director since he departed the set in the fall of 1994.

Pogue also said he managed to make it into a Northridge test screening and was shadowed the entire time by security personnel.

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“Not only was I not allowed to comment, they had a goon sit behind me, who ushered me to my seat, to the concession stand, to the bathroom, and who stood behind me in the back of the theater. . . .”

Pogue said that during the screening he was kept away from others involved in making the film. “They were afraid to look me in the eye,” he said, adding that only the film’s star, Dennis Quaid, “came up to me and we had a nice, warm conversation.”

A Universal spokesman had no comment; Cohen spokeswoman Kingsley said she was not aware of any special security precautions taken because Pogue attended a test screening. She further said that the film was already completed and that the purpose of the screening was to gauge audience reaction for Universal’s marketing purposes--not to elicit creative comments of people involved in making the film.

“It was all shot,” she said. “It was finished. They were not going to film one more frame of film.”

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The dispute over “Dragonheart” comes at a time when many screenwriters complain that they have a tough time persuading studios to include them in the publicity on a film.

Douglas Carter Beane, who wrote “To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar,” said he had to wage a fight to get invited on his movie’s press junket and was successful only after the film’s director interceded on his behalf. (A Universal spokesman had no comment.)

Linda Palmer, who runs the literary department at Warren Cowan Associates, a Los Angeles public relations firm, said she was once politely but firmly rebuffed by a studio when she tried to get a “big screenwriter” to participate in a junket.

“They would not let him have any part of the publicity,” Palmer recalled. “In their words, ‘We never include the writer.’ They acted as if I asked them to include somebody’s pet poodle.”

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A spokesman for Universal echoed other studios when he said: “As a rule, writers participating at press junkets are the exception rather than the rule.”

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Screenwriters have long complained about their relative obscurity. Except for a handful of name writers such as Joe Eszterhas or Michael Crichton, it is the director who is exalted in the movie business. Writers say they do not begrudge directors the limelight but wonder why they don’t share in it.

“We are in a business where perception is more important than reality,” said Patrick Sheane Duncan, who wrote the film “Mr. Holland’s Opus” and the upcoming “Courage Under Fire.”

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“Your value in this town is how you are perceived,” Duncan added. “Why do Joe Eszterhas and Shane Black, two of the best-known writers in town, get the most money? I think there is some kind of algebraic formula in that. Name recognition is what this town is built on.”

Duncan hired Bumble Ward & Associates of Los Angeles to handle his publicity for another one of his films, “84 Charlie Mopic,” because he knew that art films live or die by publicity. Then he saw how useful it was.

“I noticed on every film, the director and actors and the studio all have publicists, but nobody wants to talk to the writer,” he said.

Beane, another Ward client, said he was moved to hire a publicist after “To Wong Foo” took off and he found himself inundated with interview requests.

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“I couldn’t deal with it,” he recalled. “I have this real loose tongue. I was just getting myself in trouble all the time. I was outing people left and right. I would get calls from Amblin [Entertainment] saying, ‘Please don’t say that actor is gay.’ . . . It was recommended by my agent and the producer to get a publicist.”

Ward herself said publicists are becoming a necessity for screenwriters. “Everyone has to do it now,” she said. “It’s the squeaky-wheel phenomenon.”

Harvey Warren, a member of the WGA’s Media Relations Committee, said: “The Writers Guild has pretty much said to its members, it’s important for your name to be known, your contribution to be recognized and realize the need to get out there and stop hiding in your room.”

The current issue of the Journal of the WGA gives screenwriters a primer on public relations, including tips on “how to ride the publicity train.”

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Pogue’s publicist, Eddie Michaels of the Beverly Hills public relations firm Michaels, Wolfe & Tencer, said that hiring a PR firm should be a “100% business decision” for a writer.

“The entertainment industry these days is too much about the business process for it to be looked at as self-aggrandizement,” Michaels said.

Still, just because someone has written a movie may not be in and of itself reason for hiring public relations specialists.

Mark Pogachefsky, who runs his own Los Angeles public relations firm, put it this way: “Does a writer want to get known in Duluth or get his next job?”

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