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‘Baggage’ Production Reportedly Troubled

TIMES STAFF WRITER

In the summer of 1995, when Alicia Silverstone emerged as a hot new face spewing hip teen lingo in the Paramount hit “Clueless,” rival Columbia Pictures quickly signed her to a two-picture, $8-million production deal. Hollywood was stunned by such a lucrative pact for someone only 18.

The deal was agreed to by then-studio chief Mark Canton, and may yet prove to be a wise one. But Silverstone’s first venture as a star-producer, sources say, has been plagued by clashes between Silverstone and the director, the sudden departure of a producer and disputes even about whether the film is a comedy or something darker.

“Excess Baggage,” which tells the story of an heiress who fakes her own kidnapping, wrapped principal photography in July in Vancouver, British Columbia. But since then, there have been reports of a particularly tense production.

Neither Silverstone, her fellow producers, director Marco Brambilla nor studio executives would comment for this story.

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However, a source said Columbia believes it has a good movie that is just in need of “tweaking” or “fine-tuning.” The source added that some reshoots likely will be required because “there are a few things lacking in the script that the director, producers and star all agree need to be added.”

The film would be Silverstone’s first starring venture since “Clueless,” although now Columbia has positioned “Excess Baggage” for release Aug. 15--weeks after Silverstone is scheduled to appear in Warner Bros.’ potential blockbuster “Batman and Robin.”

For “Excess Baggage,” Columbia gave Silverstone, who turned 20 this month, wide latitude not only in the selection of the director, but also in selecting a cast. Her co-stars include Benicio Del Toro (“The Usual Suspects”), Christopher Walken, Nicholas Turturro and Harry Connick Jr.

Based on an original screenplay by Mikhaila Max Adams, the story has Silverstone’s character faking the kidnapping to get her father’s attention. While she is in a car trunk, a thief (Del Toro) steals the vehicle.

During shooting last May through July in Canada, sources say, reports began filtering back to Columbia that Silverstone and Brambilla were not getting along.

“The fights were totally in their faces,” recalled one person who was on the set. “It was in front of the entire cast and crew. They fought over dialogue, scenes, script and even wardrobe.

“The director would say, ‘I’m the director! What are you doing? You have to do this!’ She’d be like, ‘You don’t know anything! You should have read the script before you signed on to it!’ Then they would go to their trailers and call their agents.”

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It got so bad, the source added, that actor “Nicholas Turturro had a stretch limo idling outside the set door for eight hours waiting for the moment he could wrap so he could flee.”

Turturro could not be reached for comment, but a source said the actor enjoyed working with Walken and Del Toro. As for the production, the source observed: “I wouldn’t say it was a beautifully run production, but at the same time, [Turturro] hung in there and got it done.”

Some believe that the friendship between Silverstone and Del Toro added to the friction on the set.

“If Marco insisted a scene be played one way, Alicia and Benicio would ad lib the way they wanted and refuse to do it any other way,” a source on the set said. “To their credit, sometimes it worked.”

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A studio spokesman said Del Toro would not comment for this story and attempts to reach his manager were unsuccessful.

Other sources said that David Valdes, who was an executive producer on Clint Eastwood’s “Unforgiven” and “In the Line of Fire,” left Silverstone’s movie because it was so “out of control.”

Valdes did not return phone calls placed to his office, but a Columbia spokesman confirmed that he no longer was a producer on the film. He was replaced by Bill Borden.

When disputes did erupt, sources said, Silverstone could count on her longtime manager and now producing partner, Carolyn Kessler, to back her up.

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Vanity Fair magazine, in a recent profile of Silverstone, noted that Kessler was a constant presence around the actress during the interview and--while 10 years older--bore a striking similarity in style to Silverstone, even down to their hair and skin complexion. The writer noted that while he had initially been invited on the set to view the star in action, Kessler vetoed that idea and the interview took place in a Vancouver park with Kessler monitoring every word.

Meanwhile, some who have seen rough footage of “Excess Baggage” say the director has given it the tone of an art film in places.

“It was just the way [the film] was lit, like a French film noir or something--people talking in cars at night,” one person recalled. “It was lit in a very rock video, moody-type way. It looks beautiful, but it isn’t really what the scenes are about.”

The filmmakers have brought in Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski (“The People vs. Larry Flynt”) to write optional comedy material.

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“We’re the guys who have a reputation that we can find humor anywhere,” Alexander said. He believes the movie could be funnier if Silverstone’s character said more inside the trunk.

“We like the trunk scenes, but we wrote another five pages of trunk material,” Alexander said. “It’s funny if she’s in the trunk and shouting pithy comments to cast members in the front seat.”

The film has seen a number of quality writers come and go. After the original script by Adams, rewrites were done by Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais (“The Commitments”), Aaron Sorkin (“The American President”) and Mark Haskell Smith (“Playing God”).

Canton took a lot of heat when he signed Silverstone to the 1995 deal, which allowed Silverstone to create First Kiss Productions.

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Yet screenwriter Karaszewski is critical of those who judge Silverstone long before her first production ever hits the big screen.

“Alicia is trying to be a producer and people who don’t know her . . . are trying to make an instant judgment that a 19-year-old girl can’t pull it off,” he said. “People who haven’t seen a frame of this movie are saying, ‘Look, a 19-year-old can’t make a movie.’ ”

Then he added: “Give her a shot.”


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