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Bringing back a bad, bad man

Special to The Times

Hide your stash -- the Lieutenant is headed back out on the streets. And he’s just as bad as you remember him. If not worse.

When writer-director Abel Ferrara’s “Bad Lieutenant” was released in 1992, the grim drama that starred Harvey Keitel as the most spiritually anguished, nakedly self-destructive cop in New York City polarized viewers and left a scorching mark in independent film. It was nominated for best feature at the Film Independent’s Spirit Awards, and Keitel’s legendary raw performance won him the Spirit for best male lead and a slot in the unofficial acting hall of fame.

Veteran producer Edward R. Pressman (“Badlands,” “American Psycho”), who developed and produced the first movie, is poised to revisit the Lieutenant and “try to reinvent the film in a way that would be relevant again,” as he puts it. So earlier this year one of his co-producers, Stephen Belafonte (the new Mr. Scary Spice), brought in Billy Finkelstein, a Flushing, Queens-bred TV writer whose deep cops-and-criminals résumé is a hit list of street cred: “L.A. Law,” “Murder One,” “Law & Order” and “NYPD Blue.”

The new version -- with a working title of “Bad Lieutenant ’08" -- is less a sequel or a prequel than an attempt to take the raw material of the original film and weave it into 21st century, post- 9/11 New York. In the draft I have, dated July 24, 2007, Finkelstein provides the Lieutenant with a small amount of addiction back story, the event that prompts his promotion from sergeant and the drug-related murder of five Senegalese illegal immigrants to pursue.

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He has also given his tortured protagonist, who went nameless in the first film, a name: Terence McDonough. Meanwhile, the familiar relentless tear of reckless drug-taking, gambling, stealing and sex continues unabated.

The original film was rated NC-17 -- a rating that was still new and provocative at the time -- and justifiably, given not just its sexual violence, drug abuse and nudity, but also its punishing emotional brutality. The question is: What will the Bad Lieutenant do with more money and looser standards to play with? And is it possible to have the same effect?

“We have to factor in the passage of time and what’s happened in the interim,” says Finkelstein, who has yet to write in an updated nod to Keitel’s full-frontal, drug-addled glory. “I don’t know that the same sorts of things that caused us to sit up and take notice 15 years ago are necessarily gonna have the same effect now.”

Pressman has discussed the new version with Ferrara and Keitel, although neither is attached to the project. But neither Pressman nor Finkelstein seems particularly worried about criticism from purist fans of the cult film. (Pressman is trying a similar reinvention with the Stephen Schiff-scripted “Money Never Sleeps,” a revisiting of the iconic ‘80s master of the universe Gordon Gekko from Oliver Stone’s “Wall Street.”)

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“These things have to stand on their own two feet,” says Finkelstein, who’s currently finishing up a second draft. “Listen, how many movies have been made about Jesse James and Eliot Ness? There are certain characters that are part of our literature and they will be revisited -- that’s just the nature of it. There’s a difference between appreciating something and putting it in amber.”

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A site spreads the insider insight

Information is currency in Hollywood, as in journalism, and everyone knows that having it first makes you richer, if just for a few hours. Which would make TrackingB.com, a growing pay website that tracks insider maneuverings and the real-time sale and buzz of new pitches and screenplays, a kind of bank vault to which anyone can buy the combination for $69 a year.

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TrackingB.com is owned and run by the Insider, the nom de Web of Adam (who withheld his last name but gave up that he’s from Winnipeg, Canada, and got a master’s at USC in professional writing), a struggling screenwriter who launched the site last October. It’s meant to act as a common area for writers and their representatives and the development executives at studios and production companies who want to know what material they’re circulating -- or about to circulate -- in the marketplace.

“I’m mostly using it to look out for: What are the new specs that are going out on the market, what’s happening with the ones that are already out there?” says Fox Searchlight creative executive Jason Hargrove, who checks the site daily and nabbed a script called “Near Death,” written by Carter Blanchard, this year because TrackingB.com reported on it three days before it went on the market.

Although development execs have long had their own versions of invitation-only tracking boards, where they swap thoughts on writers, agencies and screenplays, the agents themselves have rarely been directly privy to the chatter.

In addition to insider gossip, TrackingB.com also gives them an opportunity to see what their rivals are going out with and what’s generating positive heat.

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It also, of course, allows them to plant artificial buzz, which could dilute a script’s potency if it’s thought that an agent is merely hyping his own client’s work.

At the moment, the site’s 240 pay subscribers are drawn mainly from junior creative executives and VPs at studios, as well as lower-level assistants, managers, agents, financiers and producers, although the William Morris Agency has an account and at least one production head at a major studio uses it.

“I always felt out of the loop when my work went out and hit the town,” says Adam. “I felt like I was always one step removed from everything. So I wanted to create something where not only insiders could learn about the industry but people who were on the fringes of it could find a way to get more in the middle.”

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Scriptland is a weekly feature on the work and professional lives of screenwriters. Please e-mail any tips or comments to fernandez_jay@hotmail.com.


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