“For God’s sake,” barked the director. “I’ve made movies for Ray, Joel, and Don. Hell if I’m gonna go through all that again with Jon Peters.”
The director was none other than Tony Scott. As for “Ray, Joel, and Don,” he was referring to famed super producers Stark, Silver, and Simpson. Each man was renowned for his own style of brash, ego-driven, bare-knuckled moviemaking, not to mention being notoriously hard on directors. Tony Scott had just added Jon Peters to that pantheon.
Not that I’d written anything yet. It was barely a story, still pinging around in my skull. Two strong characters, a title, and a tantalizing premise I’d come to call The Great Train Robbery in the New York City subway system. Yes. This was Money Train. Still in its infancy, I’d pitched the concept to Tony. Mere weeks later, we’d sold it in the room to Paramount where Tony was a favorite son, already having directed a billion dollars worth of pictures for the studio.
The Jon Peters wrinkle came as we were negotiating our deal.
But first some reductive history. Back in the bad old Warner Brothers’ days there lived the dynamic duo of Peter Guber and Jon Peters. As a team, they wore the capes of super producers, responsible for massive hits like Batman and The Color Purple. When Sony arrived in town, looking to own a movie studio, they purchased Columbia and Tri-Star pictures and promptly put Peter Guber and Jon Peters in charge as benevolent kings. Well, let’s just say the executive pairing didn’t last. While Peter Guber continued run Sony Entertainment, Jon Peters was relegated to a rich producing deal. Thus the Jon Peters Company was born. And it had quite the appetite.
“I’m getting pressure from my agents to make the Jon Peters deal,” said Tony over the phone.
“So what?” I rallied. “You can say no. We already have a deal at Paramount.”
“They told me Jon Peters really wants Money Train,” worried Tony.
“But do we need him?” I asked rhetorically.
“No,” said Tony. “I really hate this shit.”
“So what’s wrong with saying thanks but no thanks?”
“Nothing. That’s what we’ll do.”
“So, we’ll push ahead with Paramount, yeah?”
“Right, right,” said the director. “Talk later.”
I couldn’t imagine what kind of pressure Tony was under to cause him such worry on the issue. He was the A-List of commercial directors. We’d one-stop-shopped Money Train to Paramount on pretty much his rep alone.
Question: How hard is it for one eight-hundred-pound gorilla to say no to another eight-hundred-pound gorilla?
Answer: Assumes both gorillas know and understand their gross weight.
Then I received a call from one of my agents.
“So, I hear you’re gonna dance with Jon Peters and Sony.”
“Actually,” I said. “You heard wrong. We’re gonna stick with Paramount.”
“Really? Because I just heard from Jon Peter’s guy, and he said you and Tony were good to go with a meeting.”
“Meeting with who?”
“I just got off the phone with Tony,” I clarified. “We decided against Jon Peters.”
“Someone’s got their signals crossed.”
Mere minutes passed and my phone rang again. It was Tony.
“I told ‘em we’d have a meeting,” grumbled Tony.
“Told who?” I asked.
“Meeting with Jon Peters?”
“What’s it gonna hurt?” said Tony. “Tell ‘em our story. Hear what they have to say.”
“But you were dead set against it,” I reminded. “What happened to the whole ‘I worked for Ray, Joel, and Don. Hell if I’m gonna make a movie with Jon–’”
“It’s just a meeting. Then we’ll give them a firm no.”
“Fine,” I calmed. “If you’re okay with it, then I’m okay with it.”
I tried to imagine the behind-the-scenes arm-twisting that must’ve taken place. I soon discovered Jon Peters and Tony shared the same agency. This was clearly turning into a test of who worked for whom. The talent? Or the reps?
A date was inked for the Jon Peters meeting. For Tony’s sake, I suggested we sit down at Tony’s Santa Monica Boulevard office. I was quickly overruled and was informed that we’d all be gathering up at Jon Peter’s hilltop house. Then, while navigating my way up Benedict Canyon, my mobile phone rang.
“It’s Tony,” said the English director. “Listen… I don’t think I’m gonna make the meeting.”
“Why?” I first asked, before rethinking. “You know what? Fine. Let’s just reschedule.”
“No,” said Tony. “I want you to go. Have the meeting. Call me right after.”
“Listen, Tony. I’ve said it before. If you don’t wanna make a movie with Jon Peters then don’t make a movie with him. We don’t need Jon Peters.”
“I know, I know. But do this for me, okay? Take the meeting. Meet the guy. Hear what he has to say and call me after.”
I could feel forces beyond me–beyond Tony even–pulling the invisible strings.
“Fine,” I said. “Call you when I’m done.”
“Kill,” said the director, signing off with one of his trademark riffs meant to infect me with a warrior-like fury.
Kill? Really, Tony?
Jon Peters’ Mulholland house was brand spanking new and must’ve cost years and God knows how many millions to construct. Style-wise, it was traditional Americana on steroids. I recall this because the former hairdresser-turned-movie-mogul insisted on touring me through every square inch of it.
And then came the property. It sprawled across a large swath of hillside, divvied up by lush landscaping and faux rock formations fashioned by some of the same designers who’d built Disneyland.
Around the time Jon was showing off his newest addition–a significantly well-stocked petting zoo–I began to wonder what the hell the man was trying to prove by this show of brute wealth? I was a mere writer with one produced credit. He was Jon-bloody-Peters, mega-producer extraordinaire. Or as Peter Guber used to call him, The Man with the Golden Gut.
As we finally sat down at a picnic table to drink iced tea and talk Money Train, I wondered what his legendary instinct for hit material would tell him about my story. After some chitchat about Tony, our Paramount offer, and the power of certain agents, I unwound my tale of two best friends-turned-cops who dream of ripping off the armored train that services the New York Transit System.
“I fucking love it!” announced Jon the moment I’d wrapped up the pitch. “Fucking brilliant.”
“Thank you,” I said humbly.
“Brilliant,” he continued. “Two hours of giant penises rocketing through tunnels!”
I laughed loudly. At least the man had a sense of humor.
“I’m fucking serious,” smiled Jon, “Think about. subway trains, man. What are they but these big dicks penetrating tunnel after tunnel?”
Yes. He was serious. Deadly serious. The meeting wrapped, and soon enough I was navigating my way back to my own traditional Americana domicile. Only mine was sans the designer Disney motifs, and my personal petting zoo consisted of a pair of ever-shedding Golden Retrievers.
“He said it was what?” asked Tony over the phone.
“He said it was brilliant,” I answered. “Nothing but two hours of giant penises rocketing through tunnels.”
“My God,” said the director, pausing to mold his final thoughts. “That’s it. We’re not making the movie with him.”
“Thought we already established that,” I said.
“Well, that puts the nail in it,” said Tony. “Giant fucking penises, my ass.”
“You shoulda been there.”
“Glad I wasn’t.”
“You owe me.”
“I do, my boy. I surely do. Let’s talk tomorrow.”
It’s strange. As I write this, I don’t recall exactly who informed me that Tony had ultimately agreed to develop Money Train with Jon Peters and Columbia Pictures. I do remember Tony later blaming it all on the cabal of agents who, all along, had lurked behind the gauzy Hollywood curtain with every lethal intention of marrying the mogul with the billion-dollar Brit.
Me? As the owner of the intellectual property, I could’ve kicked up dust. But I doubt that would’ve caused me anything but pain. I’d hitched myself to Tony who, despite his protestations, had allowed himself to get sucked into a deal with a powerful producer not of his own choosing.
Of course, Tony eventually dropped out of Money Train, and not long after, I was let go. But not before we had ourselves a couple of more adventures (Tony Scott, Me, and King Ding-a-Ling and My True Romance with Tony Scott) which you can read about in the blog archives.
- More Behind the Lines with Doug Richardson
- Behind the Lines with DR: Holding a Grudge
- Good in a Room: 17 Phrases That Make You Sound Like a Hollywood Rookie
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