If you guessed the movie “Dirty Dancing,” then you guessed right. However, I thought I was an expert on this film until I watched the Netflix docuseries called “The Movies that Made Us,” and they featured the movie in one of the episodes. While the production of the docuseries is a little cheesy (think the occasional animated graphics and interesting editing of the interviews) I learned a lot about this classic. This is truly one of those films that almost didn’t get made. The story was near and dear to screenwriter Eleanor Bergstein’s heart because she grew up going to a resort in the Catskills with her family each summer like the character of Frances “Baby” Houseman. She eventually teamed up with female producer Linda Gottlieb, who had an in at MGM. However, the powers to be at MGM kept changing, and the project eventually got put in limbo, and then released. Vestron Pictures purchased it, but up until that point the company had only been producing adult films. Yep, “Dirty Dancing” was their first feature-length film. (Cue the jokes here.)
The obstacles to making this movie go on and on. Slashed production budget, location issues, two romantic leads that didn’t really care for each other and fought a lot (did you know Sarah Jessica Parker and Billy Zane almost played Baby and Johnny?), a music supervisor that had to be fired, Patrick Swayze busting his knee on that scene where he jumped up in the air on a log, etc. And then one movie executive who was brought in to view the final cut advised the entire team to “burn the negative” and collect the insurance.
As I watched the show, I couldn’t help shake my head. How many times have we as writers worked to create a project that we loved with all our heart and souls but no one else could get? How many agent rejections have we received because the story wasn’t “on trend?” The screenwriter, producer and director (and the people at Vestron Pictures) were determined to see this project through, even if it was a miserable failure. And guess what, it wasn’t. Learning all this history behind the movie made me laugh, cry and nod my head in agreement. It lit a fire under me to dig out those old projects that are sitting on my hard-drive, or in stacks of typed-pages on my bookshelves. Because, darn it, if this little movie could become the blockbuster that it did, I can create something special, too.
And so can you.