How a Little Film That Could Inspired Me

Thursday, December 12, 2019

Let’s play a little game. What if I told you that one of the biggest movie hits from the late 1980s started out as a low-budget production (filmed for $5 million and grossed at least $214 million)? Or that the only company that would develop the script had only produced adult films? What about the fact that although this film centered around dancing, the soundtrack was not finalized until the final weeks of shooting, and the final dance scene almost had to be choreographed without the proper music?

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.

Renee Roberson is an award-winning writer and magazine editor who is ready to start shopping her contemporary young adult novel around again. Learn more about her at FinishedPages.


Sioux Roslawski said...

Renee--I knew some of that, but not all. And I love the movie.

Your last two sentences are gems. Yes, you can create something special, and so can I. Maybe 2020 will be the year for all the BKers... even the AWOL ones...

Angela Mackintosh said...

I watched that! That is an amazing story. I also watched Home Alone (which was really amazing) and Ghostbusters.

I totally agree with you, Renee. I believe there's a home for all writing. We just have to believe in ourselves and our work.

Margo Dill said...

I never knew all of this! WOW! It is quite inspirational. We always see the "overnight" success of something when usually there is a huge backstory like this for almost everyone that has had success.

Renee Roberson said...

Sioux--I know, right? I sat there thinking, "Man, if this many people had to scrap to get this movie made, why am I wallowing?" A little determination can go a long way.

Angela--I can't wait to watch the others. "Home Alone" is the holiday movie my son always wants to watch, and we also showed them the original "Ghostbusters" recently. I know that one had some challenges, too! We are all capable of so much.

Margo--What's that saying? Never compare your middle to someone else's end? I have to remind myself that every day. But you are taking control of your publishing career and after reading your newsletter yesterday, I'm more motivated than ever!

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