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October 22nd, 2014 6 Comments



Screenwriters are a pathetic lot.


They are, in the minds of their Hollywood colleagues, little better than idiot savants: dim-witted souls who occasionally get lucky and come up with a good idea badly executed, something anyone with an ounce of sense can improve.


Everyone in town has more talent than these hapless souls.


The studio executive who has learned everything he or she needs to know about story in a weekend seminar with Robert McKee.


The director who’s looking to put the stamp of his genius on the material.


And of course, the actors who love to improvise.


The talentless writer who often spends months or even years agonizing over his material has to be in awe of these colleagues and their ability to turn his sow’s ear of a screenplay into a cinematic silk purse, often with only a few minutes or hours of effort.


I have to confess that I am one of those unfortunate wretches, one who has been the beneficiary of my collaborators’ heroic efforts to improve my work.


Michael Biehn, in particular, comes to mind.


The hero of The Terminator—in fact, one of Jim Cameron’s favorite actors, Biehn starred, with Henry Thomas and Jason Bateman, in a film I called Bloodbrothers, one which USA Cable, in its infinite collective wisdom, saw fit to rechristen A Taste for Killing.


It’s the story of couple of young men from the Garden District of New Orleans.


Recent graduates of Tulane, they decide to spend their summer working one of the off-shore oil rigs to prove how big their balls are before heading off to law school in the fall. There, isolated on a platform, cut off from friends and family, they fall in with a charming psychopath who draws them into a web of violence and murder.


It was my attempt to reinvent Hitchcock’s Strangers on a Train.


Thank god for my collaborators.


The studio executives who, after declaring it the best screenplay they’d ever gotten their hands on, gave it to a director who had the good sense to loathe it.


The director who saved the piece by moving it from the dull, colorless confines of New Orleans to the fascinating arena of Houston.


And, of course, Michael, who rewrote the dialogue as he spoke it.


Here, for example, is my version of an early encounter between the boys and Michael’s character, a welder named Bo Landry.


One of the boys asks him if he makes things for the platform.


Bo replies, “Mostly I repair things.” Suddenly intense, he continues: “You know, they say the sea’s a creator. The mother of all life. She’s not. The sea’s a bitch. A destroyer. Sometimes she tries to smash things up all at once. But mostly, she just licks away at them. Rusting, wearing, ‘til there’s nothing left.”


Here’s Michael’s improved version: “Well, mostly I just repair things. Sometimes, the sea’ll tear things up all at once. Usually, she just licks away at them until there’s nothing left.”


Thank god for Michael.


I had tried to use the dialogue to give the audience a subtle glimpse of his madness, his vision of life, but Michael, in his wisdom, went for the more mundane, so that his homicidal tendencies come as a surprise when they finally surface.


I know some cynics might dismiss his changes as his inability to remember his lines.


Those with little sense and less taste might prefer my lines to his.


But as for me, I’m grateful that he saved me from myself.


Just think…the vast majority of the audience gives me credit for his brilliance!


I don’t know how I’ll ever repay him, but I keep myself awake at night trying to devise ways.


There you have it, folks.


An absolutely irrefutable demonstration of the reason the screenwriter’s rank on the set is just above that of the craft services person who serves the coffee and donuts.






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6 thoughts on “A BELLYFUL OF BIEHNS

  1. Mary D.

    Are you being sarcastic? Because I honestly think that the original dialog which way more interesting and New Orleans is a better location than Houston by a mile. New Orleans has character. In fact New Orleans could be one of the characters. What does Houston have? I do not know.

    1. Dan Bronson Post author

      Yes, Mary, I’m being sarcastic–though I prefer to think of it as ironic. I’m in complete agreement with you that the original dialogue and setting are vastly superior to what they put up there on the screen. I’ve had actors thank me for the dialogue I wrote for them, but Michael clearly didn’t give a damn and simply paraphrased the lines he couldn’t remember. As for New Orleans, it’s one of the great movie cities, while Houston is…well, Houston. A colorless city with a generic look.

  2. Mary D.

    I have a question. If these two young men are stuck out on an oil rig who do they kill? It seems that there would a limited number of men on an oil rig and only a limited number of victims. Plus, maybe they should be from somewhere else and then they could come to New Orleans and meet this seedy character in the city itself. They could be there for a vacation or even Mardi Gra. Now that would be interesting.

    1. Dan Bronson Post author

      The men and women who work the off-shore oil rigs spend seven days on the job and seven days off. While the boys meet the villain on the rig, the murder itself takes place back in New Orleans/Houston during their week off. You might want to take a look at the film to see how all this works. It is, in my opinion, a botch–but Biehn and Bateman give performances worth watching.

  3. Mary D.

    I was under the impression that once someone was on the oil rig working that they stated there until their time on the job ended, but I really don’t know anything about oil rigs.

    1. Dan Bronson Post author

      The working title of A TASTE FOR KILLING was SEVEN ON, SEVEN OFF. The work is so hard and the isolation so complete that these guys would go nuts if they didn’t get every other week off. I was only out there for two or three days, and all I did was interview people and watch them work, but I can tell you I was ready to get back to the mainland. Even Morgan City, the port of call for the platform crews and–I’m told–the murder capital of the United States, looked good to me after a few days bouncing around on that rig. By the way, if you’re at all interested in my research trip or the making of the movie, you might want to check out Chapters 71-72 of my book.


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