Sci-fi thriller was al­most filmed in Aus­tralia, in­dus­try vet­eran Sue Mil­liken writes in

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Film -

ALONG with in­ter­minable cast­ing prob­lems as pre-pro­duc­tion pro­ceeded, the ex­pan­sive fi­nan­cial en­vi­ron­ment in which we had be­gun the To­tal Re­call ad­ven­ture be­gan to change. In Hol­ly­wood, DEG posted a first-quar­ter loss; its slate of movies started open­ing and omi­nously, one af­ter the other, died at the box of­fice. Dis­as­trous flops.

There be­gan a weekly bat­tle over cash­flow to make sure we had enough funds to meet the pay­roll. We had huge out­go­ings with pro­duc­tion staff, model mak­ers, art depart­ment staff, con­struc­tion staff, vis­ual ef­fects staff, rent and travel. DEG be­gan tak­ing its time to send us draw­downs.

[Amer­i­can ac­tor] Mark Har­mon in­di­cated he was in­ter­ested in do­ing the film. At the end of July, Dino faxed that he had made a pay or play of­fer to Har­mon, and that ev­ery­thing was on track for a Jan­uary start to film­ing. Then Mark Har­mon told Bruce, ‘‘ I’d re­ally like to work with you but it may not be on this one.’’

We asked Dino if we could screen test Sam Neill, who was per­fect for the role. Dino said no. The same day, Dino told Bruce’s agent that ‘‘ the fi­nan­cial dif­fi­cul­ties were be­hind him, and he was ready to pro­ceed’’. But the green light kept go­ing on and off.

At the end of each work­ing day we would gather in my of­fice, open a bot­tle of wine and glumly dis­cuss the get­ting the film made.

Af­ter wait­ing weeks for a re­sponse from Tom Berenger, next on the list, Bruce called him. Berenger told Bruce he had not re­ceived the script — sent from DEG to his agent. So he had not even read it. But, Berenger said, I have a script of my own which I’d like you to di­rect . . .

He in­formed Bruce that he had three more pic­tures to do be­fore he would be needed for To­tal Re­call and ‘‘ I might be tired by then.’’

Mickey Rourke passed. Jeff Bridges passed. Richard Drey­fuss was in Brazil for two months. Dino sent him a script but there wasn’t much like­li­hood of an an­swer. Dino agreed for us to test Sam Neill.

Mean­while, the pro­duc­tion was like a run­ner with his feet on the blocks, and the start­ing gun keeps get­ting raised, cocked . . . then dropped. Ev­ery­one was go­ing nuts. We had a crew T-shirt printed which said ‘‘ Any News?’’ on the front, and ‘‘ No News’’ on the back.

Dino ar­rived in Syd­ney for a DEL Board meet­ing in Septem­ber. Bruce screened the Sam Neill test to the board, who liked it, but Dino would not give the okay. To be fair, Sam was at that time a big name in Aus­tralia and on tele­vi­sion in­ter­na­tion­ally due to the TV se­ries Reilly, Ace of Spies, but he was not a star of the stand­ing to carry a large film like To­tal Re­call. Braver peo­ple would have taken the risk and made him a star, but with DEG in fi­nan­cial trou­ble, Dino had other prob­lems.

The next morn­ing, on Dino’s way to the air­port to fly back to LA, we screened, courtesy of Ge­orge Miller, 10 min­utes of Sam’s new film Dead Calm at the lab in Cam­per­down. We hoped that his per­for­mance and the like­li­hood that the film would be­come a hit would per­suade Dino to say yes to him. Af­ter the screen­ing as we were walk­ing out to the carpark, Dino asked me to start mak­ing a deal with Sam. Oh, the re­lief! On this de­ci­sion hung the next year of my life — and ev­ery­one else’s in­volved with the film.

When Dino ar­rived back in LA he was still keen on Sam, but a cou­ple of days later, when I



ac­tu­ally phoned him to get ap­proval for Sam’s deal be­fore sign­ing off on it, he was non-com­mit­tal. ‘‘ I dis­cuss it with Bruce when he comes here.’’ He then ad­mit­ted to me that ‘‘ they’’ at DEG — un­spec­i­fied but sud­denly pow­er­ful, as the other films lost money — did not want to use Sam in the movie. I passed the news on to Bruce. The line had been crossed. He called Dino. ‘‘ No Sam, no di­rec­tor,’’ he told him. Stale­mate. Pic­ture back on hold again. Bruce even­tu­ally agreed to re­plac­ing Sam if the ac­tor was right for the role and made the money peo­ple more amenable. The script was sent to Willem Dafoe and Richard Drey­fuss, now back from Brazil. Both passed. The lat­est sug­ges­tion was Chris Cooper. Chris Cooper? Not ex­actly a house­hold name even now.

It got worse. They started in­sist­ing that ev­ery role in the film be played by Amer­i­cans. The film was be­ing shot in Aus­tralia and we had bud­geted to cast all the sup­port­ing roles, and hope­fully a lead or two, lo­cally. The union, no sur­prise, was breath­ing down our necks, fangs bared, just wait­ing for an op­por­tu­nity to cause trou­ble. No film, then or since, im­ports ev­ery ac­tor, as it is a crazy waste of money when there are fine lo­cal ac­tors avail­able.

Mean­time DEG ap­proved a down pay­ment to In­tro­vi­sion to send their tech­ni­cians to Syd­ney to work with the model mak­ers, so now we had a spe­cial ef­fects com­pany but no cast.

The script went to Tom Sel­leck. He passed. Bruce came up with the idea of Pa­trick Swayze, then very hot from Dirty Danc­ing. Swayze said yes! A break­through! But by then, DEG was in worse shape than ever. The full com­mit­ment to fund­ing the pic­ture was still with­held, even with a star who was ac­cept­able to ev­ery­one. Howard Koch Jr, a tough, sec­ond-gen­er­a­tion Hol­ly­wood pro­ducer with ex­ten­sive hands-on pro­duc­tion ex­pe­ri­ence, was brought in as Head of Pro­duc­tion at DEG and he as­sumed fi­nan­cial con­trol of ex­pen­di­ture for To­tal Re­call.

Fed up with the in­de­ci­sion, Bruce told Dino to can­cel the whole thing. Howard Koch agreed. It was time to bail out. But Dino begged Bruce to stay with it. He told Bruce that ev­ery­one loved the script (even though Bruce had se­ri­ous con­cerns about it, and the third act wasn’t work­ing at all). Dino said that his new Steve Martin film had just col­lapsed be­cause David Lynch had pulled out as di­rec­tor. If To­tal Re­call went down, it might fin­ish him. The house of cards was tot­ter­ing.

Bruce, against all com­mon sense but out of loy­alty to Dino, agreed to stay with it for a bit longer. So we stayed too. It was my job to tell the 50 or so em­ploy­ees we al­ready had on the pay­roll, that even though there were prob­lems with the fi­nanc­ing, it might be okay.

Mean­while, we were still cast­ing To­tal Re­call. The fe­male lead, a char­ac­ter called Melina, was the next role to be ap­proved by DEG. Bruce wanted a young ac­tress called Ni­cole Kid­man who had starred op­po­site Sam Neill in Dead Calm. She had done a cou­ple of Aus­tralian films and a lot of tele­vi­sion, but she was un­known out­side Aus­tralia. We were still fight­ing about the num­ber of Amer­i­cans in the cast, the stu­dio hav­ing ig­nored Bruce’s sug­ges­tion of Jack Thomp­son — who, as he said, was bet­ter known in­ter­na­tion­ally than most of the names they were putting up — for the head of the bad guys. Dino was com­pletely un­in­ter­ested in Ni­cole but wary of up­set­ting Bruce again so soon. He al­lowed us to screen test her. Off went the screen test to LA.

A DEG movie called Mil­lion Dol­lar Mys­tery opened in the US. The premise was, watch the film, fol­low the clues, guess where the money is hid­den and win a mil­lion dollars. A woman from Bak­ers­field, Cal­i­for­nia, guessed the an­swer in the first week and col­lected the money. The film died stone dead. And with it, the DEG em­pire.

‘‘ We no use Ni­cole Kid­man,’’ Dino told Bruce. Howard Koch Jr called me. ‘‘ We’re never go­ing to ap­prove Ni­cole Kid­man. We want an Amer­i­can in the role.’’ They wanted Alexan­dra Paul to play Melina.

We were told that DEG was be­ing sold and they might not pro­ceed with To­tal Re­call, but that we — that was, DEL and I — should look at other means of fi­nanc­ing, such as a rais­ing un­der the Aus­tralian tax leg­is­la­tion, 10BA. Not pos­si­ble, I told them. You want an all-Amer­i­can cast. The film is Amer­i­can, it won’t qual­ify for the tax in­cen­tives. They hated hear­ing that. ‘‘ But if creative con­trol is in the hands of Aus­tralians?’’

Terry [Jack­man] called Bruce to say that Dino was leav­ing DEG. We got an­other call from Dino and Howard Koch, threat­en­ing that ei­ther all the cast were to be Amer­i­can, or they would move the film to Dino’s stu­dios in North Carolina. I told them that not only would the union close the pic­ture down if we tried to im­port all the cast,

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