Battlefield Earth was recently awarded the Razzie for worst film of the decade. Screenwriter JD Shapiro, who also wrote Robin Hood: Men in Tights, which would seem redemption enough, also published a public apology in the NY Post. It’s an interesting read, even if Shapiro is cornier than your Jewish uncle and refers to his penis as his “Willy Wonker.” Some of the highlights.
It was 1994, and I had read an article in Premiere magazine saying that the Celebrity Center, the Scientology epicenter in Los Angeles, was a great place to meet women. Eventually, I had dinner with John Travolta, his wife Kelly Preston, Karen — about 10 Scientologists in all. John asked me, “So, J.D., what brought you to Scientology?”
I told him. John smiled and replied, “We have tech that can help you handle that.” I don’t know if he meant they had technology that would help me get laid or technology that would stop Willy from doing the majority of my thinking.
I met with Mike Marcus, the president of MGM, and pitched him my take. He loved it, and the next day negotiations went under way. A few days after I finished the script, a very excited Travolta called, told me he “loved it,” and wanted to have dinner. At dinner, John said again how much he loved the script and called it “The ‘Schindler’s List’ of sci-fi.”
My script was very, VERY different than what ended up on the screen. My screenplay was darker, grittier and had a very compelling story with rich characters. What my screenplay didn’t have was slow motion at every turn, Dutch tilts, campy dialogue, aliens in KISS boots, and everyone wearing Bob Marley wigs.
They changed the entire tone. I knew these notes would kill the movie. The notes wanted me to lose key scenes, add ridiculous scenes, take out some of the key characters. I asked Mike where they came from. He said, “From us.” But when I pressed him, he said, “From John’s camp, but we agree with them.”
I refused to incorporate the notes into the script and was fired.
Once it was decided that I would share a writing credit, I wanted to use my pseudonym, Sir Nick Knack. I was told I couldn’t do that, because if a writer gets paid over a certain amount of money, they can’t. I could have taken my name completely off the movie, but my agent and attorney talked me out of it. There was a lot of money at stake.
Now, looking back at the movie with fresh eyes, I can’t help but be strangely proud of it. Because out of all the sucky movies, mine is the suckiest.
Sir Nick Knack. That was this guy’s idea of a clever pseudonym. I get the feeling the hardest part of writing a script for him is not burning the pages when he taps the end of his cigar and says “Ha ch-cha cha cha.”