If you listen to Paul Scheer (NTSF:SD:SUV, The League), June Diane Raphael (NTSF:SD:SUV) and Jason Mantzoukas’ (The League) podcast, “How Did This Get Made?” and you haven’t heard this week’s episode on Crocodile Dundee II, then I encourage you to skip the rest of this post and listen to the podcast. If you don’t listen to the podcast, I encourage you to do so as quickly as possible, and perhaps this anecdote will inspire you to subscribe. It involves Matthew Berry, who many of you know as the ESPN fantasy football analyst whose advice you often read but always ignore. What you may not know about Matthew Berry, however, is that he began his career as a television writer. In fact, he was on the writing staff of Union Square, one of those very short-lived sitcoms that was sandwiched between Friends and Seinfeld on Thursday nights. He also wrote for Married … with Children, but only in the end, when it wasn’t so good anymore.
Anyway, I won’t go into all the specifics, but on a lark, he and his writing partner took a meeting with Paul Hogan, the star of Crocodile Dundee, who had wanted to make a sequel 14 years after the second Crocodile Dundee movie. As Berry explains it, he and his writing partner met with Hogan at his house and pitched a few ideas with no expectations whatsoever that they would land the gig. Their pitch was a very family-friendly sequel with “gentle humor,” meant to be something of an antidote to the Farrelly Brothers comedies popular at the time. For whatever reason, Paul Hogan liked their idea (“Finally, someone who understands me!”) and hired Berry and his partner to write the script.
This is where it gets interesting.
Paul Hogan, while a marginal actor, at best, has good business sense. In fact, he owns the Crocodile Dundee franchise, and because of that, he’s made hundreds of millions of dollars on, since he collects the majority of the profits. But part of his strategy, it seems, is to attach his name to as many titles as possible on a movie and collect residuals on all of them. It’s why you will see his name as a screenwriter on almost all of his films (he was even nominated for an Oscar for the original Crocodile Dundee). But if Crocodile Dundee in Los Angeles is any indication, he procures those titles in perhaps sleazy ways.
This is what happened: Matthew Berry and his writing partner spent a few months writing the first draft of Crocodile Dundee in Los Angeles. Then they took the script to Paul Hogan for notes. Hogan, in turn, essentially changed the names of the characters, deadened the punchlines on a few jokes, and basically rewrote the script like a “college kid changing his term paper from Wikipedia.” This way, he could justify his own writing credit. But he didn’t want shared writing credit, he wanted sole writing credit, so he took Matthew Berry’s name completely off the script. The problem with that is even that though the writers got paid for their work, they need writing credit to collect residuals (and Berry admits it was a total sell-out job that he took solely for the money).
So, Hogan essentially sues for sole credit, and takes it to the Writer’s Guild. The Guild looks at the first draft, then at Hogan’s draft, and they agree unanimously to give writing credit to Berry and his writing partner. Hogan appeals, and AGAIN, the appellate board sides with Berry. Why would Hogan continue to pursue a losing case? “I don’t think it was money,” Berry says. “I think it was ego. He wanted to be a star again. He wanted to be in a universe where he’s making another Croc movie, where he’s the big star, where it’s all about him.”
So, what does Hogan do after he loses the case and the appeal? He threatens to sue the Writer’s Guild, trashing Matthew Berry in public.
The amusing irony of it, however, is that Matthew Berry was put in a position of having to defend himself as a writer on a script that he wasn’t particularly proud of. “It’s this very horrible public thing where we have to get up and say, ‘No, we’re the writers of this horrible sh*tty movie.’ We’re fighting to get credit for this terrible movie.”
The good news is, Berry did get full credit, and he did get to attend the premiere, because Hogan was contractually obligated to give him tickets. The bad news, however, is that Berry was seated in the worst two seats in the theater. “It was a horrible, horrible experience, and we were treated like pariahs … [Hogan] was such a terrible human being to us.”