So you made The Chase which gets some attention… ^ The Chase was made for a very small amount of money as an independent film, but it was released by 20th Century Fox, and Hollywood is all about perception, as you know. For some reason the perception of the film, whether it was the way it was marketed or the way the film looked, I don’t know, was that it was a studio film that didn’t do well. The actual reality was that it was an independent film that did great. It was made for a few million dollars, it was put out by 20th Century Fox, and it made a huge profit for them. Somehow the perception was that it was a film that 20th Century Fox made and it just didn’t particularly perform. There’s no way you can put any spin on that and this is the way it’s perceived. Consequently, it didn’t really help me, but had I done another film like “The Dark Backward” it certainly would have hurt me more. It was probably the right film to do at that time just so I had something different than just a dark movie filled with circus freaks to show for myself as a director.
So then you end up as the director on Barb Wire with Pamela Anderson and you got fired. What’s the real story? ^ Yeah, yeah. I was the original director of Barb Wire. I was fired after less than a week of shooting for political reasons that had nothing to do with me. There was a feud going on between the company that was financing the film and the comic book company that owned the character. I was hired by the comic book company and the financing company wanted their director hired. So in the midst of their feuding I took the fall and got fired.
Was Pamela Anderson tough to direct? ^ She was great. She was gonna quit when I was fired. I told her, “If you quit they’ll sue you, so don’t even threaten to quit.” But, all that being said, I was fired. But the best thing that ever happened to me came out of being fired from that film.
(Adam’s “dollar bill paper airplanes” are going all over the stage. He picks them up and relaunches them to be sure they hit his intended target.)
Why? ^ After I was fired, I thought I could either sit around and be depressed and wallow in self loathing, or I could do the only thing I knew how to do that could potentially change my situation. The only power I had at that time in Hollywood, at all, was to generate new material. I had the ability to write scripts.
So, from the guy that brought the perverse, bizarre “The Dark Backward, “The Chase” and the beginnings of “Barb Wire” came a children’s film. ^ I wrote Mouse Hunt.
How the hell do you go from the kind of stuff you were doing before to a children’s movie?! ^ I’m a cartoonist, I grew up loving cartoons watching them all day every day, Warner Brothers Cartoons, “Underdog”. You know “Tom & Jerry” was a major influence on Mouse Hunt, obviously. Mouse Hunt was an idea I had because, I’m not a cartoonist professionally, just for fun, so when I’m looking for ideas I look through doodle books of mine. One doodle I had done a couple years earlier was two safari guys coming back from a hunt with a pole slung over their shoulders. You know bringing back ostensibly, what was their fresh kill, but instead of a wild bore hanging from the pole it was a mouse, and it was called “mouse hunt”. I thought maybe I could do sort of a live action cartoon a-la “Tom & Jerry” about two guys who are trying to get a mouse out of their house and the mouse is way smarter than they are and makes their lives hell. I just thought this could be funny, but as it evolved it was obvious that it would appeal to a family kind of audience.
At the same time it’s not like most family movies that are completely devoid of any content that an adult might appreciate. There’s some bizarre weird stuff that I can watch with my kids. ^ Good.
(Adam is out of singles and uses a larger denomination to form an airplane.)
How did you sell Mouse Hunt? ^ I did not pitch it, I wrote it. Prior to this I had been writing scripts to sell in addition to writing the independent films that I was directing. Prior to “Mouse Hunt,” I had written 29 other screenplays that didn’t sell (Big laugh!) “Mouse Hunt” was my 30th script, so I fully anticipated that this one would not sell also. I got completely lucky on a number of levels. Number one was that Dreamworks needed product and were really looking for what their next movie was going to be. Two, timing-wise the town was buying spec scripts, sometimes they’re not — sometimes they are. And three, Alan Gasmer, who is an agent at William Morris, took an interest in this particular script for whatever reason when many of the other scripts prior he had not taken an interest in. All these elements kind of fell together at the right time, and it sold in a bidding war. Speilberg and DreamWorks bought it and it completely changed my whole career 100%.
Did you get to meet Steven Spielberg, I mean, he did buy your script? ^ Spielberg has always been my hero, Jaws, Raiders of the Lost Ark, forget about it. So, I heard that Steven Spielberg wanted to have a meeting with me. So I instantly panicked, because I didn’t want to say something stupid in the room, I didn’t want to freeze, I didn’t want to try and say something funny — but panic in the middle of a joke and blow it and make myself look like an idiot. The more I thought about the meeting the more nervous I got, of course. What’s he gonna be like? What’s he gonna say? What am I gonna say? ^ When I was a teenager I almost drowned. Once it was all over and I had time to think about it, and that’s when I really got scared. That’s when I panicked. I had almost died and that’s when I realized it. ^ After I met with Steven Spielberg, he puts you so much at ease. He’s so cool in the room. It’s literally just like sitting down with anybody who loves movies and having a great conversation about them. He’s really good at making you feel like you’re an equal. After the meeting was over, and after I left and I wasn’t nervous anymore at all, is when the gravity of the situation sunk in and I then realized “Oh my God, I just sat with Steven Spielberg.” ^ It was just like after the gravity of almost drowning had set in that’s when I realized I had almost drowned. The same thing with Spielberg. Once it was all over, that’s when I really started to unhinge about the whole thing.
(A bartender asks us if we’d like another round – another light beer for me and another water. I pick up the tab but completely forget to get a receipt. For some reason, they don’t really have them at Jumbo’s.)
You have a reputation around town of being the guy that is incredible at pitching a film. ^ No. Really?
(Adam doesn’t quite believe me, but it’s true, because I go on to say…)
It’s true. How did you get that reputation? What do you do in a room that’s so amazing? ^ When I pitch a movie idea I don’t get caught up in every little detail of the story. Although every little detail of the story ultimately in a movie is really important, when you see the movie hopefully every detail that leads to every other detail will make the story all the more compelling. But in a room, just alone sitting there, if you tell every detail of a story it gets really boring. I don’t care if you’re pitching the greatest movie ever made, it gets boring. So, in my mind I think of the movie as a trailer, and I pitch it as a trailer. When I see a trailer, basically I come away with what the movie is about, who is in it, and most importantly, the feeling and the vibe and the mood of the movie.
(The blonde in the biker hat is finished with her performance and collects the dollars. Adam and her make eye contact and smile. She is clearly touched by the “dollar paper airplanes.” The strippers at Jumbo’s must be easily impressed.)
Now you sold “Small Soldiers” based on a pitch. ^ But it wasn’t my pitch. All that being said the way I like to pitch, Small Soldiers I didn’t say a word. Steven Spielberg pitched the idea to me, which was completely surreal.
How did that happen?! ^ I got a message from DreamWorks that Steven Spielberg wanted to have a meeting with me. So I immediately got nervous that I had done something wrong, and I was in trouble. When I went there they said “Steven wants to talk to you about an idea”. So I don’t know quite how to compute all this information. It’s too much for me, because this is still Steven Spielberg. So, he came in from the set of Jurassic Park 2 and just started pacing back and forth and telling me this idea for this movie, which was Small Soldiers. It was an idea that they had been working on for awhile, but hadn’t been able to crack. Because of “Mouse Hunt” they thought they’d let me try it. He said “I don’t want you to read anything that’s been written prior, I just want to tell you this new version of the idea that I have and see if you can do something with it.” He paced back and forth and he pitched for a really long time this really cool story. And when Steven Spielberg takes these kinds of meetings a lot of times they are tape-recorded and transcribed, and you get to keep the transcription to refer to, so that no details are forgotten. And thank God, the meeting was tape recorded and transcribed, because I didn’t hear anything he said in the room. Because all I could think about was “Oh my God, Steven Spielberg is pitching me an idea”. That’s all I could think about. And at the end of the pitch, I mean I’m watching him pace back and forth and I’m thinking about my childhood memories of Raiders of the Lost Ark, and E.T., and Jaws. And at the end of his pitch suddenly my spell is broken as he makes eye contact with me and says “Do you think that’s something you would be interested in writing?” As though I actually might say “No”(Laugh!) And of course I instantly said “Yes, that’s exactly what I would love to write next.” All the while knowing I didn’t hear really much of what he said, because I was too wrapped up in the fact that it was him pitching the idea.
(I learn that Spielberg also happens to have the covers of MAD magazine with the parodies of all of his films, framed in his office at DreamWorks.)
Sex, farting in bed, sex in weird places and plenty of more sex in the final installment of ADAM RIFKIN COMES CLEAN (part 4) >>>
Posted on February 7, 2001 in Interviews by Chris Gore
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