DAVID BROWN REMEMBERED…Posted: 02/25/2010
I had never been in the offices of legends until Bob Zemeckis brought me to the Zanuck Brown Company, an elegant and spacious stand alone building at the back of the Fox lot. Ushered into the conference room, I wandered around. All the walls and and side tables were covered with one sheets and assorted trophies: The Sting, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Jaws, Sugarland Express, etc.. And all the less successful pictures they had produced were scrupulously represented— Ssssss, Neighbors, The Black Windmill, The Girl from Petrovka, Willie Dynamite and others I cannot remember. We were waiting to go and pitch my take on a project they were developing with Zemeckis — Cocoon. I had a blast figuring out what I wanted to do with the script. Zemeckis was a fervent original, creatively restless and an inspiration to work for. But it was going to be intense for me when we went in to meet with Richard Zanuck, his wife, Lili, and David Brown to present my pitch. But, looking at all those one sheets in the Zanuck-Brown conference room, I found myself buoyed and elated, joyfully confident. What was I thinking?
And the meeting did go well. They liked my pitch which eventually did become the skin, bones, musculature and central nervous system of Cocoon, very different from the existing material they had started with. Richard, Lili, and Bob were ready to hire me. David was more cautious. He suggested that they engage me to write… a treatment with the option to go to screenplay. Sensing that this would impede the project, Bob and Lili vehemently insisted they hire me to write a script for them. With a shrug and a smile, David quickly relented. And they were able to get Sherry Lansing, then head of 20th Century Fox, to hire me without another pitch meeting.
David Brown became a friend and wonderful mentor. Most crucially, when Bob and I presented the first story outline for the script, he influenced the movie tremendously. We were proposing that the antagonist of Cocoon be an evil drug company which threatened to usurp the healing powers of the aliens for financial gain. David showed a strong and delicate grasp of the material. He urged us to frame the story as a fable — without villains from the real world. His thoughts on the matter inspired me to dig deeper into the character stories and to find the internal antagonists, the elements of death itself, and its antithesis — eternal life, which really did drive the story.
Since David was based in New York. When we traveled to Manhattan, he would take my wife, Linnie, and me to lunch at one of the legendary restaurants of the New York literary/show business world — the Russian Tea Room, Patsy’s. David was always elegant, astute, impeccably polite and up to the moment. When I was experiencing some tough sledding with Ron Howard during the production of Cocoon, David told me, “The director always wants the writer to disappear at some point. They want to believe the movie is all theirs.” I learned that producers could feel the same pain as writers. Watching David and Richard Zanuck being informed that a studio had passed on one of their other projects, I was shocked by the agony and vulnerability they displayed. It had never occurred to me that rejection could hurt just as much when you were on top.
Two years before he died, I did some show business with David again. I was looking for a literary agent for my novel, Pelopenesia(then called The Bad Version), so I contacted David. He had always been famous for his strong ties to the literary world in New York. He asked me to send him the manuscript. Five days later, he called me. David didn’t have an agent for me, but he asked if he could produce a film from my book. i was delighted. David was famous for having a wonderful eye for material so I felt very encouraged. Months past. I waited. Eventually, he got back to me. He hadn’t been able to set it up. Times had changed. David hadn’t. Fantastic person.