Hollywood's man with the golden pen
When it comes to first screen credits, Larry Kasdan has most people in Hollywood beat, hands down. The first film that flashed his name was seen by more people than just about any other movie, ever.Skip to next paragraph
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As the credits scroll by at the end of "The Empire Strikes Back," Larry (Lawrence) Kasdan's name glides past under the heading of "screenwriter." And that is a big deal, at least in these parts. Out in the American heartland, no doubt most people could care less. By that time in the screening, audiences are shuffling towards the theater's glowing red EXIT signs, wondering about the special effects and asking each other, "How did they make that little green fella so real?" To those who watch such things, though, the name was noticed, and the general reaction was "Who's Larry Kasdan?"
Only a handful of people had ever heard of him -- understandably, since "Empire" was, and is, his only billing to date. Kasdan is a writer: a very good one, judging by his credit on so prestigious a film as "Empire" and by several other screenplay sales that followed quickly on its heels.
In the motion picture business, a good writer is important, because no matter how powerful a studio boss or matinee idol might be, few films succeed" unless it's in the script to begin with," as one production executive puts it.
So when a perpetually talent-starved Hollywood found Larry Kasdan it promoted him in the time it takes to park his new, shiny Mercedes 300SD in his parking space at the studio where he is directing his first film.
Although this sort of success story is probably unique tom Hollywood, it is by no means unique inm Hollywood, and there will always be others -- writers, directors, actors -- whose stars rise as rapidly. Nonetheless, "Kasdan" is a name to watch here, and it will probably be making several appearances in the near future.
He is, as they say, hot. He has four screenplays, not counting "Empire," either sold to major studios or on the negotiating block, and he is in the process of directing one of them.
Kasdan has some peculiar -- to Hollywood -- ideas about moviemaking. He talked about them during an interview in a handy office at Zoetrope Studios, an aging but cozy studio lot now owned by Francis Ford coppola but formerly known as Hollywood General.
For openers, he is not too crazy about movie stars. Not that he has anything against them personally, but like a number of people in the business he doesn't see any connection between a big name on the marquee and success, creative or commercial, inside the theater.
"I guess I really feel that a star is irrelevant to whether a movie is successful or makes money, and the negative effects of a star are enormous," he said, his feet in well-used sneakers propped up on a battered wooden desk.
"What a star wants to do with a movie is very often at odds with what is good for the movie. They distort a movie in various ways. What usually happens is that the star has forces working on him or her that have nothing to do with the material.
"Maybe they're played another part that they think is close, or they feel their career is in a certain place and has to be changed, and they plan to make that career change with someone else's movie. The first thing they do is fall in love with a script, then start telling you how it should be changed. . . .
"Occasionally, you get lucky, and the star adds that something that makes a piece work. That's the rare exception, I think.
"I think the huge majority of people -- writers, directors, producers, everybody -- in the industry agree [that stars are not necessary]. They'll say they think it's ridiculous the way big stars are miscast, the way stories are perverted by their heavy presence, not to mention the huge cost of stars. . . . But the studios will tell you that they want stars because the exhibitors want stars, and they can't get theaters unless they have stars.
"What the star system neglects [is] all of these wonderful, wonderful actors out there who never get a chance for a big role. So you have no new stars, and this is self- perpetuating. . . ."
Five years ago, such talk could have landed Kasdan a job -- scouting for a beach scene location in Death Valley in August. But 1980 was a sour one for the motion picture industry, and traditional ways of looking at picturemaking have, in some instances, fallen flat. Some new faces and ideas are working their way up through ranks of the big studios.