Tuesday, February 26, 2013

The "Never Got Made" Files #93 - #95: The Many Journeys of C. Courtney Joyner


In part one of our C. Courtney Joyner profile, we covered a trio of unmade films from the 1980s, a decade where Joyner was a fairly busy man.  Well as the 1990s rolled around, he found himself even busier.  Having survived the collapse of Charles Band’s Empire Pictures, Joyner soon found himself the most consistent screenwriter at Band’s new company Full Moon Entertainment.  He even wrote and directed a couple of features while there (TRANCERS III [1992] and THE LURKING FEAR [1994]).  While the scripts were high on creativity, the films were low in budget and suffered as a result.  Not to worry though as Joyner soon found himself graduating from B-movies to becoming part of the A-team as his screenplays in the new decade took a more adult tone and attracted some major players.

#93 - DOUBLE ACTION MAN (WHEN A MAN LOVES A WOMAN) (late 80s/early 90s)

Erotic mystery-thrillers were all the rage in the late 1980s to early 1990s thanks to films such as FATAL ATTRACTION (1987) and BASIC INSTINCT (1992), so it isn’t a stretch to think the similarly tinged DOUBLE ACTION MAN sprung from there.  The ironic thing is that despite being one of Joyner’s personal favorites of his unproduced scripts, it initially didn’t start with him and was written before the T&A thrillers were doing big business. “DOUBLE ACTION MAN was a script I wrote for an independent producer,” he reveals of the script initially written in 1986.  “They had a script that was not good and they hired me and it was basically a case of ‘guys, you just have to throw away what you have.’”

Replace "daughter" with "wife"
Joyner’s basic instincts (ah, boo yourself) proved correct as he put together a tight screenplay that explored how one man reacts to the crushing duality of his spouse. “The plot was that a Joe Blow, average American guy has his businessman’s job and his wife is selling real estate,” he explains of the script’s design.  “And his wife is murdered.  He finds out that in fact she was not selling real estate, but she was a high priced escort and that she was also doing pornographic movies for the money.  It was really our version of [Paul Schrader’s] HARDCORE (1979), where he has to go and explore this whole other side of her life that he didn’t know existed in this underbelly.”

Initially Joyner was looking to make this his third directorial effort, a sharp 180 from his first two genre features.  However, as the script’s reputation grew, he realized it might be something bigger than what he could handle. “We were going to try and do it for kind of a low budget or mid-range budget,” he says.  “That would be cool to try and set me up as a director because I had my eye on that, but the project was too big.  We required someone who knew what the hell they were doing, not me.”

John Flynn directs James Woods
on BEST SELLER (1987)
The project soon found itself in the very capable hands of John Flynn, director of such hard-hitting thrillers as THE OUTFIT (1973) and ROLLING THUNDER (1977).  With Flynn’s involvement came attention from a number of well-known Hollywood male leads.  Expressing interest in the project were James Woods, who had previously worked with Flynn on BEST SELLER (1987), John Travolta and even David Bowie.  The script also saw a title change to WHEN A MAN LOVES A WOMAN, a title which was later bought for the Andy Garcia-Meg Ryan 1994 alcoholism movie.

Unfortunately, the project was never able to get off the ground. When asked during our conversation which of the screenplays he wished had been made, Joyner cited this one.  “I liked that script, I was proud of that script,” he reveals.  “I loved working with John [Flynn].  I really thought that was a good piece.  That was disappointing that it didn’t happen.  To be able to have meetings with James Woods and all that, I got very excited about all that.” Alas, all hope is not lost though as Joyner currently owns this script 100% so perhaps we’ll see it one day in the future.

#94 - OUT OF STEP (early 1990s)

Producer
Paul Maslansky
Another popular subgenre during the 90s was the “______ from hell” that saw everyday relationships turning to chaos for (usually white) couples.  We got the roommate from hell (PACIFIC HEIGHTS [1990]), the babysitter from hell (THE HAND THE ROCKS THE CRADLE [1992]), the roommate from hell again (SINGLE WHITE FEMALE [1992]) and even the secretary from hell (THE TEMP [1993]).  Life is hard out there for suburban white folks, cinema told us.  So what could be even more terrifying than all of those “from hell” entries? How about step children?  As if divorce weren’t bad enough.

Producer Paul Maslansky was trying to get steer away from his POLICE ACADEMY work and return to the type of thrillers that he began his career with as he was producing THE RUSSIA HOUSE (1990) at the time.  It was Joyner’s work on DOUBLE ACTION MAN that brought him to Maslansky’s attention.  “Paul had a fellow working for him at the time whose name was Phil Goldfine,” he says. “Phil was always very supportive of me and I believe WHEN A MAN LOVES A WOMAN was the script that he read.  He liked it a lot and Paul liked it.”

Joyner was brought in and given the idea for this thriller by Paul’s wife at the time, Sally Maslansky. “She had an idea for a thriller about stepchildren terrorizing their new mother,” he explains.  “I thought that was an interesting take on the thriller, kind of turning things around so instead of the evil stepmother it is exactly the reverse.  And, of course, the father doesn’t want to hear anything bad about his own kids and all of that stuff.  It was interesting.”

Producer Richard Donnar
If Joyner’s DOUBLE ACTION MAN attracted big male names, then this Warner Bros.-owned script did the exact opposite as the tale of a stepmom battling evil step kids drew the attention of several big female stars at the time.  Kathleen Turner and Michelle Pfeiffer, who has just worked with the Maslanskys on THE RUSSIA HOUSE, were mentioned as possible leads.

Even after the Maslanskys exited the picture, the script drew even more attention.  “I remember a year or two after it didn’t happen with the Maslanskys that Richard Donner and [his wife] Lauren Schuler got involved,” Joyner discloses.  “And so did Sally Field.  [Her production company] Soapdish stepped in and they got interested in it.  Whether they just read it and said, ‘we might be able to do something with this’ or whatever, then they either decided they didn’t want to move forward or hire another write or what have you.  That was just a straight writing assignment.  We did it, everybody seemed pleased but it didn’t go further than that.”
 
#95 - MINDFIRE (early/mid 1990s)

We don't have much on MINDFIRE,
so here is a mind on fire!
The world is constantly bemoaning the lack of originality coming out of Hollywood.  Well, it certainly wasn’t for lack of trying on Joyner’s part.  The last unmade script we’ll discuss this time is MINDFIRE, a spec script that Joyner wrote and plays out a like cop thriller with a little extrasensory perception on the side.

“MINDFIRE was about a young girl who was psychically connected to a maniac,” he reveals.  “What he does is he can understand the connection and make her have delusions.  So she feeds the police false information without knowing it. That was the idea.  I thought if you had someone else is psychically aware, can’t they be manipulated.  It is like if someone is eavesdropping on your phone, can’t you feed them misinformation?  This would be the same thing, but only with psychics.  It’s in there on the shelf, maybe I ought to dust that one off.”

Despite having one of those hooks that movie execs love to hear (“It’s LETHAL WEAPON with E.S.P.” you could say), the script never got made.  “Nothing every happened with MINDFIRE,” Joyner reveals of the early 90s action-fantasy script. “My manager at the time, Cathryn Jaymes, was very good at getting my stuff out and that went to Joel Silver and Larry Gordon.  Nobody ever jumped at it, but it got me some meetings about potential writing assignments.”

Stay tuned for our third and final part where we discuss some of Joyner's more recent efforts.

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