In addition to her work as a script coverage consultant in the film industry, Christina Hamlett is the published author of 17 books, 100 plays and musicals, and several hundred magazine articles that appear regularly throughout the US, UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. Her upcoming book, WHERE THE PLOTS ARE, will soon be released. For more information, drop her an email.
INKLINGS: Writing Well & Profitably for Books, Film, and Stage
This month: COPS, ROBBERS, & THE WRITERS WHO LOVE THEMWhat do you get when you cross a pair of polar opposites, assign them to the same task, put them on the same shift, and force them to share the same car/office/city? If you're Hollywood, you get yet another SCHLEP (Standardized Comic/Heroic Law Enforcement Pals) flick, a genre that has broken little new ground since "Running Scared," "Lethal Weapon," and "NYPD Blue." Whether the principals' underlying basis for friction is their difference in age, gender, ethnicity, politics or marital status, the formula guarantees that three things will happen:
1. The conservative, jaded veteran will discover that he actually possesses a warm and sensitive side.
2. The liberal, hotshot rookie will discover that there's actually more to police work than what can be learned at the academy.
3. Both will emerge more tolerant of each other's quirks as a result of life-threatening escapades but still protest having to work with such a doofus.
So does "Hollywood Homicide" break the mold and give us something more than obligatory hookers, steamy saunas, car chases, and "ticking-clock" tension? We went to its authors, Ron Shelton and Los Angeles former police detective Robert Souza, for a glimpse of what happens when art imitates life on the mean streets of Tinseltown.
Q: In crafting the film's dialogue between African-American rap moguls and white police officers, what were the overall objectives you had in mind in order to develop tension between the cultures represented by the actors?
SOUZA: The overall objective was to create conflict between LAPD detectives and principals in a major murder case. Any cultural tension was born from the plot.
SHELTON: The tension was intended not to be between cultures but between cops and suspects.
Q: Would your character development have been different had this been set in New York City rather than Hollywood? In what way?
SHELTON: The two departments have different histories, different styles, different kinds of personnel, plus Hollywood adds a whole other set of possibilities.
SOUZA: NYPD cops and LAPD cops are drawn largely from their east and west coast environments, respectively. Policing is geared to serve the people of a specific area and the cultural traits, personal habits and lifestyles of New Yorkers and Los Angelinos differ greatly. Setting the story in Hollywood gives the film a unique twist even compared to the rest of Los Angeles.
Q: Did you originally intend for the Joe Gavilan character to be played by a Latino actor, "Gavilan" being a Spanish surname?
SOUZA: Ron told me "Kid" Gavilan was one of his favorite prizefighters of the past. Ethnicity was never discussed.
Q: Harrison Ford has played a police officer in a number of past films. Were you aware of these characters when you began crafting the dialogue for his character in this movie?
SOUZA: Yes, I am familiar with all of Harrison Ford's movies but the Joe Gavilan dialogue in "Hollywood Homicide" was crafted to serve this unique cop in this particular story.
SHELTON: I paid no attention. This is a movie about a guy trying to sell a house.
Q: Why did you decide to give the leads the off-duty careers you did, specifically, real estate and yoga? How does that, in your view, add depth to the characters both as individuals and as a team?
SHELTON: The second job idea is the reason I was attracted to the idea. Real Estate and Yoga (and acting, of course) fit into the L.A. themes and particular oddness.
SOUZA: I was quite familiar with these off-duty careers since I actually was a real estate broker while working as a homicide detective on the LAPD for over 20 years. The yoga and acting thing is very Hollywood. The side jobs of these two detectives is the uniqueness of the story.
Q: What goes into the decision to make the two partners in a police drama amicable or hostile to each other when they are not actively on the job?
SHELTON: It's not so much a decision as merely letting the characters react to each other.
SOUZA: Any characters in a story need to interact with other characters in an interesting way. The decision to make partners in a crime drama amicable or hostile toward each other should be based on storyline and plot.
Q: How important is the actual police investigation process to the themes of the script?
SOUZA: The actual homicide investigation in "Hollywood Homicide" serves as a cohesive thread for an action-packed romp through Hollywood.
SHELTON: In a certain way, it's just the mcguffin.
Q: To what degree do actual police procedures/legal issues either interfere with or enhance a police story like this one?
SHELTON: One intends to have just enough procedural elements to keep the story grounded but it's not a procedural cop film.
SOUZA: General adherence to procedural police policies and legal issues promotes credibility and believability in this and any police story but we took a certain amount of creative license in "Hollywood Homicide" for the sake of entertainment.
Q: There seems to be a recurring theme of IAD involvement in police films and television programs, especially insofar as the limitations that are imposed regarding how much latitude the good guys have in bringing the villains to justice . Given the nature of Harrison Ford's character, why was this necessary for this movie?
SHELTON: It's the easiest way to show a cop in trouble and keeps the pressure on. It's part of the genre.
SOUZA: IAD provides for instant conflict in police stories. Real life cops all fear IAD witch-hunts. My personal experiences with IAD while on the Los Angeles Police Department were coated with a thin guise of fiction in "Hollywood Homicide" and utilized to create tension for our protagonist, Joe Gavilan. Kinda like real life.
Q: Given the number of characters in "Hollywood Homicide" and the divergent backgrounds of the leads and themes, did you have any problems pulling the story together into a cohesive script?
SOUZA: No. The essence of Hollywood, the rap music business and the cop world are inherently divergent. "Hollywood Homicide" is a reality based action comedy intended to appeal to a wide based audience.
SHELTON: "Hollywood Homicide" is intended to be a juggling act with all the diverse elements.
Q: What was the biggest challenge that both of you faced in balancing the plot and subplots to keep the two in their proper perspective?
SHELTON: The biggest challenge is in having several deaths in a movie intended to be light on its feet.
SOUZA: Balancing murder, gun battles and comedy, and maintaining tonality.
Q: Finally, are there particular legal or creative issues raised when the central theme of a crime drama is also a real-life crime (or crimes) under current investigation?
SHELTON: The real-life crimes merely suggest an arena for the story to take place in. Everything is twisted and re-invented. "Hollywood Homicide" is not literally based on any specific event.
SOUZA: This movie is a work of fiction with an intriguing mixture of composite characters, sub-plots and believable criminal activity. The film is not intended to mimic any real-life crimes or serve as a police documentary. "Hollywood Homicide" was created for sheer entertainment.
Director/Writer Ron Shelton is credited with the following films: "Bull Durham," "Blaze," "White Men Can't Jump," "Play It To the Bone," "Cobb," "Blue Chips," "The Best of Times," "Tin Cup," "Great White Hype,"and "Dark Blue." A new project currently in development is called "Two Guys on the Job," another cop-buddy feature set in San Francisco.
Robert Souza, who served for 22 years as a Los Angeles Police Department detective, was first inspired to start writing when his favorite author and co-worker, Joseph Wambaugh, released his best-seller, "The New Centurions." Between solving crimes by day and wrestling with Homer and Shakespeare by night, Souza eventually graduated from California State University and began zealously compiling files of anecdotes, storylines, and slice-of-life characters for future teleplays and films. As fate and good timing would have it, William Shatner's then-new series "T.J. Hooker" was in need of plots, the likes of which Souza was well versed to provide from his experiences on the force. This, in turn, led to his being brought on board as a law enforcement consultant to the movie industry. "Hollywood Homicide" is his feature film debut.
"Hollywood Homicide" pairs Harrison Ford and Josh Hartnett as a pair of Los Angeles detectives called in to investigate the murder of a rap artist at a club on Sunset Boulevard. On their off-hours, Harrison Ford's character is a multiple-divorced, hard-drinking veteran who uses his real estate license as a way to supplement his dwindling finances. The film's sub-plot involves Ford trying to sell a house to a music mogul for a tidy enough sum that will enable him to move out of the backseat of his car and sleep in a real bed for a change. His younger partner, played by Harnett, is a wannabe movie actor and yoga instructor who only became a cop because his father was one.
Where Have We Seen This Before?
"Buddy" stories in film and television are nothing new, especially when the buddies in question are carrying badges and guns. How often has it been done before? You be the judge with the following (partial) list:
TANGO AND CASH
ONE TOUGH COP
BEVERLY HILLS COP
MURDER AT 1600
IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT
STARSKY AND HUTCH
HILL STREET BLUES
CAGNEY AND LACEY
CAR 54, WHERE ARE YOU?
TURNER AND HOOCH
THE STREETS OF SAN FRANCISCO
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Former actress/director Christina Hamlett is a Pasadena, California script coverage consultant whose publishing credits include 17 books, 102 plays and musicals, and several hundred magazine articles and interviews.