The Crack of Dawn
The Crack of Dawn
As we left our intrepid hero – me – I had just done a piss-poor job pitching my Hercules story to the show’s various producers. Rob, the executive producer, was perfectly happy with my performance. All he wanted from me was to get his production machine going, and I had given them something upon which they all could agree – whatever script they were going to start with, it wasn’t going to be mine. What I had unwittingly done is prove to them that Hercules’ backstory was confusing, illogical, and not of foremost importance. It would be a much better idea to go directly to an exciting adventure and explain who he was later. They focused their attention on another, clearer story with which to begin their series, Hercules and the Amazon Women (1994).
I didn’t live in L.A. at that point. I was crashing at Rob and Jane’s house while I was looking for a place. Fate had drawn me back to L.A. again, for the fifth time. However, I had learned one thing over the course of my previous four residencies – don’t live in Hollywood. Live in Santa Monica, where it’s 10 degrees cooler, and drive into Hollywood when necessary. I found a place at 28th and Pico and remained there for the next seven years. This was my longest, and final, residency in L.A.
Anyway, the newly hired writers for Hercules whipped up a script about Hercules meeting Amazon women. Since I was still living in his house, Rob gave me the script and asked, “What do you think?” I read the script, which was written in a perfectly logical way, and looked just like a script. However, just like most scripts, it didn’t have a point; it wasn’t going anywhere. Meeting Amazon women was an adventure, and potentially exciting, but he didn’t learn anything. Rob asked, “But what is he supposed to learn?” Off the top of my head I said, “Respect for women, who were not respected in the ancient world.” Like Sherlock Holmes, Rob queried, “And how would one show Hercules learning to respect women?” And I said, “Your writers have wonderfully got Hercules living with his mom, which I think is great. Let’s use it. Back in the ancient world, women traditionally washed men’s feet when they entered the house. How about, she washes his feet at the beginning, but by the end, after his exciting encounters with the Amazon women, Hercules gets home, his mother goes to wash his feet, and he won’t let her. Why? Because he’s learned to respect women.”
Stick with me, this all makes sense. Rob’s gaze drifted away, there in the backyard in Studio City (where Jane still lives), and he said, “It’s like that scene in The Ten Commandments when Moses gets to the well and meets the seven daughters.” I added, “And one of them is young Yvonne De Carlo.” And Rob said, “And they wash his feet.” I said, “You see, I didn’t make it up. If it’s in a movie, it must be true.” Rob said, “I’m not telling all of these young people that Hercules’ mom is washing his feet. You do it.”
And there I was again, at the head of the conference table, with Rob at the other end. In between were all these people. Producers. Who were they? Like I said, sweaters tied around their necks. And they all had this script in front of them, that thank God, was not written by me. I had nothing to lose.
They had a script, and it looked just like a script. They didn’t have a problem with it. Luckily, I have a cause: plain old storytelling. I’m sure I had something of a snotty tone when I said, “You ever hear about a thing called a character arc? What does Hercules learn during this exciting tale?” Then I laid the whole Ten Commandments, washing of the feet sequence on them. This was 1993 – 30 years ago – and they were aghast. “We can’t show his mother washing his feet.” DeMille’s movie is from 1956. In the 35 years since its release, its morals had somehow become shocking. I said, “I will go further. You have Hercules announcing that he’s going to get married. His friend should ask, “Can she cook, can she clean, can she bear children, can she tend the flocks? Of what use is she?” Of course, Hercules doesn’t care, he is smitten with a pretty girl (soon to be played by Tawny Kitaen).
And so, it was. These scenes were added to the script exactly as I explained them. Hercules has his feet washed by his mother; then gently stops her at the end. He learned something, the big galoot. This was the script that was submitted, got the green light, and it’s the one we shot.
And indeed, I was the 2nd unit director on the film, so, in this case, Rob’s “We’ll see,” came true.
And thus, a new day dawns.