Today on his Facebook page, Kevin Smith tells us of how his planned relaunch of the Fletch franchise, based on the comic mystery novels of Gregory McDonald, which he hoped to feature his Mallrats and Chasing Amy star Jason Lee in the lead role of investigative newspaper reporter Irwin M. Fletcher, fell apart through various Hollywood factors beyond his control.
I’d adapted an insanely-faithful-to-the-book FLETCH WON script (which tells the story of a young Fletch’s first big story at the newspaper), and I wanted to make the flick with Lee as the lead, but Miramax head honcho Harvey Weinstein didn’t get Jason Lee at all. I’d say “Jason Lee IS Fletch!” and he’d say “Jason Lee doesn’t have an audience.” Even when he was headlining MY NAME IS EARL, Harvey maintained Jason Lee was never big enough to play the lead in FLETCH WON.
And it all came to a head in 2003, while I was in post-production on JERSEY GIRL – when Ben Affleck had been offered the lead in a movie at Disney. (This is in the days before Ben had ever realized his true, Oscar-caliber calling, mind you.) Ben asked if I wanna direct this movie in which he’s gonna be the lead. Exciting: I’d never directed someone else’s feature script before. I read the script and it was fun – but making it with my friend would make it even more so, I figured. So with Ben’s encouragement, I say “Okay.”
Now, this is back when Harvey was running Miramax, which was then owned by Disney. So I figured it’d be no big deal: s’all in the family anyway. But this was also when the split between Harvey and Disney was brewing – which would come to a head with Fahrenheit 911 a few years later.
So when I tell Harvey “I’m gonna direct a movie that Ben’s in over at Disney” it went over pretty poorly.
I had an overall deal with Miramax in which they got a first look/crack at anything I wrote and directed. This new Ben gig was a directing-only opportunity, so no prob: I’m well-within my overall deal rights to do so. But I guess the thought of a pair of Miramaxkateers working for Michael Eisner didn’t rest well with Harvey. I was told to sit tight while the Brothers Weinstein talked to the Mouse.
Harvey told Disney their proposed Ben-starring/Kevin-directed movie would now be a co-prod, based on my Miramax overall deal. Disney declined the “offer”, so I was then instructed by both Harvey and Bob to turn the gig down. I pointed out that my deal allowed me to direct for somebody else, but there were a metric shit-ton of guilt-ridden “family” and “us” and “them” terms thrown at me.
And that’s all it took: because as much as I loved Ben, I was 100%-Miramax in those days. I was in the coolest gang in town and I’d die for my colors.
But I wasn’t LEAVING the family; just working with Ben – who was also family. We were just gonna do it elsewhere for a minute. So while I’m trying to point out that my deal allowed for me to direct for others, Harvey hits me with a verbal right hook out of nowhere.
“Fine,” Harvey said. “Drop that Disney movie and I’ll let you make your FLETCH movie…” I was ready to hug him when he added “With BEN as Fletch.”
“What about Jason Lee?” I asked. Harvey said that was never going to happen. If I wanted to make FLETCH WON, I had to get Ben to be Fletch. I argued that Ben was still gonna wanna do the flick at Disney, so I was told to convey a message to him: Miramax would match Ben’s Disney offer.
So for about two weeks in 2003, we almost rushed my FLETCH WON flick into production with bloated, studio-like salaries – all to beat Disney. Harvey’s play was kinda brilliant: he knew the only thing that’d give me pause about working elsewhere was working with a friend back home.
Ben read and dug the script and the money was as big as what he was gonna get for the Disney movie. So suddenly, FLETCH WON was possible. An office was opened. Preliminary scouting began. And when shit needs to suddenly happen fast in the movie biz, that costs MONEY, son! Lots!
But mercifully, before the proposed $50 million version of FLETCH WON could happen (their budget, not mine), Ben mercifully passed. He said he didn’t feel right about flat-leaving Disney and was gonna stick around to make that flick. I didn’t go with Ben to Disney. Ben was cool about it: he said he’d never understand my loyalty-thing to Harvey but he still respected it.
See, Harvey knew he had me regardless. Being Miramax MEANT something to me – a code I lived by. We were a gang of NY. It was Us vs All Them.
But ironically, I’d never make another movie for Miramax: Harvey & Bob split from Disney a few years later, creating The Weinstein Company. The next flick I made was CLERKS II. And while I love that film, it never felt right having a Weinstein Company logo at the head of it instead of the NY skyline of the Miramax logo.
See, that’s why it’s easy for me to leave the movie biz now: When that era of Miramax died, a big piece of my passion for film died with it…
So now I’m mostly a podcaster.
Ben went on to win an Oscar for Best Picture this year.
And Harvey won the rest of the awards with SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK and DJANGO UNCHAINED.
FLETCH wound up at Warner Brothers years later. My only regret is a flick never got made before Fletch creator Greg McDonald passed away.
That Disney movie – the one that caused so much contention and friction? The studio pulled the plug on it mere weeks away from production because it didn’t believe in a $60million dollar budgeted Ben Affleck movie (ironic, considering that’s kinda what ARGO cost).
So Ben didn’t wind up doing the movie anyway – which was called GHOSTS OF GIRLFRIENDS PAST.
It was made years later… starring Jen Garner.
Only in Hollywood…