Posted on Monday, October 24th, 2016 by Blake Harris
Typically in this space, we speak with the director, writer or producer of a film, but sometimes it can be valuable to see things from a different point of view. Especially when that point of view is such a common one in Hollywood: the perspective of an outsider—of an ambitious young filmmaker—who takes a high-pressure, entry-level job (at an agency, studio, production company, etc.) with the hopes of one day becoming an insider.
It’s a tale as old as Hollywood, isn’t? But this one comes with a little twist. Because when Barry P. gets a job working for one of his heroes—Lawrence Kasdan, the guy who co-wrote Empire Strikes Back! Who directed The Big Chill!!—he learns not only how the sausage is made but, more importantly, who gets to cook the sausage. And, in the process, the strange reality of how a legend like Kasdan ends up directing a very un-legendary movie like Dreamcatcher.
How Did This Get Made is a companion to the podcast How Did This Get Made with Paul Scheer, Jason Mantzoukas and June Diane Raphael which focuses on movies This regular feature is written by Blake J. Harris, who you might know as the writer of the book Console Wars, soon to be a motion picture produced by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg. You can listen to the Dreamcatcher edition of the HDTGM podcast here.
Synopsis: After hanging a dreamcatcher outside of their cabin, four friends encounter a strange breed of parasitic aliens.
Tagline: A circle of friendship. A web of mystery. A pattern of fear.
Part 1: Welcome to the Big Show
Blake J. Harris: As you know, we normally chat with directors and producers for this column, but I was really struck by your narrative—and how applicable it might be to those interested in filmmaking—that I’m glad we were able to connect.
Barry P: My pleasure. I love the podcast. So when I heard you guys were doing Dreamcatcher…hoooooooo boy!
Blake J. Harris: Yeah. I mean, there’s so much that makes this a great HDTGM film. But perhaps nothing more interesting than the fact that it was directed by Lawrence Kasdan, and the magnitude to which it derailed his career.
“With Dreamcatcher, the career was hurt,” Kasdan said to LA Weekly in 2012. “I was planning to do The Risk Pool with Tom Hanks [after Dreamcatcher]. I had written the script from a great book by Richard Russo. And it didn’t happen. Then another one didn’t happen. Meanwhile, two years have passed here, two have passed there.”
Blake J. Harris: But before we get into the origins of what led to that, tell me a bit about how you ended up in LA? What took you there?
Barry P: Movies were always a big part of my life. I grew up loving Star Wars and then when I was in high school, Pulp Fiction came out, and I wanted to be a director. So, like a lot of people I guess, I moved to Los Angeles and went to film school.
Blake J. Harris: Was film school what you expected it to be?
Barry P: It was interesting. Everybody was very…it was all about commercial movies and stuff. And I got into film school thinking that’s what I wanted to do. But while I was there I became more and more interested in foreign films and classic films, you know? So it became more about the art of it for me. But then getting out of school you need work, you need money, so it’s all about taking whatever commercial jobs you can get. And after I graduated, I got an interview at Kasdan’s office—this was right around the time he got Dreamcatcher—and I was offered a job. My first job.
Blake J. Harris: And how did that happen? How did you get the job?
Barry P: I knew some people who had worked for somebody else in his office and heard they were asking around for someone to come in. For an assistant position; not the assistant to Kasdan directly—he had a couple of immediate assistants—but I was basically the assistant to those assistants. [laughs] I was the gopher; the kid making coffee and running errands and stuff. I mean, getting an office job with an established filmmaker—especially someone of Larry Kasdan’s caliber—it was a pretty sweet job at the time.
Blake J. Harris: How exciting was it for to be there because of the Star Wars connection?
Barry P: It was extremely exciting. I love those movies, obviously, and Empire was the best one. So there I am, right out of school, working in a place with all these Oscar nomination plaques on the wall. It’s like…the big time, you know?
Blake J. Harris: And was the job what you expected? Was it enjoyable?
Barry P: I don’t know that it was enjoyable necessarily. Since it was my first job in the film industry, it was very much about learning the ropes and doing mundane things. Logging documents, organizing materials, helping others put out tiny fires. Stuff that’s applicable to any kind of industry, really. But there’s this added sort of tone to everybody doing their work and making sure you’re as detailed and buttoned-up as possible because it’s the big show. And there’s a lot of people that want that job if you make any kind of mistake or whatever. So it’s very high pressure to do super mundane kind of silly things.
Blake J. Harris: What was Lawrence Kasdan like?
Barry P: I really liked him. He was a great boss. A funny guy, a cool dude. And I think the new Star Wars is fucking great. So he’s still got it. But, you know, when I was there was kind of a weird time for him. In his career.
In the early 80s, Kasdan wrote (or co-wrote) several classic films, including The Empire Strikes Back (1980), Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) and Return of the Jedi (1983). As his clout increased, he added directing to his repertoire. By the early 90s—with films like Grand Canyon (1991), The Bodyguard (1992) and Wyatt Earp (1994) under his belt—Kasdan had established himself as one of the leading voices in Hollywood.
Despite his track record, the next phase of his career followed a different trajectory. Over the next nine years, he only wrote and directed one movie: Mumford (1999).
Barry P: So for someone like me, someone who idolized his work it was sometimes painful to watch. To see that this guy—I mean, he’s a legend—and he wasn’t really able to make the movies he wanted to make…sometimes it was just very painful to watch. Especially when it leads to a movie like Dreamcatcher…