Deadwood Creator David Milch's Experience Writing Bad Boys Was Tied To A Horse Race

Studio script doctoring is remarkably lucrative work. According to a 2016 Hollywood Reporter survey, when a massively expensive film needs tweaking prior to or during shooting (or during last-second reshoots), A-list screenwriters who can deliver high-quality work within a tight window can pull down as much as $400,000 per week. Depending on the film and how broken the script is, that meter can run an awfully long time. That's some serious cheddar.

So let's say you're a rich spendthrift who loves horse racing like David Milch, the genius TV writer who created "NYPD Blue" and "Deadwood." Throughout his Emmy-winning career, Milch has poured a good deal of his earnings into many thoroughbreds, two of which won the coveted Breeders' Cup. He knows horses. But if you know horse people, you're aware that knowledge is far from omniscient. You lose more than you win. And if you're wagering a lot of money, as Milch did while he earned somewhere in the neighborhood of $100 million from his long-running series, there's never enough of the green stuff to keep you financially afloat. So you scramble. When you're as brilliant and prolific as Milch, you can whore yourself out to cover your losses in the short term. 

This is how Milch found himself rewriting Michael Bay's gloriously silly "Bad Boys" while "NYPD Blue" was nabbing Emmys as one of the smartest police procedurals on television.

Don Simpson redlines a high-performance sports car of a screenwriter

According to Milch's memoir "Life's Work," the writer found himself financially overextended when he flew 60 people down to the Breeders' Cup in Florida to watch his promising horse, Gilded Time, compete. His business manager told him, "Not for nothing, if the horse loses, those people are stranded because you don't have the money to fly them all back." So Milch called his agent posthaste, and said, "Get me a script to fix because this f****** horse is no cinch."

The script was "Bad Boys," a Don Simpson-Jerry Bruckheimer flick that had initially been conceived as a buddy-cop comedy for "Saturday Night Live" veterans Dana Carvey and Jon Lovitz. The once red hot producer duo had found the wilderness after Tom Cruise's NASCAR drama "Days of Thunder" lost loads of money for Paramount, so they were in a fiscally precarious situation as well. They needed a guy like Milch as much as he needed them, but neither party was operating in the best of faith. Milch wanted an easy payday banging out formulaic pap at a premium, while they wanted, essentially, a Lamborghini to haul lumber.

Milch got to work tailoring the old script to suit the decidedly different attitudes of Will Smith and Martin Lawrence, and caught a daily earful from Simpson for the six-figure pleasure. Simpson, a man of mighty pharmaceutical appetites who died of heart failure in 1996 with 21 different drugs coursing through his debauched veins, berated Milch. "What'd you say you wrote for," he asked the Emmy winner. "'The Munsters?' I don't give a s***. I owe it to a film to have at least six writers work on it."

Milch cashes out

Milch weathered the abuse until his horse literally came in. Gilded Time won the Breeders' Cup in 1992. When he flew back to Los Angeles (with his 60 guests in tow), he was asked to do more rewrites. Per Milch's memoir, this conversation was brief and went a little something like this:

"I'm good."

"What if we tell Don to tone it down?"

"Tell him to go f*** himself. Tell him to get hit by a f****** bus. My horse won. I'm out."

Milch isn't out yet. He was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease in 2015, and now lives in an assisted-living facility, but his recently published "Life's Work" brought him back to us with a garrulous ferocity. The book is a reminder that life is a high-stakes proposition. Some of us play it conservatively, but others let it ride. Milch bet big every day of his life, and while he may die broke, we are the richer for his heedless risk.