How Did This Get Made: Kazaam (An Oral History)

(Aladdin + Live Action) x Shaq = How Did This Get Made?

From a distance, it might be easy to conclude that Kazaam must have been written, produced and directed without vision or heart. That is was nothing more than a cash-grab for all of those involved. In reality, however, that couldn't be further from the truth. If anything, an overabundance of vision and heart is what doomed Kazaam. But amazingly (as well as strangely and beautifully), that overabundance helped save the soul of a talented director who once upon a time was best known to the world as a no non-sense cop named "Starsky."

Kazaam Oral History

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 Kazaam edition of the HDTGM podcast here

Synopsis: After finding a boom box that happens to contain a magic lamp, Max (Francis Capra) awakens a rapping genie named Kazaam (Shaquille O'Neal) who offers to change the young boy's life by granting three wishes. But what Max seems to want more than anything is a relationship with his estranged father...

Tagline: He's A Rappin' Genie With An Attitude... And He's Ready For Slam-Dunk Fun!

In 1996, famed film critic Gene Siskel named Kazaam as one of his least favorite movies of the year. And although it didn't crack Roger Ebert's "Least Favorite" list, Siskel on-screen cohort wasn't much more enthusiastic. "Kazaam is a textbook example of a filmed deal," Ebert wrote, "in which adults assemble a package that reflects their own interests and try to sell it to kids."

From a distance, this is an easy (and perhaps logical) conclusion to draw. That Kazaam must have been a movie written, produced and directed without vision or heart. In reality, however, that couldn't be further from the truth. If anything, an overabundance of vision and heart is what doomed Kazaam. But amazingly (as well as strangely and beautifully), that overabundance helped save the soul of a very talented man.

kazaam movie poster

Here's what happened, as told by those who made it happen...

Featuring:

  • Francis Capra Actor (Max)
  • Christian Ford Writer
  • Hope Hanafin Costume Designer
  • Paul Michael Glaser Director/Producer
  • Roger Soffer Writer
  • Graham Stumpf Production Manager

Capra-in-Crank-francis-capra-27265165-853-480

Prologue

Francis Capra: I have a lot of tattoos, and I went through this real big chip-on-my-shoulder phase of my life where I tried to act like a real macho guy. So, you know, a lot of times when I'd go out at night there would be guys my age who would stare at me. And I remember one time, this big dude across the room keeps looking at me. Alright, here we go. He's just staring. I'm thinking it's because of my tattoos and some of my gang stuff, but then he struts over, comes right up to me and asks, "Hey, were you in the kid in Kazaam?" Aw man, I just turned bright red.

CUT TO: Several years earlier...

Paul Michael Glaser

Part 1: Necessity

In June of 1975, two months after Starsky & Hutch debuted on television, one of the show's stars—Paul Michael Glaser—decided to go for a drive. So too, at this time, did a special needs schoolteacher named Elizabeth Meyer. Somewhere along the way—on Santa Monica Boulevard to be precise—the two wound up driving side-by-side. 

Strangers, for one final moment, until their glances soon intertwined. After passing smiles back and forth, Glaser motioned for Meyer to pull over and then invited her out for Chinese food. Three months after that fateful meal, they moved in together. 

Given the velocity of their romance and the circumstances it would later endure, one can only assume that Glaser felt a strong sense of emotional fulfillment. Creatively, however, the same could not be said. 

Paul Michael Glaser: As an actor, the amount of time you spend being creative is minimal. And I felt I had these other abilities—telling a story, composition, you name it—so I told the people doing Starsky & Hutch that I wanted to direct. They weren't really enthusiastic about it. Nobody supported it, but they went along with it and I learned. I learned by the seat of my pants.

Glaser learned quickly, and while starting to build a career for himself as a director he also started to build a family as well. He married Elizabeth in 1980 and then welcomed two children into the world over the next four years: Ariel (1981) and Jake (1984). And as his family grew, so too did his standing in Hollywood as a director. 

Paul Michael Glaser: After I finished Starsky & Hutch, I decided that I wasn't going to act anymore. I got a movie for television to direct and then Michael Mann—who had been on the writing staff of Starsky & Hutch—he was doing this series called Miami Vice and he asked me if I could direct a couple of episodes. Two episodes led to four episodes and then he asked me if was interested in directing a movie that he was producing in Florida.

The movie was called Band of the Hand, which Glaser directed and was then released by TriStar in 1986. One year later, he received a lot of attention for directing a successful sci-fi film called The Running Man (1987) and then followed this up with a pair of family/comedy hits: The Cutting Edge (1992) and The Air Up there (1994). With this string of successes, Glaser seemed to be on an upward trajectory creatively. But emotionally, one can only imagine, as he was in the midst of a constant battle. 

In 1985, it was discovered that Elizabeth had contracted HIV through a blood transfusion she had received four years earlier while giving birth to the couple's first child. Unaware of the virus, it was inadvertently passed along to both Ariel and Jake. 

In 1988, at only seven years old, Ariel passed away from complications with AIDS. Hoping to spare Jake from a similar fate, Elizabeth co-founded the Pediatric AIDS Foundation in 1988 and became a public ambassador in the fight to raise awareness, inspire hope and de-stigmatize the virus. She continued these efforts—soon entering the national spotlight following a now-famous speech at the 1992 Democratic National Convention—until she succumbed to the virus in December 1994. 

Paul Michael Glaser: Two months after my wife had died, I was going to take my son down to the NBA All-Star game. And friends of ours who worked on Shaquille O'Neal's management team asked if Jake would be interested in meeting with Shaquille. I said, "Yeah, sure he would." And then before I got off the phone they said, "By the way, do you know of any good film roles for Shaquille O'Neal for the summer?" I didn't know of anything, no, but before hanging up the phone I said he ought to play a genie.

The more Glaser thought about it, the more he liked the idea. And perhaps just as importantly, the more he liked the idea of throwing himself into a creative endeavor. 

Paul Michael Glaser: I went to, I guess it was Phoenix, for the All-Star game. I met Shaq and Leonard Armato [Shaq's agent] and that crew. I said I wanted to do a rap musical, because Shaquille thought of himself as a rapper, and I asked when he would have to report to basketball camp. They told me the date, whatever it was, and I knew that I had ten and a half weeks to get a script and a greenlight. In this town, doing something in that amount of time is kind of unheard of. But I did it. Because necessity is the mother of invention.

With necessity driving the project forward, Glaser quickly set it up at a studio.   

Paul Michael Glaser: I set it up in about two seconds flat. With Warner Brothers. They were taking the project because they basically didn't want any competition for the Michael Jordan/Bugs Bunny project they were doing. So I got the project and I went to a friend of mine [Robert Cort at Interscope Pictures] who had produced two of the movies I had directed, The Cutting Edge and The Air Up There, and asked him if this was something he and his partners would be interested in. So I got a couple of writers to write the screenplay and they were delightful.

space jam 2?

Part 2: Men of Iron

Christian Ford: Did Paul talk to you about the genesis of the story? Where the idea came from and what was going on with him? Okay, so you know all hell had broken loose. And Paul was just sort of off everybody's radar for quite a while. And during this time, he was practicing meditation with Roger's friend Penny in trying to regain his equilibrium. And in the course of this, he said that he had this idea about a genie and asked Penny if she knew anyone who could maybe write it. It was that simple (and absurd). There's no way that job should have come to two people as green as we were.

Roger Soffer: Christian and I had been writing for a few years together by that point. Our partnership, actually, began in a kind of funny way.

Christian Ford: Well that would be by accident.

Roger Soffer: Yeah, what happened was I had gotten a job as the story editor for a commercial company that was looking to move into features. And the first script they put me on, I read it and I said, "Holy shit! This thing is actually good." Because when you spend a lot of time reading scripts, you learn that, like in Vegas, not everyone is a winner.

The script that earned this response was called Dead Again, by Christian Ford, who Soffer would soon meet at an upcoming story meeting.

Roger Soffer: So we sat in a room together with all the commercial people there. It was a pretty big empty room with chairs. And Christian's thought was, correct me if I'm wrong: who's the new idiot?

Christian Ford: Oh, who the fuck is this? I was living a couple hours outside of Los Angeles, so I had the entire drive to get more and more enraged before I even walked in the room.

Roger Soffer: I was so happy to see you!

Christian Ford: And I was just like a total ogre. And pretty soon it turned into this debate between the two of us and we were arguing everything from Hitchcock to Aristotle and anything else we could throw at each other for about a half an hour.

Roger Soffer: And during the escalation...

Christian Ford: The escalation phase...

Roger Soffer: The rest of the room de-escalated because it just got so far beyond the stratosphere or story discussion. In the end, though, it worked out.

Christian Ford: I realized, you know, look: this guy knows what he's talking about. And then we had a really productive discussion.

Roger Soffer: And I guided a little on the re-write of that script. But only in an editorial capacity. Mostly formatting, that was my main contribution.

Christian Ford: That and cutting out about half the words, which it desperately needed. But we still weren't partners. We just had this sort of writer-editor relationship and that sort of went on forever because the commercial house never did anything with the script. But what was funny was that one of the people who saw this...

Roger Soffer: He was the ex-head of business affairs for New Line.

Christian Ford: That's right. He made the mistake of thinking that Roger and I were a writing team and he offered us a job. And we were desperately broke so we said sure.

Roger Soffer: We might not have been equally desperate (because I was employed by commercial house), so you might have been more desperate than I was.

Christian Ford: [laughing] Maybe...

Roger Soffer: But no, no, that's not true because I spend way more than you do on God Knows What.

Christian Ford: [laughing more] So yeah, there was no way that we were going to say no. So he had us adapt a 150 year old book, which we did.

Roger Soffer: That first script that we were hired to write together was called Men of Iron. It's a story of a boy who becomes a knight at a time when knighthood is waning; so knighthood had lost it's function, but retained its form. And this was a story about a boy who'd lost his father and believed in that original vision of knighthood. He finds a one-eyed, bitter and half-blind great knight to train him and the story goes on from there.

Christian Ford: I think we felt pretty good about it by the end, but we were both exhausted and I don't think either of us was rushing to have a second act to our career as a team. But that script went out and it got us a lot of attention from agents and it got us a lot of meetings at studios and we looked at each other and said, "Well, there seems to be something going on here, so maybe we should try to figure out how to make this work."

Roger Soffer: That got us, as you said Christian, an agent and tons of studio meetings. And it also got us our first job, on what would have been the next Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle movie.

TMNT

Ford and Soffer were hired to write what was tentatively called Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Next Mutation (slated to be the 4th movie in the Turtles franchise). The premise of this movie was that, as a result of the mutagen in their bodies, Splinter and the Turtles would be undergoing a secondary mutation. New powers associated with that transformation were the major hook to this film, as well as the addition of a fifth turtle called Kirby (named after comic book legend Jack Kirby).

Roger Soffer: We wrote a script, but nothing happened to it. In part because that was kind of the beginning of the end for the partnership between the creators of the Turtles [Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird]. They were about as different from each other as any two humans could be.

Christian Ford: Even more than me and Roger!

Roger Soffer: I just remember Kevin Eastman sitting in a writing office, drawing things that you wouldn't necessarily show your wife. Over and over.

Christian Ford: Oh, I'd forgotten about that! And he was dating one of the actresses from the movie and she kept calling for him, you remember that?

Roger Soffer: Right, while he was engaged to someone else.

Christian Ford: "Is Kevin there?" And we were like: uhhhhhhhhh.

Roger Soffer: Anyway, after that, our next job was Kazaam.

Christian Ford: So our dear agent, Rima Greer, who was the agent we got back then and who still is. She's always been like The Oracle and would frequently tell us things that we didn't want to hear. Like when we got this job, she said, "it would be pretty amazing if the studio allows you guys to get hired." But Paul convinced them, and I guess some of our writing helped with that. And then they hire us, and she says, "That's amazing, that's incredible, this looks like a movie that'll actually get made. It's astonishing how fast you guys are moving here, but you guys need to know that you will get fired off this project."

Roger Soffer: That's what normally happened to people in our position is what she was trying to say.

Christian Ford: But of course you think that you'll be the exception. That happens to other people, but it'll work out for us.

Roger Soffer: And it basically did work out for us. But you know what didn't work out for us?

Christian Ford: That we would up as the writers of Kazaam?

Roger Soffer: Right! That's what I was going to say! One of the things that many writers learn—either quickly, before they start, or over a long, longer period—is that the primary job of a screenwriter in Hollywood is to satisfy other people's desires. And that is not the audience. The writer's connection to the audience is held at bay by a variety of intermediaries who have their own desires. It doesn't matter what you think—that's not your job—the job of the writer is to come up with the best possible version of the story with the circumstances they are provided. The minute you go down that road, you're divorced from what your instinct as an artist tells you would be good. That's gone. You're no longer operating under that framework. You're now operating under the framework of being given a chicken, chocolate sauce and marshmallows and they say: Cook me something good. Okay...and that's why the food that gets served is often not palatable. Because the ingredients that you were given don't necessarily go together, but it's your job to cook up the best dish you can. And that's what happened ultimately in Kazaam.

But before that would happen—or not happen—Kazaam was missing one key ingredient: a child actor to play Shaq's co-star Max, which was not an easy part to cast. 

Part 3: All the Best Cowboys Have Daddy Issues

Francis Capra: Kazaam came at a really busy time for my mom and I, and for the family. We were at a transitional period. I had just finished production on this TV series called My Guys with Lorraine Bracco and was working with Rob Reiner on a series called Canterbury Tales.

In addition to those television shows, Capra was coming off major roles in A Bronx Tale and Free Willy 2: The Adventure Home. 

Francis Capra: So that brought us to LA and everything seemed to be going great, but at the same time I was running into issues with casting directors, where people were saying that I was "too urban" or that I had a "weird look." I guess I was going through puberty—I went through some of the worst hairstyles in the world—and we never knew if I was too light, too dark. I think my mom could tell that it was starting to wear down on me mentally. And I maybe was getting a little insecure. Luckily I had the most amazing agent/manager in the world who introduced me to Paul Michael Glaser and I got that appointment for Kazaam and I got a one-on-one meeting with him.

Paul Michael Glaser: I liked Francis, thought he had a really interesting quality about him. And I didn't want Max to be just like every other kid that you see in pictures. I wanted him to have some attitude.

Francis Capra: Me and Paul, I think we just hit it off. I remember in the room, Paul was really trying to get across to me that this story was about a boy discovering his relationship with his father. And I don't remember the meeting with enough clarity, but it's so cool—and also strange—that, looking back as an adult, that was my life. I had a disconnected relationship with my own father and went through a lot of pain and turmoil as an adult and growing up and dealing with that. Being estranged from such an important family member. I don't remember if Paul and I had talked about that at the time, but maybe he was able to look inside and see that he could pull that stuff out of me. Because I think he absolutely did when we were shooting the film. He totally pulled out so many things from me that I don't even think I realized that I was feeling about my own father. And we also talked about Shaquille O'Neal. I had no idea who he was. I was the most non-athletic kid in the world; I thought Shaq was a football player at the time.

Despite not knowing Shaq, Glaser knew that this was the kid he wanted. So a meeting was arranged between Capra and O'Neal. 

Francis Capra: Before I met with him, I had established [laughing] that he wasn't a football player and figured out what sport he played and which team he played for. I think Shaquille he was in LA to shoot a music video. I remember walking into his trailer and, as soon as I saw him, the it felt like the trailer shrunk by like 50%.  He was such a massive figure. I'd never met anybody that big before. But it wasn't just his size, it was his whole demeanor. He's larger than life, man. He's a child in an adult's body...but it's a massive adult's body! It was just such an awesome time hanging with him. We talked about videogames and, specifically, I remember us talking about Mortal Kombat. The clincher of that meeting though was when he turned around and handed me a copy of Shaq-Fu, his videogame for the Sega Genesis. And I remember actually being like wow I want to go home and play this

Paul Michael Glaser: The two of them, they seemed to have a pretty good chemistry. And Shaq was very, you know, he was very good to Francis.

Francis Capra: One of the things we talked about during that initial meeting was his song "Biological Didn't Bother." And what I think is so funny is that he had this song about how his biological father didn't bother, and then he met with me, and my biological father didn't bother. And then in the story, Max's father didn't bother. So it's like you have this crazy triangle of a father-son redemption story that refused to die. It refused to lay down and just shut the fuck up. In the end, maybe, it turned out to be too much of a recurring thing and maybe suffocated the entire film.

Paul Michael Glaser: Francis had a real good feisty quality about him and I waned to cast him for the part. But nobody [at the studio] agreed with me.

Christian Ford: We were not privy to a lot of the casting decisions and discussions, but I do remember that Paul was having a really hard time with Interscope. And I remember him just being livid some time at some of those things that were happening.

Paul Michael Glaser: I never got to the point where I was an auteur. Which is where I wanted to get to. So I became a talented director for hire, you know? And I had a lot of good experiences. But when you make a film like this, there's a lot of compromise that goes on.

Compromise and competing visions (sometimes even from Glaser himself) would eventually plague the movie in a variety of ways. But before any of that really took hold, Glaser was able to cast his choice for Max and Francis Capra was hired.   

Francis Capra: As far as what happened next, I think we were just rushing to get everything ready for when Shaq was ready to start shooting.

Paul Michael Glaser: That kind of energy—racing the clock—is imparted to the film. Literally, I believe. A I think that can be a very good thing.

Christian Ford: For us, we were very excited. And there were some surreal moments at the beginning. Because Paul—given his personal situation—we saw him go from sort of dipping his foot back in the water to exploding back to life.

Roger Soffer: Let me paint one picture of that explosion. It was, what would you say Christian, 5:30 AM?

Christian Ford: Yeah, about 5:30, 6:00 AM. But he came to my place first.

Roger Soffer: He did? Oh, okay.

Christian Ford: Yeah so Paul in part of this explosion of re-experiencing life, it's a Saturday morning and he gets on his bike and he comes racing down the bike path on the beach and comes over to where we live. And I'm awoken at some godawful time in the morning by my wife who says, "So I think Starsky is in the alley shouting your name." And I hear Paul say, "I know you're up there, I know you're up there! But maybe you're asleep. I'll go see Roger."

Roger Soffer: But you've got to understand that the reason he's doing this—and the reason behind a lot of our experiences—is because Paul has one of the biggest hearts in the world.

Christian Ford: Uh-huh. He really does.

Roger Soffer: That's his reality and it's beautiful. Unfortunately, we were not strong enough, or not politically strong enough to help the movie become what it could have been. But I'm not sure anyone could have pulled that off. And had we been strong enough and able to creatively pull that off, then we might have fulfilled our agent's prophecy and been fired.

Christian Ford: Bob Cort [the producer at Interscope], he was an old friend of Paul's, and I think he basically gave this show to Paul because he felt he needed to. He cared. But at the same time, he was always uneasy about that decision; worried about how this movie would turn out. And because of that he was constantly making decisions and suggestions and pushing things that were—in his mind—going to help the whole thing be better. But clearly were antithetical and disastrous to what Paul wanted to do. So it wasn't a situation that, I think, was ever going to yield something good. Except by accident.

Roger Soffer: In my opinion, the core idea had huge value. And it had emotional value as well. But in this case, it was inextricably intertwined with Paul's emotional—and tragic—situation. He had a deep and powerful connection to something he wanted to see on the screen because of the loss he'd experienced and still was experiencing. So you're going to have situations, like we did, where we're working in a room with Paul and if we tell him his idea is not best for the story, then he might start crying. Because he can't take the loss. He just can't take another loss.

Christian Ford: When we were doing it we quickly moved from the "Wahoo!"—we're doing it! we're moving up!—to our role here is to in some way fulfill this part of Paul's life. To act in some way as supports in his transition from a really dark place back into living.

Roger Soffer: I remember that feeling, I remember it. I mean, there's the old artist cliché about getting too invested in your own work to really see what's happening. And that's true for any movie that gets made; you're in the forest and you've lost the trees. But for Paul, it was a quantum leap beyond that. His emotional investment was about creating a second wish for a boy. Giving a second life to a boy. That's what this movie was about. If I could only make my life better with this magical genie then everything would be good. Literally the psychic scenario he had to have been living, I would assume, with his own son. So he got caught between the sentimentality—based off his own horrible life experience—and the playful, fun irreverent comedy that it needed to be to have Shaq make it work. And so our nature was to accommodate. And we're good at accommodating.

Christian Ford: Yeah. So we tried to do that and we tried to get paid.

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Part 4: Wishful Thinking

Paul Michael Glaser: It was a time in my life when, what should we say? [chuckles] I wasn't entirely there, you know? I mean I was getting the job done, doing the best I could. But my son had just lost a mother. I had just lost a wife. And so I was just doing the best I could to stay afloat.

Christian Ford: And even with everything that was going on, I think there's a chance that it might have possibly all been okay, except the interactions with Interscope were disastrous. We had meeting after meeting after meeting in Bob Cort's office in Century City. And Paul and Bob, who have known each other for a long time, would just get in these ferocious arguments with each other. I mean, one of the reasons that we didn't get fired is because we wound up as go-betweens between the studio and Paul. And Bob, who had been in the CIA, was always sort of trying to use us as the lever to move Paul. And we're just trying to keep our heads down and make sure no really stupid decisions are being made. But, in the end, we didn't succeed with either I guess.

Roger Soffer: What the studio responded to was the notion of Shaq as a genie. That image right there is what made them do it. Shaq was still new at that point. He had a lot of presence. And Interscope was anxious to capitalize on his fame at that point. And you can just sort of imagine, if you take that, kid finds a boombox that has a magic genie and that is Shaq. And then imagine the most straight-ahead mediocre version of that. That's what the studio was dreaming of. So when developing that idea, you would probably think: okay, what are the funniest and most outrageous, goofy and—this phrase is important—"anything goes" scenarios that I can do with that. And I say "anything goes" because" you've got a genie, so you can say, "I wish everyone around me was a rabbit, or a sexy woman, or anything."

Christian Ford: There was a lot of arguing about the wishes because Roger and I were pushing for wishes that were outlandish. And the wishes we got were just like crappy. And the last wish, of course, is the summation of the whole thing. The second chance wish basically.

Roger Soffer: Which you know you're going to get to anyway. But I would have designed the story where you don't just have three wishes. You can play with it. I mean, they did a great job in Aladdin where anything goes. And that makes it fun. But we were not allowed to. We were forbidden from going down that road.

Christian Ford: And I guess at some point there was a day in which we were told by phone that we were fired. And then later that day we get a call from Bob Cort directly telling us that he's just fired Paul, but he's re-hiring us. Oh, okay then. And I guess by the next morning, Paul was re-hired and all was forgiven and we never knew what it was all about.

Roger Soffer: But we do know that around this time, the day before or the day of, Paul took me into the bathroom and Starsky-ed me.

Christian Ford: [laughing] Roger got roughed up on the bathroom...but not really roughed up though.

Roger Soffer: [imitating Glaser] "What did you tell him? Why did you say that?"

Christian Ford: That kind of stuff.

Roger Soffer: Because we were caught between all the craziness.

Christian Ford: The train was moving and there was nothing you could do about it.

Roger Soffer: Because of the deal they'd made with Shaq, and because of his schedule with the NBA, this movie was happening. It was happening regardless of the script and regardless of the story and regardless of casting decisions.

Christian Ford: And consequently, of course, that makes the studio panic.

Roger Soffer: And it makes the director panic.

Christian Ford: And it made us panic. You know, I believe they would have probably fired us, but they literally didn't have time to do the process.

Francis Capra: It was like really, really, rush, rush. And as bad as the movie turned out, I have to say that I had a great time on Kazaam. And Paul was such a wonderful man and was a really great presence in our family. He and his son Jake were a huge part of my childhood. So I had a great time. But one question I have to ask: what the hell was Max Connor wearing in that movie?! That weird cargo vest type of hunter's vest. Those corduroy khaki pants and that shirt with the weird cosmic design on it.

Hope Hanafin: I remember making the little boy's t-shirt, coming up with a design that looks like outer space. He was a bit of a loner and he has that wonderful moment with stars on the ceiling so I wanted to give a foreshadowing of that. And the rest of his outfit? He was just sort of an awkward kid on purpose, so his things didn't necessarily fit together well.

Francis Capra: [laughing]

Hope Hanafin: And I knew that our audience would be young people and I wanted to have an element of education in it. So Kazaam's first costume is mostly Tuareg influenced, coming from Africa. And the fabric and all the bits that are sewn onto it are all trading objects; things that you could trade historically in Africa for goods. And his jewelry is Tuareg, which is a Northern African tribe. It's really powerful, nomadic men with an aesthetic. So we had the jewelry made based on that. We had it molded on Shaquille's scale and also all the rings and the belt buckle and all of that. So it was really fun to go back to North African roots to create his costume instead of just some fantasy thing out of a cartoon. We had a really fun time coming up with all his different incarnations of costumes. And he got more regal as he went on. Beautiful, like, 18th-century clothes; things that were more middle eastern and richer as the story goes on. In color in fabric in the broquets and the trim. And finally for the rap outfit we made that out of the first costume, but we made that out of chainmail which we had made, leathers and things that were also exotic. So he had pretty fantastical things. And I always remember walking behind him onto the set because he'd have to go up this ramp and he would just look huge.  He was a sweetheart to work with, just a doll. He called me Hopey-Hope, that was I guess my rap name.

Roger Soffer: The rap lyrics, actually, are one of the things I'm actually proud of (even though it's not fully in the movie as we wrote it). We wrote these Broadway-like rap lyrics—it was mostly Christian, really—but we wrote incredibly funny, high-speed Broadway-style rap lyrics for Shaq. And they were hilarious. Everything was rhyming in crazy ways and it was so much. But in the recording studio we learned, as did everyone else, that Shaq has a rhythmical range. He cannot go too slow, he cannot go too fast.

Graham Stumpf: As the post-production supervisor on the show, my only experience with Shaq was during ADR. When the actors come back to re-record dialogue that may have had some technical issues, that kind of thing. And my recollection was that he was a pro. Super nice guy too.

Roger Soffer: I think, honestly, Shaq was fine on screen.  But he was fine on screen in a movie that wasn't quite so serious. He had a great attitude, every day. I remember once my wife, who was pregnant at the time, she visited set and Shaq drew a basketball on her stomach. He's a very, very nice guy. And he has no star ego about him.

Francis Capra: Shaquille, I just want to tell you, Shaquille was the consummate professional. I've seen people in his position—people at the height of their careers in something outside film and when they come to set they order people around and don't know what they're doing on set. But Shaquille never pulled that shit, man. The only problem we ever had with Shaquille was that he made us laugh too much.

Paul Michael Glaser: Shaq is a lovely man. He's a really nice person. He's always been really nice to me and to Jake and everything. I mean, he's basically a kid. He'd never been on a film set before. He had, you know, a lot to learn. But he did it. He did it. And he had a natural ability; the camera liked him.

Francis Capra: I hate that because of how the movie turned out Shaquille gets the blame and people say he "can't act." I can't stand that. Because that guy was so friggin awesome man. And not only did he do a great job as an actor, but he was a producer of that film too. I don't know much about the money, but I know that if anything Shaquille lost more money on that film than he made. At the end of the day, we were so blessed to have him. He's the most positive aspect of that movie. I hate when people make jokes and clown him about it. I can't stand it, it really bothers me.

Roger Soffer: I just think the mix of tones that didn't serve Shaq really, didn't serve what he could do. And honestly, it didn't serve the joy that he could bring. Because in the scenes where he is playful with Francis, the movie was fun, the movie is good. And yeah, he could have delivered some heartbreak and separation and whatever we needed, but it can't have too much of that.

Francis Capra: There was so much of that stuff! The tone of the movie, it just kind of changed as we kept going along. All of the sudden, out of nowhere, we turned left-field and we started telling this really dark story. And it went all the way from like an after school special starring Shaquille O'Neal to this gritty story where my father is a drug dealer and my mom is a promiscuous alcoholic. And then you've got me—playing the most emotional kid in the world—who's pretty much being told to break down and cry in every scene. What the hell is going on? And then it hit me in the face. This was Paul. Paul was going through something really, really painful. And in the end, I hope, I helped him get that out. I hope I helped him channel that as a director. If I was able to do that, in whatever small way, then that really warms my heart and brings a smile to my face.

When filming of Kazaam concluded in late September 1995, the following blurb appeared in Variety: 

"The final day of lensing on "Kazaam" was an emotional one, reports producer Scott Kroopf. First, Paul Michael Glaser, who directed (and produced), told the cast and crew of his feelings returning to work, and thanked them for the understanding and cooperation they all gave him. Secondly, young (12) Francis Capra was teary departing the movie and the close association (everyone had) with Shaq on the movie. After the basketball season, O'Neal is skedded to reteam with Kroopf on "Shaq Fu," the movie... "

kazaam shaq

Part 5: The Cohesion of Things

Christian Ford: Kazaam was, for us, it was a whirlwind. And then suddenly it was over. And it was very interesting because I think the big thing that it did for us—besides being this thing that we then had to explain away when we went into meetings—was that it really sort of blooded us, if you will. It made us see how the process typically worked and the problems with it and how it was designed to not necessarily produce good work.

Roger Soffer: I would say that blooding, that arrow, took about 15 years to clear the body.

Paul Michael Glaser: Do I have a favorite part of Kazaam? You know, I like the premise of the story a lot. I like the premise that a genie has granted so many wishes to mankind that he's lost his faith and his heart. But in the end, he finds his power—or magic, if you will—when he finds his heart. And the boy does too. I think that's a real good metaphor for our world.

Roger Soffer: The force of positive will that Paul had to not just sit there and wallow but actually stand up and create? It's astonishing in retrospect.

Christian Ford: I remember Paul saying, "All I'm trying to do is be present in the moment. And not be trapped in the memories or the What Ifs." And it's funny, sort of, because that's of course an actor's primary skill. To be totally present and open to whatever is happening in a scene at that moment. That was the skill he was drawing on to, you know, not fall apart while this was happening. This was a creative baby. He was making a living thing in response to this terrible loss.

Francis Capra: There were some signs during production that maybe this thing was kind of spinning out of control. Towards the end, it did feel a little bit like Paul was losing control of the cohesion of things.

Christian Ford: There was a day they were shooting in downtown LA and they called us. "We need a new Act 3." Huh? What? "I said we need a new Act 3." "But aren't you shooting Act 3 right now?" And they said yes. I said, "So you need it now, then?"

Francis Capra: So you had situations like that, and all kinds of issues with the tone, and what we ended up with was this sin upon mankind of modern filmmaking. But I promise you though, regardless of the way I make jokes and I talk about it and whatever, I will always look back on Kazaam as one of the greatest times of my life. And I can tell you right now, you don't know how many people come up to me and say that movie was like a great part of their childhood and they loved it.

Roger Soffer: Occasionally, I'll meet a person who will literally tell me that Kazaam is their favorite movie. And I stare at them like an anthropologist and try to figure out where exactly this person came from.

Francis Capra: I sometimes think about Kazaam's legacy. And I'll wonder: are we ever going to get to the point where people will look at the movie and say it's so bad that it's good? But I feel like we'll never get to that point because it's not that Kazaam was "so bad that it was good," it's more like it was so bad that it was strange."

Paul Michael Glaser: I think we ran into a problem with this film that had just come out called Cool Runnings. It kind of lived in the same world, you know? So Kazaam didn't do great. But it didn't do awful. I don't know ultimately how it did at the end of the day. It might have made some money.

Christian Ford: Strangely, the song "We Genie" is a hit in Brazil for some reason...

Hope Hanafin: I've done now 54 movies and I've kind of given up trying to predict how people are going to respond to the film when it comes out. Kazaam, I think, may have been the start. You just can't tell. Or I prefer not to. Because if you think it's going to be bad, it might be harder to keep working on something. But I can tell you this: I loved working with Paul Michael Glaser. He has a vision and he is visual. He encourages you to be better. You give him an idea and he goes with it and can often improve on it and make it larger. He's not afraid. His humanity kind of rules the day. He's kind and funny and warm. He's the kind of guy who can eloquently recite poetry. And I'm really sorry he's not directing more, I really enjoyed my time working with him.

Roger Soffer: Once when I was going to do a poetry reading, at some point in between then and now, I said to Paul, "I'm nervous. I don't really know how to do this." I'm not an actor and I had to go up and perform. He said, "You only need to do one thing." And this really does sum up Paul. He said, "Just speak from your heart." That was his whole advice and it's his life, I think.

Francis Capra: I'm grateful to have worked with Paul. I mean, it's hard for me to even put into words how much that experience meant to me. Being around Paul and Shaq and also Bob Engelman, who was a producer on the film. In fact, that's actually how I got my next project after Kazaam. Bob's production company was going to be make this film called A Simple Wish. I heard the names Martin Short and Kathleen Turner and I was like: oh my god, I want to do it! But of course it had to be a movie about a fairy godmother who was played by Martin Short. So it probably wasn't the best follow-up to a movie about a rapping genie with Shaquille O'Neal. And that, my friend, is how you kill a fucking career right there.