anatomy of a bomb
* * *
by andy breckman
I know how you nutty FMU hipsters love to hear juicy inside stories about your favorite Hollywood movies. Well, tough titties. I can't help you. I never worked on any of your favorite movies. But I did do a rewrite on  Hot to Trot.

Remember that one? Sure you do. It starred Bobcat Goldthwait? About the talking horse? Remember?  Hot to Trot? I think my  Hot to Trot story is worth telling for two reasons: one, it was, without question, the most bizarre rewrite assignment in Hollywood history; and two, they already commissioned the artwork for this article.

It was the late 80's (not exactly the Golden Age of American Comedy). In those days, I was under contract at Warner Brothers. I was sort of their comedy foot soldier: I wrote my own crap or rewrote other people's crap. I was the crap guy.

In 1988, they produced  Hot to Trot. You won't find  Hot to Trot in the "Classics" section of your video store. Technically, it doesn't even belong in the "Comedy" section. This film deserves its own section. Its own special rack. The UNWATCHABLE LAUGH-FREE DREK rack.

As I said, it's about a talking horse. It was originally supposed to star Joan Rivers. But then Joan's new TV talk show bombed, so Joan was out and "The Bobcat" was in. By the way, kids, that's the sign of a well-executed professional movie script: a leading role that can be played by either Joan Rivers or Bobcat Goldthwait.

Elliot Gould played the voice of the horse. Imagine that - Elliot Gould was available! They tested the film in front of an audience and this, more or less, is what the audience said: "It sucks." "It's not funny." "Don't make me watch it again." I think that somebody at the screening yelled, "Unfocus!"

What could they do? The movie was "locked." It was over. They had a disaster on their hands. Then some young turk executive at the studio had a brainstorm. Wait, he said, we're not dead yet! We can still change the horse's dialogue!

He was right. This was 1988, before "Babe," before talking movies used high-tech computer imaging. In those days, Hollywood was still using the old hands-on "Mr. Ed" technique: when an animal had to "talk" they yanked violently on a wire attached to its lips or jammed a carrot up its ass. The animal's lips didn't actually form words; it just winced in pain and beared its teeth.

So, the Comedy Brain Trust figured the horse is just opening and closing its mouth, right? Nobody knows what it's saying. We can go back and "loop in" different, funnier, better lines for the horse to say! It was a brilliant plan. Foolproof. All they needed was a hapless asshole who would agree to write the new equine dialogue.

I said, "I'm on my way!"

I thought it would be a quick, painless paycheck... but soon I realized it was a nightmare assignment. I could only rewrite half the dialogue. I could change the horse's lines, but all of the other lines were locked in!

So, if a scene went like this:

Bobcat: Five grand? We'll never raise that much money!

Talking Horse: Sure we can. I have an idea.

Bobcat: Uh-oh.

Talking Horse: I could enter the Kentucky Derby and win.

Bobcat: Forget it, Albett. I've seen you race. I'm surprised you weren't arrested for loitering!

Here's what I had to work with:

Bobcat: Five grand? We'll never raise that much money!

Talking Horse: ...

Bobcat: Uh-oh.

Talking Horse: ...

Bobcat: Forget it, Albett. I've seen you race. I'm surprised you weren't arrested for loitering!

It wasn't writing. It was more like solving one of those Chinese box puzzles. You try it, Mr. Smartypants. Fill-in the blanks. Make that fuckin' scene funnier.

Anyway, I was a good comedy soldier. I did my best. I slogged through the movie, filling in the blanks, one by one. Finally, I handed in my rewrite. Later, I heard that John Candy was hired to replace Elliot Gould as the voice of the horse, and that he had thrown out the script and ad-libbed the entire part.

Breckman_2The movie was released. I was going to say it "sank like the Titanic," but the Titanic managed to actually stay afloat for 45 minutes.

This is a true story: the movie came and went so fast I didn't get a chance to see it in Jersey. I had to go into the city to see it. It was playing at the 8th Street Playhouse. I stepped up to the box office and said, "One, please." The Box Office Lady looked up. She was genuinely puzzled. She said, "You know it's  Hot to Trot?"

Andy Breckman's most recent screenwriting credit was the unfortunate "Sgt. Bilko" starring Steve Martin.

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