Watchers of raw talent, take note: 24-year-old Texas filmmakers Wes Anderson and Owen Wilson hit town Monday. But unlike many Hollywood neophyte arrivals, this duo has already locked a big-studio deal. With James L. Brooks and Columbia Pictures, no less.
Last month, the pair completed a deal with Brooks ("Broadcast News," and the forthcoming "I'll Do Anything") and the studio to back their co-written debut film, "Bottle Rocket," a dryly comic, low-key drama about a trio of middle-class goofballs who embark on a life of crime. The $5-million-or-so venture, to be directed by Anderson and produced by Brooks, Polly Platt and Cynthia Hargrave, will roll in Dallas sometime in mid-'94, and go out theatrically and in other media through Columbia.
The Columbia-Brooks launch sets Anderson and Wilson apart from other young filmmakers--the Hudlin brothers ("Boomerang"), Robert Rodriguez ("El Mariachi"), the Hughes brothers ("Menace II Society")--who came up hardscrabble-style through independent or self-financed ranks. In fact, the Texas duo had a little help: screenwriter L.M. Kit Carson ("Breathless"), who discovered the pair in late 1991, godfathered the development of the "Bottle Rocket" script and provided the Tinseltown connections.
The Dallas-based Carson met Wilson through his father, an old friend and PR executive who'd worked for Ross Perot. Seeing how he was so "flipped out" about movies and dying to make one of his own, Carson escorted Wilson to the January, 1992, Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah. A few months later, Wilson came back to Carson with Anderson, a rough draft of "Bottle Rocket," and an eight-minute short film--partly financed by their parents--based on the opening pages. Anderson had directed with Owen and his brother Luke playing lead roles.
The script was rough, says Carson, "but these guys were naturals. The writing was authentic, unforced, a report from a generation and a culture--white, middle-class, twentysomething--we haven't heard very much from." After raising cash and assembling a modest film crew, Carson and Hargrave--his wife and producing partner--arranged for the guys to shoot an additional five minutes to add to the short. Soon after, the now-13-minute short was accepted at Sundance 1993. Carson hauled everyone back to Park City, tacked up dozens of homemade "Bottle Rocket" posters and generated a buzz. After guiding Anderson and Wilson through two rewrites, Carson then pitched a feature-length "Rocket" to what he calls "the usual off-Hollywood suspects"--including Miramax and Sony Classics.
But then Carson's longtime producer friend Barbara Boyle ("Impromptu," "Reversal of Fortune") suggested a different tack. "I said to myself, this belongs at a major studio," she recalls. "If 'Boyz N the Hood' got made under Columbia, so could this." Boyle's decision to send the short to Polly Platt at Brooks' Columbia-based Gracie Films was the payoff.
"Any first film by young people in their 20s is always striking, but this was extraordinary," Platt remarks. "I carried that tape around with me all day (when) it arrived. When Jim finally saw it, I kept saying, 'You should see this, this is really important--let's make a deal.' "
The contract took all summer to hammer out but the combination of Brooks' artistic guarantee and the low-cost, no-downside financing were enough for Columbia.
Brooks flew to Dallas last May to talk over the script. "We didn't know what to expect, big-time producer and all," says Anderson, "but he was OK, a good sense of humor."
Like anyone who's ever made it in Hollywood, Anderson and Wilson are film-crazy. Born into middle-class comfort (Wilson grew up in Dallas down the street from Ross Perot) and, in Anderson's case, descended from literary royalty (he's the great-grandson of Edgar Rice Burroughs), they talk in a casual style that's part down-home, part alienated cool.
Until the "Rocket" deal kicks in next year, their lifestyle will probably continue on the scruff. They're currently sharing a Dallas apartment without a phone. Wilson refers to himself as "gainfully unemployed"; Anderson says he's "borrowing a lot of money" to meet expenses. Although they met in a writing class at the University of Texas in Austin, the duo is more self-educated than taught as far as their screenwriting is concerned.
Bottle rockets are a type of illegal skyrocket, sold on the sly in many states, that can be hand-launched with a lit fuse. A metaphor for kids taking off on a reckless crime spree . . . or for a couple of Dallas dudes who've just hit it big?