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Academy to Black: Not Yet

Movies: 'Lethal Weapon' writer is told that he could be reconsidered for membership later.

July 01, 1998|ROBERT W. WELKOS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Shane Black, who wrote the 1987 blockbuster "Lethal Weapon" and later caught Hollywood's attention when he was paid $4 million for "The Long Kiss Goodnight," has been turned down for membership in the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

The academy said Black could be reconsidered sometime in the future "when he has accumulated further credits."

Black said he was curious as to why he was turned down, but stressed that he bore no ill will against members of the academy's writers' branch executive committee, who took the action.

"I'm sure it's an honorable decision reached by people who sat there and gave it a great deal of thought," Black said. "It doesn't diminish my opinion for the people in the academy." The writer added that he was "a far cry from heartbroken."

It was Black's first attempt at joining the writers' branch.

Black had been sponsored by screenwriters Angelo Pizzo ("Hoosiers," "Rudy") and Dale Launer ("My Cousin Vinny," "Ruthless People").

Launer said he found it "outrageous" that Black was rejected for membership when there are some in the academy who are less deserving. "He is definitely considered to be one of Hollywood's top writers," Launer said.

Under academy bylaws, membership in the writers' branch must meet certain criteria.

The bylaws read that an individual seeking membership must "have at least two feature film credits of a caliber which, in the opinion of the executive committee, reflect the high standards of the academy and/or have been nominated for an Academy Award."

Or, the bylaws continue, an individual must "have, in the judgment of the writers' branch executive committee, otherwise achieved unique distinction, earned special merit or made an outstanding contribution as a motion picture writer."

Bruce Davis, the academy's executive director, declined to discuss the specific reasons why the executive committee in this instance turned Black down, instead referring questions to the academy's bylaws.

Davis noted that out of about 800 people nominated, 135 were voted in as new members to all 13 branches of the academy during the most recent membership cycle. At its most recent meeting, Davis added, the writers' branch executive committee considered 12 candidates and invited four to membership. The academy's 39-member board of governors must give its approval on all new members.

Davis said that the executive committee has the power to draft individuals into the academy without sponsors. This happens, for example, whenever an individual is nominated for an Academy Award.

"If you are nominated, you automatically are considered by the executive committee of the appropriate branch without having to be proposed," Davis explained.

There are currently about 425 members in the writers' branch, while the academy at large has roughly 6,000 voting members.

One of Hollywood's highest-paid screenwriters, Black's spec script "Lethal Weapon" evolved into a blockbuster franchise for Warner Bros. The film starred Mel Gibson as a cop on the edge whose partner is a stable family man played by Danny Glover. The film went on to gross more than $100 million and spawned three more films. Black received a shared credit on "Lethal Weapon 2."

In 1990, he was paid $1.75 million for "The Last Boy Scout," which was made into the action film starring Bruce Willis. Three years later, Black received more than $1 million for his rewrites on the 1993 Arnold Schwarzenegger film "The Last Action Hero."

Black again grabbed headlines with the $4-million sale of the script "The Long Kiss Goodnight." In the 1996 action film, Geena Davis portrayed a woman with amnesia who discovers that she was once an assassin.

Black has also earned hefty fees to rewrite other scripts.

In rejecting Black for membership, the academy's Davis wrote to Pizzo and Launer in a letter dated June 26: "I can at least assure you, however, that the branch will be willing to reconsider this candidate at some future time when he has accumulated further credits."

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