Bruce Willis, who has a knack for picking memorable supporting roles (see: "Fast Food Nation," "Nobody's Fool"), has just snagged himself another juicy one. The 52-year-old actor has signed on to play the ultimate intimidating principal in "Assassination of a High School President," a hot original script written by first-time scribes Tim Calpin and Kevin Jakubowski that landed on a list of the most-liked screenplays late last year.
A comedic homage to "Chinatown" set in a Catholic high school, "Assassination" is replete with surprising twists, duplicitous characters and a wry, hard-boiled voice-over delivered by Bobby Funke, a bullied sophomore investigating the theft of the school's SAT exams for St. Dominick's newspaper. Of course, this leads to broader conspiracies, and no one is without a secret agenda. Throw in fart jokes, wet willies, beer pong and lunchroom class war and it's "All the President's Teenagers."
(Though the violence in the script is minimal, it remains to be seen if the killing spree at Virginia Tech will effect changes to it.)
Yari Film Group optioned Jakubowski and Calpin's screenplay last fall, and Willis has signed a pay-or-play deal to shoot the film in July for video and commercial director Brett Simon, making his feature film debut. Willis will play principal John T. Kirkpatrick, a Desert Storm veteran fond of recounting pungent anecdotes from his time liberating Kuwait and barking inspiring speeches such as: "Gentlemen, you are filth. Your parents have either spoiled or abused you to such a degree that your hearts have become black and lifeless. Your brains are warped, your souls doomed. There is no hope for any of you."
"That is Kevin's and my amalgamation of what we thought the student-to-faculty dynamic was, which is very warlike," says Calpin, who with Jakubowski is a product of the Catholic education system. "The great part is, it might be what teachers actually thought of Kevin and me."
The hipness of the screenplay's concept and tone echo the high school environs of John Hughes movies. That, and the popularity of Simon's music videos, have prompted many of the industry's hottest young actors -- Hilary Duff and Lindsay Lohan, among others -- to show interest in Francesca, the femme fatale. (Willis' 18-year-old daughter, Rumer, last seen in "Hostage," will appear in a supporting role.)
The script I sped through was a fast and funny read. A riff on "JFK," "All the President's Men" and Robert Towne's neo-noir classic, "Assassination" contains dialogue richly peppered with the stupidly slangy put-downs of the teen years, and it's more accessibly stylized than last year's "Brick," a previous dramatic attempt to set a noir in a modern-day high school. The plot is intriguingly convoluted, and Calpin, 27, and Jakubowski, 28 -- former assistants on "South Park" -- make great use of the locales, relentless humiliations and social hierarchies of the high school snake pit.
"Everything mattered so much when you were in high school -- that's your world," Jakubowski says, "and something that would happen to a student council president is as big as if the actual president was assassinated."
Humanitas seeks a helping hand
Cathleen Young's scholarship sport in college was the 100-meter hurdles, which should help her tremendously in her efforts to do some major fundraising in Hollywood. Lean, energetic and committed, Young, 48, became the new executive director of the Humanitas Prize in January, and her mandate is to pull the prestigious annual writing awards into the 21st century.
Every summer, in the midst of the most mindless and gleefully fantastical of film and television seasons, Humanitas brazenly awards cash prizes to TV and feature writers whose humanistic storytelling has served "to enrich as well as entertain." Past high-profile winners have included Eric Roth and Michael Mann for "The Insider," Antwone Fisher for "Antwone Fisher" and Tim Robbins for "Dead Man Walking." John Wells, Marshall Herskovitz, Ed Zwick and Barbara Hall have all won the prize for their work in TV.
Young, a TV writer ("MacGyver," "Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman") who won the prize in 1995 for her tele-movie, "A Place for Annie," hopes not only to raise the profiles of the winning writers, but also to crank up the endowments, which have not increased since the prizes were started by Father Bud Kieser, a Catholic priest, in 1974.
Currently the amounts for the seven categories -- for 30-, 60- and 90-minute television formats, feature film, children's live action and animation, and a Sundance film -- range from $10,000 to $25,000. So Young has embarked on a search for industry insiders who she hopes will collectively donate $6 million to create an endowment and raise prizes to as much as $100,000, depending on the specific award. (Humanitas has awarded over $2.5 million since its inception.)