Caffeinated Clint Greats : Interview Series


What is Caffeinated Clint’s Greats?
I’ve had plenty of emails from you guys asking such questions as “Who were your favourite actors growing up?”, “Do you have a favourite movie?”, “You’re producing films now, any particular film that inspired you to take that road?” and “Hey man, Got Kristen Stewart’s phone number?”, and it gave my an idea – why not profile some of my favourite films? (It saves me from flaming a pimply, unintelligent publicist or another fresh-from-junior-high exec over some harebrained remake he’s just greenlit for a couple of weeks, after all) and in doing so, why not make contact with some of the people from these films?

Today’s Favourite Film Profiled :

Title : Can’t Buy Me Love
Year : 1987
Director : Steve Rash
Starring : Patrick Dempsey, Amanda Peterson, Courtney Gains, Dennis Dugan, Seth Green, Ami Dolenz

When I think of my favourite romantic comedies, a few immediately come to mind – “… Say Anything”, “Jerry Maguire”, “When Harry Met Sally”, “The Secret of my Success”, “Basic Instinct 2”. But in terms of the rom-com I’ve watched the most over the years (by the way, I was joking about “Basic Instinct 2” – I’d consider that more of a horror film), that honor goes to Touchstone Pictures’ “Can’t Buy Me Love”.

Released in 1987, the Steve Rash-directed comedy starred then ‘It Boy’ Patrick Dempsey (back before he’d discovered protein powder and blow-dryers) as a gangly unpopular high school student who “pays” a cheerleader (Amanda Peterson)  to date him.  As Ronald (Dempsey) explains to the seemingly got-it-all-together Cindy (Peterson), “You pretend you like me and we go out for a few weeks… and that will make me popular.”

And it works, Ronald becomes insanely popular – suddenly everyone wants to ride the “Ronald Miller Express”, as he calls it. The sham couple ultimately call it quits, so that Ronald can start making his moves on other fresh females, but by this time Cindy’s head over heels for the, er, sheik geek.

There’s some great stuff in here – Dempsey and Peterson for one; then that ridiculous ‘African’ dance that Ronald unleashes at the dance; a really terrific, very touching scene at the end where Ronald (now back to his former ‘nerd’ self) decides to make a stand; and, of course, Cindy’s emotional confession : “All of you thought we were a couple. What a joke!… Ronald Miller paid me 1,000 bucks to pretend I liked him. What a deal, huh? $1,000 to go out with him for a month. This guy. Oh, God. He bought me. And he bought all of you. He was sick and tired of being a nobody. Yeah, and he said that all of you guys would worship him if we went out. And I didn’t believe that. I was, like, no way! And he was right! No, leave me alone. He was right. Our little plan worked, didn’t it, Ronald? The dance. That stupid dance! What a bunch of followers you guys are. I mean, at least I got… At least I got paid”.

The film, which EW called one of the 50 best High School movies made, was recently remade… into the atrocious “Love Don’t Cost A Thing”. I personally got about ten minutes into the thing before I started loading caps in my pistol.

“Can’t Buy Me Love” was… is… such an underrated movie. It says so much about the modern-day teenager – the struggles, the agony of not feeling liked, and the grouping that suddenly happens when one hits high school (me, I was lucky enough to be considered one of the cooler kids, in a popular group, but I always felt sorry for those that were constantly picked on – -it was always as if we weren’t ‘allowed’ to talk to them. Like an unsaid rule. Kinda sad really). It also has a great point to make : Be Yourself – let people see the real you.

Q&A with Steve Rash

A go-to guy for studio funnies in the ’80s, Rash would go on to direct several other noteworthy laffers including “Son in Law” (One of two ‘good’ Pauly Shore movies), “Queens Logic” (with Jamie Lee Curtis and Kevin Bacon) and “Eddie” with Whoopi Goldberg. In recent times, he’s been working for Uni’s homevid label, helming such flicks as “American Pie presents Band Camp”, “Bring it On : All or Nothing” and “Road Trip : Beer Pong”. I had a chat to Rash about my favourite film in his back catalogue, “Can’t Buy Me Love”.

Caffeinated Clint : “Can’t Buy Me Love” was a huge hit upon release. Did you expect it to be?

Steve Rash No, we had nothing – no stars, no action, no high-concept story – just a nice little independent film called “Boy Rents Girl” from Apollo Pictures, who planned to self-distribute.
As usual during editing, we screened the work print for post-production companies bidding for sound effects and mixing. Meanwhile, the friend of the producer who we had hired as an extra in the movie began his new position at Disney to seek and acquire independent films for distribution.  He sneaked into one of those screenings – to see himself on film – and then went directly to the office of his new boss, Jeffrey Katzenberg: “Sir, I know I’ve been on the job less than a week, and it’s highly unlikely that I would already find Disney’s first acquisition, but I really think you should look at ‘Boy Rents Girl’.”  Jeffrey did; then called an emergency meeting with Michael Eisner and the heads of Marketing and Distribution. That same day, after screening the work print again, Disney made Apollo Pictures an offer they couldn’t refuse.

Caffeinated Clint : Remarkable!

Steve Rash : Buena Vista Distribution (Disney) had nothing to sell either – no stars, no action, no high-concept story – but they had credibility, resources and marketing ability. After initial test screenings, they booked over a thousand screens and cut a trailer and TV ads for a national campaign. And Michael Eisner bought “Can’t Buy Me Love” as a title song. By release day, it felt like a real movie was about to open, but Disney cautioned us: opening weekend of a no-name film would not be huge, but their audience research predicted that the movie might have “legs”. As it turned out, Can’t Buy Me Love came in #1 on opening weekend, and the movie had “LEGS”, too.

Caffeinated Clint : Very cool. Do you remember any of the other young actors at the time you were considering for Ronald Miller?

Steve Rash : During casting, Apollo was trying to make a negative-pickup deal with major studios that were interested only if the project had a star. David Cassidy was mentioned along with David Hasselhof and other TV names.  My theory, which I advanced to the producers: if Ronald Miller is a star when you meet him on his lawnmower, you’ll never believe he is a nerd, so you’ll never care when he’s not a nerd. Jeri Henshaw (head of Apollo, now deceased) stood behind me and said, “OK, we’ll hire an unknown in the lead, which means we will not have a studio behind us, so we will distribute ourselves.”  (Jeri had been head of casting at Fox, and he saw what I saw in Patrick Dempsey.)

Caffeinated Clint : Patrick Dempsey – did you envision him becoming such a huge star? And all these years later, a ‘sex symbol’?

Steve Rash ” It’s not fair that Patrick keeps getting more attractive with age!  But I submit that what people fall in love with, is not looks alone.  He’s one of the best natural actors alive, and people just believe him on screen.  When you totally believe an actor, and he happens to be handsome too, then a star is born.

Caffeinated Clint : Indeed! Did the script go through many changes?

Steve Rash : By the time I first read it, Boy Rents Girl had been through five studio development rewrites and had devolved into an R-rated sexploitation movie with gags like a football player ejaculating in a teenage girl’s hair, which resurfaced a decade later in There’s Something About Mary – at least Mary wasn’t a teenager.In the first meeting I told the producers, “Your story is for fifteen year-old girls and seventeen year-old boys. Why exclude your core audience with an R-rating?” They – again, Jeri Henshaw, God rest his soul – told me to collaborate with the writer and make it PG-13. So Michael Swerdlick and I spent six weeks, starting all over with his original spec script, and threw away all the R-stuff that had been added over the years. My most significant contribution was the Airplane Graveyard.

Caffeinated Clint : I love the Airplane Graveyard stuff. How did you coax The Beatles into using their song!?

Steve Rash : Disney spent over five times my salary for the song – by then owned by Michael Jackson. I admit that I was opposed to the idea and said in private, “Naming movies after pop songs is such a cliche´!”  But I did not obstruct the process; after all, it was Michael Eisner’s idea, and I was grateful that he cared enough about my little movie to invest a ton of money in a title song. At least the song’s message was appropriate to the story, and I knew Paul McCartney from the European premier of The Buddy Holly Story and was probably the biggest Beatles fan ever.

Caffeinated Clint : I’m also talking to Ami Dolenz for this interview series… now this was her first film. How was she for a first-timer?

Steve Rash : Amy was scared to death but smart, focused and a quick study.  Also cute as a button and prone to giggle when she made a mistake. So I tried to help her be comfortable with mistakes, “Everything in God’s creation is perfect, Amy, except us.  Be human; embrace mistakes, they make you believable, and if the audience believes, your job is done.”

Caffeinated Clint : And I have to ask, the remake? Did you see it? Did you loathe it?

Steve Rash : I decided to never see it: if it was better than mine I would feel bad, and if it sucked I would feel bad.

Caffeinated Clint : It was bad, you’ve no reason to worry. Now, Son in Law – lots of fun. You seem to be the one to give actors their ‘breakthrough’ roles -Carla Gugino for instance!

Steve Rash : My first choice was Ashley Judd who tested with Pauly Shore three times.  They hated each other and loved every minute of it. So did I; that was the most fun I ever had playing with matches. But the studio thought she was “too volatile” and vetoed her.  I had to fight almost as hard for Carla, who was “too sweet.”  I just liked her as a person and performer, and felt the audience would identify with her in the role. Fortunately Pauly liked her too, and he and I double-teamed the studio. Some day I would love to work with Carla again, only now it would be her who would go to bat for me.

Caffeinated Clint : Yep, she’s quite the star now! Now how did it happen that you pretty much strictly direct comedy? I mean, you started with “The Buddy Holly Story’…  one of the finest dramas of its year.

Steve Rash : I’ve always suspected that it was comedy that made “The Buddy Holly Story” a triple-threat. Buddy Holly’s music had been forgotten by America. Teen dramas had not been successful recently. But the subtle comedy of the film endeared Holly to the average viewer and may well account for its box office success.

Caffeinated Clint : Lots of direct-to-video sequels these days – albeit, the good ones! (Band Camp was the finest of the Pie spin-off’s)…  are you comfortable being the ‘go to guy’ for such films? Or keen to get back to the ‘biggies’ again?

Steve Rash : I like being “the go to guy,” I just wish it were football. Seriously, only two things differ between movie theaters and home video: screen size and the remote-in-hand.  Storytelling is no different, nor is character; you just use more Close Ups in video. DVD’s were more lucrative for me than small feature films for a while. Now, the home video world is in limbo waiting for HD. We will see a resurgence of video in the home, whatever the platform.

Great. Finally, thank you for teaching me the African dance. I will forever be a web nerd for knowing it.

I hated the whole idea in the script.  It scared me to death.  That fake “cultural” dance could so easily be perceived as racist or stupid.  Either would have been fatal to the movie.  So I worked harder on that joke than any other in my creative life.  I auditioned every great choreographer in NY and LA, but no one came up with an idea that could ride that fine line between funny and stupid.  Until Paula Abdul, who was at the time dancing and choreographing the Laker Girls dance team.  She conceived the African Anteater Ritual and then came to location in Tucson to coach a gymnasium full of teenagers.  I owe my creative life to Paula.  Little did I know how great she would turn out to be.

Read previous CAFFEINATED CLINT Greats interviews :
“Fright Night” with actor Chris Sarandon

“Tron” with actress Cindy Morgan

“Major League” with writer/director David S.Ward

“Twin Peaks : Fire Walk With Me” with writer Bob Engels

“The Hidden” with director Jack Sholder

“Fast Times at Ridgemont High” with actor Robert Romanus

“Young Guns” with actor Casey Siemaszko

“Superman” with actor Marc McClure

“Footloose” with actress Lori Singer

“St. Elmo’s Fire” with writer Carl Kurlander

“Office Space” with actor Gary Cole

“That Thing You Do!” with actor Johnathon Schaech

“Near Dark” with writer Eric Red