Get Shorty is an old film now – why am I blogging about it? Well, the book (by the late great Elmore Leonard) holds a special place in my heart, and slowly, over the years the film has grown on me too, for many reasons…
I left school at age 16, and took a job in a photographic shop in Leeds, I spent the day selling cameras, and messing around with lenses. It was still in the days of 35mm film, Hi8mm video and VHS-C camcorders were coming in. We still sold Super 8mm film stock and I spent most of my wages on it, shooting short films at the weekend. This was in the very early 90s.
I used to regularly browse the bookshops, and I’d read and enjoyed lots of Elmore Leonard. Then one day, I saw a hard back book by Leonard, called Get Shorty. I picked it up and read the synopsis – it hooked me then and there and I went home and devoured the book in one reading.
Leonard had been a script writer, but was frustrated by the movie industry and instead turned to writing very sparse crime novels – almost like scripts. Then, gradually the movie industry started turning his books into films.
As a young budding script writer for hire I could see that Get Shorty would make a brilliant film. I imagined it being shot by Robby Muller and I imaged it being as tough and brutal as it was funny. Eventually of course, Hollywood did make a film out of it. Starring John Travolta, Gene Hackman and Rene Russo. With Danny DeVito as ‘Shorty’.
At the time, me as a young budding writer/director – I found the casting wrong; they’d softened the book too much. When I first saw the film I was outraged!!! – They’d turned it into a feel good comedy about the film business.
I was so inflamed with this, that a couple of years later I wrote my version of the script, set in Leeds, and cast a group of friends to play the characters. By this time, I was a script writer, who’d just landed his first agent, and I’d had a short film made which starred Ewan McGregor and had been shown on Channel Four in the UK. I was about a year away from starting on the writing team of UK soap Emmerdale.
‘Get McGregor’ as my script was called – would be shot by me, edited by me, directed by me, I even did the sound and threw in a cameo appearance. My two best friends would fill the lead rolls and I even got a couple of semi-decent actors I’d worked with at film school to take part. The whole thing was shot in a very rushed week.
This was before digital video editing, and I had to edit the film between two VCRs (really) so none of the cuts were exact.
To be honest it was a bloody mess, years later myself and my brother tried our best to re-edit the footage. It was still a mess, and it ended up on YouTube, where locally, a few friends and people about at the time seem to enjoy it. It is, a 90s time capsule of myself and my pals back in the day. It was a good learning experience, if anything.
Now, I watch the John Travolta ‘Get Shorty’ and I’ve calmed down a lot. The film isn’t tough enough, but it’s funny and charming – Gene Hackman is a treat. I still wish that the Robby Mueller who shot ‘To Live and Die in LA’ had been the cameraman, but apart from that I have no problems with the film anymore. In fact, I like it, and in many ways it’s almost exactly like the book. And watching it, I can see myself reading the book again when I was a kid. Imaging the scenes and how they would play in my mind.
So watch, it and read the book – the last line of the book isn’t in the film. But it should be.
Below also, is my version ‘Get McGregor’ shot in Leeds in 90s, for a total budget of £500 – it’s unwatchable!
Matthew Cooper has been a script writer for hire for over 20 years. He’s written for most of the UK soaps, including writing award winning episodes of Emmerdale, EastEnders, Hollyoaks and Family Affairs and has been BAFTA shortlisted and Royal Television Society nominated as a script writer. He’s also a leading UK script consultant. You can find some of his broadcast credits on the IMDb. You can get in touch with Matthew on firstname.lastname@example.org or hire him on Peopleperhour