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Film Flame


by Mark Ebner, At Large (Archive)

"Boffo" business was predicted for My Best Friend's Wedding, but Sony Pictures' claim to the biggest romantic comedy opening ever sent the entire industry reeling. The movie's star writer, Ron Bass, (Sleeping With The Enemy, Rain Man) has since enjoyed much acclaim for his foray into the hit or miss "rom-com" arena, but, with all the hoopla, questions have surfaced as to whether or not Bass wrote the "Best Friend" script alone. Speculation comes from scribes finding difficulty making it in the marketplace, further irritated by seeing Bass' name on every other high-profile studio project coming down the pike. Therein lies a fundamental misunderstanding of Bass' writing process.

Lo. One of Hollywood's biggest "open secrets" is that Bass employs a "creative team" of women (known around town as "the Ronettes") who help him prepare projects. With their notes and suggestions in mind, he sits in his backyard jamming scripts into notebooks with trusty #2 pencils. Although famous at studio meetings, this gaggle of six salaried women manning stations at Bass' Pre-Dawn Production offices are unknown to lonely writers cranking out their spec scripts in the dark. One A-list writer laughing at the thought of a colleague retaining a personal development staff (let alone a publicist) asks, "Who's his stylist?"

Jane Rusconi, Mimi Won, Hannah Shakespeare, Judy Skelton, Brooke Rogers and his sister Diane Bass are the Ronettes -- their backgrounds as varied as Bass' story subject matter. Shakespeare and Won came to Pre-Dawn Productions from development jobs at Goldie Hawn's company and Lorne Michaels' shop respectively. Rogers -- a recent Harvard grad -- left the Doubleday publishing house to work with Bass as a researcher, and Skelton plays typist, giving notes and story editing to Bass' wide-body golden Cadillac of work. Bass has partnered with Rusconi on television projects, and his sister, Diane, is a psychiatric social worker, consulting with him on mental matters since Rain Man.

In the end, Bass gets the "screenplay by" credit and awards the Ronettes with salaries and year-end bonuses. Also, he points out, "None of them have contracts. If anybody wants to go out and steal them away from me, they're all available."

While some liken Bass' system to a factory that cheapens creative output, the writer disagrees. "If I didn't feel that having people do research, and listening to my ideas, and kicking around their ideas, and doing it in a collaborative way was of value, I wouldn't do it," he affirms, adding, "I am very proud of the quality of the writing that I do."

Is there a ghostwriter in the machine? Nope. Just well-oiled feminine minds in the Bass processing plant that help keep the writer of credit penciling out profitable Hollywood product.

Writers Guild of America President, Brad Radnitz, gives little importance to the question of ghostwriting in Hollywood, calling it a "victimless crime in which two writers enter into an agreement on their own." He believes the Guild's number one priority to be stopping the studio practice of "sending out scripts without the proper names on them before the credits have been determined." Odd. Bass has been publicly paraded as the sole writer of credit on the upcoming Susan Sarandon/Julia Roberts starrer, Step Mom -- a script on which he acknowledges he was "the third writer in." Of course it helps that he's now Executive Producer on this project, but sadly lost as the movie nears it's September start date in NYC, are the two original Step Mom scribes. A script received via TriStar is covered, "Step Mom - Screenplay by Ronald Bass," and a call to the Step Mom production office found an assistant to the producer offering, "the [Step Mom] writer would be Ron Bass."

While getting "highly paid to remain in the dark" suits one legendary screenwriter just fine, Bass clearly prefers the limelight (witness: recent dueling puff pieces in the Los Angeles Times and Daily Variety, not to mention his ironic cover-boy status in Written By -- The Journal of The Writers Guild Of America) and the studios (TriStar Pictures in the Step Mom case) - for deceitful reasons financial and promotional - are quick to give the Bass imprimatur before credits have been officially determined through the automatic arbitration process.

Usual Suspects scribe, Christopher McQuarrie, recently did a dialogue "punch-up" on a script for Disney, and was appalled to find the screenplay sent out with his name on it. He called the studio and demanded his name be removed, lest he never do business with them again. A Writers Guild Board Member calls the Step Mom credit misappropriation "illegal." Bass honestly feels he deserves screenplay credit on Step Mom, but whatever happened to credit when credit's due? 



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