The Resurrection of ‘Inside Moves’
by Todd Walton
Exclusive: Academy Award®-nominated Inside Moves will finally see its DVD release on February 3, 2009.
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I wrote the novel that would become Inside Moves in 1975, just as the United States was finally pulling out of Vietnam. I was living in a garage in Eugene, Oregon, having been saved from an ignominious return to college by the sale of a short story to Cosmopolitan magazine. My rent was thirty dollars a month, so the nine hundred dollars from Cosmo was, to me, a vast fortune and would enable me to write two novels, two plays, and several short stories before the largesse was finally spent.
The voice that spoke Inside Moves through me was that of a young man wounded and disabled in the Vietnam war. My first and finest literary agent, Dorothy Pittman, now deceased, showed the manuscript to thirteen publishers in two and a half years (this was before simultaneous submissions were permitted in the publishing business.) The book was declared a narrative tour de force by several of the first twelve editors to read the manuscript, each anointing the book “an impossible sell.” Cripples and Vietnam were not popular topics in those days.
Miracle Number 1
The book was eventually bought in 1977 by a young editor at Doubleday named Sherry Knox under the auspices of the powerful Betty Prashker. I believe this was the first novel Sherry ever purchased. My advance, minus Dorothy’s commission, was thirteen hundred and fifty dollars, which money lifted me out of dire poverty into semi-functional poverty in my garret in Seattle.
When I had rewritten the book to Sherry’s satisfaction, and my brother Steve had come up with the stellar title to replace my original title, The Gimp, the great minds at Doubleday decided to let Inside Moves die before publication. This is common practice in large corporate publishing houses when Sales decides they don’t want to push a book.
However, to minimally fulfill their contractual obligations, Doubleday listed the book in small print at the back of their Spring catalogue with this briefest of descriptors: “Inside Moves: story of friendship between two men in San Francisco bar, basketball sub-plot.”
Miracle Number 2
An editor named Bill Contardi at the paperback house New American Library read the descriptor and asked to see the manuscript. He loved the book, showed it to NAL editor-in-chief Elaine Koster, and she offered Doubleday 100,000 dollars for the paperback rights.
Miracle Number 3
When Dorothy called with news of the paperback offer, I was quite ill and in a very dark mood. Rather than rejoicing (we would get half of that 100 thou) I said, “Did they show it to the other paperback houses? They’re supposed to, aren’t they?”
Dorothy said, “Honey (she was from Georgia), this is a mahvelous offer.”
And I said, “They were going to kill the book. They should at least show it to other paperback houses. Maybe more than one will be interested.”
Dorothy reluctantly relayed my wishes to Doubleday. Some honcho (I can’t remember his name) called me and berated me, saying this was a wonderful offer and I was a fool not to take it. I explained to him that though I was grossly naïve, I did know they had decided to kill the book, and since I might never get another chance in New York, I wanted them to show it to other paperback houses.
Miracle Number 4
So the honcho called Elaine Koster and asked for a few more days to consider her offer, and she countered with a take-it-or-leave-it offer of 150,000 dollars and the promise of a big bonus if a movie was made. Dorothy begged me to accept the offer, so I did.
Miracle Number 5
Two weeks later, Bob Evans, having recently produced Chinatown, The Godfather and Love Story, optioned the book for Paramount Pictures for 100,000 buckeroos.
Miracle Number 6
I was flown to Los Angeles to meet with Bob Evans in his mansion. He wanted me to rewrite the entire novel per his directions. He wanted to eliminate the Vietnam connection and not have so many disabled characters. I refused. He was not happy.
Miracle Number 7
Bob Evans hired Barry Levinson (before he became a famous director) and Valerie Curtin (then Barry’s wife) to write a screenplay of the book. They changed the narrator from a man crippled while serving in Vietnam to a failed suicide, but were otherwise faithful to the heart of the book. Bob Evans dropped the project.
Miracle Number 8
Dick Donner, fresh from Superman I and before he made all his Lethal Weapon movies, got hold of the script and eventually made the film with independent money. The film starred John Savage, David Morse (his first role) and Diana Scarwid, nominated for an Academy Award for her role in this film.
Miracle Number 9
I was on the set of the film (Echo Park imitating Oakland) for a week and got to watch them shoot scenes with dialogue intact from my novel, most of which ended up on the cutting room floor, and it was a huge thrill to hear good actors acting out my scenes.
Sudden End to Miracles
The distribution company, AFD, went bankrupt just as the film was being released and the little beauty was barely distributed. And though the book eventually sold over a hundred thousand copies, and I subsequently published five more works of fiction and two works of non-fiction, I was never again (not yet, anyway) to have a place on the larger literary stage.
Recent Resumption of Miracles
A month ago, thirty years after publishing Inside Moves, I got an email from a man in charge of preparing the DVD release of Inside Moves for Lionsgate Entertainment. At first I thought he was joking, but he was not. Two days ago, he and his assistant arrived at our house in Mendocino to interview me about the novel and how it became a movie.
I think the interview went well. Had I known Cliff was going to let me ramble and say whatever came to my mind, I might have waxed more dramatically, but all in all I felt good about what I said (and didn’t say) and Cliff said he was pleased. A very professional duo, David Chan the camera person, Cliff Stephenson the director/interviewer, spent twenty minutes setting up, mixing the natural light of the living room with two of their own lights, and they even backlit my hair slightly and powdered my impressive brow to reduce reflection.
More interesting to me than my own memories was hearing how this DVD project came to be after so many years of deep freeze. Turns out Dick Donner has wanted to release this film (his favorite) on DVD since the advent of that medium but no one could untangle the corporate mess and discover who actually owned the film. When they concluded the owner was probably a British conglomerate that had eaten an earlier owner of the movie, and Lionsgate had a good connection with that behemoth, they decided to release the film. Initially they were just going to find a decent VHS copy, transfer to DVD, and bring it out with no extras.
As it happened, Cliff’s wife worked for Lionsgate, knew of Cliff’s love of Donner’s films, and asked Cliff if he wanted to oversee the project. He said Yes, and when he saw the quality of the print they were going to use, he said he thought Donner would be outraged. So began a hunt for a print of the actual 35mm film, which they found in England. Not a perfect print, but better than any VHS. This was transferred to DVD, cleaned up, and then Cliff convinced Lionsgate to let him approach the extra matter for the DVD from the angle of how the movie went from book to screenplay to film. As they have gathered material, Lionsgate has gotten more enthusiastic, and they are now planning to do a somewhat snazzier release than originally planned. Feb 3, 2009!
I forgot all about trying to plug my soon-to-be-published novel Under the Table Books until the very end of the interview. Thirty years after publishing Inside Moves, I’m about to publish another novel about outcasts gathering to create an ersatz family. In Inside Moves they gather in Max’s Bar. In Under the Table Books they coalesce in an anarchist bookstore.
Who knows how much of what I said will make it onto the DVD? I suppose if I were really daring I would self-publish a new edition of the book to coincide with the release of the DVD, but I’m pushing the limits of my daringness (and bank account) these days. Cliff told me there is a surprisingly large cult following of the film and Lionsgate is expecting an initial response from that base to give the film a boost.
But the most fascinating part about these two very nice movie guys coming to our house (my wife, Marcia, was impressed with how down to earth they were) was my sense, and I mean this viscerally, that the same unseen powers that spoke the book through me and opened the way for the book to be written and published and made into a movie so long ago, had finally returned to my neck of the woods after a twenty-nine year exile (perhaps around Saturn).
Or maybe it was just déjà vu all over again.
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