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7.02.2013

PRODUCTION JOURNAL: An Oral History of Trading Places

Trading Places | John Landis | 1983 | USA | Format: 35mm | 116 min 

Business Insider gathered the recollections of director, John Landis; writers, Tim Harris and Herschel Weingrod; and, actress, Jamie Lee Curtis for what many consider one of the greatest Wall St. Movies ever made (I think they're right).  It's a fun and intriguing look at how a great comedy was made even though it seems like no one expected it to be a great comedy while it was being made.  However, I think that's more due to modesty because as you read their accounts, besides the fact that it seems like everyone was having a ball working on this, you pick up an essential element of their filmmaking strategy; they trusted their instincts even when the naysayers and higherups did not.  They were a talented bunch but without the confidence  and persistence to back it up it would have been a different movie.


During the development of the film:

TIM HARRIS, co-writer: There were these two brothers who were both doctors who I would play tennis with on a fairly regular basis, and they were incredibly irritating to play with because they had a major sibling rivalry going, all the time about everything.   So they always had to be separated, you know, play on the other team.  And they were very wealthy but also incredibly cheap — we would play on public courts where it was like a couple of bucks for four guys for an hour.  And they’d have arguments about who was coming up with 50 cents, and I think one very hot day I played with them, and I just came home and was fed up with it, and I just thought, ‘God, I just don’t want to play with these people, they’re awful.’  And I had the idea of them betting on a nature/nurture situation with somebody in their company, and I’d pretty much worked out the whole thing, and went over to Herschel’s and told it to him and he thought it was fabulous.

JOHN LANDIS, director: The script was developed for Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor. And when I was sent the script, Richard Pryor, unfortunately, had his accident where he burnt himself rather badly, and they sent it to me and said, ‘What do you think?’
‘48 Hours’ hadn't come out yet, but they’d previewed it, and Eddie Murphy had previewed very well, and they thought, ‘Ah this kid's going to be a star,’ So they said, ‘What do you think about Eddie Murphy playing the Billy Ray Valentine part?’ And I of course said, ‘Who’s Eddie Murphy?’
...The only character in the script I had a problem with, because she's such a fantasy, is Ophelia. The classic ‘hooker with a heart of gold’  — she's such a fantasy that I thought how the fuck am I going to get away with this?’ I had met Jamie Lee Curtis — I shot a documentary on horror stuff, and she was host of it — she was a ‘scream queen.’ And I met her and she was so funny and smart and sexy, and I thought, ‘Oh she'd be terrific.’
She had just made ‘Halloween 2,’ for which she'd been paid I think a $1 million, and we paid her probably $70,000. When I cast her the studio went nuts. I was called into the head of the studio’s office and he said, ‘This woman's a B-movie actress,’ and I said, ‘Not after this movie!’ But boy they really didn't like the fact that I cast Danny and Jamie.

During the production of the film:

LANDIS: It was actually in the script that the final scenes were in Chicago at the commodities exchange, but they would not let us shoot there. We really had tried every which way to get permission to shoot there, and I think truthfully once they saw we had a clear understanding of how it worked, it was like, ‘No!’  So we ended up at the commodities exchange in New York which was at the World Trade Center at the time.  About 90% [of the floor traders in the movie] were actual traders, and a great deal of it I shot during actual trading hours. They were into it — if anything they were less rough. I was quite taken aback at how physically rough it was — they really elbowed one another ... It was like a contact sport.They were basically trading like 8 or 9 hours a day, so we were in there for 3 to 4 hours on two days between opening and closing, and we got a lot done. I actually shot some ‘guerrilla’ stuff there that I used in the movie.I also remember that the commodities market, it was in one of the towers at the World Trade Center on the 50th or 60th floor — no windows, and 3 to 4 stories high. That was very strange, to take an elevator up 50 or 60 floors, and then you thought you were underground.

During the distribution and marketing of the film:

HERSCHEL WEINGROD, co-writer: The film got extremely good reviews from the major film critics at the time - Vincent Canby at the New York Times; Siskel & Ebert, both on their TV show and in the Chicago Sun-Times; Richard Schicikel in Time Magazine; Sheila Benson in the L.A. Times; even People magazine. There were some negative reviews as well, but we were hopeful that the good ones would help audiences go and see the film. They did and, fortunately, they liked it a lot. I just looked it up, and it was the fourth highest grossing film in a year where ‘Return Of The Jedi’ and ‘Tootsie’ were first and second.

HARRIS: It didn’t have a huge opening, but it just kept going and going and going.  I had a call from an agent saying he was getting calls asking if it was true that the whole film had actually been the producer Aaron Russo’s idea, and that he’d just paid us to write it. Then I got another call saying Jeffrey Katzenberg at Paramount was going around saying it had all been his idea. Being by then already a Hollywood cynic, I knew it was a hit, because people were trying to steal credit for it already.

For the full account, read it here.

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