Hideo Nakata wasn’t returning my call. This was a first. After more than a year of working together, developing and prepping the filmed version of my novel, True Believers, I’d come to depend on Hideo and he on me. There had to be a reason Hideo didn’t want to speak with me. My instinct was that he was angry. But angry at whom? Me? Why? Nobody was more loyal to him or his vision. Well, maybe producer David Wally. Together we were the three amigos, riding this movie into the sunset of success.

But that was all before MGM and Dimension wrote me a lottery-sized check, purchasing the contractual underlying rights to my novel and before sending me packing. All was part of an effort to drive a wedge between me and the movie director they were so desperate to be in business with.

Still. Hideo wouldn’t be ducking my calls if he wasn’t pissed. The only reason why he’d be so upset that he couldn’t bear speaking to me must have been because somewhere, somehow, somebody, deposited a lie into his ear. A falsehood, I might add, with some traction.

“I talked to him,” said David Wally. “You’re right. He’s mad at you. But I want him to tell you in his own words.”

“All the better,” I agreed.

The plan was to meet at Jerry’s Deli in Beverly Hills, conveniently across the street from Cedars Sinai Hospital. I wasn’t expecting a trip to the emergency room, but at that point, there’d been so many surprises on True Believers, anything was a possibility.

Hideo was last to arrive, joining David Wally and I in the extreme rear of the restaurant. His demeanor was unlike anything I’d witnessed in our year of pre-production starts and stops. He’d been through the Hollywood ringer and I was pretty certain I’d experienced most of that good man’s moods. But this was different. He sat down. Somber, sad, and most clearly, hurt. Hideo didn’t know where to start.

“Hideo,” I began. “David has explained that you’re angry with me. I’m just here to say that whatever I did—or whatever you think I did—I’m sorry that you’re hurt by it.”

On the exterior, I was all apology. Yet on the inside I was twisting with rage. From the moment my director walked in, I knew it. The pained look of distrust on his face. Somebody had poisoned the well. And I had a pretty keen idea who was behind it.

“My agent tells me that this was all your doing,” began Hideo after a soliloquy about his disappointing time in the United States, the year of studio crap he’d been required to swallow, in what he’d begun to call his “American dream” of making a movie here.

“What was my doing?” I asked.

“The delays in the deal,” he said. “Between MGM and Dimension. Why it took so long was because you wanted them to pay you.”

“Pay me?”

“For the rights to your book.”

There it was. The lie. Laid out across the corner booth like a dead and stinking carcass.

“That’s not true,” I said. “In fact—and David will back me up here—it’s the polar opposite of the truth.”

David Wally was nodding.

I told Hideo about the months of extending the option on the property. All for free. One thirty day period after the next, just to keep whatever leverage I had. The only leverage I had. That I had continued offering MGM and Dimension free rights to my book in order to give us time to convince them to green light movie we’d worked so hard to develop.

“So you gave them the book for free?” confirmed Hideo.

“It was the only play I had,” I said. “If they paid me off, they could fire me. Which, in the end, is what they did.”

“So you didn’t hold the movie hostage?”

“Not a chance,” I said. “Somebody told you or your agent a lie in order to drive a wedge between us.”

“The thing you told me. They think I’m your Japanese puppet.”

“You’re my friend. And, as far as I’m concerned, the only director of my movie.”

This is where Hideo told us about his recent meeting at Dimension. The very first meeting on True Believers without David Wally or myself.

“They want changes to the script,” said Hideo. “I told them I’d worked a very long time on the script with you and I was very happy with the result. That as far as I was concerned the script was done.”

“How did you leave it?” David asked.

“They asked me to think about the changes,” said Hideo. “And I said that I would.”

“I wish I could help you, pal,” I said. “But they paid me off then fired my fat ass. It’s up to you.”

“And if I tell them no?” he asked.

Neither David Wally nor I had an answer. We’d been effectively sidelined, shown the door, and handed our hats all at once.

We hugged it out and moved on. It eventually got back to me that someone in Hideo’s camp had assured Dimension that once I was removed from the equation, Hideo would roll over and agree to whatever changes the new studio wanted to affect. Imagine their surprise when they found out that, all along, Hideo Nakata had backbone. That he wasn’t controlled by some over-opinionated writer. That he was motivated entirely by the movie he’d set out to direct. Whoops.

And with a succinct yet polite “no thankyou,” Hideo withdrew from the movie.

I’d like to say the three amigos each went their separate ways. But while True Believers was being tossed back and forth between MGM and Dimension, Arnold Rifkin, Bruce Willis, and David Wally had roped me to work with another foreign director on the movie Hostage. Hideo later confessed that he was terribly miffed that I’d moved on to a green lit movie while he was left adrift in Los Angeles without a film project to anchor him.

As good or bad luck would have it, Dreamworks parted ways with their director only five weeks from photography on The Ring 2. Hideo was offered the job and said yes. Two years later, over lunch, Hideo confessed to me that it was a mistake jumping on to such a troubled production. As director he had even less control over the end product than anything he’d ever experienced.

“The studio would send me new pages over night,” said Hideo. “I had no idea what I was shooting. It was an awful, terrible nightmare.”

“Like one of your Japanese horror films?” I asked.

“Worse,” Hideo laughed.

I had to ask him why, after all we’d been through with MGM and Dimension, why he’d agree to such an impossible situation.

“I was afraid I’d return to Japan without having made my American movie,” he said flatly, but dead honest. “I didn’t want my American dream to die.”

I eventually broached the subject of True Believers. Nothing had come of it and the rights had not just reverted back to MGM. But since the studio’s sale to Sony, my best guess was that the new management hadn’t a notion that they owned the property.

“Maybe we could resurrect it,” I offered. “We could get David Wally, walk into Sony, and tell ‘em a story. The three amigos ride again.”

Hideo laughed a little more. Then turned momentarily somber.

True Believers… I love that script very much,” said Hideo. “But it’s like bad magic to me.”

“Bad mojo?”

“Yes. That’s it. Bad mojo. Too much bad luck for me with that movie. It would give me too much pain to return.”

I understood him. Respected him. But I was still sad that we couldn’t return to the script we’d so lovingly labored over.

“Never say never,” I said to Hideo.

“Okay,” he laughed. “Never say never. Maybe one day when the hurt is all gone.”

Because Dimension never produced a movie version of True Believers, per its agreement with MGM, they were forced to forfeit a significant portion of their profits on their Amityville coproduction. So maybe the Lion had the last roar after all.

Hideo Nakata has yet to make another American film. He does, though, continue to make excellent movies in his native language.

Doug Richardson
Doug Richardson
Author and screenwriter. Books: THE LUCKY DEY THRILLERS: BLOOD MONEY, 99 PERCENT KILL, AND REAPER, THE SAFETY EXPERT, AND THE SMOKING GUN. Movies: HOSTAGE, BAD BOYS, DIE HARD 2.
  • This series of blog posts had really taken the feelings all over the board. It’s disheartening- especially since I started reading the script- that this movie never happened.
    It would have been amazing, especially with Hideo directing… but hey, good news: Hollywood would just rather stick to shitty remakes…

    • Sadly yes. There remain in primarily pre-digested, easier to market redo mode. That’s why the indie world is so important. With all the new platforms and democratizing of the film world, it’s the outside that will eventually shake up and change the inside.

      • Seems smart audiences are reaching tipping point with being ignored by Hollywood. Pissed enough to revolt with their wallets even! You, Hideo and David should get this on Kickstarter someday! I’d get behind it 🙂 Less money maybe but no studio meddling – gotta be worth it. Ps. Thanks for the best series of blog posts ever. Ever.

  • A sad ending. Thanks for sharing this adventure with us, Doug. I wish Hideo’s experience had been a better one. And that your movie had been made. I wonder what that “never say never” might lead to!

  • Thanks for sharing this, Doug. I read the script and thought it was great. Sad to see such a great director and good guy deal with such disappointment. Also a good lesson in how sometimes you just can’t control all this politics stuff. I do hope you two get to make a film together.

    • There’s always hope, Stacy. Something I’m never in short supply of.

  • Lisa Vandiver

    It really breaks my heart for a couple of reasons to hear stories like that. One because it apparently left Hildo with a bad thought about Americans, and two; if the publishing companies like MGM and Dimensions can do that to someone like you and Mr. Wally who have experience and history with Hollywood, that doesn’t give nobodies like me who write screenplays with big dreams in their heads. 🙁 Still though,I’ll keep writing and have that big dream. Thanks for sharing your stories, they keep writers like me grounded in realism.

    • Lisa. Simple advice. Dream big but keep your feet grounded in reality. Otherwise, you won’t ever acquire skills enough to navigate.

  • Cortez Law III

    I echo Cara and Jenna. How do you know who’s for you and who’s against you? I get why so many of the above-the-line elements of the film business tend to stick with those they’ve worked with before. I think I understand more about how important networking with those of like mindedness is. I hope he doesn’t give up on another shot in America and it may take a true believer amongst the powers that be for ‘True Believer’ to make it to a cineplex near us all someday. Hey, ever think about giving that lottery-sized check back to MGM and Dimension? Okay, okay, laugh with me AND laugh at me, Doug. Until next post.

    • Familiarity is king in every business. People like to work with who they’ve worked with before… especially if it’s been a successful endeavor. Couldn’t give the check back if I wanted to.

  • Thomas Ballard

    I was looking at the first pages of your True Believers script and noticed you have huge blocks of text. In David Trottier’s script book, he says never to do this, to keep it lean. What are your thoughts on this?

    • Yes. Keep it lean and easy to read. Then as the script is optioned, revised, and eases closer to production with elements added for the director and other departments, it often begins to take on the look that you see in the posted draft. Thanks Thomas.

  • paul

    Wow. Just had surgery this past week and I’m still pretty dazed from anesthesia and such…, the conclusion to this series leaves me with somewhat the same feeling! What a strange ride this deal must’ve been! Hope the movies gets made sometime, Doug.

    • Hey Paul. In fact, that might be the new watermark for blog writing. To make you feel like you just woke up from an anesthetic coma.

  • Clive

    I liked part five. I’ve always thought theres a movie in this writer screwed over malarky, where the writer ‘hits” everyone one who’s ever greased him.But he uses a scenario and his sceenwriting talents to affect the hits. Pop.”Send me a note”.

    The guy who wrote the wine movie didn’t even get a seat at the oscars when it was nominated. Now that was cruel.

    We could never get these people in real life, but maybe on paper.

  • Wow, what an exhausting roller-coaster of a ride. You must have skin made of Kevlar to survive so much backstabbing in the Hollywood world…

    Catherine Ryan Hyde, author of the famous “Pay It Forward” novel and resulting movie, once told me that if a novel is ever optioned and then the movie is made, that the author should run all the way to the bank, and let the movie studio and entourage do what they want with the script. Money thus earned is a paycheck to live on, and authors gotta eat, too – just not each other, like in the dog-eat-dog world of Hollywood. 🙂 Great blog! I look forward to every post.

    • Appreciated Dianne. And my skin isn’t made of Kevlar. It’s constructed from naugahyde and horse feathers.

  • James Hornsby

    It’s sad to see that true genius has to be relegated to those nameless shills that handle the business end of Show Business. Its tragic. Not to mention that communication today is imperative especially with those you enjoy working with. Great story. Thanks.

    • Dunno about true genius. But those with the correct vision are often relegated into the cheap seats in favor of others with greater leverage. Same goes for most other industries, James.

      • James Hornsby

        Thanks Doug, It reminds me more of The Agony and the Ecstasy vs. The Player.

  • Ah, the importance of giving people you know the benefit of the doubt. Glad you were able to reconcile with Hideo.

    Everything in life comes down to the people. I’ve watched businesses go under because they forgot. Thanks for reaching out to us with your blog.

  • cahuenga

    Wow, that’s a jawdropper, Doug. Beautifully written, and devastating. When it comes to lethal intrigues, the Borgias have nothing on these characters. Machiavelli could learn a thing or two.

    I’m not a very “religious” person, but I’ve always believed that art, literature, music, etc., are man’s way of trying to “touch God,” that is, to rise above our temporal frailties and access the transcendent. I think that’s why people go to see certain movies, and why good movies affect us so deeply. Going to the movies is the closet thing that most of us will ever have to a spiritual experience. That’s why they’re important. And it’s the creative people in the industry–i.e., the writers, artists, musicians, etc.–who make it a transcendent experience.

    Some of the best writers, artists, and musicians in the world work in the film industry. The Mozarts and Michelangelos of today are all in Hollywood. There’s more talent per square foot than any other city on the planet. Yet, it can be the most maddening place in the world, because in no other place is art and brilliance so often scuttled on the rocks of cutthroat brinksmanship. It’s ironic how an industry that creates such magical dreams is so often driven by soulless greed, fear, and an egomaniacal need for control at all costs. It’s kind of breathtaking when you bump up against that.

    I guess the only way to remain sane in Hollywood is not to take any of it too personally. But it can sure make your head spin.

    Thanks again, Doug, for the great column. Always a joy to read.

    • You said a lot there, Cahuenga. And very moving. Can’t put myself in the “great artist” category. But I appreciate sharing their air.

  • Schloog

    Head, meet wall. Rinse, repeat.

  • LK Toepfer

    Wait – perchance is there a silver lining in all this?? You and Hideo seemed to have parted friends. The script is still there. At some point, I assume in the contract it reverts back to you (the rights, maybe?). Mostly the wheelers and dealers have their heads up their….well, ahem, you know…….but then something comes around again…the loser finally wins, only it’s sweeter from the obstacles they have overcome? (OK, sue me, I’m a softie optimistic at heart….)

    • Reversion is a bit more complicated. Then there’s turnaround. And the personalities attached. I would love to reinterest Hideo. But that would require much clarifying to the other issues. And the time to do so.

  • Mary Lynn Mabray

    I could see it coming from the first post, Doug. You
    did not disappoint me. 🙂 I am certain we all felt your
    frustration.

    The silver lining in the entire experience is the level of
    respect developed by the “three amigos”. Can’t buy it,
    can’t bottle it..,.has to be earned. Which amigo are
    you btw…Chevy, Steve or Martin? 🙂

    Someday…when I time I will have to tell you about my
    experience, some years back, with The Mouse. Equally
    as mind boggling. I learned the hard way that a knife can
    penetrate Kevlar. I now wear a steel breast plate. Doesn’t
    do my “come hither” figure any good but it deflects sharp
    objects pretty darn well. 🙂

    Stay cool, Doug and keep “em” coming.

    Warm thoughts your way.
    ML

    • Thanks ML. Which Amigo am I? Well Chevy had a long, winding substance abuse issue. Martin lost his wife horribly and way to young. Steve couldn’t commit until recently, only choosing to rear his child at the young age of sixty something. Happy to be me.

  • Rachel Metzger

    Wow… what a story! Agree with the many other newbies/wannabe screenwriters outside of Hollywood – these stories are an eye-opener. A primer. Hollywood Survival 101. Or … 401. Thanks for sharing.

    BTW, I’ve discovered the secret to reading your multi-part stories. Resist the temptation to start, and wait until ALL parts are posted… then pour a couple of fingers of a good a scotch, sit back, and boil. : )

    • Nice, Rachel. Maybe I’ll join you next time for just the scotch.

  • Moira Leeper

    Stab. Heart. Ow. Ow.

  • Wow. I’m relatively new to the site and just read all five parts back to back.

    I need a drink…

    How none of the Three Amigos in the story ever shot someone or ended up in rehab over this tale amazes me.

    One question; while Hideo was in the states the whole time trying to get the film made was he spending his own or money or was the studio? If he paid for everything out of his own pocket while being drug around the under-belly of Hollywood I’d be pretty pissed if I was him.

  • Now, I must read the whole series. Thank you for your insights into your journey with that script and more importantly with those partners. Having spent 18 years in Tokyo, gives me an insight into some of your friend’s feels (that I’m sure you had as well). Now, watching the ?greenlight? process in LA as films are optioned, understand what a tortured process it is.

  • oops feelings

  • Doug,

    Enjoy your stories from the trenches immensely. I think you could compile and connect them all into a tell-all book, but you’d have to reveal names, so maybe it’s too early?

    The corporatization of America has poisoned the full spectrum of art and culture. We’re circling the drain…

    Thanks for sharing.