“Well, I saw the script proposal and it was a go from there. No problem getting the rights to the whole thing. Which was a godsend, because this is going to be big. Moviegoers are going to be thrilled and several of us will wind up monstrously rich. You only get to carry a sanctified torch once if you’re lucky, and I feel lucky.”
So says Egg Bradley White, producer of the upcoming Cannonball Run movie, slated for December 1999 release. Tentatively subtitled Road Rage, this third installment in the popular series should prove a charm. Says White, “If you’re talking classic American films – the kind that penetrate your subconscious and stick with you – you have to acknowledge Cannonball Run and its sequel as quintessential. I mean, who hasn’t seen it and loved it and returned to it many, many times? In a sense, you’re missing a large part of American culture if you haven’t internalized what’s going on in those movies, both on the literal and symbolic levels. And this third one should be the real bomb. It’s been an incredible wait, no? Some fifteen years? There’s a lot to digest in those first two flicks, but by now, I think everyone’s ready for the next chapter in a fantastic story.”
White put everything in motion after a brainstorming session with oddball film enthusiast Mitch Crystal, who had the initial idea to continue the CBR movies. The first task was to insure the presence of Burt Reynolds and Dom DeLuise in the cast, which apparently wasn’t too difficult. (“It’s not like Burt’s holding out for Striptease 2,” quips White.) Then Crystal’s script proposal was shopped around to various studios before it became evident that this wasn’t to be a major-studio picture. “I think everyone was afraid of how good an idea this was,” notes Crystal. “Let’s say someone suggested a sequel to Citizen Kane. Would you really be ballsy enough to say yeah, we can do this? So, in a way, it was unfair to put all these name studios on the spot like that.” Thus, Funnelcake Pictures was soon founded “over margaritas and some lucky stock dividends,” says Crystal. “Then we decided Egg would take over production. He’s the kind of guy who dives in and really gets sh*t done. It freed me up to focus on even more arcane behind the scenes things.”
Along with Reynolds and DeLuise, CBR3 will feature Ned Beatty, Bill Pullman, Marilu Henner, Jamie Farr, Chris Tucker, Jackie Chan, and the voice of Charles Nelson Reilly. “American icons all,” enthuses Crystal. Other major names will take part, but White and Crystal are mum for now. “It’ll be nearly everyone from before, except that fruit MacLaine, and we’ll have some new faces, too. That’s where Pullman and Tucker come in, filling some of the space unfortunately left by Bert Convy. And Sammy. And Dean.” Crystal mentions these names in a choked voice.
Egg White tapped on veterans Mike Branham and Jules Overbey for script work. “Mike is a good friend of mine, a very good writer. Then we got Jules involved, because he’s got a strange technique, using a lot of subliminal stuff. For example, in his last script, if you took the third letter of each line of dialogue, you got a secret message. Or he’ll have a character spurt out a line that doesn’t make any sense at all, but if you run it backward, it says so-and-so gets killed in the next scene. Stuff like that.” For director, White and Crystal both agreed on relative newcomer James Ripdale, of whom little is known in the industry. (Other production roles are being assigned as this article goes to press; Moviescape will shed as much light as possible on any future information regarding CBR3.)
Any blockbuster released this year is bound to draw comparison to a certain George Lucas film, but White is unfazed. “All that pre-Star Wars hype is really just hype. I mean, who gives a sh*t about the whole thing? Sure, big opening day, the starships, electronic swordfighting, whatever. Come June, who’ll give a crap, y’know? Darth Bad Guy and so forth – ho hum. By December, the public will be craving something more substantial, and that’s going to be our flick.” What about the utter lack of interest in Speed Zone!, which was essentially the third Cannonball Run movie? “Ah, well, it wasn’t a sequel. It was Speed Zone! You don’t go changing the goddamned name. You call it Godfather 2 or Ghostbusters 2 or Rocky 2 and this is f*cking Cannonball Run 3.”
A chat with director James Ripdale reveals an ambitious young film school dropout who has the straight to video thriller Magpie Brunch as his whole resume. “There are some directors who are completely over the top and shoot with no regard for artistic or financial concerns. I am one of those directors. I don’t give a twig how much is spent or who we get to do what – not my concerns. I’m here to make a film. We’re putting everything in this movie. It’ll be completely over the top. There’ll be so much wacked-out stuff in this film that I told Egg we should charge double price for tickets. This is blitzkrieg, clusterfunk, damn-it-all filmmaking, and it’ll freaking show when people see it.”
Ripdale remained effusive when I caught up with him on location after he spent another day leading “impro-hearsals.” “We just shoot everything. We had the guys in cars, talking, just riffing around. We had people eating and yelling and repeating each other’s lines. We shot Pullman standing on a box, talking to someone. Crazytime. We put anything wacked-out in front of the cameras and roll, we shoot people standing on crates and riffing. Sitting on the hoods of cars. Sometimes we’ll shoot for an hour and then just throw it away without even looking at it. We’ve chunked miles of unseen footage, just toss it, it’s all good. Wacked out. When the rewrites come, we’ll knock that stuff out in a day. Two tops. Then we’ll pull sh*t from the trash and thread it up and splice it in anywhere and it’ll work. Just random stuff. This film is so good it can make itself.” So no schedules or deadlines on shooting? “Never. Just wake up and get to work – y’know, get Reynolds and let’s do something crazy. And one day, we’ll all just know when it’s complete. The story, the performances, the whole vibe is so strong that you could get a chimp to cut the movie and it’d still be outstanding. A wacked-out chimp could edit the f*cker, using good takes and dropping in random sh*t from the garbage can – Dom peeing on a volleyball - you’d still get the movie of the decade. We’re shooting all that sh*t.”
Project supervisor Mitch Crystal notes the production’s progress with a smile. “It’s a dream come true, or shall we say some ill-advised whimsy come horrifying reality. But I can’t think of a more exciting project to have started.” And it sounds like things will only get more exciting throughout 1999. “We’ve timed it so that Cannonball Run fever will be quite high in November. We may eventually say that this was the most anticipated movie of the twentieth century. And probably the most talked-about in the early twenty-first.” Will the franchise continue beyond this installment? “Oh, certainly. A safe bet. This one will be the gateway to the most adventurous Cannonballs yet.” A bold promise from a man of already extraordinary vision. Fans of the Cannonball concept will have much to chat about in the coming months, and Moviescape will keep readers abreast of all developments. We’re sure there will be many.
With two major actors gone, two other actors disgruntled, and numerous stunt cars hijacked or stolen, one might expect Cannonball Run 3’s producer Egg Bradley White to be a little worried. “Nonsense, it’s all part of making a movie of this caliber. We’re only four million dollars over budget so far, and that’s not the half of it.” Meaning? “We may be nine million over.”
Production rolls on despite the hospitalization of Ned Beatty, who was playing a law enforcement officer. Details of the incident were sketchy when first reported, but assistant cameraman Keb Pournelle now relates the full story: “We’d completed a scene outside this gas station, it was like the first ten minutes of usable film we’d gotten in a couple weeks. So [director James] Ripdale calls a halt to production, he’s got Egg on the phone, booking a whole floor at a Hilton so we can celebrate. It turned into this ten-day party, cast, crew, everyone getting piss stupid. Ned passed out sometime on the fourth day, he’d had a wheelbarrow full of vodka. No one could drive at the time, so we took him to the hospital when we checked out.” Egg Bradley White remains sympathetic. “Poor Ned. He was doing great, but maybe he didn’t have the stamina for this whole thing.” Beatty will not be available for work anytime soon, and it remains to be seen whether his few filmed moments will make the final cut.
Less shocking is Marilu Henner’s voluntary decision to walk the picture. White is political in discussing it, perhaps hoping to have her rejoin the cast, but Henner’s press statement was less than rosy. “There was no script, no plot, no direction provided by anyone whatsoever. It was like working with a bunch of twelve year old boys. Mountains of money spent on things totally unrelated to the movie. We’d take days off after setting a light or getting three actors in the same room together. Hollywood excess at its worst.” After the departure, White sent her a million dollars to “keep mum” about production. Henner laughs. “Mum about what? It’s all water balloons and booze and vacations disguised as location scouting.” White takes her words in stride. “Some broads don’t understand the craft, y’know?”
Star actor Bill Pullman remains in the cast, but it’s the antics of Chris Tucker and Jackie Chan that have made the gossip rooms buzz. “It’s 100 percent party with those two,” says Pournelle. “They’re constantly on the move, flying cross country to dozens of parties, occasionally stopping by to film something. They’re not really in the script, we just point the cameras and they do their thing. Wild guys.” The wild ones have yet to impress the old guard of Burt Reynolds and Dom DeLuise, though. Says Burt, “Just because Dom and I aren’t in high demand on the party circuit doesn’t mean we can’t deliver. We can carry this movie on our own, just like the first two. But I’ll admit you need new blood. The four of us haven’t done any scenes together yet. We’ll see. Maybe we just need to bond somehow, spend a weekend at Dom’s.” Asked for comment on the budding rivalry between old and new, Chris Tucker lets loose an unintelligible flurry of invective and/or admiration. A quick conversation with Jackie Chan is even less revealing. “Yes, yes, great,” he says, before whirling into an impromptu spin-kick and hopping into a waiting limousine. Time will tell if the four-way chemistry comes to fruition.
For the time being, the production has settled into an abandoned gymnasium in the Van Nuys area, with frequent outings for locations scenes. The gym sports a hastily assembled soundstage, an editing and control room, a dizzying array of lights and cars, and seventeen stocked refrigerators. (“We had to buy a few of those multi-outlet thingies,” notes production assistant Bob Drews.) Moviescape reporter Seth Waterstone recently spent an afternoon at Cannonball Central and sent his observations to this author via email:
“Some loon at the door asks for press credentials but passes out before I can show him. Inside it’s chaos. The director had gone out on location with a couple of actors, and everyone else was left to fend for themselves. Just chaos. Burt Reynolds running around with a satchel of water balloons, lighting techs trying to blind each other. There’s a grip swinging from some cable in the rafters. Several cars are running, radios blaring, thank god for the cracked gym windows. In the center of it all, Dom DeLuise is holding court for about twenty hangers-on, cooking salmon on a gas grill and prompting waves of laughter with his ribald soliloquies. Then, with great fanfare, Chris Tucker and Jackie Chan show up, already carrying cocktails. Tucker hops in a sports car and does that thing with his head to the music. A couple of guys scramble to start filming. Jackie Chan runs around the gym like a madman, kicking and flailing, an AC running behind him with a Steadicam. Dom doesn’t like his audience being distracted, so he does an obscene puppet show with some raw fish.
“All of this continues for a while, then Tucker gets out the car, screaming into his cell phone, running for the door, shouting for Jackie. Apparently they have a plane to catch for Miami, what with it being house party season down there. So those two disappear, and then the grip who thinks he’s a trapeze artist falls right on top of Dom. Dom’s people think it’s part of the act, but they start fighting for real. Reynolds cools them off with a few well-aimed balloons. Some guy hands me this piece of paper and says “hang on to the script for a moment,” but it’s not really a script, just a single coffee-stained page that says “Cars...dammit Captain Chaos. Crazy Shots.” After eating a plate of fish, I went back to the hotel.”
Barring any unforeseen disasters, Moviescape hopes that Waterstone will send more reports from the front.
The making of any great film goes through varying stages of progress, but the seeming lack of any hard achievements yet with Cannonball Run 3 raises the question of the release date. Egg Bradley White is hardly worried. “It’s all there on Christmas, baby, every damned frame. Most of the movie is shot already, we just need to snip it together. For tidying up the rough spots, there’s always digital editing and so forth. We’ve got footage of Jackie Chan running around a gym. Great. We can insert that anywhere, or drop it in front of a projected backdrop, or come up with some stuff on a computer. Hell, we can put that twit Henner in the movie whether she likes it or not. There are some seventy hours of rough film lying around. We’re golden.”
Finally, any comments on The Phantom Menace or its box office pull? “Oh, jeez. I went to see the Star Wars thing, only because I don’t want to alienate myself from my peers. Ten minutes in, I threw up on the floor. I mean, come on. Lucas has the bank now, but it’s not December yet. You can’t compare what we’re going to do, artistically or financially, with that piece of twaddle.” So the belief in Cannonball Run’s all-pervading cultural dominance is still alive? “Of course! Why else would we be going through with it?”
A shocking announcement last week set the film industry on its ear: Cannonball Run 3 director James Ripdale has disappeared along with a 141-minute cut of the long awaited movie. Ripdale was en route to New York City via helicopter for a private screening when he exited the helicopter quite suddenly. Pilot Milv Espian relates the incident: “We were coming in over the water, and Ripdale is looking at the coastline, I guess he’s imagining a shot or whatever, and he says slow down there Milv, and I say okay, and then he’s shoving stuff around in the back of the bird, and he pulls up these metal cases with the film I guess, and then he drops them, and then he jumps out.” Espian watched director and film cases drop into the Atlantic. “In retrospect, it wasn’t so weird that he boarded the chopper wearing a wetsuit.” This information set all sorts of conspiracy theories in motion, the most likely of which involves the director’s planned control-takeover of the film.
CBR3 had finished shooting in early November, after which the cast and crew flew to New Zealand for a final week-long celebration. (Cannonball Central, the converted gymnasium in Van Nuys that served as a main shooting location, mysteriously burned to the ground the next day.) All that remained in post-production was the computerized special effects, the insertion of Charles Nelson Reilly’s voice loops, and serious editing, all of which was completed in secrecy by the end of the month. However, differing opinions of how the film was edited grew quickly, according to producer Egg Bradley White.
“We had whittled it down to nine hours of prime stuff, and Ripdale was keen to take it in one direction and me in another. I said I’d like to cut this film, because it was so close to my heart, and I was going in and working three-hour days to get it into shape. Then Ripdale would come in and undo everything I’d worked on. We eventually had it out and I set him straight on who was in control. I said, look, you can cut the fourth picture out of whatever I don’t use, and he agreed to that. So I finished it up, we screened it for ourselves and it looked great. I sent him to New York to show a couple of other folks. That’s the last I saw of him.”
With a Christmas day release date staring him in the face, White has “hit all the panic buttons. Obviously we’re not going to make it by then. There are two ways out, and one involves Ripdale calling me from wherever the hell he is and reasoning with me. Then we can get the original cut out. Or, I’ve still got several hours of footage that would make another great movie. In fact, I called Chris Tucker to see if he wanted to sit in on a round of editing, but he was ensconced in the next Rush Hour. So I’m putting wheels in motion, no pun intended, trying to get the Cannonball fans something to watch.” Perhaps the bravura method of filming almost wholly by the seat of everyone’s pants led to the clashes? “Well, it was a great approach for getting spontaneity out of the actors, but it’s true that there was no script used whatsoever in filming and everyone developed their own idea of what the finished item would be. James was part of that, so I should have taken his thoughts into account. But since he is such a loon – a drunk, lawbreaking, certifiably wacko loonbag with mediocre talent – I had no plans to involve him in post.” White pauses. “It’s all sort of depressing, but it’s the kind of thing that happens all the time in this business. We’re just the ones who get the publicity, ‘cause it’s such a big event.”
Reached for comment, Burt Reynolds was angry (“It was my best work since Sharky’s, really”), Marilu Henner laughed, and Chris Tucker can’t remember actually taking part, although he does remember a dinner party at Dom DeLuise’s house. Fan reaction has been surprisingly muted; only one of the six Americans who bought advance tickets in October expressed any response (“It kinda bites”). Egg Bradley White has taken all the disappointment in sedated stride and remains committed to releasing a CBR3 in the near future.
“It may be early 2000. These things happen. I know it’s a big holiday letdown for millions of people but we’ll work to come up with something even better. We’ve got hours of stuff – don’t worry, people. Let me do all the panicking and give you the epic you’ll love. The only thing that went wrong was setting an unrealistic release date...that and not locking up the director in an asylum after he finished shooting. No biggie, it’ll happen, it’s not like I’m millions of dollars in debt or anything...” White suddenly goes silent, eyes moist.
As for the whereabouts and intentions of one James Ripdale, no information is yet available. “If he didn’t like the final cut, he didn’t have to steal or destroy it,” notes Reynolds. “He could have just ‘misplaced’ it or something. There must be more up that fool’s sleeve.” Until that or any other news comes to light, this faithful chronicler will wait on behalf of the anxious filmgoing public with bated breath and crossed fingers.
I wrote these 'articles' sometime in 1998-9 and recently unearthed them...thought I would share...
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