Before becoming Madrid by adoption, JD Shapiro (United States, 51 years old) was a screenwriter without a godfather in the very nepotic Hollywood. He managed to carve out a small niche for himself in the industry by working alongside Mel Brooks, a late-night comedy genius, in The crazy, crazy adventures of Robin Hood (1993). Until the Church of Scientology asked him to write the script for Battlefield: Earth (2000), adaptation of one of the novels of the founder of the considered sect, L. Ron Hubbard. The crazy science fiction film starring John Travolta topped the lists of the worst films in the history of cinema from the day it was released. This Friday, the American will give a talk about the story behind the script that has been pursuing him for more than 20 years, as a guest of CutreCon. The malo film festival offers meetings and screenings in the halls of the mk2 Ice Palace between March 19 and 21. Shapiro talks about it at one of the tables at the San Ginés chocolate shop, from where he likes to write his new projects.
Question: CutreCon has been programming lousy movies for 10 editions. Why do you think there is a quota of the public that enjoys it?
Answer: It is something that I also consider. We all make mistakes in our life. Even when we do something with the best of intentions, it can end fatally. I guess these movies remind us that there are also others who tried hard at something and the result was shit.
“To prepare the script, I watched a lot of Nazi documentaries. I did not want to fall into propaganda ”.
P: You have never considered yourself close to Scientology, why do you think you were offered to write the script for Battlefield: Earth?
R: I think they wanted a professional writer to put together the structure of a script and then hand it over to a mercenary who could add all the changes they asked for. What you see in the movie is not what I wrote. I got off the project and what remains is what Corey Mandell did from my text.
P: How was your meeting with the leaders of the Church?
R: In my first meetings, I told them that there were many things in the book that were not working and that they needed to be changed. I thought they were going to kick me out of the room right then and there, but they didn’t. They told me they understood that Ron was not a professional writer. Missed me.
P: And when did everything go wrong?
R: To prepare for work, I watched a lot of Nazi documentaries. Precisely because I wanted to avoid propaganda in my story. I created a dark tale in which John Travolta was to be the hero. But the studio sent me a series of changes that were nonsense, with antagonists that were ridiculous cartoons. I never knew if it was his ideas or Scientology.
P: It was quite caustic of him to pick up the Razzie twice, the anti-Oscar for worst screenplay and worst movie of the decade. Did you suffer the consequences after taking on a powerful religious organization and the big Hollywood studios?
R: I tried to sign the script with a pseudonym, but the writers union won’t allow it if you’ve received a certain amount of money for the project. My friends didn’t want to go out to eat with me in case a sniper got me out of the way (laughs). But at the time I met David Miscavige, the president of Scientology, and he’s a pretty short guy who comes through my nose and talks like Donald Duck (laughs again as he mimics). The industry got me into what we call there hollywood jail. It’s that place where you become invisible after having a big box office failure or being wayward. But there have been such talented people as for example Mel Brooks. When I worked with him in the 90s he was disowned.
“It’s funny how conservative governments are so provided and then they want to kill us all in this health crisis with their few restrictions. “
P: One time, Stan Lee said about you on twitter that he was still her friend despite having signed that movie.
R: In Hollywood you have the opportunity to meet many of your heroes, who turn out to be disappointing people. That was not the case with Stan. He was like a father figure to me. He allowed me to work for years on various projects with him after everything that had happened to me. One of them was about senior superheroes meeting in a nursing home, but it didn’t go through because it’s an industry that hates the aging.
P: He has been living in Madrid for a while. How did it end here?
R: My ex-wife is Spanish. We lived in Los Angeles, but we started spending time here for her work reasons. I fell in love with the way of life in this city and, with the arrival of the confinement, I decided to spend it here instead of in the United States.
P: Have you had more freedom here these months than you would have in your country?
R: My friends in Los Angeles have not been in a restaurant for almost a year. In contrast, those of Texas have hardly experienced restrictions, because their governor is crazy. It’s funny how conservative governments are so pro-life and then want to kill us all in this health crisis. His hypocrisy knows no bounds.
P: Do you have projects here?
R: One day, walking through Malasaña, I came across the statue of that girl with a book in her hand [la famosa Julia de la calle del Pez, creada por Antonio Santín]. Then I learned about the legend around her, that of a girl who disguised herself as a boy so that she could go to university in 19th century Madrid, and I am creating a short film about it called My name is.
P: Do you know the building that Scientology has in Madrid? It was inaugurated in its day by Tom Cruise.
R: When I visit other countries, I usually enter their headquarters and introduce myself as the man who wrote Battlefield: Earth. At first they look at me like I’m kidding. When they realize that they are not, the workers at the center make a very worried gesture, as if asking: What do you want from us?
Information: Battlefield: Earth with the presence of JD Shapiro. When: Friday, March 19 at 7:00 p.m. Where: mk2 Ice Palace. (Silvano Street, 77). Price: 6.5 euros.