Gather round kids, gather round. Ok, so clearly if you’ve clicked on this link you obviously recognize my name from all the marquees, and the awards, and the articles, yadda, yadda, yadda. This ain’t my autobiography; we all know me and my reputation as “Hollywood’s grittiest director.” For the record, I never gave myself that title, or the nickname “Bloody Cam.” But yes, ok, that’s me. That’s not why I’m here though. Paste didn’t bring me in for more fluff you can read in any of the rags in the checkout lane. Nah, what you’re gettin’ is the authentic Cameron Petti behind the scenes tour of the mud pit called La-la Land. You might think that makin’ movies is one big party, full of cocaine, beautiful women, and no responsibilities. Well, it ain’t. Look, I’m not gonna bullshit you, there is some cocaine, but mostly, it’s a lot of hard work, right from the start!
Now, you look at my IMDB page and you see hit after hit and you start to think that everything I touch turns to gold. Thanks for the well wishes, but it’s not quite so easy. In fact, hate to break it to you, but 80% of movies pitched are never made. There rae a dozen different reasons; the pitch was weak, there already is a movie out like it, the financers get cold feet, I’ve seen ‘um all. And while it doesn’t happen to me too often any more, there have been many projects of mine that never got off the ground, mostly due to cowardice on the part of the Hollyweird execs. Actually, pretty exclusively because of their incompetence. In fact, here you go, here’s a couple of my favorite ideas that those blobfishes in the valley didn’t have the balls to produce:
1. Synthetic Crime, 1974
There are two distinct chapters to American movie making: before The Godfather, and after it, and even two years later, the higher ups were salivating at the thought of having the next big mafia hit. Of course, they had such tunnel vision that they couldn’t even see their own butts if they were served to them on a silver platter, let alone box office magic.
That meant that when I came to them with what could have been the next Godfather, they said no right out the gate. The idiots couldn’t look outside the box and see the potential in shinning a spotlight on the gritty underworld of wig making. It’s not in any of your history books, but the entire industry is one big crooked, crime riddled racket. Trust me. The story was right there: the drama, the passion, the intricacies of manufacturing hairpieces at a commercial scale; it was a license to print Oscars. It was my first big failure after coming to Hollywood, and it’s a sting that I resent to this day.
2. The Delicatessen, 1979
Man, the ‘70s, that feels like a thousand years ago. Back then, I was lean, mean, and hungry for work. I was haunting the studio lots, throwing anything at the wall, hoping it’d stick. My personal favorite from those frantic, crazy years was The Delicatessen, a harrowing tale about a simple, blue collar New York man, pushed to the brink of sanity by a world that doesn’t understand him. It was a real love letter to the dirty New York that I grew up in. You kids don’t get what it was like back then; it was very rough. Trust me. The movie climaxes with this unnamed protagonist just letting loose, becoming a vigilante, and reigning down vengeance on the crime ridden streets with the only tools at his disposal: cured meat. Sausages, salamis, bologna, all used as tools to reclaim the streets. The movie’s unflinching, graphic depiction of a honey ham used as a weapon would have shocked some sense in the American public, trust me when I tell you that.
Goddamn did I have a killer’s instinct back then about projects. This one woulda kicked those Oscar schmucks in the balls. If only they gave me a chance. Eh, I showed them, amirite?
3. The Loosing-tania, 1982
First of all, that title was the idea of my first wife and then editor of my movies, Sharon Smythe. We had just gotten off our second Oscar nomination and first best picture win for The Wind Screams Softly and were pretty wiped. I was also feeling pretty pigeon-holed by my burgeoning reputation as a “gritty” director, so when screenwriter (and future Oscar winner in his own right) Todd Goldfreight came to me with this idea for a fun, playful romp on the decks of the RMS Lusitania, I jumped at it.
It was quickly clear, however, that the money men had no interest in funding a period musical farce about a deckhand, his best friend the captain, their romances with two sisters/traveling perfume saleswomen, the saleswomen’s scheming mother, the mom’s rich new husband, a B plot about a drunk engineer attempting to scam a French aristocrat out of his estate, and an all out, no holds bar dance extravaganza in the second act, all set, of course, in front of the backdrop of World War One.
At least, not with me at the helm. The narrow minded bastards. Those Academy douches love a good period piece; we could have cut out the middle man and just made an Oscar statue rather than a movie, but, hey, that’s just my opinion.
4. Sprung Icarus: The Victor Ronsburg Story, 1988
People always ask me how I pick what movies to do, and I always tell them, “I don’t pick movies, I pick people.” More than any fancy premise, or flashy storytelling device that people waggle in front of my face, I am drawn to fascinating people. People such as former nationally ranked trampoline gymnast Victor Ronsburg.
His time in the sun as a competitive trampoline superstar during the early to mid ‘80s and subsequent fall from grace for alleged trampoline tampering captivated the country, as well as my imagination. I interviewed him as soon as I could, and Ronsburn did not disappoint. He was, of course, the main resource for the biographical backbone of the film, but equally invaluable was his insight into the whole disgusting system of corruption permeating the entire competitive trampoline community that his scandal brought to light.
The loss of this one hurt real bad; I had grown to know and respect Rosburg and I wanted to do right by him and his story. Unfortunately, I just couldn’t sell it to the Hollywood fat cats, no matter how many Oscars I was willing to promise them. Someday Victor, it may not be me, but someday, your story is gonna be told.
5. Sheboygan Nights, 1995
Picture it: two star crossed lovers, kept apart by the feud between their two warring gangs. A classic Romeo and Juliet story, re-imagined for a contemporary audience. It would simultaneously have the elegance and grace of a world class love story, paired with a darkly humorous exploration of what life in a gang truly was. It had heart, it had stakes, and it had a beautiful backdrop: Sheboygan, Wisconsin. Trust me, if you’ve never been to Sheboygan, book the tickets now; fly into Milwaukee, and Sheboygan is only an hour’s drive from the city center. Sheboygan is an absolutely gorgeous little town with so much personality that it’d practically be another character in the movie. Hole in one, the Oscars would be pouring out of the wazoo.
Got pretty deep into negotiations on this one, almost got Tom Cruise on board as the movie’s lead, Carl. Last second though, funding got pulled; turns out Fargo went into production right before us, wrecked our momentum, and once it premiered, nobody wanted to risk flooding the “upper Midwest crime story” pool, so Sheboygan Nights was officially died on the vine. Damn shame, but to this day I do not regret buying a house in that town. Take a long weekend, you’ll understand what I mean.
6. Screwed the Pooch, 1997
This one was actually adapted from Michal Brownwield’s hit 1985 book by the same name. It’s a really beautifully crafted novel and would have been a nice, taught psychological thriller about a Los Angles stockbroker’s downward spiral into madness as the conniving machinations of his dog make him question his entire life. Here’s the kicker though: that same dog narrates the entire movie; we don’t know good dog from bad. Chills, right? Slam dunk, right? I actually had the film rights to the book for most of the decade and it was a pet project that I would work on whenever I could. Clooney was on board from the start, and Luke Perry was all ready to be the voice of Butch the dog, but man does this town know how to take the air out of things. Once Clooney got locked into Batman and Robin I knew this one just wasn’t meant to be.
Of course Fincher got a hold of the rights in the early ‘00s, adapted it into The Dog House and got an Oscar for the screenplay, which I think goes to show you that we were onto something when we made a go at it.
7. Sandland, 1995
This one was gonna be my opus. I was going to get in on that sweet, sweet blockbuster money and put my kids through college with this sucker. It would have cemented my legacy not only as an auteur director of real, raw films, but also as someone who could deftly helm a huge explosion fest.
Close your eyes for a second and hear me out: You’re transported 100 years into the future, civilization is gone, desolation reigns supreme. Global warming happened already, everything dried out in heat, and the world’s deserts have taken over, covering the entire earth with sand. Now, all that is left are colonies of humans, struggling to survive, using boat-like barges to traverse the wastelands. Enter our hero, a mysterious man who loves the taste of his own piss and gets thrown into a whirlwind adventure when he finds a kid who has a map to the only wetland still left in existence, tattooed on the back of his calves. Our hero has to escape greedy pirates and foil maniacal plots, all while surviving the harsh reality of a world without water. Sounds great, right? Like a coupon for an Oscar, right?
I was about to start filming, and Costner releases Waterworld. That fucker.
8. Hunter’s Game, 2002
I know, I know, this one you’ve probably seen on some “10 Most Misguided Movie Ideas” kinda list, and I know you all think that old man Petti doing a kids movie about anthropomorphic guns was gonna be my big sell-out moment as I fade away into irrelevancy. Well, I’m here to set the record straight and say that I just wanted to make something for my kids. That’s all, nothing seedier than that. They were seven and nine at the time, so I wanted to make something I could share with them.
And look, I’m not saying that Glocky and the rest of the Gun Gang didn’t need some workshopping, but I firmly believe that kids need to know how to successfully handle firearms, and I know kids love cartoons, so putting two and two together really seemed like we could have ridden this one straight to the Oscars, but, hey, it just goes to show you that no matter how many hit movies you make, they’re never going to completely trust you. Eh, screw ‘em.
So, there you go. A couple tales from the crypt. I hope that satisfied some of your curiosity. At least now you’ve got a couple of fun factoids to whip out at your next dinner party. You’re welcome. And make sure you go see The Golden Gate Bridge my new movie coming out October 21st. A mob boss infiltrates the Boston police department so that he can go undercover as an illusionist turned thief whose one last score before he gets out of the business is to use his next big magic trick to actually steal the Golden Gate Bridge. Otherwise, I’ll see you all at the Oscars when I pick up my award.
When he’s not winning Oscars and directing taut, muscular dramas about the pressures of masculinity, Cameron Petti is a writer from Chicago. He’s currently attempting to survive off of freelance theatre work, and hasn’t had to eat too much cat food to achieve this goal. Check out how happy and full of life Cameron is on tumblr and twitter.