Sunday, April 15, 2007

A Great Script Loses Its Way In Hollywood

A Review by Lou Angeli
(New York, NY) Jim Powell retired from FDNY just two years ago to pursue a career in writing. But unlike his famous counterpart, Dennis Smith, who used the'novel' as a vehicle (Report From Engine Co. 82), Powell writes 'screenplays' for motion pictures and television. These days, though, Jim Powell understands that fighting a 9-alarm warehouse fire is a helluva lot easier than selling a screenplay to Hollywood.

I was introduced to Jim a year ago by a mutual contact at ParamountPictures. He was looking to assemble a production team, who understoodthe subject matter of his script, Firefighting. The screenplay, entitled"Smokey" deals with a kidnapping scam gone bad. The story, set in the late1960's, involves an FDNY, veteran -- a good Irish Catholic gent, who is a respected Brooklyn firefighter -- and gay!

And who knows firefighting in Brooklyn better than Jim Powell. Until1995, he commanded FDNY Squad-1, one of two Special Operations Units,that operate as 6-man flying squads, using conventional Class-A pumpers.In addition to its own local alarm district, Squad-1 responds to everyworking fire in the borough.

During his 23-year career, Powell received dozens of commendations andhonors, and was twice decorated for bravery. He began his writing careerwhile still an active firefighter, serving as the Commissioner's speechwriter.

I've read "Smokey" three times now, and as a television producer, I notonly find the story engaging, but it has all of the makings for asuccessful motion picture. Powell treats the sexual preference issue wthtaste, and the storyline appeals to a wide range of audiences. As afirefighter, there's no doubt in my mind, that "Smokey" would be assuccessful as "Backdraft". Fact is, the firefighting scenes would makeRon Howard's eyes sting.So why has Jim had such a hard time persuading Hollywood to make his film?
Poor timing for one. Last year, a meeting had been scheduled betweenPowell and a production team headed by Hollywood producer Rich Furey andhis actress/wife, Lee Grant. The couple were shooting a film in Wilmington, Delaware starring Bruce Willis. Just days before the meeting though, Willis went ballistic on the set, and fired Furey and Grant. They flew West, while Jim Powell'shopes went South.

In a New York Post article, published just last week, journalist NealTravis writes, "I read the script and it is excellent. A brave, gayfireman forced into a sham kidnap -- a real change from the formula junkHollywood turns out these days."

But some say the story hits a little too close to home. Not the fireservice home, but Hollyrock. Powell admits that the story is based on a famous true story, the kidnapping scheme, involving millionaire heir-apparent Samuel Bronfman II and his significant other, FDNY firefighter Mel Patrick Lynch.

So what? Homosexuality is no longer an underground lifestyle, andthere are a dozen Gay Firefighters Associations. But, unfortunately forPowell, just last year, Bronfman's younger brother Edgar, Jr. boughtcontrolling interest of Hollywood's most successful movie factory,MCA/Universal. Can you say blackballed?

I like Jim Powell's style. It has the polish of a Dennis Smith, with thegritty edge that only a real firefighter can bring to the desk. "Smokey" puts most other Hollywood scripts to shame, and if it weren't for the politics of the land offruits and nuts, we might be lining up at our local theaters this holiday season to pay tribute to a talented brother firefighter.