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'Trading Places' screenwriter speaks on craft at OU

The public was invited to a screening of the 1983 hit “Trading Places” starring Eddie Murphy and Dan Aykroyd, written by speaker Herschel Weingrod and co-writer Timothy Harris.
BY SANDI DAVIS Modified: March 11, 2013 at 3:35 pm •  Published: March 12, 2013
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Weingrod said another happy accident with “Trading Places” was it happened quickly. Director John Landis needed a movie to get the public's mind off his last movie, “Twilight Zone: The Movie,” and the accident in it that took actor Vic Morrow's life. He found “Trading Places” and jumped on it.

Weingrod and Harris did two drafts and a polish on the screenplay and it was approved to shoot.

“That's not happened to me since,” Weingrod said. “Also, 80 to 95 percent of the script made it on the screen.”

Weingrod watched “Trading Places” along with the audience, later admitting he's only seen the entire movie 10 times.

This time, while gratified the audience laughed, some of the parts that look dated made him cringe.

“Essentially, it still works,” he said.

The writer never stops working, but says the nature of his job has changed. When he started writing screenplays, he just had to write them and get a studio to make them. These days, he must come in with a complete product, including a marketing strategy and how to sell it globally.

Hollywood also has changed what it wants to see.

“Studios are now looking for a ‘tent pole' movie, one that can support sequels,” he said. “They also like remakes. The scripts are there and all they have to do is update them and film. Original material need not apply.

“Today's hits aren't about hearts and minds. They're about blood pressure.

“Every studio has people who do nothing but read scripts and it is so much easier for them to say ‘No,' when they have big stacks of scripts in front of them,” he explained. “Now, you've got to seduce that person who is reading. You want them to keep turning pages, to remember what you've written.

“You don't see remakes and blockbusters at the Oscars,” he said. “That's where you see movies with good screenplays.”

The Nature of Laughter Presidential Dream Course presentations are free and open to the public. For more information, contact Karl Schmidt at 325-3020 or at karl.schmidt@ou.edu.