Jeffrey Boam is perhaps the hottest screenwriter of the summer, with no fewer than two major movie sequels on theater screens at once - "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade" and, as of Friday, "Lethal Weapon 2."
Boam also has a brother in Salt Lake City, known to KALL radio listeners simply as "Peter B.," KALL's afternoon drive-time deejay. That is, as we like to say in the newspaper business, the local connection.Jeffrey Boam's other screenplays include the Chevy Chase comedy "Funny Farm," the vampire comedy-thriller "The Lost Boys," the science fiction comedy "Innerspace" and the adaptation of Stephen King's horror novel "The Dead Zone."
"The Dead Zone" is often cited by critics and horror fans as the best film adaptation of any of King's books, and it became the topic of discussion between seven or eight movie critics in a posh Beverly Hills Hotel while waiting for Boam during a series of roundtable interviews for "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade."
Someone at the table mentioned Boam's "Dead Zone" credit in light of Stephen King's latest film adaptation, "Pet Sematary," for which King wrote the screenplay himself. The consensus was that if "Dead Zone" was the best, "Pet Sematary" may well have been the worst.
As Boam sat at the table he joined in and agreed that "Pet Sematary" was awful. Then someone asked him about "Dead Zone."
"Yes, that was a good one," Boam said. "And that jerk Stephen King won't give me any credit at all."
Having been somewhat lulled by the routine interviews that preceded Boam, that remark woke up the group. It was not only refreshing, but even a little shocking to hear someone speak so candidly when most interview subjects very carefully choose their words.
But as the interview progressed, it became apparent that it wasn't a show. Boam is simply Boam - a reclusive writer rather than a celebrity worried about his image. And what you see is what you get, if perhaps a bit outspoken and opinionated.
"I think the movie turned out great, and David (Cronenberg, the director) gets most of the credit. But Stephen - Stephen King - he did a draft of the script as part of his deal when he sold the project.
"It's hard for him to admit that he's not the one who could crack that book. But I think that movie holds together as a real movie. It's not just some kind of weird concoction of Stephen King's."
As for "Lethal Weapon 2," Boam said it was a natural progression from the first "Lethal Weapon." "I'd done some work on the first one, but I wasn't credited. It's a Warner Brothers movie and I have an exclusive writing deal with Warners. And I worked on another movie with the director, Dick Donner, who produced `Lost Boys,' which I wrote. So I just seemed to be the right choice."
Prior to "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade," Boam worked with Steven Spielberg as the writer of "Innerspace," which Spielberg produced.
Boam actually began writing "The Last Crusade" with George Lucas, who owns the Indiana Jones character. "George and I worked together before Steven came in. We devised the story, I wrote the first draft, then we showed it to Steven. And that's when Steven started adding his thoughts.
"I tried to absorb (the other "Indiana Jones" films), getting into the mood of the movies by looking at them. And I would do that on occasion as I was writing. I'd just go into the next room and look at a little bit of the movies. Just to hear the theme is inspiring."
Boam said a personal goal was to soften the cliffhanger aspect and concentrate more on moving the story along. "I think we've sort of left the cliffhanger concept behind. This movie doesn't have its roots so much in Saturday afternoon serials as the first one does. It seems to be a more traditional kind of movie. I think of it as more high adventure than as cliffhanging adventure. We still have the cliffhanging elements, but the movie is propelled not so much by how does Indy get out of this jam, but how are Indy and his father going to accomplish their goal. It's more like `The Man Who Would Be King' than a serial."
Being chosen to write the third and final "Indiana Jones" movie was something Boam leaped at, he said, and though the character of Dr. Henry Jones, played by Sean Connery in the film, was part of the concept when he came aboard, Boam feels the character is his own.
"That character is the only character new to the series, so I can say that's my creation." He also made a few adjustments for Connery when he signed to play the role. "I made the character less harsh, less critical of Indy. I softened him a little bit, but I think Sean did a lot of that in just the playing of the character. The dialogue is as written, but he plays it with a twinkle in his eye that makes it more palatable."
Perhaps the film's most delightful invention is the opening sequence with Indiana Jones as a young boy, which Boam says was George Lucas' idea. It was something that Boam at first didn't want to do. "Steven and I resisted that for a variety of reasons until Steven asked some people over a weekend what they thought of it and everyone loved it. So he came back on Monday and said, `I think we should do this.' And I said, `Well, I don't get it, really.' "
"And I didn't get it until I came up with the character with the fedora. And then when I thought of him I realized what the scene could be about. It's not just about Indy as a boy, but about how Indy becomes Indiana Jones. And with that character as a role model I understood how to write the scene. And the other things fell into place - `Well, OK, if this is where he sees a leather jacket and a hat, let's figure out how he finds his whip and how he becomes afraid of snakes. Let's talk about the scar that Harrison has on his chin,' and we just used all of those things during the course of that sequence."
Boam said there were a few surprises for him in the final film because he was unable to visit the set, which he usually does. "They were in Europe and I was writing another script and had a real deadline on that other script so I was virtually tied down here."
Asked if he wants to do what all screenwriters seem to aspire to, direct his own movies, Boam said that may happen in the future, but he's satisfied to be a successful screenwriter for now. "There was a time when I wanted to do it a lot more than I do now. But eventually something will come along that I'll say, `No, I want to be the one to direct this. Until I do I'll just continue to write the movies that other people want to make."
Boam was also asked if he could write a musical, since Spielberg has expressed interest in directing one.
"Sure. I can write anything."