The scenario called for this film to be Michael Cimino’s long-awaited comeback. Although he owns an Oscar for The Deer Hunter, the 43-year-old director has not commanded a film since his $40 million megaflop Heaven’s Gate three years ago. Last December, when he was hired to direct Paramount’s Footloose, a drama about a teenage boy in a town tyrannized by its preacher, Cimino’s exile appeared over. But last month Paramount announced that Herbert (Pennies From Heaven) Ross had been chosen to direct Footloose, and the outcast Cimino was once again out of commission.
“Mr. Cimino withdrew from the project over creative differences regarding the screenplay,” insists his lawyer, Bertram Fields. Cimino apparently felt that Footloose needed a rewrite, which he proposed to do himself—for an additional fee. But Paramount president Michael Eisner says: “I was satisfied with Dean Pitchford’s script. Otherwise we wouldn’t have committed to the picture.” When the studio balked, Cimino walked.
Some unpleasant ground rules had already been laid down for the high-rolling filmmaker. The movie’s budget was a mere $7.5 million—$3 million less than the current average for a Hollywood film—and cost overruns were to be deducted from Cimino’s reported $500,000 salary. On the other hand, Paramount would pay him a considerable bonus if the film came in on budget. Cimino agreed to the stipulations. “He was anxious to prove to the world and himself that he could do it,” says the film’s high-powered executive producer, Daniel (All That Jazz) Melnick, whom the studio expected to monitor the project closely.
Even Melnick concedes that Cimino was second choice for the job. “Herbert Ross was the first director we considered,” he admits. Ross, however, was committed to a Warren Beatty comedy. When it was postponed shortly after Cimino left Footloose, Ross signed up. According to lawyer Fields, Cimino is now planning a joint venture with Dustin Hoffman in which Hoffman would star. Considering each man’s reputation for going his own way with a vengeance, Cimino can’t be faulted for lack of guts.