Sometimes you see a movie and think, “How did this get made?” Fortunately, we have listening devices planted in the offices of every major Hollywood studio — a must for any serious entertainment journalist — and are able to bring you the behind-the-scenes story until the court order arrives.
The Pitch Meeting for The Mummy
UNIVERSAL EXEC: Good morning, gentlemen!
PRODUCER #1: Some of us are ladies.
UNIVERSAL EXEC: No time for that, there’s urgent news! The bosses upstairs want us to take characters that Universal already owns and develop a franchise centered on growling, subhuman monsters unbound by the laws of physics.
PRODUCER #2: Besides Fast and the Furious?
UNIVERSAL EXEC’S ASSISTANT: They want something more realistic.
PRODUCER #3: So why are we talking about it here? Why didn’t this get sent to the reboot department?
PRODUCER #2: Yeah, this is usually a meeting for fresh, new ideas, like “What if there were a spy named Jason Bourne?” or “What if we made a cartoon?”
UNIVERSAL EXEC: I know, but this is important and the head honchos want their best men on it.
PRODUCER #1: And women.
UNIVERSAL EXEC: Time permitting, yes. Anyway, it won’t be difficult. The idea they gave us can’t miss. Think of the hottest, hippest, scariest monsters in our culture today.
PRODUCER #2: The Babadook?
PRODUCER #3: Eric Trump?
PRODUCER #1: People who say “fam”?
UNIVERSAL EXEC: No…
PRODUCER #2: Slenderman?
PRODUCER #3: The lady behind the dumpster in Mulholland Drive?
PRODUCER #1: The electoral college?
UNIVERSAL EXEC: No! You’re not thinking big enough. Think: “most famous monsters OF ALL TIME!” Think: “legendary Universal Pictures films from the golden age of Hollyw–”
PRODUCER #1: NO!
PRODUCER #2: NOT AGAIN!
PRODUCER #3: WHY?!
UNIVERSAL EXEC: That’s right! We’re going back to the Universal monsters of the ’30s and ’40s!
PRODUCER #1: THEY AREN’T SCARY!
PRODUCER #2: YOU’RE THE MONSTER!
PRODUCER #3: WHY HAS GOD FORSAKEN US?!
UNIVERSAL EXEC: Come on, you Danny Downers! What’s the problem here?
PRODUCER #1: It’s Debbie Downer.
UNIVERSAL EXEC: I don’t see gender. The Universal monsters are loved by everyone, across all demographics. I’ve talked to 80-year-olds who love them; I’ve talked to 100-year-olds who love them.
UNIVERSAL EXEC’S ASSISTANT: It’s true. “Please make another Frankenstein movie” is one of the most common last requests of people in late-stage dementia.
UNIVERSAL EXEC: Nursing homes are thick with the anguished cries of the dying: “If only I’d lived long enough to see one more Dracula!”
PRODUCER #1: Fine, but what about young people? I understand young people are going to the movies now too.
UNIVERSAL EXEC’S ASSISTANT: Yes, and we’ll lure them in by promising to deliver what they love: a prefabricated franchise where the titles and release dates are announced before any story ideas have been conceived.
UNIVERSAL EXEC: That’s what today’s youth crave! It’s all fidget spinners and franchises now.
UNIVERSAL EXEC’S ASSISTANT: Teens won’t pay attention to a movie unless they know in advance that there will be at least three more movies exactly like it but of increasingly lesser quality.
UNIVERSAL EXEC: Now, I’m thinking we should kick things off with the most terrifying and iconic of the Universal monsters…
PRODUCER #1: Frankenstein?
PRODUCER #2: Dracula?
PRODUCER #3: The Wolf Man?
PRODUCER #1: The Invisible Man?
PRODUCER #2: The Semi-Visible Man?
PRODUCER #3: Norman Bates?
PRODUCER #1: Bride of Chucky?
PRODUCER #2: Bridget Jones?
UNIVERSAL EXEC: The Mummy!
PRODUCER #1: Oh. Sure, OK.
PRODUCER #3: I know for a fact that Brendan Fraser is available.
UNIVERSAL EXEC: We’re getting Tom Cruise.
PRODUCER #2: Tom Cruise!
UNIVERSAL EXEC: His only stipulation was that we let him run from things, be in zero gravity, and have a scene where he gets to hold his breath underwater.
UNIVERSAL EXEC’S ASSISTANT: We might have told him it’s a Mission: Impossible movie.
PRODUCER #1: How’d you distract him from the truth?
UNIVERSAL EXEC’S ASSISTANT: We held the meeting next to a big pile of money and a pool boy.
PRODUCER #1: Ah, yes. The Travolta stratagem.
PRODUCER #3: Well, could Brendan Fraser stop by the set sometime, just to say hi? I’m asking for Brendan Fraser.
PRODUCER #2: Wouldn’t The Mummy have to be set in Egypt? That sounds … you know … ethnic.
UNIVERSAL EXEC: No problem. The plane carrying the mummy crashes in England so the movie can still be about white people.
PRODUCER #3: That’s the best idea I’ve heard since “What if we made a second cartoon?”
UNIVERSAL EXEC: I’ve got another twist, too. The mummy? She’s a woman.
PRODUCER #2: A female woman??
PRODUCER #3: I hear women are also going to the movies now!
PRODUCER #2: We’ll win the Oscar for Most Woke!
PRODUCER #1: So who does Tom Cruise play?
UNIVERSAL EXEC: Tom Cruise plays the swaggering, adventure-seeking hero who finds the mummy — only instead of a hero he’s a reckless, dunder-headed, anti-intellectual a-hole who steals antiquities and cares only about himself.
PRODUCER #1: But at some point we establish he has a good heart?
UNIVERSAL EXEC: Nope. In fact, we keep making it clear that deep down inside he’s NOT a good person.
PRODUCER #1: But in the end he’s punished?
UNIVERSAL EXEC: Yes, if by “punished” you mean “given unlimited power.”
PRODUCER #1: Oh, I see. He has no moral compass, he’s awful, and he doesn’t get what he deserves, but it’s OK —
UNIVERSAL EXEC: — because he’s Tom Cruise. Exactly.
PRODUCER #2: We’ve always wanted to test the theory of whether people would see a movie just because Tom Cruise is in it.
PRODUCER #3: Uh, remember the Jack Reacher sequel?
PRODUCER #2: I do not.
PRODUCER #1: So an irredeemable moron who’s too young and flippant to be persuasively played by Tom Cruise wakes up an ancient mummy. And then what?
UNIVERSAL EXEC: The mummy spends the rest of the movie trying to hook up with him.
PRODUCER #1: So our badass female monster is just another woman who’s obsessed with a guy?
UNIVERSAL EXEC: Obsessed with TOM CRUISE!
UNIVERSAL EXEC’S ASSISTANT: Who has better romantic chemistry than Tom Cruise and a beautiful woman 20 years his junior?
PRODUCER #1: Tom Cruise and L. Ron Hubbard?
PRODUCER #2: A block of cheese and a beautiful woman?
PRODUCER #3: A ferret and Liza Minnelli?
PRODUCER #1: So how does this tie in with the other Universal monsters? Let me guess — Dr. Jekyll goes around like Nick Fury, recruiting monster Avengers?
(All laugh at the idea.)
UNIVERSAL EXEC: Yes, exactly.
(PRODUCER #1 leaps through open window to her death.)
UNIVERSAL EXEC: Filming began yesterday, so we’d better get started on the screenplay.
UNIVERSAL EXEC’S ASSISTANT: Wake up the typewriter monkeys! We’ll need all one thousand of them to make this work.
UNIVERSAL EXEC: Oh, and the second or third sequel will probably need to have live-action Minions, so start preparing yourselves emotionally for that.
PRODUCER #2: I would quit this job, but I need the benefits.
PRODUCER #3: Me too. You can’t beat Universal healthcare.
Eric D. Snider lives in Portland, always likes to end with the dumbest joke.