A New Podcast Rekindles a Box-Office Bomb

One day final December, Julie Salamon was sorting by means of stacks of outdated plastic containers at a storage unit in Lower Manhattan. Salamon, 68, is a journalist, creator and self-described pack rat. The containers had been unintentional galleries within the museum of a life’s work, stuffed with relics — notebooks, clippings, photographs and tapes — collected for the dozen books Salamon has printed since 1988.

Salamon had come on the lookout for a field that contained materials from her second ebook, “The Devil’s Candy,” printed in 1991. She had just lately agreed to adapt the ebook — a celebrated account of the making of the notorious box-office flop “The Bonfire of the Vanities,” based mostly on Tom Wolfe’s sweeping social satire of 1980s New York — for the second season of “The Plot Thickens,” a Hollywood historical past podcast from Turner Classic Movies.

Salamon hoped to search out a trove of mini cassette tapes, recorded on set over your complete course of the movie’s manufacturing. Audio from the tapes contained unusually candid interviews with the director, Brian De Palma, his crew and the movie’s stars — Tom Hanks, Bruce Willis, Melanie Griffith and Morgan Freeman — and could be a essential element of the podcast.

Melanie Griffith and Tom Hanks had been two of the large names forged for the movie adaption of “Bonfire of the Vanities.”Credit…Warner Bros.

But when Salamon ultimately discovered the “Devil’s Candy” field, the tapes weren’t there. Distraught, she returned to her residence in SoHo and resumed looking. It was there, a couple of frantic days later, that she discovered a number of zip-lock freezer baggage stuffed with mini cassette tapes at the back of a massive dwelling workplace cupboard. The baggage hadn’t been opened for 30 years.

Making the podcast, which just lately ended its seven-episode run, was a late-career twist for Salamon, affording her the uncommon alternative to revisit the story of a lifetime three many years later. But, because the creator knew higher than anybody, diversifications are by no means easy — at the least not when “The Bonfire of the Vanities” is concerned.

“Putting this podcast together gave me an extra appreciation for Brian’s dilemma,” Salamon mentioned. “At first you don’t have any idea what you’re doing, but then you just start doing it.”

When it arrived on bookshelves in 1991, “The Devil’s Candy” shocked Hollywood. It painted a vivid and well-sourced portrait of an business few outsiders had seen up shut. (Or would see in the present day — armies of studio and private publicists preserve journalists from getting too far shut.) Salamon, then a movie critic for The Wall Street Journal (she later labored for The New York Times), had befriended De Palma, who, by the late 1980s, had made hits like “Carrie,” “Scarface” and “The Untouchables” however was in one thing of a profession hunch. With his participation, her ebook portrayed the world of big-budget studio filmmaking as a high-stakes battle, during which three mercurial factions — the artists, the executives and the viewers — are ever at odds with themselves and one another.

At the middle of the story was what stays one of the crucial infamous prepare wrecks in film historical past. “The Bonfire of the Vanities,” as written by Wolfe, was a kaleidoscopic account of greed and cynicism within the “Me Decade,” stuffed with characters who had been straightforward to hate and arduous to look away from. The ebook turned an immediate finest vendor and media sensation in 1987, making all of it however inevitable that somebody would attempt to flip it into a film. But its sharp edges didn’t survive in Hollywood. Warner Bros. preemptively defanged the story’s central character, a slithering bond dealer and self-proclaimed “Master of the Universe” named Sherman McCoy, by casting Hanks, just lately of “Big.” Its memorably pitiless ending additionally received the ax. In its place was an invented scene, during which Freeman, taking part in a choose, delivers a discordant ethical sermon.

Behind the scenes, the undertaking was plagued from the beginning. Its greatest preliminary cheerleader, a highly effective producer named Peter Guber, left the studio earlier than manufacturing started. That set the stage for a showdown between De Palma, a withdrawn and exacting visionary, and executives at Warner Bros., who had been anxious to guard a bloated $50 million funding. De Palma, who was tired of oversight, shut executives out of key facets of the manufacturing. The executives fired again — at one level, they threatened to carry him personally accountable for price overruns.

No one who labored on the movie — not even Salamon, who noticed the shoot and sat in on conferences — acknowledged it as a inventive failure till it was screened for take a look at audiences. By then it was too late. Critics savaged “Bonfire” — “gross, unfunny” and “wildly uneven,” declared this newspaper — and moviegoers shunned it. It made lower than $16 million on the field workplace.

The podcast model of “The Devil’s Candy” maintains the essential narrative of the ebook however provides new layers. The most potent is the audio, rescued from Salamon’s freezer baggage. Throughout the sequence, retrospective narration provides method to contemporaneous recordings that seize occasions as they occurred. The recordings additionally rework written characters into dwelling, respiration individuals. Everything you must know in regards to the specific breed of inauspicious film star Bruce Willis was in 1990 — ever-present bodyguard, impolite to assistants — is there within the snotty tone he makes use of in his interviews with Salamon.

“For me, the tapes really add a richness that wasn’t possible otherwise,” Salamon mentioned. “I like to think I’m not a bad writer, but there’s no way that you can write anything that’s as moving as just hearing a person tell their story.”

The movie model of “Bonfire of the Vanities,” bombed on the field workplace, making lower than $16 million.Credit…xxx

Salamon tailored “The Devil’s Candy” in shut partnership with the narrative podcast firm Campside Media, which co-produced this season of “The Plot Thickens” with TCM. She wanted to interrupt down her 420-page ebook into seven 40-minute podcast episodes.

Natalia Winkelman, 28, a producer at Campside (and a freelance movie critic for The Times), was a sort of doula and confidant for Salamon, guiding her by means of the monthslong means of translating her reporting into podcast scripts. Though Salamon’s profession as an creator spanned fiction, memoir and kids’s literature, she had no expertise writing for the ear, a distinct kind with distinctive qualities and constraints.

“Clauses don’t work so well in audio, you have to be more direct and conversational,” mentioned Winkelman. “I think there was a bit of a learning curve for Julie at first, but once the two of us got into the recording studio things started to click really fast. If I gave her a note — That’s sounding a little read-y — she would come back with something way better than what I could have come up with.”

Salamon additionally needed to construct on the ebook by including new reporting and interviews. Many of the extra emotionally compelling moments of the podcast stem from the transitions between then and now, document and reminiscence. One of a number of indelible figures from the ebook whom Salamon reinterviews is Eric Schwab, a second-unit director on “Bonfire” and protégé of De Palma’s, who was poised for a breakout profession earlier than the film bombed.

“So many people who worked on the film were at a turning point in their careers,” mentioned Angela Carone, the director of podcasts at TCM who edited the season with Salamon. “We get to tell their full stories on the podcast in a way that isn’t in the book.”

Not everybody who cooperated with the ebook returned for the podcast. None of the movie’s stars sat for brand spanking new interviews (TCM mentioned the recordings had been legally Salamon’s property and that it notified these whose voices are used within the present). Nor did De Palma, although Salamon mentioned the 2 stay good mates. (Through a consultant, the director and the celebrities additionally declined to talk for this story.)

The likable Hanks was miscast as Sherman McCoy, a slithering bond dealer and self-proclaimed “Master of the Universe.”Credit…Warner Bros.

In the celebrities’ absence, the podcast turns into extra systemic in its outlook. It reveals us the idealistic and overworked strivers — the assistant who goals of turning into a producer, the placement scout guzzling aspirin for breakfast — who acquire small victories amid the chaos and terror of the movie set.

Some of what Salamon documented 30 years in the past appears totally different by means of a fashionable lens. The fifth episode zeros in on a number of ladies who’ve invariably extra precarious positions on the movie than these of their male friends. In that episode, a present-day Aimee Morris — who was a 22-year-old manufacturing assistant on “Bonfire” — angrily recollects capturing a scene that doesn’t seem within the novel with the actress Beth Broderick. In the scene, Broderick’s character photocopies her bare crotch; filming it required Broderick, who was then De Palma’s girlfriend, to spend 9 hours repeatedly taking off her underwear and climbing up and down a Xerox machine.

“It just made me sick to my stomach,” Morris says within the episode. The scene “had nothing to do with anything. It’s just disgusting. It’s just misogynistic.”

Salamon, who wrote critically of the Xerox scene in her ebook, mentioned revisiting it with Morris made her body the anecdote extra pointedly this time round.

“It just made me realize how much garbage women just accepted back in the day that we rightfully won’t anymore,” she mentioned.

For Salamon, engaged on the podcast was a unusual and emotional expertise, forcing her to replicate not solely on her characters’ journeys however her personal.

Working on the podcast was a unusual and emotional expertise for Salamon, forcing her to replicate not solely on her characters’ journeys however her personal.Credit…Winnie Au for The New York Times

When she first thought-about what would turn into “The Devil’s Candy,” in 1989, she was a annoyed novelist working full time at The Journal whereas carrying her first youngster. The ebook turned an immediate traditional of its style (it’s nonetheless commonly taught in movie faculties) and altered the trajectory of her life.

“To hear those voices transported me back to that moment,” Salamon mentioned, describing what it was prefer to hearken to the tapes for the primary time. “I was starting a new life and becoming a young mother and transitioning into a new profession that I loved. It was overwhelming. I was on an adventure.”