A New Podcast Rekindles a Field-Workplace Bomb


Someday final December, Julie Salamon was sorting by means of stacks of outdated plastic bins at a storage unit in Decrease Manhattan. Salamon, 68, is a journalist, creator and self-described pack rat. The bins have been unintentional galleries within the museum of a life’s work, full of relics — notebooks, clippings, photographs and tapes — accrued for the dozen books Salamon has printed since 1988.

Salamon had come on the lookout for a field that contained materials from her second e-book, “The Satan’s Sweet,” printed in 1991. She had lately agreed to adapt the e-book — a celebrated account of the making of the notorious box-office flop “The Bonfire of the Vanities,” primarily based 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 Basic Films.

Salamon hoped to discover a trove of mini cassette tapes, recorded on set over your entire 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 an important element of the podcast.

However when Salamon finally discovered the “Satan’s Sweet” field, the tapes weren’t there. Distraught, she returned to her condominium in SoHo and resumed looking. It was there, a few frantic days later, that she discovered a number of zip-lock freezer baggage filled with mini cassette tapes behind a big residence workplace cupboard. The baggage hadn’t been opened for 30 years.

Making the podcast, which 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 a long time later. However, because the creator knew higher than anybody, variations are by no means easy — no less than not when “The Bonfire of the Vanities” is concerned.

“Placing this podcast collectively gave me an additional appreciation for Brian’s dilemma,” Salamon mentioned. “At first you don’t have any thought what you’re doing, however then you definitely simply begin doing it.”

When it arrived on bookshelves in 1991, “The Satan’s Sweet” surprised 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 maintain journalists from getting too far shut.) Salamon, then a movie critic for The Wall Avenue Journal (she later labored for The New York Occasions), 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 droop. Together with his participation, her e-book portrayed the world of big-budget studio filmmaking as a high-stakes battle, through which three mercurial factions — the artists, the executives and the viewers — are ever at odds with themselves and one another.

On 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,” full of characters who have been simple to hate and onerous to look away from. The e-book grew to become an instantaneous finest vendor and media sensation in 1987, making all of it however inevitable that somebody would attempt to flip it right into a film. However its sharp edges didn’t survive in Hollywood. Warner Bros. preemptively defanged the story’s central character, a slithering bond dealer and self-proclaimed “Grasp of the Universe” named Sherman McCoy, by casting Hanks, lately of “Large.” Its memorably pitiless ending additionally acquired the ax. As an alternative was an invented scene, through which Freeman, taking part in a choose, delivers a discordant ethical sermon.

Behind the scenes, the venture was plagued from the beginning. Its greatest preliminary cheerleader, a robust 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 have been anxious to guard a bloated $50 million funding. De Palma, who was bored with oversight, shut executives out of key elements of the manufacturing. The executives fired again — at one level, they threatened to carry him personally answerable for price overruns.

Nobody 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 check 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 Satan’s Sweet” maintains the fundamental narrative of the e-book however provides new layers. Essentially the most potent is the audio, rescued from Salamon’s freezer baggage. All through the collection, retrospective narration offers technique to contemporaneous recordings that seize occasions as they occurred. The recordings additionally remodel written characters into residing, respiratory folks. All the pieces it’s worthwhile to know in regards to the explicit 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 actually add a richness that wasn’t potential in any other case,” Salamon mentioned. “I wish to assume I’m not a nasty author, however there’s no method which you could write something that’s as transferring as simply listening to an individual inform their story.”

Salamon tailored “The Satan’s Sweet” 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 e-book into seven 40-minute podcast episodes.

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

“Clauses don’t work so properly in audio, you need to be extra direct and conversational,” mentioned Winkelman. “I feel there was a little bit of a studying curve for Julie at first, however as soon as the 2 of us acquired into the recording studio issues began to click on actually quick. If I gave her a notice — That’s sounding a bit learny — she would come again with one thing method higher than what I may have give you.”

Salamon additionally needed to construct on the e-book by including new reporting and interviews. Most of the extra emotionally compelling moments of the podcast stem from the transitions between then and now, file and reminiscence. Certainly one of a number of indelible figures from the e-book 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 individuals who labored on the movie have been at a turning level of their careers,” mentioned Angela Carone, the director of podcasts at TCM who edited the season with Salamon. “We get to inform their full tales on the podcast in a method that isn’t within the e-book.”

Not everybody who cooperated with the e-book returned for the podcast. Not one of the movie’s stars sat for brand spanking new interviews (TCM mentioned the recordings have 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. (By way of a consultant, the director and the celebrities additionally declined to talk for this story.)

Within the stars’ absence, the podcast turns into extra systemic in its outlook. It exhibits us the idealistic and overworked strivers — the assistant who desires of changing into a producer, the placement scout guzzling aspirin for breakfast — who accumulate small victories amid the chaos and terror of the movie set.

A few of what Salamon documented 30 years in the past seems to be completely different by means of a contemporary lens. The fifth episode zeros in on a number of girls 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 remembers capturing a scene that doesn’t seem within the novel with the actress Beth Broderick. Within 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 simply made me sick to my abdomen,” Morris says within the episode. The scene “had nothing to do with something. It’s simply disgusting. It’s simply misogynistic.”

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

“It simply made me understand how a lot rubbish girls simply accepted again within the day that we rightfully gained’t anymore,” she mentioned.

For Salamon, engaged on the podcast was an odd and emotional expertise, forcing her to mirror not solely on her characters’ journeys however her personal.

When she first thought of what would turn into “The Satan’s Sweet,” in 1989, she was a annoyed novelist working full time at The Journal whereas carrying her first baby. The e-book grew to become an instantaneous basic of its style (it’s nonetheless frequently taught in movie colleges) and altered the trajectory of her life.

“To listen to these voices transported me again to that second,” Salamon mentioned, describing what it was wish to take heed to the tapes for the primary time. “I used to be beginning a brand new life and changing into a younger mom and transitioning into a brand new career that I beloved. It was overwhelming. I used to be on an journey.”

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