Screenplay 101: THE PRODUCERS

Combine a sleazy Broadway producer taking advantage of little old ladies with one extremely nervous accountant cajoled into performing some “creative accounting." Mix in a hippie actor named Lorenzo St. Du Bois – or LSD - and a fanatic former Nazi who loves Hitler with all his heart. Blend it all up into a Broadway musical praising the Third Reich. It’s sure to flop, at least if Max Bialystock (Zero Mostel) and Leo Bloom (Gene Wilder) have anything to do with it. #79 on the WGA’s list of the 101 best screenplays is the 1968 film THE PRODUCERS, written and directed by Mel Brooks. This was Brooks’ directorial debut; he won an Oscar as well as WGA Award for best screenplay.

Max and Leo spend the film scheming to produce the worst musical ever made, intending to keep all the investors’ money. There is no way they can fail with a musical written as a love letter to Adolf Hitler. They don’t count on the audience thinking it’s a farce and loving the show!

Brooks’ eccentric characters and the absurd situations are so far over the top that they almost seem plausible. The pages below, from a 1967 draft, show our producers sucking up to the musical’s writer Franz Liebkind to get into business with him. They involve the unwitting and unhinged Liebkind in their plan, even as Franz reveals his deep admiration for Hitler in a monologue, ending with the declaration that Hitler could “dance the pants off Churchill!” Brooks boldly goes all out on every joke. While the risk of our two titular producers resulted only in jail sentences, the risk Brooks took in making fun of Hitler and the Nazis just 23 years after WWII paid off for him in spades. Bialystock and Bloom’s loss was certainly our gain.

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Here’s the deal: Throughout 2014, we’re posting pages from every script on the WGA’s list of the 101 Greatest Screenplays, as chosen by Guild membership, because we have every one in our library. Sure, we have other scripts that didn’t make it onto the list, either because they didn’t make the cut or because they were produced after the list was generated (presumably SHARKNADO, which we totally have a copy of, is only in the latter category).