“Nobody writes like Jules!”
– Stan Lee
“Feiffer is a god. He’s one of the true geniuses in the business. [Mirvish and Feiffer] are a perfect match. I think that’s a fantastic idea!”
– Bill Plympton
“Jules Feiffer is an inspiration.”
– Art Spiegelman
Bernard and Huey is an upcoming film based on a screenplay by living legend Jules Feiffer. Pulitzer, Oscar, Obie and WGA Lifetime Achievement award winning Feiffer is perhaps best known for his eponymous comic strip he had in The Village Voice for 40 years. But Feiffer is equally regarded as a playwright, novelist and screenwriter. In that last capacity, his script Carnal Knowledge was directed by Mike Nichols in 1971. It starred Jack Nicholson, Art Garfunkel, Candace Bergen and garnered an Oscar for Ann-Margaret. The same year, Alan Arkin directed Elliot Gould in Feiffer’s Little Murders, equally well-regarded. In 1980, Feiffer wrote Popeye for director Robert Altman and producer Robert Evans. Feiffer’s short animated film Munro, won an Oscar in 1961.
Carnal Knowledge is one of the pillars of the Golden Age of 70s film, and was a big influence on Dan Mirvish’s last film, Between Us, which starred Julia Stiles and Taye Diggs. During post-production on the film, Mirvish happened upon a biography of Feiffer that mentioned that he had several unproduced screenplays. Hmm, thought, Mirvish. With a track record like Feiffer’s, chances are they’re good! So Mirvish and producing partner Dana Altman (Robert’s grandson) tracked down Feiffer through his speaking bureau. Still very much alive and teaching in the Hamptons, Feiffer responded right away via email. Cryptically, he said he couldn’t find any scripts, but to try him again in four months. Four months later and another exchange of emails resulted in no new information: Not only couldn’t Feiffer find any unproduced screenplays, but it was still a mystery to Mirvish and Altman what they even were.
Completely coincidentally, Jules’ daughter Halley Feiffer had a film at Slamdance (the festival that Mirvish and Altman started) later that same year. Dan struck up a friendship with Halley and that renewed the exchanges with Jules. But still no luck finding any scripts. Thankfully, Mirvish’s old friend Kevin DiNovis, another Slamdance alumnus, vaguely remembered reading one of Feiffer’s screenplays in Scenario Magazine, back in the 90s!
Known in the last decade of the 20th Century as the definitive magazine for Hollywood screenwriters, Scenario was a quarterly publication that mostly reprinted the top produced screenplays at the time. Occasionally, they would also publish an unproduced screenplay, whose rights were still available. With the internet in its infancy, and a decade before “The Black List” made unproduced screenplays viral sensations, getting an unproduced screenplay published in Scenario was a very big deal in Hollywood. Feiffer’s script was actually in the inaugural issue of the magazine, making it an even hotter property.
That issue of Scenario was only available in two libraries in the entire United States, but fortunately one was in LA: The Academy Library, to be exact. Operating more like a monastery than a library, the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts & Sciences has strict rules to enter: No cameras, no cell phones, no pens. Mirvish adhered by the rules and finally got a chance to read the elusive script, Bernard and Huey. It was brilliant: Hilarious, poignant, dramatic and remarkably timeless. Even better, there was an accompanying interview with Feiffer that mentioned that he’d worked with an LA producer who’d tried to get the screenplay made in the mid 80s, first through Showtime, and then independently. But the name given in the article didn’t show up on IMDb or anyplace else.
Dan immediately contacted Jules again, who was thrilled to hear about the discovery of the script, but he warned that the version in Scenario might have been an edited one. Fortunately, Jules remembered the old LA producer – maybe he still had a copy of the final script? Turns out Scenario had spelled his name wrong. Michael Brandman – who still produces the Tom Selleck Jesse Stone TV movies for CBS – was still very much alive and kicking in LA. Dan spoke with him several times and he was thrilled to hear renewed interest in Bernard and Huey. Better still, after a week of searching his old files, he was able to find an original hard copy of the final script!
Dan scanned it in as a PDF as well as a character recognition file – so once again it could be edited in standard screenwriting software. Dan arranged a trip to visit Jules at his home in the Hamptons. Bringing bagels and lox (per daughter Halley’s recommendation), Dan spent a lovely afternoon with Jules and they decided then and there to launch production of Bernard and Huey.
Of course, anytime you’re dealing with a literary property that’s nearly 30 years old, you’ve got to make sure that all the rights are cleared and sorted out. That process alone would take another year and a half. It didn’t help matters that Jules’ old agent was dead. His lawyer was dead. His lawyer’s old partner even more dead. And Jules’ old assistant? As he put it, “She is no longer among the counted.”
Thankfully, everyone who is still alive has tremendous love and admiration for Jules and without hesitation all have been helping us clear the decks to make the movie.
Despite several attempts to get the movie made in the late 80s, the good news was that Jules had always retained the copyright to the script himself. The characters of Bernard and Huey had over the years been featured in Feiffer’s work in several different media, including his Village Voice cartoons, cartoons for Playboy magazine, a play, and a book. In each case, we’ve gotten confirmation that Feiffer controls the underlying property and nobody else has any claims to it. Mirvish even sent a friend to the Library of Congress in Washington where Jules had donated his files in 2000. Buried in the archives was Jules’ original handwritten script to Bernard and Huey, including doodles, crossed out scenes, and margin notes to call his then very-much alive lawyer.
With everything sorted out, now is the time to make Bernard and Huey. All we have to do now is finance the movie, cast it, shoot and edit!