Published on March 5th, 2018 | by Thompson0
Stealing Oscar, starring Bill Murray
I had this idea for a movie about Bill Murray stealing an Academy Award two years before he was robbed of one for Lost in Translation in 2004. Sean Penn won it for Mystic River that year — a film I’ve boycotted and still haven’t seen. I didn’t think Bill was robbed for Lost in Translation at the time, though. In fact, I hated the movie the first time I saw it.
I remember it vividly. I heard Bill Murray’s new movie was out on DVD, so I went to the local K-mart and bought a copy. Our single-screen theater showed just one or two films every week, so it wasn’t surprising that an independent production, even starring Bill Murray, would not be screened in my small, Eastern Montana town. I couldn’t wait to get home and watch it. When I did, it was not what I expected.
I did no research into the film for fear of ruining it, but I was surprised to say the least. It was hardly funny and borderline depressing. The stories of these two people — one being neglected, the other doing the neglecting — were sad. I didn’t think Bill spoke enough. The only parts I specifically remember enjoying were: 1) the opening shot of Scarlett Johansson’s pink-pantied ass, and 2) Bill doing the photo shoot for the Japanese whiskey. While Bill was thinking, “Where the hell’s the whiskey?” I was thinking “Where the hell’s the laughs?”
Then there’s the infamous ending that left me so frustrated I wanted to return the film and tell them it was scratched. In fact, I might have tried. I rewatched the ending five or six times, turning the volume higher and higher with hopes of hearing what Bill whispers in Scarlett’s ear. Nothing. I even got out headphones. Still nothing. I was pissed, and I didn’t watch the film again for almost a year. When I did, I loved it. I realized Bill didn’t need to speak because his face said more than his mouth ever could. His depression is apparent. I loved the realism of the whole encounter — not just the very relatable jet lag associated with international travel — but how both stories conveyed how things don’t always turn out the way you want and how that can be exactly what you need, to paraphrase The Rolling Stones. I even loved the ending because, again, words weren’t necessary. Everything the audience needs to know is conveyed through action and performance.
I thought Bill was robbed long before Lost in Translation, though. His performance in Groundhog Day was not only Oscar-worthy, but better than the 1993 winner for Best Actor — Al Pacino for Scent of a Woman. And I love that movie. Bill’s impeccable performance in Groundhog Day was the result of rage and delivered despite his first marriage falling apart. He was bitten by the groundhog three times during the car chase scene and had to get rabies shots as a result. He and writer/director Harold Ramis also had differing opinions of what the film should be, with Murray advocating for a more philosophical and dramatic film (one the Academy might have recognized with a nomination), and Ramis sticking with what he knew best — comedy. They didn’t speak for 21 years after completing the project, and it took until Ramis was on his deathbed for Bill to break the silence. He’s since honored Ramis at the Oscars and was moved to tears by the Groundhog Day musical. He’s grown as a human being, as we are apt to do.
The following screenplay entitled Stealing Oscar is about Bill Murray attempting to steal an Academy Award. Despite being a comedic, heist film in the vein of Ocean’s Eleven, Stealing Oscar also documents the dramatic, introspective journey of a lonely, old man trying to cope with regret by occupying his time and mind with anything, including crime.
But when Bill’s youngest son, Lincoln, 19, is suspended from college and decides to move in just as Bill is scheming to steal the Oscar, Bill must decide between stealing the Oscar and the admiration of his peers or winning the admiration and respect of his son. Bill selfishly attempts to do both, unable to shake his old ways.
Logline: “A movie star with a sense of emptiness attempts to steal an Academy Award and the admiration of his estranged son.”
I wrote the first draft of Stealing Oscar in the summer of 2007 for an advanced screenwriting course at Montana State University. My mentor said it had the highest production value of any script in the class, but advised that I wouldn’t have the connections Sophia Coppola did when she wrote Lost in Translation specifically for Bill. I acknowledged that it was unlikely Bill would ever read it having known he had and still has no representation and has been known to have scripts left for him at public phone booths. I felt the idea was too good to abandon, and I’ve been consumed by it since.
I had a pretty good handle on the characters in that first draft. In fact, I wrote things into existence. A few months after I had completed the first draft, a fellow film student shared a news story about Bill Murray refusing to take a breath test after being pulled over in Stockholm, Sweden driving a “borrowed” golf cart back to his hotel from a nearby nightclub. He shared it with me because I had written a scene into the first draft in which Bill, drinking and driving, tosses friend Dan Aykroyd from a golf cart, breaking his arm. They leave the emergency room in the golf cart, head to a strip club, and drive the cart back to Bill’s home. The next day it’s seen turned over on the front lawn.
I did a revision of the first draft the following year upon news of Bill’s second divorce. Considering the rough draft contained ample drug use and Bill’s wife was filing for divorce on the grounds of drug addiction (marijuana and alcohol were cited), physical abuse, adultery, and abandonment of his family, I again felt I had written Bill accurately. But now my Bill had something to motivate him besides making the Academy look bad. Instead, he could steal the Oscar in order to steal back the love of his family.
The next five revisions happened over the course of a decade and really didn’t change the story much. My character was still motivated to win back his family, and he did. He used his Oscar acceptance speech to acknowledge his mistakes and apologize for them. I hated that Hollywood ending, though. I wanted Bill to retain some of his defiance while acknowledging his mistakes and apologizing for them. Some of the old Bill Murray had to remain in the end. He couldn’t suddenly become Bill Murray, the family man. So instead of winning back his whole family, Bill is tasked with winning the admiration of his youngest son, Lincoln.
The revisions I’ve done the last two years have culminated in the script below. The story has a clear beginning, middle, and end. The lead character’s arc is vast but believable. The pace is on par with similar films, namely Ocean’s Eleven (2001), and the film is both funny and dramatic.
While Dan Aykroyd, Jeff Bridges, Johnny Depp, and Sean Penn are also written into the script, they are all replaceable. Of the supporting cast, Penn is the least replaceable character, but he also has the least amount of screen time. Dan Aykroyd is second to Bill in screen time and dialogue, with Bill’s son getting the third-most screen time and dialogue.
I’ve always seen Stealing Oscar as a fitting film for Bill Murray to finish his career and, perhaps, direct. My only fear is Bill feeling this story hits too close to home. I know he’s played the character who avoids his family before, but having an actual family member, and a son at that, portrayed in a film is a whole different animal. I only hope if he were ever to read it, he appreciate the growth of the character and find the story entertaining and one to which most anyone can relate and enjoy.
If you have comments please share them. This work is registered with The United States Copyright Office, so theft of all or part of this script would result in legal action taken against you. Enjoy responsibly.