On Shane Black and Kiss Kiss Bang Bang

Written as a Film Note for Brattle Theatre in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Shane Black, writer-director of Kiss Kiss Bang Bang
Shane Black, the writer and director of Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, was the original Hollywood screenwriting fairy tale. At the age of 24, in 1985, he sold his first screenplay for a quarter of a million dollars and in the process invented a certain kind action film that defined Hollywood in the late 80s and early 90s.

That first film was Lethal Weapon. It transformed Mel Gibson from Mad Max to a true k faced a lot of resentment and backlash within the industry over the high price tag of that script combined with its critical and box office failure. At the same time, there was a perceived competition over becoming the “highest paid screenwriter in Hollywood” with writers such as Joe Eszterhas. Also, his talents as a writer were not very highly regarded among some of his peers since Black had stuck to writing action films for the most part of his career.

All of that, combined with his overwhelming success got to him and for many years he stayed away from screenwriting. In the intervening years, Black gained a reputation as a nice guy, who threw great Halloween parties and inspired many young screenwriters to make it in Hollywood. Nine years after he had sold his last screenplay, his friend James Brooks, the director of As Good as it Gets, suggested that he should get back to writing. Brooks gave Black an office to work in and started talking with him about ideas that Black could pursue.

Initially, Black thought of writing a romantic comedy but Brooks suggested that he stick to something closer to his strengths. So instead, Black wrote a relationship comedy that spun his own old buddy-cop genre by mixing it with hard-boiled action, his own brand of comedy, noir and a leading man who was gay. In Shane Black’s words, “… seldom do you have the gay character be the one who, when the chips are down, kicks down the door, kills everybody and saves the day.”

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang Poster
Thus was born Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. The title comes from an old Pauline Kael line where she said that the phrase Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang, that she saw on an Italian movie poster, was “perhaps the briefest statement imaginable of the basic appeal of movies.”

This time, he also chose to direct his own screenplay. In the past, most of his screenplays had been heavily doctored before they hit the screen. His characters were more brooding and the stories occasionally darker than the versions that audiences saw. Although ten years ago Hollywood would have handed Black whatever he asked for, now he was having trouble getting any studio to allow him to direct his project. Finally, Warner Brothers caved in to producer Joel Silver’s persuasion and Black had a small budget to work with on Kiss Kiss Bang Bang.

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is Shane Black’s debut as a director and, considering his 9 year slumber, it is a fresh start as a screenwriter. Says Black about his career, “Directing comes closer than anything I’ve found yet to providing me with a good reason to get up in the morning that goes beyond just getting some money. Because all the money does is buy the bed. Getting out of it is the problem.”

* “Shane Black’s Script for Lethal Weapon”:http://www.imsdb.com/scripts/Lethal-Weapon.html
* “Quotes from Shane Black”:http://en.thinkexist.com/quotes/shane_black/
* “IMDb: Kiss Kiss Bang Bang”:http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0373469/
* “An AV Club Interview with Shane Black”:http://www.avclub.com/content/node/42405
* “Film Journal on Shane Black”:http://www.filmjournal.com/filmjournal/filmmakers/article_display.jsp?vnu_content_id=1001180354
* “A long interview with Black by The Oregonian”:http://homepage.mac.com/merussell/iblog/B835531044/C1592678312/E20051112111549/index.html
* “A shorter version of the same Oregonian interview”:http://www.oregonlive.com/movies/oregonian/index.ssf?/base/entertainment/1131485105103950.xml&coll=7
* “Pauline Kael and KKBB”:http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/p/paulinekae158863.html
* “Biography of Joe Eszterhas”:http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0000390/bio

2 thoughts on “On Shane Black and Kiss Kiss Bang Bang

  1. KISS KISS BANG BANG is further proof he stole INSIDE THE RIBBON. Look at the poster and think typewriter ribbon. His opening salvo is a reference to our email address jaell@aol.com. The room numbers in the movie are the birthdays of Joel Silver and myself. The Halliday plot is about moving bodies (=scripts) between places. The Dexter Clinic is supposed to be Warner Brothers and New Line (as in ambidexturous). KISS KISS was an apology to make up to Joel Silver and give him a shot at directing. I was so impressed by his directing ability and his obvious apology to Joel and myself, I gave him a chance to direct a detective script of ours he’d enjoy. He rejected my offer and still hasn’t paid us for INSIDE THE RIBBON. Some people you just can’t help.

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