Troy Duffy: A Cautionary Hollywood Tale – Boondock Saints
I’m always looking for success stories in the film business to study and analyze. Robert Rodriguez and El Mariachi, Kevin Smith and Clerks, and Oren Peli Paranormal Activity come to mind. A name you might not have heard of is Troy Duffy. Studying filmmaking success stories is great but studying complete filmmaking disasters is even more valuable.
I’m sure many of you are familiar with the cult indie film classic The Boondock Saints but many of you might not know the crazy story of its writer and director Troy Duffy.
Troy Duffy moved to Hollywood in his twenties to chase the dream of a music career with his band, The Brood. While seeking music gigs, he tended bar at a local Los Angeles dive, where he wrote the screenplay for The Boondock Saints during his break periods.
The muse for the script happened one day when he came home from his job to find a dead hooker being wheeled out of a drug dealer’s apartment across the hall. Duffy went and rented a computer (as he couldn’t afford to buy one) and wrote the screenplay for The Boondock Saints based on his feelings of disgust at what he had just seen. As he puts it:
I decided right there that out of sheer frustration and not being able to afford a psychologist, I was going to write this, think about it. People watching the news sometimes get so disgusted by what they see. Susan Smith drowning her kids… guys going into McDonald’s, lighting up the whole place. You hear things that disgust you so much that even if you’re Mother Teresa, there comes a breaking point. One day you’re gonna watch the news and you’re gonna say,
‘Whoever did that despicable thing should pay with their life. You think — for maybe just a minute — that whoever did that should die, without any fuckin’ jury. I was going to give everybody that sick fantasy. And tell it as truthfully as I could. I wrote Boondock Saints in three sections. I wrote the very beginning and then I started thinking of cool shit for the middle. Then somehow between the beginning and the middle, the ending dictated itself.
The screenplay featured two brothers in Boston dedicated to killing Mafia thugs. He successfully got the script into the hands of Harvey Weinstein of Miramax Films, who bought the screenplay for $300,000 intending to film the movie on a $15,000,000 budget.
Now what happened over the next three years is a remarkable cautionary tale. I saw this amazing documentary called Overnight, the 2003 documentary that chronicled Duffy’s rise and fall.
Troy Duffy was portrayed in the film as an egomaniacal maniac, obsessed with the heights of his talent and abusive to his friends. He goes on to lose his mega-deal with Harvey Weinstein, his friends, and his Hollywood connections.
This remarkable story should be taught in every film school around the world. I watched Overnight with my jaw on the ground for most of the screening.
How one man can be given everything you could ever want and literally watch him flush it down the toilet is awe-inspiring, and not in a good way.
Now, this should have been the end of the story but we all love a great comeback story. After being dropped by Harvey and Miramax, still believing that the film was a hot commodity, Troy Duffy convinced agents at the William Morris Agency to help him market it to other studios.
The independent production company Franchise Pictures agreed to finance the project, for $7 million, less than half of Miramax’s original budget.
The Boondock Saints grossed over $50 million in domestic video sales, of which Troy Duffy received nothing due to the bad deal he signed with the distribution company but after the debacle of the Miramax deal, he didn’t have many options.
According to Troy Duffy, no one on the film got paid; not him his producers or the cast. He sued Franchise Pictures for royalties of the first film, merchandise and sequel rights.
After a lengthy lawsuit, Troy Duffy, his producers, and the principal cast received an undisclosed amount of The Boondock Saints royalties as well as the sequel rights.
The film grossed $11 million at the box office (the film was released limited, never playing on more than 524 screens) and has grossed over $50 million in DVD sales (as of June 2012). The film had an $8 million budget.
Currently, Duffy has several projects in development, including the films “Blood Spoon Council” and “The Good King.” He is in the process of writing “Boondock Saints III.”
This story reminds us all that, if I may quote Stan Lee,
“With great power comes great responsibility.”
Troy Duffy receives the golden ticket and then pissed all over it but it seemed that was the journey he needed to take as a filmmaker, a person and as a human being.
I don’t know the man personally but I would like to believe that he learned something from his journey and has become a wiser person and filmmaker.
If put on the same path in my early twenties I don’t know how I would have reacted. I would have probably gone nuts too.
When fame and fortune thrust on someone when they are young things like this happen, not always but most of the time. I will finish this article with this quote from Overnight which sums up everything:
“No man is changed by success. What happens is success works on the man’s personality like a truth drug, bringing him out of the closet and revealing…what was always in his head.” – Albert Goldman – Author
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