How Making Love Changed Us

Screenwriter Barry Sandler discusses the 1982 gay-themed drama, actors who refused to star in it, and its lasting legacy.



It was certainly groundbreaking.
It had never been done before, and I knew that it was going to be a difficult time trying to get it going, which, ironically enough, it really wasn’t. But as for what propelled me or inspired me to write it, it was a number of things. It was Scott pushing me, it was my own reassessment of where I wanted to go as a writer, and it was also I felt a need to make a positive statement that hopefully the next generation of young gay and lesbian men and women coming up would have something a little more positive to look at on the screen that could help them feel a little better about who they are and possibly not necessarily not have to hide in the closet. Now, I’m not trying to sound humanitarian or anything like that, but I just felt since I am a creature of the movies, growing up in the movies, and because we do get so much of our sensibilities are so shaped by what we see in the media, and this is really before cable TV and all that, but by images and film and books and television, and I felt I could utilize whatever talent I have as a screenwriter to possibly shape or make an impact or shape human attitudes.

What was the studio’s initial reaction to the screenplay?
The fear was that in 1980, which is when it was written, it was the beginning of a conservative era. Reagan was about to be elected and I felt the odds were probably against us for getting this film made, and I said I don’t want to go out on a limb and write this thing and not have anyone want to make it. Because, you know, studios are notoriously gutless when it comes to doing anything dealing with … well, they certainly were then … doing anything with sex or sexuality or anything that might be perceived as subversive. Scott was very close with Claire Townsend, who was head of development at 20th Century Fox right under Sherry Lansing, and the irony is it was two women. Sherry ran the studio, and Claire was one of her people in command in development who really got the movie off the ground. We went to Claire and then to Sherry and said, “This is the movie. If the script turns out, would you be willing to make it?” And they said, “Yes, absolutely.” And I had enough confidence that the script would turn out, but I needed the assurance that if it did, they would make it. And Sherry did say, “Yes we want to make this movie.” I don’t know if a male head of a studio – straight, gay, or indifferent – would have made this movie, but really I think it took a woman in 1980 to be able to say, “Yes, I’m going to make this movie.”

What happened after Sherry agreed to make it?
I went off and wrote it. I mean, Scott and I hammered out the story, and then I went off and wrote it. And then, we did a second draft, and we turned it in, and almost immediately, they jumped at it. Danny Melnick, who was a big producer at the time, had  done a lot of big movies, like Altered States, Close Encounters, and All That Jazz, came aboard Fox and read the script, called me at 1 in the morning, and just said he loved the it. He was very moved by it, and I mean this great guy, this great producer, said, “I want this to be my first movie at Fox.”

Tags: film