Plague Of Scripters

When Warner Bros.’ “Outbreak” and Fox’s “Crisis in the Hot Zone” were racing to be the first viral thriller in production, the Warner pic’s producers decided not to waste time pondering the intricacies of viral transmission. They landed stars Dustin Hoffman, Rene Russo and Morgan Freeman, and “In the Line of Fire” helmer Wolfgang Petersen – and opted to let the plot take care of itself.

To the ticket-buying public, this ’90s answer to “The Andromeda Strain” may have seemed to flow effortlessly from the pens of the pic’s credited screenwriters, Laurence Dworet and Robert Roy Pool. In fact, producer Arnold Kopelson tapped no fewer than five major screenwriters to do uncredited rewrites and polishes on the script. Production even shut down for more than a week so the script could be substantially rewritten.

The price tag for the body-and-fender work done by Neil Jimenez (“The Waterdance”), Ted Tally (“The Silence of the Lambs”), Jeb Stuart (“The Fugitive”), Carrie Fisher (“Postcards From the Edge”) and Dan Gilroy (“Freejack”) was in the neighborhood of $2.5 million. And among screenwriting cognoscenti, guessing who wrote what sections of “Outbreak” has become a popular parlor game.

Sources familiar with the production suggest the rewrite work breaks down along the following lines. Jimenez, whose drama “Waterdance” had a hospital setting, was brought in to work on both plot and character. Tally added his patented brand of nail-biting suspense to the mix. Stuart punched up the action sequences. Fisher fleshed out the dysfunctional (yet believable) relationship between the divorcing medicos played by Hoffman and Russo. And Gilroy, whose “Freejack” had some intriguing high-tech moments, did the final pass that united all the disparate strands.

Gilroy, a former Variety staff reporter, has an additional specialty. He is married to supermodel-turned-actress Russo.

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