It’s the 20th anniversary of cinema’s greatest work about Looney Tunes vs. space monsters starring Michael Jordan, a hot mess that should by no means work, considering it’s the same era that gave us Extreme Toonz. But did! To that end, here’s my PA’s-eye-view of how the film got made over at National Lampoon. Friends, I give you Space Jam: behind the scenes.
Also, the Merrie Melodies era was superior. You know it, I know it.
UPDATE! National Lampoon got overhauled again, so here’s the piece:
What the PA Saw: An Oral History of Space Jam
Space Jam is the story of sport itself, touching on the universal theme of the greatest athlete of all time and his plucky team of ragtag cartoons vs. soul-sucking aliens from outer space. Watching it, each of us must look into the molten core of ourselves and ask what type of anthropomorphic cartoon animal athletes resides there.
Thankfully, recently surfaced memoirs of a production assistant now provide a fly-on-the-wall view of this historic moment in art, presented here for the film’s monumental 20th anniversary:
Bad start. I’m told when the tech crew got here, they found Michael Jordan rigging the lights himself. When they told him union rules prohibited anyone else from doing that work, he said, “Tell your union until they can light me better than I light myself, I’m not listening.”
Mr. Jordan’s not on the callsheet. Today was a dry run staging rehearsal. We didn’t even need lights.
A lot of progress today after a bumpy morning. Before we even began filming, MJ got in Bugs’s face and said “Let me be very clear. I am going to win the Oscar for this. You are nothing. You are here to try and keep up with me.”
Bugs just waggled an eyebrow at the camera and said “Eh, he don’t know me very well, do he?” Then he shook Jordan’s hand, and returned to set. That’s when Jordan realized he was holding dynamite.
After that, they were cool.
Overheard a conversation today between Porky the Pig and Marvin the Martian. Apparently Jordan’s been getting in everyone’s faces, trying to see who stands up to him and who crumples. Mr. the Pig thinks the latter will be cut from the film. “Oh dear,” says Mr. the Martian. “Oh, how simply awful!”
Mr. the Pig’s stutter has become unintelligible whenever MJ is around.
First day of basketball scenes and the whole day of shooting wasted. The original design for the Tune Squad uniforms was a black jersey with a white stripe up the center. Despite repeated explanations to Mr. Le Pew, he would not or could not understand that his fellow actors were not skunks. His unwelcome, and frankly, terrifying advances ruined every shot. [Director] Joe [Pytka] had him escorted off the lot, but somehow he kept bounding back into the studio like he didn’t even realize he had just tried to rape Bill Murray in front of everybody.
I’m told we’re going to have to reschedule the scenes until wardrobe can design a new look for the team.
A lot of people thought Lola Bunny wouldn’t fit in here, but #23 has shown her more respect than anyone else. He hasn’t said much about her, other than “Girl’s got some skills,” but I think it’s because she’s the only other actor wearing clothes.
Not going to lie, it was pretty embarrassing watching Bugs lose his cool over her like that. They say don’t meet your heroes, but I really thought that was a guy who’d be as chill in person as he is onscreen.
Tasmanian Devil quit today. Spluttering he simply cannot keep up with Jordan’s single-minded relentlessness.
Actor Brandon Hammond has become too committed to his role as young Jordan. He wakes up every day at 5 a.m. and walks to the studio from Glendale, dribbling a ball the whole way. One of the director’s assistants went out of her way to introduce him to Charles Barkley, who was on set today. Barkley was very friendly, put his hand out, and Hammond just stood there, giving the guy a 1000-yard stare.
The producer smoothed it out, said he was just nervous, but after Sir Charles left, the kid glared at her.
“Don’t you ever do that to me again.”
“Put me in a position where I have to be polite to that fat #@!&. He thinks he’s on my level. He’s not. Let me tell you who is: God, and Wilt Chamberlain, and I’m not sure about God.”
Obviously it was very awkward for everybody, a child talking to an adult like that, and I don’t know why nobody reprimanded him except that he was in the zone acting that week.
Everyone was transfixed, but I looked up, and I saw:
Jordan, in the shadows, nodding.
Nobody’s said it outright, but the general suspicion around here is that Jordan and Lola are sleeping together.
Ended earlier than we’d planned today when MJ broke Tweety Bird down to build him back up again. The Monstars were supposed to win this scene, but Jordan insisted it was impossible for him to be defeated, and the suspension of disbelief would be broken.
Joe said, “Well, Mike, how about the ball goes to Tweety?” knowing the bird wouldn’t stand a chance and not even #23 could object. Jordan says okay.
They take a couple minutes to block out the new game, and roll camera. Sonofagun, Jordan goes off-choreography and blocks out three Monstars by himself. Tweety looks around, not sure what to do. MJ snarls.
“Shoot it, you fucking midget.”
Tweety bricks it, but MJ slams the rebound home. Tweety in tears. MJ shoulder checks him. “Tomorrow don’t you dare miss again.”
The message was clear: Get on my level.
Toro cut from production. Can’t say he wasn’t warned. Jordan said he’d be extra hard on him because he expects more from a bull.
Bugs and MJ started playing pattycake while we were setting up a shot, but it pretty quickly became more than a game. MJ surly today because last night Madonna sent a limousine to the club to pick up Daffy and not him. The key grip says it’s because a duck has the third longest penis-to-body ratio in the entire animal kingdom. Taking it out on Bugs today, I guess.
Sam bursts in this morning, shooting his pistols in the air nonstop and crowing about how he was going to “buy a whole goldurn sarsaparilla factory!”
Chaos in Mr. Reitman’s office at lunchtime. I was filling out some paperwork when the whole crew walked by and the door hadn’t even closed before I heard them fighting. Apparently Jordan has amassed almost $350,000 in gambling debts to Yosemite Sam.
Heard Sam telling Wayne Knight that Jordan had tried to all-or-nothing him into wagering sex, but, “I ain’t afeared o’that inverted sexuality like some yella-bellied, east coast, nimby-pants coquette, but I’m just a mite skittish of breakin’ the first rule’a the pantomimey: never fall in love with yur costar.”
I have put in my resume with Lion’s Gate.
Jordan’s last day of shooting. Entire crew in tears, wondering if this is the end of an era in movie-making.
Unexpectedly, Jordan returns to production. New sense of hope among most of the crew. Not me. Jordan suggests changing title to Space Jordan, with final villain being a gigantic, Voltron-like mecha-Jordan made from smaller, Monstar Jordan clones.
Long silence while writers consider this, broken at last by the great one himself. “Stupid idea, right?” Huge sigh from the team, but then he spoke again. “A Jordan so big that even Jordan can’t defeat it? Get that weakness out of here.” He fixed them all with an intense stare. “Not in my film.”
Shooting wrapped, but Jordan seen in VFX department, studying animated designs “in case I have to cover for your sorry asses.” He left in a huff, telling the team they weren’t better digital animation units than he, just “better digital animation units than I choose to be.”
Thank God for Bill Murray.