A Chorus Line (1985)

PG-13 | 117 mins | Musical | 20 December 1985

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HISTORY

The motion picture was based on the original stage play, A Chorus Line, created and choreographed by Michael Bennett. According to the 15 May 1975 LAT, Bennett came up with the story during the summer of 1974, when he and composer Marvin Hamlisch interviewed a group of chorus dancers about their ambitions and experiences. They intended the production to be “a musical about what the American chorus person is all about.” The stage production won nine Tony Awards in 1976, and was awarded a Pulitzer Prize for Drama the same year. Additionally, the play was awarded a Special Tony Award for becoming the longest running musical on Broadway.
       Six days before A Chorus Line premiered on stage, the same 15 May 1975 LAT article reported that four producers had already offered to purchase the film rights, including Ray Stark, Feuer & Martin, Frank Yablans, and Landers & Roberts. According to the 24 Feb 1976 DV, Universal Pictures, Inc., had acquired the film rights, and hired Bennett to produce and direct the feature film, with Ned Tanen as executive supervisor. Although Tanen refused to reveal the purchase price, as noted in a 24 Feb1976 HR news item, he admitted it was very costly, and that Universal deemed it “the most important acquisition” made by any film company at that time. Production on the film was scheduled to begin after the stage version became less popular, as it was still showing in New York City to standing room only crowds, after opening off-Broadway 21 May 1976, at Newman Theater, and five ... More Less

The motion picture was based on the original stage play, A Chorus Line, created and choreographed by Michael Bennett. According to the 15 May 1975 LAT, Bennett came up with the story during the summer of 1974, when he and composer Marvin Hamlisch interviewed a group of chorus dancers about their ambitions and experiences. They intended the production to be “a musical about what the American chorus person is all about.” The stage production won nine Tony Awards in 1976, and was awarded a Pulitzer Prize for Drama the same year. Additionally, the play was awarded a Special Tony Award for becoming the longest running musical on Broadway.
       Six days before A Chorus Line premiered on stage, the same 15 May 1975 LAT article reported that four producers had already offered to purchase the film rights, including Ray Stark, Feuer & Martin, Frank Yablans, and Landers & Roberts. According to the 24 Feb 1976 DV, Universal Pictures, Inc., had acquired the film rights, and hired Bennett to produce and direct the feature film, with Ned Tanen as executive supervisor. Although Tanen refused to reveal the purchase price, as noted in a 24 Feb1976 HR news item, he admitted it was very costly, and that Universal deemed it “the most important acquisition” made by any film company at that time. Production on the film was scheduled to begin after the stage version became less popular, as it was still showing in New York City to standing room only crowds, after opening off-Broadway 21 May 1976, at Newman Theater, and five months later at the Shubert Theatre on Broadway. Various contemporary sources revealed that Universal paid $5.5 million for film rights, an unprecedented amount at that time.
       A news item in the 8 Mar 1978 Var announced that Bennett had backed out as producer-director of the picture, and that Mike Nichols was being considered as his replacement. A screenwriter was yet to be named, and a 1980 release was anticipated. In a 28 Mar 1978 HR brief, Ann-Margret was rumored to be replacing Donna McKechnie, who performed a role in the original stage play.
       After an extended delay, Universal Pictures sought to renegotiate royalty terms with the stage producers and shareholders, according to a 26 Jul 1978 article in DV. At the time of purchase, an unusually high twenty percent of proceeds was agreed to be paid to the shareholders, after the film surpassed a $30 million gross. Production costs had already surpassed the $6 to $7 million estimate for the film’s budget, set three years prior, and Universal saw no way to profit under the original terms. Universal proposed delaying its intended release date of 1 Jun 1980 to 1 Jan 1982 if the shareholders agreed to a higher royalty return point of $45 million. DV explained that delaying the film’s release would be highly beneficial to its stage producers and shareholders, as the musical had become a huge Broadway hit and could continue its run indefinitely. However, shareholders were not convinced to renegotiate, as doubts existed as to whether or not Universal would be able to honor their original film premiere date of 1 Jun 1980. Rumors suggested that Mike Nichols would no longer be directing the picture, and a start date for filming was yet to be announced. Another stronghold was the Shubert Organization, owners of the Shubert Theatre, who held exclusive presentation rights to both the stage and film productions, as part of the original exclusivity clause in the purchase agreement.
       According to a 2 Dec 1978 LAT article, Universal president, Ned Tanen, was pursuing Sidney Lumet as a director and named Bo Goldman as the current screenwriter. Tanen anticipated a fall, 1979, start date and a Christmas, 1980, release. An interview with Lumet in the 20 Dec 1978 Var confirmed his interest in directing. However, he predicted conflicts with his choice of using a New York City theater for filming, as it would create problems with theater union jurisdictions and result in considerable expenses. A news item in the 11 Jul 1979 DV reported that Allan Carr was producing, as Tanen had left Universal, and Lumet was no longer the project’s director. Carr reported in the 11 Sep 1979 DV that actor John Travolta was a possible cast member, and that Joel Schumacher would be writing the screenplay. Unknown to Carr, Universal sold the screen rights for A Chorus Line to PolyGram Pictures, which would act as a financier, while Universal maintained the film’s distribution, according to the 24 Apr 1980 HR. The 28 Apr 1980 Evening Outlook stated that the sale was made without Carr’s consent, and he was considering a lawsuit against the studio. However, Universal reportedly concluded the project had become too much of a financial liability. Taking over for Carr, Peter Guber, a fifty-percent owner of PolyGram, planned a Jan 1981 production start date. The 20 Jun 1982 LAT reported the deal cost PolyGram Pictures $7.8 million.
       According to the 5 Jun 1980 LAHExam, John Travolta was reportedly in talks with PolyGram about purchasing the film rights for A Chorus Line for his own production company, and that the script might have to be rewritten for him. However, PolyGram was also hoping to add Mikhail Baryshnikov to the cast as the Chorus Line director, “Zach.” The 25 Aug 1980 LAHExam, added that Travolta wanted to revise his role of dancer “Tony Manero” in Saturday Night Fever (1977, see entry) as a Broadway hopeful. At the time, it was rumored that Travolta’s Urban Cowboy (1980, see entry) director, James Bridges, would handle the script re-write and direct the revised version of A Chorus Line. According to the 5 Sep 1980 HR, Travolta was negotiating a $4 million salary, and the Jul 1981 New West confirmed that producer Peter Guber had approached Bridges to write and direct the picture. PolyGram reportedly offered Travolta $4.5 million but he refused to approve the script.
       A 20 Jun 1982 LAT, article reported that Joel Schumaker’s script proposed to segue from the theatre stage and explore the personal lives of the dancers, at their homes, incorporating “surreal re-enactments” of the moments when they found their love of dance. However, the producers deemed this approach too sentimental, and convoluted. James Bridges’ script was rumored to cast Travolta in the role of Cassie, changing the gender, and turning the romance between dancer and director into a homosexual relationship between the characters of Travolta and Baryshnikov.
       In a 2 Dec 1981 Var news item, Peter Guber announced that filming would begin Mar 1982, although the film was still without a director.
       According to the 20 Jun 1982 LAT, Guber confirmed that John Travolta and Mikhail Baryshnikov were expected to take on the roles of the aspiring dancer and the play’s director. In addition, Guber planned to enlist Herman Krawitz, then president of New York’s American Ballet Theatre, as executive producer. With production costs approaching $20 million during the summer of 1980, Guber, petitioned his PolyGram partners in Hamburg, Germany, for financial backing, but after lengthy talks, his request was denied. Guber reportedly ended his relationship with PolyGram Pictures in early 1982, and Gordon Stulberg took over as studio head.
       LAT reported the original theater producer and shareholder, Joseph Papp, reached out to Stulberg and expressed interest in producing the motion picture, fearing the integrity of the show would be compromised. Papp planned to limit production costs by giving up part of his profit share, and by hiring unknown filmmakers to direct and star in the film. Stulberg estimated that this would cut Guber’s $20 million budget in half, and he approached Universal for funding yet again. However, the two parties could not agree to terms about splitting the film’s profits, and negotiations fell through. Stulberg sought other investors, including partners Cy Feuer and Ernest Martin, and predicted a Jan 1983 start date, with a Christmas 1983 release. The 7 Jul 1982 DV announced that Broadway veterans Feuer and Martin agreed to co-produce the film. Two weeks later, the 23 Jul 1982 HR added that Arnold Schulman had been hired as the new screenwriter. Schulman had previously received Academy Award nominations for his screenplays for Love With the Proper Stranger (1963, see entry), and Goodbye, Columbus (1969, see entry).
       According to a later article in the 8 Feb 1985 DV, Feuer and Martin contributed $100,000 of their personal finances to pay for Schulman’s first draft, as an act of good faith to PolyGram.
       The project remained in limbo over the next six months, until PolyGram reportedly tried to sell film rights to another studio, as noted in the 22 Feb 1983 NYDN. The 21 Apr 1983 DV announced that Embassy Films Associates would join PolyGram in co-producing the picture. Although Schulman’s script was approved, the film was still without a director or cast. Nonetheless, a production start date was announced for the fall of 1983, with an expected release in summer, 1984.
       As stated in a 12 Oct 1983 DV news item, director Richard Attenborough was negotiating talks with PolyGram, while Jay Presson Allen was reportedly polishing Shulman’s script. However, he is not credited onscreen. The 18 Feb 1984 Screen International confirmed that Attenborough would direct and co-produce A Chorus Line, with principal photography set to begin 17 Sep 1984, and a predicted release date of May or Jun 1985.
       An advertisement in the 22 Feb 1984 Var announced an “open casting call for principal dancers,” to be held in New York City on 24 Feb 1984, and a NYT article on 25 Feb 1984 reported that over 2,000 dancers lined up at the Royale Theater. In the end, 300 dancers were selected for callbacks to be held the following month. Auditions for dancers in Los Angeles, CA, were announced in the 2 Mar 1984 HR and scheduled for 4 Mar 1984.
       A 26 May 1984 news item in Screen International announced that rehearsals for the $20 million production would begin 23 Jul 1984 and last for eight weeks, before shooting began 17 Sep 1984 for another twelve weeks. However, the 20 Jul 1984 DV noted rehearsals would begin 6 Aug 1984, and the 17 Aug 1984 DV reported that shooting would last for fourteen weeks, beginning 1 Oct 1984.
       Filming was scheduled to take place at the Mark Hellinger Theatre, but, according to the 18 Jul 1984 DV, production nearly relocated from New York City due to a dispute between producers and local stagehands. The two parties contested the number of crewmembers they were compelled to hire, based on union requirements. Producers reportedly needed only five stagehands, but the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees Local 1 demanded the employment of twelve people. The producers claimed the cost would add $350,000 to $400,000 to their budget and threatened to move the production to Chicago, IL, or Toronto, CA. Terms were agreed upon the following month, as reported in the 17 Aug 1984 DV, and filming continued, as planned, at the Hellinger Theatre.
       The 13 Aug 1984 People magazine named newcomer Alyson Reed in the role of “Cassie,” but noted that Lesley Ann Warren, and Ann Reinking were also considered for the part. The 15 Aug 1984 HR stated that Attenborough was hoping to cast Mandy Patinkin in the role of Zach, but the actor had other obligations. On 30 Aug 1984, DV announced that Michael Douglas was hired for the role and, according to a 13 Sep 1984 DV news item, Douglas declined top billing, preferring to be listed alphabetically with the seventeen other unknown cast members, since he believed in “the film’s ensemble spirit.”
       According to the 19 Nov 1984 DV, filming was underway on the now $24 million project, with an anticipated sixteen-week shoot, set to end mid-Jan 1985. However, the 13 Jan 1985 LAT reported that the budget was $16 million, and that filming was behind schedule due to “sporadic outbreaks of the flu in the cast.” Production would continue until the beginning of Mar 1985. Various contemporary sources noted the picture, shot in 70mm, inspired several celebrity visitors to the set, including Al Pacino, Michael Jackson, and Bob Fosse, whose daughter, Nicole Fosse, was a cast member.
       The 28 Aug 1985 HR reported the film would open in 500 theatres Jan 1986, following a mid-Dec 1985 test run in selected cities, and several benefit premieres. When Embassy Film Associates was purchased by The Coca-Cola Company during the film’s production, distribution of A Chorus Line was transferred to Columbia Pictures. A news item in the 25 Nov 1985 HR stated that Columbia moved the release to 20 Dec 1985, and increased the screens to between 750 and 850, following positive reception at previews. However, the 20 Dec 1985 HR reported the number of screens as approximately 650.
       Critical reception was mixed, according to the 21 Dec 1985 Screen International, with some deeming it “less a movie than an expensive souvenir programme,” and others claiming it was “the best dance film” in years. Attenborough was reportedly surprised at the “viciousness of the reviews,” but the 11 Jan 1986 LAHExam stated that the British director received a lengthy standing ovation when the film premiered in London, England, in Jan 1986.
       Screen International reported earnings of $306,509 in the first six days of release.
       The film was nominated for three Academy Awards in the following categories: Film Editing, Music (Original Song), and Sound.
       End credits include the following acknowledgements: “Special thanks to The New York City Mayor’s Office of Film, Theatre and Broadcasting. Filmed on location at The Mark Hellinger Theatre, New York, NY.” More Less

GEOGRAPHIC LOCATIONS
SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Daily Variety
24 Feb 1976.
---
Daily Variety
26 Jul 1978
p. 1, 8.
Daily Variety
11 Jul 1979.
---
Daily Variety
11 Sep 1979.
---
Daily Variety
24 Apr 1980
p. 3, 17.
Daily Variety
7 Jul 1982.
p. 1, 14.
Daily Variety
2 Apr 1983
p. 1, 14.
Daily Variety
12 Oct 1983.
---
Daily Variety
18 Jul 1984.
---
Daily Variety
20 Jul 1984.
---
Daily Variety
17 Aug 1984.
---
Daily Variety
30 Aug 1984.
---
Daily Variety
13 Sep 1984.
---
Daily Variety
19 Nov 1984.
---
Daily Variety
8 Feb 1985
p. 14, 16.
Evening Outlook
28 Apr 1980.
---
Hollywood Reporter
24 Feb 1976.
---
Hollywood Reporter
28 Mar 1978.
---
Hollywood Reporter
24 Apr 1980.
---
Hollywood Reporter
5 Sep 1980.
---
Hollywood Reporter
23 Jul 1982
p. 1.
Hollywood Reporter
2 Mar 1984.
---
Hollywood Reporter
15 Aug 1984.
---
Hollywood Reporter
28 Aug 1985
p. 1, 7.
Hollywood Reporter
25 Nov 1985.
---
Hollywood Reporter
3 Dec 1985
p. 3, 35.
Hollywood Reporter
20 Dec 1985.
---
LAHExam
5 Jun 1980.
---
LAHExam
25 Aug 1980.
---
LAHExam
11 Jan 1986.
---
Los Angeles Times
15 May 1975.
---
Los Angeles Times
2 Dec 1978
Section II, p. 5.
Los Angeles Times
20 Jun 1982
Calendar, p. 1, 36-37, 49.
Los Angeles Times
21 Oct 1983.
---
Los Angeles Times
7 Oct 1984.
---
Los Angeles Times
13 Jan 1985.
---
Los Angeles Times
12 Dec 1985
p. 1, 6.
New West
Jul 1981.
---
New York Daily News
22 Feb 1983.
---
New York Times
25 Feb 1984
p. 1, 13.
New York Times
10 Dec 1985
p. 17.
People
13 Aug 1984.
---
Screen International
18 Feb 1984
pp. 1-2.
Screen International
26 May 1984.
---
Screen International
21 Dec 1985.
---
Variety
8 Mar 1978
p. 1, 18.
Variety
20 Dec 1978
p. 6, 46.
Variety
22 May 1980
p. 1, 7.
Variety
2 Dec 1981.
---
Variety
22 Feb 1984.
---
Variety
4 Dec 1985
p. 24.
CAST
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
The Cast:
Reject dancers:
The Dancers:
Scott Taylor
+
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION TEXTS
Columbia Pictures presents
Embassy Films Associates and Polygram Pictures
A Feuer and Martin Production
Richard Attenborough's Film
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Unit prod mgr
1st asst dir
2d asst dir
Addl 2d asst dir
Addl 2d asst dir
PRODUCERS
Prod
Exec prod
Assoc prod
WRITER
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
1st asst cam
2d asst cam
Addl cam
Addl cam
Cam trainee
Louma crane tech
Aerial photog
Gaffer
Best boy
Key grip
Dolly grip
Theatre elec
Still photog
Spec photog
Louma crane supplied by
ART DIRECTORS
Art dir
FILM EDITORS
Film ed
Asst film ed
Asst film ed
Asst film ed
Asst film ed
Asst film ed
Asst film ed
SET DECORATORS
Set dec
Set dresser
Asst prop master
Asst prop master
Head carpenter
Scenic chargeman
Theatre head carpenter
Theatre prop master
COSTUMES
Cost des
Ward supv
Ward supv
Asst to Faye Poliakin
Cost consultant
MUSIC
Lyrics by
Mus arr and cond by
Dance mus layouts by
Dance mus layouts by
Mus mixer
Asst mus ed
Asst mus ed
Copyist supv and mus contractor
SOUND
Sd mixer
Suv sd ed
Re-rec mixer
Re-rec mixer
Re-rec mixer
Re-rec mixer
Re-rec mixer
Boom op
Playback op
New York prod sd facilities by
New York audio transfers by
Dolby eng
VISUAL EFFECTS
Titles des by
DANCE
Asst choreog
Asst choreog
Dance asst
Dance asst
Dance asst
MAKEUP
Makeup artist
Hairstylist
Asst makeup artist
Asst makeup artist
Spec hair coloring by
Asst hairstylist
Asst hairstylist
PRODUCTION MISC
Prod on the stage by
a New York Shakespeare Festival Presentation
Casting
Casting
Addl casting
Scr supv
Helicopter pilot
Asst loc mgr
Asst loc mgr
Theatre house mgr
Transportation capt
Asst to the dir
Prod asst
Prod asst
Prod asst
Prod asst
DGA trainee
Rehearsal stage mgr
Extra casting
Extra casting, Joy Todd, Inc.
Dir of pub
Unit pub
Pub asst
Pub relations
Prod office coord
Asst prod office coord
Post prod accountant
Asst auditor
Payroll auditor
Prod supv
Asst to Richard Attenborough
Asst to the prods
Asst to the prods
Asst to Michael Douglas
COLOR PERSONNEL
Col by
SOURCES
LITERARY
Based upon the stage play A Chorus Line conceived, choreographed and directed by Michael Bennett. Book of the stage play by James Kirkwood and Nicholas Dante. Based on the musical play A Chorus Line , book by James Kirkwood and Nicholas Dante, music by Marvin Hamlisch, lyrics by Edward Kleban (New York, 25 Jul 1975).
DETAILS
Release Date:
20 December 1985
Premiere Information:
New York opening: 10 December 1985
Los Angeles opening: 12 December 1985
Production Date:
1 October 1984--early March 1985 in New York City
Copyright Claimant:
Embassy Films Associates
Copyright Date:
31 July 1986
Copyright Number:
PA295903
Physical Properties:
Sound
Dolby Stereo ® in Selected Theatres
Color
Lenses
Lenses and Panaflex Camera by Panavision®, supplied by General Camera Corp.
Duration(in mins):
117
MPAA Rating:
PG-13
Country:
United States
Language:
English
PCA No:
27877
Passed by NBR:
No
SYNOPSIS

In a New York City theater, hundreds of dancers attend an audition and perform choreography in small groups. The producer’s assistant, Larry, swiftly rejects hopefuls and narrows down the selection, as the best dancers move on to audition for director, Zach. Midway through the auditions, a seasoned dancer named Cassie arrives and asks to see her former lover, Zach, but he dismisses her. When she requests an audition, he refuses her again, unsure why she would want a part in the chorus line. After her third appeal, Zach asks her to leave, but her old friend, Larry, convinces Cassie to stay. Later, the sixteen finalists introduce themselves to Zach, as their anxiety intensifies. With eight parts available, each dancer is asked to share their personal story. During a break, Cassie makes a final plea to Zach for a part. Although he tells her she is too good for the role, she dances for him onstage, prompting his memories of their past relationship. Still hurt by her abrupt departure one year earlier, Zach hesitantly allows Cassie to join the other dancers in the audition process. However, she struggles to fall in line with the others, and is repeatedly chastised by Zach, who pulls her offstage to ask why she left him to move to Hollywood. After a heartfelt discussion about their failed relationship, Cassie admits to leaving in the hope of becoming a star, so she could finally win Zach’s approval. When one of the finalist dancers is injured, the others share their own insecurities and vulnerability. At the end of the long day, the final eight ... +


In a New York City theater, hundreds of dancers attend an audition and perform choreography in small groups. The producer’s assistant, Larry, swiftly rejects hopefuls and narrows down the selection, as the best dancers move on to audition for director, Zach. Midway through the auditions, a seasoned dancer named Cassie arrives and asks to see her former lover, Zach, but he dismisses her. When she requests an audition, he refuses her again, unsure why she would want a part in the chorus line. After her third appeal, Zach asks her to leave, but her old friend, Larry, convinces Cassie to stay. Later, the sixteen finalists introduce themselves to Zach, as their anxiety intensifies. With eight parts available, each dancer is asked to share their personal story. During a break, Cassie makes a final plea to Zach for a part. Although he tells her she is too good for the role, she dances for him onstage, prompting his memories of their past relationship. Still hurt by her abrupt departure one year earlier, Zach hesitantly allows Cassie to join the other dancers in the audition process. However, she struggles to fall in line with the others, and is repeatedly chastised by Zach, who pulls her offstage to ask why she left him to move to Hollywood. After a heartfelt discussion about their failed relationship, Cassie admits to leaving in the hope of becoming a star, so she could finally win Zach’s approval. When one of the finalist dancers is injured, the others share their own insecurities and vulnerability. At the end of the long day, the final eight dancers are chosen, with Cassie among them. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.