Personal Best (1982)

R | 122 mins | Drama | 1982

Director:

Robert Towne

Writer:

Robert Towne

Producer:

Robert Towne

Cinematographer:

Michael Chapman

Production Designer:

Ron Hobbs

Production Company:

Geffen Company
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HISTORY


       With the exception of Mariel Hemingway and Scott Glenn, cast members were real-life athletes with no professional acting experience, as stated in a 5 Feb 1982 NYT review. In a Feb 1982 issue of The Runner, director Robert Towne stated that he chose to use athletes because “if you put someone in the position of doing what they do every day…they’ll do better than any actor.” For the leading role, Hemingway trained daily over nine months before production began, according to a 4 Feb 1982 LAT article. Though the actress initially planned to train for only 2-3 months, production delays allowed her more time to prepare. Normally 118 pounds, Hemingway gained an extra 17 pounds in muscle mass and grew one and a half inches to 5 feet 10 inches tall during training. Standouts amongst the cast of athletes were supporting actors Patrice Donnelly and Kenny Moore. As stated in a Feb 1982 HR review, Donnelly was “a member of the 1976 U.S. Olympic team,” and once ranked as the fourth-best hurdler in the world. Moore won fourth place in the marathon event of the 1972 Olympics, and, at the time of filming, worked as a reporter for Sports Illustrated.
       Warner Bros., Inc. initially financed the film, and cast members were forced to join the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) in order to perform because Warner Bros. was a SAG contracts signatory. However, a 23 Mar 1981 DV news item reported that an actors strike occurred Jul 1980 after one month of shooting, and production was temporarily ... More Less


       With the exception of Mariel Hemingway and Scott Glenn, cast members were real-life athletes with no professional acting experience, as stated in a 5 Feb 1982 NYT review. In a Feb 1982 issue of The Runner, director Robert Towne stated that he chose to use athletes because “if you put someone in the position of doing what they do every day…they’ll do better than any actor.” For the leading role, Hemingway trained daily over nine months before production began, according to a 4 Feb 1982 LAT article. Though the actress initially planned to train for only 2-3 months, production delays allowed her more time to prepare. Normally 118 pounds, Hemingway gained an extra 17 pounds in muscle mass and grew one and a half inches to 5 feet 10 inches tall during training. Standouts amongst the cast of athletes were supporting actors Patrice Donnelly and Kenny Moore. As stated in a Feb 1982 HR review, Donnelly was “a member of the 1976 U.S. Olympic team,” and once ranked as the fourth-best hurdler in the world. Moore won fourth place in the marathon event of the 1972 Olympics, and, at the time of filming, worked as a reporter for Sports Illustrated.
       Warner Bros., Inc. initially financed the film, and cast members were forced to join the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) in order to perform because Warner Bros. was a SAG contracts signatory. However, a 23 Mar 1981 DV news item reported that an actors strike occurred Jul 1980 after one month of shooting, and production was temporarily shut down. Towne led the cast members in a lawsuit against SAG for $10 million, alleging that SAG and Warner Bros. ignored an obligation to alert the athletes of the upcoming strike before they signed “standard contract[s],” according to a 6 Aug 1980 DV. A 15 Apr 1982 NYT article reported that the lawsuit “became moot after the strike ended.”
       After production shut down, Warner Bros. dropped the project, and David Geffen agreed to finance Personal Best through his independent production company, allowing cast members to work during the actors’ strike. According to the 23 Mar 1981 DV, filming resumed 10 Sep 1980. Because he was no longer available, the original director of photography, Rey Villalobos, was replaced by Michael Chapman. Production continued through 24 Dec 1980; after a six-month break, the final two weeks were shot in Jun 1981.
       According to a 4 Sep 1980 DV brief and production notes from AMPAS library, filming began in Eugene, OR, at Hayward Field where Olympic trials were held the same year, and moved to The Burbank Studios, as well as other California locations including Los Angeles, San Diego, and San Luis Obispo. The 23 Mar 1981 DV stated that a second unit would also film in Central America. To film the scenes at Hayward Field, seven cameras were placed around the track to best capture the action.
       A Feb 1982 article in The Runner reported that no stunt doubles were used in the film; however, Towne captured footage of Sharon Hatfield, a pentathlete, competing in the 1980 Olympic Trials, and later outfitted Hemingway in a matching uniform so that footage of Hatfield could be intercut with that of Hemingway. Cindy Banks, who played “Kim Stone,” commented that Towne was “‘very intense’” on set, claiming the director often yelled and “‘flew off the handle,’” partly because he was a perfectionist. Hemingway echoed the sentiment, recalling that there were “‘personal confrontations’” with Towne during production. Towne also reportedly argued frequently with director of photography Michael Chapman.
       A 26 Feb 1982 LAHExam item reported that “former Olympic track and field coach” Bill Bowerman asked Towne to remove his credit from Personal Best after viewing it, stating that the film was a “‘discredit to sports in general and a sorry presentation of track and field,’“ and Towne honored his request. Bowerman was reportedly most upset by the character “Terry,” the track coach, whom he called a “loser.”
       Personal Best received mixed reviews. On 3 Feb 1982, a critic for Var called it “not quite good enough” but praised the performances, especially those by the non-professional actors, stating that Towne showed potential as a director. While the 31 Jan 1982 LAT review described it as “a sexy, sensual film,” Vincent Canby of NYT criticized the excessive slow-motion footage and Towne’s apparent obsession with female bodies, especially their “pelvic regions,” “feet and muscled calves,” in his 5 Feb 1982 review.
       After ten weeks of release, the film had only taken in $4.6 million in box-office receipts, according to a 15 Apr 1982 article. Though the budget had been reportedly as low as $7 million at one time, Geffen claimed that the film ultimately cost $16 million. Towne denied Geffen’s claims, stating that the original budget was $11.7 million but eventually climbed to $15 million, partly due to the time period between late Dec 1980 and Jun 1981, when Geffen shut down production and paid $60,000 each week in interest for the entirety of the break. Disagreements arose during production because Towne had not yet signed a contract with Geffen, who described himself as "'an idiot'" for providing money with no contract in place and stated that “no other studio” wanted to take over the film after the actors’ strike because “Towne had [already] spent $5 million, and there wasn’t a coherent scene in the entire movie.” In a 15 Apr 1982 LAT article, Towne stated that Geffen “repeatedly interrupted and interfered” with the shoot and held up production with “long and harassing telephone conversations.” Amongst other things, Geffen accused Towne of taking an entire week to shoot only one scene. Warner Bros. and Geffen dismissed the crew on 8 Jan 1981, as stated in LAT, and padlocked the editing rooms, placing armed guards outside to bar Towne from entering.
       In Dec 1980, Geffen allegedly threatened to drop Personal Best “unless Towne improved Geffen’s deal.” Geffen insisted upon a new agreement that lessened Towne’s profit participation and made the director responsible for budget overruns; Towne later claimed that Geffen initially agreed to honor the deal that Warner Bros. had made with the director, which included neither of those stipulations. In order to resume production, Towne agreed to allow Warner Bros. the “right to first negotiation” on a feature film project entitled Tequila Sunrise (1988, see entry) and the rights to Greystoke (1984). In a 15 Apr 1982 NYT article, Towne was quoted as saying, “‘ Greystoke may be the kid I love the most, but I was eight months’ pregnant with Personal Best, so that’s the kid I had to save.’“ In exchange for signing the new deals, Towne received $1 million, part of which was held in escrow, to be used towards Personal Best if it went any further over budget. Towne also claimed that he repaid Geffen’s $4-5 million contribution to the film.
       The director later described the deals he made with Geffen and Warner Bros. as “coerced modification agreements” when he sued them for $110 million, alleging “fraud, coercion, defamation and breach of contract,” as stated in the 15 Apr 1982 LAHExam. A credit dispute was mentioned in the case, as Towne originally wanted all credits to play at the end of the film, but Geffen insisted his company credit appear at the opening. Geffen eventually took the film from one optical company and delivered it to a “rival firm” which placed his and other credits at the beginning of Personal Best. Geffen again employed armed guards to keep Towne away from projection booths at two theaters, one in New York City and one in Los Angeles, where the film opened 5 Feb 1982. In the lawsuit, Towne claimed the film was “seriously hurt by the new credits,” and distributor Warner Bros. did not adequately promote the film before its release. The director was also quoted as saying he “filed the suit as a matter of principle.” According to an 18 Sep 1998 Entertainment Weekly article published online, Towne later dropped the charges.
       Personal Best marked Robert Towne’s directorial debut, as noted in the 4 Sep 1980 DV brief.
       End credits include a ‘Special Thanks’ to Caleb Deschanel and Richard Sylbert. Television clips used in the film are credited as follows: “Scene from LaVerne and Shirley courtesy of Paramount Pictures Corporation” and “Scenes from 1976 Montreal Olympic Games courtesy of ABC Sports.”


The summary and note for this entry were completed with participation from the AFI Academic Network. Summary and note were written by participant Christy Turner, a student of Oregon State University, with Jon Lewis as academic advisor.
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SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Daily Variety
6 Aug 1980.
---
Daily Variety
4 Sep 1980.
---
Daily Variety
23 Mar 1981
p. 1, 38.
Entertainment Weekly
18 Sep 1998.
---
Hollywood Reporter
3 Feb 1982
p. 3, 22.
LAHExam
26 Feb 1982.
---
LAHExam
15 Apr 1982.
---
Los Angeles Times
31 Jan 1982
Section K, p. 29.
Los Angeles Times
4 Feb 1982
Section H, pp. 1-2.
Los Angeles Times
15 Apr 1982
p. 1, 3, 5.
New York Times
7 Aug 1980
Section C, p. 17.
New York Times
5 Feb 1982
p. 8.
New York Times
15 Apr 1982
Section C, p. 27.
The Runner
Feb 1982.
---
Variety
3 Feb 1982
p. 18.
Variety
21 Apr 1982.
---
CAST
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
Co-starring
Co-starring
Featuring
Featuring
Featuring
Featuring
Featuring
Featuring
Featuring
Women's Team Members
+
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
2d unit dir
Unit prod mgr
Unit prod mgr
Asst dir
Asst dir
2d asst dir
2d asst dir
PRODUCERS
Exec prod
Assoc prod
WRITER
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
Cam op
Cam asst
Cam asst
Cam asst
Cam asst
Underwater cam
Still photog
Gaffer
Best boy
Key grip
2d grip
ART DIRECTOR
Prod des
FILM EDITORS
Supv film ed
Film ed
Film ed
Film ed
Asst film ed
Asst film ed
Asst film ed
Asst film ed
Negative cutter
SET DECORATORS
Set dec
Prop master
Asst prop master
Asst prop master
Const coord
Swing gang
Swing gang
COSTUMES
Women's ward
Men`s ward
MUSIC
Addl mus
Mus ed
La Da Productions, Inc.
SOUND
Sd mixer
Boom man
Utility sd
Supv sd ed
Supv ADR ed
Sd ed
ADR ed
Re-rec mixer
Re-rec mixer
Re-rec mixer
Re-rec mixer
VISUAL EFFECTS
Spec eff
MAKEUP
Make-up
Make-up
Hairstylist
PRODUCTION MISC
Exec assoc
Scr supv
Prod consultant
Transportation coord
First aid
Loc casting
Unit pub
Prod coord
Prod coord
Asst to Mr. Towne
DGA trainee
Tech adv
Tech adv
Tech adv
Tech adv
Tech adv
COLOR PERSONNEL
Technicolor timer
SOURCES
MUSIC
"The Thunderer," written by John Philip Sousa, conducted by Henry Mancini, courtesy of Warner Bros. Records.
SONGS
"Rosalinda's Eyes," written and sung by Billy Joel
"It's Over," written by B. Scaggs and D. Paich, sung by Boz Scaggs
"You Don't Know Me," written by C. Walker and E. Arnold, sung by Kenny Loggins, courtesy of CBS Records
+
SONGS
"Rosalinda's Eyes," written and sung by Billy Joel
"It's Over," written by B. Scaggs and D. Paich, sung by Boz Scaggs
"You Don't Know Me," written by C. Walker and E. Arnold, sung by Kenny Loggins, courtesy of CBS Records
"What a Fool Believes," written by Michael McDonald and Kenny Loggins, sung by The Doobie Brothers
"You Make Loving Fun," written by Christine McVie, sung by Fleetwood Mac
"Dianabol," written and sung by Allan Feuerbach.
+
DETAILS
Release Date:
1982
Premiere Information:
Los Angeles and New York openings: 5 February 1982
Production Date:
21 June--July 1980
10 September--24 December 1980
and two weeks in June 1981
Copyright Claimant:
The Geffen Film Company
Copyright Date:
30 April 1982
Copyright Number:
PA135237
Physical Properties:
Sound
Color
Color by Technicolor®
Lenses/Prints
Lenses and Panaflex® Cameras by Panavision®
Duration(in mins):
122
MPAA Rating:
R
Country:
United States
Language:
English
PCA No:
26611
Passed by NBR:
No
SYNOPSIS

At Hayward Field in Eugene, Oregon, Chris Cahill competes in the Olympic Trials for the 1976 Summer Olympics. After losing in the hurdles event, Chris cries to her father, Rick Cahill, who is also her coach. Meanwhile, Tory Skinner wins second place in the pentathlon, earning a spot on the Olympic team. That night, Tory celebrates with her friend, Roscoe Travis, and a few others at a restaurant. Chris’s father, Rick, comes over to congratulate Tory, and Chris tells him to leave her there as she plans to walk home. Soon after, Chris suffers a fainting spell on her way out of the bathroom and Roscoe and Tory help her. Tory offers to drive Chris home, and in the car, Chris cries after congratulating Tory on her win. Instead of going home, Chris goes to Tory’s room, where they smoke marijuana, arm-wrestle, and eventually make love. Chris goes with Tory to San Luis Obispo, California, where Tory attends California Polytechnic State University. They run together, and Tory suggests that Chris train with Tory’s coach, Terry Tingloff. When she returns home, Chris asks her father if she can attend California Polytechnic in order to train with the team there. Rick asks what kind of scholarship Chris has been offered, and she admits that she has been offered nothing. Chris returns to San Luis Obispo, but Tingloff rejects Tory’s suggestion that he coach Chris, agreeing only to let her work out with the team. Two months later, Tory bullies Tingloff into letting Chris race at practice, and though she falls off her blocks at the start, she catches up and finishes third. In 1978, Chris and Tory travel to Cali, Colombia, ... +


At Hayward Field in Eugene, Oregon, Chris Cahill competes in the Olympic Trials for the 1976 Summer Olympics. After losing in the hurdles event, Chris cries to her father, Rick Cahill, who is also her coach. Meanwhile, Tory Skinner wins second place in the pentathlon, earning a spot on the Olympic team. That night, Tory celebrates with her friend, Roscoe Travis, and a few others at a restaurant. Chris’s father, Rick, comes over to congratulate Tory, and Chris tells him to leave her there as she plans to walk home. Soon after, Chris suffers a fainting spell on her way out of the bathroom and Roscoe and Tory help her. Tory offers to drive Chris home, and in the car, Chris cries after congratulating Tory on her win. Instead of going home, Chris goes to Tory’s room, where they smoke marijuana, arm-wrestle, and eventually make love. Chris goes with Tory to San Luis Obispo, California, where Tory attends California Polytechnic State University. They run together, and Tory suggests that Chris train with Tory’s coach, Terry Tingloff. When she returns home, Chris asks her father if she can attend California Polytechnic in order to train with the team there. Rick asks what kind of scholarship Chris has been offered, and she admits that she has been offered nothing. Chris returns to San Luis Obispo, but Tingloff rejects Tory’s suggestion that he coach Chris, agreeing only to let her work out with the team. Two months later, Tory bullies Tingloff into letting Chris race at practice, and though she falls off her blocks at the start, she catches up and finishes third. In 1978, Chris and Tory travel to Cali, Colombia, for the World Student Games. The day before the event, Chris gets food poisoning after eating a piece of local fruit. A medical student in the dorms gives Chris opium, and Tory stays up all night to nurse her. The next day, Tingloff chastises Tory for being too tired to perform, while Chris does well at hurdles. At a party after the competition, Tory sees Chris flirting with a male athlete and becomes jealous, but Chris refuses to leave when Tory tells her it’s time to go. Back in San Luis Obispo, Tingloff happens upon Chris while she’s stretching and tends to her when she gets a cramp. He offers her full tuition to the university for the following year, as long as she will work with him over the summer and change her event to pentathlon. Uncertain about competing against Tory, also a pentathlete, Chris protests but eventually agrees. Chris and Tingloff develop a rapport, and Tory takes notice. Later, Tingloff finds Tory coaching Chris in the weight room, and Tingloff pulls Chris aside to tell her that Tory may be sabotaging her. One day, while Chris practices high jump in preparation for the Pan American Games, Tory offers advice on Chris’s approach. Chris is reluctant to go against the Tingloff’s recommendations but follows Tory’s advice and dislocates her knee in the process. When Tingloff finds out, he blames Tory, causing Chris to become suspicious of her as well. Tingloff takes Chris to his home and cares for her. When the phone rings, Chris tries to answer it, believing it is Tory, but Tingloff throws the phone across the room, accusing Chris of caring only about her girlfriend. He then kisses Chris, but she is offended by the advance. The next day, Chris meets Tory outside her apartment and promises to move out by the time Tory returns from the Pan American Games. Chris takes up swimming in order to strengthen her injured knee and meets a water polo player named Denny Stites. When Chris returns to practice, Tingloff says he doesn’t want her on the field at the same time as Tory. Chris insists that she practices with everyone or not at all and leaves. On the way home, she spots a water polo match and stops to watch Denny play. She congratulates him afterwards and they go to lunch. Chris learns that Denny was an Olympic gold medalist in swimming, and she asks him how the victory felt. Denny catches Tory glancing over from another table at the restaurant, and Chris explains that she and Tory were roommates for three years. Later, at Chris’s apartment, Denny finds a workout book Tory gave Chris and tells her he knows about their relationship but doesn’t mind that she was involved with a woman. In 1980, Chris, Tory, and other teammates compete at the Olympic Trials at Hayward Field. Because the United States has planned to boycott the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow, Soviet Union, the athletes are aware that they will not move onto the Olympics despite qualifying at the trials; as a result, the competition carries even more weight. The first day of the pentathlon trials, Tory and Chris compete in hurdles, and Tory finishes second while Chris lags behind, losing points for hitting a hurdle. In the shot put event, Chris is fouled, putting her even further behind. Denny calls Chris over to the stands and encourages her, promising that she is not out of the competition. At the high jump, Chris clears a bar set higher than six feet and achieves a personal best. After a rain delay, the athletes compete in the long jump, and though it’s Tory’s best event, the wet track throws off her performance and Tory injures her knee. At the medical tent, Chris discovers that Tory’s knee is not badly injured and encourages Tory to run in the 800 meter race, the last of the pentathlon events. With Chris in second place and Tory in fourth, they compete against each other in the final race. Chris leads for the most part but Tory surges forward at the last minute and wins. Chris runs past the finish line and into Tory’s arms as the officials announce that they have both made the United States Olympic team. Chris places second and Tory third in the overall pentathlon. As they stand on the winner’s rostrum in front of a cheering crowd, Tory tells Chris that Denny is kind of cute, for a man. +

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

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