Julien Nitzberg Interview


Julien Nitzberg

Julien Nitzberg Interview
Here's an interview I did with Julien back in Sep 2007. Julien had written a great screenplay for an HBO bio-pic on Sputnik Monroe. I'm still hoping that it gets a green light and will eventually be made.


Julien Nitzberg Interview

I was lucky enough to talk to Julien Nitzberg about the upcoming Sputnik Monroe movie. There's been virtually little to no news on it's status for many months. Julien took some time out of his very busy day to answer a few questions about the upcoming movie, time frames, the story, etc.

Mark: The few tidbits I've read online say that the "Sputnik Monroe" movie is being backed HBO, is this correct?
Julien: Yes, that’s correct.

Mark: Will the finished movie be seen on HBO?
Julien: That hasn't been decided yet. HBO Pictures can release it either on HBO, or as a regular theatrical release at the movie theatres.

Mark: What is your involvement in the Sputnik project?
Julien: I am the writer. Years ago, I read an article on Sputnik by Robert Gordon. I tracked Sputnik down in Houston and approached him about doing a movie. I ended up staying for several weeks, interviewing him, his son Bubba and his ex-wife Midge. I returned to Los Angeles and started pitching it to a bunch of people. In typical Hollywood-idiotic-fashion they said “No”. Most people don’t understand how impossible Hollywood really is (laughs). At that time David Arquette had come out with a wrestling comedy movie (2000’s “Ready To Rumble”), and they said, “If that Arquette movie didn’t draw we don’t know why anyone would go see this.” So the movie didn’t sell and I tabled it. I know Sputnik worked with some other people to get a movie made and that never materialized. A bunch of years later, a friend of mine, (Elysa Koplovitz) got a production deal with HBO. I had written the Sputnik story almost as an article, so I sent it to her and she took it to HBO and they were interested.

Mark: You mentioned to me a few weeks ago that the first draft was completed. How is the screenplay coming along now?
Julien: It’s good. I’m reworking it right now, based on some notes from Elysa (the producer). Overall, I’m pretty darn happy with it. The only sad thing is that it can’t be like a 12 hour movie (laughs). I haven’t even touched upon half of the amazing stories Sputnik told me. At one point he was trying to figure out how many wives he had, and listening to him trying to remember all of their name was one of the funniest things I have ever heard (laughs), but I couldn’t put that part in.

Mark: What’s the focus of the movie?
Julien: The movie focuses on 3 things: (1) Sputnik and his involvement/experiences with racial integration, (2) his marriage to Midge and (3) his trying to start a wrestling union, that last one not many people knew of.

Mark: I had never heard about the union thing before.
Julien: discovered it in my talks with him. Back in the 1950’s to 1960’s, baseball and football had started to form their own unions, and wrestlers didn’t have anything. He wanted the wrestlers to have medical insurance for their injuries, or as Sputnik said “so they didn’t have to pump gas til they could wrestle again.” However, Sputnik’s attempt failed miserably. No wrestlers would jump aboard for fear of being blackballed by the promoters.

Mark: You mentioned talking to his son (Bubba) and his ex-wife (Midge), did you talk to any other old time wrestlers?
Julien: I didn’t really talk to to many others. In my talks with Sputnik, I was able to get the story I was most interested in telling. To be honest, this movie is more of an autobiography, Sputnik telling Sputnik’s story. I did get material from Midge, to keep the relationship balanced.

Mark: Any idea when the script will be done? Also, is there a timeframe for the movie?
Julien: Well, I should be wrapping up the second draft of the script within the next week or so. As far as the movie, there’s no timeframe. Sometimes in Hollywood these things can get stuck, and never get made. We'll turn the final scrip into HBO and go from there.

Mark: You mentioned the focus of the movie, but if you don’t mind me asking, what does the movie cover?
Julien: It actually starts with his birth, youth, goes into his carnival years, as well the wrestling years. He told me some amazing stories. There’s one in there about his grandfather walking him to school on the first day. The grandfather goes into the classroom and says, “Any kid that can beat up my grandson Rock (Sputnik), gets a free ice cream cone.” and then walks out. Needless to say they all tried to beat up Sputnik. That’s how he learned how to become the toughest kid in school. His grandfather had been a boxer and wanted Sputnik to be tough.

Mark: That’s a great story. Even in the stories of Sputnik as a child, he seemed larger than life. You’ve seen the newspaper articles I have on my website, there’s just crazy stuff he did as an adult.
Julien: Yeah, those articles were amazing. They let you see the huge racial divide. Not only could blacks not go into white establishments, but Sputnik was arrested for eating in a black establishment (as were other whites).

Mark: Hard to believe that type of thing actually happened.
Julien: I know.

Mark: From what I’ve seen about Sputnik, he loved to piss people off. His siding with the black community in Memphis is a great example of him really pissing off a lot of people.
Julien: He truly loved to piss people off, he loved the power it gave him. Even before the integration stuff, back when he was in high school and working the carnival route, Sputnik told me how he was amazed he could get under people's skin and that they would take his act seriously.

Mark: Well Julien, I can’t thank you enough. I know my readers are going to enjoy reading this interview almost as much I did giving it and talking to you. I can’t wait to see the finished product on the screen.
Julien: No problem at all and I’m glad we were able to talk.