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Imagine having Steven Spielberg AND Richard Donner green light your Goonies-inspired TV series
Here’s a dream scenario you’ll probably have a hard time wrapping your genre-loving brain around: imagine pitching Steven Spielberg and Richard Donner on a Goonies-inspired TV show that they both immediately love.
Crazy concept, right? When you think about it, The Goonies, which celebrated its 35th anniversary this month and continues to generate talk of a sequel, is as sacred a genre text as there is, so you’d have to have one helluva a pitch, right?
“It’s about three kids from this small automotive town that’s going through a lot of economic struggle and a lot of what middle America is going through, and they decide to put on a shot-for-shot remake of one of the kids’ favorite movies, which is The Goonies. And it really is just this love letter to the idea of cinema, storytelling, and dreams, and how movies can take you out of the mundaneness of your life,” Watson tells SYFY WIRE about the as-yet-untitled Fox pilot.
Granted, she’s still on the treasure hunt for a pickup, what with the pandemic shutting production down three days before shooting the pilot. But Fox already went ahead and ordered backup scripts and a series format for Watson’s series, which has allowed her to see further down the line. And the network has since extended the option for the pilot episode, meaning they are still committed to producing it, once they can safely go back to work.
“As the series goes, if we get the chance to do the whole series, you’re really going to start to see the movie pull in different people from the town in unexpected and touching ways,” Watson says. “And in the pilot, it pulls in … our main POV is a woman [the kids’ substitute teacher] returning to town from New York after failing to make it as a writer. So for her it’s about remembering to believe in her own dreams again through watching these kids believe in theirs.”
But why The Goonies, of all the myriad films to remake?
“Aside from it being the greatest cinematic masterpiece of all time?” Watson quips. “That’s even a line in the pilot … Why The Goonies?”
Aside from that, the idea originally came from executive producer Gail Berman (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel), who had started seeing all these shot-for-shot re-enactments on YouTube.
“We started talking about the idea of what cinema does for you as a kid, and this idea of dreams and the power of storytelling,” Watson says. “Like all roads just went to Steven Spielberg.”
Spielberg didn’t direct The Goonies, of course that was Donner (Superman), but he did come up with the story and executive-produce the beloved film.
“It being one [part] of his film canon, we just talked about all these Spielberg movies and just those 1980s movies that we grew up on that had this element of wish fulfilment and dreams, both on the screen and behind it,” Watson says. “So when we went to Spielberg to pitch him the idea, this was at the top of a very small list of films that we really wanted to pursue.”
After getting Fox on board, Watson went to Spielberg, as one does when trying to tell a Goonies re-enactment tale.
“Which was amazing, slash terrifying, slash the culmination of all my childhood dreams,” Watson recalls. “Yeah, it was intense.”
“He said, ‘Hi, I’m Steven,’ and I resisted the urge to say, ‘I know,’” Watson jokes. “He was super excited by the idea. Obviously he’s talked so much about his own childhood being a kid, you know a child of divorce, being a little lonely and really finding this escape in movies, and so pitching this show about a group of kids who find their escape in movies was just something he just right away connected with, which was so exciting. … I still can’t believe it’s real.
“When I finished pitching it to him, and he said, ‘I would watch this show,’ my soul left my body.”
Watson assures us it came back. But she’d need it for her next pitch: Richard Donner.
“That was terrifying and exciting in a different way, because The Goonies is obviously such an important and special film to him, and so walking in that door, I knew that he was either going to absolutely love it and understand that it was this passionate love letter to his movie or he was going to kick me out of his office,” she says.
Thankfully, he let her stay. Lauren Shuler Donner was there too, and his production exec, Derek Hoffman.
“And in his office, it’s just filled with memorabilia. So when I was pitching, One-Eyed Willy’s skull was on the coffee table next to me. And the schematic for the ship — you know, because they built everything practically — so the ship was there,” Watson says. “I cannot state enough how much Goonies meant to me as a movie when I was a kid, and growing up, and what that story meant to me. So to just sort of sit there was such a surreal experience that I kind of just had to push everything aside and just get through the pitch. But he could not have been warmer, or more lovely, and just understood immediately that it was a love letter to his movie.”
Like Spielberg, he “immediately got it,” Watson says. “All these directors who really grew up being storytellers themselves, I think he just identified with these kids. And also he was so excited about the idea of exposing this movie to a new generation, and just the staying power that this movie has, that it’s something that is so in the zeitgeist.”
Which raises the question of why, 35 years later, The Goonies remains as treasured as One-Eyed Willy’s booty.
“I think it’s just good storytelling and good characters,” Watson says. “'Cause I have thought about it. You know, I’ve watched this movie a million times even before I started doing this project, and I’ve watched it a million times since with a very different critical eye. And it’s a really good story, and you just root for them in such a huge way.
“They’re such underdogs, and they’re so real. Like that relationship between Mikey and Brand, they feel like brothers,” Watson continues. “And sort of that boy energy of them always talking crap to each other, but loving each other at the end of the day. Just all those relationships, they felt like the kids I grew up with.”
Watson then recounts a story that Hoffman told of being up in Astoria, Oregon, a while back for one of the reunions: “And I’m gonna ruin the exact quote, but he said a fan that had traveled all the way to be there was just saying the reason the movie meant so much to him was because it taught him that all you need is your best friends and a bike and you can go on the adventure of a lifetime.
“And that quote just gave me chills, because it’s what the movie did for me too, and it’s what the show is trying to do: It’s just showing that you just need your best friends, a bike, and a busted iPhone and you can make a movie and go on an incredible adventure,” Watson says.
The adventure was really kicking into high gear, too, as director Greg Mottola (Paul, Super Bad) and the cast (most of whom remain unannounced) gathered in Atlanta for a table read. Alas, the pandemic came and everything ground to a halt that same afternoon.
But what are you going to do?
“We’re starting to have conversations about when we might possibly resume, but everything is so up in the air, obviously,” says Watson, while noting that the backup scripts and series format that Fox ordered gives them a chance to hit the ground running once shooting finally begins. “Just so that when we do get to go back to production, if they do want to pick us up, it’ll go quicker.”
The further development opportunity has also allowed Watson to fall even more in love with the project.
“We’ve been starting to really think about all the set pieces in the movie, and all the things that we can explore in the series,” Watson says. “And that’s been really cool and really fun, because there are so many iconic moments in that movie … the Rube Goldberg Machine, the first time they go into the fireplace… and just thinking about how those kids are going to recreate those moments and also how they’re so thematically relevant to the show, has been really fun.”
Interestingly, Watson feels like the time has grown even riper for a return to the Goon Docks.
“I feel like the show has become even more relevant since COVID has happened, because it really is a very hopeful and optimistic show set in a very grounded world,” Watson says. “And I just think right now, at least how I feel, I really want to watch things that are hopeful. And so this show takes people who are very grounded and dealing with very big issues, but it gives them hope. And my hope is what that’s what the show will do. … I mean, that’s really what Spielberg films did for me growing up.”
With Richard Donner and Lauren Donner named as producers, along with Spielberg’s company Amblin, all attached and giving Watson and company the most insider of Goonies intel, we’ve got high hopes for this one too. Goonies never say die, right?