Porn magazines. That’s what Zootopia‘s co-screenwriter Phil Johnston used to sell. Come to think of it, despite what my article title indicates you probably easily guessed that. Come on, what other potentially shocking type of magazine could he have sold? Maybe some kind of Nazi publication, I guess, but not for Johnston. He was a Penthouse/Playboy kind of guy.
The story comes from Johnston’s recent appearance on NPR’s Ask Me Another where he discussed his many years working as a Hollywood screenwriter whose scripts were always purchased but never produced. One such un-produced gem was Jeremy Orm is a Pervert, based upon Johnston’s own childhood experience hustling his fellow students back in 1985 when there was no internet and horny kids had few options in their eternal quest to see an actual naked woman:
I would buy Playboy’s and Penthouse’s from this 9th grader. I was in 7th grade. I would buy them for one dollar, and then I would sell them to other 7th graders for three dollars, sometimes five dollars. If it was a Hustler it would easily do five. I had a fort above the garage, and that’s where I kept the stash. I always had like 50 or 60 magazines ready to go. There were customers and willing buyers.
I’m picturing all of this happening in a Goodfellas‘-esque montage ala Community‘s spot-on parody:
The “man” eventually got to him:
When December rolled around my parents went to get the storm windows out of the garage, and, you know, it all ended there. My Larry Flynt days stopped.
The classic “It’s not what it looks like, I swear” excuse actually applied here. Their kid wasn’t stockpiling old issues of Playboy, Penthouse and Hustler to supplement his transition into puberty; he was simply selling them at a 300-500% mark-up. What parent couldn’t respect that?
Before they shut him down he had earned $86, enough to buy Air Jordans and have a little left over.
When he grew up,he got a degree in journalism, and worked for nearly a decade as a TV news reporter and completely unqualified weatherman, as he discusses in the following profile put together by his old college:
After quitting the TV news trade and going to film school, his Jeremy Orm is a Pervert script landed on the Blacklist. ThinkFilm developed it for a hot minute, but when the company collapsed Orm went into perpetual turnaround. Johnston’s next script, Cedar Rapids, was also singled out by the Blacklist, ulimately making it to the screen with Ed Helms in the lead role, Miguel Arteta behind the camera and Alexander Payne producing. That put him on Disney’s radar and resulted in Wreck-It Ralph which resulted in Zootopia.
But let’s get back to the one that got away: Jeremy Orm.
Acccording to ScriptShadow’s review of the Jeremy Orm script, the titular character is a chubby 13-old Wisonsin kid whose hypocritical preacher father is running to become a bishop. All Jeremy wants to do is see a naked woman, which finally happens for him when an acquaintance at school offers up a Playboy. All his dad wants to do is become bishop, but for that to happen he needs Jeremy to look more respectable, i.e., lose weight, make the basketball team. Of course, Jeremy is nobody’s idea of an athlete, but he talks the amoral coach into letting him on the team for a weekly under-the-table fee of $100. He obviously doesn’t have that kind of money. So he recruits his few friends into helping sell Playboys for a marked up price to school kids, gradually building an empire which might ultimately destroy his dad’s chances of becoming bishop.
“Each of the characters are steeped in this quirky exaggerated Midwesterness that makes them slightly different from any character you’ve read before. [Johnston] mixes that in with the contradictory nature of Midwesterners, specifically their dogged attention to morals, which they circumvent on a daily basis. Watching Jeremy’s preacher father make racist comments and tear down women, while believing he’s the perfect candidate for state bishop, is the kind of conflict Johnston loves to explore.”
I’d watch that movie. Think of it as Sing Street meets Milk Money meets Goodfellas.
To sum up, Phil Johnston: Business maverick. One-time owner of Air Jordans. Temporary smut peddler. Fake weatherman. Disney screenwriter behind Wreck-It Ralph and Zootopia. Heck of a guy.
Source: Ask Me Another