On the Road: Writing The Razor’s Edge

“We thought too many films today are written by guys sitting in air-conditioned offices with bronze windows and directors who look at story boards and video tapes of other guy’s films. That works fine for them but we wanted to find a different process”

John Byrum

Bill and John travelled around America developing the script.

Bill Murray in Malibu, 1983

Bill Murray in Malibu writing The Razor’s Edge (Photo used with permission)

They worked in bars (where the jukebox would be on) , bus stations, restaurants, “we were constantly being interrupted by people saying ‘Hey aren’t you on Saturday Night Live?”. They went to practically every restaurant and bar in Manhattan, New Jersey, upstate, southern New York.”It got so we couldn’t work at home; it was too distracting”.

Soon, John and Bill would take long trips to spas (Calistoga above San Francisco) where they would sit in mud baths (see below) and receive massages! “We drove across country from one coast to the other and saw some amazing stuff”.

Although things were moving along, there seemed to be limited interest from Columbia “John and I had The Razor’s Edge in development at Columbia, but nobody was getting into work early to find out how the rewrites were going”. Columbia were also concerned that the film’s likely budget was going to be $20 million and were still wary to commit. They were approached by Co-producer Harry Benn who assured them that Byrum could shoot the movie for $12 million. “They wouldn’t have done it if it has cost $20 million, but thanks to Harry and Shel it happened”.

Bill Murray and John Byrum take a mud bath in Calistoga

Bill Murray and John Byrum take a mud bath in Calistoga. (Photo used with permission)

However, the major deciding factor came when Dan Aykroyd approached Murray with the draft script for Ghostbusters. Bill was very keen to do the film but did not want to abandon The Razor’s Edge development. A number of studios were interested, but Aykroyd advised Bill to tell Columbia that they could have the film and him if they ‘green light’ The Razor’s Edge. “They (Ghostbusters) had a Producer, Caterer and Director but it wasn’t at any particular studio yet.45 minutes later we had a Caterer, Producer and Director for The Razor’s Edge”.

“You didn’t have to be a rocket scientist to see what the deal was going to be.

Finally the people at Columbia said ‘we’re really nuts about that Razor’s Edge, now about this other movie.”. The budget was set at $12 million. Bill later joked that negotiations were more like “blackmail, but of a good kind, nobody got hurt – nobody’s reputation was destroyed”. “I told Columbia I’m going to do The Razor’s Edge or there will be no more Biggie Goes to College Movies”.

Bill and John set off on a reconnoitre to Bombay, Delhi, Kasmir and Srinagar scouting for suitable locations for the scenes set in India. Srinagar was agreed as the first of two locations to shoot. The second location, Ladakh in the Himalayas was inaccessible due to bad weather. John returned with the Producer, Set Designer and Cinematographer and agreed that Ladakh would become the second location. Bill and John shuttled between Los Angeles, New York and London searching for the right actors to play the key roles of Uncle Elliot, Isabel, Gray and Sophie.

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