[This interview took place in 1986.]
Directed by Robert Harmon
Screenplay by Eric Red
Breaking into Hollywood is seldom easy. It takes talent, persistence, determination, and lots of luck. Director Robert Harmon and screenwriter Eric Red have managed to put together all of the above in creating The Hitcher, a new thriller starring C. Thomas Howell, Rutger Hauer, and Jennifer Jason Leigh.
The project began with an eventful cross-country trip from New York city to Los Angeles. As young filmmaker and ex-taxi driver Eric Red drove alone through a dark Texas night, he found himself starting to doze off at the wheel. “I picked up a hitch-hiker,” explains Red, “just to pass the time. To help keep me awake. But the guy just sort of sat there, smelling dirty and staring at me. I started feeling uncomfortable about the whole situation and thought maybe it wasn’t such a good idea picking him up. He had a rough edge. I finally stopped the car a few miles down the road and asked him to get out. He left willingly enough, and that was it.”
From such experiences are nightmares born. Continuing across Texas, Red kept turning the story over in his mind, wondering what would have happened if the hitcher hadn’t left willingly. By the time he reached Austin, he was nearly broke. “I stayed in Austin a month to write the screenplay,” Red recalls, “and sent a short ten-line letter to every production company in Los Angeles. It was an unsolicited inquiry to spark interest in the story, telling them that the script was available.”
He received responses from about forty percent of the companies. One letter, from David Bombyk (producer of Witness) asked to see the script. That script was later sent to director Robert Harmon, whose previous credits include the short film China Lake, a one-year stint as a Playboy photographer, and camera work for numerous UCLA student films. “I immediately responded to Eric’s script,” says Harmon. “I was in a rather awkward position at the time, in that I wanted very much to do a feature film but had already said ‘no’ to a number of possible projects. The story had fascinating characters and, more importantly, few characters. That was definitely a plus since I was a first-time director and wanted a project that wasn’t too big to handle.”
Harmon attended film school at Boston University, but left after several conflicts with his professors. Says Harmon, “I really didn’t investigate the school much before attending. It wasn’t right for me; it wasn’t what I wanted to do; it wasn’t where I wanted to go in film. They were too concerned with film theory instead of practice. They all talked about films, but I wanted to make films. In Hollywood.”
And now both Robert Harmon and Eric Red have made that dream come true – with a nightmare called The Hitcher.