Douglas Schwartz, the innovative and iconic writer/director/producer who celebrates his 70th birthday this year and is known for “Soul Surfer,” “Baywatch,” “Baywatch Hawaiian Wedding,” “Manimal,” “The Wizard,” “Thunder in Paradise” and “Sheena,” is not resting on his laurels. Far from it.
That’s not surprising, since entertainment is in his DNA. His father, Al Schwartz, and uncle, Sherwood Schwartz, were a writing team in TV’s famed 1950s golden age. Al, while working for Bob Hope, arranged for Sherwood, then a college student, to be hired. Sherwood went on to create such memorable shows as ‘The Brady Bunch’ and ‘Gilligan’s Island.’
A life-changing present that Schwartz received at his 1958 bar mitzvah was a Super 8 Camera, essentially kicking off his career. He and his first cousin, Michael Berk, who became a lifelong collaborator, soon proceeded to write “The Lost Battalion,” a film about a squad of Marines trapped in Guam during WWII and saved by French girls.
“My mother was the cameraman, it ran 30 minutes, we charged 25 cents, sold popcorn and candy, and had a legitimate screening in our Hollywood Hills home,” Schwartz recalled. “The movie cost $300; we had three screenings and made a profit of $500. My father, who was executive producer of “The Red Skelton Hour,” knew someone at CBS who saw the movie, offered me $5,000 to air it and in 1960 it was shown nationally.”
The enterprising teenager formed a production company of which he was president and CEO, and “had 40 kids working with me, stock was $10 a share and I sold thousands. Buyers included many celebrities. Henny Youngman was the biggest investor at 20,000 shares. I ended up renting a floor of an office building in Hollywood. In 1964 we had 150 teenagers working, raised $100,000 and were doing short subjects.”
In 1965 at the age of 20 he was diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa (“RP”), a degenerative eye disease. The doctor told him he’d already lost 90% of his sight and would go blind within three to five years.
“I am now 95% blind,” Schwartz said, describing his limited tunnel vision. “It’s not a handicap,” he insisted. “This just makes me want to defy the doctor’s prediction. I write, produce, have six horses, and my wife, Debbie, and I ride horseback together regularly.”
RP notwithstanding, his excellent eye for entertainment in various guises led him to see the appeal of the Hooters concept.
“While shooting ‘Thunder in Paradise’ in Orlando, Hulk Hogan was a regular at Hooters on Friday nights,” Schwartz said. “I decided to open one here, bought the rights to all of Los Angeles County, and opened in Santa Monica with two other partners. I also opened in Long Beach, Hollywood/Highland, and the flagship Hooters in Pasadena.”
He is CEO of Life’s a Beach Entertainment LLC (“LAB”), a film development and production company dealing with everything from television series to feature films.
Schwartz’s many professional connections include Sony TV, having worked with them on “Sheena,” which was shot in Orlando. “Additionally, Sony Pictures distributed ‘Soul Surfer,'” he said, “and because of its huge success, ‘Soul Surfer 2’ is now in development as a movie, having recently been greenlighted by them.”
In 1988 a deal was struck with Grant Tinker, who “loved The Wizard,” to develop new shows. “Baywatch” was born. One memorable coup involved getting the rights to the series back for syndication. Negotiations proved successful and the rights were acquired for $10. Yes, $10.
“Baywatch” became an international hit with an estimated audience of over 1.1 billion viewers. “According to the Guinness Book of World Records, this was the largest global audience for a scripted show,” Schwartz said.
Fans of “Baywatch,” get ready.
“I’m very excited because, with Paramount Pictures, we’re making ‘Baywatch, the Movie’ in 3-D, a $90 million movie to be shot in Santa Monica and nearby areas in late summer and early fall of this year,” Schwartz continued.
“Dwayne Johnson, ‘The Rock,’ will play the David Hasselhoff part and it will be released in summer of 2016. I’m also working on a book, ‘Baywatch Through My Eyes.’
Later plans involve a new ‘Baywatch’ weekly dramatic action series for TV. Additionally, ‘Baywatch, the Broadway Musical’ will be opening in London’s West End in 2017 – including a water tank on stage.”
Scheduled for release by Paramount Pictures on April 10 is “The Moon and the Sun,” of which Schwartz is executive producer. The movie, a period fantasy based on an award-winning novel, stars Pierce Brosnan as King Louis XIV of France, William Hurt as an evil priest, and Fan Bingbing, a noted Chinese actress, as a mermaid whose life force the king craves in his quest for immortality.
He is also working with his wife on “Can’t Get Elected,” a two-hour movie for the Hallmark Channel, and is heading for Vancouver in mid March. His company, LAB, is coordinating with eOne in Canada to produce the movie, to be directed by Sean McNamara, who also directed “Soul Surfer.”
“This will be like the old-fashioned shows with adult appeal, but not a gritty drama,” Schwartz explained. “It’s about Nick Parker, an out-of-work actor who had starred as a detective. Now older, having burned his bridges, he returns home. His father, a sheriff, is planning to retire and have his deputy, Amanda, take over.
“An incident occurs where Nick thwarts bank robbers and is asked by the mayor to run for sheriff. This should wrap in May and appear on Hallmark in September or October. Hallmark has an option to pick up several episodes for a new series to start in 2016, exploring the relationship that develops between Nick and Amanda. The tone is retro, a throwback to ‘Magnum PI,’ ‘Baretta’ and ‘Moonlighting.’ I’ve never done a comedy, so this is in honor of my family.”
Although Schwartz may only have 5% of his sight, when it comes to his visionary capabilities, his 20/20 acuity results in great entertainment, clearly in keeping with his family legacy.