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University of Texas at Austin

Warren Skaaren:

An Inventory of His Papers at the Harry Ransom Center

Creator: Skaaren, Warren, 1946-1990
Title: Warren Skaaren Papers
Dates: 1946-1991 (bulk 1970-1990)
Extent: 64 boxes, 1 oversize folder, 1 oversize box, 2 oversize film boxes (26.9 linear feet)
Abstract: The primary focus of this collection is the screenwriter's work in the late 1980s. Included are drafts and revisions, treatments, synopses, story analyses, charts, clippings, bibliographies, maps, shooting schedules, continuity notes, storyboards, memorabilia, photographs, posters, correspondence, and audio and video cassettes. Motions pictures documented included Batman, Beetlejuice, Beverly Hills Cop II, Days of Thunder, and Top Gun.
Call Number: Film Collection FI-00039
Language: English.
Access Open for research

Administrative Information

Acquisition Gift, 1993
Processed by Katherine Mosley, 1994-95

Harry Ransom Center, The University of Texas at Austin

Biographical Sketch

Screenwriter Warren Edward Skaaren, son of Morris and Pearl Skaaren, was born in Rochester, Minnesota, on March 9, 1946. He graduated from Rochester Community College in 1966 and enrolled at Rice University in Houston, Texas. There he met Helen Griffin, whom he married on March 7, 1969 (separated, 1989). Upon his graduation from Rice in 1969 with a degree in art, Skaaren, who had served as student body president during his final year of college, moved to Austin to work for Texas governor Preston Smith first as a human resources program analyst and then as an urban development coordinator. Skaaren lived in Austin for the remainder of his life.
In 1971, while working for Smith, Skaaren wrote a formal proposal to establish the Texas Film Commission and was influential in its creation. He served as the Commission's first executive director and remained in that position until March 1974, when he resigned to form the Skaaren Corporation, a media consulting firm. At the same time, he was a founder of FPS, Inc., a Dallas-based television and film production company, and later served as chairman of its board of directors. Skaaren also worked on documentaries, commercials, and various other projects. Breakaway, a documentary about Walter Yates' life in the Alaskan wilderness which Skaaren wrote and directed, was released in 1978.
In 1983, under the sponsorship of Fred Fox, Skaaren completed the script Of East and West, about the Nepalese soldiers the Gurkhas. Although the script was never produced, it gained Skaaren an agent, Mike Simpson at the William Morris Agency, and attracted the attention of Dawn Steel at Paramount, who hired Skaaren to rewrite the screenplay of Fire with Fire. Following that, Skaaren was hired to rewrite the script of Top Gun; its box-office success established his reputation as a "script doctor." Skaaren went on to work on the scripts of Beverly Hills Cop II, Beetlejuice, and Batman.
Skaaren and his wife had seven foster children, and he was a founding director of the Travis County Foster Parents Association. In addition, he served on the board of directors of the Deborah Hay Dance Company. Skaaren established the Laurel Foundation, a private charitable trust, in 1986, and was also involved with the East West Center, a macrobiotic dietary provider.
Skaaren died of bone cancer in Austin, Texas, on December 28, 1990. His papers were donated to the HRC in 1993.

More information about Skaaren and his works may be found in "The Man Hollywood Trusts" by Emily Yoffe ( Texas Monthly, vol. 17, no. 9, September 1989) and "Death of a Screenwriter" by Kevin Phinney ( Premiere, vol. 4, no. 7, March 1991).

Scope and Contents

Scope and Contents

The primary focus of the collection is on Skaaren's work as a screenwriter in the late 1980's. Included are drafts, revision pages, treatments, synopses, story analyses, outlines, charts, memos, notes, clippings, bibliographies, transcripts, maps, newsletters and other printed matter, shooting schedules, continuity notes, storyboards, memorabilia, photographs, negatives, slides, stills, posters, correspondence, business cards, brochures, audio and video cassettes, invoices, receipts, distribution statements, agreements, and certificates of authorship, all ranging in date from 1946-1991 (bulk, 1970-1990). Arrangement is in three series: Film and Theatre Projects; Research Files; and Technical Files. The Research Files series is arranged in three subseries: Story Ideas, Various Subjects, and Technical Files. While Skaaren's works have been arranged alphabetically, Research and Technical Files have been reordered by subject. Materials within folders remain in the order in which they arrived.
All of Skaaren's significant works are represented in the collection, including his first projects, Breakaway and Fire with Fire, and his most successful films, Top Gun, Beverly Hills Cop II, Beetlejuice, Days of Thunder, and Batman. Early script drafts by other authors, Skaaren's own multiple drafts, revision pages, notes, memos, final shooting scripts, and credit arbitration documents reveal the changes made to screenplays over time. Although Skaaren was known for his ability to rewrite scripts by other authors, he also wrote original screenplays, poetry, and songs that were never produced or published. Among scripts that were never produced are Flawless, The Crimson Eagle, and Lillie and Beck. Skaaren's final works, a play he wrote for Heloise Gold entitled Maggs: The 10,000-Year-Old Woman and the unproduced screenplay Beetlejuice in Love, are also present in the collection.
Because Skaaren kept letters and memos with the manuscripts of his works, correspondence is scattered throughout the collection. Among notable correspondents are producers Jerry Bruckheimer, Jon Peters, Don Simpson, and Doug Wick; writer, producer, and director Ted Flicker; directors Tim Burton and Tony Scott; actors Tom Cruise and Michael Douglas; Grace Reiner of the Writer's Guild of America; personnel at Paramount Pictures and Warner Brothers; and Mike Simpson at the William Morris Agency.

Series Descriptions

Series I. Film and Theatre Projects, 1973-1990, undated (54 boxes)
Skaaren's film and theatre projects include projects which produced a script and projects on which Skaaren served in some capacity other than as a writer. Research material, drafts, revision pages, notes, memos, production material, photographs, stills, posters, articles and reviews, contracts, financial records, credit arbitration documents, and similar material relating to Skaaren's film projects comprise the largest series in the archive. Arrangement is by the final title given to a project (with variant titles supplied in brackets in the folder list), and thereunder by material relating to the writing of a script, including drafts and research files; information about the film's production, publicity, and release; agreements and payments; and screenwriting credit arbitration.
Books, notes, clippings, and other research material compiled by Skaaren and his research assistant, Linda Vance, reveal the amount of research behind Skaaren's work. Multiple drafts, outlines, and scene revisions of a screenplay, including those by other authors, trace its evolution, while memos and notes, including details of meetings and telephone calls, reveal the dynamic involvement of the studio, producers, director, actors, and writers in the revision process. Character motivation charts, action flow charts, and script outlines show Skaaren's particular concern with character and story structure.
Arbitration materials provide insight into the contributions of various script writers on a single project, the determination of credit by the Writer's Guild, and the importance of that formal credit. The financial aspect of projects can be seen in contracts, agreements, payments, clippings from Variety, and distribution payments.
Skaaren's first projects, the documentary Breakaway which he wrote and directed; a screenplay about University of Texas football player Freddie Steinmark; and Fire with Fire, which began Skaaren's career as a "script doctor," are represented in the archive. Because Skaaren suggested the title of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, was hired to sell its distribution rights, and acquired its sequel rights, material relating to that film is also present. Of particular interest are the original drawing on which Skaaren first wrote the title and material concerning problems with the movie's distributors.
Extensive materials for Skaaren's most successful projects, Top Gun, Beverly Hills Cop II, Beetlejuice, Days of Thunder, and Batman, are present. Original film projects that never reached the production stage include Flawless, created for actress Jane Fonda; The Crimson Eagle, a third installment in the Romancing the Stone series; and Lillie and Beck, a story set against the Spanish Civil War. Spooks, written with Grant Fehr, was to be a film about two men's encounter with a ghost. Plans for making a film about Norwegian immigrant Cleng Peerson resulted only in correspondence and research material. Treatments, notes, and a list of potential titles for Cora's Nightcaller, about the terrorization of a babysitter, are present. Electric Death was to be a film about lightning, based upon Lloyd Ritchey's script The Night of the Electric Death, to which Skaaren acquired the rights; the project resulted in much research on man-made and natural lightning and electrical effects. Hijo was a film project begun with Bill Wittliff. Plans were made with Michael Douglas for a movie version of the television series Missiojn Impossible. A project to adapt Bill Brett's novel The Stolen Steers for film produced several scripts. Skaaren's final work was an original screenplay for a sequel to the popular Beetlejuice, entitled Beetlejuice in Love.
In addition to his film work, Skaaren wrote a play for Heloise Gold, Maggs: The 10,000-Year-Old Woman, which was performed at Capitol City Playhouse in Austin in May 1990. Typescripts, photographs, and a review of the play are present as well.
Skaaren's folder titles, as well as those made by his assistant Linda Vance, who printed and labeled some of Skaaren's files after his death, have been retained and are indicated in the folder list by single quotation marks. Indications of draft sequences are transcribed from the title pages, spines, and covers of manuscripts, with those written in Skaaren's hand being enclosed in single quotations. Because screenwriting credits changed frequently, author information is also transcribed from the title pages of the screenplays.
Series II. Research Files, 1970-1990, undated (4.5 boxes)
The series is divided into three subseries: Story Ideas, Various Subjects, and Technical Files.
Story ideas are those which never produced a script; among these are undeveloped ideas for screenplays about U. S. Customs agents, the Galveston hurricane of 1900, consumerism, and other subjects.
A small group of clippings and notes about ranch technology, psychology, owls, and many other subjects of research or personal interest to Skaaren are also present. Cartoons and articles about unusual subjects that appealed to Skaaren reveal his sense of humor.
Technical aids include materials from a comedy writing workshop taught by Danny Simon, notes on writing techniques, interviewing, film financing, and production, as well as on directors, writers, actors, and producers. Skaaren also gathered travel resource information and business cards of providers of a variety of services.
Series III. Works by Other Authors, 1978-1990, undated (5 boxes)
Arranged alphabetically by title, the series includes drafts of the screenplays Backdraft, Edward Scissorhands, The Killing Fields, Kramer Versus Kramer, Rain Man, and Tender Mercies, among others. Many of these manuscripts are annotated by Skaaren. A folder labeled "Script Synopses and Info" also contains notes by Skaaren and others on treatments, synopses, and scripts written by Skaaren and other authors.

Separated Material

Books, primarily used by Skaaren in his research, that arrived with the collection have been cataloged separately with the Center's book holdings. Videos that Skaaren acquired for purposes of research, for personal interest, and as screen tests, dailies, and preview prints of films he worked on are also part of the collection.

Index Terms


Bruckheimer, Jerry.
Burton, Tim, 1960- .
Burton, W. Amon, Jr.
Canton, Mark.
Cash, Jim.
Corn, Harvey R.
Cruise, Tom, 1962- .
Douglas, Michael, 1944- .
Eisner, Eric.
Epps, Jack.
Eszterhas, Joe.
Ferguson, Larry.
Flicker, Ted (Theodore J.).
Fonda, Jane, 1937- .
Fox, Fred K.
Guber, Peter.
Hooper, Tobe, 1943- .
Kane, Bob.
McDowell, Michael.
McKeown, Charles.
Menil, John de.
Negri, Pola, 1897- .
Nelson, M. L.
Owens, William A., 1905- .
Parsley, William J.
Peters, Jon.
Reiner, Grace.
Scott, Tony, 1914- .
Simpson, Don.
Simpson, Mike.
Smith, Preston, 1912- .
Towne, Robert.
Wick, Douglas.
Wittliff, William D.
Yates, Walter.


Bryanston Distributors, Inc.
Columbia Pictures.
FPS, inc.
Gang, Tyre, Ramer & Brown.
Guadalupe Entertainment, Inc.
The Laurel Foundation.
O'Melveny & Myers.
Paramount Pictures Corporation.
Warner Bros.
Writers Guild of America, West.


Automobile racing drivers.
Automobile racing--United States.
Batman (Fictitious Character).
Comic strip characters in motion pictures.
Hong Kong Island (Hong Kong).
Motion picture authorship.
Motion picture locations.
Motion picture plays.
Motion picture producers and directors--United States.
Motion Pictures, American.
Motion Pictures--Distribution.

Document types

Audio tapes.
Business cards.
Cartoons (humorous images).
Film stills.
First drafts.
Legal documents.
Sheet music.
Sound recordings.
Tax records.
Video recordings.

Warren Skaaren Papers--Folder List 3 matching container list entries