Sean Penn is a great guy. He goes around and helps people. He apparently loves to go to In-N-Out and he’s a fantastic actor. Back in 1999, Terrence Malick’s The Thing Red Line came out. Sean Penn was the star of the film and he asked 20th Century Fox to get him a private jet to go watch the screening with Malick in Houston.
The idea, of course, is for both the actor and director to promote their film. Fox refused Penn, citing the cost of the private jet and that it wasn’t their policy to do such things. After all, one would think a successful actor to afford a jet. Penn got angry and wrote the following letter (which Letters of Note brilliantly has), which is awesome.
January 6, 1999
To whom it may or may not concern at 20th Century Fox, et al. (in hope that those copied will spread the word to those deserving):
The purpose of this scratchpad communique may well be as much to amuse you or inform you. Clearly, its less than humble writer has found grounds for amusement in its content.
In my continuing effort to support our shared entity, “The Thin Red Line,” I have yet again run into another of the endless bureaucratic hurdles that your company relentlessly plants in my path. As a result of Terry Malick’s invitation, I made plans to join Terry in supporting the film’s screening, and ultimately its profile in Houston. As I have two movies, two children and (as each woman is at least two people) two wives presently in distribution, my schedule is rather hectic. I therefore requested that Mr. Murdoch’s gigantic corporation might be so generous (with the money they’ve earned exploiting the pain and suffering of myself and my peers in their tabloids) as to supply me with a private jet to travel to Houston.
The response was a clear NO.
Two things were cited: 1) The $40,000 cost. 2) Policy. As to number 1, we at my tiny little San Francisco office went ahead and priced the cost of such a jet ourselves. In fact, it came to $16,000, which we had offered would be divided by two, as Fine Line Pictures had already committed to pay half (I would do an interview on behalf of “Hurlyburly” while I was there). Next we priced the commercial fare somewhere in the area of $2,000. The final cost differential to Mr. Murdoch’s pool-heating expenses: A WHOPPING $6,000, which, against the price cut I offered in my deal to act in this movie, seemed equivalent to the fair market price of one hair on Mr. Rupert Murdoch’s formidable ass. Next comes policy, the number 2 reason cited us in denial of our request. Evidently this is a word prized by Mr. Murdoch’s company as I ran into it before when Mr. Malick requested that I be given an opportunity to view a videotape of the movie prior to his locking the print. I think we all know what a shameful little dance went on there, with wasted time, wasted money in the name of a policy. Has anyone at 20th Century Fox considered that it might not be my policy to do 7-figure favors for multi-national corporate interests as I did when I took the salary you paid me on “The Thin Red Line”?
Bottom line is…our policies collide. Good luck with the picture.
P.S. I know you guys don’t remember what the inside of a commercial airline terminal looks like, but if you send me a picture of your jets, I’ll send you a picture of the door at the Red Carpet Room. Wish I could’ve been in Houston. It’s a beautiful movie and I’d like to have helped spread the word.
P.P.S. If my name is unfamiliar to you, you can check your computers under Movie Buff. I believe they consider me to be someone with a career.
cc: Rupert Murdoch, Peter Chernin, Bill Mechanic, Laura Ziskin, Tom Sherak, Mike Medavoy, Terry Malick, Brian Gersh, God Almighty, Kit Caruthers
It’s a fantastic letter. But is anyone right? Are they both wrong? Well, Penn is a rich actor but should he really have to pay for what is ultimately a work expense? If you were working on something for a company and you wanted it to succeed, but part of that included going halfway across the country for it would you pay?