I know that comment is made in the spirit of the meta funny of it, and it is, but from what I can find out it was indeed a tough sell. Brooks at that point was well established, from Show of Shows to Get Smart to a successful show on Broadway. He had connections even if his only movie directorial experience was an award winning animated short. Per wiki
Believe it or not, Zero Mostel could probably get a movie greenlit; I haven’t looked up the exact dates, but at about the same time he was winning a Tony as best lead actor in the then most successful Broadway show of all time, Fiddler on the Roof
The director did the stunts himself
American Graffiti, IIRC, was something of a sleeper, which is to say, it wasn’t a big hit on its opening weekend, and took a while to pick up momentum. In a lot of the places where it had been released early, it hadn’t done well, but it came as a second-run, and then did phenomenally.
Other films like this that may be in more people’s teenage or adult memory are Heathers and Victor/Victoria. I saw both of those in almost empty theaters during first run, and then took a friend to see Victor/Victoria, saying there was no hurry, as it wasn’t as popular “as it should be,” only to get a couple of the last seats in a house that sold out. I projected Heathers at the art house I worked for, and we turned away people from not only our weekend, but our weekday shows. We kept it a second weekend, and booked a lecture hall on campus a few blocks from our house, to show another show that started as soon as we could get the first reel rewound.
So saying that American Graffiti wasn’t a hit, well, it wasn’t an instant hit; it wasn’t a blockbuster its opening weekend. But yeah, it was well-received by critics, and ended up making a lot of money.
Don’t forget that Gallo responded by calling Ebert fat. To which Ebert replied (paraphrasing), “I can go on a diet and become thin. You will always be the director of The Brown Bunny.”
As I remember, it was a bit of a feud between Ebert and Gallo. And as I remember, Gallo re-edited the movie and Ebert gave it a much better review.
Maybe he could have but, again per the wiki article, Mostel wasn’t signed up when it was lit, and had to be sold on the idea by his wife. FWIW Wilder only got the part when the initial choice of Dustin Hoffman got his part in The Graduate. Who knew? I love Hoffman but him in that part?
It only got made because Brooks kept shopping it around, finally gave it a read that cracked one producer up, and the luck to find someone with deep pockets who thought the crazy was a good idea.
Which is interesting. And as noted, by the time Lucas was shopping Star Wars around he had an amazing ROI film as his track record.
There’s a movie to be made here, called “The Producers of The Producers.”
I’d love that.*
Some of my favorite documentaries have been behind-the-scenes exposés of film production. Like “The Ghost of Peter Sellers” about the pirate comedy he sabotaged.
*But I think I’ll hold out for “Behind the Production of The Producers of The Producers, The Sequel: Electric Boogaloo.”
There’s an episode of Xena: Warrior Princess that spoofs The Producers. An unscrupulous producer want to pull essentially the same scam, and hires Gabrielle to write the script. She has talked Gabrielle into writing a play about Xena that will deliver a message of peace and love. They plan to get warlords to invest by telling them that the play is being written by a close confederate of Xena’s, who is going to reveal “trade secrets” in the play.
The play is awful, because it’s a play about Xena, with no battles, no bloodshed, not even a mild disagreement over what to eat for dinner.
Joxer, who is the house manager, and the stage manager realize the play is going to flop (but don’t cotton onto the scam) decide to improve the play with some bloodshed effects.
Gabrielle gets mad, and says “What are we going to call it? Springtime for Warlords?”
They did that on Curb Your Enthusiasm.