'Police Academy' Writer on Bill Clinton's Viewing Binge: "What Was He Doing That Day?"
"What was happening in the world that he could get away for all that time?"
The big bombshell out of Bill Clinton's speech at the DNC on July 26 — that during his term as president, he once played hooky from the Oval Office for two days to watch "all six Police Academy movies" (in fact there are seven, but the last, Police Academy 7: Mission to Moscow didn't come until 1994 and only grossed $126,247) with daughter Chelsea — surprised nobody more than Pat Proft, the 69-year-old filmmaker who created the wacky 1980s cop comedy franchise.
"I was watching a Canadian football game," says Proft, who now lives in Minnesota, where his old comedy buddy Al Franken is his senator, "and all these texts started happening. It's just so weird to come out of the blue that the president of the United States sat and binge-watched these movies. What was he doing that day? What was happening in the world that he could get away for all that time? And the way he said it was like, 'This is so great. Listen to what I did.' And people applauded — that was the best part, the applause. It makes him one of us. The White House has the same tastes as we have."
To those that don't remember, the original Police Academy followed a group of hapless misfit recruits trying to make it at the police academy (the mayor has decreed that the police have to accept all recruits). The movie grossed $81.1 million ($209 million adjusted for inflation) on a budget of just $4.5 million. (The entire series grossed $239.6 million, or $575.3 million adjusted for inflation). It was the sixth-highest-grossing film of 1984, finishing ahead of Footloose, Star Trek III, Splash and Romancing the Stone. It was behind Beverly Hills Cop, Ghostbusters, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, Gremlins and The Karate Kid.
The 1980s were the golden age of R-rated comedies. Police Academy didn't gross as much as Porky's ($105.4 million), Stir Crazy ($101.3 million) and Beverly Hills Cop ($234.7 million), but it was within spitting distance of Stripes ($82.5 million) and Trading Places ($90.4 million). But as Grantland and the AV Club have noted when recently revisiting the movie, some of the sexist and homophobic jokes — one recruit literally gets his head stuck up a horse's ass, a recurring gag features a senior officer secretly getting oral sex while standing at a podium before the recruits, and someone is always tricked into accidentally going into a gay bar — seem dated to today's audiences.
"We hung out at the L.A. Police Academy for two weeks and the instructors loved that we were there because it just put more pressure on the recruits," recalled Proft about developing the idea for the movie. "Actually by sitting there and listening to these people and hearing their stories, we came up with most of the characters. Just from the recruits we saw." The film's third act — where the recruits are needed to help during a riot — was drawn from incidents they observed first hand. "Out of the 18 or 19 films I've made, it was the most fun to put together because it was the first time and it became such a hit."
One would think that having your raunchy comedy praised by a former president in a historic speech nominating his wife for the presidency would be far and away the strangest mention, but Proft joked it just edged out the former winner. "Have you seen the police uniforms for Kiev in Ukraine?" he asked. "They are a complete ripoff of our uniforms in Police Academy. So I've got a lot of emails and texts from people in Ukraine saying, ‘Look at our police, they're dressed like Police Academy.' I got a whole day of that stuff when they first unveiled their new uniforms."
A version of this story first appeared in the Aug. 12 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.