Study Guide

Top Gun Screenwriter

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Jim Cash and Jack Epps Jr.

We guess good things come in pairs because just as the production of Top Gun was handled by a terrific twosome, another dynamic duo handled the screenplay of the movie: Jim Cash and Jack Epps Jr.

Like the production team of Simpson and Bruckheimer, these two almost always worked together (up until Cash's untimely death in 2000). The two met when Cash was Epps's screenwriting professor at Michigan State University and stayed in touch even after Epps moved to Hollywood to try to make it as—get this—a director.

Top Gun was their first screenplay that actually made it to the big screen (the two had written 7 screenplays previously that were never produced), and it wouldn't be their last.

In addition to their forays into the action-adventure world of Top Gun and Anaconda (1997), Epps and Cash also drafted the screenplay for the cop-comedy-thriller Turner & Hooch (1989, starring another famous Tom, of the Hanks variety), the comic-strip inspired Dick Tracy (1990, starring Warren Beatty, Al Pacino, and Madonna), and the Michael J. Fox comedy The Story of My Success (1987).

In the 1980's, both Epps and Cash worked for Paramount, which would assist in the production and handle distribution for Top Gun. According to Epps, the idea for Top Gun was one of 8 different ideas Paramount was contemplating. Epps, who had an amateur pilot's license, jumped at the idea, thinking he might get a jet ride out of it.

Epps got a jet ride, and a whole lot more. As part of his research, Epps went and hung with a bunch of Navy pilots in Miramar, took numerous jet rides, and even went through some of the training exercises.

Where was Cash during all this? Presumably back in East Lansing, Michigan (Cash and Epps had a more or less long-distance working relationship). As Epps explains it, he (Epps) would do the research, map out the scenes, get all the nitty-gritty details, and then feed those to Cash, who would come up with a draft of a script (and they would go from there).

Cash and Epps invented most of what became Top Gun: the characters, their individual struggles, the training exercises and dog fights, and so on. It was Epps, for example, who realized (after taking a lot of jet rides) that fighter pilots are essentially athletes, competing both with the enemy and with themselves (this realization explains the importance of the Top Gun trophy, the famous volleyball sequence, and the general competitive spirit among the pilots of Top Gun). It was also Epps who realized that capturing lots of good F-14 footage would be essential to the film's success.

Now, there are a whole lot of Internet rumors about how much the script changed between Epps and Cash's initial drafts. In 2012, Epps set the record straight: "The first draft was not quite different from the final version of the film. That is a bunch of internet bull----."

As Epps goes on to note, the biggest change from Epps and Cash's first version had to do with Charlie, Maverick's love interest in the film. In the original drafts, she was another Navy officer. The Navy, however, would have none of it, pointing out that fraternizing among officers (read "relationships among officers") was decidedly not allowed. Other than a few minor changes (the volleyball game was originally a basketball game), the first drafts, as Epps notes, was more or less the film we now have.

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