Nickelodeon is a 1976 comedy film directed by Peter Bogdanovich, and stars Ryan O'Neal, Burt Reynolds and Tatum O'Neal. According to Bogdanovich, the film was based on true stories told to him by silent movie directors Allan Dwan and Raoul Walsh. It was entered into the 27th Berlin International Film Festival.
In 1914, Leo Harrigan (Ryan O'Neal) goes from a lawyer to a writer and then to a film director, as his job. However, Leo has problems, such as being hopelessly smitten with his leading lady, who chooses to grab his attentions by getting herself engaged to his vulgar and ignorant leading man, Buck Greenaway (Burt Reynolds). Leo is forced to move from New Jersey to California to keep one step ahead of the Motion Picture Patents Company, who are out to destroy any non-authorized equipment violating the Edison Trust. Leo finally settles in with other filmmakers in Hollywoodland, California, and makes a series of dramatic, romantic, and comedic shorts as throwaways. While initially believing movies are just a brief flickering kind of entertainment, Leo is profoundly affected by the 1915 world premiere of D.W. Griffith's The Birth of a Nation, which transforms the motion picture industry.
The film started as a script by W.D. Richter called Stardust Memories which was purchased by Irwin Winkler. Winkler took the project to David Begelman at Columbia, who pursued Bogdanovich as director.
Winkler later stated:
He made David come to his office and wait until the receptionist said, 'Mr. Bogdanovich will see you now.' As soon as we came inside, we were very haughtily told that he thought the script was a piece of [garbage]. I'd been around long enough to know that I should take that as a bad sign. I remember coming out of the meeting, saying, 'David, why should we make the movie with someone who hates our script?' And all David said was, 'Hey, he's a genius.'... What he filmed had nothing to do with the original script. I know it meant a lot to Peter to have all of the authentic stories about the silent period in the film, but Rick's script, authentic or not, was terrific. It was just a great drama. By the time Peter was done with it, it was authentic, but it wasn't dramatic anymore. Peter hadn't really experienced any failure yet -- we hired him before 'At Long Last Love' had come out -- so he was easily the most arrogant person I'd ever met in the business, before or since. When we shot the picture, he actually directed some of the scenes on horseback. When I asked him why he was on horseback, he said, "Because that's the way John Ford did it.'"
Bogdanovich has an alternative version:
I should have never gotten involved, I should have done it myself. I'd been planning to do a big picture about the silent era, largely based on the interviews with Dwan, Walsh and McCarey. I was preparing it and I got a call from my agent and she said they're preparing a movie called Starlight Parade, there's another director involved but they want you. I said, "Well, I don't really want to do their script, I'll have to rewrite it completely." "They'll let you rewrite it, whatever you want." Basically I rewrote the whole damn thing and never used any of Starlight Parade. The trouble was, again, the picture had a balance between comedy and drama and it was a comedy-drama, no question about it, and I had wanted to do it in black and white. It was very important to do it in black and white and Columbia, the studio, wouldn't let me. I had a big fight about that and they cancelled the picture. Then Barry Spikings at British-Lion came in and funded some of the picture, threw in a few million dollars. It ended up being a Columbia-British Lion picture and but when it was all done it was a difficult picture.
The movie's title was eventually changed to Nickleodeon.
Bogdanovich said that his original choices for the lead roles were Jeff Bridges, John Ritter, Cybill Shepherd and Orson Welles. However Columbia Pictures head David Begelman refused and Burt Reynolds and Ryan O'Neal were cast in the leads. He also refused to let Bogdanovich's then-girlfriend Shepherd in the female lead out of fear of a public backlash against her, following the poor box office performance of Daisy Miller and At Long Last Love. Brian Keith played the part Bogdanovich wanted Welles to play. (He later said he was going to play it at one stage.)
"The character I play... is a sort of a Gary Cooper with a little Buster Keaton thrown in," said Reynolds. "I do a lot of pratfalls and fall into things. He's a very shy, sweet, and likeable character. This is a first for me. The part that I would normally play is being played by Ryan O'Neal. He's a fast talking guy trying to become a big success. Peter wrote the film for Ryan O'Neal and me; he sees me [in real life] as that shy guy."
Tatum O'Neal, who had won an Oscar appearing in Paper Moon with her father and Bogdanovich, joined the support cast.
The fees for Reynolds and O'Neal were around $750,000 - and Tatum O'Neal was $350,000. This caused the budget to increase and Columbia cancelled the film.
"This film is not over and done with," said Richter. "What it comes down to is a power struggle over the budget. Columbia wants an enormous hunk cut out of it and I think if we can cut if they will make the film. By its very nature it is an expensive project. Why the studio brought this to is another question. Maybe it is the beginning of an attempt to start cutting back stars' prices. I think it is criminal to have to shorten the film just to pay a kings ransom to stars. You end up in debt before you begin."
Extra finance was obtained by British Lion and it was announced that filming would proceed. "We have worked out 99% of the problems and expect to work out 100% of the creative differences," said David Begelman.
Columbia provided $6 million, British Lion $2 million. The director's fee was $700,000 - $500,000 of which was held as a completion guarantee.
Bogdanovich later said the film "didn't have to cost half as much as it did. The producers insisted it be bigger and I fought but I finally had to accept what they wanted."
"The whole idea was to capture the era, since obviously the original films were shot in black and white," Bogdanovich says. "My cinematographer, Laszlo Kovacs, carefully lit everything to accommodate black-and-white, which is why the lighting looks so good. We used a lot of the techniques of the silent era, irising in and out of scenes. There are no opticals at all in the film. But all the studio wanted was another broad comedy like What's Up, Doc? "
During filming, Burt Reynolds collapsed on set one day. Doctors could not figure out what was wrong with him and the film had to be postponed for two weeks while he recovered. The film went over schedule and over budget and Bogdanovich had to forfeit his $500,000.
"I just had a smaller picture in mind," said the director later. "Both Burt Reynolds and Ryan were good in it, and Jane Hitchcock was good but she didn't have any threat about her."
Ryan O'Neal had made two pictures previously with Bogdanovich but said Nickelodeon was a "terrible experience" and that Bogdanovich "began no longer using writers... Orson Welles quit one week before he was to appear in the film... Bogdanovich rewrote what originally was a tough little script about Hollywood into a farcical series of precious little jokes. I tried to get out of the picture. I told him, 'Peter we had a good script but you changed it. You're locked up there in your house. You've got to get out and regain the gritty edge you showed in Last Picture Show. But he never did."
Winkler says when he saw a rough cut of the final film he thought it was "atrocious... for Peter to blame the movie's failure on the casting and not being in black-and-white is a really terrible excuse for a guy who simply screwed up a really terrific script."
For the Los Angeles premiere, all guests (and some critics) paid five cents to see the movie in honor of the film and early Hollywood ticket prices. However, the movie was unsuccessful at the box office, and was Bogdanovich's third flop in a row after Daisy Miller and At Long Last Love (the latter of which was also an attempt to revive an older style of film making).
Bogdanovich reminisced in 2004:
The previews were edgy and the studio wanted me to take most of the drama out, play it more comedy and turn it more into a What's Up Doc?, which it really wasn't. So that threw it off and it got fucked up. Again, the picture came out not at all the way I wanted. I tried to recut that one and I couldn't get back to it.There's about five minutes I'd like to put back that really makes a difference, some heavy stuff where you find out that Ryan O'Neal has an affair with Stella Stevens, it becomes very clear, and you see that John Ritter knows it, all that stuff. It was just much heavier and darker. So the picture got screwed up and that's why I took three years off and went away."
Bogdanovich blamed the studio for poor marketing.
I couldn't seem to get anything across to them. I felt like I was talking into a void. When you've had a few successes you can say the stupidest things in the world and people will think it's clever. When you've had a few flops, you can say something perfectly reasonable and they look at you as if they had no idea what you are talking about.
As for Richter;
After it became clear the picture was a failure, the most amazing thing happened: I got more job offers than ever before in my life. People seemed so mad at Peter that they were eager to make excuses for me and help me out. And they all wanted to hear about working with him. 
After making the film, Bogdanovich felt he had compromised so much he took three years off directing before returning with Saint Jack (1979).
The 2009 DVD release includes a 125-minute "Director's Cut" in black and white. "There's nothing to distract you," said Bogdanovich, "Ryan's blond hair and blue eyes don't distract you, and you focus on the action in an easier way. That's why the funniest movies ever made were silent comedies -- Buster Keaton, Harold Lloyd, Charlie Chaplin. It focuses the attention in a different way, and color is distracting for that sort of thing."
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