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The Fighter Co-writer’s Air Bud Credit Still Makes Him Wince

Many in Hollywood have an incongruous credit lurking on their IMDb page. For Ryan Gosling, it's The All New Mickey Mouse Club. Leonardo DiCaprio has Growing Pains. But for Paul Tamasy, one of the three likely-to-be-Oscar-nominated co-writers of The Fighter, it's Air Bud, the 1997 family film about a dog who could play basketball. The dog would go on to play football, soccer, baseball, and beach volleyball in the four sequels, and that's not even getting into the Air Buddies spinoff series (Bud's talking puppies!), which has five straight-to-DVD movies and counting. Even though he only worked on the first two films, his "characters created by … " credit surely must have made him rich, rich, rich! Will he celebrate his probable nomination by lighting a cigar with a twenty dollar bill or a fifty? Neither! As Vulture was shocked to learn during what was intended to be the definitive “Paul Tamasy talks Air Bud” interview, Tamasy was screwed by the pooch.

Remember that time you wrote Air Bud? That was awesome.
[Laughs.] Look, I love Air Bud. I’m proud of it. But it’s one of those things where, because that movie rose to where it did and became a franchise, that’s what’s always in print next to my name now whenever I’m mentioned anywhere, even though I’ve sold loads of projects since then.

So it’s kind of like an unfortunate tattoo — your version of Johnny Depp’s "WINONA FOREVER" or something?
Yeah. In some article a few years back, even Mark [Wahlberg] referred to my writing partner [Eric Johnson] and me as “the Air Bud guys.” But I think that’s changing. In fact, I’ve already seen the Air Bud credit dropped from most things, so that’s good.

Thanks to The Fighter — which is eerily similar in a few ways. Do you see any of Air Bud in Micky?
Actually, Eric and I laugh about that all the time. There are similar themes. Because Air Bud is also about a kid who’s trying to find his way and who never gives up. And then the relationship between the boy and the trainer is very similar to Micky’s relationship to his brother.

There’s even a dog in it.
Yeah, there’s a dog called Quacka. He’s barely in there now, but I think there’s a shot of him in Dickie’s arms at one point.

You should make dogs your calling card. How did you get involved with Air Bud, anyhow?
That movie came about by chance. I just happened to be walking into my agent’s office to drop off a script and the dog was there. It’s funny, before that, I really was writing things much more like The Fighter. The script I was dropping off that day was a thriller about polygamists living in Utah.

What do you mean, the dog was there?
Well, from the waiting room, I could see into my agent’s office. The dog was sitting there looking at him. And it looked like my agent was talking to the dog, because the dog’s owner was just behind the door. Anyway, my agent saw me there and said, “Paul, come in here. I want you to meet this dog.” They showed me some video of him playing basketball. I was blown away. Right there, off the top of my head, I pitched them what I thought could be a movie for this dog. And the story literally did not change from that moment.

And Disney snatched it up?
No. My then-partner [Aaron Mendelsohn] and I wrote it on spec. Tried shopping it around that way. Got close at Disney, but no one would bite on it — no pun intended. I’d read about this independent company in Canada, Keystone, and my agent called to see if they’d take a look at it. And they jumped on it. We made that thing for $4.5 million Canadian. And then, of course, it became a huge hit, and we got screwed by the producers.

Wait — screwed?
Yeah. We found out after the second one that they had made over $300 million worldwide. We had not seen one cent of any kind of profit. So we ended up in a legal battle, which we ultimately lost. And to this day, we’ve never seen a thing. It’s now on Air Bud twelve. [Vulture could not reach Air Bud producer Robert Vince for comment.]

You don’t even get anything when they put out another installment?
Every time they make one, we get what’s called a passive payment. But all that is is literally half of what we got paid to write the original, and that’s chump change because we wrote it on spec, for WG minimum. Aaron and I get like $14,000 each — something like that. So yes, that’s another reason why it’d be nice to have that Air Bud thing gone.

I’m pretty angry about this.
Me too. Believe me. [Laughs.] Well, I was back then. You learn to live with it, and you find out when you talk to people in this industry that there’s a lot of people with similar stories. The way I’m dealing with it right now is I’m trying to launch my own boring dog story franchise. It’s called Bullet, and it’s set in the world of greyhound racing.

Will doing that let you finally put the Air Bud saga behind you?
That’s part of the reason, honestly. This is really tied to Air Bud. When I heard the story, I thought, You know what? This is my chance to make one of these and own it. This is my chance to be the guy on the winning side of the box office.

Photo: Paramount Pictures, Walt Disney Pictures/Warner Bros