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A Los Angeles roof top and a hotel name that sounds like a movie waiting to be made were the key inspirations that made Bono take a leap of faith and propel The Million Dollar Hotel into existence – with Mel Gibson as star and producer, and Wim Wenders at the helm.

The Million Dollar owes its genesis to the rooftop of the once-magnificent hotel that would become the film’s genesis. Built in 1917, the lodging, now called the Frontier Hotel, was in fact the titular Million Dollar Hotel and the graceful, wrought iron sign bearing that title still sprawls on the top of the building. Producer and story co-creator Bono, perhaps best known as the frontman for the innovative rock band U2, visited this rooftop. Eventually, it became the location for the video of the group’s song Where The Streets Have No Name.

"leap of faith"

"We used to spend a lot of time in downtown Los Angeles and knew the area. I think we first went to the roof when (photographer) Anton Corbijn brought us there to take our photograph. Myself and Edge (the band’s guitarist) were up on the roof, finding it hard to believe that it was called The Million Dollar Hotel. That’s the thing about America, isn’t it? The poetry of the place names. It seemed like the name of a book or a play or a movie already, just waiting to be written. If you go to a certain point on the roof, there is about a ten-foot jump to the other building and Edge was convinced he could make it. He said, ‘If you have faith, if you believe you can do it, you can.’ So, that was the first thing that struck me, that ‘leap of faith.’

That "leap of faith," coupled with the decaying hotel and its equally deteriorated and discarded inhabitants intrigued Bono. The movie’s story began to percolate in his imagination. About a year later, he mentioned it to his friend Nicholas Klein.

"I had this play in my head "

"I said I had this play in my head which I called The Million Dollar Hotel, about this character who tried to jump off the roof to get to the other side. I remember Nicholas said, ‘Well, I have a line that I always wanted to start a movie with: After I jumped, it occurred to me …’" Bono recalls.

"He told me that he thought there was a movie in that hotel," Klein adds. "So we went down there together to have a look at it. I was working on another script at the time, but we soon decided to combine our ideas and collaborate. We came up with a bunch of characters and started working on the story together. I put together a treatment, which we developed further and from that I wrote the first draft of the screenplay," Klein says.

Klein adds that several elements motivated his screenplay, including the socio-political situation that led to the tragic and dangerous atmosphere he and Bono encountered in downtown Los Angeles.

"Politically speaking, the Reagan-era cutbacks were an inspiration of sorts. When we went down there, we realized that there were some seriously wacked people roaming around and that half of them were uninsured outpatients. But we didn’t want this to be a Homeless People movie per se. We wanted it to be about these people but we didn’t want to tell the same old story. ‘There but for the grace of God go I’ definitely figures into the movie, but beyond that, it hopefully examines the power of faith in unusual forms and situations, the presence of humanity at all times and the subject of judgement and how insidious it is."

"the trio further collaborated on the script"

Klein continued to hone the screenplay over the years, with Bono’s continued input and support. Bono knew Wim Wenders, who had directed some of the band’s videos and, in turn, U2 had provided the music for several previous Wenders films. The musician introduced Wenders to Klein and the trio further collaborated on the script.

Despite Bono’s history with Wenders, Bono was hesitant to bring the project to him.

"It was a bit too much for me to think that Wim might want to direct The Million Dollar Hotel, so I didn’t ask him at first. But, he has a great, unusual eye for America … you see it in ‘Paris, Texas,’ which really influenced my songwriting and the way we approached ‘The Joshua Tree’ (album). And we needed someone to bring a fresh eye to downtown Los Angeles, not someone who would shoot it like a jeans commercial. Wim is an extraordinary director and … I should’ve asked him, I just didn’t quite pluck up the courage. But, eventually, I did …"

Apparently, Bono’s approach was so oblique that, at first, Wenders was unaware that Bono harbored hopes that Wenders might direct the piece.

"Bono showed me a script, 7 or 8 years ago, asking me for some advice. What he really wanted to know was: Did I think the film could be produced out of Europe and, if so, would I know a production partner and maybe even a director. I tried to give him and Nicholas Klein a solid opinion, so I studied the script closely. It didn’t occur to me for a while that Bono had indirectly asked me if I would direct the script and if Road Movies was in a position to produce it. That option only shaped up slowly when I realized I liked their script and loved the characters in it," Wenders says.

"unique take on the human condition"

Apart from Wenders’ idiosyncratic appreciation of the American landscape, Bono also felt that his unique take on the human condition would serve The Million Dollar Hotel.

"There are many strands that run through Wim’s work but his films often seem to be about how hard it is to love. This, in a way, is a dysfunctional love story, a fable about the power of love," Bono explains. "I think that when a director takes a script, it’s a bit like sending it off to a foster parent and you want to make sure you send it to a person to trust. In the case of Wim, it never felt as if he were the foster parent, it actually always felt like it was his story, in an odd way."

Published: 7/12/2000

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