Friday, April 10, 2009


Okay, my movie experience in LaLaLand. The names and places are changed to protect the innocent and guilty alike.

Some years ago, I was approached by a producer who owned movie rights to a comic book. There was a possible deal, but the comic book writer had never written a theatrical script, and would I be interested in collaborating on one -- on spec -- with him?

I was interested.

We met, talked it out, and wrote the script, this writer and I -- call him "Carl" -- got a pretty clean draft, and after some tinkering on it with our producer, the script was sent off to a Big Independent Producer who had made a shitload of movies. Call him "Rich." 

Rich liked the basic premise -- there would, of course, have to be changes -- but the project went forward. Rich pitched it to one of the major studios -- he had an office on their lot, and they had a multiple-picture deal in place.

The studio went for it.

So, Carl and I and our producer -- guy who had the movie rights, call him Billy Bob -- we all flew down to L.A. to meet with Rich and his team -- associate producers, the director, like that.

We all went into a conference room in one of the bungalows. A flunky went out to move our rental car because we had parked it in the wrong place. Evian water in half-gallon bottles was passed out. Rich's little dog ran around under the table and I gave it some of my water.

Rich and the gang had notes. This didn't work, that would cost too much, could we maybe tone this down and pump that up? The usual.

Carl and I nodded and jotted down the suggestions. Yes, we could do that. Of course, that was no problem. Perhaps, though we could discuss this other a bit further?

In the middle of the convivial meeting, Rich had to take a phone call. He did so right at the table. Started out fine, his half of the conversation: Hey, how's it going? Yeah, yeah. 

Then the tone took a hard right turn: What?! What?! You cocksucker! I will rip your fucking lungs out and piss in the hole! You'll be fucking sorry you were ever fucking born, goddammit!

Rich hung up the phone, and his rage vanished like cigarette smoke in a hurricane. He smiled. Where were we?

Carl and I exchanged somewhat awed glances. Holy shit. It's just they show it in the movies ...

The director -- a man who had done several pictures, one of which I even liked -- had little to say. He was British, and at one point, with a straight face, he said: "Can we put some baboons in it?" This line works best with a posh Brit accent, so imagine it thus.

Carl and I looked at each other. Baboons? Baboons? What, I was thinking, so some of your relatives can be in the movie? (If I ever write a book about Hollywood, that is going to be the title: Can We Put Some Baboons in it?)

But of course, I didn't say any of that. Carl and I nodded. Yeah. We could put in a scene at a post-apoc zoo or something. Whatever you need. 

Baboons. Sweet Jesus.

Eventually, the meeting was done, we went home to do the rewrites. We had a lead actor -- a well-known ex-football player who was now a TV sportscaster. They had a location, in Australia. A budget -- not huge, twenty-five million -- and we were almost there.

We did our rewrites. Sent them in. Got nothing back, not even an echo.

What this means in the biz is that they didn't like what we did, and they hired another writer. Oh, well. We'd get a credit, we got paid for our draft, and that was that.

But they didn't like what the new writer did, so they hired yet a third (Carl and I count as one) writer, and after a few weeks, we got a call. Would we like to take another shot at it? Because, they said -- and I swear this is true -- they had hired a new guy, but they didn't think they were going to like what he turned in.

Carl and I were dumbfounded. The failure of logic and all. If you didn't think you were going to like what he turned in before he turned it in, why the fuck did you hire him?!

But we didn't say that, either. 

We did our draft, turned it in, and sat back to see what was what.

What was what was that our lead actor had another picture he was doing, and they didn't want to let him out of that contract to do ours. But okay, they could do some finagling and finesse that. However:

Our lead actor had a day job, and it started in the fall, when the movie shoot was supposed to begin down under, and apparently nobody in the chain of fools had thought about that. A conflict. Oops. 

The lead actor and the director had what is known as pay-or-play deals. Which means that if, for some reason, the movie falls through, or they have to be released from their contract and it's not their fault, they get paid anyway. Nice deal if you can get it.

So they got paid, and the movie went into what is known as turnaround, in which the movie doesn't get made, and generally winds up on a shelf somewhere other than the studio who originally bought it. Not to say that in some distant future it couldn't get made, but the odds are not good. Nobody around here is holding their breathing waiting. 

A year or so later, I had occasion to visit SoCal, and before I left, I called up Carl. I'm going to L.A. I said. Anybody you want me to shoot while I'm there?

Carl said: Yeah. Fire off a gun in any direction -- you're bound to hit somebody worth killing.  

I knew just how he felt. 


Bobbe Edmonds said...

*Still rolling on the floor, laughing my ass off*


You're a better man than I am, Gunga Din. I would have snotted Evian all over the table. And the Brit, for that matter. That you were able to keep a straight face warns me never to sit opposite of you at the poker table.

I know, I know, a paycheck's a paycheck, you sacrifice your art to feed the kids, nobody writes for free, I get that.

But still...Baboons.

The more I hear these stories, the more I understand how Rod Serling made such a good living out there for so long. He just went to Paramount and hung around the water cooler for 5 minutes.

Source material must have been flowing like lava in Pompeii.

Bobbe Edmonds said...

Thought it would pass after a few minutes.

Nope. Still laughing.

Tiel Aisha Ansari said...

Truth is stranger than fiction. I mean, if you tried to put that sequence of events in an novel, would anyone buy it? I wouldn't. (The premise, I mean, not the novel.)

Steve Perry said...

Rich, when he heard the baboon line, said, "Baboons? That'll be expensive."

The Director said, "Oh, well, we could use audioanimatronic robots or something."

Rich: "Are you crazy? Those will cost more than trained baboons!"

Carl and I are wondering who is going to tell the Star that he is going to be attacked by baboons -- another idea the Director just had.

It just kept getting better and better ...

Bobbe Edmonds said...

"Say, Tom, we had this idea about baboons attacking you while you played the perfect assassin."

"That sounds great, Lar, but where will you get the baboons?"

"Well, I called Danny Boyle, and he had some of the chimps left over from 28 Day Later. Unfortunately, they're infected with the rage virus, so you're really going to have to sell the gag on the first take."

"You won't get a second."

Dave Huss said...

Reminds me of Harlan Ellison talking about selling "The Starlost". It's a wonder that anything worth a shit gets made in that town.