Working with Van Sant: “There’s a hand down there.”

From time to time I snag a few moments onscreen, for one reason or another. The other day I found myself at a Van Sant shoot with a line to say. I had spent a night in jail in place of the producer’s son, and he gave me the bit, which paid scale, as a thank you.

I was to look down into some steampunk gearworks and say, “There’s a hand down there.’

We were outdoors. I took up my position.

“Camera.”

“Speed.”

“Mark it.”

“Scene twenty-one, Hand, take one.”

“Aaaand, action,” Van Sant said.

I looked down into the gears.

“There’s a hand down there,” I said in horror.

“No,” said Van Sant. “Not like that. Do it again.”

The crew ran through the setup again. I looked down into the gears.

Take two.

“There’s a hand down there?” I said in disbelief.

“No,” said Van Sant. “You see it, you’re not horrified, you don’t doubt your eyes.”

Take three.

“There’s a hand down there,” with a hint of a chuckle.

“Are you trying to annoy me?” Van Sant said.

Take four.

“There’s a hand down there.” Flat. A statement.

“Do you know what I can do to you if you make me mad enough?” Van Sant said.

Next to me, the slate girl had fear in her eyes.

“Don’t make him  mad,” she said to me in a whisper.

Take five.

“THERE’S A HAND DOWN THERE!”

“DO THAT AGAIN AND I’LL BREAK YOUR F**KING FACE!”

Take six.

“There’s a hand down there,” with a sort of a sob.

Van Sant sighed. He came around behind me and knelt down, out of the shot. He reached between my legs and grabbed my testicles in an iron grip. Began to squeeze.

Take seven.

“There’s… nnngggh… a hand… nnnngggghh… down… there… nnnggghheeek.”

“Cut,” Van Sant said, standing up. “Print it. Next setup.”

Life in Hollywood: overhearings, herself, house, always, expect

Again, I’m ready to write about my life in Hollywood, but upon what subject? I downloaded a pdf of “Pride and Prejudice” and this time took the first word that was more than five characters long on pages 11, 21, 31, 41, and 51. These should lead me to my subject: overhearings, herself, house, always, expect.

My TMZ contact called me yesterday:

“What have you got for me?” she said. “I’m desperate for anything on The Dark Knight Rises. What have you heard?”

“My overhearings cost money, especially when they’re overheard from Anne Hathaway herself. I’m not your house negro, Dafna. You can’t always expect me to cough up pearls for you over the phone. To mix my metaphors. I need an understanding.”

“What? Are you talking to Gawker again? Is Gefen after you, that bitch?”

“No. It’s all for you, Dafna. But I need an arrangement. I’ve got obligations.”

“Are you going to India with the crew? Can you score me some obligations over there. I hear you can buy absolutely anything ten steps off the set.”

“I doubt they’ll call me over.”

“Pittsburgh?”

“Probably not.”

“How much dialog are you writing?”

“Crumbs under the table. But I’m spending time at Warners, so I hear things. I see things.”

“Give me something, Baby. Anything. Christopher Nolan. Bale. Caine. Oldman. Anybody… You mentioned Hathaway?”

“You want to have dinner?”

“Jesus, are you hitting on me? What next? What have I got to do to get something out of you? Don’t answer that. I’ll meet you at The Roost for a drink at five.”

“Perfect. I’m at Warners now, so I’ll just come around the park.”

“I don’t want to hear about the Catwoman costume.”

“Listen,” I said. “I’ve got a source who follows every female star into the bathroom. Please bring cash. I’m a little short and I’ve got some serious bills to pay.”

“Shut the front door! Give me a hint. Is this about undergarments? A birthmark? Disease?”

“I’ve got sound.”

“Was she in there with somebody? Or on the phone?”

“No.”

Movies I’ve decided not to see

Movies are loved, some by God, some by Satan, all by the director’s mom. If you decide not to watch one, you better have a good reason, because you’re bound to piss off somebody with your decision.

Some years ago, I embarked on the task of watching all of the movies on the IMDB Top 250 list, as it was constituted at the time (it changes a lot). I completed the task, with the exception of nine films, all of which I watched part of (all of which I watched in part). I propose to list those nine films, which I desperately wanted to watch but on some level decided not to (but decided not to on some level), plus Titanic. Perhaps by studying this list, I can form a general rule about the movies that I watch and the movies that I don’t watch.

1. Titanic

2. The Lion King

3. Scarface

4. Grave of the Fireflies

Hmm. The rest of the nine are gone, bumped off the list by other films. Running my eyes over the current 250 entries, I’m reminded that it’s a profoundly silly list (#76, Raging Bull; #75, The Green Mile).

Plan B… I’ll fill out my list with films from the 250 that I don’t suppose I’ll ever see.

5. Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter… and Spring

6. How to Train Your Dragon

7. Black Swan

Still need three more. Ok, first three I can think of:

8. That Robin Williams movie about the doctor in a clown suit

9. Sex in the City, 1 & 2

10. The Passion of the Christ

I thought I’d never watch Howard the Duck and Death to Smoochy, but then someone turned me on to them and I did watch them and I liked them. I was never going to watch the second or third Transformers, but I just read a review by a woman who liked them both, so… This list of ten is fungible. No, fungible means that I could swap in ten other movies easily, so it’s fungible in that sense, but also, the ten entries here could change polarity at some point, after being praised by someone on /Filmcast, for example, and move to that other list of movies, that I desire to watch.

Basic reasons I don’t want to watch these movies:

1. Titanic – The boat sinks and almost everybody drowns. Cameron tries to sneak around this by showcasing a survivor up front. Doesn’t help. I don’t want to put in two hours watching only to have everybody drown on me. At least with The Poseiden Adventure, you got to guess who would make it and who wouldn’t.

2. The Lion King – I’ve got nothing against lions. A guy down the block kept a lion in his house til it killed him.

3. Scarface – Pacino. Did he have the scar? The part I watched, I can’t remember the scar. Did anybody call him Scarface to his scar, I mean, to his face?

4. Grave of the Fireflies – I only got 1/3 of the way through this one before my unsuccessful suicide attempt.

5. Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter… and Spring – This might be a great movie, but there are so many Chinese movies that I haven’t seen, that if they passed me at the rate of one per minute, and in that minute I could watch the whole movie, I’d never come to the end of them because they are being made and are entering post-production even faster than that.

6. How to Train Your Dragon – I was going to say something about a young dragon and her training bra but this is a family blog.

7. Black Swan – I saw a swan the other day. If you notice, all the other birds give swans a wide berth, because they really are crazy, black and white. Maybe not as crazy as a loon, but they’ll spring a hissy fit in a heartbeat if the bread that you throw them is even half-stale.

8. That Robin Williams movie about the doctor in a clown suit – When I was in the fourth grade, we took a tour of a funeral home and the embalmer was dressed as a clown. This was supposed to make us laugh when they showed us the corpse they were working on. It didn’t.

9. Sex in the City, 1 & 2 – False advertising.

10. The Passion of the Christ – I was going to watch this one with my Sunday School class, but instead I had a chance to see a private screening of a phone video clip of Mel Gibson, drunk,  beating his wife with a Torah yad. That seemed sufficient.

Gary Busey and Charlie Sheen at Thunderdome

Gary Busey and Charlie Sheen are friends of mine. I’ve spent more time drinking and whoring with Gary and Charlie than I have with my own dad, we’re that close. I was at the Thunderdome at Burning Man when the two of them got it on. No, Mel Gibson wasn’t there, but Tina Turner was. This was the night that Busey almost bit off Sheen’s pecker pardon my French. We paid a friend a lot of money to keep his trap shut after he had sewed it back on. This didn’t happen at Thunderdome, though. It happened later when we were just clowning around.

I’ve worked with both men as a dialog coach. I’m Gary’s age and Charlie is twenty years younger than us, so when we’re roistering, there’s always a lot of banter and ragging about our age and his youth, relatively speaking. Charlie just needs one glimpse of gray pubes to set him off on a rant, whereas whenever Gary or I see him pitch face-first into his bag of blow or the ta tas of one of his strumpets because he’s too drunk and/or high to sit up any longer, we’ll hoot at him and badger him until we’re sure he’s totally out and can’t hear us any longer.

Anyway, the three of us were at Burning Man sitting alone at a campfire out on the flats and Gary and Charlie were arguing about which one of them was a bigger asshole than Mel Gibson. Naturally, they both claimed that honor. And then, there next to us in the firelight, stood Tina Turner. Tina, who was born in Nutbush, Tennessee, I kid you not, is five years older than Gary and me. She’ll never see seventy again. She’s dressed in her leathers with the thigh-high boots and bare skin above and by God, whether it was the drugs or the firelight, she didn’t look half bad.

“Why don’t you boys come on over to the Thunderdome and we’ll have this out,” she said.

We all got up and staggered over there and sure enough, there were fifteen or twenty young women inside from a Southern Cal Jewish sorority, and they were wearing t-shirts to prove it.  Gary and Charlie charged in and started abusing them with anti-semitic rants that would have shamed Goebbels, not to mention Gibson. By the time the girls ran out sobbing, Tina had the boys by the hands and was ready to raise one in victory. Before she could do it, though, just to prove a point, the two started in on her, from the standpoint of the N word. She tolerated about sixty seconds of that and then clocked them both hard enough to stretch them out motionless on the sand.

“I’ve spent time with Mel Gibson,” she said to me, “while we were making our Mad Max movie. When he’s sober, he’s a gentleman. I have yet to encounter either of these two motherf**kers in that state, so I can’t make a fair estimation, but I’m inclined to agree with them that they’re both worse than Mel, and award them a tie.”

Have there always been “summer movies”?

Summer Glau was born in 1981, so in that respect, no.

If time is a construct introduced by humans because they don’t have the ability to see the totality of action in an absolute universal sense, then yes. Everything has always been and will always be, including summer movies.

In the more limited sense of U.S. cinema, my thoughts before turning to Google:

Before television, movies were produced and released in a constant flow. There were seasonal inflections caused by the advent of holidays such as Christmas. Whether release considerations went beyond that, I don’t know. But I doubt it.

With television came the concept of TV summer reruns. It may be that the studios regarded this fallow TV period as a time to introduce especially attractive movies. No data in my memory bank on this.

Also, in the late 50s and early 60s, the first baby-boomers entered their teen years. Hence, movies like Where the Boys are (1960) and the Funicello/Avalon beach-blanket movies, such as Beach Blanket Bingo (1965), were made. Perhaps these youth-targeted movies were introduced in the summer months. Could be wrong.

The summer movies that I’m considering here are seasonal offerings aimed at a youthish demo. Summer blockbusters are a whole different animal, from both marketing and genre perspectives, targeted even more tightly at the teen demo, with, also, the world market in mind. Summer blockbusters were invented with Jaws in 1975.

Finally, off the subject, I’m thinking of adults who are recently out of school and in the workforce and who now no longer have a clear concept of “summer,” as their year blends together for them with a vacation or two thrown in at arbitrary times – as opposed to youth free from school for several hopefully halcyon months. For such adults, if there were summer movies, perhaps now there aren’t, at least until kids of their own come along.

Turning to Google:

So much for my thoughts above. “Where the Boys Are” is a classic movie about summer, but its release date was three days after Christmas. “Beach Blanket Bingo” was released in April. So movies about summer and movies released in summer are two different things. Wet Hot American Summer (2001) came out in the summer. Random? Endless Summer (1966) was released in August in Japan. Ok. I know nothing about the relationship between “release” and “opening,” or why a movie would be released first in Japan. You can explain all this to me in a comment or guest post. Or not.

Now I’m thinking that there is no special seasonal-release category for summer movies (movies released in the summer), only for “summer blockbusters.”

There have not always been summer blockbusters. “Jaws” represents a change in Hollywood’s business model. Gone with the Wind (1939)  was released in January. Ben Hur (1959) in December. Old-fashioned blockbusters.

So, bottom line, there have not always been movies about summer  that were released specifically in summer; but there have always been movies about summer – a summer-movie genre. Let me see if I can turn up some titles from the 30s and 40s.  Blondie Takes a Vacation (1939). Summer Bachelors (1926). Say, here’s a summer-camp movie rated 8.9 in IMBD: Thrill of a Lifetime (1937), with Ben Blue, Judy Canova, and Betty Grable. Uh oh. Frank Nugent in the NYT: “You have, in point of accuracy, an insipid concoction of sour japes and flat romantics which Fanchon (of Fanchon & Marco) has strung together like one of her old stage shows at the Roxy.” Oh, well. Would movies about county fairs count?

Who could have guessed, back in the day, that the drive-in would go away. Sitting out under the stars on the benches in front of the concession stand, we automatically classified whatever we were watching as a summer movie.

Which brings me to a treasure trove of summer-movie lore: the page that is displayed when you Google “summer movie memories.” For example, seven New Yorker essays on the subject. Based upon this veritable landslide of summer-movie nostalgia, to mix my metaphors, there have always been summer movies.

Unwelcome Films

From time to time I’m faced with a film that I’m obliged to watch, but don’t want to. How about you? If the setting is social, I must sit down and take my medicine like a true cinephile. All film contains good. However, if I’m alone, and the film is one that I’ve agreed to review, or that resides on a list that I’d like to complete, or that represents a genre that I feel obligated to visit at present, then, here in this post, I present you with five strategies that I use to overcome my resistance to watching the film, or to moderate the pain of watching the film, together with an example upon which I’ve used one of these strategies. (Or does one use a strategy to develop a process or procedure, and then apply that process or procedure to the film in question?)

1. Metropolis (1927) – I dodged this one for years, for decades, but finally resolved to watch it. The version I had in hand ran 153 minutes. I watched it at the rate of five minutes per day, with a couple of days off, over a period of five weeks. This can be the five minutes before your actual movie viewing, when you’re settling yourself, arranging the cats around you, flossing, clipping your toenails, doing a couple of situps or squats, or rolling a joint. It can be five minutes during which you sit and stare stonily at the screen, doing nothing but watching, as if attending one more episode in an endless series of them. You can watch any of the movies that you wish you weren’t watching, using this method, even that portion of the Antonioni ouvre that was created, in particular, to bore. As for Metropolis? It’s about this guy and his girl robot.

2. La règle du jeu (The Rules of the Game) (1939) – Yeah, one of the greatest, they say. You’ve got to watch it if you want to hold your head up at film maven cocktail parties. I managed not to see it for ages, but my soul suffered. My soul knew that a shaming hole existed at the heart of my movie-watching resume. Runtime, 106 minutes. So what I did was, I went to minute 53 and started watching from there. Less than an hour to the end of the movie and I made it to the end in several sessions. Voila. Then all I had to do was watch the first half, which turned out to be a lot better than the second half, so that was good. The movie is about rich people in France. The rules are for the game of… what? Being rich or something like that? Whatever the game was, the Nazis canceled it.

3. Yi Yi (2000) – 173 minutes. Try holding your breath for that long. I managed to not watch Yi Yi for a decade but finally committed myself to a review of it. I ended up loving the movie and watching it three times, but that in no way helped me to get going in the beginning. What I did was, I cut out 18 slips of paper and wrote a number, one through eighteen, on each one. Then I put the slips in a baseball cap, shook them around and mixed them up, and then pulled them out one slip at a time, recording the numbers as I did so, so that I had generated a random sequence of eighteen numbers. Each slip represented ten minutes of the movie – the first ten minutes, the second ten minutes, so forth. Then I watched Yi Yi in ten-minute segments, in the random order that I had generated with the slips. Interestingly, the first number I pulled out of the cap was “one,” so at least I got to start the movie at the beginning. Not so long after that came “eighteen,” and I got to see the end of the movie pretty quick, which produced a sense in me of accelerating downhill toward completion. The point? If even five or ten minutes of a film, in sequence, is too much for you to bear, scrambling the numbers causes you to watch vignettes rather than a three-hour film. Yi Yi is about a family. A lot of stuff happens, in little ten-minute spurts.

4. The Lake House (2006) – For me, Sandra Bullock is sort of like Jennifer Aniston or Lucy Liu. She’d like to be glamorous and once in a while she gets tricked out so that she appears glamorous, but in her soul she’s just a normal, ordinary human being. I like to watch her onscreen. Sometimes, though, I’ll add Spanish or French subtitles to the movie. They can distract you from lame dialog or a stupid plot and give you a chance to work on your language skills at the same time. Or, I’ll change the audio track to dubbed Spanish or French with English subtitles. Same idea, but even more diverting. Or, finally, when I’m feeling serious about the language thing, more serious than I am about eyeballing Bullock, I’ll set the audio dubbing to Spanish and the subtitles to French, or vice versa. The Lake House? It’s about a magic mailbox. If I had written the screenplay, when you opened the box, there would have been pizza and coke from the future in there, in addition to the letters.

5. Infestation (2009) – I like to take in a horror film from time to time. I check the reviews, look for something on the Blockbuster shelves that some horror maven enjoyed. Sometimes, though, when I get the thing home and stick it in the DVD player or computer, on impulse I’ll turn on the commentary track and watch the movie with that instead of with the film’s audio. The director yakking is often superior to the screams of the members of the group, getting knocked off one at a time. Then, if the movie seems OK from that perspective, I’ll sometimes run it again with the director silenced and replaced by those actors’ screams. Infestation? I don’t remember… Oh yeah. There were cocoons. And, from the title, I’m guessing, bugs.

Movies That Have Meant Something Really Important To Me

Movie: The Boy with Green Hair (1948)
Experience: Boredom
Life Lesson: Don’t let your parents take you to clunky old movies or movie life will seem worse than real life. What were they thinking?

Movie: Alice in Wonderland (1951)
Experience: Wonder.
Life Lesson: Now that’s what I’m talking about. Movie life is better than real life.

Movie: Ben Hur (1959)
Experience: Excitement
Life Lesson: See “Alice in Wonderland”

Movies: The Road Warrior (1981), Conan the Barbarian (1982)
Experience: Slipped out of work; sat in a small theater with maybe four others for the double feature; drank coke and ate popcorn.
Life Lesson: Work sucks.

Movie: Good Morning… and Goodbye! (1967)
Experience: Bright colors. Women with large natural hooters.
Life Lesson: Real sex is not movie sex; forget the green hair and go for Alice, Heston, Gibson, Schwarzenegger, and the hooters.

Scriptwriters: Sequel Prequels

Sequels get made because the original film did well. Sometimes the sequels do well too. What could be more natural than picking out a successful sequel and squeezing in a prequel between it and the original film. You can do this with just about any blockbuster of the last ten or twenty years and sell your script tomorrow. Prequels are just meltdown hot at the moment.

Don’t spend more than four hours, say, on your script, or it will lose its sponteneity and begin to show evidence of actual thought, which is boxoffice poison.

I just made a couple of nice scores with Alien and Terminator sequel prequel scripts. You put in that thing coming out of the guy’s stomach, or a famous robot shooting up L.A., and you’re pretty much done. I did have scenes set in St. Kitts, on the off chance that I might get a trip down there to doctor the script during shooting. There’s something about that name that suggests fun goings on. Kitts. Look, down on the beach.. A gaggle of young frisky Kitts in bikinis.

Examples:

1. Any slasher movie – Between movies 1 and 2 in the franchise, or between 2 and 3, or 3 and 4, or whatever, the psycho killer murders a batch more young folks, especially when they’re having sex, perhaps while the killer is on vacation in a Mexican resort town.

2. Any superhero movie – Between any two films in the franchise, the superhero falls in love, we learn. Perhaps he’s (it’s a he) on vacation.  In Paris, if you’ve got the budget, or Fort Lauderdale otherwise. Needless to say, his fiancee gets killed tragically. This why the second entry in many superhero movies is so lame – the guy is still mourning.

3. Any Star Wars or Harry Potter or Indiana Jones or Lord of the Rings movie – If you can get the rights. Don’t spend four hours, or even half that, on the script. You can literally write anything. It doesn’t matter. They will come when it opens. Examples: POTC 1, 2, 3, 4. Consider a vacation setting for it.

4. Infernal Affairs/The Departed – Yeah, one is a remake of the other, but the thing is, you can make another one in between, half Chinese/half Mafia, again with good guys working for bad guys and bad guys working for good guys, a lot of plot, who knows what the f is going on? A classy project! Get that Chinese guy Mifune in there, head to head with Nicholson, if he’s over the Lakers tanking yet. You could set it in Hawaii.

5. Rocky – You don’t need any help with this one. Rocky fights. But not in Philadephia, for Christ’s sake. Vegas. Set it in Vegas.

Screenwriters: Prequel Sequels

While you’re working on your scripts for the industry’s hottest prequels, don’t forget to get started on the sequels to those prequels. Here are the templates:

5. Moby Dick: The Champ – Moby is now the champ. The Great Black Whale has become his bitch. Moby fights a giant squid, then either Mega Shark, Sharktopus, or Dinoshark, whichever has grossed highest by the time the script is written. Then Moby faces his biggest challenge, set up by his manager (they got back together), Ahab. He’s fighting a whaling ship. Ahab will captain the ship to ensure that the fix is in. During the bout, Moby accidentally bites off Ahab’s leg, setting up the tension between Peck and the whale in the original film.

4. After Sunrise, but before Sunset 2 – Being a Hallmark effort, you can count on a lame title for the sequel. Hawke is unfaithful. Delpy tries to kill herself. Hawke becomes an addict. Delpy gets him into rehab. Hawke recovers. Delpy forgives him. Delpy again tries to kill herself.

3. Toy Story: The Cave – Woody the stick and Buzz the rock are stolen by a couple of Neanderthals. (Don’t let the voice talent do that stupid “Neandertall” thing.) Set most of this movie in Werner Herzog’s cave, which is getting a lot of high-class buzz. Include the albino alligators. You can also introduce some comical character – say, a pile of dinosaur dung – that is voiced by a sound-alike Klaus Kinski.

2. Look Who’s Talking: Almost Born! – Spermatazoons Fred and Harry hook up with ova Mildred and Rachel at the fallopian party. These crazy zygotes head over to the local womb, turn into blastocysts and burrow into the uterine wall for nourishment. Write them out of the script at this point, because now the cute embryonic twins John and Mary take over the movie. It’s Dinner with Andre meets The Savages. Talk, talk, talk, followed by the light at the end of the tunnel.

1. The Bible: God Tries to Make Up his Mind – The studio heads got their way with “The Bible: Before the Beginning,” but in this sequel, Jesus Christ shows up. Let’s face it, He’s a major draw. Voiced by Mel Gibson. The Cisalpinian Monks have been pushed out of the scriptwriting derby; the new front-running script consortium is Gibson’s Blood, Thorns, and Some More Blood of the Lamb Christian Congregation of the Barrier Reef. If Thor grosses well, we might add some Norse stuff here.

Screenwriters: Top Prequel Projects

Prequels are the hottest topic in Hollywood right now. Here are the top five still open for independent submissions:

5. Moby Dick: The Contender – Starts when Moby is still a little fish, not yet The Great White Whale. Ahab is his trainer. Moby takes on The Great Black Whale (aka The Dick) and gets his butt kicked (figuratively speaking). Before the rematch, Moby and Ahab have a falling out. Ahab loses it completely and bites Moby’s head off (again, figuratively speaking). You know the rest.

4. After Sunrise but before Sunset – A Hallmark project. No sex. Do anything else you can think of to ensure that the script is no more boring than all the other Hallmark movies. Pays $250.

3. Toy Story: The Beginning – The invention of toys. Woody is a stick and Buzz is a rock.

4. Look Who’s Talking: Within the Organs – Prenatal. Talking spermatozoons and ova. Following the climax, they meet at a party in a fallopian tube.

5. The Bible: Before the Beginning – The monks of the Cisalpinian Order of the Catholic Church, working out of a tenement in Queens, currently have their legs up on this project with their prequel draft, but the die has not yet been cast. Studio heads are looking for something a little more eye-for-an-eye-ish.