Radio First Termer

10 Mar

The Radio First Termer experience was a mess from the start. Bo Danno, the so-called producer on the project, had been after my writing partner, Michael for years to write a screenplay based on pirate radio tapes from the Vietnam War; the gonzo broadcasts of acid-freak soldier Dave Rabbit. Danno reluctantly agreed to have me partner with Michael; a reluctance that didn’t endear me to Danno.

Danno has severe allergies and his nose twitches like he has a stubborn blue-bottle fly on the end of it. It didn’t help matters that Michael began referring to Danno – to his face, as “You nose-twitching motherfucker.”(In another world, Danno would be handsome. Knowing him in this one, it’s impossible to cut him a break.)

Danno had been a soldier himself, and a deejay, and had a fanatical attachment to the material – and that’s what it was, material – there was no story. No one even knew where or who Dave Rabbit was.

The main reason we agreed to write the first draft was the involvement of Alexander Witt, a first unit director on films such as Gladiator and Speed, and supposedly Ridley Scott’s right hand man. Alexander was looking to find a script that he could helm as a first-time director. Back and forth we went and Michael and I finally got a paltry $4,000 for an option on a first draft, with a guarantee to be the writers of the second draft if it was set up at a studio. We hammered out a story that worked on the page and fulfilled our attempt to write “The first Vietnam War date movie.”

But we had to endure meetings like these:

I’m on one of my visits to L.A., staying with Michael. Danno calls and asks us if we can have a lunch meeting with him. He’s read our draft and wants to give us his notes. Michael and I figure we’ll get the notes and turn it around in a day or two, then shoot it back to Danno who can then get it into Alexander’s hands.

Michael says, “He wants to meet us at Whole Foods.”

“What the hell is that?”

“It’s a hip natural foods market. Everyone goes there.”

I’m new toL.A.What do I know?

We make the two-hour drive down from Carpenteria, with Michael’s two girls along for the ride. When we pull into Whole Foods I’m thinking: This looks like a supermarket inJersey– maybe it’s different inside.

We park and walk towards the entrance and there’s Danno, sitting at a picnic table a few steps from the automatic doors. He’s got a sandwich in front of him and a folder with the script.

“My brothers!” (Danno’s customary, ingratiating greeting.) “Grab something to eat inside and we’ll get started.”

Michael and I exchange looks and head through the doors with the kids.

Michael is pissed. “The guy’s an asshole.”

I’ve read my screenwriting books: “The producer pays for lunch – doesn’t he know that?”

We load up on takeout and a few beers and join Danno outside. I’m thinking, Jesus Christ, we’re sitting outside a supermarket. If that wasn’t bad enough, the producer won’t even spring for some California rolls and Pacifico.

We go over the script page by page, with Danno going through some inner transformation making him more arrogant and condescending by the minute. I’m wondering about what fantasy, what delusion he’s operating under. The majority of his notes are along the line of military detail: “They wouldn’t use a grenade – they’d use a satchel bomb.” He’s also trying hard not to show how annoyed he is that Michael brought his girls along. Danno doesn’t get it – he’s not functioning as a producer. He’s so deficient, so unnecessarily rude to his writers that he borders on the pathologically dysfunctional.

During our meeting people walk in and out of the store a foot or two away, the automatic doors making a distracting swooshing noise.

The noise makes me crazy. I feel like we’re the Three Stooges, Larry, Moe and Curly. I can’t shake the feeling that the three of us have strolled into a mattress store and decided to take a nap on a king-sized Beautyrest, surrounded by shoppers and salespeople.

 

(2002)

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