Tag Archives: movies

Fortune Cookie

22 Oct

 

Man Drowning

Jon, the producer trying to get me to write a film shot in China, told me a story about one of the Chinese industrialists he’s going to tap for money to finance the film, a friend of his named Yunru.

Ten years ago, Yunru was homeless and friendless, living in a mausoleum in a graveyard outside Chengdu. After seven straight days in the darkness of the mausoleum without a crumb to eat, he became delirious with hunger. Yunru staggered out into the sunlight, wailing, “I’m hungry… I’m hungry.”

In seconds, other homeless people emerged from the surrounding mausoleums, moaning, “We’re hungry, too.”

The others – a group of about a hundred – pooled what little food they had and gave it to Yunru. With his strength restored, the others began looking to Yunru as their leader. He told them he’d go to a nearby factory to try and get them work.

Yunru spoke to the factory manager and said his people would work for half what he was paying the other workers.

The factory manager turned down the offer.

Yunru then said, “Twenty of us will work for free for one week. We’ll show you that we can work harder and better than your other workers.”

The factory manager agreed and at the end of one week Yunru had made good on his claim. The factory manager hired all 100 of the workers from the cemetery. Over the course of a few months, production and profits at the factory were way up, attracting the attention of the factory owner in Hong Kong. He flew to Chengdu to see for himself why this particular factory was outperforming the others he owned. He first spoke with the factory manager who hemmed and hawed and didn’t give a satisfactory answer. The owner then interviewed a worker who said, “It’s all because of Yunru.”

The owner tracked down Yunru and in the course of their conversation asked, “Are you happy working for ten dollars a day?”

Yunru answered, “We only make five dollars a day.”

The owner confronted the factory manager, asking, “What are you doing with the extra money we are sending you?”

When the manager was unable to come up with an explanation, the owner said, “You’re fired. Yunru will take your place.”

As time passed, Yunru eventually had 3,000 workers under his control. He invested in coal when it was pennies a ton – now it’s over $50 a ton. Yunru is a rich man with a beautiful home and family. When friends come over to visit, he breaks out $100K bottles of Lafite Rothschild.

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Whisper

11 Aug

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My block is getting even more gang-ridden; with foul-mouthed rap blasting from windows and shaven-headed Mexicans tagging the walls with spray paint. This season in L.A. the Blacks hate the Latinos more than ever; they’re executing each other in an ethnic cleansing of whole neighborhoods.

Where a white guy like me fits in is anybody’s guess. On any given day, I’m either Captain Kangaroo or Paladin.

There will come a day when I’ll have to deal with unwanted attention. On that day or night I’ll call on the ghost of Whisper, a youth who died of an overdose on the sidewalk in front of my building, the night before I moved in. For weeks, gang members tended a shrine of flowers, candles and snapshots. In the mornings I’d tidy up the shrine, up-righting candles that had tipped over in the night.

When I finally face the inevitable moment of truth of living here on this block, I’ll call on Whisper to save me.

(2006)

The King

16 Jun

 

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“He or she who has the script is king. It’s very simple. It doesn’t matter whether you’re an agent, an actor, a director, a producer or studio person. If you’ve got the document you’re running the show. It’s always about what’s on paper.”

Don Simpson

 

Driving to work on the 101 and a driver in a beat-up Nissan Sentra is in front of me, weaving all over the place, hitting the brakes, then surging forward. He catches my interest – I want to see what the crazy fucker looks like. I give my RAV 4 some gas and nothing happens. All of a sudden, with the pedal to the metal, I’m losing power.

I pull off on the next exit and literally coast down the off ramp into a parking space on a side street. I notice the temperature gauge needle is spiked in the hot zone.

I get out of my car and it’s a beautiful sunny day, warm air like a cloak around my shoulders. I have $18 in my pocket, a bricked-in checking account and a corporate credit card I’m not supposed to use. A thought goes through my head: it could have been worse. I’m only a couple of miles from work and I have free towing with Geico.

I find out later that the water pump disintegrated, causing all kinds of shrapnel wounds to the engine. It’s going to be a few days of scrambling to get to work, and a long weekend of walking through LA, wondering how I’ll pay the mechanic $800.

(2006)

 

Eight Ball

14 Jun

 

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I’m sitting in a Japanese fast food joint on Santa Monica, reading the LA Times, when I look up to see a street tramp at the door – the kind you only see in Hollywood. She’s in her 50s, a former beauty, dripping with costume jewelry and wearing a black slouch hat.

She heads straight towards me, asking, “Can you spare some money so I can get some soup?”

Closer I can see she has a huge shiner under her right eye.

I pull out my wallet. “Yeah, I can spare a few bucks.”

I dig out three dollars as she tells me I have gorgeous eyes – the prettiest she’s seen in a long time. She sits down at the table next to me.  When I hand her the money I see how filthy her hands are, dirt worked into the creases of her skin and black grime under the broken nails. She wants to shake hands with me but I can’t bring myself to do it.

She notices me looking at her black eye. “You can see it?”

“Yeah, it looks like somebody hit you.”

“My boyfriend – my former boyfriend.”

She dips into her purse for a bottle of makeup and starts dabbing it over the shiner, saying. “This helps.”

I say, “Time will help.”

She tries to shake hands with me again. Jesus…

She starts talking about her former career, all the important people she knew, that she was a model and an actress – that she worked in Basic Instinct.

Then she says the one thing guaranteed to get me lurching towards the door.

“And I sold a screenplay!”

(2006)

Wildlife

11 Apr

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Weird night. Steeping myself in romantic comedies, I watch Notting Hill in preparation for writing Mambo Sun.

At the end of the film I have to get out of my apartment – the unfocused romantic emotions I’m feeling are too intense to go gently into that dark night of a ten o’clock bedtime.

All through the last 20 minutes of Notting Hill, I could hear police helicopters circling overhead.

I wash my face and walk down to the street and instantly notice a police barricade at both ends of my block, with lights flashing and choppers beating in the night sky.

A cop hurries across the street and buttonholes me. “Where are you coming from? Did you see anything?”

Like many writers, I’m hopeless with numbers. I’m thinking, ‘Fuck – what if he asks me where I live – I don’t even know the number of my building.’

I tell him I haven’t seen a thing.

He asks me where I’m going.

I tell him I’m going out for a drink.

“Okay – but don’t come back for at least a half hour – we got the dogs out looking for a guy.”

The cop doesn’t make eye contact with me the whole time.

One block further I see a shape heading towards me under the streetlight.

It’s a raccoon, ambling down the sidewalk.  A perfectly groomed raccoon. It runs past me and crosses Western Ave. and keeps running.

I’m thinking, what a strange night.

I turn the corner and see a drunken Korean lurching towards me. He’s so drunk he’s walking bow-legged, like he’s riding a horse in a John Wayne movie. I haven’t seen anyone this drunk since I roamed the rough side of Mexico City, where I watched a poor campesino literally crawl on his belly down the sidewalk at high noon.

I look into the Korean’s eyes and see an opaque pain. Whatever sent this guy south happened a long time ago.

I walk the last remaining block and make it to the karaoke nightclub and order a beer.

Minutes pass. A Korean guy in a baseball cap pays the barmaid a dollar for me to sing.

I tell them “Always On My Mind.”

That song slays me – I get deep into it. As I sing people murmur and sigh and a Korean gangster gives me the thumbs up.

Later the bar maid, not Gina – she must have had a rare night off – comes down the bar and says, “You sing that song very beautifully. There’s a show on the Korean channel – that’s the theme song – very beautiful…”

(2006)

Full-Court Press

4 Apr

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What a day. Having an ugly fight on the phone with Ann while I’m sitting in my car in a parking garage. Her blaming me for everything, all our financial woes.

Me finally saying “Fuck you.”

And her saying “I hate you!” and hanging up.

Then it’s back to the magazine for a few hours of work, feeling shaky, wondering how I’ll deal with the freeze on my account – numerous calls to the lawyer on the case go unanswered.

I don’t blame Ann for being close to hysterical. The court order that finally arrived (after they froze my account) cites all the things they can do, such as seizing our cars and walking into our house and taking anything of value. Unfortunately, instead of dealing with it together, Ann reverted to type. If we were on a lifeboat at sea she would have pushed me overboard.

In the afternoon, I flee work early and head into LA, for an appointment with Eriq LaSalle’s company about the Les Miserables project. This is a big deal – he’s heard the report on the pitch from his people and he wants to see us.

I get there early and find a parking place on a side street. I make a call on my cell and finally get the lawyer. Surprise, surprise, he’s a human being and we sketch out a payment plan. I may only have fifteen bucks in my wallet, but at least Ann and Devon won’t be going through the trauma of having sheriffs appear at the door.

Michael, Tom and I meet at Hamburger Hamlet an hour before the meeting to go over the pitch. Tom is in one of his sulky, passive aggressive moods.

Later, when Michael calls him on it, Tom says, “I like to be quiet before a pitch.”

My immediate thought is, ‘Why agree to a pre-pitch meeting if you don’t want to talk?’

Eriq LaSalle has a rep of having no patience for fools. The skinny on Eriq is he once stopped a writer in mid-pitch, saying, “I know you’re not an actor, but can’t you do any better than this?” Then LaSalle thought about what he’d just said and blurted, “Fuck this” and walked out.

Our pitch goes really well. LaSalle was really engaged, offering penetrating comments when we were done, even siding with us against one of his execs on a story point.

Michael and Tom are both six five. I’m five nine on a good day. On the way out, after some banter about LaSalle’s basketball movie, Rebound, Tom says. “And Mark here played in the NBA.”

I look at my shoes, feeling like Chaplin, and mumble, “It was a tough couple of years.”

(2006)

Zero

25 Mar

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A mind-fucking 24 hours.

Matt Robinson from J-Lo’s company, Nuyorican Films loves Mambo Sun and wants to develop the script with us. He’s asking for changes, in what amounts to an unpaid rewrite, but it’s a great opportunity.

Michael and I emailed Mentor what we think is the last draft of Drum. We’ve pulled out all the stops – it’s really strong.

Umzumbe Boys is back on track – Athenaeum won an Oscar and so did Tsotsi, a great South African film featuring a young, black, unknown actor. It can only help Umzumbe Boys.

Eriq LaSalle’s company likes our pitch for Outcasts, the Les Miserables remake.

And then I drive into my bank and stick my ATM card in the machine. Zero balance.

I call the 800 number. Zero balance.

I get a real person on the line and find out Citibank has a freeze on my account. I owe them money on a credit card. This freeze also freezes any checks I’ve written that are in the pipeline – including my rent check. I’m living in the kind of apartment building where they put an eviction notice on your door the third day of the month – a fact I know from experience. I have 40 bucks in my wallet and the imminent peril of being tossed out on the street.

I’m down on the ground, getting kicked in the ribs. I’m wincing from the blows, reaching behind the garbage can, hoping to find a stick or a lead pipe.

Hoping my hand doesn’t grab a half-rotten banana peel.

(2006)

The Future

23 Mar

 

Poltergeist

 

Michael loves to say, “Don’t you worry, Mark. Someday we’re going to be a couple of old screenwriters walking along the beach with one ball hanging out of our trunks.”

(2006)

 

Side Order

11 Mar

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Each morning I drive down Western Avenue, the Hollywood sign in the distance, like a caterpillar on a hill. There’s an experience of LA waiting in the wings – one where I’m not counting singles in my wallet, not cutting half bananas into my corn flakes.

I don’t know what that experience will be like, but I imagine there will be a flow of social engagements, Michael and I winking over martinis and throwing out some crude remark about beef curtains to keep things real. Hopefully the challenges will become even more of a throw down – big films and novels to be written. Our goal in the next few weeks is to get an agent who also handles novels and non-fiction.

My cell phone rang a few days ago while I was driving down Western – Kelly Carlin.

I told her, “Man, things are so tight, I don’t know whether to get an oil change or a bottle of wine.”

(2006)

Charge of the Light Brigade

25 Jan

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I’m reading Linda Obst’s “Hello, He Lied” a chronicle of her movie-producing career in Hollywood. One of her pieces of advice came from Peter Guber, who said, “Ride the horse in the direction its going.”

This makes so much sense. We could fight Ground Zero over some of their changes to Umzumbe Boys. It’s much smarter to ride the horse in the direction it’s going. This doesn’t mean rolling over like a punk – but to do what needs to be done to keep the movie heading towards principal photography.

Part of our satisfaction has to lie with the fact that there wouldn’t even be a horse without our script.

You also have to trust that everybody is bringing their best effort to the collaboration.

You put me in a room by myself and I could have written a version of Umzumbe Boys.  But it’s a much stronger script because of the addition of Michael and Tom, Ground Zero and Athenaeum, Mentor and Jordan Wheeler.

Further down the line, the cinematographer, editor, composer and cast will add their unique angles.

Bottom line – a film is simultaneously of you and bigger than you.

Kind of like everything in life – from your children to the streets you walk down.

(2006)