Tag Archives: screenplays

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.

Shame from BASEMENT

6 Sep

 

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Mike sat on the edge of his bunk in the semi-darkness. Slim and pale, his head gave the impression of being too large for his body. Shirley had noticed that he always wore a white dress shirt, though it was frayed and hopelessly soiled at the cuffs. The few times she had seen him out of his chair he walked as though his feet hurt. As far as Shirley could tell, whole days passed without Mike even turning on the light in his cell.

“Why do you sit here in the dark?” asked Shirley. “Are you angry about being locked up?”

Mike shook his head, “I’m not angry. It’s a lot worse than that.” Mike looked down at his Thom McCann brogans. “You know, it’s funny. When you’re a kid and someone says, ‘You ought to be ashamed of yourself,’ you never are. It’s talk, nothing more. And then, when it finally comes to you, real shame, I don’t think there’s anything worse.”

 

From my novel BASEMENT, available on Amazon

Born Into This

18 Aug

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Spent July 4th by myself, blowing off an L.A. suburban party that would have created more anxiety than I needed. I preferred being alone, writing and watching movie after movie. I finally got Hollywood Video to accept my membership card from New Jersey. I dove into a four-day DVD orgy, one film after another – from The Squid and the Whale to The Devil’s Rejects.

One film I watched was the Bukowski documentary, Born Into This. In some ways Bukowski was his own worst enemy – the drunken persona he created was so well realized that it made him an easy target. I’ve loved the guy since 1976, ever since I read an interview in Rolling Stone, which printed his poem about the neighborhood mutt tearing the crap out of the doctor’s dog.

The documentary revealed several moments of vulnerability that aren’t expressed in his writing, especially a scene where, reading a poem about the pure happiness he felt with Linda King, he begs her to be gentle when she takes her love away. Remembering as he reads, sitting on a broken down couch in his apartment in Hollywood, the pain is freshened and he begins to weep.

When you add these moments to the mix of his accomplished art, only those with an artistic agenda could continue to disparage him. Bukowski’s not above criticism, but to hate him reveals a small heart. I’ve always felt that artists were working to create a huge mosaic of expression – each of us adds something to the mosaic. Critics who deny Bukowski his part of the mosaic – that’s an impulse inspired by a kind of psychic fear.

One thing made me laugh.

When Bukowski was 54, he achieved success and moved out of a broken-down East Hollywood apartment to a beautiful home in San Pedro.

When I was 54, I moved from a nice home to a dark studio sublet in East Hollywood.

The funny thing is, Bukowski would love this place, Koreatown.

2006

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)

Carry On

3 Aug

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Back in New Jersey for a week, riding the 6:05 bus into Manhattan, once again experiencing a feeling that I’m glad I’ve put behind me – that of being a loser crammed in with other losers, forced to share a soul-numbing commute.

Sometimes, especially lately, with one setback after another, I’ve thought of returning to New Jersey, settling into being a house owner, telecommuting to work and in general preparing for the so-called autumn of my years. I guess New Jersey occupies my mind as a relief station against the years of knocking my head against the wall.

But being in New Jersey, especially taking that morning ride into Manhattan, I’m inspired to work even harder once I return to LA. Maybe it was the guy insisting on an aisle seat, a bolt of sunshine illuminating the nest of hairs in his ear; or maybe it was the snoring man; the woman with the cane; the surly bus driver using the brake to control his speed. All the while a vent shot hot air in my face as outside, beautiful nimbus clouds raced against a blue sky. This is how the day starts for so many – in utter defeat.

I don’t want to creep back into my New Jersey home, plucking cat hair from in between my lips, stuck in with the same dull neighbors, unrelentingly white and Republican.

I don’t want to limp out of the game.

Especially if it’s the last game of the season.

I’d rather they carry me out on a stretcher.

(2006)

The Raft

31 Jul

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The last day before I was due to return to LA, I’d promised Devon I’d help him retrieve an old Army issue raft he’d found in the river. I’d enjoyed hearing his stories of getting a few friends together and poling the raft out of eddies, making their way as far downriver as they could. Devon hatched a plan to pole the raft a couple of miles down to the Old Bridge in Stillwater, where I could park and the two of us could drag the raft out of the water and tie it on the roof of the Corolla. I dropped him off in the woods with his cell phone and asked him to call me once he got to the bridge. I should have been paying closer attention to the sky. All afternoon I’d been hearing weather reports of an approaching thunderstorm.

Back home, it didn’t take seconds for Ann to douse me with reality. “That’s crazy – a storm is coming!”

I called Devon on his cell phone but he hadn’t turned it on – he was expecting to call me, not vice versa.

Ann asked me to please go look for him. As I drove to the bridge the sky turned yellow and thunder boomed and big drops of rain splashed across the windshield. All I could think of was flash floods and the conversation I’d had with Devon yesterday, him telling me about his need for independence and adventure. If he knew I was waiting for him, he might be even more stubborn than usual, refusing to make for shore. The river was narrow – not much more than a creek – but I’d almost drowned in a creek when I was a kid, when I took a rowboat for a foolish ride down rain-swollen rapids. It didn’t help that Devon didn’t have a paddle – he told me he’d use a tree branch to guide his way downriver.

I parked near the bridge and grabbed fifty feet of rope from the back of the car. Walking through the rain, hustling down to the riverbank, I peered upriver through the rain where the river forked, hoping I’d see Devon appear. I could imagine him waving to me and the whole thing being over. The current was nothing frightening – but I was getting really worried as the rain worsened and the wind picked up.

I pulled a wooden realtor’s stake out of the ground and tied the rope around it, so I’d have some weight if I had to throw the rope across his bow. The river widened on the other side of the bridge and I didn’t want to see him get past me and disappear down the current.

The raindrops trickled over the front and back of my glasses, clouding my vision, making my eyes sting with sweat.

I heard a voice behind me on the bridge – a guy in his sixties. “You waiting for a kid in a raft?’

“Yeah.”

“I saw him upriver. He told me he was all right – he was coming down river to meet his dad.”

“I hope he has sense to get out of the river.”

The old guy was true blue. “I’ll drive back and see if I can find him.”

The rain got heavier. I tried to call Ann, but my cell phone went beep, beep beep: “No Service.”

Twenty minutes later the old guy came back and told me he couldn’t see Devon on the river. He asked if I wanted him to stay.

I said, “No, that’s all right.”

Leaving, he shot back, “They grow up and take care of us some day.”

Standing in the rain, my vision blurred, I wondered at my fatal desire to please, trying to please Devon to such an extent that I’d ignored the imminent storm. I worried about an excess of bravado on his part, his innocence. No one flows on top of a raging river – they’re trapped against debris, crushed and pushed underwater.

Straining to see his raft come around the bend, I was imagining so many horrible things.

I stood there in the rain for two hours.

Then the rain stopped.

Looking at the dripping trees and the gentle river, I felt a blessing. I’m not religious, but I felt grateful, as though God had showed me how fragile everything was. He wasn’t going to make me suffer like Abraham or Job – he’d put me through the paces I could withstand.

The sky lightened and the sun appeared; a silver oval between swift clouds.

Birds began singing.

I was still worried; Devon was out there somewhere.

Then a call from Ann finally got through on my cell – Devon was home. He’d ditched the raft at the first sign of lightning, showing the kind of sense I’d hoped for, but wasn’t sure he had.

(2006)

Lights Out

26 Jul

 

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I had a strange experience. I was driving down Canoga Ave to the library on my lunch hour, on the way to return a couple of films: Must Love Dogs and Lawrence of Arabia. Driving along I hit a red light. I make a right turn and a car speeds across the intersection, cutting me off.

I hit the brakes and as the car pulls in front of me the driver flips me the bird.

I give it right back.

He flips me again.

Back to him.

He gestures for me to pull over.

I do.

So here I am, pulling over to the side of the road behind a pickup. Me in my mid-fifties, getting out of my car, ready for who knows what.  I notice the car’s got a rugby bumper sticker. The weird thing is, there isn’t a molecule of fear in me. I know what it’s like to be afraid – I’m not fearless. But getting ready to confront whoever gets out of that truck doesn’t scare me in the least.

He gets out – a weight lifter type with a shaved head, maybe in his 30s. He crowds within an inch of me, getting up in my grill, yelling all kinds of shit.

I can almost feel his first punch. Then the fight would begin in earnest.

I tell him, “Fuck you, I didn’t see you.”

Then something odd happens. I still can’t figure it out. He looks at me – I don’t know what he sees – maybe his parole officer over my shoulder. Maybe he sees the total absence of fear in my eyes and figures I’m dangerous. If he wanted to he could take me apart.

He backs away saying, “Sorry man…sorry I lost my temper.”

He hurries back to his truck and drives off.

I’m left standing alone.

Wondering what it’s all about, my not being afraid.

(2006)

Pitch

17 Jul

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“You’re gonna have a sleepless night,” says Michael. “But it’s important you do it.”

It’s my turn to step up and pitch, a prospect that gives me the willies. Mambo Sun is more my idea than Michael’s. With all the changes we’ve been making, Michael is worried whether he can keep the characters names straight.

Michael and I are sitting at California Bowl, having lunch, and I’m telling him, “Pitching is completely against my nature. You know me – I don’t hesitate to give my opinion.  But when have you ever seen me take center stage and tell a story? It’s not me. It’s totally contrary to what and who a writer is.”

“Yeah, but you got to face your fear,” says Michael, “What if-

“I know, I know. You have car trouble –

“Or I’m sick –

”Right. I gotta do it.”

And you know what? It’s part of the game. You can take refuge in the identity of the writer, but when all is said and done, you’re a Hollywood writer. So get in the game. Either that or put the car in reverse and back into the Jersey driveway you sped out of.

That night, when I tell Devon on the phone how nervous I am, he says, “C’mon Dad, you were the guy who got crazy in Love Henry. Of course you can do it.”

It’s very telling that I don’t share any of my fears with Ann. I think she would relish them.

I don’t have a sleepless night, but I do have disturbing dreams, of Devon hang-gliding over a lake surrounded by jagged trees, of me having a knife fight with a punk, and then – the wide awake weirdness – lying in bed in the dawn and hearing a woman screaming and then slowly realizing it’s a dump-truck changing gears.

In the morning, I read my pitch over a bowl of LIFE cereal.

Thinking over the pitch as I drive to work, asking myself, “What the fuck is wrong with you? You’re where you want to be. JLo’s company wants to hear your idea for a film. This isn’t a challenge – it’s an opportunity.”

Sitting at my desk, getting an e-mail from Michael. “I read your pitch – beautiful….”

That meant a lot to me.

He especially loved one paragraph:

“There’s a moment, and it can happen to anyone, when they look around and see that they’re missing something – they’re missing the point of life – but the people around them get it – they’re either effortlessly in love, or grounded in their community and enjoying life – they’re not keeping score.

This is what happens to John, our main character in Mambo – a Cuban-American living in Miami, who when we meet him, couldn’t care less about his Cuban heritage – it means nothing to him.”

And then I get a call from Matt Robinson an hour before I’m to leave for the drive into LA, to meet Michael outside the offices of Nuyorican Productions.

“We gotta reschedule,” says Matt. “I can’t go into it, but there’s a real crisis going down. You come in to pitch and Simon won’t even hear you. The phone will be ringing the whole time. We’ll have to reschedule for next week.”

When I get Michael on the phone he’s mightily pissed. “I read your pitch – I was ready to go in there like we were fuckin’ golden!”

I guess I really do have a little of the pussy in me – I feel relieved. This gives me a week to gather some more strength.

(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)