Oh, what an amazing day we all had at Smashbox, shooting photos of a Los Angeles magazine piece about the new neo-film noir (The Usual Suspects, Leaving Las Vegas, Natural Born Killers, Killing Zoe, etc.) The article was dreamt up and written by editor Andy Olstein; I got a reporting credit but I was also the talent gatherer. The only difficulty was Olstein’s insistence that everyone had to pose with a gun, which Benicio del Toro didn’t want to do. He confided this to me, said he wasn’t gonna do it. I went up to Olstein and argued that it would be monotonous if everyone was aiming the same gun at the camera so why not let Benicio slide? I thought the issue was settled, and then when the was piece was assembled I discovered that Benicio had agreed to pose with a gun after all. Strange.
There’s an anecdote in David Handleman‘s 1985 California piece about Terrence Malick (titled “Absence of Malick“) that has always amused me. It’s a brief recollection about Malick having landed a New Yorker assignment in the late ’60s to write a piece about Che Guevara, and his having travelled to Bolivia to research it. But he over-researched it, Handleman wrote, and “got drowned in it, and never turned [the piece] in.”
The story made me chuckle and shake my head because I did the same damn thing in ’84. I had pitched an article to an American Film editor, Jean Callahan, about the inner lives of film critics — who they were deep down, what had lit the initial spark, what drove them on, whether they’d become corrupted by their access to film industry titans and were nursing dreams of becoming screenwriters or producers.
For a while I called it “The Outsiders”; I also called it “The Big Fix.” I knew it had the makings of something really good. So I talked to many, many critics and transcribed the interviews and wound up with at least 25 or 30 pages of single-spaced pages, all typed out and corrected with side notes and thoughts about structure and whatnot.
I got into it more and more, and it became a small mountain. And then a bigger one. And then it became quicksand and I began to sink into it. The feeling of having gotten myself into this kind of trouble was awful. I was unsure about whether to keep trying or to forget it and walk away. I felt like I was covered in glue or tar. I finally gave up. The guilt was agonizing. I’d never worked so hard on something to no avail.
Today I came upon a letter — a confession of defeat — that I sent to Callahan in December of ’84. The letter was sitting in a manila folder in the bottom drawer of a small wooden chest filled with magazines from early to mid ’90s. It was mortifying to write and certainly to send.
But at least the experience taught me three things.
One, never churn out that much research about a single topic ever again without writing anything down — write as you go along. Two, forget about big subjects and grand designs — always choose a topic that appears to be small or smallish and then make it bigger or richer with your interpretation of it. And three, always listen to what people say and let that material point the way.
The title of this piece is a quote from the late Stuart Byron, former movie columnist for the Village Voice and development exec for producer Ray Stark. In ’89 or thereabouts I briefly partnered with Byron in a venture called re:visions, which was about analyzing the problems of screenplays that had gotten stuck in development and weren’t going anywhere.
The answer, believe it or not, is George Clooney, who was 34 when this December 1995 Premiere cover story ran. The story, written by Tom Friend, was about Clooney’s transition from “Joe Television” to the big-screen via Robert Rodriguez‘s From Dusk till Dawn, which opened on 1.19.96. I always liked Clooney’s blunt vibe in that film, and I remember telling him so during a 2000 Cannes Film Festival round-table interview at the Hotel du Cap. Clooney interpreted this to mean I wasn’t as much of a fan of his softer, charming guy roles in One Fine Day, Out of Sight and O Brother, Where Art Thou? He thought about this for eight or ten seconds and said “fuck you.” This of course conveyed respect. If a celebrity swears at you in front of others, you know you’re “in.”
The Nate Parker Penn State matter broke yesterday morning wth a Michael Cieply/Michael Fleming piece in Deadline, and then a Ramin Setoodeh piece in Variety yesterday afternoon. Pretty much everyone jumped on it within an hour or two.
Except for The Hollywood Reporter, that is. There’s been no coverage — not a peep, not a whisper — from that venerable trade over the last day and a half. Presumably they were angry about getting scooped by Deadline/Variety, but you’d think they’d at least weigh in. I’m guessing they’re assembling a Parker story of their own as we speak with intentions to publish on Monday morning.
(l. to r.) Jean Celestin, Kerry McCoy, Nate Parker back in the day.
The Parker thing is not, in my judgment, a fair-minded thing to get into. If it had been my call I would have left it alone, but now the cat is out of the bag. And it just seems weird that the Reporter staff (particularly award-season columnist Scott Feinberg) would just be silent about the whole matter. It’s surely going to reverberate.
I was discussing the Parker thing earlier today with an east-coast friend, and he said the following: “Whether The Birth of a Nation is a good or bad film is irrelevant. But I do think Parker’s recent comments — ‘I can’t go back there’, ‘it happened 17 years ago’, ‘that’s that’ — are not how he should address the case. He almost seems to be in denial about the whole thing.”
My reply: “He’s not ‘in denial’ as much as just living in the now. You can’t carry your mistakes and your ugly deeds around with you. You have to shed them like a snake sheds skin. You have to clean up, shake it off.
Director Morten Tyldum speaking to EW‘s Sara Vilkomerson about Passengers (Columbia, 12.21): “Every generation has its love story. I feel like this is it. And [making it was] exhausting. It’s big emotions, it’s desperation, it’s love, it’s happiness, it’s fear, it’s anger. You will laugh and cry and hold your breath and be at the edge of your seat. It has chills. It also will make you smile and laugh a lot. We wanted a playful movie.”
Got that? Big love, big fear, big anger, big desperation, big chills, big smiles, big playful. All on a super-big, super-luxurious space ship with artificial gravity plus swanky lounges, grade-A bedroom suites, gyms, swimming pools, a droll robot bartender (played by Michael Sheen), all kinds of great coffee and cappucino, etc.
As noted, I’ve a read a revised draft of Jon Spaihts’ Passengers script, and as far as I know it’s more or less what was shot last fall by Tyldum and costars Chris Pratt, Jennifer Lawrence and Laurence Fishburne. Maybe the script has been significantly rewritten. If the film plays according to the synopsis in Vilkomerson’s piece, then plot cards have indeed been reshuffled. And that’s fine.
- All Hail Tom White, Taciturn Hero of “Killers of the Flower Moon”
Roughly two months ago a very early draft of Eric Roth‘s screenplay for Killers of the Flower Moon (dated 2.20.17,...More »