Francis Bacon’s two hind legs daintily joined together as he looked up at me. Food was on his mind. The New York Knickerbockers were on mine. The Captain had been calling me regularly, venting his anger at the commissioner for taking away our top guns. This was the third week of the season and he was sounding like a broken record. I believe it was Robespierre who said, “Pity is treason.” If we continued to wallow in our misfortunes, we would never compete effectively. Besides, we had bigger fish to fry since the advent of the writers’ strike. We had movies to make and deals to complete or else it was going to be a very difficult, though typically balmy, L.A. winter.
The Captain had written a biopic for some East Indian financiers and, true to independent-film form, had yet to be paid, even though his work was completed months ago. The film was going to be produced by the company of a talented actor from an Oscar-winning crime film. A film executive had reported to me that the actor had been banned from a local spa for lascivious behavior with masseurs.
With the payment from the Indian deal in limbo, The Captain was worried about his financial future and whether he could afford another year’s rent at his Santa Monica studio apartment, located in a 1970s complex named the Patio. For some reason, apartment buildings in Los Angeles are often named. Quo Vadis is a 12-unit building near me, as is the Centinela Arms. I was trying to put together a deal to option a high-concept script he had written, but his lawyer was alienating my financier by forcing redraft after redraft. The Captain wasn’t the only one in financial straits. Rickets made his living off writer commissions and thus was in trouble. I offered him my guest bedroom if he wanted to share living quarters with Francis Bacon. That means 5 a.m. wake-up grunts and sharing the inflatable mattress at bedtime.
For my part, a bunch of projects were still in development, but screenwriters had elected to put down their pens, so no advancements were being made. The exception was the Silver Fox, who had stockpiled a titanic war chest and would be waiting out the writers’ strike on his buttery leather sofa, enjoying Staglin Cabernet while reading from his collection of first editions.
A horror film had come my way. It was the winner of a film festival’s screenwriting program, and the company financing it had hired my partner and me to produce it—hopefully, this would tide me over during the strike. I had some hesitation after reading the script. It felt like gorno, similar in its graphic torture elements to Saw or Hostel, films that probably don’t cycle you upward in the karmic stages. Then again, after going to the premiere of I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry, a movie whose commitment to stupidity was unshakably thorough, I am not sure which genre is a bigger stain on the escutcheon of Hollywood. Both reduce the humanity of our cultural soul. I myself had no choice. If I didn’t produce this horror flick, I didn’t know how I would afford robata and my nightly trips to the French-inspired Sgt. Recruiter wine bar.
Arranging for financing off the studio grid is perhaps more harrowing than trying to covertly stamp some artistic signature on it. I was still dealing with the hangover of producing a film for a wealthy Beverly Hills real-estate magnate whose late-night drug-induced rambles had me scratching my head each time I received them. His mother would also call me into meetings, and her hairdo and oversized frames seemed to frighten the office staff. There was a lot of turnover at their company.
I answered an urgent call from a European secretary who had recently been fired by them, then rehired, and then terminated again. She said that she had raised a large film-financing fund to the tune of $100 million and she wanted me to meet her partner, who was flying in from Chicago. Bizarre as it was, I never dismiss an opportunity to waste my time, so I met her and her partner at a fancy restaurant in Brentwood. They said the money was legit and that I should produce their first film, a Christmas story that was to begin shooting in less than two months.
Her partner then asked me if I could personally raise him $1 million to option material—apparently, his fund only financed movies, not the acquisition of scripts and books—and he then made me split the $42 tab. A director friend who knew her said the script they claimed to be financing was written by a pot-smoking A.D. who could stunt-double for Rob Zombie. After I learned that last nugget, my heretofore expansive skepticism actually enlarged, something I thought impossible. I never heard from them again.
With business matters governing my agenda during the week, I was ready for a reprieve on Sunday. I joined Silver Fox and Rickets for a stretching session on the sideline. My lower back had been seizing up on me and I sheepishly asked The Captain to apply some Bengay above my shorts.
“You won’t even hold my feet when I’m doing pull-ups and now I have to rub lotion on your back?” he asked.
“Just do it.”
I didn’t like feeling that I was joining the cabal of the aged. Silver Fox had a sciatic condition; The Captain had arthritic knees and no cartilage left in some joints; and Rickets, well, the bulky air casts he straps over his ankles would shame even the proudest spats-wearing turn-of-the-century gentleman.
We won the opening tip, and our starting five—NFL Player, The Captain, Silver Fox, Young Actor, and I—played pretty well. Young Actor was small, but he hustled. His dad would yell at me from the stands, “Take your shot.” It gave me some confidence.
We built a small lead, which was quickly given away at the very end of the first half. The second half would not be as kind. A couple of their actors were very athletic and got up and down the court quickly. They went on a scoring spurt, and we had trouble boxing them out and keeping them off the boards. In the space of a few minutes, they went on a 12-0 run. We don’t have anyone who can create, so we have to play well as a team, and, once we’re behind, our chances of winning are grim. Without a great shooter or true athlete, we couldn’t close the gap and suffered our second straight loss. As The Captain dropped me off, we didn’t dwell on the game as usual. Instead, we discussed what we were going to do to keep some money flowing in. Losing is no fun. Being broke and losing is worse.