Doug Richardson’s first produced feature was the sequel to Die Hard, Die Harder. Visit Doug’s site for more Hollywood war stories and information on his popular novels. Follow Doug on Twitter @byDougRich.
All grinning aside, a stare down from famed con man, Christophe Rocancourt, was nothing short of unpleasant. (For more context, read Con Job, Part 1 and Part 2.) In my mind, any master manipulator who’d learned how to steal millions on his charm and cunning was guaranteed to possess magazines full of dangerous glares.
I’d just called out Chris on one of his big lies: that while operating his scams inside U.S. borders he’d never paid off the mafia in exchange for protection against retaliation from his rich and greedy marks.
“You are smart,” complimented Chris. “But you understand eef I were een business with zee mob I would never, ever admit such a thing. So no. I was not ever with zee mob.”
In journalist parlance, it was called a non-denial denial. Otherwise known as close to confirmation on the question as I’d ever get. Satisfied, we closed shop for the day.
The last I was to see of Christophe on that trip was a small dinner he’d arranged at the apartment of his girlfriend, Sonia Rolland. The Rwanda-born actress, supermodel, activist, and former Miss France, brought new meaning to domestic goddess-ness serving a home-cooked meal to Chris, Florent Siri, and myself. Though conversation was considerably light compared to the days prior, the frankness with which Chris talked about his criminal days—or more impressively—his copious liaisons with some of the world’s most beautiful women—was something of a surprise. It would appear there were no secrets between Sonia and Chris. Or probably more accurately, how Chris wanted it to appear to me or Florent or even Sonia herself.
My primary take-away from the evening was the zest with which Chris embarked on his fetish for exotic soaps and the hygiene of his lovers.
“Before I make love to a woman I must wash her from head to toe,” Chris waxed. “Wherever I go, I always shop for zee most aromatic soaps. Zen I match zee soap with zee woman.”
“Perhaps,” added Florent, picturing the movie in his mind, “You love zee soap so much because when you were a boy you were poor and weeth no shoes for your dirty feet.”
While Chris carried on with his methods of sexual cleanliness, I watched Sonia. Was she embarrassed at Christophe’s candor. Pleased? Excited? Nonplused? After all, here was a man who was neither a pop nor movie star and had little athletic impulse, yet on the man scale, put up the highest marks in his pursuit of female flesh. Admittedly so. It was all part of his con, which could easily have been summed up in this speech that ended up in my screenplay.
“Look at me,” Chris had described. “I am small, skinny, I look like a rodent. You theenk nothing of me. But zee same man. I dress in fine clothes, shoes, maybe I’m a leetle better looking. What if I drive up in a Rolls Royce? Maybe I look a leetle bigger and even better looking. Same guy, say he walk in with beautiful woman on each arm. Now I’m zee best looking man in the room. Successful. Everybody want to be me.”
When I left Paris I had both a head and notebook full of thoughts and ideas. I was hooked on the project and couldn’t wait to start. Still, an actual deal had yet to be made. An agreement in the form of a contract. This is when I handed off to my agent. It was his job to connect with French producer Thomas Langmann and hammer out the details into an operable deal memo. Weeks passed with little more than messages left and phone calls not returned between my rep and the Paris production.
Then Florent told me he had a window. In a matter of weeks, he planned to fly out to Los Angeles and work on the script with me.
“What script?” I said. “I don’t even have a deal yet? Langmann won’t return my agent’s phone call.”
“Langmann,” said Florent. “He don’t like agents. Don’t trust Hollywood.”
“Well, he better get over it,” I said. “He wants to make an American movie with American movie stars? Guess where he’s got to come?”
As uncomfortable as I was negotiating my own agreement, I would do whatever was required to push the project along. This required me calling Langmann myself and haggling over price and a Writer’s Guild agreement.
“I can’t write the movie unless you are a signatory with the WGA,” I argued over the phone.
“But you don’t understand,” returned Langmann. “I already hire one Hollywood writer before. Academy Award winner.”
“Nominee,” I corrected.
I’d already heard from Florent about Langmann’s lousy experience with the aforementioned scripter. According to the producer, the once-lauded screenwriter charged a premium price and used it for a four-month Paris holiday with his twenty-five-year-old girlfriend. The expenses were high, the fee a premium, and the resulting written work an unworkable mess.
“I don’t know how you’re going to make an American movie,” I said, “if you let this one bad experience color how you make deals.”
“You write me a good script and I will make the correct business adjustments,” promised Langmann.
“You need to make this one business adjustment now,” I insisted. “Become a signatory with the Writer’s Guild. Agree to their terms as to when it comes to protecting me as the screenwriter and I promise to write the script for a reasonable fee.”
Soon after, my basic terms were met by Langmann. And once compensation was agreed upon, my agent and attorney were able to take over with no further trip-ups.
I was not only set to write Christophe Rocancourt’s story, but Florent Siri was on his way for a three-week stay in Santa Monica. Our plan was to repeat the routine we’d used to mount Hostage. I would outline and write with Florent nearby and consulting. I’d write a scene or sequence, he’d read, we’d discuss, I’d revise and we’d move on. Ours was a smooth and productive process. I didn’t want to direct. He didn’t want to write. And we were one very happy duo.
Or so I expected.
Next week Part 4 of CON JOB.
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The Smoking Gun: True Tales from Hollywood’s Screenwriting Trenches