Behind the Lines with DR: Rewrite and the Actor, Part 2

If you missed Behind the Lines with DR: Rewrite and the Actor, Part 1, give it a click.

“Found you,” said the movie star.

“How’d you get this number?” was the most witty thing I could summon.

On the other end of the telephone line was the actor I’d been ducking for three days. I’d retreated to the La Quinta Hotel Resort and Spa for some marathon privacy with little more than my laptop and golf clubs.

“Why are you avoiding me?” asked the movie star.

Here’s when I fibbed, insisting I wasn’t in fact avoiding him. Just seeking privacy in order to meet the company’s five-week deadline. He argued that, as star and center of the known universe, I needed to listen and be available to hear his every thought and concern whenever they might pop in to his head.

“I did hear to you,” I argued. “I especially heard you when every time (the studio boss) had an idea – no matter how crazy or wrong or stupid – you said ‘awesome’ or ‘great’ or ‘that’s exactly what I was thinking.’”

“Dude. That was just for the room. All studio execs want to hear me say is that they’re geniuses.”

“They said it. But you rubber-stamped it. Now I got nothin’ but square pegs that they’re paying me to pound through round holes and make it read like a movie.”

“Where are you?”

“You called me. You should know where.”

“(My assistant) dialed the number and handed me the phone.”

“The number you got from the studio?” Of course, from the studio I thought. They’d read the number on the caller I.D. and passed the info along to one of the star’s salaried Oompa-Loompas.

“I’m in the desert.”

“Well, I happen to know the studio would be more comfortable if you were back in L.A. and everybody knew where to find you.”

“Can I please just finish this one pass at the script?” I urged. “I promise to attend to all your issues the moment I deliver –”

“They’re calling me to the set. Do me a favor and phone me when you get back L.A.”

With that, the movie star hung up.

I must’ve stewed for an hour without getting a single word written. Then I tried to reboot the work routine by playing my daily round of golf. But my focus had been crushed along with my initiative. So I cut bait, checked out of the hotel, angrily stuffed my bags in the trunk and pointed my car west. I burned up every minute of the drive with my cell phone, talking between my no-help agent and my way-too-understanding wife. I wanted to quit. Who cares if it was a bad career move? I wasn’t going to get bullied into writing an incomprehensible screenplay. After all, it was going to be MY name on the script, not the star’s nor the studio’s. But before that, I resolved to have one last conversation with the celestial being. I dialed him the moment I sunk into my office chair.

“I’m back in L.A.” I began tersely. “My mobile phone is turned on and I’m easily found by you and anyone else who needs me. Now here’s what I need from you. Patience. Help me make the studio notes work. Otherwise, you’re going to be starring in a really shitty movie.”

“You gonna fax me pages?”

“No.”

“Then we have a problem.”

“I guess we do,” I said flatly. “I strongly recommend you fire me.”

“Bullshit.”

“Seriously. Fire me. Please. Because I can’t get it done this way. I’m not doing you any good. I’m not doing the studio any good.”

I begged him. Implored him. Demanded that he fire me. A bullet to the back of my metaphoric head would’ve been sweet relief.

“What about the deadline?”

“What’s it matter? Won’t make it if I’m serving two masters with different agendas.”

For the first time since I’d begun working with the star, the phone fell silent.

“I’m not firing you,” he finally said. “And you’re not quitting the movie. Just do your best, okay?”

“All I’ve been doing.”

And that was it. Two weeks later I’d produced a draft that was as ready as five weeks would allow. I delivered. While the studio chewed on it, the screenplay was over-nighted to whatever Timbuck-locale the movie star was marooned on. I’m told he and his manager both read it while sitting in his deluxe, air-conditioned trailer.

I was pulling out of my driveway, on my way to pick up my kids from school when my cell phone trilled. The caller ID registered a far away country code.

“Hello?” I answered, pretty certain I’d find you-know-who on the other end. It turned out to be a conference call with the star and his manager, whom I hadn’t spoken with since I’d made the deal for the rewrite.

“It’s phenomenal,” said the manager. “You did an outstanding job.”

“Yeah,” agreed the star. “Exactly what I was hoping for. You totally rocked it.”

They continued the accolades. And I politely thanked them. Engaged in some meaningless chitchat. Then two minutes later, the pair was gone. Of course, there wasn’t a whisper of our previous conflict. Success has a funny way of bleaching the stains left behind from a pissing war.

As for the movie? The studio’s cutting edge idea of hiring a shooter straight out of “director jail” didn’t fit the star’s image of a worthy auteur. Eventually, the production window slammed shut. The proposed release date was left in limbo and the movie star picked up another picture to fill his multi-million dollar slot. A classic parting of the ways.

But when the trade press inquired as to why the studio and star couldn’t come to terms. It was the usual line of bull. Blame the writer. The script simply never worked. We went back to the drawing board.

The screenplay I bled over was eventually reworked by the original scribe. As it turned out he still owed the studio a draft. So it was either pay the man for twiddling his thumbs or let him do his contracted duty.

Four or five writers after that, the film finally got made.

I’ve said it before, hindsight is a gift. Without it, how in heaven would we learn much of anything? Given the chance to do it again, I’m not entirely certain I’d handle myself the same way. It’s never a good idea to let feelings or a lack of patience screw up a chance at a go movie. On the other hand, based on the circumstance itself, I’m not certain the result would’ve been any different.

Whatever. If there’s a life we learn with and another we live with, I still often find myself residing in the former.

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