Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Hollywood Babylon

The scriptwriter's life would be ideal but for the scriptwriting itself. That was a problem I had to overcome in order to succeed in the showbiz city of Babylon.

"I'm a very important director."

In the meantime, I had to settle for applying Band Aids to scripts by other writers via a new contact, "Jimmy Greaves," a hotshot Brit director who lived in a dangerous fantasy town called Hollywood.


"I want to see what kind of writer you are, Alex...I want to see if you are any good."

Greavsie sent me a script for the once-over treatment, "Foxtrot India" a thriller about a bonkers ex NSA analyst (beautiful, blonde, brilliant, bulimic) who discovers that she is not totally bonkers and that modern day America is one, big, dire conspiracy against her and the rest of Joe Public. It was pretty hysterical stuff, replete with clumsy sex scenes and lousy female characterization (men have problems writing women but Hollywood scriptwriters border on the misogynistic).  


When Hollywood made good films...


"Foxtrot India" was the script he had been looking for, the film that he had always wanted to make, the one that was sure to put him up there.


The trouble was... I couldn't see how...


"I want "Foxtrot India" to be my Michael Clayton,"  said Greavsie with a confident, triumphant, flutter rising up the brackish estuary of his throat.   


There was a good thriller in "Foxtrot India" somewhere. I typed out some pronto suggestions for Greavsie on how to DIY the script and (try to) put it up there with the likes of The Parallax View and Three Days of the CondorHe soon got back in touch.


"There's a speech in the script, one that the bad guy politician makes, I want it to be like the shark sandwich speech from The Contender..."



Shit sandwich from Spinal Tap came to mind. The Contender was a turgid, flag waving, sentimental, political drama from 2000 made by an ex film critic called Rod Lurie.


"Forget about The Contender, if you want a speech," I said, "I'll write one good enough for your character to become the next President or Prime Minister..."


Laughter. I had pleased the Man-God.


"But for the political machinations of the story, there are two good films to reference for inspiration The Candidate and The Best Man, the latter was scripted by Gore Vidal..."



"Gore who?"



(Gore blimey!)


 "Never mind, Greavsie."  


needs depth, motherfucker

Greavsie told me that "Foxtrot India" was in "pre-production" and he was now casting. I was shocked by the names but showed nothing. Al Pacino was offered the role of the dodgy Tea Party type baddie politician but declined because he thought that the character "lacked depth" (I second that, Al).  Now the part had been offered to British actor Gary Oldman (who said yes) and Billy Bob Thornton agreed to do a three week phone-in performance as the American anarchist. 


"I'm a very important director."


"Nobody really knows how tough it is to make a film in Hollywood," said Greavsie. "It's a constant struggle. It's no fun at all."


He was whinging, again.  I had to rein Greavsie in and bring a few things in the script to his attention. There were a number of scenes that lacked realistic punch.

"And a very important director with few equals."

"Alex, Alex," he said, reminding me of a teacher whom I had once wound up in the distant sink of an ancient state school, "this is a film, nobody cares about the script or realism!


Nobody cares about the script or realism...Greavsie seemed to have contempt for the intelligence of the general public. But it's the same old story, right across the board, from the music industry to the film biz; we are "punters" and "civilians" and these "artists" and "auteurs" have nothing but scorn for us, the useful idiots who buy and consume their products. I felt obliged to point this out to El Presidente.


"Greavsie, I'm a punter, when I pay $10 to go see the latest political conspiracy thriller with my Missus on a Friday or Saturday night, I don't go there expecting to have my intelligence insulted by a story that doesn't make sense." 


"At the end of the day, you are the writer, and your opinion is not important."


"It would be if I was a film critic and ripped you a new arsehole."


"Alex, Alex, you are getting off on the wrong foot with me...I don't like your attitude."


"Perhaps you are the one getting off on the wrong foot. I am merely pointing out the obvious."


A film director is a dictator, one of the tinpot tyrant variety. They rarely understand plot, characterization, themes, conflict, are unable to generate ideas themselves and rely on writers (who exist to be brow beaten ceaselessly) to map the route to critical acclaim and box office success.  They get the glory... no one remembers the scriptwriter... that's show business, folks.


"Alex, like I said, you are the writer and your opinion is not important."


"Then why are you seeking it out? You called me, I did not call you."



Me choking out the drunken son of the UK Ambassador to Thailand (2006)

I had heard via London that no one liked him and that no one wanted to work with him. And he was very lucky to be safe in his flash pad in Hollywood talking down to me on Skype -- had he been in the same room I would have punched him, choked him out till he wet his pants and then uploaded the footage to YouTube and The Fight Depot page on Facebook


The second round was over and I had managed to win a paltry bit of grudging respect from the nickelodeon winder who did not seem to like writers, films or the people who went to see them.   


But the next script from the Court of King Greavsie arrived with an odd request.

To be continued...