February 8, 2007
Our Hollywood moment: An article in three acts
(Page 2 - Previous Page)"Your old boyfriend?"
"A guy who liked my story. Really liked it."
"That's nice," Alan says. "I like your stories, too. Especially the one that saved my bacon at Hamilton."
"Well. I didn't write it to save your bacon."
"I know," he says cheerfully. "What did this guy want?"
"He wanted permission to sell my story to a movie studio." I start to almost sing: "He's a screenwriter in New York -- a real screenwriter, not a wannabe with no day job. He does it all the time, like you teach all the time. Honey, the bottom line is, he thinks he can sell the story to a studio like HBO, or Paramount for all I know. At the worst it could be a network, like CBS or ABC. But I don't -- I mean, we don't -- have to do anything but say yes. I think." I pause. "Isn't that great?"
Alan nods very slowly. He digs up more granola, seems to weigh it in his hand. "What story does he want?"
"The story about how you and I met."
Alan frowns. The frown deepens into a glare and stays put. This is not a good sign. Alan can be either very indulgent or very resistant to things I want, and he's clearly feeling the latter. He's been especially resistant to advertising our relationship any more than necessary; he thinks it'll piss off lots more people than the parent group, especially black people. He says it could damage my career, marrying a white man. Especially the likes of him, a guy demonized by black people already.
"Wrongly demonized," I point out.
"That doesn't matter," he says. "Damage is done. Even if I wasn't demonized, it's still a liability for you. Hurts your credibility as a black writer. As a voice of the people."
I appreciate Alan looking out for my professional interests, and he frankly has a point. But I'm also discovering that my husband-to-be is about the biggest doomsayer I've ever met. The combination of passionate idealism and equally passionate fatalism is part of the quirkiness that I fell in love with. It's also a pain in the butt. Like now.
"I don't think this is a good idea," he says of the movie proposal. "I've had too much of my life exposed because of that business at Hamilton. I want to put it behind me. I don't want people poking around anymore, asking questions. Too many questions already, too many of them not valid."
"That's the way I feel about it. Sorry." He smacks the counter with his right hand, the hand without granola. "There are principles involved. This is just a movie thing. There'll be other opportunities."
Is he kidding? Other opportunities? But I have to keep my cool, play it right. Get Hollywood. This is where I think Alan and are a good match. He thrusts, I feint. He worries, I acknowledge his concern but don't get caught up. This is where the black-Jew dynamic actually works, like compatible signs of the zodiac. "You're right," I say sincerely. "I understand. Not worth it. It probably wouldn't be much money, not by industry standards. We can pass."
Alan freezes slightly. His eyes narrow: "Money. How much money?"
I tell him what Michael told me.
"I have to run to the store, honey," I say. "I need more cereal. See you later."
(Scene 3: Next morning, living room, the writer's apartment) Alan has an announcement. A development. This is after an hour or so spent on the calculator the night before.
"OK," he says. "Let's do it. What the hell. Why shouldn't we profit from this insane business? Plenty of people with less smarts and worse material get over. Hey, I wouldn't mind a piece of the pie."
He looks thoughtful: "All this time I've been a starving a high school teacher. Screw that. They can sell this story, as long as I get paid."
I'm relieved. Also a little surprised. In less than 24 hours, Alan has gone from resisting the status quo on principle -- the thing I first admired about him, the thing that got him attention -- to throwing in the towel for several thousand bucks and the chance to live out a kind of nativist's revenge fantasy against the mythologized Los Angeles. He's morphed overnight from romantic hero into craven opportunist. Our dynamic worked a little too well. I don't know that I quite like the change -- even if I had done a similar thing in a matter of seconds on the phone. Maybe he's more of an opportunist than I realize. Maybe this marriage isn't such a good idea. What happened to that good tension? I shake it off and call Michael the screenwriter.
Michael is thrilled. And relieved, like me. He's going to write a summary first, a synopsis.
"It's going to be general, broad-stroke," he says. "There'll be plenty of story and specifics later. The synopsis will be to get the studios' interest."
He already has a director in mind, a guy named Thomas Carter, the former actor who co-starred with Kevin Hooks in the '70s television basketball show "The White Shadow." Like Hooks, he took up directing when his teen-star days were over. Carter, who is black, has a particular interest in interracial and cross-cultural stories. I suddenly don't like the prospect of our story being "interracial" -- it sounds pat, cloying. More than a little fetishistic. Maybe Alan's initial resistance was right.
Michael reads my mind: "Don't worry," he says again. "This is going to be a really good project. It has a real shot."