February 8, 2007
Our Hollywood moment: An article in three acts
(Page 3 - Previous Page)Project. I feel a creeping excitement again. This thing is real. It has legs, even if it is interracial. And we don't have to beg or sell our souls to go Hollywood, I tell myself. Just our consent.
ACT II: Movie in the Making
(Scene 1: Living room, the writer's apartment)
Everybody knows that when it rains, it pours, but the corollary is that when the sun shines, it stays hot for a while. A couple of days later, I get another call. His name is Michael, too, and he's a book-to-film agent. His clients include Elmore Leonard, who wrote "Get Shorty" and "Jackie Brown." I'm impressed. Michael wants to represent us, too.
"Michael Siegel!" Alan shouts upon hearing the name.
It turns out that Michael S. did time as an English teacher at Hamilton almost 20 years ago. After the triumphant flush of recognition, Alan's mood changes. He gets a little dark, brooding.
"He was smart," he says of Michael S. "He didn't stay a teacher. He left and made some real money."
I move to cut off what I know will be a speech about not making enough money. I've heard the successful-Jew lament before. How Alan should have been a lawyer, property owner or Hollywood bigwig. Preferably all three. This is part of his fatalism that I truly understand -- I'm a chronic underachiever, too -- and can't stand at all. I love my husband-to-be and hate when he beats himself up for not being something other than what he is. After all, the list of what you aren't is so much longer than the list of what you actually are.
"But you never wanted to make money that way," I say. "You like teaching. You love teaching. You'd hate agent-ing. All that networking, kissing up, cutting deals. You've said so yourself."
Alan looks at me strangely. "That's not the point. The point it is, he's successful. I'm not."
"Because you're not an agent?"
"Because I'm poor," Alan says. "I'm not supposed to be poor."
"That's ridiculous," I say, more than a little impatiently. "We're not poor. We have two cars; we eat out almost every night. We take other people to dinner. How is that poor?"
Alan throws up his hands. "Forget it. It depends on how you're measuring things. By the measurement of my people, believe me, I'm poor."
The fatalism is running amok.
"Well," I shoot back, "by the measurement of my people, you're doing really well. You've got a full-time job, advanced college degrees and good benefits. And you're doing what you love to do. You know how far ahead that puts you in the statistics of black folks?"
Alan scowls. "I'm not black."
"Too bad," I snap. "It'd solve a lot of your problems. Being black doesn't usually do that. It creates problems. But you'd be an exception."
I stomp off.
(Scene 2: Same room, later)
Alan enters, looking not sullen -- his usual reaction after a fight -- but inspired. He's no longer fatalistic, but energized. He says this whole exchange might be good material for The Project. He goes off to jot something down. I don't know whether to feel uneasy again or equally inspired. My soon-to-be husband is looking at our fledgling life through the lens of a movie, which is either the worst thing or the best thing that could happen. Maybe both. I'm still sorting out all of Alan's contradictions. It'll take time. It might take a lifetime.
"I know you don't like that 'interracial' thing, and I don't either," Alan explains. "But we might as well realize that's the hook here. We might as well make that work for us. Right? This is our deal now."
He says he's going to e-mail Michael M. with the idea. He wants to make this deal fly as soon as possible, as high as possible. He makes a full confession: His own big Hollywood strategy -- cooked up overnight, of course -- is to make a racially themed movie about us that's so melodramatic and so wide of the mark, nobody will recognize us in it at all.
"I don't care if this thing is 'Homeboys From Outer Space,'" he says, almost gleeful. "As long as we get paid. We can always say, 'Well, we told them the real story, the important issues, but they didn't want it. They weren't interested. They took our story, and we trusted them and then they distorted it, like Hollywood always does, especially with racial stuff. American ignorance. What can you do?'"
Alan smiles a deep, satisfied, almost diabolical smile: "Plausible deniability. It's great."
He might be right about the path not taken. He would have been a good agent after all -- too good. He has talents I'm still learning about.
The deal is cut, and signed. First with the two Michaels. Then with HBO. Michael M. will write the screenplay, and Michael S. works out payment and such. It's also agreed that this movie will be "based on a true story," as opposed to "inspired by real events." It's a higher standard of Hollywood truth that I think is flattering. Alan isn't exactly happy -- it kind of blows his "Homeboys From Outer Space" scheme. But overall, the deal seems too easy. We both agree we're happy. For now.
(Scene 3: A restaurant in Santa Monica.)
We all meet for lunch to celebrate -- me, Alan, Michael, Thomas Carter and a producer friend -- at one of those Hollywood-on-the-Westside eateries Alan would ordinarily avoid like mudslides.
Not this time.