February 8, 2007
Our Hollywood moment: An article in three acts
(Page 4 - Previous Page)"It's free," he says in the parking lot. "They're paying."
Carter is a serious but genial sort with a slightly distracted air that I imagine to be common among Hollywood directors. He spends lunch repeating our story back to us, or his cinematic understanding of it. We listen. It sounds interesting. It sounds ... sellable.
(Scene 4: The living room.)
I'm beginning to catch Alan's agent fever. I've moved down off the romantic high of our love story being a Project, and am now imagining the product -- shot, wrapped, sold, distributed, marketed. I don't want to jump the gun, but I don't want to set my sights too low either. I've done that too many times in my life.
So has Alan; that's another one of our connections. We both had big dreams for ourselves that we didn't exactly realize, but that shaped our lives anyway, that led us to each other. Maybe it's the inexorable Hollywood influence, but we still carry dreams. Now we've both got this one dropped into our lap that we can live out any way we want, because absolutely nothing is at stake. We're taking a Hollywood ride on a ticket that we didn't pay for. It is, as Alan says, free.
Michael M. works on his script. He calls us almost daily, asking questions about exactly how we met, how it felt, who said what to whom. He's being a journalist.
Being a subject -- that is, consultant -- isn't as easy as I expected. Alan and I have to agree on details. I try hard not to embellish, but it's an effort. I can't remember everything exactly. And even the simplest version of the story feels big and unwieldy as a film script. I try to focus on something else.
"Who's going to play me in the movie?" I ask Alan one day. Michael M. is already talking about casting.
"Halle Berry," Alan says promptly. "Or Angela Bassett."
I consider. "They're both petite. They make me look like a hockey forward."
"Honey," says Alan, looking the way I do when he does his successful-Jew routine, "it isn't you. It's a movie. Remember that. HBO would be lucky to get a big name. It would really sell the movie. It'd be good for us."
"Yes. But ... Halle Berry can't play me. She doesn't have the weight. The intellectual weight."
Alan, judiciously, says nothing.
"And Angela Bassett's too tough," I say, looking in mirror. "I'm not tough."
"Honey," says Alan. "It's not about you. It's about the movie. You're not in the movie."
But I want to be. I should be, somehow. Maybe I could have a walk-on. I have not told Alan about really milking this Hollywood free ride for everything it's worth. About my own closeted dream of success and stardom I'm hoping this movie will serve, just a little bit. I change the subject.
"Who's going to play you?"
Alan shrugs. "Paul Reubens."
"Oh honey, no! Pee-wee? I always thought you reminded me of Ron Silver. He's a little too old to play you. But he's a good actor."
"I hope it's somebody who doesn't look like me at all. Matt Dillon would be good. Who cares?"
"It won't be Matt Dillon."
"Honey," Alan says again, exasperated. "Calm down. There isn't a movie yet. Let's go one step at a time."
"Michael Maren says the whole thing has a better than 50 percent chance of being made now. He says that's pretty damn high. That's closer than most projects ever get."
"Right," Alan says. "Which is why, if it all ended right here and now, I'd feel like we won. We're so far ahead already."
He looks solemn. He puts on his reading glasses and fixes me with a gaze. "It's like with you, honey. If it all ended right here and now, I'd feel like a better man. Like everything that's happened so far has been to my benefit. It's all gravy. There's no way to lose."
I smile through a certain anxiety. My almost-husband with the big mouth and penchant for pessimism also has a gift for saying exactly the right thing. I hope he e-mails that to Michael. But I doubt it. Too close to truth.
(Scene 5. The wedding, in an outdoor garden.)
It's the fall, and we're getting married on a postcard autumn day. Of course, the movie comes up. People hear about it, and they practically swoon. It's all so fitting. So L.A., so Hollywood!
Of course our pairing was like a movie, they tell us. It's a natural. Will the wedding be in the movie, they ask?
A few drinks into the reception, they ask more pointed questions like, will they be in the movie?
People are surprisingly divided on the issue. My father is a public figure, a community activist who's used to a spotlight and is a pivotal character in Michael M.'s synopsis. But he, like Alan, is leery of Hollywood and of anything that smells like superficiality. My mother is opposed to being made public at all, and she makes me promise to cut her out entirely. (Michael M. obliges, and writes the father character as a widower. My mother is satisfied.) My younger sister, the attorney, is pivotal, too, because she had once been a strong-willed student in Mr. Kaplan's class -- and had to re-cast the teacher she once butted heads with as a brother-in-law. The teacher who loomed largest for her in high school was now going to loom even larger for her within her family (like I said in the beginning, all roads lead back to Hamilton).
And then there are the people who are nowhere in our story at all but who assume they are -- friends, acquaintances, hairdressers.
"Tell that screenwriter to call me anytime," they say conspiratorially at various points. "I know the real story."
Alan and I make mental notes never to bring up the movie with these folks again.
"You were in the movie, we swear," we'll tell them. "More than a couple of scenes. But there was this jerk of an editor/producer who was counting pennies and took it out. We fought for it, but they took it out. "
It's an old trick I learned as a reporter to appease sources disgruntled by the absence of their quotes in a story.
We wait till December to honeymoon, in Maui.
(Scene 6: A car, driving along the Maui coast)
It's balmy here. Back home, Michael M. is still writing. HBO is waiting. Driving along the miles of highway that hug this scenic coast -- black sand, blue water, burning orange sunset -- is exactly like driving in a movie. Ours.
"We should e-mail Michael," Alan remarks from behind the wheel, sweeping a hand out of the window. "This would be good."
"No," I say, sitting back. "This is good."
ACT III: The End
Months pass. Michael still writes. He rewrites. He says it's normal, part of the process. A year on the contract is up, and HBO renews. Michael S. says this is expected -- nobody finishes a full-length movie script in 12 months, at least not to everybody's satisfaction. We sign on bottom lines again. We talk to Michael M. less and less, but I understand his need to hole up and write after all those interviews -- I do it, too. It takes time to put together a story as complicated as ours. He wants it to be quality. I trust him. I trust that HBO trusts him. We're all a team.
Alan slowly turns back into the old Alan. He's not talking so brashly about the movie, about "Homeboys From Outer Space" and about getting his. He's stopped running the whole thing by people we meet at parties and such ("Yeah, we're doing this movie. Can you believe it? Craziest thing..."). He's losing faith. "Why doesn't Michael e-mail us?" he says. "I don't have a good feeling about this. I think the movie is dead, and he's not saying."
I assure him that can't be the case.
The second year passes. HBO doesn't like the script and doesn't renew the option. Alan is right.
The story rights revert to me and Alan (like we really need them), and everybody -- Michael M., Michael S., Thomas Carter, HBO -- goes home.
Michael S. says the script was lousy: "But don't worry. This is actually a good thing. I never thought HBO was the best place for it. We'll sell it somewhere else. It's a natural for a TV series. There's a lot more money in that anyway." I'm not reassured. I don't know what to think because I never read the script. Maybe the opposite is true and the script was too good, too nuanced for the likes of HBO or for any other place. Maybe HBO wanted more than a bit of "Homeboy" in the mix and Michael M. refused to give it to them.
Alan sides with Michael S.
"It probably stank," he says.
His tones changes, though not for the worse, as I expect; he actually brightens, straightens up. Like I straightened up more than two years ago when somebody pitched the movie for the first time, and it sounded like music.
"Don't worry, honey. We can sell it somewhere else. It is a good story. It's a great story. It's better than 99 percent of stories out there. Somebody will want it. Trust me. It's just a matter of time."
I do trust Alan. I trust him more than I should have ever trusted any of the Hollywoodites, who, after all, all wanted something from me. Alan wants nothing except me. He's talking up the movie/TV series now as a timeless, can't-miss project -- a metaphor all along for us. I should have known.
I'll take us.
Of course, Alan wouldn't mind the money, but that's not really it. He sincerely believes that we deserve a shot in Hollywood because he believes that we deserve a shot. And because that shot is working out so far (we've been married six years now), because it was last thing that was ever supposed to happen, Hollywood looks like a cinch. A nice extra. Gravy. The money you win after you've won it all. The real payoff is learning that my husband is, in fact, the intractable dreamer and idealist I fell in love with. As Hollywood as they come.
He has his dark moments, his doubts. But they're just the underside of all that glitters. The rope that ties up the hero for a while before he breaks free and saves everybody in the end. I married the hero.
"Our story," Alan says wonderingly now and then, apropos of little. That's all he says.
I get the wonder. Every year our story gets bigger, more fantastic. It's going to sell any day.
Erin Aubry Kaplan is a regular Op-Ed columnist for the Los Angeles Times.