I spent the last two days working at an office in Torrance where a friend of mine has a job mainly producing events for car shows. I come in as a temp from time to time to help out, because I need to pay my bills and they pay pretty well. Torrance is a lovely part of Los Angeles, the streets lined with car dealerships and office parks. I was working in one of those glass and steel blocks that overlook the freeway, and from my desk I could stare out at the traffic as it trickled by. Mesmerizing. Like staring at the waves crashing on the sand or the embers of a bonfire. The nicest thing about the job is that they have a T-1 line for the Internet, which for me is like driving a Ferrari after years of navigating the information superhighway on a moped. After spending a few hours surfing the web it became obvious why the Internet became the phenomenon it did: there is no better way to look busy at an office! For the first two hours on Friday morning I did nothing but clear out old emails, catch up on some research, and write to old friends, all while appearing to be the shining example of the industrious temp.
There had been no further news on the outcome of my screenplay. That probably means that most readers had passed or were waiting until the weekend to read it (which is when most executives read scripts). Monday will most likely be the day verdicts are handed down on us alleged writers. Will be innocent of all charges and rewarded, or found guilty of thinking our script was better than mediocre? I comfort myself with the fact that these days, the quality of the script is really quite secondary to the thought processes of the decision-makers in Hollywood, many of whom are under 25 years old and have never seen “The Manchurian Candidate.” Instead, these wise ones decide what films to make on the basis of what stars are attached to the scripts. Go to any multiplex these days and the proof will be in the posters on the walls and the trailers that precede the films. Of course, there are exceptions to the rule and there are still people out there making interesting movies, but from a producer’s standpoint, if you want to get a film made, your odds are better with a mediocre script with a star attached than a good script with nobody. We writers are then forced to comfort ourselves with the notion that if we write a great script, stars will fall under the spell of the words on our pages and will demand to be in our movies, and those wonderfully hip kids at the studios will have no choice but to make our films. Realistic, right? Well, we have no choice but to think that way.
Back to Torrance. In addition to web-surfing for dollars, I spent much of my time assisting the company with their latest venture, an action movie written by and starring the Middle East’s biggest action star (I shouldn’t say his name but let’s just say you’ve never heard of him anyway). Regardless, he has made a dozen movies, many of which he directed himself, and now he wants to do a picture that is set both in America and in Egypt. So he has teamed up with this company to make the film happen in July and has been hanging around in the conference room working on the screenplay. As for the script, let’s just say they have different standards for what a screenplay is in the Middle East. For one, logic is optional. Two, product placement is not something to shy away from (there is nothing wrong with having a scene in your film that talks about the merits of the new Mercedes sedan or how smooth your cigarette is). It was especially painful to have to “help” out with this project, which everyone wants to think will be a huge cross-over success, when in fact it is a piece of garbage. After several failed attempts to convince him that his script would be better if it made sense, I decided I was better off keeping my mouth shut and helping out with whatever they asked me to do.
They decided I should be the guy to videotape the afternoon’s casting session, which involved a parade of actresses in low-cut tops, few of them with an ounce of talent and none of them looking anything like the sexy personas in their headshots. I’ve been in many casting sessions before, but none so long and painful as these. Our illustrious “Sylvester Stallone of the Middle East” would spend over a half hour with each actress, giving her direction, chatting with her about random topics, while I was expected to film these inane conversations. For example:
Director: “What do you know about the Middle East?” Actress: “Umm… gee, I don’t know. Camels?” Director: “What else?”
Actress: “I didn’t know I was going to have a geography quiz here. That wasn’t my forte in school, okay? Umm… I know there are sand dumes there.” (She actually said “Dumes.” With an “m.”) “Is Israel in the Middle East?”
Director: “Yes, it is.”
Actress: “Okay, well I know about Israel. How there’s a lot of problems there and stuff.”
This was just one of a sample of captivating conversations I witnessed. At the end of the day, a cute young woman with enormous breasts walked in. (I actually recognized her from my gym). After a long conversation, she read her lines, and it was hard not to laugh at just how bad her acting was. As the audition was winding down, the director stood up with a smile on his face: “Perfect!” he exclaimed. “She is perfect.”
Hooray for Hollywood.