You’re right. I’ve spent a good amount of time on the “waiter” part of waiter-director. This is a blog about making a movie, so I should start writing about making the movie.
To pick up where I left off…
The first script I sent out when I moved to Hollywood was terrible. And so was the one after that. (NIGHTS OF VENUS. A romantic-horror-action-comedy about a guy who falls in love with a beautiful vampire, named Venus.) And the one after that. (AIR BALL. An R-rated sports comedy about a disgraced former NBA player who takes a job coaching the worst high school basketball team in the country to pay off a big gambling debt.) The next one was really bad, too. (THE KIDS NEXT DOOR. A horror script about a group of kids who think their new neighbors are demons.) I was just cranking them out, making up for lost time, I suppose. I had no idea what I was doing, and eventually, I realized that. We’ll talk about it another time.
Now, I’m going to jump ahead.
What follows is sort of a prologue to the story I have to tell about making The Shower.
It’s a Page 1 trick. Start in a really bad place with your protagonist and then go back and see how he got there and if he can get out of it.
I used it in The Shower. Below is page 1 of an early draft.
Here we go. ..
“KIND OF UNWATCHABLE”
January 4th, 2013. I’m sitting at my desk. It’s not a big fancy writer’s desk. It’s more like something your grandmother might have if she was still alive. And was poor.
I bought it from a tweaker on Doheny Drive back in September of 2002. OK, he probably wasn’t a tweaker. He was just some hungover ex-prom king in his 20s, selling his shit out in front of the apartment building he was vacating. He had that depressed, “L.A. has knocked my teeth down my throat and I’m moving back to my childhood home to recover from my injuries and start the rest of my miserable life” vibe. Desperate, but trying to be friendly. (He was probably a waiter.) I could smell his weakness as I perused the flotsam of his failed life. Clothes, books, CDs, VHS tapes. That one Ikea chair everyone under 30 owned at the turn of the millennium.
And a bunch of old furniture that he probably bought from some loser who was moving back to his parents’ house. Recycled furniture is a way of life in L.A. You get free or cheap stuff when somebody quits and goes home or when somebody succeeds and moves to a nicer place. This ex-frat boy was trying to make a sale, and he was no Ricky Roma.
I felt in control so I played hard to get. I was 25 then. I’d been in Hollywood for a year and thought I was finally getting the hang of the place. Yeah, it was tough. It would try to kick your ass on a daily basis. But I wasn’t going to let it beat me. That’s a story for later on. I needed a desk. Rachael and I were getting an apartment together.
Yes, we lived in separate apartments when we moved here because my parents forbade us from living together. Just kidding. We “lived” in separate apartments because in my infinite wisdom I thought that it would be too crazy for us to live together for the first time under the circumstances of moving to L.A. So, I wasted $8400 paying for a parking space for a year. Maybe there was some psychological benefit to each of us having our own place for the first time in our lives. Any takers?
We were moving in together and we’d need our own desks because we’re like, productive people, and I’ll be writing my shitty screenplays at my desk and she’ll be doing whatever actors would do with a computer in 2002 at her desk. I asked how much the grandma desk was without looking at him. He said, “Thirty.” I kept my eyes on the desk, it felt like a good technique. “I’ll give you fifteen for it.” Then I looked at him.
For a moment, he was going to resist, I mean, this was his grandmother’s desk, and she’s dead now and it’s all that he has left, besides the memories. But this dude was done. His will to fight was broken a long time ago. Now he was just a dried up Midwestern corn husk in gym shorts and flip-flops, ready for the ocean breeze to blow him back to the farm he grew up on. (Forgive my occasional “bullshit literary flourishes.” I was an English major and my favorite authors in college were Fitzgerald and Kerouac.)
So, I’m sitting at my desk, holding my cell phone to my ear, and talking to a film distributor who had watched a rough cut of the movie. The “rough cut” is an unfinished version. No sound editing, color correction or visual effects. It’s a work in progress, but should give a strong sense of what the final product will be.
If the distributor liked the movie, he could potentially buy it. He could get it in theaters and on Netflix, iTunes, cable, Amazon, Redbox… This was an important phone call.
I’d been working on the movie since March of 2012, when I began brainstorming ideas for a no budget horror-comedy feature I could write and direct and cast Rachael and our friends in. I wrote the script in May. We started shooting in August. We’d been editing since September and I thought we were on the homestretch. I’ll fill in all those blanks later.
Here’s a little thing about me: Somehow, I can fully convince myself that everything is wonderful and everything is awful at the same exact time. And that’s how I felt about the movie. “Maybe it’s a survival technique,” the amateur shrink said to himself. Or I’m hedging my bets. Which is a survival technique.
This is how I remember that phone call:
Distributor: “I watched the movie and, honestly, I had a hard time getting through it. I only got about 20 minutes in before I turned it off… It was kind of unwatchable.”
So, I’m sitting at my desk, holding my cell phone to my ear, and Hollywood is doing a particularly good job at punching me in the nuts today. This wasn’t just a “I have to use a credit card convenience check to pay my rent this month” beating. This wasn’t even, “I read your script and I’m going to pass.” This was a soul crusher. I’d spent 9 months on this movie. I’d put $6,000 on my credit cards. I’d raised money from family and friends to get it made. Rachael went into early labor while we were shooting the damn thing and our daughter was born 5 weeks early. (I set it at a baby shower because she was pregnant. There will be an entire entry on this day at some point.)
I knew it wasn’t nearly as good as I imagined it would be, and we’ll get into that later, but since I first watched the footage I’d seen it go from a steaming pile of shit to… a “kind of unwatchable” steaming pile of shit?
My first instinct, as it would be for any man who is having his heart ripped out of his chest and stuffed down his throat with two fists, was to scream and cry and sell all my worthless junk and move back home with my parents. That wouldn’t be so easy anymore, since I was 36, married and have two kids.
My second instinct was to just be in denial and say, “Fuck you! You don’t know what you’re talking about! I’m the king of the world!”
My third instinct, which had also been highly developed over the course of 11 years and 4 months in L.A., was to grin and bear it, say “Thanks” and figure out what to do next, so I never have this conversation ever again.
And that’s where we’ll leave off for now. Thanks for reading. I hope this is interesting to you. I happen to find it riveting.