Monday, October 15, 2001

Texas Two Step

The past two weekends have featured significant steps in my journey (some might say descent) through Hollywood. As is often the case when on a mythical quest, sometimes you have to travel away from your goal in order to get closer. Consequently, I spent the last four days in Austin Texas at the Austin Film Festival Screenwriter's Conference. But more on that later.

Two weeks ago was the Hollywood premiere of my short movie, Dante's View. The event was held at the Pickford Theater, a thirty-five seat screening room on the lot of Raleigh Studios, the oldest active movie studio in the country. We had rented the theater for an hour and I had arranged to show the movie twice, just in case everyone that I invited actually showed up.

I arrived quite early and extremely nervous and was met at the door of the theater by a woman with a clipboard who was absolutely convinced that I was in the wrong place. Even though I was certain that she was mistaken (I had already been to the Pickford for a test-run a week earlier) her insistence was making me more nervous. Plus I was worried that she would prevent all of my guests from finding the right screening room. It turned out that she was there to greet the audience for a different screening (in the Charlie Chaplin theater) and she didn't even know there was a Pickford theater in the same building. I think she could tell how freaked-out I was getting because for the rest of the evening she acted as one of my "people" and helpfully guided my invitees to the proper venue.

The first show was mainly composed of the people who helped make the movie: Jon and Ivana, of course, Patti Troisi and her husband, Mike Kessler and his parents, Brian Nesin and his girlfriend Romy. There were also a couple of people from work and a few people I didn't know at all. About twenty in all. Not a bad showing, and enough to make the small room feel like it had a decent audience. I was in a hurry to get the show going, so we would have time to run it again and not keep the projectionist later than we had paid him for. It was impossible to enjoy the first show, I was worried about the sound, worried that people wouldn't "get" it, worried that no one else was coming, worried that no one would clap at the end. I was a bit of a mess. When it was over, nobody clapped -- until the final credit. Luckily the credits are only about a minute long, because I don't think I could have held my breath any longer. I think they really liked it. Everyone sure was nice about it.

When we opened the door and looked out into the lobby I was very pleased to see that the place was packed for the second show. A lot of people had gotten slowed up getting in due to the strict security measures employed by the studio. The second show was a lot more fun for me. The house was full, the sound was fine and there was this friend of Ivana's sitting across from me who laughed out loud in ALL the right places. Her laughter finally broke my tension and I loosened up and actually enjoyed myself. It's true, even if you only get through to one other person, that makes it all worthwhile. This time people clapped right away and almost everyone said something positive on the way out. It really felt like a success and was literally a dream come true.

We celebrated afterwards at the Formosa Cafe,
which some of you may know from the movie L.A. Confidential. It is a real piece of Hollywood history where the likes of Marilyn Monroe and Tony Curtis used to relax between takes of Some Like it Hot. More recently, the new Jim Carrey movie filmed a few scenes there and the afternoon before our party they did a Budweiser commercial using the same room we were in. The party was tremendous, we combined our screening celebration with Ivana's birthday party and the result was a whole lot of fun. There was a huge bouquet of red roses on one of the tables which I thought was for Ivana, and didn't realize till about midnight that they were in fact for me, a gift from my family -- along with a bottle of Drambuie. After a few drinks, people seemed to like the movie even more. Next time, I think I'll open the bar before the screening.

It was a great night and one I'm sure I'll remember for a long long time. The movie is officially ready to begin its own journey, starting with some hopeful submissions to various film festivals around the country. After all of the support, encouragement and just plain help I received in making the movie it felt really good to be able to share it and my excitement about it with so many friends.

While still on the high from the screening, I left early that next Thursday for Austin to attend the Film Festival. I wasn't sure what to expect, but I came prepared with business cards, Dante's View video, and copies of a couple of my scripts. The movie wasn't entered in the festival, but I brought it along just in case. Also I wanted to show it to David Hamburger and Bob Sweeney if possible. David, in particular, deserved a private screening since I ended up using some of his music in the opening sequence. I did enter two screenplays in the competition, and one of the made it to the second round, earning me the privilege of wearing a badge with "Second Rounder" written below my name. Supposedly this is considered something of an honor as several thousand scripts are submitted and only about ten per cent make it to the second round.

The real thrill of the conference, though, was meeting and talking with some screenwriters who are not only giants in the business, but personal heroes as well. Chris McQuarrie, who wrote one of the greatest scripts ever (The Usual Suspects) was amazing, smart, funny, very nice and so generous. I went to two of his seminars, both related to directing (he directed his second film, The Way of The Gun) and ate up everything he said. And if you ever want to hear some funny Benicio Del Toro stories, Chris is your man. Another major heavy, Shane Black (Lethal Weapon, Last Boy Scout, Long Kiss Goodbye) talked about creating heroes and villains, along with fellow legend Jeb Stuart (Die Hard, The Fugitive). I asked them, "What is evil?" and they both just stared at me for about 15 seconds while everyone in the room cracked up. But their very different answers told me a lot about how they approach their craft.

Lawrence Kasdan (Empire Strikes Back, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Big Chill, Body Heat, Silverado...) hosted a screening of one of my favorite westerns (Silverado) at a beautiful old theater in downtown Austin. Afterwards I ran into McQuarrie at the Driskill Hotel bar and asked him if he'd been at the screening. He stopped and looked heavenward and said "What a great fucking movie..." Hanging around with these guys, I actually felt like I belonged. It seemed like we spoke the same language and knew the same jokes. I've never been so close to actually feeling like a member of the club. I wish it could have gone on and on.

Fortunately, I also had a few opportunities to get together with Bob and Dave. In fact the very first night, I found myself listening to some live blues and gospel and drinking Shiner beer with Dave and some of his songwriting cronies and then hooking up with Bob at a very mellow cafe. On Saturday I had the pleasure of visiting Dave at home where he and his lovely and talented wife Catherine sat down for a private screening of Dante's View. We then went out to dinner at the same restaurant where they had their rehearsal dinner. Everyplace in Austin seems like the kind of place you'd have if you were going to start your own restaurant: relaxed, roomy, good music, good food and really cute waitresses.

On Sunday, I finally got to meet Bob's two sons, Thomas and Daniel. Talk about cute, these guys are definitive. And smart too, big surprise. We only had a short time together before my plane, but it sure made me want to come back for another visit and stay longer. And as a matter of fact, there's another film festival there in March that I am planning to send my movie to. I mean, heck who needs another excuse to go to Austin, but wouldn't it be cool if I could go there because my movie's being shown in the festival?

So if any of you know of any film festivals in your area, let me know and I'll apply. And if you have an empty couch in your living room, save me a spot -- I may be needing it.

I hope everyone is doing well.

Love, Hollywood Dick