Moving Into Films: Part 2


Out of a Nightmare

Where to find a Hollywood producer? For the most part, you find them in Hollywood. But I was in Cleveland, which was as far from Hollywood as Pluto is from the sun. I had for years been connected to The Cleveland Public Theatre so I knew the case of a Hollywood producer who had bought the rights to a play for one hundred thousand dollars -well, this is what we were told.

The play had been produced at CPT and neither I nor my good friend James Levin (founder and artistic director of CPT) thought much about the play. Since then, we haven't heard anything about it. Now I know this was not an unusual case in the free spending days in the 1980's. But after so many ruined careers, failed studios, and a littered road of senseless flops, those days are basically gone.

Facing reality and lacking contacts I proceeded to surf the web to see what was out there. After some months of research I sent a copy of Death of a Mercenary to a producer in Hollywood, another in Toronto, Canada, and a third one to Germany. The one in Hollywood never bothered to write back, the one in Toronto wrote to tell me that it would require a production budget beyond their resources, and the one in Germany, Gruenberg Studios, wrote back asking me to turn the play into a screenplay and then send it to them. They were interested.

It seems naïve to send a play to a movie producer instead of a screenplay. But at the time my attitude was one of taking some kind of action to stir the pot "-to see what happens." So when Mr. Andreas Gruenberg wrote back requesting a screenplay, it occurred to me that I had a good possibility of selling Death of a Mercenary. But then I asked myself, is this what you want to do? -No, of course not! I wanted to make a movie. Selling a screenplay (which may or may not be made into a film) didn't seem that exciting anymore. Sure, I would get some money, but I would be left out of the action. To me, this was bordering on selling the chicken that laid the golden eggs.

So, what to do? Mary Russell, who had sold the movie rights for The Sparrow to a major Hollywood studio , had told me how difficult (and amusing) it had been to see the studio's hired screenwriters butcher The Sparrow into a piece of sexploitation trash (my words). She called it -"Casablanca in Space meets Deliverance on Mars, with Lawrence of Rakhat duct-taped to the top. "I had never before written a screenplay but I new that turning a book into a screenplay was an extremely difficult task, especially if the book is well known and much beloved of the readers. How well the story is adapted to the big screen can make or break a multi-million dollar production.

I had the option to do the screenplay of my own work. So at least, if it turned out wrong, I only had myself to blame. But Death of a Mercenary is a large body of work. I could see it done properly as a mini-series, but not as an hour and half movie. Besides, wouldn't it be better if I were to do it myself? This is what I was thinking and the more I thought about it the more I knew I was going to pass on the screenplay idea and keep Death of a Mercenary locked away for future use. I reasoned: -what I should do instead is to find another story, write my own screenplay, keep it simple, and produce it. I'll make a "no-budget" movie and have fun with it. But what would the story be?

Then one night I had a nightmare. I saw myself being chased through an automobile junkyard illuminated by bonfires of burning tires, like a hellish scene from Dante's inferno. I was franticly running, instinctively reaching out into an empty holster, while trying to fend of a mob of homicidal maniacs who wanted to rape me. As I kicked and punched my way up a ravine to escape the junkyard, I notice that the horrid contorted demonic faces were those of vampires.

I finally managed to fight my way up slippery slopes out into a deserted highway that extended for miles toward a distant city. And then, just as the creatures started to crawl out to win their prey, a huge white-colored convertible drove to a screeching halt and the side door opened. When I turned to look at the driver I froze. It was none other than a girlfriend of old whom I do not want to see again even in dreams (hey, didn't I tell you this was a nightmare!).

Amused, she looked at me for a moment. And then, with a wicked grin she said -"Well, are you coming or not." I turn to look at the creatures, and then turn back to look at her grinning face. I was exhausted, hyperventilating, at the end of my rope. Suicide was not an option. It was either the sword or the sword. Either way I was screwed. Then suddenly, I woke up!

The nightmare stayed with me for days. It was not a matter of being scared or disturbed. On the contrary, it got me excited and thinking. It presented a curious dilemma that needed some active research. So I called some friends (all men) and asked them the following question: -"What will scare you the most, being bitten by a vampire or being rape by a bunch of maniacs?" Unanimously, the response was the same: being raped by a bunch of maniacs.

All of them seemed emotionally affected by the question. To provide an answer they had to imagine it, and, just as I had hoped for, the images created in their minds were more frightening than any other images of doom. Coming to grips with this predicament touches a nerve in a man's psyche -in every male psyche, in the most intimate and private place in all of us. This was plain and simple a case of personal violation -something I could exploit in a story. So, as my friends described to me their fears I new I had a germinal idea, the beginning of a story, the evolutionary progression to a screenplay. I had my movie.

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