Filmmaking | Letter from L.A. | Reports


1 Mar , 1998  

Written by M.M. Goldstein | Posted by:

Former Cambridge/ Brookline resident reports from another world... LA. Everybody in L.A. is waiting... and what they’re waiting for is The Call, the one that will change their life. It’s The Call about The Deal or The Job or The Part...

Everybody in L.A. is waiting… and what they’re waiting for is The Call, the one that will change their life. It’s The Call about The Deal or The Job or The Part or whatever, and much of what you do when you’re not doing anything constructive is trying to figure out how to wait without feeling like you’re not doing anything constructive. There are a lot of bars in L.A., not incidentally, and this is a story about waiting, in a bar, for The Call about The Deal that will change the life of our old friend Ruben.

Friday night at an L.A. private club is the scene and Ruben is there at the bar, waiting and thinking about The Deal, and about what had transpired to get him to this pivotal point in his life. It had all started, as most things start here, with a script and a relationship. The script is called Varsity Blues and it was written as a spec by W. Peter Iliff at least ten years ago. I know this, because I saw it then, when a director friend was trying to put a deal together on it. That never happened, and the script continued to make the rounds, getting close, but never actually becoming a Deal. Meanwhile, Peter had seen another film he’d written get made, Point Break, with Keanu Reeves and Patrick Swayze, and done a re-write on another little film called Patriot Games, starring Harrison Ford, so he was, and is, deservedly hot.

Eventually, Varsity Blues found its way to a producer, Tovah Laiter, who was doing some business with Ruben on a different project which he had brought her. As a quid pro quo, she showed him the script, thinking he might have some ideas on what to do with it. It’s a good script, a coming of age comedy about high school football in Texas, similar in subject (but not tone) to the non-fiction book "Friday Night Lights," which, not incidentally, Imagine Entertainment at Universal (Ron Howard’s company) was also developing as a movie.

Well, that’s serious competition, but the sword cuts two ways on things like that. If Imagine thinks there’s a movie in that kind of story, then it makes it more likely you can sell a story like that — if you’re there first. Time is of the essence, as they say in all those contracts…. Space and time… Which brings us to…

…the arrival of The Guy at the bar where Ruben is waiting and thinking about The Deal. The Guy is somebody people know, a "personality" in the local media with a few minutes still left on his fame-clock, and he comes in with a date who is clearly not in any way even semi-permanently connected to him — I mean, you can see this one isn’t even going to last the night.

But The Guy, being a guy, is naturally protective, and our pal Ruben, a few sheets to the wind after two or three quick ones to get a glow on, sort of comes on to her as he’s waiting at the bar to get a drink. He looks at Ruben with his best Clint Eastwood squint, and says, "It’s all about space."

Okay, Ruben gets it; subtle this is not. But, since he’s still riding a slight buzz, Ruben doesn’t care. He stays around, flirting with the Girl, who looks both bored and uncomfortable, until finally the Guy leans over real close and says again, "It’s all about space…"

"I’m just waiting for my drink," says Ruben calmly, and when it comes he very, v-e-r-y s-l-o-w-l-y gives the bartender a $20, so slowly the Girl is starting to crack up and the Guy is getting even more pissed. Ruben assesses the situation, and decides that discretion is indeed the better part of keeping your front teeth, and splits off into the night, back to thinking about The Deal, and The Call he was waiting for to find out if he was going to get it. If The Call was good, he’d get The Deal, and become a studio producer, one of only a few hundred in the town who can realistically call themselves that. If not…

He had a lot going for him, he figured, not the least of which was his friend at MTV Films named David Gale, whom he knows going back to the days when David worked with Gale Ann Hurd when she was Jim Cameron’s wife, before he made a few films you might have heard of called Terminator II and True Lies, and, oh yes, Titanic, which is co-released by Paramount, which is part of this story, and besides, its always nice to connect oneself, however tangentially, to such magic.

Ruben had given the script to David, who, being an insider, knew of the competition with Imagine and "Friday Night Lights," but also could see the difference, that one being a pretty serious non-fiction story, this being a far more light-hearted teen comedy. With ample place for an MTV-style soundtrack… So David, along with Ruben and Tovah, bring the project, now with MTV attached, to Don Granger of Paramount, whose wife is Lisa McCree of ABC (just thought you’d like to know) who likes the script and recommends it to John Goldwyn, who similarly recommends it to Sherry Lansing, whose head of production at Paramount, but you knew that, didn’t you? Again, a lot of waiting involved here; this all began last summer. No wonder Ruben has time to fight with ATM machines and play with boats and go to bars and be a wise guy. There’s a lot of time to kill when you’re trying to be a producer in L.A.

Anyway, there are many more twists and turns here, but I’ll cut to the chase. Ultimately there’s a meeting, and at this meeting Ruben would have his chance to show who he is. And he did, for better and for worse. It takes a certain amount of chutzpah to get where he wants to go, but how much is too much, and how much is not enough? And when?

It was a meeting with a director who did not end up getting the job, for reasons unknown to me, but at the time he seemed like The Man. If I am not for myself, then who am I for? And if not now, when? So goes the Torah, and so went Ruben. He started giving his ideas in the meeting, and got so caught up that at one point he got up out of his chair and walked around the room, acting out the scene he saw as key to the drama.

When he sat down, there was a rustling of crossed legs and a clearing of throats, and a momentary quiet until the meeting proceeded. He had made himself known, that he had. But had he overplayed his hand? Opened his mouth and put his foot in it? Had all this waiting and working, not just days and weeks, but months and years, just gone down the tubes because of one possible error of judgment?

Well, when people are not sure, they wait, and waiting was just the one thing he didn’t need more of, but that’s what he was going to get. Was he being punished for stepping out of line? Tested to see if the pressure of further waiting would cause another, irrevocable error? How do you know? How can you know?.

All you can do is live — if they let you — and learn from your mistakes, And act more wisely in the future. You’re allowed one mistake, but only one. So he didn’t make another. He retained the services of a lawyer so good he really wouldn’t bother to do such a deal, but the man, Ed Blau, was taken by Ruben, taken, perhaps, by the same kind of chutzpah that had also gotten him into trouble. Swords with two edges and all that. Ed Blau knows the game, and the suits knew that if Ed was involved, Ruben must be taken seriously. He also got his mentor, Marty Baum, a founding partner of CAA, to speak up for him. So he did get his ducks in a row. But until The Call comes, it’s all wind past the ear. There doesn’t have to be a happy ending here; in fact, there usually isn’t.

Meanwhile, while he’s waiting, The Deal, without him, was going forward. They’d hired a director, Brian Robbins, of "Goodburger" fame (it grossed $30 million domestic, you want to argue with that?); they have a start date, April 6, in Austin, Texas. Peter Iliff did his re-writes, others had done theirs, another producer, a partner of Robbins had signed his deal, Tovah Laiter had hers, actors were being signed, everybody but Ruben, who is still waiting, only now he’s in a different bar with a different crowd, leaving in the wee hours of the morning — and he runs into The Guy again. He’s now alone, The Girl having long since split off with an ex-college roommate of The Guy’s brother-in-law (I’m the omniscient narrator; I get to know these things.)

Anyway, The Guy is a lot looser, having sucked on a 5th of Jack for most of the evening, and when he sees Ruben, he smiles wryly and apologizes. Ruben, having maintained the glow to fend off the angst, but not having scored either, gives him a comradely hug and apologizes himself. Then he looks at the guy, and says: "It isn’t really just all about space, you know." Oh, the Guy says, not sure where this is going. "No, it’s not just space. It’s also about time." He grabs the Guy’s elbow and leans into him seriously. "Because at the right time, in the right space, she would have left with me."

This gets the Guy’s attention, but he be cool by this point in the evening. He holds a beat, looks at Ruben, then says, "That’s true. At the right time in the right space even you could have scored."

They both burst our laughing, then depart, alone, to their respective dens. Even Guys have their moments, and, regardless, all things must pass, even waiting, and so a few days later The Call finally did come. It was from Don Granger, and I know this is true because I was there was Ruben took it, and heard him apologize if he’d been out of line, and heard Granger say the magic words: "It’s time for us to close your deal." So it was spoken, so it shall be done, and while it isn’t etched in stone yet, Ruben can exhale, slowly, while the lawyers do their thing.

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