Filmmaking | Letter from L.A. | Reports

Letter from LA: Negotiations

1 Aug , 1998  

Written by M.M. Goldstein | Posted by:

An office on the Paramount lot -- ah, who needs it.

Let’s begin where we left off last month. The office at Paramount did not materialize, as we were led to believe it would, right after the July 4 Holiday, and by the time we were mid-month, we were getting antsy. We need it to do business. What’s going on?

So Ruben calls Howard W. Koch and asks, and when the answer does not satisfy him ("…the guys in the office aren’t moving out yet…") he pushes for a meeting. Today!

"Three o’clock, my office," responds Howard, without missing a beat. Three o’clock it is, once again into his paneled office in the Ernst Lubitsch Building on the beautiful and serene Paramount lot, and this time I did not need even a single macciato to amp up for it.

"I can’t do it," is the sum of what Howard had to say. "There’s no such thing as ‘can’t,’" responds Ruben immediately, having prepared himself for this exchange during his cogitations after our vegetarian lunch at a local Ethiopian restaurant. "If I am 82 there is no such thing as ‘can’t’ for me. I’ll do it, and ask permission later."

Howard looks at Ruben, then at me. "Where did you get this guy?" he asks. "Venice Beach," I respond immediately.

Clearly I was going to be of no help here. He looked again at Ruben, then at his telephone, and in five minutes had tracked down the current tenants of the office in question, and arranged to get the key from them since they were pretty much moved out already, and to give it to us. Ruben actually kissed him. I gave him a high-five, and we left on a victorious note. We’d won it in the room.

He even showed us the office from the outside as we walked to our respective cars. There it was, on the third floor of an older building right next to the Commissary, a building which had been owned by Lucy and Desi and sold to Paramount when their marriage and partnership went sour. It was his first office at Paramount, thirty years ago, before it was Paramount, when it was still Desilu. That’s our office? Yes.

We celebrated that night, a bottle of Bulgarian Merlot (hey, we’re on a budget,) but by the next morning, calling in after teaching my class at old O.U., the situation had again deteriorated.

Seems there was no office available, especially not that one. Paramount had plans for that office, had people ready and waiting to go into it, and there was nothing else open now. Not even for friends of Howard W. Koch. Maybe later in the summer, maybe at Raleigh Studios across the street (a very nice location, but still not on the lot, per se) but not now. Not today. Not even soon.

Well, Ruben called Marty Baum at CAA, and we had an appointment to see him before I even came back from Burbank. Now that’s an agent.

And I must say that this also was a meeting I found no need to amp up for. I can accept harsh realities, and have, plenty of them, but I don’t need to be jerked around, not even unintentionally. Maybe Marty could sort it out for us. The fact that I’d never met him before didn’t matter. This was war, and he was the guy we needed to help us survive.

So we drive to CAA, park, wait in the downstairs lobby for less than 45 seconds, just enough time to begin to absorb Ovitz’s massive Liechtenstein, then are called up to Marty’s second floor office, stopping to say hello to Marty’s new assistant, Tyler, one of my many ex-OU students who have infiltrated the industry by now. He told us to go right in, Marty was expecting us.

His office is beautiful, tastefully modern with just enough luxury touches (leather on the desk, sculptured stainless steel lamps) not to be stark, but rather simply beautiful. And he’s not bad either.

Marty is one of the last of a breed, not a dying breed, thankfully, since he’s a healthy survivor, but certainly an increasingly rare breed of Hollywood people who really did work their whole lives in this business, and truly understand it from the inside out, and still enjoy being part of it.

By my count, he’s the senior executive at CAA right now, given that Ovitz and Haber and Ron Meyers and the like have moved on. He’s the last of the original founding partners of CAA, the elder statesman of what has always been a ruthlessly powerful entity in the entertainment world, one now increasingly showing the class that comes from being well established, rather than the bullying employed to accomplish that goal in years past. It’s acting its age and position, thankfully. LETTERS FROM LA
In this series of letters, former Cambridge/ Brookline resident M.M. Goldstein reports from another world… LA.

Pitching a Script at Paramount
Ever dream of being able to pitch your script to the bigwigs at a major Hollywood studio?  Well…

Varsity Cowboy
Behind-the-scenes of Jon Voight’s upcoming film "Varsity Blues"

A Night in Hollywood
What do you do when you’re invited to an elite tinseltown event and don’t have enough cash to cover the $18 valet parking fee? FInd out in this Artists Rights Foundation Tribute

A Day in the Life of an LA Screenwriter
Everyone in LA is here to make a lot of money, and most don’t. But perhaps there’s some small bit of hope for this LA screenwriter.

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…

All You Need is a Little Clout
With enough clout, you can do anything, have anything, be anything. The problem is, without it, you can’t do squat, so how do you get there from here?

Ruben vs. the ATM
The first in the series, this letter tells the tales of a Producer named Ruben complete with Vuarnet shades, slicked back hair, Cuban cigar.

We sat down, shook hands. We’d never met before, but he knew who I was, had read all the Letters From L.A., and had known and mentored Ruben for some 16 years. He’d met, had hosted Ruben’s father from Israel in that very office, where Baruch had placed a small silver figure of a fiddler on Marty’s desk, right next to the one Ruben had already placed there. He’s family to Ruben, and by the end of the meeting, to me.

And he’s very, very smart. He listened impassively as Ruben vented his frustration about the office, giving nothing away by his expression, his eyes focused and unblinking, assessing the situation. Koch’s inability to provide the office, we all agreed, was probably more painful for him than for us, now that we’d had time to absorb it. It was indicative of the shameful lack of respect the Studio system seems to have these days for those who really made it what it is, companies worth being bought out for huge sums by international megabuck conglomerates for whom these new executives work. Before that, they just made movies and money, and Howard W. Koch made a lot of both for them.

But at least he wanted to do us a favor, and tried to. We knew we were pushing the envelope with him, you can’t win them all, it’s Show Biz, etc., etc., etc. So, after we’d vented enough to listen to reason, Marty turned to both of us and told us what he thought we should do. It was simple and clear. Write The Script.

That’s the only thing you can do while waiting for the movie to come out. Unless you’re a major player already, having an office or even trying to sell a pitch is unlikely and unproductive. What we need is a property. We have the idea, the proposal for one. We have the skills and experience to execute it, to write it as a script. Don’t waste your time in meetings and pitches and all that crap. The only thing that works is a script, especially one done just around the time the movie is released. You have that script, I can help you with it. Just Write It.

I will help you do it, he further volunteered, work with us on it, as he had worked with writers when he was a producer on movies like, well, "They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?", but attach himself only as agent and commission only for that.

That’s an offer you don’t refuse; why would you want to? It’s a gift, which might well turn out to be a mitzvah because he likes and respects the project, and if he can help us get it made, some of that credit is rightfully his. Even helping us get it written gives him a moral right to feel proud if it succeeds, however it happens. He’s stepping up and trying to do what he can do for us now, just as Howard had. And we’re saying thank-you, and getting to work. At home, in Santa Monica, a commute I know and like, especially during July and August. Virtues out of necessity.

* * *

On other fronts, progress is also being made. CLOUT 1 has been commissioned, and I’m still not kidding about this; I mean, go look it up. They’re going to build a freakin’ boat for us. Hand to God.

Captain Jay is working out the details with DuFour, and since this is still in negotiations, details will have to wait. Ruben has asked his friend Elliot Silverstein, head of the Artists Rights Foundation, to act as a consultant on it; Elliot has a boat background, sailed one out of the Marina, lived on it for a while.

So there you go. This, which I would have considered the least likely and most outrageous example of our endemic Cloutfabulations, is actually happening, as a sound and sensible business operation.

Which got me thinking about CLOUT 1, The Airplane – it’s the next logical step, no? What would that be? A Lear Jet? A Gulfstream V at $50-60 million each? No way. That’s just not our style. We’re too tasteful, too economical for that kind of grandiose conspicuous consumption, even if we ever actually were able to afford it. That’s 80’s bullshit, not for us. Not even then. (Though, of course, if we’d had the money then… Best not to think about it.)

Anyway, thinking about my love for old Mercedes, cars of the ’60’s and 70’s made like tanks that last forever, classics of mechanical era design – I thought of the just the right plane.

A DC-3.

Yup, the old DC-3, built since the 30’s in, ahem, Santa Monica, at Clover Field, when it was the old Douglass aircraft plant, with people who actually built them still living here, some of them my neighbors, or their parents and grandparents.

When properly restored, it should be bullet-proof. Noisy perhaps, slow relative to today’s jets, but able to land anywhere, and take off anywhere, and be fixable by your average garage mechanic in his backyard, should you happen to land there by chance.

It’s us. And you can probably get one for less than the price of a new Porsche – well, maybe a couple new Porsche’s or a Ferrari Mondial – but certainly less than the average tear-down in the Palisades (and a whole lot less than one in Malibu or the Marina). Less than a boat? Mais, oui. Certainement.

I want one already – hey, even I will be able to potz on it, given the state of mechanical simplicity and efficiency of the machine, a true Local Hero. When all else fails, I’ll have to read the directions, I suppose, but I like stuff like that. Beats working. But, not now. Next year. Maybe.

No, actually, next year is the boat, and that’s more than enough. Everybody is going to get well on that one, I think. Everybody is going to win – it’s the American Dream – and we’re going to get a boat.

A freakin’ yacht.

CLOUT 1. Unfuckingbelievable.

* * *

As for the Love Life of El Ruben, the negotiations there are proceeding as well. Things have been happening, but truth to tell nobody’s getting anywhere real fast, and this has caused a kind of re-negotiation with Life, so to speak.

Layla never re-appeared, which was to be expected. If she did, it would have been expected, too, but that’s not going anywhere, regardless. There was a house guest for a few weeks, but she’s gone, and being a civilian, deserves and gets her privacy. There are parties and various dates and such, but still…

Who, indeed, is right for him now? The question posed last month, I’m beginning to think, has an answer, and that is: no one.

This is a such a point of transition for Ruben Hostka that his establishing a solid relationship with someone would be like trying to set up camp on the steep and slippery side of an ice clad mountain slope. Makes no sense to even try. Find level ground and do it there.

But level ground for Ruben lies nowhere in sight. Behind, below, there’s nothing but space, crashing down into which is not recommended. Ahead, above, there is a plateau, a place to camp out if not set up shop, but it takes place in the unforeseeable future, one dimension out of sight. Rest for the weary, like Mort Sahl’s future, does lie ahead, but it’s still in negotiations.

As for me, well, I actually may have a deal in progress – and then again, I may not. But either way even I’m not stupid enough to write about something like that now; all that will have to wait for the book. Hopefully.

* * *

There’s a coda to all this, just happened, thought I’d throw it in to wrap things up nicely, which it does. Seems Ruben went to Paramount to see Howard W. Koch, to, among other things, make sure there were no hard feelings about the whole office adventure, which, thankfully again, there were not. Hey, if anyone knows Show Biz, it’s Howard W. Koch. Stuff like this, he really has forgotten more than we’re ever going to know, with good reason on both ends.

Anyway, on his way in he stopped, as we all must stop at least metaphorically, at the portals of Paramount to receive permission to enter into that truly magical kingdom. Not wishing to waste anyone’s time, he gave the Guard at the Gate, Nick, the rundown: "Good Morning. I’m here to see Howard W. Koch, in the Lubitch building, I have an appointment and I know where it is."

Nick looked at his list, confirmed that his name was on it, and said, simply, "You’re my hero," and ushered him in. Ruben stopped for a moment, though, and said, "Thank you. You’ve made my day." And they both smiled.

And, after the meeting with Howard, Ruben walked around outside just absorbing the vibes of that beautiful place, the Paramount lot, looking at the office we almost had, noting down the address just in case. He then sat down in front of the Rudolph Valentino Building and cogitated.

In the meeting, Koch had again offered the possibility of an office at Raleigh across the street – but Ruben had demurred. We’ll wait for a space on the lot, he said. We’ll even wait for that particular space, if it becomes available, since it was your first office. We have writing to do at home this summer, and when the time is right, we’ll have the right office on the right lot, wherever that is.

So he’s sitting there, zoned into Blissville on the memories, when someone else from Paramount comes by, a woman who works in Administration, whose name is Nanette.

She’s smiling at him, and in a beat or two, asks if he works here. He says, "If this is how I look when I’m working, then I must be doing something right."

She laughs, and one thing leading to the next, she affirms that the name of Ruben Hostka has indeed gone across her desk on various items of Paramount paperwork. He’s not an intruder, after all. Office or no, he’s got a picture in post on the lot, and he belongs.