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Warfare Hollywood

Dodging bullets Hollywood style.

Bob, my screenwriter friend, likes to pull all-nighters with pizza, beer and Marlboro Lights. And he’s got more love for the City of Angels than anyone I know--an admirable amount, perhaps only rivaled by Anthony Kiedis. A huge fan of film noir, he knows things like the original title of Vertigo (“Darkling, I Listen“) and excitedly recommends Rear Window to me: “You’re watching Jimmy Stewart watching people.”

 

We’re sitting at Birds in Hollywood, sharing a couple beers, and Bob’s smoking one of those trademark Marlboro Lights. He divulges a hidden niche for the aspiring screenwriter: “Video games are an untapped resource, the ark of the covenant, the holy grail of entertainment. Spielberg has a think tank for video games.” Bob is an eclectic fountain of information.

 

When he alighted in Los Angeles, ready to fulfill his destiny in show biz, he was as we all are: fiercely optimistic, burning with ambition, and full of creative ideas. “We kicked the door down,” he said, “It was like ‘We have arrived, city, you should pay attention to us. We have arrived.’ Of course everything we want is going to happen. The only reason it won’t is if we don’t want it enough.”

 

It seemed everyone he talked to in the business asked the same questions: Are you SAG? Are you union? As if his answer measured his talent or possibility of success.

 

“Fuck that,” he says fiercely. “I don’t need that. Watch this. I’m just gonna pick up this camera and go.” He puffs his smoke. “ ‘Am I union?’ Fuck that, I’m just this guy with a camera.”

 

Birds is starting to get more crowded as scenesters and hipsters and actors fill it up. Our fried appetizer sampler has long since congealed between us and we both ignore it, get another Amstel Light. Bob tells me about his first attempts working this way, putting the “guerilla” in “slasher film.” As in, and I quote dictionary.com: 1. a member of a band of irregular soldiers that uses guerrilla warfare, harassing the enemy by surprise raids, sabotaging communication and supply lines, etc. (Sounds a little bit like “The Blair Witch Project.”)

 

Ironically, at the time Bob felt that the presence of a story was unnecessary. He also had no budget, no money. Working under the theory that there’s inherent drama in the most simple scene on screen, he did indeed arm himself with a camera and go. “If you see a masked killer with a knife chasing after a busty blonde--that’s inherent drama,” he explains. “And it’s kinda funny. When do you ever see that happen? The movies make you believe you see that every day.”

 

Picture this: a dark street. Lonely. Quiet. A sputtering streetlamp. The music carries that heavy, pulse-like beat and a feeling of dread grows in your gut. It’s too dark. Too quiet. Something’s amiss. Suddenly the killer pops up! “And it’s like BOOM!” Bob says with excitement, “And then you laugh!”

 

“We did a car chase on Mulholland Drive,” he grins. It was set up so that the victim was being strangled in her car with the seatbelt, with the car on cruise control. The tension builds to a white knuckled crescendo and then at the climax--we suddenly cut to a scene where someone is watching TV and a car crash happens on the screen.

 

Of course, there were snags. For example, Bob had to pay his editor--out of pocket. But, he rationalized, if he had to pay, he’d probably get his money’s worth. Not so. The editor was new to the scene, and had never edited anything with a running time of over 15 minutes prior--and Bob’s movie was clocking in at an hour. There were technical problems, the editor kept running out of space on his hard drive, and the sound wouldn’t sync up. The whole thing started to look tonally wrong, and meanwhile the editor was complaining about the lack of union standards. “Fuck your professionalism!” Bob wanted to shout, “I just want it to look good!”

 

“This and we were still putting the story together,” he said. “Now that last part may sound a little squirrelly to some but it's pretty much the truth in any cutting

room. You don't know what you have until you start assembling it.”

 

Miraculously, he didn't come across any problems with his cast. “It was pulling teeth

but it always is.” Mostly, it was the non-actors who went above and beyond--they were having fun--while the “so-called serious actors” weren’t thrilled about being in a slasher movie. In keeping with is no-budget, no-script, balls-to-the-wall method, he directed them in a way that gave them a lot of free-reign. “Which is also a way of saying ‘no direction,’” he admits with a sly grin.

 

He’d say, “Just act like you would in this situation.” But, he says, “Actors don’t like acting like themselves. Now, non-actors have no problem. It’s like playing a cartoon of themselves.”

 

The cast and crew had commandeered the duplex of a friend off Detroit Street in West Hollywood. The owner and her roommates would be gone during the shoot--they had to pick someone up from the airport. The bathroom was set up to shoot a fight scene between a victim and his killer. “Physical stunts are so much easier for non-actors and they're really fun to shoot too.”

 

With each take, the fight got more and more intense.

 

“During an intense and very physical take--the actors were getting really blood-thirsty--the door to the shower got in the way and broke...meaning it opened, but the wrong way. It wasn't even part of the action but somehow got in the way:

 

CUT.

 

Emergency time.

How long until the girls get back?

Can we find superglue?

Is this fixable?

 

Answers:

10 minutes.

Got superglue!

Can it be fixed?

Sort of.

Good enough.

 

The movie did indeed get finished. And three months later, there was even a showing, complete with the duplex girls in the audience. The bathroom fight scene came on.

And, for production value, the breaking of the door was left in. Evidence, on tape.

 

There was a collective gasp from the duplex girls. Later, they told Bob that about a week after the scene was shot, the door had mysteriously popped out. But they thought it looked great on film.

 

“Another bullet dodged,” Bob grins. Yeah, that sounds like Hollywood.

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