19 August 2007

california squirmin' -- the tail of the tale

PART 2 — weird scenes inside the gold mine

"There are moments—rare but real and wonderful—when the cacophonous absurdity of my own existence suddenly swirls into a symphony of impossible inevitability."

Of course, there are those other moments, too—when that cacophony just stays cacophonous. Rowdy and ragged, loud and weird. I tend to smile at those moments, too, cuz let's be honest: what the hell other choice is there?

When a guy like me finds himself in a damned Japanese tea room, fumbling to find "Nestea over ice" in a menu of some 453 different frou-frou imported teas, as windchimes tinkle and patchouli wafts and a Windham Hill riff moans pointlessly somewhere in the background of my hearing like a peaceful soothing mosquito burrowing into my brain, all I can do is shrug, clap and rub my hands together expectantly and ask the Universe "is that really all you got for me?".

It's 10:30 am and I'm in some hilariously affected and arch place on a stretch of Melrose so damned cool that it hurts to even think about it, sucking on a 5 dollar glass of something somewhat like iced tea as I mosey into a traditional Japanese garden and crunch across the carefully raked gravel and past the tranquil burbling fountain to a cozy table behind a stand of peaceful free-range carbon-free bamboo, and two of my three co-producers are in tow, and we meet our producer contact.

And let me tell you, friends and neighbors, your intrepid narrator again accessed little known reserves of patience and restraint, as what I wanted to do was just make a royal and total ass of myself to point up what seemed to me (and me alone) the hilarious preciousness of the locale.

Instead, I was calm. I maintained. I was, in a word, a total fuckin pro.

The meeting? Oh, we rocked the Casbah, baybee. By the end of the meeting our pro contact was hopping up and down with excitement over the potential for the idea we were suggesting, and he was clearly now On The Team, eager to get us to commit to another round of meetings. At the end of the allotted two hours, we were all smiles, and pro contact hurries to another meeting on Melrose, and as we members of the team turn the corner to head to the car, we have one of those sadly caucasian moments where we turn, smile and jump up and down a bit and maybe high five like middle aged white folk are sometimes prone to do when confronted by a giggly urge. It was all very "Miller time," but we recovered and hopped into the rental (my white four door Chevy Carbuncle) and at some point someone hands me a cellphone and I hear Terry Rossio saying "So, how was the meeting?"

Now, yes, it's a bit of shameless name-dropping to ref Rossio, but his inclusion in this tale is relevant as he very much relates to the title. Rossio is, as most anyone wasting time on a wannabee screenwriter's blog surely knows, half of the Rossio and Elliott writing team responsible for a few little movies you make have heard of: Pirates of the Caribbean, Shrek, Zorro, Aladdin, Road to El Dorado, Godzilla, ad nauseum. He's Money, baybee. yet he also has long been, for whatever odd reason, suspicously tolerant and encouraging and supportive of yours truly.

Rossio and I met a few years back at the Austin Film Festival, and in one of those oddly fun twists, he and I have stayed in touch. Given that I do not live in Hollywood, am neither some fancy-pants writer nor a moneyed connected producer (nor a busty bikini model type...), his interest in my is always a bit amusing given that I make it a point to treat Terry with absolute seething hostile abusive contempt whenever I see him or talk to him. Part of me suspects that such treatment is so unusual in his world—that he is so used to and inured to ass-kissery and fawning—that my hostility is somehow amusing or even refreshing. Or perhaps he plays with me for much the same reason that the cat plays with the mouse.


The point is, Rossio is on the phone and invites us up to see his new digs in Topanga Canyon. And like the man said, "Ray, when someone asks you if you are a god, the answer... is... YES!"

So off to Topanga we go.

It's a beautiful area—one that reminds me absolutely of the central Texas region where I and my family always go rafting and toobing every year, except instead of ramshackle tin-roofed cabins these hills are spritzed with hilariously overpriced little villas and compounds and dreamhomes. Rossio's chunk of heaven is a collection of Spanish mission styled buildings centered around a cool tower-topped white stucco hacienda home overlooking the canyon. Insanely cool place with a view worth, well, more money than I can ever imagine spending on a home on ten acres, but in Hollywood terms he got the place for a steal.

We park next to a battered VM van that looks like the real life model for the Scooby Doo Mystery Machine, wander through the garden and bang once before heading in the back door. Rossio pads around the corner into the kitchen and smiles, looking every bit the part of the absurdly successful Hollywood writer: barefoot, rumpled, in sweatpants and t-shirt. "The Dude" from Lebowski would be only slightly more relaxed and casual.

Rossio gives us the 2-dollar tour of the place, and it's obvious he's both insanely excited by and proud of this house, and it's easy to understand why. You labor for years as a writer, trying to push a greased boulder up an insanely steep incline, and then one day you look up and realize that You Have Made It. At that stage you either become an insufferable ass in your fancy home with your fancy car and fancy clothes, or you giggle at the absurdity of it all. Rossio stands in his bare feet on a second floor patio, admiring the view from his ping pong area, and laughs "it still makes me smile to come up here and say 'it's all mine! It's really all mine!'."

After the walkaround, and then the drive-around in "The Ladybuy," his four-man golfcart seemingly stolen from the old Logan's Run set, he says anyone else hungry?", and again I remember Winston Zedemore's advice (re: "are you a god"), so we all pile into Rossio's vanagon (yes, that's the ride of one of the most highly-compensated writers in Hollywood...) and rumble back down the canyon to some crazy biker joint in the heart of absolutely nowhere. I loved the place at once, at is absolutely reeked of no attitude. The outside tables were battered 10-dollar plastic patio furniture, and the menus were one page photocopies on cardstock, with ketchup stains and crayon doodles from a hundred previous kids. Terry springs for BLTs for all, two of my partners in this endeavor realize they have to bail early to get back to Hollywood to cut loose their babysitter, so they grab my rental and head back to Reality, leaving me and my other partner with TR, on a patio, under the oaks, as we debate and discuss favorite movies for an hour.

Rossio finally hauls us back to his place, where he pulls out a draft for a new Wordplay column and reads it to me so that he can (get this!) hear what I think about it, and then he and I go back to talking movies and shit for another hour or so. And here's the most truly weird and wonderful part of the entire trip for me: none of this seemed or felt even the tiniest bit odd or surreal. Yeah, Terry is Mr. Fuckin Hollywood these days, the kind of screenwriter you dream of becoming one day when you finally announce to yourself "I wanna be a screenwriter, and an audience with him should feel like an audience with the friggin' Pope (and do not ask me why I now think of His Holiness as "the friggin Pope" whenever I think of him), and when I get back and relate this tale (as I know even then I surely shall, and as we see now I surely have), I know the loopiness of it all will finally hit me with delayed intensity, but in that moment—at that specific singular instant—there's nothing even the slightest bit strange or unusual going on. He's not some hugely connected and successful writer, and I'm not some sniveling desperate pre-pro. Instead, we're two guys giggling and laughing and going "Yeah! Right! That's it!" when we are discussing favorite movie scenes and moments and memories.

Eventually the afternoon winds down, and we have to start back toward LA proper, and Terry walks us to the door and waves as he turns back to resume doing... well, whatever it is that he does. Down the canyon, out toward PCH (we were giving a lift to some vague mutual friend who happened to be up at Rancho Rossio, using TR's studio as a writing space), then south down the coast toward Santa Monica and then Hollywood.

"So, you seemed to be having a good time," says my producing partner as she drives. You two seemed to be having a fun convo.

"Yeah, Terry's good people." I explain needlessly.

We roll down a lazy mountainside highway on yet another gorgeous SoCal afternoon. To my right is a perfect California beach, where I later learn they shot the bulk of the old BAYWATCH series. Behind lies a good friend who happens to be a gazillionaire screenwriter. Ahead?

Hollywood, baybee. Hollywood.
navel of the Universe B


jj said...

Absurdly cool.

Ryan Rasmussen said...

Congrats on the pitch and the alarmingly upbeat tone. And thanks for sharing a little bit of your dreambuilding.

aggiebrett said...

I dunno about you people-- you make it seem like I'm some dark depressed little ball of gloom.

I'm all about the luv, man. All about the luv.
warm fuzzy B

Team Brindle said...

Thanks for sharing, Brett!

Emily Blake said...

I'm a little late in posting, but yay. Sounds like things are going well.

And indeed Terry is good people. At his Wordplayer gathering for POTC 3 he made sure to stand for a few minutes and talk to every single person there and really seemed to be listening to what we were saying and gave us some advice. I wanna be him when I grow up, but not so mannish.

Unknown said...

I don't know for sure, but I reckon I'd have gotten kicked out of Baylor if I hadn't referred to the Pope as "the friggin' Pope". Not a lot of people show up to fan club meetings for the Pope in Waco. (Which is too bad, of course, and the current inmate seems like a decent sort, if you discount his tin ear.)