28 January 2008

Nicholl Week -- Day the Fifth

Thursday dawned bright and early as always in LA. The Wife and I slept in a bit (anything past 8 AM seems a royal luxury), then padded down the hallway to grab a breakfast from the concierge lounge where, per usual, we bumped into some of the other finalists. The day would be the first in this trip where I did not have wall to wall meetings and obligations, and we'd made casual arrangements to hook up with a friend and go visit Terry Rossio for lunch.

And yes, that is a shameless bit of name-dropping, but believe me when I explain that I drop Rossio's name as much for my own amused amazement as for anyone else's. The Wife had heard me refer to Terry numerous times over the course of previous years, and she'd enjoyed PIRATES and SHREK and other Rossio-penned works, but she'd never met him or been able to put any sort of face onto the odd and typically skewed tales I'd spun of the man, so she was curious to finally meet this guy.

Steve, one of my best pals in LA, agreed to come play chauffeur for the day, as he was on extended sabbatical as a script of his own worked its way through the development tubes at a major studio in LA. Steve met us out front and away we zoomed to Topanga Canyon.

Winding through the canyon, I couldn't help but notice how much the terrain and scenery reminded me of the Hill Country of Texas, my favorite place on Earth. Of course, where roadside signs in the Hill Country might advertise "BBQ" or "dozer work for hire," in Topanga they seemed more often about "fish tacos" and "custom pottery."

"California," I chuckle to myself.

Just before noon, we turn off the main drag in Topanga (the only drag in Topanga) and head up the winding trail that leads to Casa del Terry. As we get halfway up the slope, Steve and I point to a stucco-and-tile mission style home topping the hill before us. We pull around the front and park next to Terry's oddly run-down VW Eurovan.

Terry's place sits atop a breeze-swept hill, with panoramic views in three directions and a slight secondary peak just behind the main house. A smaller outbuilding lies slightly down the hillside, joined to the main house by a road and a wandering trail through the scrub brush, Stone paths and walls and low fences meander across the ten or so acres of the property, and the entire place just oozes a relaxed casual quietness which is by design as far removed from the noise and glitz and plastic-ness of Hollywood as can be easily imagined. It's exactly the sort of place Id dream of owning if I were told that I have incredible means and an absolute need to live within daily commute of Hollywood.

"OK, now this I like," The Wife announces.

We wander to the back door on the pergola-shaded porch, knock twice, and then Steve—himself a close and longtime friend of Terry's—checks the door and leads us in. Steve calls through the house.

Four or five seconds later, Terry plods around the corner: barefooted, in sweatpants, bleary-eyed, hair tousled, and looking for all the world as if our arrival wakened him from a very comfortable slumber. He rubs his eyes, stretches, and smiles.

"Oh, hi. Yeah... lunch...." He stretches harder and smiles. "Well, let me get dressed and give Rebecca the tour. Come on-- we can start with the closet..."

Steve and I chuckle, as this is vintage Terry. I have often described him as seeming eternally like a cat being disturbed from a nap in a shady spot on the floor: somehow there, but not tremendously impressed or concerned about being there.

Terry loves this house and property and it clearly shows as he leads us around, pointing out all his favorite views and favorite little nooks and crannies, talking about all the plans for the various buildings and property. It seems clear that this is not just a place to crash. This is home: his haven, his safe place in the world, and he intends to make it everything he has every dreamed of finding or having in such a place.

We check out some concrete work being done on a retaining wall near a building soon to become a fully equipped AV editing studio. We admire the new hilltop hot tub maybe from a giant wine cask. We admire the views, the breeze, the scents of lavender and sage.

Wandering back to the back porch, we find a delivery has been made: a large ("heavy") custom made ("extra heavy") wrought iron wine rack.

"Oh, great! It got here in time!" Terry says as he walks past without slowing. "Bring it in here, guys."

Steve and I look at each other and start giggling. "It's Terry's world, I grumble as we lift the damned iron monster and lug towards the door. "We're just workin' in it."

Terry directs us dumb laborers as we wrestle the hundred pound beast into a small recess in the wall adjacent to the kitchen. The fit is so tight I fear we'll need to grease the rack to squeeze it into place, but with one well-applied shove it slips in like a shell into a chamber. Terry seems pleased—apparently this rack has been a bit of an ongoing problem.

"OK, before we head to lunch, we have to do something," Terry explains. "I'm going to insist."

Turns out we have to play ping pong on his patio. Terry is a slightly competitive guy, so he loves this "friendly" chance to assert dominance over strangers. I and The Wife end up as a team, which is a joke in its own right, but made funnier by the fact that we might have a combined 15 years on us since the last time either of us picked up a ping pong paddle. We go down in short order, and I make a point of pointing out to Terry that we'd never think of showing up the host on his home table.

We head down the hill and meet at a local burger and sandwich kind of place -- the kind of place where you sit on nine-dollar plastic patio chairs and sweep away the dead leaves and dust from the outdoor tables, where there might well be as many people arriving by bike or Harley as by car. Terry's (cute/smart/fun/blonde/Harvard-degreed) girlfriend joins us for lunch, and we sit around and talk about movies and the strike and how weird a time is it is to be in Hollywood right now, even as a supposed Major Award Non-Winner.

After a relaxed lunch (where I think we all wound up swapping plates to nibble on whatever the others had left behind, be it chips or slaw or fries or free range jicama or whatever), I mumble that it might be good for us to start heading slowly back towards LA just to make sure we have no surprises or delays. After all, Thursday night is THE dinner, the main reason for coming to LA in the first place, when the Fellows pick up their certificates (and first installments of their cash awards!), and when I and the Wife get all gussied up in our finery.

It's well before 2 pm, the cocktail hour for the dinner starts at 6:30, and the dinner itself at 7:30, so we're in fine shape as we hug goodbye to Rossio and girlfriend.

We elect to head south out of Topanga, turning onto PCH near Malibu just a few minutes later. It's a gorgeous sunny day, the Pacific is annoyingly glorious, and The Wife suggests we pull over for a moment to check out the beach. We slide in to park behind a yellow Lambo convertible (welcome to Hollywood!), wander the seawall, and notice the Santa Monica boardwalk just up the coast, so decide to swing by and check that out since we have so much time.

The pier and accompanying human scenery is interesting, and we wander for a bit before deciding to walk down to Venice to grab a beer. Of course, by the time we make that mile hike, work down a brew, and then hike back to the car, it's time to head back, so we slide back onto the road, ease up to speed, round a bend, and... stop.

Dead stop. Before us stretches a line of taillights broken only by the curvature of the Earth.

We sit in silence for a moment or two before I finally chuckle. "So how bad of a problem do we rate this?"

says Steve flatly, "is bad."

What makes this bad is not only the fact that The Wife and I need to be back to the hotel in time to shower and change and then drive back across Hollywood, but Steve also has a major social engagement -- he's the president of local men's social order and they have a major induction event that same evening, an event where he will be required to swing by his home and strap on a tux and tails.

So, this is bad.

There is some horrendous traffic snarl between us and Hollywood, and all we can do for the next 2 hours is to sit and sweat. The start time for the cocktail comes, then slides into the rearview: 6:30... 6:50... 7:15... At a certain point all we can do is giggle and sigh, as complaining and whining won't do a damned bit of good.

At 7:35, we are a block away from our hotel, still mired in gridlock, so The Wife and I roll out at a red light and spring through traffic. We reach our hotel room at 7:40, sporting a day's worth of sweat, hat-head, and tourist-funk, so a shower is mandatory. Somehow we apparently fold time, as we both sprint out the front door of the hotel, fully dressed and well-gussied, some 17 minutes later. The Red Chevy POS stands waiting, we dive in, and I smile. "Hold on. We shall now violate several traffic laws."

I can tell you from personal experience that Santa Monica Boulevard is interesting at 74 MPH. I was frankly a bit surprised that we neither killed anyone nor drew the ire of the local constabularies, but God was, for once it seemed, on our side, and we slide into the breezeway of the Regent Beverly Wilshire "only" 40 minutes late.

We spring into the dining room, find everyone already seated and I note that the salad course is still in service, with entrees just starting to roll from the kitchen. I spot Joan, Greg's assistant in the Nicholl office, and she chokes, waves, and runs to me.

"THERE you are! Come on -- you're table is right over here."

We find our seats, apologize to the 8 or so people at our table, and I spin some quick and ridiculous retelling of our day as our salads and wine appear. I glance around the room and spot the other finalists. Lisa Gold shakes her head at me to say "you're an idiot!". Dave Mango's slight smile and shake of disbelief says much the same. I toast my wine glass to them and commence to socializing with my locals.

The rest of the evening goes off splendidly: apparently guests are seated at the tables of finalists based upon some scheme whereby your biggest fans sit elbow to elbow with you. At least, that's how I have to assume it works, or else there was some seriously weird juju at work. The gentleman seated to my right introduces himself and makes some small talk, then asks me if I was an entrant, and I say yes and he asks what my script was, and I tell him and he drops his mouth open and stares at me for a beat and then says "You're KIDDING me! THAT was yours? YOU wrote QUEEN OF THE SKY?"

For a moment I wonder if perhaps he intends to stab me with an unused shrimp fork—clearly there is something weird afoot.

He turns to his wife and grabs her by the arm: "Dear! Remember that script I was telling you about—the Russian pilot one? This young man wrote it!"

He then proceeds to spend the next 20 minutes of the dinner praising me to the heavens and explaining what a miraculous bit of fortune this is for him as he thinks that's his favorite script he's ever read in 8 years of reading for the Nicholls and my god it's amazing that I was able to generate such sympathy for a COMMUNIST flyer as he hates the goddamned Communists and I toast him to hating goddamned Communists and he absolutely will drink to that and he goes on and on and I look at The Wife and she's smiling and to hr left there's another slightly older couple who seems late in coming to understand that I actually wrote that script about the (goddamned) Communist flyer and then HE starts singing my praises and there's this very weird lovefest going where I am seated off to one side of the room, away from the winners of the evening, and yet I am being tongue bathed by total strangers who claim to have been deeply moved my some words I once scribbled on a page.

I gotta tell ya, people: if that feeling were available in pill form, I can see myself becoming seriously hooked on it, as it is nothing short of amazing. I glance around the room and check the other finalists, and in most cases I can see they are experiencing something of the same: strangers, industry players, people who know movies and writing and drama, all hosing us down with the sort of genuine respect and approval and validation that you never get on a regular basis. I start to get a little weirdly emotional as it finally fully starts to sink in where I am, what I've done, what this all means.

The new Fellows are introduced and step forward to receive their award certificates and the little white envelope that contains the great big check. Various industry pros—Susanna Grant, Dan Petry, etc.—introduce my friends with words and respect which would have seemed totally far-fetched a week or two previous. I see them stand at the podium and offer some fumbling words to try and convey what this means, what this feels like, and I see them take their turns posing in front of the huge Oscar statues as press photos are snapped. I smile and feel truly happy for and proud of my friends as they claim their honors. The Wife puts a hand on my knee and smiles. "You doing OK?"

I smile and shrug, and nudge my chin towards the podium where Amy and Cecilia are accepting their goodies. "I really wanted to win."

She leans over and smiles "I think you'll do OK."

Phil Alden Robinson, writer of Field of Dreams, one of my all-time favorite flicks, offers some brief fun comments as the keynote speaker, we have a few other very brief speakers, and before you know it dinner winds down and we all applaud a great evening done well. My new old goddamned Commie hating fan grabs my hand and says "Come on—I want to introduce you to someone."

I turn to try and say something to The Wife, but she just giggles and waves me away, saying "go do whatcha gotta do, man...". New old fan pulls me down front, and I wave at a few of my pal Fellows and they laugh that I again seem tangled in some goofy situation.

"Brett? I want you to meet Sid Ganis, President of the Academy."

Sid turns and smiles. "Hey, Brett. Glad to see you made it. Enjoy the evening?"

"Good to see you again, Sid. The evening was great. Thanks for all this, truly."

New old fan stares at me. "You know Sid?

I shrug. "We've met."

New old fan humphs, grabs my hand and drags me into the crowd again. He pulls me up to a large man with his back turned, and he taps on the gentleman's shoulder.

Dan Petry turns around, looks at new old fan, sees me, smiles. "Brett! What are you doing in here? I was hurrying to try and catch up to you in the bar! You gonna stick around and have a drink?"

"What do YOU think, Dan?"

Dan and I laugh, as new old fan again seems slack jawed. "Do you know EVERYBODY?" he asks.

"Not just yet."

New old fan and I wander back to the table, and we exchange business cards and I promise that I will keep him informed is this script manages to grab any success in the coming months and years. "Well, it was an real pleasure to meet you," he says. "I look forward to bragging that I met you way back when."

He leaves, and I catch The Wife giving me that look—the "don't even try making it seem like you weren't loving every minute of that" look. I shrug, give her a peck on the lips, and drag her back to the front to try and see some of my pals before they all get sucked into the night.

I manage to catch up to most of the other finalists, and I use the moment with each to forward Terry's invite to his little house party the following evening. Most seem thrilled by the possibility of meeting a writer like Rossio who is, for now, pretty much sitting on top of the moneymaking mountain for screenwriters. He is the impossible absurd fantasy that most of us are too scared to admit ever having: what if I not only sell a script, but sell several, and they become hits, and folks line up to haul truckloads of cash to my door to write yet more movies which become even bigger hits?

Things wind down and we start to ease into the Beverly Wilshire bar, but on the way I spot Phil Alden Robinson saying his goodbyes and heading to the door as well. I push over and grab some eye contact. "I just had to say 'god damn you, Phil Robinson'."

He looks at me with a moment of confusion.

"Damn you for the final four minutes of FIELD OF DREAMS, 'cuz it makes me blubber like an injured first grader to this day whenever it comes on. I can’t not watch it and I cant not cry when I do. So damn you."

Robinson laughs. "It does the same thing to me! What can I say? We got lucky and had a perfect execution to some of the best writing I've managed. It makes me cry and I wrote the goddamned thing!"

We shake hands and go our separate ways, and again I see The Wife smirking at me. "You’re actually very good at this. You now that, right?”

I smile. We head for the bar. After this day, there's drinkin' to be done.

- - -

In the crowded bar we wind up spending an hour or so hanging out with the Petry’s and most of the other finalists. I wind up with Dave Mango where we again debate the weirdness of this environment and whether or not this is really where and how we want to work. We both agree that we miss our kids, and that Hollyweird seems a truly terrifying place to try and raise kids, and we agree that neither of us would wish for that specific situation.

We polish off our various libations, shake what hands need shaking and make what hugs need making. I snap my fingers and the valet brings up the Red POS between a big mean Hammer-tricked Benz sedan and gorgeous Bentley drop top.

Yeah, I’m total fuckin’ money, baybee.

We head back to the fabo Renaissance, make the obligatory brief stop at the World’s Worst Hotel Bar, chuckle that last call comes down at 11:43, then polish off our drinks and retire to our rooms, wiped out by the day’s fun.

The Wife brushes her teeth as I stand and stare out at Hollywood, wondering if the view ever stops seeming surreal.

‘Cuz it damned sure hasn’t yet.

(to be continued...)
drifting between worlds B


jj said...

Great job.

You make me feel like I was there. It's a vicarious thrill, a contact buzz. I'm really thrilled you're not only getting the chance to experience all this but can write it down in such detail that you can share it with us and never forget a second of it.

Continued good luck.

aggiebrett said...

Heh. What good are memories if we don't waste time embellishing and dramatizing?




Unknown said...

Wait, wait, wait... Last call actually comes at 11:43?! What the hell is that about?

marcoguarda said...

Once again -- WOW! Talk about a week!

aggiebrett said...

One does not secure the title of "World's Worst Hotel Bar" without some degree of dedication.

We were there nearly a week and we were never able to figure out how or why the hotel bar would suddenly alert us that it was time to shut down. Usually it was before midnight, and always there were plenty of people still enjoying cocktails and conversation.

They might well have had a large Keno wheel in back with lots of various random times marked around the outside, and they'd spin the wheel and whatever number came up was that evening's magical random last call.

On the bright side, it's not as if the place was so warm and chummy that anyone ever was the tiniest bit heartsick at having to leave.


Unknown said...

Ah, then no worries. I thought there was some sort of insane LA alcohol sales law that I had somehow never heard. Cause you never know... We still got dry counties in North Carolina, so I try not to taking my boozin' for granted.

Emily Blake said...

I dunno. I feel like this story was lacking.

Every paragraph I thought the next guy you met was going to ask you and your wife to come upstairs and join his kinky orgy.

This did not happen.

I feel let down.

Julie O'Hora said...

Emily, you need to read his Austin recaps.

deepstructure said...

i don't who this terry character is, but im pretty sure i recognize that steve guy! :)

Tavis said...

Thanks for the memories-- and ideas. I need to brush-up on my ping-pong skills. When I meet Terry he's going down!

Webs said...

Love the tags, too. Now hurry up and send me the goddamned Communists script already.

suzbays said...

You left out the part about the wine rack.

aggiebrett said...


I did-- I walked away while writing this and it was right at that moment in the stupid tale.

Well, edits are a coming.



Stephen said...

Is the green stuff oozing outta my eyeballs actual ENVY? That sh*t stings!

Now I got goo all over my keyboard. Thanks a bunch. ;-p

(Can't wait for the next installment!)

japhy99 said...

Bravo Brett.

Good to see you're embracing this with the right energy and attitude. A lot of people would be so swarmed by their ego or their false modesty that they would forget that something like this is just goddamn exciting and fun and should be savored.