Monday, January 22, 2007

Memorials: Gary Graver and Ron Carey

A couple of people I know have passed away, Gary Graver and Ron Carey.

On Sunday there was a tribute to Gary Graver, who shot my INVISIBLE MOM movie and some other things I did some writing on, at the Egyptian Theater in Hollywood. He died at the end of last year of cancer (1938-2006). We had the same birthday.

Gary shot *hundreds* of movies. He's probably best known for his work with Orson Welles. Welles was kind of a washed up has-been, and Gary cold called him and offered to shoot his next film... then hung around Welles until there *was* a next film. For the next 15 or so years of Welles' life, Gary shot *everything* he did. Movies, TV shows, Japanese booze commercials... you name it, Gary shot it. Welles did this interesting documentary called F IS FOR FAKE (critereon, I think) about forgery - from a world famous art forger to Clifford Irving's fake biography of Howard Hughes (in fact, there's a new Richard Gere movie coming out about that). What was interesting about F is that Irving is their art forgery expert... as the fake bio story was breaking! So Irving becomes the subject of the movie - and I'm sure the Gere movie used F as ref (where else can you get Irving himself on film talking about it?). And the unused trailer for F... starred Gary!

Would Welles have made another film without Gary? Probably not. Gary was a bundle of energy, and Welles' #1 fan. He also worked for *free* for Welles. Anytime Welles wanted to shoot anything, he could just call up Gary and he'd show up with his equipment and a pick-up crew. People were telling stories about Gary calling them to crew at the last minute... for Orson Welles. Gary shot Welles' last film, starring John Huston, which he was editing and shooting pick ups for at the time of his death (Gary's - his devotion to Welles continued after Welles' death).

Gary also did 2nd unit on Cassavettes' A WOMAN UNDER THE INFLUENCE... and Speilberg's little film RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK. Gary shot GRAND THEFT AUTO for Ron Howard. Gary was cinematographer on over 200 movies, and directed over 100 himself. He did second unit or additional photog on zillions of movies - he worked on THE COLOR PURPLE! Name the movie - I'll bet Gary worked on it. Someone told a funny story on Sunday about getting a phone call from Gary asking if they could help with some insert shots - and it ended up being all of Gary's friends holding weapons for close ups in some movie that Gary got called to do inserts on. Who knows what movie that was?

I wasn't really a friend of Gary's - he just shot some stuff I wrote. But I'd bump into him at screenings sometimes and we'd talk for a while. He might mention something he shot from the past in passing - but mostly he talked about what he was doing now or what film he'd seen that he liked. Normal conversation with someone who you have *film* in common with. Sometimes I'd sit with him if I wasn't with friends. I remember bumping into him at some cinema, and he introduced me to his friend Curtis... and it took me a while to realize it was *Curtis Harrington* - director of one of my favorite movies GAMES. Gary knew everyone... and all kinds of people. He was always full of energy and excited about whatever he was working on. Someone on Sunday described him as a golden retriever - and that fits perfectly: he seemed to always be full of energy (and had this golden hair - natural - until the day he died). Running around the set doing last minute tweaks. Gary was also a loyal friend - we heard that from everyone who spoke. I didn't know he'd been ill, saw him a couple of years ago, and he'd slowed down. As if age had finally caught up with him... but he had some potential project and was looking for a script... and practically dragged me over to the producer. The excitment was still there - he wanted to make a movie! Nothing was going to stop him.

At the tribute they showed slides from Gary's films - so many films! So many different kinds of films - from art house to grind house to blockbuster. I looked at all of those films and felt that I am misusing my time - and that Gary was *constantly* doing the thing he loved. You'd see over a dozen films made the same year and wonder how he could work that fast, that good, on so many movies *in the same year*. And the variety - he would be shooting some T&A flick and follow that with something for Welles then some Spielberg pick up shots! He'd do some Gary Coleman family TV movie, some low budget horror flicks, then some art house movie!

And Gary would just help people make their movies. Sure, anyone might help Orson Welles, but Gary helped all kinds of people... and was still helping Welles after Welles had passed away. He shot a film in France for a first time director last year. And there were *two* well-known cinematographers at the tribute - and Gary gave both their start. He'd be offered two jobs at the same time, and give one to his assistant - instantly promoting him to DP. If someone needed something, he just gave it to them. That made me feel like a selfish slacker...

And made me want to do more to help everyone around me. To stop taking people for granted - they may not be here tomorrow. To be passionate about everything I do.

Gary was (and is) inspiring. He will be missed - but like Mad Max, he's going to live on forever in my memory.


RON CAREY - a comic actor best known as Leavitt on the BARNEY MILLER show died a couple of days ago. I've mentioned this a few times - back when I was a kid, my friend Van Tassell and I used to crash film sets. Any film shooting in the San Francisco Bay Area - we were there trying to act like we belonged. The very first film set I crashed was Mel Brooks' HIGH ANXIETY. I was a kid. I decided to dress like an adult - in a suit - so that I would fit in. Instead, I stood out like a nun in a whorehouse. Mel Brooks came up to me and asked if I was from the studio... I gave a non-answer. Brooks told me to tell them that he was on time and on budget. And with that, I was *not* kicked off the set for the 9 days they shot in the Bay Area. So, I'm on set, pretending to belong, and I bump into Ron Carey near the coffee urn. Hey, it's the guy from BARNEY MILLER! Of course, I don't say that outloud. Instead I make a joke about the paper cup in his hand. And he makes a paper cup joke... and it became Deuling Paper Cup Jokes. Each trying to out-do the other. Back then, I hadn't killed all those brain cells and we kept it going forever!

Ron asked me what I was really doing on the set, and I admitted I was a writer-director just trying to see how real movies were made. He said he was always looking for a comedy script that he could star in, and gave me his address and phone number. I actually had a comedy-action script I was working on called HEAD IN THE CLOUDS about a Janitor who pretends to be a spy to pick up girls, but when Terrorists overhear him - they think he's a real spy onto their big mission and try to kill him. Anyway, sent it to Ron who read it and said it wasn't exactly what he was looking for (I was, like, 18 years old - that script SUCKED). But to send him anything else that might work and call him if I was ever in town.

For years I would get a Christmas card made out to "Too Tall Martell" and eventually I drove down to LA and called him. He told me to come by the house. I drive over, met his wife (a nurse - I think her name was Nancy or Linda) and had some iced tea or lemonade. A couple hours later, I left to bother someone else... and continued to get Christams Cards for a few years until I moved or they moved. Never talked to him again... but without his kindness, I would never have done many of the things I have done. He was the first famous person I knew - and he treated me as an equal. That was one of those things that made my mind click from "film is something that people like me can never do" to "hey, maybe I can do this!"

What both of these guys had in common is a willingness to help complete strangers and a passion about their work.

This isn't a competition where screwing over the other guy puts you ahead. We're all in this together. We're here because we love movies and want to be a part of them... so let's work together instead of against each other.

- Bill

So... How was your day?

Happy New Year!

Some of you are probably wondering if I was abducted by aliens (why do they always have *rectal* probes?) and others are just wondering if this was going to become just another dead site. Nope. I'm still here.

And part 3 of the AFM entry is done (and posted), but many other entries are still on the To Do List. Problem is, that To Do List is getting out of control. It's almost endless!

I always have this crazy To Do List for the holidays - everything that didn't get done in the year so far. Add to that the London Recordings that need editing (still) and wanting to kick off the New Year with some New Script Tips (today was the first re-run, but there are new tips this week and for the next couple of weeks *written*). So, suddenly everyone wants to read scripts. Everyone. That's a good thing...

So, the plan for today was simple: I had to make copies of several scripts at Arnold's Copies on Ventura Blvd, plus I have to write a new opening scene for one of my scripts... you see, a big company that made some films I guarentee you saw in the cinema has requested this script of mine that I decided needed a new opening sequence - the current one is kind of flat. So that new opining was on the To Do List... but now it has to be done right away. And because this company is big, that puts the pressure on. Before I could have just knocked it out in a day or two, but now? It has to be *brilliant*. That has made the little critical dude on my shoulder take control and tell me that everything I write is crap. But today was the day I was going to finisg the new opening - #1 on the list. #2 is the copies. #3 is to respond to some questions that this crazy director has about a script of mine he's interested in - he gave it a quick read and has these questions... and I haven't gotten back to him (weeks) because I haven't read the script in a long time and want to make sure I get all this stuff right. Meanwhile, one of the scripts is for another director who is gearing up to make a film and wants a script I haven't written... and I have to talk him into using this one instead (which is actually a better idea and better suited to his skills as a director). But - that's work. Oh, also on today's list at #4 is call the Beverly Garland Hotel to book the theater for sometime in May for the 2 day class and call this producer who is looking for an action script and someone recommended me - #5. Oh, and another producer I met in a Starbucks who made a film that won an Oscar for screenplay - he read something of mine and wants me to call him about other projects - #6.

So, a busy day.

Over the weekend the DWP was tearing up my street and had the water shut off for a couple of hours... and this morning, I woke up to a leaky pipe in my bathroom. Drip. Drip. Drip. Those two may or may not be connected. But my bathroom is like a tiny lake. I build a towel-dam at the door to keep the rest of my apartment from washing away and tell the manager about it... so sometime next year it may get fixed. Meanwhile, I step out of the shower onto a wet floor - yech.

I grab the laptop and head to Starbucks. Not my normal Starbucks in Studio City that I've been going to since they opened their doors and the talkative lunatic at Priscilla's wouldn't leave me alone - you see, that Starbucks is so crowded that you can't get a table anymore. I go there at dinner hour, grab a table when people leave. During the day I'm at a different - undisclosed location - Starbucks. It's near a gym, so I get to see attractive women in work out clothes come in for a latte when I look up from my screen.

Today I get there... and every table is taken. Some sort of Starbucks hiring thing. People being interviewed for a job... so there's no place for customers to sit. I'm outside (not as cold as it was a week ago) working off battery... for almost 2 hours (battery lasts 2 hours). Finally, two compfy chairs open up. I grab one. A smelly homeless guy with all of his belongings in shopping bags grabs the other. Homeless guy is talking to himself. I put in earphones and listen to MAGNIFICENT SEVEN score - which reminds me to charge my ipod. Smelly Homeless guy has a free glass of water... which he knocks over - onto my pants. Then, he pretends nothing happened. Sweet! I'm covered in water, he's having a passionate discussion with himself.

So I go online, check my e-mail, and there are e-mails saying that a war has broken out on my website message boards. Swell. I have a problem guy on my boards who pops up, starts out sincere, then begins saying strange things and insulting other posters. My job, as host, is to keep the peace. I never kick people off my boards - after 7 years I think I've banned 3 people total. I want even the problem people to have a place where they can get some answers about screenwriting.

I go on the boards - and sure enough, my problem dude is acting up. I delete a couple of his crazy and insulting posts... then notice that not all of the e-mails were about the problem guy. I check another section - and there's this massive flame war under way. Perfect day for that.

A new poster has asked for feedback on his script. Another new poster has provided *pages* of feedback. A couple of regulars have also made some notes... and the guy who asked for feedback has hone ballistic - fighting with everyone over the notes and insulting them. Problem is, the other new poster has fought back - and now we have a war. So I delete all of the insulting posts and ask that everyone just calm down - and I also caution that it takes two people to fight, so even if you didn't throw the first punch - just don't throw the second. Let it die and there is no war.

That should have been the end of that. It has been in the past. Even with my problem dude, once I say "stop it" he usually apologizes and acts normal for a while.

Not with this guy. He wouldn't let it go. He keeps insulting people. I check my e-mail an hour later, and I have new e-mails from regulars who have been insulted by this guy. So I go back and try to calmly explain that we don't argue here. Then I go back to work...

Which ends up *not* being the new script opening, but rewriting a Script Tip. See, I forgot that they announce the Oscar Nominees tomorrow morning, and I have a tip that uses that as the lead. I have to rewrite it every year, because the movies change. Anyway, I finish that and check my e-mail... geeze, this new guy seems to not be quitting. When one person pisses off a bunch of regulars, I have to do something about it. Some of these regulars are *not* part of the ongoing insult war, they're just tired of reading all this crap.

So, once again I try to reason with this new guy. I explain that we don't argue here. He screams free speech... and I explain that there is no free speech on a message board that I'm paying for. I pay for that speech - it's not free. If I'm paying for it, I get to make the rules - and "no fighting" seems like a pretty non-controversial rule. My problem dude can follow it long enough to keep from getting kicked off - why can't this new guy?

Well, I don't know the answer to that, because he wrote a brand new insulting post to me *and* to one of the regulars who was being most helpful. So I had to ban the sucker.

By the time I was finished with all of this drama - Arnold's Copies on Ventura Blvd was closed and the people at Bev Gar had gone home for the day and it was too late to call producers. So just about *everything* from today's list gets shifted to tomorrow. I wonder if my leaky pipe got fixed...

- Bill (venting - sorry)
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