Seize the Day

WRITING - Joe Bob's America


In the fifties, college students wanted to write the Great American Novel.

This won't work in the nineties, because college students can't read. So now they want to make the Great American Movie
Film school is VERY hip. If you're rich and smart and connected, you go to USC Film School. If you're not quite as hip, you go to New York University Film School. If you have to claw your way to the top, you go to UCLA Film School. But even if you have no money and you're dumber than dirt, you at LEAST go to the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff Film School, because film is something you can get your heart and soul into. The great thing about film is that, actually, NOBODY knows EXACTLY how they're made--which means that maybe even YOU can make one.

And, if you're very lucky and very talented, you'll have a career that goes like this:

Freshman year: You watch every film that Akira Kurosawa ever made, in the original Japanese, WITHOUT SUBTITLES, because you believe film "is an art form that's only limited by words. The film is my canvas, not my soapbox. Kurosawa showed us how to paint, not to preach."

Sophomore year: You go to movies from France where nothing happens but "the cinematography is exquisite." You talk to your friends about "the nature of light as the essence of life."

Junior year: You have heated discussions about whether the films of John Ford are "parables of the violent American soul" or "damn good Westerns."

Senior year: You make your first film. It's called "Chicago Interlude," the story of a housewife-turned-prostitute who is driven to suicide by her shame.

Now you're 22 years old. You go to Hollywood. You have meetings. You show everyone your film. Guys named Murray watch it and tell you how great it is. Finally, one of them offers you a job--to direct "Naked Cannibal Women." You have three weeks to get the script ready, four weeks to make the movie, and you'll get $5,000 when you turn it in.

And what do they all say? Do they say, "Well, it's not the kind of Kurosawa visionary piece I was looking for?" OF COURSE NOT! They say, "All right, I'll direct 'Naked Cannibal Women,' but in my hands this movie will become a STATEMENT. Through the experience of the naked cannibal women, we will see a powerful parable for the feminist struggle against male . . . uh . . . male DIETARY PRACTICES."

And so they go out and make "Naked Cannibal Women," and when it's finished, a producer calls them in and says, "Okay, what's your background." And they say, "Well, uh, I made this one little exploitation picture, but I'm ready to move BEYOND that now." And the producer says, "How much did the picture cost?" And they tell him how much it cost. And then the producer says, "I need somebody to make 'Viking Lust Queens.'"

And do they say "No, I'm really beyond that now"? OF COURSE NOT!

They say, "I always bring my pictures in under budget."

And so ten years later, they've not only got "Viking Lust Queens" on their credits, but they've also made "Blood Pact," "Lust Devils," "The Secretary," "Blood Pact II," "Mad Mama," and "Skull."

Now they're saying things like, "Twenty years from now, people will realize that these are the true statements about our culture. Angie Dickinson and Robert Culp are both interested in 'Skull 2.' That shows you how far this type of genre experiment has come in terms of star acceptance."

And then finally, when they're forty years old, they get their big break--a two-part movie-of-the-week starring Johnny Depp, Traci Lords, Glenn Ford, Denzel Washington, with "a special appearance by David Carradine as Booger Johnson." The project is called "Don't Let Mommy Beat Me Anymore," and it airs on Monday and Tuesday of sweeps week, scoring a solid 21 Nielsen rating the first night, dipping to an 18 the second night. The show is nominated for two Emmies and receives a special citation from the President's Council on Child Abuse.

Ten years later, the same director has made 25 more TV movies, specials, and dramatic pilots, including "Confessions of a Crackhead" starring Wayne Newton.

"Television is the true American art form," the director is saying now. "We can all be proud of this work. We've changed things with these projects."

And then one day the guy is 55, and he's thinking, "You know, after all these years, maybe I could just direct one movie with Robert DeNiro, or maybe one of those fantasy things, or a special-effects picture." And he takes a few meetings. And everybody is very polite to him.

And then a guy named Murray says to him one day, "Have you seen this tape? Lemme show it to you. Kid out of NYU Film School made it. It's called 'Akron Interlude.' There's a great part at the end where the woman commits suicide. I'm thinking of giving the kid a shot."

And the guy knows it's over. He knows something got lost in there, but he doesn't know exactly what it is. He knows he never really did anything wrong, but he knows that SOMETHING got between him and intentions.

Something did.

It's called money.