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Luke Gets Mail
Will writes: Well, this has been bugging me all day, so I managed to jog my memory for the number of Rabbi DDD and gave him a call.
I am not going to be able to quote Torah on the rabbi's behalf, however, the simple explanation he offered at the beginning of the conversation would be the easiest to attest to anyway. "All Jews are bound to Halakhah," Rabbi DDD explains. "Your friend is in clear violation of our law if he participated in the pornographic industry, even as an observer, after converting." Additionally, he said your conversion would not be accepted by Orthodoxy if it were performed by a Reconstructionist, Reform or Conservative rabbi.
So you may have two problems. The first is your practice in the field of pornography after conversion and the second would be the nature of your conversion. Assuming your conversion was under the tutelage of an Orthodox rabbi, DDD asserts that your behaviour after conversion (I assume I am correct to indicate to him that your conversion took place long before you sold your web site) labels you for banishment from the Orthodox community.
I put him on the spot, asking what he would do if you approached him to attend shul within the constructs of his flock: "If your friend lived here, I would entertain such a question. But as he lives in Los Angeles, you are asking me to comment on a hypothesis which is unlikely to occur." Obviously I could not press him further -- he is a customer of mine and was losing interest with our conversation.
So, in the end I think the answer is simply that you converted then continued to earn a living from an industry which operates in contradiction of Jewish law. As such, you would not be recognized as a member of the Jewish community -- especially not within the confines of the Orthodox community. Part of God's law for Jews is to ensure the strength of the community. Each rabbi is responsible to ensure the health of his congregation and allowing the influence of a pornography writer, especially a convert, can easily be argued as an unnecessary risk. Once a violator, always a violator - in other words. I could not get DDD to offer any solutions to your situation. I asked if there was any way you could get back in etc., and he said it was best for you to speak to a rabbi in your own area for further instruction. I also mentioned my idea of you writing a letter asking for an invitation while spilling all the beans on the table and he did not comment favourably on the idea.
So, I guess you will have to talk with a rabbi to learn more about your predicament but at least I feel we have garnered some information to explain why you appear to not be welcome at shul these days. I would think an understanding rabbi will let you in once you explain yourself - but I would ask first and be up front with information about your 'transgressions.' Clearly, within the Orthodox community you are not recognized as a Jew and therefore should not attend shul until something changes your status - if that is indeed possible. I would think your chances would be better with a Conservative shul, but they are not as adherent to the rules and this may not be of similar interest to you.
Luke: There's a nice Conservative shul down the street, I may join it.
Will writes: I would truly like to see you find a home in the Jewish community where you are accepted, like everyone else, as a full member and therefore have access to the teaching and social environment which makes a synagogue a healthy mark on the landscape. Myself, being Jewish by birthright is a cultural identification which I have a great respect for.
Still, having been raised by an Anglican and a Catholic, I like my shellfish and feel my lifestyle would be hindered by full participation in the Jewish community. I certainly wouldn't want to participate as a fraud, though I do shun pork just because it is nasty.
Your situation as a well-meaning and committed convert is most interesting to me. I am still appalled that there is not enough forgiveness in Orthodox Judaism to find a spot for you at shul, however, I am confident you will find a solution in the near future if you let yourself be guided to the place you need to be through prayer and meditation. Human intuition is a very strong instinct which we too often ignore. I think you can use your intuition to find a home in the community soon.
I just had a wonderful web-cam chat with another rabbi who offers this advice: ("If he is not doing it now, feels remorse about the past, and wont do it again, he did true tshuvah (repentance). They should accept him.")
This rabbi also said you should consider the rejections with love and joy as they are an opportunity to cleanse yourself in this life. This was a somewhat interesting perspective - that they are doing you a favour by rejecting you.
So it appears the whole issue is based on observances and repentance as well as the issue of whether or not your conversion was handled by an Orthodox rabbi. Apparently, forgiveness is as much a part of the Jewish community's beliefs as it is of the Christians', but proper conversion is required in order to become an Orthodox Jew in a manner which will be recognized among a group of peers.
At one time I attended Christian churches for Bible Study and would also attend the services. There was a minister at a Pentecostal church who had a great deal of charisma, but was also a great Bible Study teacher. Because I admired him and his knowledge I spent far too many Sundays attending his classes and services. Still, I did not agree with many of the Pentecostal beliefs and practices - especially the concept of speaking in tongues - and I eventually realized that this was not a place I belonged.
It is my impression, based on what you have told me, that you are infatuated with the idea of being an Orthodox Jew while unwilling to practice the lifestyle in a manner which would make you truly Orthodox. The Orthodox may be the minority but they are truly the strongest voice in Judaism, and therefore not a group you would want to piss off - to put it bluntly.
Maybe this is the lesson God has put in your hands Luke: That your path will be somewhat different from what you admire and perhaps be one which you can walk without incident. You say you threw yourself into porn journalism and it sounds like you did it with a certain amount of passion. As a person who believes we must all do what we love to do and as a person who believes that God is not the punishing entity we make him out to be, I would implore you to find what you want to do inside yourself - regardless of the impact such a decision will have on your relations with members of the Jewish community.
You want to make a big splash - have an amount of celebrity - get noticed. So far all your fame comes from your work on the outskirts (and inskirts) of the porn industry. The only thing that draws you away from this potential market is a concern of what other Jews might think of you. I think you should pursue your dreams, and if that means you want to be famous you have a very good start developed in the porn racket and could continue along those lines without breaking any real rules about living.
At some point in the far off future, the current pornography industry will be studied for anthropological and sociological purposes. Who knows what it might become and who knows if it will one day cease to exist? Your name will get attached to it no matter what else you do with your life. So, if you are going to have to wear the hat you might as well have the matching wallet Luke.
I don't personally have any issues with the porn industry, or with pornography. People bitch about exploitation etc. but I don't think the women in porn are dumb enough to think they are not being exploited. They do it for the money and the ones who also like the sex stay with it as long as they can sell their wares. It is just like the argument about ethical clothing purchases - don't buy if made in a Chinese prison etc. - where people feel they are doing someone a favour by cutting off their livelihoods. True, conditions in foreign factories could be improved but these jobs are feeding people who otherwise might not have a means of support. In a Chinese prison, for example, one can spend the day making machines for export or listen to ten hours of communist propoganda. If I were incarcerated there I would prefer to make the machines for export. So yes, I would buy a sewing machine which was manufactured in a Chinese gulag - especially if it were just as good in quality as a machine costing twice as much coming from a more ethical source. Who are we kidding after all? In North America we consume enough resources to feed 50 times as many people with more realistic lifestyles - but we want to discuss ethics? Please.
If This Is How They Treated That Nice Boy Mohammed...
Chaim Amalek writes: I had a great email on this but my computer ate it. I think I said something like the producer interviews are boring and that's why they hate you and you need to recreate that radio show of yours or something. And that if this is how the Jews of Arabia treated that nice boy Mohammed, no wonder there are all these troubles.
I don't care what the Jews say about you. You are still the fastest cut and paster in the biz.
Reform Chicks Are Easy
Chaim Amalek writes: Now that you no longer attend orthodox shuls, you can hit up on the wives of all the fancy-pants jews you meet in Conservative shul, and join them for some swinging good times in the reformed shuls!
Remember, reform chicks are easy!
Gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson writes Molly Sorenson.
There are more great examples of scathing letters at Musefilm.com.
I walked into Muse Productions post-modern office, designed by Frank Gehry's firm, on Brooks Avenue near the Venice Beach at 2PM, November 8, 2001, for my interview with producer Chris Hanley (Buffalo 66, The Virgin Suicides, American Psycho and 14 other films).
After 20 minutes, Chris bounds up the stairs, his hair wet. About 45 years of age, he stands a muscular 6'2 and vibrates with energy.
In a big airy white room, we sit opposite each other on genuine all-cardboard chairs. Several members of Hanley's staff walk in and out, answer phones and work on computers.
Chris speaks so rapidly about numerous areas in which I'm ignorant that my mind strains to keep up. Our interests and backgrounds are radically different. Many of Hanley's films (like American Psycho) frighten me.
After graduating Amherst College in Massachusetss in 1978, Hanley started his career in the music business as the founder of Intergalactic Music, Inc., a company that supplied vintage Fender and Gibson guitars to rock stars. In the early 1980s, Intergalactic opened a recording studio in New York City, and initiated the first wave of electronic rap music with artists such as Africa Bambatta, Rockers Revenge, New Edition, Jellybean, Lisa Lisa and the Cult Jam. The studio later recorded the music of The Ramones, Keith Richards and Ron Wood, Billy Idol, Bob Dylan, Tibetan Monks of Dahlai Lama, the Brecker Brothers, Michael Kamen, Charlie Sexton, David Sanborn and Bobby Brown.
In 1984, Hanley launched Rock Video International, the first company to license MTV videos for distribution in Japan and the first to bring music videos to the Eastern Bloc countries, the then-U.S.S.R. and Hungary. RVI expanded its licensing and was the first to bring the video disk jukebox to Japan, and later, the first to bring Japan's "karaoke" to the United States and the rest of the world. RVI produced 400 videos, 650 audio recordings and obtained 1,000 synchronization licenses for the karaoke project, which employed hundeds of music video directors, studio musicians and audio engineers in RVI's 48-track digital control rooms.
In 1987, Hanley formed Art Associates, Inc., to deal works by the late Andy Warhol (whom he knew) and other "pop" artists such as Lichtenstein, Jasper Johns, Robert Rauschenberg and Ed Ruscha, as well as minimalists Judd, Sol Lewit, Richard Serra and Arschwagger. By 1990, Art Associates was known internationally for its representation of such edgy, contemporary artists as Jean-Michel Basquiat, Julian Schnabel, Bickerton, Kiefer, Richard Prince, Andre Serrano and Damian Hirst.
In 1991, Hanley and his wife Roberta founded Muse Productions, Inc. to develop and produce feature films. Their first film was Split Second, starring Rutger Hauer, Peter Postlethwaite, Kim Catrall, Michael J. Pollard and Ian Drury. The company also produced Ms. Hanley's 1998 directorial debut, Woundings, which stars Guy Pearce, Johnathon Schaech and Emily Lloyd.
During the 1990s, Hanley produced Mary Herron's American Psycho and the feature film directorial debuts of Sofia Coppola's Virgin Suicides, Vincent Gallo's Buffalo '66 and Steve Buscemi's Trees Lounge. His other producing credits include James Toback's Two Girls and a Guy, Mathew Bright's films Freeway and Revenant, Michael Oblowitz's This World, Then the Fireworks and Ed Wood, Jr.'s I Woke Up Early the Day I Died, directed by Aris Iliopolis and Girl, directed by Jonathan Kahn.
Hanley owns the movie rights to more than a dozen books.
Luke: "How would you describe the material that interests you?"
Chris: "At college, I was a Philosophy and English major. So from early on, I've known what I liked, whether it was Yukio Mishima's Confessions of a Mask or Proust's Remembrance of Things Past."
Rosa writes on Amazon.com about Confessions: "If one is looking for a book with a mood for eerie rituals of introspection, this is a good stuff. If one has a knack for being buttonholed with confessions, this is a good stuff too. If one likes finding the so-called absolute answers between the real and unreal, Mishima can articulate this dichotomy with his charming details and weird allegories in this novel."
Chris: "I knew which things hit the mark in terms of my ideas of life. I don't have a problem reading a book like The Virgin Suicides, or a script, and it hits a few chords. I don't follow the fashions and try to figure out what audiences will pay for. I think about what will be nice to make. Some books like James Joyce's Ulysses or George Batai's Story of the Eye. Those are difficult books to film.
"We have this book Going Down by Jennifer Belle. It's about an 18 year old NYU drama student who falls into a vortex of call girl scenarios. Madonna beat me out bidding against it. It wasn't that I thought it was the deepest literature, I just thought it would be good filmicly. It's not American Pie but it is still pretty pop."
Luke: "It seems to be dark material that grabs you."
Chris: "Yeah. You have a tendency to like sex and to explore death. I'm not trying to lighten my day by reading things. Geez, it's really no darker than Shakespeare's MacBeth or Hamlet. People forget that most of the best stories ever told are tragic. What's Tender is the Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald? Was Catcher in the Rye light? American Pie was light but would that ever be a book that either of us would want to read?"
Luke: "Where did you go to college?"
Chris: "Amherst College in Massachusetts but I went around to other places. I took a few courses at Colombia in Philosophy and a few courses in Philosophy and English at Oxford, as part of Amherst's reciprocity program."
Luke: "And when were you born?"
Chris: "No. I don't want that published anywhere. A long time ago. I saw the Beatles on Ed Sullivan. I'm doing a movie called The Family about Charles Manson's rock n'roll career (based on the by Ed Saunders, Charles Manson And The Dune Buggie Attack Battalion). Dennis Wilson financed his rock career [before Manson turned into a mass murderer]. Doris Day's son Terry Melcher owned the house Roman Polanski rented where Sharon Tate was killed. Manson did NOT go to the site of any of the murders --he is a mass murderor on the basis of conspiracy, due to his cultish mind control of his "Family."
"These murders were not something I read about. I remember when it was taking place. I think that by 1970-71, the cat was out of the bag that there was a death poet, murderer, cultist out there that's attractive and destructive to society at the same time.
"I feel that I was very much a part of the time while the directors of The Family, Don Murphy and Susan Montcord, they've just inherited the spirit of the sexual revolution."
Luke: "Was there still free love in the '70s?"
Chris: "I was a virgin at the time but that was the deal, yes. Half the movie is free love."
Luke: "Where's the movie in the production cycle?"
Chris: "Getting final cast approval from Senator Entertainment. And in these rough times for financing, we're trying to bring in a German co-production."
Luke: "What sorts of projects interest you?"
Chris: "I have this background in the philosophy of science and the philosophy of mathematics, cybernetics, physics, neuroscience, neurophysiology. I like things that play with time. I'm interested in mind-brain theory. What defines the self? A pile of neurons? The writers of novels seem to be more into science than people who turn in screenplays."
Luke: "Do you have nightmares?"
Chris: "Yes, sometimes. I don't mind nightmares. Not ones where I'm screaming. I don't wake up on the beach with the waves splashing over me. Sometimes I go into these horrific pathways in my sleep. I don't necessarily avoid that."
Luke: "Does it make you feel alive?"
Chris: "When I watch a horror thing, I just get scared. It pumps up my hormone level into fight or flight. I watch horror movies with my hands over my eyes. The first Alien movie made me feel more alive, not because it was scary, but because the imagery was tapping into something essential, like a cancer cell, as a primitive essential form.
"I liked the movie The Others because it was gothic and it reifies a whole world of dreams that people walk around with. It makes it feel that dreams could be truer reality. I like it when the house is used as a metaphor for the mind, the creepy house with all the little rooms in it and unknown horrors that you stumble into. Or medieval thinking, with castles, like Bergman films like the Seventh Seal which was about the Black Death. Ending up in the castle and having to face death and the knight does it one way. The strongest person is actually the weakest.
"Jim Thompson's novel which I bought, The Killer Inside Me, isn't so much about murder and fear and death but it has a sadomasochistic thing with the sexuality that made it interesting."
Luke: "What was your breakout film?"
Chris: "Freeway, 1996, starring Reese Witherspoon. It was highly controversial. It went out on HBO and teenagers across the nation embraced it. It shipped tons of videos. People between 15-25 yo felt it had a voice they hadn't seen even with the Pulp Fictions. In the end, Pulp Fiction appeals to the college intelligentsia, not a trashy teenager. Freeway appealed to an audience closer to the street and intelligent people liked it too for some reason.
"Freeway cost $3.1 million. Oliver Stone was executive producer so the budget went up a little.
"And Trees Lounge (1996) was interesting too. The media gave these things either controversial reviews. Roger Ebert said Freeway was one of his favorites. Tree's Lounge was a poignant look at a real person in a real place with a nothing ending. It's about a guy who drank too much and never got out. The movie never sold anything. And people thought, oh, that really is the way life is. We called it 'bleak chic.' It got a cool hip reception in the media even though it didn't knock off a lot of tickets.
"They (Freeway and Trees Lounge) were shot two weeks apart and I had two of them pumping out in the fiercely competitive independent world. I experienced the same thing with Virgin Suicides and American Psycho. Their premieres in New York were one day apart. American Psycho was on 15 magazine covers. Virgin Suicides was in Italian Vogue, French Vogue, U.S. Vogue...
"Buffalo 66 ($2.3 million directed by Vincent Gallo, starring Mickey Rourke, Christina Ricci) and Two Girls and a Guy ($1.26 million directed by James Toback and starring Robert Downey and Heather Graham) came out at the same time and got a high ranking reception in the media, from Entertainment Weekly to Premiere to the Wall Street Journal to the New York Times.
"I've produced a few films with Ed Pressman. After a while, with the low budget films of less than seven million, I've probably got the hotter reputation because I just kept churning them out. I was always on the set, getting to know the actors, staying in touch with them. Finding out who they wanted to work with and which directors. Christina Ricci's directing something with Adam, who has office space here. I've been trying to get her to direct for years.
"American Psycho was our biggest budgeted film at $7 million."
Luke: "How did you get Buffalo 66?"
Chris: "I've known Vincent Gallo since late 1983, when he recorded in my studio in New York. He was into art and I'd become an art dealer. He went into acting and I got into producing. He moved out here first. We hung out. His screenplay (Buffalo 66) circulated around town. He reluctantly sent me over a copy, because everything he does is reluctant. I read it and said, 'Are you kidding? No one else could direct this but you. It's your life.' And so he did.
"Lionsgate Entertainment (distributor) thought they were going to have a light comedy. It wasn't what they expected at first. Over the years it panned out as being more significant for doing it the way we did it. We shot the movie on Kodak Ektachrome Reversal film 35mm (and it had not ever been used before as a replacement for negative film -- it is basically a positive transparency film). Kodak had to make a special batch for us just for Buffalo 66. In 16mm format it had been used for war photography (dating back to late World War II and Vietnam etc, and also for football cinematography up until a period in the early 1980's when it was switched over to negative film).
"Vincent had grown up with the Buffalo Bills. His mother really was a Buffalo Bills freak who only had one photo of him and hundreds of them. He really spent time in jail for stealing a car. The whole painfulness of existence and his relationships was drawn from his relationship with his father.
"Ben singing that song in that one scene is actually Vincent's father's real voice from a cassette recording he'd done years earlier. Vincent's father had a great voice and never did anything with it, just sung in bars. Some of the scenes were shot in the house he lived in while growing up. Most of the people he grew up with are still there. It's that kind of town where people never get out. It's a strange jail sentence. They're all sports freaks walking around with Buffalo Bills regalia."
Luke: "I read Vincent Gallo's critical comments about you. He said, 'Chris Hanley is a fantastically bright person but a bit spaced out, which had one advantage when it came to making the film, and one disadvantage. The disadvantage was I didn't get any support from him ... I produced the movie, hired everybody, and did everything. The advantage was, his lack of focus made him incapable of getting in my way'."
Chris: "That sounds good. Truth is, I was the only co-producer on that and work 23-hour days with him threatening me at 4AM that he was going to stab me in the face if I didn't do this or that. I spent more concentrated effort on that, getting the financing, getting the crew members and keeping them in line, dealing with the unions, than I have on any other film. There's a publicity factor in letting him rant.
"I was the sole 'Producer' on Buffalo66, not co-producer --- Jordan Gertner got a 'co-producer credit --but this is NOT a producer credit per se. It goes Associate/Co-/Executive/Producer/ in that order. Vincent Gallo did NOT receive a Producer type credit (in any category). I just let him SAY he produced the whole thing (not entirely incorrect in that Vincent Gallo DOES do almost all the creative aspects of his films himself --including the poster and the music --so he cheekily always says he "produced" the movie by himself --and of course that is our game.)
Luke: "How did you get Sofia Coppola, Francis Ford Coppola's daughter, to make her directorial debut for you with The Virgin Suicides?"
Chris: "I knew Jackie, her sister-in-law. Jackie was married to the son that died in the boat accident. Jackie is deeply involved with the Coppola family. Sofia and Jackie and my wife and I would go to dinner from time to time. Sofia stumbled on the book The Virgin Suicides and wrote a script for the hell of it. She looked up who owned it and lo and behold it's the friend she eats dinner with. My wife Roberta lobbied to get Sofia the directing job.
"I originally wanted Nick Gomez to direct. He wrote a script that didn't quite work. I don't like to jump from director to director. But Sofia's passion for the project became apparent to me.
"It was hard to finance the picture. The title alone was difficult. Using the words "Virgin" and "Suicides" in the same title. They wouldn't even let me register it in the state of New York. I had to call it the Virgin S. corporation. We form shell corporations every time we make a movie, to limit the liability of the movie to that property. So I tried to register Virgin Suicides Inc Productions and the state said it was pornographic. Even though at one point Disney owned the film rights to the book.
"Sofia hasn't directed her second film yet. She's had plenty of offers."
Luke: "Did you get to meet her father (Francis Ford Coppola, the famous director of The Godfather, Apocalypse Now)?"
Chris: "I just saw him last week. He showed up in a hula outfit at Jackie Coppola, Peter Getty's house for Halloween."
Luke: "What's he doing these days?"
Chris: "He's got some wine. He's got the family financially stable. He's got Zoetrope Productions and they produce movies. His son Roman directed a movie. He's had a good life in the film business. I don't know what he's directing next. He seems more concerned with giving what he achieved to the next generation. And sell some wine and make some money."
Chris's actress wife Roberta Hanley directed her first film in 1998 - Woundings.
"We shot it on the Isle of Mann. It was cool hanging out with actors Ray Winstone, Guy Pearce, Charlie Creed-Miles, Emily Lloyd. Guy is Australian but he's a master of accents. He had a Liverpool accent in this movie."
Chris produced his first movie in 1992 - Rutger Hauer's Split Second. "It opened in a curfew during the riots but it went to number four theatrical gross, doing over $4 million in the first weekend. But then it fell fast because it was a crummy horror movie. It only cost $5 million to make. Then it shipped 127,000 videos when they were worth $58 each. HBO paid $4.3 for video and broadcast rights. Then we did $4.2 million in foreign, and it was a shitty movie.
"Stephen Norrington, who directed 1998's Blade, was our creature effects guy.
"Because we didn't use a bank and financed it ourselves completely, when I came to town people thought I had big money. Peter Hoffman, Mike Medavoy were saying, 'Ohh, I want $30 million'."
Luke: "Where did you come up with $5 million?"
Chris: "There are some bankers in the family.
"Two Girls and a Guy cost $1.26 million and brought in $2.1 million to Muse and our 50/50 partner Edward R Pressman Film Corp."
Luke: "Have you lost money on any of your films?"
Chris: "I don't know if I've lost money for anybody else but I've never lost money. Woundings was an Isle of Mann deal and we got them started. They have a structure where they can't lose any money. They have reciprocity in trade relations with Great Britain so they've set up a nifty tax structure. If their citizens get employed, that's good for them. And they can afford to put out money. We were one of the first three [moviemakers] to do their program. They were very happy to have Ray Winstone and Guy Pearce. Hundreds of their citizens got jobs.
"Virgin Suicides did $4 million in France and the distributor paid only $1.2 million for the rights to all of Europe. Do they tell me in their accounting reports that they made money? No."
Luke: "Do you have any war stories of your most difficult shoots?"
Chris: "Fireworks was difficult because of the director [Michael Oblowitz]. [Actor] Billy Zane and Mike Oblowitz got into fist fights till 4AM and I had to break them up. I think real art needs to grow out of some sort of chaos. Not in chaos, but right at the edge. All of evolution takes place, not out of steady state dynamics, but out of chaotic bipolar activity.
"We didn't have that on Virgin Suicides but it is more of a placid meditative thing while Buffalo 66 was just insane. And that paid off. Unfortunately Vincent Gallo will never be able to be a stable human being again but at least the movie worked out."
Luke: "When was Vincent Gallo a stable human being?"
Chris laughs. "He used to pretend he was. He'd just isolate himself from the rest of society and not interact with it. He was ok at a certain point. You could eat dinner with him and not know the truth."
Luke: "What's he doing these days?"
Chris: "You can ask him. Vincent Gallo goes to Les Deux Cafe every Monday night --so you can go there to ask him what he is up to -- it is a restaurant/club in Hollywood. I have never seen him eat there, he just stand in a dark corner and holds court to about 4-5 girls, different every week, who he partially turns his back to as he allows them to address him.
"Tennessee Williams wrote a novella called One Arm and Gallo wrote a screenplay for it. He's got his own project Brown Bunny, a top secret project where the financiers and actors don't get to read the script. Well, the actors get to read their sides before going to work that day but they don't know if their character is going to be in one scene or the protagonist in the whole movie."
Luke: "What's the purpose in that?"
Chris: "So they don't have any preconceived notion of their position in the story."
Luke: "What are you working on?"
Chris: "We're working on 20 different projects that I've listed on our internet site www.musefilm.com. I've got a little one about the sex trade and child pornography with Damian Harris directing. It's an intercutting between eight year olds absconded by sex traders and eight years later. It's dramatically poignant rather than exploitive."
Chris signs his name with a flourish on my release form, a big flamboyant and circular signature that is totally unreadable. Realizing this, he prints his name in clear block letters underneath.
Here are excerpts from a New York Post Page Six column of 10/30/00:
IT'S a safe bet that Christina Ricci won't be working with iconoclastic indie actor Vincent Gallo anytime soon.
Gallo - who co-starred with Ricci in his 1998 directorial debut "Buffalo 66" - spewed venom about the moon-faced moppet when PAGE SIX bumped into him at downtown hotspot Luahn the other night.
When we asked if he enjoyed working with Ricci, Gallo growled, "It was OK when she wasn't drunk on the set. I think she's an alcoholic - it was either that, or she was on cough syrup the whole time.
"I don't like her," Gallo continued. "She's an ungrateful c- - -. But it was OK. She's basically a puppet. I told her what to do and she did it."
Gallo also sniped about the voluptuous Ricci's fluctuating weight during filming: "She lost 17 pounds, and that was because I only let her eat one whole pizza pie every day."
Gallo, who sat at a table with [Rick] Rubin, told us that they were teaming up on a movie about Charles Manson. "It's called ‘Charlie Manson Sings,'" he said. "I play Manson. Rick is producing it. It's basically a musical. It's amazing." As if all that information wasn't enough, Gallo volunteered that he would be voting for George W. Bush, and uttered an unprintable epithet about Al Gore for good measure.
I found some amusing emails on the Musefilm.com site.
On January 22, 2001, David McKenna writes the producers of the 2001 film Bully: Larry Clark, Don Murphy, Fernando Sulichin:
The purpose of this letter is to inform the above parties that I, in conjunction with my attorney, am removing my name from the film Bully. I will instead be utilizing the pseudonym Zachary Long for my writing credit. The Writer's Guild has been informed of my intent to use this pseudonym.
My reasons follow. When Don Murphy gave me this book [novel by Jim Schutze] to adapt, I looked at it as a gift from the gods. Here was a story and a character study unlike anything I had ever read before. Bully was an insight into youth that hadn't been documented since Larry Clark's first film, Kids. And, unlike many, I did not feel Kids or Bully was irresponsible. Honest, poignant and terrifying maybe, but not irresponsible.
As far as the translation of Bully from book to script. I felt we had achieved greatness. After meeting with Larry in New York and conjointly making some great changes, the result, I felt, was some of the best work I had ever been associated with.
The film I watched on December 1st left me completely dumbfounded. What I witnessed was revolting, offensive and childish. I could not believe what had been done to what was once an extremely compelling and emotional story. Though I realize that at this point I have no control over what ultimately happens with this film, I can only hope that others associated with it will understand and agree with my stance.
After all, this is not a movie. It much more closely resembles a porno. It has all the qualities to verify that claim: Unbelievably gratuitous sex, no story, zero motivation, no character development, and horrible acting. I knew early on the discontent I was going to have once Bijou Phillips said "his dick was beautiful and he ate my pussy for an hour." I knew right then what the directors vision was and I immediately regretted ever giving him the script. It was clear that he had forgone drama and character development in order to gratuitously create a one dimensional pornographic whore. In the book and in the script, Ali is a character with depth and complexity. The compelling aspect of Ali is how beautiful and presentable she is on the outside, and how stupid, insecure and diabolical she is on the inside. none of this is explored in this movie. She merely exists for perverse crotch shots and grotesque sexual escapades. Virtually all scenes involving Ali are nothing short of repulsive. And to what end?
The same holds true for Lisa Connely. first of all, Rachel Miner, as sweet as she is, should not have been in this movie. She was clearly miscast. The character of Lisa demands a fat, ugly loser who's ridiculed by Bobby so bad that she's driven to kill him. Here, she's portrayed as someone who's actually beautiful and proud of her body. I can find no reason for so haphazardly destroying the character development and motivation that script provides other than for the director to showcase the half dozen or so wonderfully gratuitous shorts of her vagina. Additionally, we never see the growing hatred of Bobby that her character demands. The only scene that might be able to justify her motivation to kill, the Doberman attack scene, is nowhere to be found. Therefore, once again, what's left is no character motivation and no believability, and only several gratuitous sex scenes that leave the audience repulsed and wondering why this movie was ever made.
The direction of the other actors also greatly disappoints. Renfro is all over the place. In the beginning he's playing coy, nervous and shy (i.e. the deli, the Camaro, the Copa), ten minutes later he's singing Eminem, talking shit, and being abusive to Lisa (Note: This went down in 1992, when Eminem was still in high school). Renfro laughs through his speech about the first time he tried pot with Bobby and then offers some bullshit cry that is nothing more than a feeble attempt for sympathy.
Derek Dzvirko also hails from the Bully school of acting. The method? Pretend you're a zombie and say your lines as fast as you can.
Michael Pitt at least has some energy to his character, but where's the other dimension of Donny Semenee? Where's the sweet, caring kid who's manipulated into this by Ali? The same holds true for the Hitman. Leo Fitspatrick, who has in other films demonstrated that the is a talented actor, screams this way through every scene. Where's the humor behind the stupid camp counselor leading the kids into battle? Where's the umm's and uhh's? the only notable performance comes from Nick Stahl. The kid's a great actor, but, then, again, his likeability makes him miscast. He garners sympathy form the audience, when the reality should be that the audience detests him to such a degree that they understand what ld these kids to murder him. It's a travesty. Nearly every aspect of this story that drove me to wan t to get this movie made has been destroyed.
What is this movie truly about now? In all honesty, I think it's a $2.2 million exercise in perversion. Every scene Ali and Lisa are in, the camera is focused on their vaginas. The sexual distractions are amateurish, unnecessary and offensive. Crotch shots over pedicures, giving blow jobs in the cars (another long lasting crotch shot), pinching nipples, putting clothes pins on nipples, Lisa fucking Marty five times, Ali fucking Bobby twice, Ali fucking Donny, Ali making out with Donny, Heather rubbing Donny, Donny making out with Heather, Heather making out with Ali, where's the fucking story?!
The bottom line is that by all appearances, the intelligence of this film has been desecrated in lieu of perverse and childish intentions. What makes a movie great are the little things. It is no surprise that with these little things Bully fails miserably. Here, Iíll explore just a few that I felt contribute to the demise of this film. After the first attempt of the murder fails, Donny says to the girls "you guys need professional help." Where is Aliís epiphany of seeking out "professional help?" All you see in the next scene is the Hitman with a bunch of children saying nothing of importance to each other. Itís like theyíre trying to say something but can't think of anything. so a few face shots are inserted to kill time until the mother comes outside with the phone. Then we see Cousin Derek outside cutting grass. Not only can he hear his cell phone over the deafening machine, he automatically knows that it's Lisa. Later, when the kids arrive to seek out the help of the Hitman, a camera shot, clearly stolen from Scorsese in The Color of Money, is used and abused. Here we have one of the most important scenes with the Hitman and instead of the scene moving the story forward, the audience is left completely dizzy and again wondering why. Here I've mentioned four justifiable complaints within a period of five minutes.
It is with much sadness and regret that I remove my name from this film. It was a story very close to my heart, one that I fought long and hard for. It is not easy to let two years of hard work and perseverance go down the drain, but there is no doubt that in order to preserve my name, I must.
Buffalo 66 co-producer Jordan Gertner writes Hanley: "Chris has requested that David McKenna's letter requesting his name be removed from the film be put up on the muse web site. Clark would have the cleanest copy - my is only a fax. If Chris really wants this done - Clark you should forward your copy to Danny. Should also probably find out what kind of trouble you may be getting yourselves into."
Chris Hanley responds: "He can fuck himself. My middle name is trouble. If he does not want it published he should not send it to my name."
Chris Hanley writes JusticeForWomen@freelisaconnelly.com
Well I am the producer of the film [Bully] along with Don Murphy and Fernando Sulichin and we are completely baffled. In fact we love the controversy that your site and statements contained therein has created around the movie Bully--and the director and our selves as producers have always enjoyed the right of others to criticize our work. Don Murphy made Natural Born Killers and I made American Psycho and Larry Clark made Kids--and these films were subject to extreme controversy which we felt opened the themes of the movies to scrutiny that engendered a fair analysis of the content presented to our audiences. We have placed your website link onto our websites in fact so that the entire story of the murder of Bobby Kent and what social motivations engender the act of murder could be considered. We have never stated that the film Bully which is depicted in a contemporary setting is a reenactment of the events leading to the killing of Bobby Kent , but rather that the aesthetic of the movie that Mr Clark has created depicting a contemporary suburban Hollywood Florida mall ennui was perhaps more real than any of the truths that may be derived from scrutinizing the details of the events that took place in 1993. Mr Clark in his directing recreated a lifestyle with its own reality more real than the historical memory of past events. Bully is now.
If our movie in its controversial depiction of sexuality and drug usage and the stating of a kind of futureless teen social strata and in its complete requirement of not having any film industry "rating" , adds some focus onto the original historical crime that led to several teens and twenty year olds in the Broward Country Florida area killing a person, perhaps a person who was a bully to others around him , or perhaps not as much as we depict , we would be happy that such historical facts were disclosed. As to the death threats I am sorry to say that since I happen to be Chris Hanley, and with my correct knowledge of my producing partners Don Murphy and Fernando Sulichin, that we not only did not call in any death threats to you, but would not in that it would defeat our grand goal in making this film in the first place to do such a thing. We need your opinion in order to achieve what we believe is truly a valid effort with this movie.
Here are excerpts from MuseFilm.com's list of projects in development:
MAMA BLACK WIDOW - Iceberg Slim pens this tragic classic about a black family in Chicago during the fifties adrift in the dark world of pimpdom, crime, and violence.
THE FAMILY - The rock and roll career of Charles Manson directed by Susan Montfort and Don Murphy.
LONDON FIELDS - Martin Amis's murder story for the end of the millenium.
THE SERIAL KILLERS CLUB - In the vein of a Farley brother's film. The hilarious novel by Jeff Povey about a group of serial killers who meet once a month and ironically find out that the tables have been turned and they are now being hunted by a serial killer who only kills serial killers.
VATICAN CONNECTION this is the true story, written by Richard Hammer, of the relationship of the Vatican with the American and Italian Mafia and the elite mystical group of Masonic industrialists known in Italy simply as the P2, that lead to practice of collateralizing the Vatican's disastrous financial losses in the late 1970's with stolen and fraudulent securities to the tune of more than $900 million dollars. This criminal activity lead to the deaths of many, mostly by murder, most notably a Pope, Albino Luciani...
THE KILLER INSIDE ME - From the notorious pop pulp fiction author Jim Thompson of the most important film noire works such as Kubrick's The Killing, Pekinpah's The Getaway, Frears' The Grifters, Foley's After Dark My Sweet and many more. Andrew Dominik (dir. Chopper) set to direct. A story set in a small Texas pan handle town. This suspense classic portrays a seemingly innocuous group of individuals and creates one of the most cogent explorations of a psycho-sexual deviant's inner life. A deputy sheriff leads everyone to believe he didn't kill a hooker, when he did do it. Eventually every single person turns against him, yet he does not break.
PUSHER - This is a remake of the Danish box office hit that follows a day in the life of a drug deal gone bad.
SEVERED - The provocative true story of the infamous "Black Dahlia" murder told from the inside perspective of the actual detective who investigated the bizarre case. Ed Pressman is Producing with Floria Sigismondi set to direct.
BATHORY - Screenplay by Julie Delpy from the true story of Countess Bathory, who became a notorious serial killer in her search to preserve her beauty with the blood of young virgins. A true horror story with an a view into the occult knowledge of the period.
All the Neuroses, Half the Talent
I've been reading this terrific biography of Evelyn Waugh by Selina Hastings and I realize that I am no more screwed up than the English novelist. From the biographies I've read of famous writers like Leo Tolstoy and Ernest Hemingway, I judge that I fit right in as far as personality quirks.
I deeply identify particularly with Waugh. Here are some telling sentences: "Worried by his insane self-destructiveness, the four women often discussed Evelyn among themselves. 'Poor Wu - he does everything he can to alienate himself from the affection he is yearning for," as Diana perceptively remarkted... A visit from Evelyn...left Nancy feeling like the morning after an air-raid. "Most of the time he was sweet, twice he was bloody and all the time funny"."
The Ecstasy and the Agony
Those who sow in joy will reap in tears.
I thought I'd found a new Jewish home - a warm, rambunctious Orthodox shul filled with learned loving observant Jews. I love these guys.
I pray with them Saturday morning. Afterwards, a man signals me to step outside.
"This clearly is not the place for you to pray," he says. "Good luck to you."
I stare in shock.
"We don't have to make a scene," he says. "We can keep this quiet."
"Ok," I say.
I turn around and walk home, passing numerous Orthodox Jews on my way.
"It's useless," I think. "I'll never fit in with an Orthodox community. What more can I do? I've sold lukeford.com and walked away from that type of writing. I haven't mistreated anyone within my religious community. I'm trying to not make waves."
I go home and take off my black suit, slip into my sweats and crawl beneath my comforter on my favorite spot on the floor.
I don't sleep. My mind won't turn off. Two hours later, I get up and eat lunch. Then I go for a walk. I see a friend. He's seen people shake with fervor in their conviction that I am an evil man. He asks where I pray these days. I mention the name of the shul I attended this morning. He says, 'Oh, that's good. They will never throw you out.'
I bite my tongue and walk on. How can I explain the latest loss?
I walk up and down the streets of my neighborhood, feeling it closed in solidarity against me. Once the first shul acts against you, it becomes automatic for other shuls to follow the example. It's a rare Orthodox rabbi who's willing to stick out. They generally march in lockstep with the rulings of their peers.
Good people, if you don't let Levi Bin Laden into your shul, then the terrorists will have won. We Jews need to stop fighting amongst ourselves and focus on hating foreigners.
Chaim Amalek writes Luke: I am very familiar with these groups and sorry, you are not one of them and they know it. Now, they will tolerate born jews who are hangers on, if only because they feel they have to, but YOU, they do not have to tolerate.
Goddess writes: oh for Pete's sake, Luke, just become a Catholic. they'd be more than happy to take your hard earned money (or not so hard earned in your case) in exchange for promising you a place in heaven... besides i think all those bootings out of shul is Jesus's way of saying, "ha ha serves ya right for not believing in Me."
Will writes: Hi Luke: Sorry to hear about your latest rejection from shul. I would assume it has now come to the point where they are circulating your picture around LA and nobody will let you stay.
Is there more to the story Luke? Do you wear outrageous yarmulke? I can't imagine how they feel good about throwing you out if all you are there to do is pray. Do they accuse you of being a phoney or something? I have a real hard time understanding why they give you the boot. Well, it is a pity Jews in Los Angeles can't find a place for you. Maybe try San Diego, but whatever you do: DON'T TRY CATHOLICISM -- you have quite enough guilt already brother!
Luke says: Well, you wanted more conflict.
Will replies: Yes I did ask for more conflict - with the producers preferrably - but it is interesting in your life as well.
I asked a rabbi who comes to my store whether this is appropriate and he said he would support your ban from shul due to your past as well. He was unable to adequately explain why, of course, and this actually bothers me quite a bit. I appreciate that you were not 'born' into Judaism, however, it appears to me that you want to walk this path in life as a result of a decision you feel very strongly about. I am not a theologian, but I am familiar enough with the Torah to believe you should be welcomed at shul and should also be welcomed as a member of the Jewish community.
There is a history of converts behaving in subversive fashion in the Jewish community, so I would expect that you would have to earn some respect and dignity in the community before absolute acceptance would be achieved. Still, for the rabbi at a shul to ask you to leave based solely on your past does not work for me and I cannot find, in my studies, any reference to suggest you should automatically be excluded.
All of us have skeletons in the closet. Indeed, yours are available on the Internet. My limited knowledge of the Jewish community suggests lack of acceptance and strong judgement of individuals is commonplace, but I think there has to be a shul in your area which will grant you the right to observe your religion within the context of a community.
Here is what I would suggest: Compose a letter explaining why you converted and what your past actually is. Describe why you wish to attend shul and send this letter to all the synagogues in your geographical area to initiate an invitation from one or more of them. You just seem to show up and participate - which appears to draw the ire of some. I am confident someone out there is a rabbi of a good shul that would be happy to welcome you and facilitate your observance of your faith once given the choice of making an invitation.
I really hope you can get this solved Luke. I am deeply disappointed that you are being denied access to shul in your community just because you were a porn journalist. I realize forgiveness is more of a Christian concept than a Jewish one, but I can walk into any shul and participate simply because my past is not a matter of public record. This imbalance in justice and judgement is not appropriate or fair by any standard -- including that of the Jews.
Anne writes: It isn't just your having been a porn journalist, is it? It's the culmination, the history of all the interactions, from Dennis Prager to being obnoxious in Jewish homes, to your behavior with women, to lying about your occupation whilst davening with the Orthodox.
And that you converted, not in the context of a marriage to a Jew, but on your own, and that you remain single. Not that it doesn't happen, but in itself it's so odd that it draws attention to you.
I have heard pornographers say that you are evil; it seems Orthodox Jews say the same. Caught between a rock and a hard place? A stone tablet and a ...? The "Jewish Problem?" The "Luke Ford Problem?"
Still, if one believes in the tenets of the religion, even if one is mentally ill and behaves in a strange way, it doesn't undo one's Jewish commitment to G-d that one should make mistakes. Your faith has not been questioned, only your actions, and by both Jews and pornographers.
When you wrote that you didn't understand why you were being treated badly by the rabbis, because you hadn't hurt your religious community, I laughed. Lukeford.com was the center of gratuitous hurt, and in some way damaged everyone associated with you.
I foolishly excused your hurtfulness even as it tore me up, but G-d will not foolishly excuse you. Even as you treat the least of His Creatures, you show your respect (or lack of it) for Hashem.
To admit your emotional instability makes your ability to make an honest conversion questionable. There are Jews who are crazy and there are Jews who are assholes, but to let a crazy asshole convert to Judaism would be goofy. I didn't say that very elegantly, but I'm sure the point is made.
If you believe in G-d, then you believe that we have been given the gift of free will, even as we are also blessed or cursed by Hashem. Perhaps your actions have displeased Him?
If you don't believe in G-d, then you don't need to be in shul, and that the rabbis catch on to your "con" shouldn't really matter.
We're All Dying Luke
Will writes: Luke: What pisses these producers off? What do they like more than their own egos? Favourite colour, for God's sake! Please ask them a freakin' question that doesn't lead into a two-hour diatribe, filmography and name-dropping session. "I worked with Jewison and this English actor.....hmm, Caine -- yes, Michael Caine....." and on it goes.
This ego-stroking stuff is crap Luke -- and you know it is crap. What is going on with you? You know better and you can do better. Life is about conflict - be it conflict of the soul or otherwise - so get out there and stir some ---- man -- or go back to writing about the conflict of your own soul. I hated joining your ongoing string of pessimistic visitors Luke. But I did.
I sat down with producer Morris Ruskin November 2, 2001 at his Shoreline Entertainment office in Century City.
Standing 6'5" and hailing from Johannesburg, South Africa, Morris is easy to get along with but difficult to get to know. He chooses his words carefully and it is hard to tell what he's thinking.
Ruskin's best known film is Glengarry Glen Ross. He developed the project, signed on the actors and helped find the financing. This highly regarded art film written by David Mamet stars Al Pacino, Jack Lemon, Alec Baldwin, Alan Arkin, Ed Harris and Kevin Spacey.
Morris did his Bachelor's degree in Communications at UCLA while writing scripts and working as an intern at MTV. Knowing his passion was film, and not wanting to get sucked into television, he took a job as a story editor for the independent production company Zupnik Enterprises, which was financed by Stanley Zupnik, a developer out of Chevy Chase, Maryland.
"That ended my writing career," says Ruskin, "because I started reading scripts seven days a week. I also worked as a PA on the movie Wild Fire."
Ruskin became Director of Development and eventually Vice President, working with such writers as Terrence McNally and Tom Cole and directors Robert Wise, John Frankenheimer and Irvin Kershner. Ruskin oversaw production, financing, and foreign sales.
"Glengarry Glen Ross was a passion project. I saw the whole thing through. I first read the Pulitzer prize winning play in 1986. It obviously wasn't a studio film. I saw the play in Los Angeles. Stanley Zupnik stepped up to the plate and bought the rights. David Mamet did the adaptation right away.
"Once Al Pacino signed on to the movie, we went forward with the financing, which was driven by distribution deals. Foreign sales accounted for half the $12.8 million budget. Then a huge chunk came from Live Home Video and Showtime. Then New Line stepped in towards the end to guarantee a domestic theatrical release. They put up three million dollars in ad money.
"We shot the movie over eight weeks in 1991 in New York, part of the time at the office set of the Cosby Show in Queens. When I'd walk by Bill Cosby's office, he'd call out, 'Young man, young man. Please come in for a minute. Eat, eat...' And I'd listen to his stories for a while."
Luke: "What was the box office?"
Morris: "About $11 million for the US. Everyone did all right with the movie. It was a good piece for New Line. They'd just released Ninja Turtles. Glengarry Glen Ross was part of making their reputation as a bigger player, someone who releases more than just Freddy Krueger movies."
In 1992, Ruskin moved on from Zupnik Enterprises to form his own independent production and distribution company Shoreline Entertainment with partner Mary Skinner, who was bought out in 1999 by Morris's current partner Vicky Pike.
"In 1995, we became a worldwide sales company. And so we had to focus in more on what the market wanted as opposed to what are those cool independent films we want to make. We produce about three films a year and pick up about three films a year from other producers. We get offered a lot of nice movies but we have to choose the stuff that will sell."
Luke: "What films stir your passion?"
Morris: "I look back on the films I've made and I realize there was a reason in some part of my life for why I was so compelled to do that movie. I made Glengarry Glen Ross when I was still new to the business and feeling the stress of the business. I then went through a series of father-son movies including Brittle Glory aka Continued Adventures of Reptile Man and His Faithful Sidekick Tadpole.
"Reptile Man is about an actor who used to portray a super hero during the 1960s and 30 years later, he still puts on a cape and goes to car shows... Over the years, he's hired different sidekicks, called Tadpole, and they keep leaving him because the guy's a belligerent jerk. At that time, I was going through leaving my boss Jerry Tokofsky.
"Jerry treated me like a son. It was hard for me to move on but I had to move on from Glengarry Glen Ross.
"I made The Ortegas, a father-son story about a boxer who never made it. He trains his sons to meet his dream. So, is he their manager or their father?
"The Visit, made in the year 2000, was also a father - son story. I only figured these things out later."
Luke: "Are you in therapy?"
Morris: "No, my therapy is in making movies. I know why I was attracted to The Man From Elysian Fields, which premiered September 13, 2001. It's about a writer who struggles to make ends meet. He finally makes a deal with the devil to survive."
Luke: "Is that your story?"
Morris: "No, I've never made a deal with the devil. It's come up but I've never made that deal. But it is a struggle getting these independent films made. Sometimes you have to make commercial movies that you're not compelled to make, because it is what the market wants. Thrillers."
Luke: "How sure are you what the market wants?"
Morris: "I'm sure because we're out in the market place. We talk to distributors every day. We hear them say, we don't want any of those talking movies. We don't want any dramas. We don't want any comedies. We just want thrillers.
"And then as we're making it - we go through the same thing. How does James Spader work for you? How does William Bond work for you? How does Tom Barringer work for you? The distributors know what works in their market."
Luke: "Why doesn't Hollywood make more G-rated films when they make more profits than R-rated films?"
Morris: "Another father-son movie I'm really proud of, Flight of Fancy."
A use of IMDB.com reviews the film: "This was a lovely family film which explored the relationship between a pilot, Clay (Dean Cain) and a boy, Gabriel (Kristen de la Osa), and the boy's obsession with Clay's plane which he believes speaks to him. They both have to come to terms with their fears. Clay is forced to face up to the fact that he is running away from himself and that he has to reassess his life. Gabriel learns to face the fact that his mother is to marry again and that he will have a stepfather, whom he comes to accept by the end of the film. The empathy between Dean Cain and Kristen de la Osa was the cornerstone of the story. They say never act with children but Dean was totally at ease with Kristen. Both turned in outstanding performances. The Puerto Rican scenery was another bonus, to this film which is suitable for all ages."
Morris: "It's a nice sweet sentimental film but the market didn't respond. It got good reviews and played well at the festivals. If you're a studio and you're making bigger budgeted G-rated films, that's one thing. There is a big market. But if you're an independent, I don't think you'll get noticed in the market place with G-rated films. You'll become filler programming. Yes, they'll rent but a kid will pick up Lion King four times before Flight of Fancy. Yes we'll play Showtime and Encore, but will we play the networks? Teenagers aren't going to see a kid's film."
Luke: "How many theaters do you get to see your films?"
Morris: "The Visit opened on 200 screens this year. That's been our biggest. Lakeboat has been doing a slow crawl across the United States one theater at a time. It opened in New York and moved to Boston and Chicago. When you make films for a small amount of money, you know going in that you're making it for the video and cable market."
Luke: "So you make most of your money from video and cable sales?"
Morris: "Yes. Most of it comes from the minimum guarantees. We don't count on the film ever going into profit [for the distributors who will then send part of that to Shoreline]. We have to figure out the budget for our movie based on what we think the market will pay us. We end up backing into these things. And that's why we always end up making thrillers, because we know our market. We know how much will get from Germany, Spain, France. Then we can figure out what we will get out of the United States."
Shoreline's biggest budgeted film has been the $12 million The Man From Elysian Fields starring Andy Garcia, Mick Jagger, James Coburn and Anjelica Huston.
Morris: "All these movies becomes projects from the heart because you put so much effort into them."
Luke: "How does a really smart well-educated person like yourself justify to yourself making comic book movies based on Judd Dredd?"
Morris: "I love movies. I grew up with James Bond movies. I like to be entertained. We've just made the creature feature Tail Sting about genetically altered scorpions shipped on a plane across the ocean and they escape the cargo hold. They grow. I can't think of anything more ridiculous but it is a fun entertaining movie. We developed the script from scratch and made it a love story."
According to Shoreline Entertainment: "Prepared for a routine flight across the Pacific, lonely widower and pilot Jack Russell maneuvers his jet into the sky and unknowingly tightens the gap between his passengers and doom. Lying dormant in the craft's hull is a secret shipment of genetically engineered Scorpion fetuses, the creation of Dr. Jennifer Ryan and her team of biochemists for the purpose of discovering a vaccine. At the same time, Yaffi and his brother Sudan sneak onto the airplane speaking in hushed tones about a conspiracy of their own; to smuggle themselves into America. One of Jennifer's most trusted colleagues uses this opportunity to break into the cargo hold and steal the Scorpions. Each fetus sleeps submerged in a jell liquid inside its own glass container. While transferring the fetuses from their secure metal unit the scientist is discovered by security. A desperate fight ensues, containers break, and the Scorpions open their ugly black eyes."
Morris: "Sylvester Stallone made a Judge Dredd studio movie. We're reinventing the franchise. Like Tim Burton did with Batman."
Luke: "Has September 11 affected your movie production?"
Morris: "We're shooting a movie in South India, and even though it is nowhere near Afghanistan, there is still a reluctance of talent to fly. It is difficult enough to get people to go to India.
"September 11 changes your unconscious decision making. And I know a director who was working on a terrorism-ridden script about a hijacking. That project's a bust. Who knows what people want to see? I think it is too early to say. Pop culture is affected by the subconscious and everybody seems to be attuned to the same thing at the same time even though you're not sure what it is. Or why you want to see something. Now this is so in your face."
Luke: "What do you think of Robert Altman's comments that Hollywood was responsible for the events of September 11?"
Morris: "I think it is farfetched. I studied the effects of media on people at UCLA. Who is to blame? Movies because they have these outrageous ideas of crashing airplanes into buildings or the news media because they give ideas to terrorists. Or would terrorists come up with these ideas anyway? I think that television and movies definitely have an enormous impact on the world. People can see what other people have. I remember the days of the TV series Dallas. That show went over to Russia and many Russians got the idea that that was how Americans lived."
Luke: "If the reality that movies can have an enormous impact on the world, are you exercising moral responsibility?"
Morris: "Yes. My partner Vicki Pyke is a religious Jew. Are we put off by excessive violence? Yes. I wouldn't make Robocop for example. I think a certain element of action and adventure, a James Bond type, is unrealistic and cathartic and fun."
Luke: "If you had the ability to distribute Lolita or something like it?"
Morris: "If a script came to me that dealt with that issue, I'd be resistant."
Luke: "Your parents see your films?"
Morris: "My mom passed away in 1989 but my dad seems to like everything I make.
"My mom got her Ph.D. in theater arts and ran a theater in San Francisco. Before that, she directed plays. Before she married, in South Africa, she was an actress.
"My sister Cindy Ruskin wrote The Quilt: Stories from the Names Project (about AIDS victims) which was made into a documentary film."
The Quilt is dedicated to preserving the memory of those who have died and increasing national awareness of the disease.
"Susan Ruskin produces films (Vacuums, Woman in Red, Anaconda). She ran Gene Wilder's company for nine years.
"And Karen works for my dad's irrigation business."
Morris has been married since 1988 to an American girl named Karna. They have two kids.
Luke: "Walk me through how a movie gets made."
Morris: "Gregory Gieras, a friend from high school, came to me with this script called Asylum. He got the script into a bidding war between a few companies, New Line, Live Home Video which became Artisan Entertainment, and Trimark. He ended up going with Trimark believing they would produce the film right away. Trimark never made the film and got into a another bidding war. Lakeshore ended up picking it up. They were going to make it for a big budget. But the project died there. So Gregory came back to me and said Morris, 'What can you do?'
"We got it out of Lakeshore with turnaround costs and we pre-sold that movie 100% with distribution deals. We made a deal with HBO and Lions Gate for video."
Luke: "Did you have to sign certain actors before you got the distribution deals?"
Morris: "We told the market that it would be a certain level of cast and the buyers knew we could deliver what we said. We ended up starring Judd Nelson, Larry Drake, and Paulina Porizkova. We did enough contracts through pre-sales, took the pre-sales to the bank. The bank loaned us the money and we made the movie in Romania, through the studio Media Pro in the middle of nowhere, 30 minutes outside of Bucharest, to save money. It's hard to make an action thriller on a small budget.
"It was hell and it was great. We shot for four weeks, six days a week. The Romanians built a whole sewer system for us and made incredible sets. We needed big rats for a scene and they assured us they'd have them. On the day of the rats, come these big white guinea pigs. 'Don't worry, we will spray paint them grey and pin a tail on them.' No, don't worry, we don't need the rats. Let the poor guinea pigs go."
Luke: "Do you include those trailers, 'No animals were hurt in the making of this film'?"
Morris: "Yes we do. They send us all these forms and we fill them out. There were no animals in the movie so none were hurt.
"I ended up sending my sister to the studio. They were great people who meant well, you just have to go through a lot of red tape. It's a different culture and a different system. I figured out that I had to go to the guy at the head of the studio to get what I needed. If he guaranteed they'd take care of it, they actually took care of it.
"They want business. They want people to come back."
Luke: "What's your dream?"
Morris: "To have the flexibility that I have now with the distribution of the studios. A place like 20th Century Fox would be great because you have Fox Searchlight so you can make projects that are more interesting and edgy. Or you can go through Fox 2000 or Fox proper.
"The running joke here is when someone comes in and asks, 'Who's head of marketing?' That would be me. 'Who's head of production?' That's me. 'Who writes the synopses or reads the screenplays?' That would be me. 'Who finds the directors and the talent?' That's me. We're hands on. People at studios have one narrow job. On any given day, I'm trying to get a distribution deal, developing a script from a book or play, casting another picture, setting up a production on one picture and post-production on another picture. I get a certain adrenalin out of that. It keeps it interesting and fascinating."
Luke: "What's your favorite part of all those roles?"
Morris: "Working with a writer. Shaping a script is the most interesting. You have the most creative control. And the post-production. Film production is usually four or five weeks of crisis management."
Luke: "How has the market surprised you the most?"
Morris: "It never gets easier. Every year it's a tighter market. I'm always waiting for a return to the good ol' days when you could sell anything. You could just go in with a poster and sell it.
"I'm sometimes disenchanted when I go to film markets and you see all these shoot-em-up exploitation films. It disenchants me that everything comes down to that at the end of the day. My partner Vicky Pyke has this thing about not too many dead bodies. Yes, we have to give the market what it wants, but not necessarily something so crass, just T&A."
Read another interview with Morris Ruskin here.
Aaron Shuster Interview
I sat down with filmmaker Aaron J. Shuster November 7, 2001 at the Coffee Bean on Robertson and Beverly Blvds.
An amiable chap who buys me a cup of hot chocolate, Shuster speaks slowly.
"I was born 8/16/68. I grew up in Toronto. My father taught high school English and film.
"I became interested in film early in my life. I made my first film on Super 8mm at age ten. One weekend I got my class to come out and I directed my first film. My father always had an interest in movies and he passed his passion on to me. He used to bring home 16mm prints of movies he showed in his class and showed them to me in the basement. I watched movies like Rashomon and The Seventh Seal."
Shuster made several films at the University of Toronto while pursuing a Bachelor's degree in English. His first, in 1986, was a 45-minute 16mm short called Baraba, an adaptation of the Herman Melville short story called Bartleby the Scribner.
"I changed it to a secretary who's hired by a lawyer to help him catch up on his files. I made it more of a battle between the sexes. The short was funded by a grant from a club at the University of Toronto called The Cardhouse where many filmmakers (Norman Jewison, David Cronenberg, Atom Egoyan, Donald Sutherland) got their start.
"My father used to produce summer stock theater and in 1958 was the first person to hire Donald Sutherland for a play called We're No Angels.
"Then I got a grant to make another short, "Sandor", about a Hungarian immigrant who moves to Canada. It dealt with an alienation and loneliness theme, how many immigrants feel trapped between two worlds and unable to fit in.
"Then I got a (Canadian) $35,000 grant from the Canada Council to make my first feature film in 1990 called "Pictures at the Beach". We shot for 18 days on Super 16mm. The movie is in the tradition of Eric Rohmer's "Pauline at the Beach" and Ingmar Bergman's "Smiles of a Summer Night". It's an atmospheric film about a group of friends spending a day at the beach where they learn truths about themselves. Inspired by Monet's paintings of the beach, the film attempts to be impressionistic rather than narrative, weaving scenes like a tapestry. It doesn't try to penetrate the surface but create a world by the shimmering effect of light.
"I sold it across the country. It never got a theatrical release but it played at a lot of festivals and I made some money on it.
"Then over several years in Toronto I directed over 100 commercials, some music videos, and some episodic television (Psi Factor). That wasn't satisfying. I wanted to make feature films. So in June 1997, I packed up and moved to Los Angeles.
"I began knocking on doors. I had a number of film projects I wanted to make. I found Hollywood a receptive place. The door is open. It wasn't difficult for me, even though I didn't know anyone and didn't have an agent.
"In December, 1997, I met someone at a Coffee Bean on Beverly Drive. This guy told me about a bank robbery on Baker Street in London in 1971. It was the most fantastic story I'd ever heard. I couldn't believe it hadn't been made into a movie yet. I sat down with the guy and wrote a ten-page treatment and began pitching it.
"Producer Lawrence Bender was kind enough to see me. He didn't know me from a hole in the ground. I pitched him eight projects. Then as I was packing up to go, I remembered the Baker Street project. 'Lawrence, I can't believe I forgot to pitch you this one.' And he said I could go ahead. I pitched him the story and he said, 'That's the one I want.' He was true to his word. Another producer wanted it as well, Judd Appetow (Freaks and Geeks, Cable Guy). The two of them got into a bidding war and in the end I decided to go with Lawrence.
"I liked the writers Dick Clement and Ian LeFrenais who'd written "The Commitments". It had a similar structure - the way one guy recruits all these other people on a wild scheme. "The Bank Job" has a similar feel. It was originally set up with Miramax but they let it go into turnaround so it was set up with Myriad. We're talking a $15 million budget to shoot in London, casting the so-called Brit Pack actors like Christian Bale (American Psycho, Empire of the Sun).
"I just set up another project with USA Network about a con man. We (Fountainhead Pictures) got this odd pitch in the mail. He was one of the pre-eminent con men working in the United States. He's 67 years old. He'd just got out of Chino state prison. We met and he told me about various cons he'd done. I selected one story out of many and we went around pitching it as "The Con". It's set up with Craig Anderson Productions.
"I just sold a big science fiction project to Silver Pictures called "The Time Patrol". It's based on a series of science fiction novels by Paul Anderson, a classic name in the genre. They want to do it as a big miniseries along the lines of "Band of Brothers"."
Luke: "What will it take to get it made?"
Aaron: "They want to set it up with a network. It's Joel Silver. That name has a cache. The project ties in well with "The Matrix," and that gives it a nice TV sendoff.
"Then I have a psychological adventure horror feature ("Into A Far Country") that we're trying to lockdown the financing. It's an adaptation of the Jack London short story "In A Far Country". I built up from the short story into a full feature script. The story's about these two misfits, completely unsuited to the conditions of the north country who wait out the winter in a log cabin. One becomes haunted by these ghosts who inhabit the cabin. "Into A Far Country" is metaphor for venturing into the dark regions of the psyche."
Luke: "Did you have to buy the rights to the short story?"
Aaron: "No, it's in the public domain.
"We have two good actors interested in the project."
Luke: "Do you have to sign them to the project to get the financing?"
Aaron: "No, the way it works is that once you have them interested, you can get financing. Once you get financing, you can make offers to the actors and lock them in."
Luke: "They will finance your movie based on your ability to land certain actors?"
Aaron: "It's a mixture of actors and material and other factors. You hope they're financing it based on the material.
"I had another project with TVA International but it got bought out by Quebec Corp, the Viacom of Quebec, and they shut down TVA's producing arm.
"I just sold another project to a company in Montreal called La Fete, which means 'the party' in French. Called "The Demon Hunters," it's an adventure-fantasy about four teenagers who play a virtual reality on the internet and end up being magically transported into the realm of the game. And they want to get home. And the only way home is to complete the game."
Luke: "You've learned a lot about pitching projects over the past few years."
Aaron: "You have to go in as prepared as you can be and try to enthuse them with your project and make them see what you see. Even then, it is still difficult to see what is going on with the machinations of the studios and production companies and what they're looking for. There's a chasing of the zeitgeist. They've always got their finger to the air. They're always visiting the delphic oracle and cutting open the goat and trying to read the entrails of the sensibilities of the time."
Luke: "How do you like Los Angeles?"
Aaron: "I love Los Angeles. Here we are sitting on the patio in November in the sun. I love the American spirit. With the tragedy of September 11, to see the patriotism and how the whole country pulled together. Canadians take their nationalism for granted. Americans have a receptive attitude. The door's open. Hollywood seeks material and new talent. In Canada, it is different. There isn't such an outlet while here in the U.S. it is like the giant turbine. The entertainment world is here and it has to churn out a lot of product. Those turbines have to suck in a lot of air to find deals.
"In Canada, I felt like a madman because there was nowhere to go with your ideas. And I'm a person of many ideas. I need a wide audience and a big forum. This place is Mecca. Mohammed must go to the mountain. All of us driven by our own vision of the movies must come here, like Richard Dreyfuss seeking out his mountain in "Close Encounters of the Third Kind".
"I've had to create my own persona to pitch because I come from a background that is more introspective and introverted. "What's frustrating is that there's such a time lag in the process. You have to be zen about it and just allow the process to take it course. It's out of your hands. It's with the gods of the cinema."
The 4/27/01 edition of the Jewish Journal of Los Angeles published this letter from Aaron Shuster, who's also been published in the LA Times a couple of times:
"I don’t know whether this will throw any light on the subject, but several years ago while wandering through the incredible Cairo Museum, I happened upon a hieroglyph which was translated as follows: "I have pursued the Hebrews into the desert and destroyed them. Their seed is no more."
"The museum noted that this is the only known artifact that records the existence of Jews in ancient Egypt. I have never doubted the veracity of the Exodus, although I do believe the report of the Jews’ demise has been greatly exaggerated."
Daily Variety published Tuesday: "The town is in a funk. Every nook and cranny of the biz -- from messenger services and masseurs to post houses and party organizers -- is feeling the malaise."
But I've not noticed this as I've driven around town interviewing producers. Everyone I've talked to says business is good.
Marc W. Deconstructs Brittany Spears
Our man Marc W. writes: But is Spears's transition from teenage strumpet to hypersexed 20-something an ill-advised gambit?
This afternoon, the press scrum at the Skydome Hotel conference room marvels at her impressive tresses and perfectly packaged cleavage, pondering whether she's morphing into the next Madonna, but without the snappy answers. It doesn't matter how much skin Spears shows -- it's the cerebral tissue that's wanting. "The more you do it, the better you get," she responds limply to a question about her performance goals. Drenched in innuendo, but there's no purr and a wink, no spoofing of self, no playing against the bombshell stereotype. In short, she's an incidental character in a circus of bombast and spin. If irony is dead, she's our girl.
We Need Humor
Khunrum writes: Humor, We Need Humor .. The producer stuff is so dry I can't find anything to turn into humor.....Does one have to be boring to be a producer?
Curious writes: Forget that! Nudity, We Need Nudity ...
Bob writes Luke: Well, they're short interviews. The people aren't really opening up to you; its more like they're doing their personal pictures for a Variety retrospective. You can sense the contempt when reading their words. You don't get a sense of their inner selves; there's isn't enough detail to get a sense of the inner workings of the business; you don't get a feeling for the city or the industry.