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Hard Lessons

February 07, 1988|Leonard Klady \f7

Some movies refuse to die. Like "Talking Walls," a low-budget, comic exploration of human relationships centering on a young man who surreptitiously films couples as part of his graduate thesis.

It was only recently released by New World Pictures, and then on videocassette, although filming began five years ago. Writer-director Stephen Verona ("Boardwalk") told us that private investment money dried up 16 days into a 30-day shooting schedule and, after attempts at refinancing the film failed, he gave up all hope of finishing it.

Imagine his surprise in September when Variety reviewed it--negatively!

He has since learned that producer Philip Waxman finished the picture on his own--using film students from Cal State Long Beach.

Verona, who hasn't seen the final version, claims Waxman violated basic Directors Guild work rules, particularly by going behind his back to finish the film.

"I've been hurt financially, I've been hurt creatively, my reputation's taken a beating," he insisted. "I spent 19 months on it and received $13,500 because I was stupid enough to plow my salary back into the film. I figure it cost me about $30,000 for each additional percentage point participation."

Waxman countered that the film had an 18-day schedule: "My mistake was going ahead without a finished screenplay and when I saw the assembled footage, there was no film--Verona razzle-dazzled the investors pretty good."

Waxman said the idea of using students occurred serendipitously. Jonathan Lawton, son of his friend, author Harry Lawton (whose nonfiction book was the basis for the Waxman-produced "Tell Them Willie Boy Is Here") and a film student at Cal State Long Beach in '83, told Waxman he could write a new storyline to solve existing plot holes. Young Lawton, now credited as the film's "creative consultant," arranged for a screening for his class and his profs agreed to allow about a dozen students to work on the new sections as a practical exercise.

Waxman paid for a weekend shoot in 1984. "Whatever value the picture has is as a result of this solution," he insisted. "It's definitely one way to go, and I'm prepared to go that way again."

But is it all legit? A DGA spokesman said the guild is trying to gather further info. Verona claimed Waxman denied that additional material had been shot when a Guild rep contacted him, but Waxman insisted no such call occurred. Verona also maintained that Waxman told the actors that he'd quit the production, clearing the way for their involvement in the Cal State filming. Waxman said that the producers removed Verona whether he liked it or not.

Actress Marie Lauren, a lead in the movie, said Waxman told her that Verona had departed and her agent encouraged her to film the new scenes. "They shot the corniest, crudest stuff," she said. "Whatever original spark Stephen gave the film was destroyed. I'm really angry about the finished film."

Waxman insisted that the direction was unfocused and additional filming made the story clearer. "The proof is that the money's coming in only now that Verona's off the project. The investors applaud my efforts."

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