RANDY TURROW DOESN'T FIT MY CONCEPT OF A MOVIE PRODUCER. HE'S 35 years old, a nonsmoker and a nondrinker and has been a committed vegetarian ever since, as he says, the "1971 earthquake convinced me that I wasn't immortal."
On the set, he wears a black cowboy hat, jeans and a billowy, long-sleeved white shirt that is reminiscent of some 18th-Century painter. But unlike some Angst -ridden artist, Turrow is so buoyant, upbeat and otherwise optimistic that from time to time I wonder if he fully understands the problem. "Randy isn't easily discouraged," says his girlfriend, Kay Netek. "The most disappointed I've ever seen him was once when his carrot juice wasn't fresh."
I met Turrow in 1986 after he called to say he had read an article of mine about an overly passionate poet who pursued a woman till he ended up in jail and she ended up half-crazy. Turrow said that it was a great premise for a feature film and that if I was willing to write the screenplay, he would raise the money to film it. Flattered that anyone thought I could write a screenplay, I threw myself into it every night and weekend over the next couple of months.
That, I discovered, was the easy part.
IT'S A WARM SUNDAY NIGHT IN SEPTEMBER IN THE PARKING LOT OF A restaurant in Venice. Randy Turrow is leaning against someone's black Porsche, explaining to the film's director and star, Bud Cort, that he has exactly five more hours to finish the shoot. The cameras will start rolling tomorrow at 8 p.m., and they will stop at 1 a.m. whether "Love and Venus" (the film made from my screenplay) is done or not.
"You knew what the situation was," Turrow says with uncharacteristic irritation. "You said you could shoot it in 30 days. You're four days over schedule and over budget. The bonding company wanted me to stop shooting yesterday. I had to beg for one more day."
Everyone on the crew has a suggestion for finishing the film, but Turrow begs them to please be quiet. "We have to get these shots in," he says, holding his head in his hands. "I've got to figure out how to do it."
Late the following afternoon, the cast and crew meet in a narrow Venice alley beside a stagnant, moss-filled canal to rehearse the first scene of the evening. But immediately, Cort and cinematographer Dietrich Lohmann start to snap at each other.
"We didn't discuss this," says Lohmann, a German expatriate who, in response to Cort's demands, has more than once threatened to walk off the set.
"Sure we did," asserts Cort, who is no shrinking violet himself.
"No," insists Lohmann.
"This is exactly what we planned."
"I can't stand this," says Lohmann, swinging his head like a chained elephant. "I'm trying to help you. I've been helping you for weeks."
"That's your job," says Cort. "That's what you're paid to do."
"Don't talk to me in that tone of voice," says Lohmann.
At this point, Turrow breaks in with a call for rehearsal. Cort and Lohmann calm down, but it's hardly an auspicious beginning to the most important and pressure-packed night of the entire shoot. Critical scenes are still missing. It won't be dark enough to start shooting until 8 p.m., and over the next five hours (the city shooting permit for this location requires us to stop at 1 a.m.), they have to knock off a minimum of 27 camera setups--more than they'd do in a normal 12-hour shooting day.
At sundown, Turrow calls upon the 70-person cast and crew to form a circle and join hands for a prayer meeting-pep rally. He isn't really an inspirational speaker, but he makes up for it by laying on flattery high and deep. He tells the actors and technicians that what they do here tonight will make cinematic history--"When this is on the screen 20 years from now, I'll be thinking of you."
Concluding with an amphibian allusion, he asks everyone to "win one for the guppies, and may the guppies turn into frogs and the frogs turn into princes, and that is what I want for everyone here--to be a prince or princess."
"Gee," says one grip, wiping away a mock tear. "That was beautiful."
WITH TURROW, I CAN NEVER QUITE DECIDE whether he is blissfully innocent or uncannily shrewd. When he was a high school wrestler, he tells me, he once won a tournament simply by flattering away his opponent's will to win: "Every time I saw him, I said, 'I shouldn't even be in the same room with you. I don't have a prayer. You're my God. I don't even want to go out on the mat. Let me concede right now.' "
Despite his talent for persuasion, it never occurred to Turrow to go into the film business. In 1974 (the year the movie takes place), while he was still at Cal State Northridge, a friend's father got him a job in the mail room at Creative Management Associates (now International Creative Management)--which for him was a real education. He'd be sent to deliver a package to Robert Redford, and he'd say, "What's he look like?"