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COUNTERPUNCH

'Kalifornia' Rewrite No 'Cut-and-Paste'

October 25, 1993|DOMINIC SENA | Sena, a founding director of Propaganda Films, has created music videos for Janet Jackson, Sting, David Bowie and Tina Turner . He won a Gold Lion at Cannes for his "Nike/Agassi" commercial. "Kalifornia," his first feature film, received the International Critics Award for best picture and best cinematography at this year's Montreal Film Festival. and

As the director of the film "Kalifornia," I feel obliged to respond to Tim Metcalfe's article ("The Real 'Kalifornia' Got Lost in the Filmmaking Journey," Counterpunch, Sept. 27).

Since Metcalfe's involvement with the project lasted a few short months and mine 1 1/2 years, hopefully I can provide a somewhat less fragmented perspective on the process of getting his script from shelf to screen.

In 1989, I began looking for a low-budget script to direct--a low-profile opportunity to get some feature film experience under my belt. By November, 1990, I had been looking for that "perfect script" for more than 18 months with little success and growing frustration. I realized it was time to lower my sights and keep an eye out for interesting characters or an interesting premise within a flawed script and be prepared for a lot of hard work.

Then I read "California" by Tim Metcalfe. It had an interesting character in the homicidal sociopath Early Grayce and an interesting premise: "ride share from hell." I took it to the production executives at Propaganda Films and asked them to option it for me to direct, which they did.

It was made clear to me, however, that the project was by no means approved to go into production, and would not be until the myriad story problems and plot holes were solved and the characters refined.

I then reviewed the script in detail with my producer and co-producer, and we shared our script concerns with Metcalfe. When we received his first rewrite in January 1991, Metcalfe's reluctant execution of the suggestions and ideas we'd offered was so disappointing that it jeopardized the credibility of the entire project.

Despite the fact that Metcalfe's first rewrite was discouraging, Propaganda's executives urged that we provide him with more extensive notes and have him take a shot at a second rewrite. At that point, we provided Metcalfe with nearly 60 pages of notes that included what we and the production company considered necessary changes.

We received his second rewrite in March of 1991. It was an uninspired attempt to integrate the changes we'd requested. At this point, Metcalfe's involvement with the project was terminated.

The last thing I wanted at that time was to inherit the added responsibility of fixing the script that we'd been left with. Nonetheless, since there was no financing available to hire another writer, I, together with my producer and co-producer, began the first of 10 additional drafts of the script for "Kalifornia."

Over the next 12 months, as each script was an improvement, interest in the project grew.

Actors' agents who wouldn't even return our calls based on earlier drafts submitted to them were now repeatedly calling us, insisting that we meet to discuss their clients' interest in the script.

The production company's confidence grew as well. A script that had originally merited a ceiling budget of $4 million grew to an $8.5-million project.

In his article, Metcalfe insinuated that the extent of our contributions to the script were essentially of a cosmetic "cut-and-paste" nature, yet the story that the film describes is that of a writer in the midst of writing a book on serial killers who encourages his girlfriend, a "Mapplethorpe-esque" photographer, to collaborate with him. Together, they decide to travel cross-country to California, stopping along the way at a number of infamous murder sites in hopes of researching and documenting the places. To share the expenses and driving, they advertise for a second couple to ride share with them. Enter Early Grayce and Adele Corners.

In Metcalfe's original script, the protagonist is not a writer nor is his girlfriend a photographer. There is no collaboration between them to work on a book and no plan to visit the infamous murder sites along the way. Anyone who's seen the film knows how significantly each of these elements affects the story and its characters, and how important they are in propelling the journey forward.

Cut-and-paste? Hardly.

The "whimsical" additions mentioned above are the proverbial tip of the iceberg of material we contributed to the script. Fortunately for Metcalfe, he remained the writer of record during the first two rewrites, during which, at our insistence, the majority of these script changes took place. And regardless of how begrudgingly he executed those changes or how much of the script had to be rewritten, the fact that he implemented them secured for him his final screenplay credit.

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