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First Person

Hey, Sean, Did You Enjoy Being Roomies or Was It All Just an Act?

April 14, 2001|JOSEPH HANANIA | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Dear Sean:

Sure, I confess. It was a kick in the pants to be your sort-of roommate. So we shared an apartment for only eight days, including the time it took your crew to move you in and out. That still counts, doesn't it?

The news that you wanted to move in came in a call from my landlord, Pat Cramer. "How'd you like to be in the movies?" his voice boomed over the phone. OK, it wasn't really me who was going to Writer Joseph Hanania's Santa Monica apartment was used as a set for the upcoming film "I Am Sam," starring Sean Penn and Michelle Pfeiffer.

be in your newest movie, "I Am Sam," directed by Jessie Nelson; it was my apartment. Why split hairs? My apartment's "unusual" qualifications for the role, according to the film's location manager, Russ Sega: My bedroom window overlooks the window of neighbor Carl Wied above a garden walkway. Both apartments also look out on the street.

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Friday April 20, 2001 Home Edition Calendar Part F Page 2 Entertainment Desk 1 inches; 22 words Type of Material: Correction
Location manager--Russ Fega is the location manager for the film "I Am Sam." His last name was misspelled in a story about the movie in Saturday's Calendar.

The idea was that you would move into my apartment, Dianne Wiest into Carl's. Playing a mentally challenged man seeking to retain custody of his little girl, you would enviously stare through my window at Dianne's warm home life. Along the way, you would so frustrate your high-powered lawyer, played by Michelle Pfeiffer, that she would storm your apartment and kick in your/my front door.

And so, barely 24 hours after my landlord's call, about 20 crew members--the film is an Avery Pix production for New Line Cinema--were standing on a traffic island, all seemingly looking straight up at my windows. And then, they all arrived to inspect my apartment, whispering about that kicked-in door. I guess I wasn't supposed to find out because otherwise I might freak.

And then they were gone, leaving an apartment which suddenly felt empty. Had it--had I--landed you as my roommate? Or had my contact high with Hollywood already produced my first letdown? I needn't have worried. This, I learned, had been my apartment's second audition.

During the first, my landlord and the location manager had knocked on my door while my maid was cleaning and explained their mission. She had let them in but, believing that any talk of your wanting to move in must be another Hollywood fantasy, she had never even told me about the visit.

And so it came about that your crew decided that yes, indeed, my apartment would be perfect for you. The question, then, was how much to charge for you to move in. There is no standard rate for renting out a home, says Morrie Goldman, spokesman for the Entertainment Industry Development Corp., which coordinates on-location filming throughout Los Angeles. Mostly, it's catch as catch can, with the rate partially determined by a location's uniqueness, its frequency of use and the film's budget.

In Santa Monica, where permit requirements are generally tighter, a film company must also get written permission from the manager or owner of any affected residence, which mostly means those whose street parking spaces are blocked by those ubiquitous movie trucks, says city permit coordinator Vee Gomez. So my landlord, as well as the owners of nearby buildings, were undoubtedly negotiating sweet deals for themselves. But I was still none the wiser about how much to ask for.

Although you were scheduled to move into my apartment for only two days, those two days would not be consecutive; rather, they would be separated by a three-week stretch. To cut down on preparation time, the film company's assistant location manager proposed that I allow my home to remain, for those weeks, as your apartment. In short, my Tiffany-style lamps would give way to your character's Woolworth-style lamps, my pearl white walls to your dark gray ones and so forth. Thus, his pitch went, I would get to "live in Sean Penn's apartment."

Still, before you could move in, I went through intense negotiations for your planned stay, negotiations concluded less than 24 hours before the first set designers were due to arrive on Feb. 21, transforming my bedroom into yours. My fee: $7,000, plus what became a five-day expenses-paid vacation for two, first at Shutters on the Beach, later at the Fairmont Miramar.

*

It was a very sweet deal, but as the days went on, something gnawed at me. I missed having breakfast at my own table. I missed being able to walk two blocks over to my local tennis courts, without first having a valet get my car. Most of all, though, I missed the regularity of my work.

And so, I began sneaking home to interview people from my phone in the study, even as crew members popped their heads in, clearly wondering who I was. Despite the chaos in my apartment, however, some changes your film crew made were clearly for the better. For example, my apartment building is called The Wonder Palms, that wonder consisting of two scraggly courtyard palms. By the time you had moved in though, my building was surrounded by planter boxes full of palms. Opening my study window, I could, for the first time, actually touch a palm leaf.

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