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Tolstoy's 'Ivan Ilyich' Meets the CAA

June 03, 2002|Times staff writers

The independent film "ivansxtc" is described by its creator as Tolstoy meets the Creative Artists Agency. The movie, which opens Friday in limited release, stars Danny Huston (son of director John Huston) as a Hollywood super-agent who destroys himself with drugs and alcohol.

Co-writer and director Bernard Rose ("Immortal Beloved") said he adapted the film from Tolstoy's "The Death of Ivan Ilyich" and was inspired by his own former CAA agent, Jay Maloney, the Armani-suited power broker who struggled with cocaine and hanged himself in November 1999.

Rose said he had finished filming earlier that same year and was shocked to hear about Maloney's suicide. "After Michael Ovitz left to go to Disney, it was generally accepted in the business that Jay would take over CAA." Then, Rose said: "Suddenly he was gone. I wasn't a party to what really went on." The film has a simple moral, Rose said. "The one thing we all have in common is that we die. Even in Hollywood, where success seems to have all the accouterments anyone could desire, you're not allowed to breathe a word about mortality. You get a face lift, go to the gym, eat the right foods, but no one got out alive yet. The moral of Tolstoy's story is [that] the one thing we have in common, that makes us human, is our own mortality, and denial of mortality causes that kind of extreme behavior."

The movie (pronounced "Ivan's ecstasy") portrays agents as aggressive dealmakers, sometimes betraying friends and clients; coddling a gun-toting, homophobic star; avoiding clients by pretending the cell phone has cut out; never reading scripts; and consorting with prostitutes. Rose used actual footage of CAA employees at their weekly meeting in a scene showing the Maloney character being applauded by colleagues for landing a big client. CAA executives had been cooperating on his project, Rose said, until they saw the final cut. Rose claims CAA executives and agents were so upset that they mounted a whispering campaign that prevented the movie from finding a distributor for a long time. "We were told again and again by people, 'Nobody wants to touch this movie because they think they're going to get in trouble with CAA. They won't have access to the stars.' Whether threats were made actually or by implication, the effect is the same. It became impossible for me to get employment as a writer or director," Rose said.

A CAA spokesman said the allegations were untrue.

The movie was filmed with a digital camera on a shoestring budget and has played on the film festival circuit. It is being distributed by Artistic License/Zen Pix Inc.

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