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A never-ending quest for capital

Before that movie or play project can happen, there's a spirit-crushing little exercise called begging for backers.

July 18, 2004|David Freeman | Special to The Times

About a year ago I read a memoir that I thought had a movie hidden inside it. The rights were available, but the prospect of buying them myself and then writing the script and then trying to set it up as a film seemed so exhausting that I let it go. It has stayed in my mind -- a sign from the interior that no writer should ignore. I've talked to a few producers, people that I trust more than not, but it's risky. There's nothing to stop someone with more business courage than I have from securing the rights and waving goodbye to me. One guy groaned at the period (late '40s and early '50s) and muttered something about not seeing much in the way of foreign sales in it. Another had some interesting ideas, but I don't think he can get a thing like this off the ground.

The dilemma reminded me once again that a great deal of my time is spent pursuing money. I sometimes call it the quest for patrons or some salami like that, but it comes down to endlessly trying to finance one venture or another. It makes me feel like a fugitive from "Oliver." "Please, sir. Won't you buy my movie script? It's ever so clever." And "Please, sir. I have a play. I know you'd like it." Well, you get the idea.

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Stalemate check

The Writers Guild negotiations impasse continues. The companies have put their final offer on the table, where it's gathering dust. They made their proposal -- and pretty limp it was -- on June 2 and the Guild said no but let's keep talking. In the meantime we continue to work under the terms of the expired contract. In the past, the situation would have been effectively settled by Lew Wasserman. He would have looked over the demands and the offer and come up with something in the middle, told the other companies this is the deal and the Guild would have said either OK or risked calling a strike. No Lew anymore, and as a result there doesn't seem to be a single unifying voice on the companies' side. They're now negotiating with other unions. The WGA would like it if several of these contracts ran out at the same time. There's leverage in that, and it could happen.

The big issue for the Guild is getting a legitimate piece of the DVD profits. DVDs have changed the economics of Hollywood. Like a magic potion in a fairy tale, DVDs can make failing movies profitable. And they've changed the way adults watch movies. Kids will always want to get out of the house. Going to a theater in a mall is an adventure for them. The over-35 set would prefer not to deal with parking, noisy patrons and seemingly endless previews. Purists will go on about how DVDs even on large home screens aren't as good as a 35-mm print projected in a theater.

True enough, but irrelevant. DVDs are here, and they're not going away.

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Giving Brando his due

There was a surprising strain of harshness in some of the reporting of Marlon Brando's death. Brando hadn't done much of interest in awhile, but the man changed the nature of American acting. The director and acting teacher Robert Lewis talked of seeing him on Broadway in 1944 in "I Remember Mama." Bobby (everyone called him that) said that when Brando made his entrance he thought that a stagehand had wandered on stage. What he meant was that Brando had a reality about him that was different than the slightly artificial manner of the other actors.

One measure of Brando's power is on display in the film of "A Streetcar Named Desire." The movie ran afoul of the Legion of Decency and was censored for sexual content. It was only a few years ago that a full version became available. The secondary performances, particularly Kim Hunter as Stella, were improved by the restoration. Brando was untouched. He seemed the essence of male sexuality, and it was apparent in every shot. He walked down the street carrying a lunch box and you could all but see waves of libido rolling out of him. The only way to censor him would have been to cut him out of the movie.

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Marketing that novel

This is a quiet time of year at the Farmers Market, at least in the early morning. I think what I most like about the place is the quotidian sameness. My life seems so unsettled so much of the time that the simplicity of the market appeals. There's usually a batch of would-be contestants for "The Price Is Right" at CBS milling around. They wear T-shirts imprinted with messages to Bob Barker -- "We love Bob!" "Choose me, Bob!" and sometimes the name of their hometown. Hamilton, Ohio, was represented recently. Many of them look like examples of what is meant by "America's obesity problem."

A few days ago, a gent in one of those T-shirts learned that I was the fellow who had written a book about the market. He seemed to think it was a guidebook or maybe a history of the place. I explained that it was a novel and part of it was set at the market. He understood and then asked if he could buy a copy. From me. Maybe he thought he'd get a discount that way. I suggested he try a bookstore. That seemed reasonable to him, if not quite what he had in mind. So I told him what I tell everyone who asks about the book: It's All True. That seemed to satisfy him.

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David Freeman is a screenwriter and author, most recently, of "It's All True: A Novel of Hollywood."

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