There is a big difference between living a life story about which people say, “That ought to be a movie,” and possessing a life story about which those same people will pay real money to buy the book or sit in a theater to view that movie.
There are many examples in literature of real-life inspirations. Quite a few characters in famous books, plays, films, and poems are “based on” people from their creators’ lives. Molly Bloom in “Ulysses” is more than based on James Joyce’s beloved wife, Nora Barnacle. This bit of literary casting was no secret, even while Joyce was at work on his masterpiece. Several voices in T.S. Eliot’s “The Waste Land” are said to be direct quotations of some of his wife Viv’s statements, and some of the women’s lines in the poem were re-written to meet her editorial suggestions. Thus she knew till her dying day that she was in and had partly contributed to a great work of art.
More often, it is kept secret. Imagine the havoc that would be visited on a writer’s life if the real people knew which creations they may have been the inspiration for. What if Gollum was based on a schoolmate chum of J.R.R. Tolkien’s? Upon learning of this, that person would never have have allowed Tolkien to leave his sight while forcing him to rewrite every scene in which Gollum appeared.
Many people are starring in a movie that is only being made in their minds. If you landed the job of producer/casting director/stagehand on the crew of a Big Hollywood Anything, every nephew and brother-in-law might set about to audition via annoyance for their rightful place beside you.
Two stories. I once worked in a bookstore with someone whose closest college friend worked as a personal assistant to a famous, Oscar-winning, director whose name sounds like “Don Howard.” It was a strong enough connection (a college friendship) that my co-worker actually attended the Oscars a couple of times and met some of those famous people that famous people want to meet. It was not a strong enough connection, however, to send movie ideas to this busy Hollywood director, or to land an audition with him or his people, no matter how many attempts I watched people make at our bookstore checkout counter. My friend was a clerk in a college bookstore in New Paltz, New York, for crying out loud, not a casting director from Los Angeles slumming it in our sleepy college town. The somewhat important fact that she did not have “Don Howard” on speed dial at home did not matter when this tangentially close personal relationship became known every so often. Impromptu auditions would happen at the checkout line. Now, I myself did not pretend-audition, as I was too busy trying to unimpressively impress the famous writers who would sometimes pass through our front door.
And I have experienced this fantasy in reverse. This is my second story. A couple of years ago, a friend of mine and I were introduced to a film actor. A well-known one. My friend happens to have lived a life story about which everyone says, “That sounds like a movie.” Upon hearing some of my friend’s life story, the film actor said, “That sounds like a movie.”
“How soon can you come out to Los Angeles?” the actor actually asked, out loud, with those very words. “How soon can you come out to L.A.? I will be there next week, shooting” (insert name of television show being filmed at that time) “and I’ll talk with” (insert name of famously famous actor with whom he was extremely extraordinarily best close friends with) “before you come out here. Of course,” (insert name of famous famous actor whom he knew better than I know my family) “will want to play YOUR part,” he said to my friend with a chuckle, but added, “I will let him believe this, so our project will get fast-tracked.”
“Our project.” That one word transformed the story from a real-life life to something better: a movie. That transition from our project to our-project-with-him sounded just like a compliment. Just like one.
And for a halfteenth of a second it looked like it was going to happen.
I was going to be the writer, of course. We exchanged phone numbers and handshakes and hugs and my friend and I set to work. “I will be back here in New York the week after next and I will let you know how it went,” our friend told us. By “it,” I took him to mean his pitching our story—I mean, his and our story, and, really, you must remember this, my friend’s story—to his famous version of a famous friend. “Be ready to fly out at a moment’s notice.” I even started looking at airline ticket price websites. “A moment’s notice-iss-issssss,” echoed in my cranium.
I was sure that I was going to be in Los Angeles for the first time ever in a matter of weeks. (I still haven’t been.) I wrote a preliminary screenplay treatment and emailed it to our important but close personal actor friend, whom I will refer to as Captain Hollywood. I thought he ought to have the treatment, even a slim outline representing the story we had described to him over lunch. No reply came.
I expanded it into a more complete film treatment over the next few days, probably a very unprofessional one, but does the look of a document matter when the story itself “sounds like it ought to be a Hollywood movie?” and you are sending it to a famous actor who said it ought to be a movie, himself? Captain Hollywood was going to have someone handle the formatting, anyway, and he was also going to serve as our personal key to unlock the Golden Door.
No reply came to that work, either, and the promised return from our friend “a week or so from now” came instead many months later. His television show had been picked up for a full season, so he had been legitimately busy in his own real-life life of making fantasies appear real inside a television camera.
When we saw him again, he did not mention our shared project. Our project. You know, our-project-with-him?
I half-heartedly brought it up when he and I were alone, and he replied, “You’re still working on that? I remember that one.” He paused a moment to allow his memory to actually supply him with the memory.
“I remember that one. That’s a good story. It sounds just like a movie. If you get anyone’s attention in Hollywood, maybe I can help you find a place to stay.”
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This is a re-write of a column from March 2015. Names of the famous, infamous, and not famous remain protected.
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