I attend the John Huston Artist's Rights Foundation
dinner as the guest of a big star. All the great and
good of Hollywood are there.
Jay Moloney, my agent, sits at the top table flanked
by Lew Wasserman, Steven Spielberg and Michael Ovitz.
During one of the many lulls in a dull evening, Jay
approaches our table. Jay is beaming as he delivers
some major news; Ovitz is leaving Creative Artists
Agency to take over Universal Studios and Jay, barely
thirty is going to step into Ovitz's shoes and head
the most powerful talent agency in the world.
No one doubts him for a moment.
I am in Paris to meet with actresses for "Leo
Tolstoy's Anna Karenina". The trains and airport
baggage handlers are all on strike. I am supposed to
go to London but I am stuck in my Hotel. I read
Tolstoy's "The Death of Ivan Ilyich" to pass the time.
Afterwards I wander around Paris aimlessly for
hours. Eventually I call the producers of "Anna
Karenina" and tell them that "Ivan Ilyich" will make a
better movie, as it is a far more compact and
harrowing story. The next day the strike ends, the
sun comes out and I go off to Russia to make "Anna
I am in London looping the actors and finishing the
sound work on "Anna Karenina". Meanwhile the
producers have hired a new editor to re-cut the film.
When I discover this I fly back to the states, but I
am barred from the cutting room. A three hour long
movie is eventually released at an incomprehensible
hour and forty-five.
Jay Moloney has been fired from CAA. The reason given
is cocaine addiction.
The movie I have been writing at Universal - "The
Thief of Always" - is stalled in development hell.
They are demanding a re-write by the fashionable young
writer of the day despite his total lack of interest
or suitability for the task. I am trying to get them
to hire Matthew Jacobs ("Paperhouse"), who I believe
will solve their 'problems'. I bend to their demands,
not wanting to be fired again or appear 'difficult'.
With time on my hands, I remember "The death of Ivan
Ilyich". After the failure of "Anna Karenina", I
cannot imagine who will want to finance another
Tolstoy adaptation. I think of ways to update the
story, make it more contemporary. The image of Jay
Moloney comes to mind. I try to find out where he is
now, what happened to him. Nobody knows. He has
been so successfully banished that it is hard to
imagine how important he once was in that town. This
strikes me as extremely powerful and chilling stuff,
the speed with which he fell from grace.
I tell this idea to Adam Krentzman - my other agent at
CAA, and he likes it a lot. Adam lets me hang out in
his office for research while he rolls calls. I
realize that no one in the conventional movie business
will ever finance this film.
Lisa Enos shows me a documentary she produced for A&E
network called "The Angel of Bergen Belsen. " It is the
story of Luba Traczynska, a Polish Jew, who hid
fifty-four children for four and a half months from
the guards at the extermination camp. It was shot in
five different countries and cost $189,000. 00. It was
shot digitally. I am very impressed by the picture
quality and want to know more.
The re-write for "Thief of Always" arrives. It is
utterly unusable. The studio agrees to let Matthew
Jacobs do the job.
Lisa Henson arranges for Lisa Enos and myself to go to
the Sony High Definition Center for a demonstration of
the new High Definition Digital cameras. With us are
some Directors of Photography. They are very cynical
about what they see, pooh-poohing the new system as
vastly inferior to film. Indeed, the tests are
unimpressive visually. Then something happens. There
is a direct comparison test; the same shot filmed with
35mm and then captured digitally. I notice one of the
DPs is mistaken about which is which, he recovers
quickly claiming not to have said what he meant, but
he could not tell the difference.
Lisa Enos and I go to a rental house to see the actual
camera. It is a revelation. It seems to capture
pristine crystal clear images in near darkness. It is
as simple to use as a consumer video recorder. Lisa
and I immediately see our opportunity. We can make a
feature film for the same price as a documentary using
this new camera. "The Death of Ivan Ilyich " done in
modern Hollywood is the ideal subject.
I finish the screenplay. The Hollywood stuff is all
pretty much taken from my direct experiences and works
well. When Ivan becomes ill and the story deals with
his tumor and all his dealings with the medical
profession, I am at a loss. Lisa's mother Joan has
died of cancer a year previously. The whole
experience is still fresh in Lisa's mind and she
contributes this aspect of the screenplay, making it
Lisa calls Steven Nemeth at Rhino films. She tells
him we want to make a digital film for a tiny budget
but we will not even show him the script. Steve comes
over right away and we pitch him the idea.
Miraculously he says yes on the spot. Lisa then
raises the rest of the money from a consortium of
Danny Huston is our first and only choice to play the
part of Ivan. Danny, the son of John Huston, has
been a personal friend of mine ever since I first came
to Los Angeles and made "Candyman" with his then wife,
Virginia Madsen. Danny, like Jay Moloney, has those
rare unfakable qualities - charm, charisma and an
unbridled joi de vivre. He is an absolutely magnetic
personality and a talented director. I have always
tried to convince Danny to take up acting seriously.
I finally succeeded in getting him a good role in
"Anna Karenina" but when the butcher's knives came out
to destroy that film they cut every moment of charm
and humanity out of it. Out went Danny's performance
as Stiva - Anna's brother. Danny read "ivansxtc" and
immediately understood it.
Next was Don West - megalomaniac movie star. Who
would dare play him? Adam Krentzman suggested his
client Peter Weller. I assumed he would be a
nightmare to approach, all promises and holding out,
but Peter was a delight, committed immediately and we
were up and running.
The idea was to cast people in roles that were as
close to the reality of their lives as possible. We
recruited Adam Krentzman to play a CAA agent, Hal
Lieberman to play a producer, Angela Featherstone,
Tiffani-Amber Thiessen and Valeria Golino to play
movie stars, doctors to play doctors, and cops to play
When it came to the part of Ivan's girlfriend,
Charlotte, Lisa Enos seemed ideal for the role. She
was a little nervous, taking such an important role
and producing the movie. Lisa made me promise her
that if she sucked I would tell her, so she could fire
herself and we could begin again.
Shooting begins. The speed and ease of the HD Cam is
astounding. The sound department is always running to
catch up with Ron Forsythe and myself who are the sole
members of the camera team. We never need to
supplement natural light levels. Shooting is so fast
that the light always matches and the actors never get
bored. The cast and crew total nine people so we all
can fit into two SUVs and race around town unnoticed.
Peter Weller kicks the film into high gear with a
hysterical turn as Don West on his way to a premiere.
We get amazingly beautiful shots inside a limousine at
night with no extra lighting and no cumbersome camera
rig or cutaway car. Peter comes out with amazing,
uncensored improvisations that challenge everybody to
live up to his level of energy. The script is left
behind as a pale memory. We can shoot and shoot,
getting some life into the thing. All the dead
practices of waiting around in trailers and waiting
for trucks to be unloaded and waiting for everybody's
energy to be sucked out of their soul just do not
apply here. It is incredibly liberating. This is when
we realize we are on to something.
We shoot the post-premiere party at "Le Deux Café" off
of Hollywood Boulevard. Because we do not light the
restaurant, people forget that we are filming. The
management continues to serve its patrons while we
shoot the scene (they sign releases on their way in to
dinner). An internet journalist, Jeffrey Wells who
at the time runs a column called "Mr. Showbiz" writes
about the shoot and appears as himself in the scene.
He is amazed by the quality of the images that are
literally lit by candlelight. We shoot a ten page
scene with eleven speaking parts in four hours.
Adam Krentzman begins his part as Barry Oaks in a
scene at Ivan's funeral where Danny McTeague (played
by director James Merendino), the angry young director
confronts his agent for selling him down the river for
a more important client. Adam takes me aside to tell
me that Universal is firing me from "Thief of Always".
I am shocked as they profess to love the script.
Adam tells me they now love it so much they want to
hire a more important director. I have worked on this
screenplay for three years.
The shoot progresses well. Lisa does not suck as
Charlotte, she is funny and brittle. Lisa somehow
manages to keep this incredibly complex (over fifty
speaking parts) shoot running on practically no money.
Lisa and I cut the movie on an Avid in our house.
Danny's performance emerges from the material as a
rock at the center of the picture. We cut away
everything that does not follow his state of mind.
We screen the first cut of "ivansxtc. " at Guaranteed
Media, where we will mix the sound. Adam calls me the
morning of the screening and says, "Jay Moloney hung
himself today. "
I am shocked and saddened by the news, and our small
audience watches the movie in stunned silence.
"ivansxtc" has subsequently been shown at festivals in
Toronto, Berlin, Santa Barbara, Jerusalem, Pusan and