Saturday, September 24, 2011

Vince & James

Well, I have to confess that last night was a bit of a let-down.

It had nothing to do with the crowd's reaction to Tolltaker. It was more because the festival people were showing the wrong version of it. Instead of the Blu Ray with the gorgeous sound track and sound mix that I had paid good money for, that I had rushed to get to them a few days earlier, I was sitting in my seat, watching unfold before me the rough cut I had sent in months earlier, with the understanding that I would replace it with the final cut before the screening. Which I did.

It was really too painful to watch. I got up and hurried out of the theater, found the house manager and had some words that I guess could be characterized as tense. He offered to stop the movie, put in the right version, and fast-forward to the spot where the movie was at now.

I declined. That didn't make any sense to me. The movie was half over already. Whatever meager spell it might have cast over the audience would be completely broken if the film were interrupted like that. So I wound up sitting out in the lobby for the rest of the Tolltaker and the movie after that. Kind of a pouty, spoiled-brat thing to do I know, but I was pissed.

So, all in all, not a pleasant evening. But the day did have an upside. On the way to the festival (sitting in traffic that was moving slower than your average lava flow, it should be mentioned), I received a phone call from my friend Vince, who had just watched the Tolltaker.

I've known Vince Jolivette since about 1998, when we were both working as bartenders at the Bel Air Bay Club, which tells everyone that it's in Malibu, but is actually in Pacific Palisades, California. It was a private club for the rich, sitting on one of the few privately owned strips of beach in the state.

All in all, it was a pretty cushy gig, especially if you were working the day shift. Mostly I would just sit and read a book, or gaze out the open window at the Santa Monica Bay.

Vince was that Hollywood stereotype, an aspiring actor who made his living in the food industry. He was from Ohio, and seemed to have brought his entire college graduating class out to California with him. He was always hanging out with friends whom he knew either from college, or from his hometown just outside Cincinnati.

Vince was studying his craft, as every serious artist must do, and was doing so at a studio called Playhouse West in North Hollywood. The day he started, he ran into someone new, who (I believe) was also just starting at the studio. His name was James Franco. The two became fast friends.

Over the years, Vince and James did acting exercises together, worked on scenes, acted in plays. This continued as James began to land ever bigger and more impressive acting gigs. Freaks and Geeks, James Dean (for which he won a Golden Globe), Spiderman.

Vince and James formed a production company together, Rabbit Bandini Productions, which Vince would largely run as James flew off to wherever he was filming a movie. They began producing movies, first shorts, then a few feature-length films, all of which Vince produced.

A couple years after I moved back to the East Coast, James began taking classes at, it seemed, every university in the known world. There was NYU, Columbia and - I believe - Brooklyn College. James had gotten an apartment in Manhattan, which he shared with Vince and a pretty, charming female assistant (whose name, unfortunately, escapes me right now).

Vince, my best friend Jesper (who also knew Vince from the Bel Air Bay Club) and I would hang out in the city, and on, occasion, we would return to the apartment in Chelsea that Vince shared with James. It was a pretty cool apartment. James had eschewed a high-rise penthouse in favor of three floors in a turn-of-the-century (and I mean 20th Century) walk-up.

A really cool feature of the apartment was a roof-top deck, which provided stunning views of both midtown and downtown. I remember on at least one occasion relaxing up there with Vince and the nameless-but-pretty assistant, having beers and basically just hanging out.

James wasn't there, but my friendship with Vince has, from time to time, brought me in contact with him. The first time was back in Los Angeles, where Vince and James did a little scene in a friend's garage and I filmed it. Even then, James was the budding director. He had very specific shots in mind. This wasn't going to be a case of plop the camera on a tripod and get what you can.

Then there was a time I went to his apartment in North Hollywood. This was in an impressive office-retail-apartment complex that really stuck out from all the east Valley blandness that surrounded it. I don't remember much furniture, but it seemed that every horizontal surface was covered with empty, plastic bottles of spring water. Apparently he drank it when he painted (pictures, that is), which I hadn't known previously that he did.

On the East Coast, I met him one time at the premiere of his film Good Time Max at the TriBeCa Film Festival. He had to give a little speech at the beginning, introducing the movie, which he shuffled through rather bashfully. Afterwards, Jesper and I were part of an entourage that took over a restaurant uptown for the rest of the night.

Then there was the time, about a year or so ago, that James was directing a short film (a student film, I believe, for NYU) in Virginia, and asked Jesper and me to do him a favor. The production was renting about ten rooms at a hotel in the town of Suffolk for about a week and wanted to work a barter deal with the hotel whereby the production would get a steep discount if they produced a short, promotional video for the hotel. Knowing that Jesper and I do those kind of videos for a living, he called us.

After the shoot, we went back down about a week later to shoot some behind-the-scenes footage. The movie was a short called Herbert White and the lead role was played by the actor Michael Shannon, who was nominated for an Oscar for his performance in Revolutionary Road. An Oscar-nominated star. For a student film. You can do it if you're James Franco.

They had assembled a casual, relaxed crew that gelled well together. About half were classmates of James' from NYU, and the other half were local kids from the community college. By the time Jesper and I got there, they had gotten into the kind of groove any film crew (hopefully) gets into, where everyone is one big family, and it seems like they've known each other forever.

There were a couple memorable moments from the two days we spent with the production. One location was a derelict old shack of a house that some members of the crew believed was haunted. After the production wrapped at that location, James and Michael posed for a photograph, sitting on the porch in a pair of battered lawn chairs. Just before (or after - I'm not sure) the picture was taken, there was a loud crack of splintering wood and the porch beneath James gave way, tumbling him off the chair and onto his back in the dirt. He landed laughing.

Another moment was when the cast and crew were assembled at a farmhouse that was kind of serving as headquarters for the production. It was the last day of shooting, and everyone was having lunch. The atmosphere was relaxed, even festive. One of the Virginia kids was having a birthday, and James presented him with a cake and did a little mock interview, which I taped.

A little later, I was chatting with James, and he asked about the work we did at Reel Stuff. I told him some of our projects, including Living Tomorrow, a 15-episode original series for The Discovery Channel that we had shot in Europe a few years before. Vince was the host of the series.

"Wait! That was you?," James asked. "I wondered how Vince got that gig."

Anyway, enough of the reminiscing. Once again, Vince called me yesterday after he had watched the Tolltaker. He was very enthusiastic about it, and offered one or two suggestions for "taking it to the next level," so to speak. The main suggestion was to cut a version of it that was substantially shorter. This would make it more palatable to agents, who are often the key to getting movies made in Hollywood (and my overall goal is to get a Tolltaker feature made).

"No agent's going to want to sit through a 23-minute short film," Vince said. The ideal length is 12 to 15 minutes. So I'll cut a shorter version, which Vince said he would take, along with the feature-length Tolltaker screenplay, to James' agents at CAA. After that, who knows?

So, that's one iron in the fire. There are certainly no guarantees, so the wisest thing would be to press ahead with submitting Tolltaker to film festivals, racking up as many awards, views and "Likes" on Facebook as we can. So, to Tolltaker people everywhere, I repeat the prime directive:

Spread the Virus.

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