Nomaville: All the President’s Mensch

Wormwood and BarnstormWhen I was a small-town reporter on the eve of a five-year stint in the Hollywood trenches, I used to fret about the motion picture of my life. How would the cast and crew behind my own personal biopic bridge the continental divide between my years as a newspaperman and those I foresaw as a mogul? Fortunately for the History Channel, I never became a mogul as such – despite my time skulking the back lots, enduring pitch meetings and suffering the remonstrations of my agents, manager and attorney. This merry band, I now recall with a modicum of hmmph, represented a 25 percent interest in my paycheck. The fact that much of this work was written with a partner meant that after our split and our reps’ fees, we were both left with about 30 percent of the pie, half of which went to taxes. It soon became clear that we should forgo the Herculean effort of writing and simply become agents ourselves. Our reasoning was that we would make the same and like everyone else in Hollywood, we could take credit for the work regardless who had labored on it. My partner and I set up shop as a literary management company but, in time, grew resentful doing other writers’ legwork. In the end, we convinced one of our clients to rep us and now he gets 10 percent of our take and we get 10 percent of his. That this client is my partner is only mildly confounding, but no less absurd, I suppose, as underwriting my writing career with a day job as a writer.

Indeed, I’ve long endeavored to braid the wisps of my professional pursuits into something more substantial than so much macramé. How does one unite the disparate lines of filmmaker and newspaperman (the Contessa made me quit the “international playboy” gig – must have been the commute)? The facile answer has always been “be a film critic.” Alas, my film reviews were rife with phrases like “This is what I would have done,” which my editors thought too telling.

“Damn right, they’re telling,” I’d retort. “I’m telling them how to make a movie.”

“And who are you to presume how to make a movie?”

“Trust me, I’m right.”

“Okay, Mr. Right, go rewrite your review. This time in third-person. And by the way, no one cares that Han Solo should have died in ‘Empire Strikes Back.’”

“Lawrence Kasdan cares.”

“Lawrence Kasdan doesn’t read your column.”

(Whether or not “Empire” screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan reads my column could not be verified by press time.)

At first glance, making movies about the newspaper business seems an apropos alternative. The relative dearth of such flicks, however, suggests that audiences respect the genre as much as canaries do cage-liner.

I asked managing editor Tim Omarzu, “Which newspaper movie do you prefer, ‘All the Presidents Men’ or ‘Fletch?’”

“I never saw ‘Fletch,’” he responded. “But I saw ‘Caddyshack’ a bunch of times. In terms of getting the most for your entertainment dollar ‘Caddyshack’ is way better than ‘Lost in
Translation,’” he said sagely. “It’s got great social commentary about class struggle and…”

“Dude, we’re talking about newspaper movies, man.”

“Yeah, but remember the Baby-Ruth in the pool? Comedy gold, my friend.”

I actually began writing a newspaper movie, but due to my yen to explore the interiority of the characters, it amounted to a bunch of people sitting at desks staring at computer screens under a heap of voice-over. I’ve since reshaped the project as a novel, which has led to some social unease between my colleagues and me – especially when I try to capture their snappy repartee in my notebook and ask them to repeat their better lines.

An actual exchange:

“I’m saving my money for when the revolution comes, man.”

“I’m hoarding cigarettes. After the economy collapses, tobacco will be worth way more than your paper money.”

But what does a filmmaking newspaperman horde for the revolution? A sap would say “moments,” a realist would say “cigarettes.” I’m inclined to think I’d be part of the revolution or, on the flipside, one of its casualties (guys like me are usually rounded up at the start of such endeavors) so I’ll leave the hoarding to my newsroom pals. And take a 10 percent commission.

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