Films I didn't do Next....


Late in 1983 I was in Los Angeles following the ritual that British directors still do today: 'making the rounds'. My then agents at CAA had prepared a detailed and through schedule which included directions (we were still using map books) and detailed instructions on how to navigate the security at Fox, Paramounts, Disney etc and how to validate your parking at the various offices you were due to attend. At the end of ten days I was talked out and depressed. Los Angeles meetings are completely like meetings in England, they run like clockwork and whoever you meet senior or junior executive, old or new producer, they have always done their homework. They know who you are, what you have done and they are engaged and thoughtful and producers will often give you a script to look at, usually one in the doldrums an at the same time you agents are feeding you 'open' scripts, ie Scripts that do not have a director attached to see if anything attracts your attention. I was staying on my own in a flat on Blue Jay Way, near where the Beatles had once stayed and George Harrison wrote the eponymous song. It had amongst other suitable LA adornments a tiled sunken bath that you could practically do lengths in and had been lent to me by Anthony Andrews, this was just a year after Brideshead had been shown in the US. Finally on November 14th I was in an office at the Geffen company talking to a very smart and rather beautiful development executive. In my gloomy English way I said that I had read dozens of script since my arrival and they were all terrible and I really could not see any point in imagining I could make a film in LA: 'I know a script you'd like', she said, 'but I'm afraid you can't read it'. 'What do mean, I can't read it, I'm British, no one cares what I read because I'll be in London in a couple of days so I could talk to anyone about it even if I want to'. I argued on, trusting that she was right and wanting to leave with at least the possibility of a good script.

Twenty minutes later I was twisting up the snakelike roads that led to Blue Jay Way high in the Hollywood Hills with a crisp new copy of a script call 'Man Trouble' by Carol Eastman wrapped in a stiff yellow envelope with strict instructions never to tell anybody I had read it or mention it to anyone 'Or I'll be fired' said my friend. I read it immediately of course, over excited by the illegality of the operation.

The next paragraph can only disappoint, I am not sure what I was expecting but I am sure I was not expecting what I read. It was unquestionably the funniest script I have every read, the funniest anything, and yet I cannot even begin to really capture how that work except that I was literally hiccuping with laughter as I read, I can only ask you to trust me when I say that this is very unusual behaviour for me. I cannot do justice to the story but I quickly checked Caol Eastmans credits and amongst other things she had written the brilliant 'Five Easy Pieces' with Jack Nicholson and Monte Hellmans austere 'The shooting'. Man Trouble could I suppose be clumsily described as a modern 'screwball comedy', it was written as though for Spenser Tracey and Katherine Hepburn. It told the story of an attack dog trainer with a chaotic personal life and a failing business who meets and falls for a neurotic and oversensitive woman who is seeking a dog for protection. I know, I can't explain how breathtakingly fresh and brilliant it was. Sorry.

Minutes after I had put it down I rang my clever acquaintance at the Geffen Comany and told her (she already knew) how brilliant it was. I have to meet her, Carol Eastman, she is a genius I stammered. 'No' was the almost screamed response. 'You cannot ever say you have read it or I will lose my job, besides Carol Eastman is a recluse she never meets anybody and she certainly won't meet you!'. It took half an hour to persuade her but she agreed that if there was no mention of me having read the script she could say that I was just a random English director that she had met who happened to be a fan of 'Five Easy Pieces', 'It won't work' she said. 'Mention Brideshead' I said.

The next morning she called and could not disguise her surprise, 'she will meet you, apparently she liked Brideshead'. I was due to leave Los Angeles in 48 hours so it was greed that I would meet Carol for lunch at The Dome, a well known industry hang out, that day for lunch and once again I promised on my life that I would not mention that I had read the script under any circumstances. I set off, map book in hand, to drive to the Dome, thinking along the way that it was quit a long time since I had seen 'Five East Pieces' and it might be a challenge to sustain a whole lunch on my knowledge although the famous 'chicken sandwich' scene. Lunch however was a joy and neither of us drew breath although it would be hard to exaggerate what an unlikely couple we made, Carole was 49 when I met her, she spoke in a soft drawl, chain smoking menthol cigarettes in her long thin fingers. She still had the spiky body of the ballet dancer she had once trained to be and her long blonde hair was now streaked with grey. She was funny (of course) in a dry semi amused way, quick, cultured, epicly well read and had see every film I had ever heard off including everything that was been shown that week. She was to become my best friend in the city but that morning at the Dome I experienced for the first time just how complicated it can be to have lunch ion LA. She was vegetarian, well vegan in fact at a time when this was unknown in England and rarely taken to Carols level even in LA. The Dome was a smart and fashionable restaurant, serving steaks, fish and hamburgers but the waiter listened attentively and unsurprised as Carol went through every item she had selected and minutely interrogated it's journey to the table ensuring that there would be no butter, no dairy, no olive oil, no salt etc Every instruction was gently offered and there was nothing demanding sounding about an extremely demanding process, as I explain it now I realise it is in some senses Jack Nicholson's 'chicken sandwich' scene but delivered with grace and humility rather than exasperation.

We talked about Nicholson, who she had met as a teenager in the drama grouop they both attended. She had been born in LA in 1934, he father think was a cameraman but she had left home as early as she could and worked as a dancer, model and actor and ha played bit parts in films. All of this was told with a delicate dry self amused modesty interrupted only by the occasional hacking smokers cough. Almost everyone I had met in LA up until then had been drawn there by work as I had, Carole was the first person I had met who had been born in LA, been to high school and effectively live her whole life there, in effect she felt like the first real person I had met there. Somehow under the guise of my Englishness I was able to turn the conversation clumsily round to what she was working on now, she was a little reluctant at first but I established that there was a kind of romantic comedy in the works and as the final herb tea was heading towards us I started to peddle frantically trying to persuade her to let me as an about-to-disappear, doesn't-know-anyone foreigner about to return to England that no harm could possibly come from me taking a look at it. Incredibly, she finally agreed and because of my imminent departure it was decided that I would follow her home to the little cottage she lived in on Rose Avenue and she would give me a copy. She drove an ancient Plymouth Station Wagon, so was easy to follow amidst the gleaming rental dominated LA traffic. I stood in her tiny driveway at 9035 Rosewood Avenue, not entering the house which I could tell was not a space that strangers had easy access to, as she found a copy and wished me a safe journey back to England.

I raced back to Blue Jay clutching the script, thinking that I would have to wait two hours and then I could call her and tell her what a masterpiece it was. I was shaking with excitement and to pass the time I started to read it again. As I raced through the pages, something very odd happened, like feeling the blood drain from your body. Indeed it was as if the life had been somehow sucked out of the script and the jokes so funny that first time seemed suddenly to lack the magic I had remembered. I flipped back to the first script I had read, they were not the same.... I turned to the title page and saw that while the script I had first read bore the legend 'first draft' the script Carol had given me was title 'third' draft. To say it was ruined would of course be a wild exaggeration but it was the difference between seeing a magnificent tiger in the wild and the same animal days later in a cage. I rang my friend at Geffen and quickly told her the story, that I had the script from Carol's hands, now I could talk to her about it, however I had to be able to talk to her about both drafts and the difference between them. Surely now that Carole had actually given me the script of her own free I need no longer keep my word on having read the first draft. The answer was a fierce and emphatic no, under no circumstances could I reveal that I had been shown a draft 'illegally', 'I will lose my job, it will be the end of my career' (she became a very successful independent producer). At a loss, with my flight out of LA leaving that night I racked my brains for a way out. not being able to reference the original made it impossible to have a creative conversation. Finally I rang Carole and said how much I loved the script but that was used to a peculiar personal process as a director which meant that in order to fully understand a writer journey I always had to read every script draft and I could not make an exception to this ritual. I cannot think how I made that argument sound reasonable and Carol was not at all keen, as she felt that the script and the notes she had followed represented progress, going back to an older draft would be just showing me her mistakes. I was firm and she yielded and a few minute later I was in Rosewood Avenue again receiving the other draft. It was 6pm by the time I got home and I would have to leave at 8pm to catch my flight (this of course is pre 9/11 flying, now you would have to leave at 4pm to catch that flight).

Back in Blue Jay Way I waited another hour so that it would seem possible for me to have absorbed the new script and called Carole. I can hear myself now the words tumbling over each other as I tried to explain that the original draft was the most brilliant think I had ever read, of course the other draft was great but this one was a miracle. Carole was pleased but a little taken aback, as if I was telling her that her old car was much better than her new car, however in the process of all this messing about we had somehow quickly and simply become friends, we were no longer director and writer but had reach somewhere less structured, different level, where all of this became part of what had brought us together.

Back in London the whole trip, as it so often does, seemed like a dream, but Carole and the script was pin sharp in my memory. The challenge now was to persuade David Geffen whose company was producing the picture, that an inexperienced, Evelyn Waugh directing, Englishman was the right choice for a brilliant LA based screwball comedy that had Bob Raphaelson and Mike Nicholls chasing it. My plan was simple and I thought quite brilliant, I would write to him and make my case, this was pre email and but a letter seem too 'British' and a phone call both too intimidating and too easy to brush off. Geffen was a big figure in LA, as the owner and founder of Asylum records he was more famous as a music Industry figure (although later of course a co-founder of Dreamworks) and indeed to some extent he was cosseting Carol as one might a wayward musician, Joni Mitchell for example whom she slightly resembled. To get his attention my plan was to write ti him making my case buy to send it as a telegram. Telegrams arrived almost immediately and were traditionally used for brief urgent messages, or pre show good luck messages seldom running to more than a few (expensive) words. My telegram however would be an essay, hundreds of words, Geffen would I imagined never have received a document like it, the actual physicality of the argument would be so impressive that he could hardly fail to recognise the commitment it indicated. I dictated it to the surprised operator, I cannot now remember the actual cost, but is was certainly over a hundred pounds and sat back to await his reply. It would reach his office in a matter of hours rather than days and I had helpfully included my phone number and so expected a response possibly before the night was out.

I waited in vain. I have never got to meet Mr Geffen ever and so have no idea whether he even received the world's longest telegram, let alone whether he made any sense of it. Certainly it did not create the impact I had imagined: 'Sir, sir, you'll never believe what has just arrived form England....' as scrolls and scrolls of text were unrolled. Silence. Ten years later 'Man Trouble' was released, directed by Bob Raphaelson and starring Jack Nicholson and a miscast Ellen Barkin. It is one of Nicholson few flops because sadly and very clearly they had shot the second draft. However that was not to be the end of Carole and me because three years later, married with two small children I got a call from LA on Dec 20th 1986, can you get out here for a meeting immediately? 'What do you mean it's Christmas?', excited agent: 'Well how soon can you be here? There's a Paramount movie needs a director, they have to be quick because there's going to be a strike and they have to start shooting straight away. 'Where?', 'Washington,' 'Who's written it ?' I asked, 'She's called Carole Eastman', came the reply. 'I'll be there January 1st' I said, looking at Phoebe, my wife, who could see the look of shock on my face. And so began another adventure and another... film I didn't do next.

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