Many years ago I shot a feature length motion picture in just over a week. In the time since then I have worked on many books, as publisher, coach, packager and author. Until a few days ago, I had always assumed that my movies would come and go, but books would be forever.
I'm beginning to think I got it backward.
The movie was called The Real Thing, and later one of its many distributors renamed it Teenager. I was working as Vice President of a little company that had been formed to operate movie theaters -- National Cinema Corporation. The head of the company, Peter, got the bright idea one day that we should go into the production part of the business. Since I was already on the payroll and I was also an experienced movie director, maybe I could make some inexpensive films that we could run in our own theaters.
Being young and eager, I said sure. We had a budget well under six figures, but I had many friends who were among the top technical people around. I wrote the film with Alan Hodshire over the lengthy period of about two weeks. We crafted a story about a crazed, out-of-control film director who would risk anything to get "reality" of some kind. In this instance, he was shooting a biker movie, where the bikers ride into town and create mayhem, eventually heading off into the sunset with one of the town's impressionable teenage girls. The plot shifts back and forth from inside the film-within-the-film to the wrap-around story of the director, and you can't always tell which reality you're in.
I then edited the film, inveigled my dear friend David Davis to write the score, and we found some extra money for a good-sized orchestra and pulled some other favors so we could mix the final version at Paramount. The film played in our own theaters for a few months (and elsewhere) and like most movies of the day went away. For many years, that was the last I thought about it.
Then a few decades later, my oldest son came across a VHS tape of the film under a new title, Teenager and I soon screened it. It was very intense for me to watch it again, each shot bringing back at almost the muscle-memory level the incredible physical effort of shooting an entire motion picture in just over week. As for the film itself? You know, some parts of it were still watchable if I do say so myself.
Dissolve to last month. A revival house in Los Angeles got a bug about finding and running The Real Thing. They called me, but I couldn't find a 35mm print. They were going to abandon the revival, but then they discovered a collector in Australia who just happened to have a print in Austin. A miracle.
So on May 6th, on one of the largest screens in Hollywood -- the Egyptian Theater -- The Real Thing, aka Teenager, is going to thrill, amuse, or more likely mildly distract an audience one more time. Then? Sky's the limit. Maybe there'll even be a Blu-Ray version one of these days.
And that's what struck me. That incredibly inexpensive little movie that took me just a few months to create has ended up having a life much greater than I would have expected for most books I've worked on. Lots of books, including many important ones, really do disappear. Certainly they're not going to be revived when you can hardly get brand new and really important books reviewed by the New York Times the first time around. Can it be that movies, most of which once seemed to be so ephemeral, and books, most of which seemed destined to last forever, have actually switched places?
What would that suggest to the young artist looking for the right medium? Does everything change when you realize that films now have a tendency to never go away? Are people more likely to find your work on Netflix thirty years from now than on Amazon?
If you're in L.A. week after next, I hope I'll see you at the Egyptian. I'll be the guy with the indelible big grin.