Sometimes writers worry about what their next subject might be. And sometimes that subject is right under their noses. Once in a while, it hasn't even been written about before. That is what happened to me. That's how my twenty-some years in the movie business became the books The Rebel Princess and All The Doors to Hollywood and How to Open Them.
Before those film years, I had written and published short stories, articles, theatre reviews and a scholarly book about our adversary trial system, Injustice For All. None of which quite paid the rent. So I became a Unit Publicist in Hollywood - working, film to film, to collect and write about everything/anything that the studio might eventually use to promote its product. The film business, I discovered, paid well; its union benefits were excellent. I enjoyed the travel entailed. I was delighted to fly to foreign countries first class, thrilled to find myself in London or Madrid or Douala or Hong Kong in an excellent hotel - all on the company's dime. I enjoyed the adventures and the people - talented, smart, often amusingly flamboyant - almost always interesting. But as time went by, I gradually became restive - restive to write something beyond press kits again.
But - what might that be?
I had worked with such entertainment legends as Jack Nicholson, James Earl Jones, Patrick Stewart, Sean Penn, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sting, David Lynch and Dino De Laurentiis, among many others. I had done six films with Dino's daughter, Raffaella. As the studio's representative, ostensibly responsible for publicizing only flattering news (and quashing the questionable), I had tried (and failed) to stop my director and producer, in a tipsy state in Hong Kong, from throwing water over our hotel balcony at passersby below. I had tried (and failed) to stop our producer (female) from dancing bare-breasted at parties in London, Almeria and Zhouhai (happily, this was before the ubiquity of smart- phone snaps.). I had tried (and failed) to stop our producer (male) director (male) and writer (female) from holding a peeing contest in the women's room of a fancy restaurant in Mexico City (miraculously, no female diner entered and screamed.) I had tried (and failed) to stop our two lead actresses from comparing their night-time enuresis issues at a dinner party in Beijing with two Red Army Generals who - I was firmly assured by the interpreter - understood not a word of English. (So why did they smile in all the right place?) In Edinburgh I had been unable (of course) to head off - and then stop - an affair between our lead actor and actress that threatened to seriously disrupt the shoot (her husband and three small children were on location with us.) In Madrid, I 'd tried (and failed) to stop a member of a well-known muscle-man's entourage from regularly mooning, through his street-level apartment window, startled passers-by; unaccountably, a swarm of indignant gendarmes did not descend. In El Paso, I'd been unable - on the day she'd faithfully promised the thrilled locals to appear at the yearly grand opening of their racetrack - to find the actress who had, on a whim, blithely disappeared, without a word, in an opposite direction. The locals, who had heavily publicized her presence, were crushed. I was appalled - and furious. The actress, when she finally returned, had had a lovely day.
And so forth. And so forth.
I had also, indeed, stood on sets and shared the breath-stopping moment of the film's first shot; as well as the triumph/relief of the last. I had watched the lighting cameraman's magic, the gaffer's efficiency, the grip's creativity; I had admired the costume designer's imagination and make-up's transformations. I had also too often risen at four a.m. in chill and dark, shifted from foot to foot in the boredom of endless retakes far into the night. On outdoor all-night shoots, I had frozen with cold and rubbed my eyes until the lids hurt, against the near-overwhelming need for sleep. I had felt warmed by daily camaraderie and, at wrap parties, been sad to lose it - but so very relieved at the thought of home - and my own bed. How had we all survived the gritty, grinding, tunnel-vision labor of all those months? And - too often - I'd been depressed by yet one more no-good script that had been unaccountably green-lighted - and that was going to cost a king's ransom to make.
So: What might I write abut? All of it.
I'd experienced the film business, it occurred to me, from its underbelly. It had been my neighborhood for two decades. I had watched, been part of, on a daily basis, the nuts-and-bolt of movie-making. As well as the riveting, sometimes frightening and often either horrifying or hilarious or all-too-predictable dramas of the participants. I believed that few, if any others, had written about this curtained world from the inside - as it actually is in all its dailiness. So I began. I got two books out of it - and perhaps more to come.
The Rebel Princess is a steamy insider's skinny about a film company on location in Mexico (which I lived at Churubusco Studios with Conan The Destroyer and Dune) - and how movies are really made. All The Door to Hollywood is a series of interviews with those behind-the-screen wizards who make movie magic actually happen. They tell film buffs what they do, how they do it, how they got their first jobs, some adventures they've had - and what they love about their work.
So look round you. Look with a fresh eye. Look at your workplace, your volunteer activities, your church or political groups if any; at your card games and group junkets. Look at your parents' lives, your children's, your neighbor's. Look at your doctor's waiting room and your children's - or grandchildren's - school. Consider the people who catch your attention. Find out what you can about them, imagine their stories. There are ideas, and people interacting in unique ways, everywhere. Every human relationship in fact contains unique twists and depths. And read your newspaper every day. Be aware of the items that stay in your head and stimulate your mind - or touch your heart. Let them germinate. Let them fly.
And then write. I did.