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Other Voices

By Other Voices

Part Two: The First 120 Hrs. Of Production

May 17, 1982


The first of two days on location, out doors, in Modesto, California, two hours south of San Francisco where we’re headed for ten days after this…

Sonny Landham & James Remar Get Dirty

Basically our job is to shoot the sequence of Ganz and his native American partner Billy escaping in a shootout from the chain gang where Ganz is serving a prison term.

This is the hometown of George Lucas, the model, I guess, for the town whereAmerican Graffitti was set… Walter had been up here a bit shooting a number of key sequences of his second to last film, The Long Riders.

Walter, Joel, and I, and Ric Waite flew up to Modesto and spent yesterday trying on hats.

Walter bought a porkpie one.  We had this opening sequence.  The way it works, Ganz and Billy must appear to quarrel and the Indian slips Ganz a gun and they shoot two guards and they’re off.

Nick and Eddie aren’t around.

First Walter makes shots of the work crew with Ganz breaking rocks.

Then shots of Sonny. (the actor playing Billy) drives up.  Remar reacting.

Then the fight.  The big event is them diving into the mud puddle before they bring their guns up to shoot.

“This is the first and the last time we’ll be shooting in sequence,” Walter chortles.

The stunt coordinator, an absolute sweetheart of a guy named Bennie Dobbins, plays one of the uniformed who’s shot and killed, falling into a mudpuddle.  Bennie and I recognize each other from a movie he worked on with Ted Kotcheff, that I was briefly involved in, called Split Image. Bennie is the senior member of the stunt crew, the coordinator, not just a participant, and Walter holds him in special esteem.  The fact that Bennie slaps me on the back and shakes my hand, gives me points with Walter.  Walter loves him.

Before doing the shots of Bennie Walter simply says “I want a dead  guard.”

Joel chortles as he observes Sosna barking orders at the extras on the chain gang.

“Look at Sosna” Joel says, “He’s like a pig in shit.”

When Remar and Sonny got wet doing their killings, Sosna said under his breath, “I want these guys to have drinks on the way home.”

The had to turn over and over in cold mud-water and come out killing and shooting.

Much of the morning was spent making one crane shot work.  Time was also lost because of people needing allergy medicine, and the heat getting to people.

Walter had said, “We’re gonna have to be in midseason form if we’re gonna make our day working this one.”  We did and he was extremely pleased.  Walter constantly makes analogies between film making  and sports.  I think he views staying on or ahead of schedule at the beginning as the equivalent of scoring first in a sporting event.  “Drawing first blood” as the sports cliché goes.

At the end of the day, we finished one shot less than planned, but that practically counted as being on schedule.

I’m very much in the “we” category.

That night, Walter has a drink in the skanky hotel bar, and then goes to his hotel room.

Before leaving Walter sums it up:  “The morning wasn’t worth shit… the afternoon wasn’t bad, not great but not bad.”

Sonny Landham, who said his lines properly and fell in the mud with great vigor, is all spruced up in the bar, patting everyone the back, feeling like a million bucks.

Everyone is warning him not to drink.  Apparently, this particularly Indian, who Walter used in a small role in Southern Comfort, his previous movie, can get strange when he drinks.
May 18, 1982

Sonny Landham

Wake to hear that Sonny got thrown in jail last night.

Tried to punch out a night clerk.  Something involving a hooker in the bar or something.  Cops did their best to retrain him short of arresting him and it proves he just obstinately wanted to fuck up.  Joel andGene Levy got him out.

Joel is up to his eyebrows in Indian stories.

Leave For San Fransisco.

I was sent ahead to San Francisco while the company stayed in Modesto the second and final day of work there.

My job — Dance with Nick and Annette O’Toole who plays his girlfriend in the film, Elaine.  They are meeting for the first time in real life.  I got there and learned that the company would take a third day rather than just this afternoon.

Crisis.  Camera malfunction has killed day one’s dailies.

At first, I’m in great suspense as to whether this is the real reason. Knowing as I do about Sonny’s fuck up, I ‘m wondering whether the real reason is that they’ve had to replace Sonny or restructure the scene to play without his character all.

Over the phone I get more of the details of what happened to Sonny.  Sonny gave some barmaid twenty bucks to find him two workers.  This would not get him very far in a Mexican shanty, Walter observed… in a prosperous Northern California Town, it got him nowhere.  The barmaid went off duty and Sonny ended up trying to punch out the desk clerk because a principle, services rendered for fees spent, had been violated.  The cops arrived.  Not wanting to arrest him, obviously. But he persisted in behavior that couldn’t help but lead to jail.  He couldn’t keep from being locked up and ending his onerous freedom for a second longer.

Later I’m told that the story about the camera story wasn’t a cover story for the outgrowth of the difficulties caused by Sonny.  There was some kind of camera fuck up.

I flew to San Fransisco with Elaine, Joel’s assistant-secretary, Marilyn, the costumer who will be doing more work with Annette, and Rafe Blasi, the publicists, and Eiddie Enriquez who is Nick’s make up guy.

All of this might have turned out different, still might.  None of it is for certain. All of this San Francisco weather is a nice sweet dream.  You’re working on a movie, so it could mean anything can happen in your life and don’t deny it.  Someone will be punished if there’s a mammoth fuck up, but don’t go borrowing trouble.  A lot of people start off by not being sure of what they mean.

At lunch Nick gets his buddy Bill Cross to talk about how much he hated rice in Vietnam, how pumped  up he had to get to be to kill someone in combat, and what fun it had looked like it might be at first, ’til it got awful…”I was suddenly a captain” Bill says “that sorta shocks ya…”

It got a bit more grim as it went on.  “The worst was commanding niggers” Bill said. “When I said get down they’d start dancing, lost more sons of bitches that way.”

Nick and Annette and I go on that afternoon for a drink around the corner at Houlihan’s.  Nothing but tits are on the walls.  Girls in this bar feel comfortable with that.  A meat factory, Nolte cheerfully concedes.  My thought is, let me at ’em.

Afterwards, I follow Nick and Annette around a sunshiny walking tour of Chinatown. They peruse the street vendors, everything on recession sale — I do see Nick at times thinking how to stand as a cop, be a cop in all this, how to be inconspicuous…

Nick tells us over drinks a disturbing story about hanging with Al Pacino, describing a sort of Dorian Grayish paranoia.  Nick talks about That Championship Season, a project he was almost involved in, except that William Holden died at the wrong moment. Nick mentions that there’s this superstition going around about working with De Niro, that people who do die or get into trouble… Theresa Saldana got knifed… John Cazale died of lung cancer. I didn’t think the story made too much sense.
May 19, 1982

No sex for a few days and a bit lost about it.  As always in these situations, the prior anxieties of defining my position on the job make all sexual appetite tricky. W/actresses, for instance, one is so worried about keeping them on an even keel that the getting of it, perchance, by emotional involvement, seems like suicide. Or at the very least seems like borrowing trouble.  The other women you would throw down a well with a stone tied to their necks in a second if it would make your life easier on the movie. So how do you say to them, “You’re the most important thing,” even for only that fraction of a second it takes to get them and get you to want to take them down?

I feel a lot on these jobs like a ghost that is inhabiting my body.

I don’t have to search for detachment.  The exhausting ambiguity of my role in this circus enforces it upon me.

San Fransisco and its hungry straight women is gaudy and titillating.

I have a sense of this one of the few spots remaining of erotic bourgeois adventure in this country, sealed as it is in its relativity, blissed out indifferent to the economic reality more than most American cities at the moment of this recession.  This city is indifferent to the history being made around it more than most and it became the capital of the sixties because it was always uniquely unburdened by the assumption the sixties arrived to change.  Questioning the establishment is always easier here because this place never quite cared about the Establishment position.  This city is like England in that sense.  It kind of goes on its nice delicate fastidious, somewhat trivial way.

Any second now Walter will come back with Joel with stories of the last days in Modesto.

The first days footage problem has now been defined as some “spot” on the lens.  Whether we’ll be able to make the day up or not there’s no way to know.  What I am fascinated to find out of course is whether or not something wonderful got done on the new extra day.

It’s almost seven p.m. and all this should be known shortly.


Lawrence “Larry” Gordon

Walter and Joel return with Gene Levy andLarry Gordon.

At dinner gossip was what Speilberg did or was in the process of doing to Tobe Hooperon Poltergeist, in tandem with whatever had gone on during the maknig of E.T., which numerous people on our crew worked on. E.T. will screen while we’re in San Francisco and gossip about it swirls too.

Generally there’s talk of shit Speilberg puts people through. Walter’s propguy Craig Rache was on E.T. So was Tim Kehoe,Walter’s First A.D. from Southern Comfort. And above all, the friend to everyone on this was Walter’s old pal from the days of The Driver and The Warriors, Frank Marshall.So all this is third hand, guys who told guys who told guys.

Walter is visibly restive at the concentration on Speilberg.  Larry is genuinely amused and indifferent.

Joe says, “He’ll be the biggest director in the history of the business”

I point out or try to that Speilberg’s bigness, unlike Coppolas, will be rescindable instantly because of the lack of artistic distinction his films… power that comes from commercial success alone that can’t be plausibly dressed up in artistic or intellectual importance wanes as rapidly as it arrives.  Commercial failure, which always comes by the law of averages, cancels all mere commercial success.  Chaplin or Kurosawa, these are the men whose commercial successes as such are significant because they have generated loads of intellectual response which have  a fruitful effect on the fact of good numbers.

But what if both Poltergeist and E.T. hit?

“He’ll be Victor Fleming,” I say.

“Who?” Joel asks.

“Well… Victor Fleming directed The Wizard of Oz and got screen credit for a lot ofGone With the Wind in the same year. And by the way he directed A Guy Named Joe, a movie Spielberg is planning to remake, you know, about flyers… anyway… Speilberg isVictor Fleming.”

“I like this theory…” says Walter. “I’m Howard Hawks and Spielberg is Victor Fleming.  I like this.”

Larry Gordon describing himself, “I am above. Above the line.”

For some reason, at dinner, I had a moment of pure nervous panic.  Everyone was seeming to be going out of control and if a someone asked me to say something I would be dumb or incoherent or break into tears. Then suddenly, inexplicably, the feeling passed and I felt fine.

The story was told at dinner of the expansion of one actress’ role in the film and acknowledging that this, in fact, was congruent with someone’s purpose in wanting to fuck the young actress we cast for the part.  At dinner tonight, we learned the actress has a boyfriend/lives with a guy/is married.

“Fire her!,” was shouted, in mock Gilbert and Sullivan cruelty.

In another moment at dinner, Walter started to joke, referring to the dialogue and characterization added to the script recently.

“We’re trying to load this one up with all that character and stuff that isn’t in my other movies, so it better make money guys…I’m just selling out here, trying to make a fast buck, putting n all that character that wasn’t in my other movies.”

Gordon from the other end of the table cracks, “You wanna make money, make Stir Crazy.”

Sonny Landham, who was tossed into jail Monday, was in the bar of the restaurant when our group left to go back in one of the driver captains vehicles.  We gave him a ride, cracking jokes and saying fearful things to ourselves about what Sonny let loose on the  town of San Francisco might do.

“You’re not on my team,” Joel and Walter had separately said to humiliate him after the Monday night trouble.

“I tore his head off,” Joel said proudly.

Larry Gordon offered one other remark:  “I’m at the point where I just show up, look at dailies, chat with Diller and Eisner, and that’s that.
May 20, 1982

In defense of his waistline, Walter Hill: “You can’t drive post with a tack hammer”… Hildy’s response was, “What is a post?”  (Hildy is Hildy Gottleib, a short dark cute bright New York Jewish girl who goes with Walter on and off, and is an agent at ICM, and happens to be Eddie Murphy’s agent, the person who by the way suggested Eddie Murphy to costar in this movie…)

Shooting starts well with Nic leaving Annette’s apartment, a long elaborate crane shot of his drive out.  Nick does a nice thing with throwing the traffic ticket on the ground.

Things gong, in fact, so well that we may get to the next day’s shot today. But then we don’t.  Next day’s shot is a difficult long piece out in the street that Nic and Annette have yet to learn.

Walter cedes to me the job walking Nick and Annete through the location where they’re going to do this long take dialogue while the crew is wrapping.
May 21, l982

Yesterday difficult.

Ammette O’Toole & Nick Nolte

I spend four more hours prepping Nick about what the scene means. Then Walter arrives, listens to them do it, and immediately decides it can’t be done as written and has to be reduced sharply.  The reducing I don’t mind.  What I mind is my effort going uncoordinated to the main one — his.  And Walter’s being so blasé  about all this. But of course there is no alternative  It makes me feel like a bit of a jerk.  There is truth inRobert Towne’s remark that a screenwriter’s role is archaically and archetypally “feminine” in relation to the director’s role.  That means accepting having nothing to do at times in relating to “his” – the director’s – doing.  It all involves an ambiguity of function, as opposed to sets and props that have more measurable or definable kinds of roles.

I feel like I’ve disappointed Nick and Annette terribly, which is upsetting. But I can’t apologize without saying “If it were my show, I’d run it differently,” which is precisely what etiquette requires I not say.  Walter lent me the show to run, but without really giving me anything.

Nick comes by hotel room.  I apologize.  He sensed my need to. I am knocked out by his nicenesss.  He checks which of the remaining lines are going to be read, goes over them with me.  We talk about Walter setting him straight.  It’s all intuitive and not articulated, but what it should be.  I can’t sit still and really acknowledge that Nick Nolte wants me to feel all right.  I’m grateful.  As I note it down hours later, that gratitude just keeps growing.  He seemed relieved that I gave him a chance to express his feeling bad about how yesterday turned out.

Nick is so much the vehicle of a force that happens to be him.  He is like a whole earth in turmoil… cut, a little wounded, but regenerative, constantly.


Is there a fight between Walter and Larry and Joel and the studio, about the title?

There is indeed.

Apparently Barry Diller, the Paramount studio boss, who in Gordon’s words “can be a very vindictive man,” hates the title Forty Eight Hours. Gordon says that Eisner says that Diller says Forty Eight Hours can not be the title.  Joel hears this.  As a joke he turns to his secretary/assistant:

“Elaine…get Barry Diller on the phone.”

Gordon lets loose at Joel about how to win this strategic battle, the inner battle about who knows more about how to play the game.

“Listen to me you New York Jew Kike N.Y.U. film school genius — I been doing this since before you went to piss in your N.Y.U. film school urinal.  You wait till they give you twenty five unacceptable titles, then you say Walter refuses to work and Nick won’t come out of his trailer.”

“What if they put an ad in the trades with another title?,” Joel asks anxiously.

“The trades, the trades,” Gordon fumes.  He looks like he’s going to bite Joel’s nose or beard off.

Gordon is always partly happy to have an opportunity to yell at Joel.

Gordon calls Joel “the strangest person I ever knew” and is constantly searching for new reasons to be angry with Joel or yell at him, which in turn will make it necessary to constantly be thinking about him and talking about him.  It’s an obsessive familial — seeming father-son feeling — that drives him.

Gordon sketches a broad program for maneuvering against Diller’s insistence that the title be changed for Joel’s benefit:  “They submit twenty five unacceptable titles, Nic won’t work, Walter won’t work, Eddie won’t work, Joe’, you can say you won’t work and of course they’ll fire you.”  That causes Larry to burst into a contented grin.

Joel is certainly used to Larry Gordon’s abuse and has some means of tolerating, even needing it. “He’s the greatest,” is Joel’s label phrase for Larry, and then he sits and gets this whipping. There’s something about Larry’s vehement sometimes brutal teasing and constant focussing of attention at Joel that I suspect reassures Joel…it’s a fulltime occupation being the object of this attention.  And there’s something about it that makes Joel feel better, prepared afterwards to go into battle with the rest of the business. Joel is now used to force as everything.  All qualification, all relativity, don’t exist for Joel.

The liability in Joel’s case is that he’s so attracted to the idea of simple brute force, that somebody can probably get his attention with a fraudulent form of it.  He could probably fool himself.  Then of course he would just go onto the next force-situation.  So his being fooled doesn’t have any significant consequences, doesn’t set him back that much.  He just  looks for something else to apply the same mind set to.  Joel will never learn his lesson, but he’s never totally destroyed by having failed to. He just goes on to the next prospect or obstacle.   There is either a compulsion or a purity to this depending on how you want to look at it…

Joel is a few things: Intelligent, as opposed to merely fast, or quick, the hollywood substitute that superficially resembles intelligence but actually kills it.  And he is totally committed to his own perceptions and values, as few people I’ve ever seen.  He does not doubt.  He can also be funny.  That’s the thing that relieves him a little from the burden of being so obsessive.

At the same time or relatedly, there’s some way of being connected to things outside of himself that is not sound.  It’s all motion to him.  Larry Gordon is like this too, but he lives in a slightly more complete way in the emotions that result.  Gordon’s disconnectedness is something you can see him trying to redress when he gets mad.  And you can see Gordon become sentimental to protect himself from how he might be cutting himself off from others.

Though they’re incredibly attached to each other, they’re both somehow starkly alone and lonely.  The price of defending themselves constantly.   Larry has the therapy of a couple of sons.   Larry’s loneliness has a current of genuine, sincere surprise and a genuine feeling of bitterness, as if he tastes what his life has lead him to and doesn’t fully grasp why he should be without the regular connections with things and people he doesn’t have.  It’s like he’s puzzled more people don’t like him more.  Joel is profoundly uninterested in what he gives up of genuine emotional response.  He’s a bit more comfortable being alienated from other people.

They are both intermittently rescued, and rescue themselves by being funny.

– Larry Gross
Written Contemporaneously… Published May 30, 2008

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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon