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Other Voices

By Other Voices

Part Four: Subway Shooting

May 28, 1982

I have much more time to write because this a dialogueless sequence which I am not called upon to alter even in the slightest. It will take three or four nights to shoot, so Walter knows that he has some time off before he has to do scenes which might require some rewriting.

No matter what changes this will always be a visual tour-de-force moment of cutting, running, gunfire etc. And nothing either more, or less…

Lunch comes at two in the morning.

But crews call lunch “lunch,” no matter what hour it’s served. We talk about what to do over the weekend. The Road Warrior, the sequel to Mad Max, a movie I really liked, is opening this weekend and I know some people who’ve seen previews back in LA who say it’s a hundred times better than the predecessor.

Waiting on BART, pt 1

Joel returns to set, from the office, where hehas gotten some kind of message that one of the cameras used in the subway stuff we’ve been shooting, has, according to the crew, malfunctioned… After the camera fuck up in Modesto, Walter looks at me in horror and disgust… He’s starting to feel crazily jinxed.

I watch Walter and the crew in grim locations like the BART station, through which the sick of the city drift like pebbles and weeds thrown up to the surface of thesea by tides. I notice that it is impossible not to notice the gratuitousnesss of our efforts; which even allude to the urban crisis a bit more, much more than most current films; the fact that income and in prestige as moviemakers, we are sealed off from the warring battles of everyone of these streets, lives as the lives of their inhabitants.

Walter likes to say that as Hollywood storytellers we are involved, perhaps, who knows, confined, in “Myth and Archetype.” The city, this one, San Franscisco, or any one, on the other hand, breeds a billion deadly bright ant-like particularities, that teem, conjugate and multiply…at a different level of reality, beyond or at least outside the compass of our abstracting broad strokes. Nothing, no artistic method, would not be abstracting with respect to these immeasurable uncountable details. Perhaps Walter’s conception of “myth and archetype” concedes to this organic necessity of stylization more honestly than I’m able always to face up to.

Our immersion in the discipline of one angle of vision, confirms the fact that millions of things must fly by, untouched, unrelated to each in their screaming spinning orbitless darkness.

Knowledge of the kind I seek to correct our intelligence would rely eventually upon inactivity, upon sealing ourselves off from the complications of isolated acts of transformation, our will to do is hopelessly at odds with our will to know.

Even though film-making is an exquisitely knowledge-involving type of doing, even though perhaps we may learn something important, new, and exciting by foisting upon ourselves the temporary blindness, the temporary narrowness involved in absorption in a gesture, an action, a sequence, a story. Still, in all this, our immersion in “the doing” sequesters us from the static poignance of contemplation…where all loss has the privilege of being reentered into a perpetually revised conception of vision.

In this “doing,” we are compelled to acquire and possess. We are compelled in some ways to go beyond the detachmnent of art. Yet as a result, but we come more, not less, detached than ever.

We are on this set, our own world, with real material privileges for intervening in the regular world.

We can stop traffic for example.

More specifically Walter an order Sosna to order the police to.

We contravene the physics of social reality, which means our experience thrusts us into a slightly different, deviant you might say, moral system…our weightlessness, our freedom, is immediately unconsciously nihilistic…space is isolated, actions analyzed, processes repeated. We force real toads to inhabit imaginary gardens. We actually make up the substance of that toad’s body.

It’s freakily like building a Frankenstein monster, creation ex nihilo.

The sudden intimacies, bantering, then passionate, then non-existent, on a set parallel the fact that we do no know what the conditions of our grip on the attention of everyone we interact with really is. Of course this is the uncertainty of everyone’s everyday life, but the sense of the precariousness of that is actually heightened and more acute. Money, a paycheck, is of course the glue but there is also the ever-shifting trajectory of the movie’s mood, a determination of which no one individual’s consciousness can be the custodian of.

It’s not that you experience a different reality as such on a movie set, it’s that you experience all familiar realities with heightened acuteness. Not a new “thing” but a new relationship to things.

Walter sights and watches Sosna making the sea of background people in the subway sequence, dozens of them, flow back and forth in different patterns as Nick and Eddie run and chase and shoot.

Walter’s quiet authoritative command:

“Make it happen so I can watch.”

Waiting on BART, pt 2

These last three days have been a period of immense clout for the A.D. David Sosna because movement of huge numbers of extras is a substantial part of the power of the shots being made. Ironic confirmation of this: A television documentary crew decides to do a feature story on the AD’s job and Sosna who always vehemently insists in all too he-doth-protest–too much ways that he is creatively a nobody, gets to get interviewed and shoot off his mouth. Throughout the shooting I notice that David is one of the most sensitive egos in good and bad ways of all the personnel on the show, while claiming to be gruff practical man with no “higher” interests. He desperately wants to be appreciated. Nothing wrong with that. It’s just counter to his line. The truth no one on a movie is without an ego, nor could they be and contribute anything of value.

After these last two weeks of working so frantically on the script, and watching what Walter is doing, I have moments when I form two entirely different ideas of what the film will be. In the good moments, I glimpse this film as a wild-and-crazy action melodrama classic, a bit like The Wild Bunch in an urban setting. Admittedly that’s rather a grandiose fantasy. In the moments, I feel the film will be diffuse, with good action sequences, but only okay drama, and some inept drama. Since I was hired to add drama, I get these grim moments of thinking the parts I was brought to improve will be the weakest parts.


An odd moment with Joel where I asked him bluntly simply what he thought this movie was, and he answered in one word that needed clarification for me to understand.

“Rehab” was the word he used.

Did he mean drug rehabilitation.?

No, he was referring to the way buildings are refurbished, and redesigned, leaving their old structure but putting new surfaces on them.

“We’re doing a cop movie that’s been done a million times before but we’re giving it all new fixtures, furnishings. It’s gonna be huge.”

I wasn’t entirely sure if he was accurate or not, but I was at least relieved to know he had a very clear, very firmly expressed opinion.


Nick is so nice, that it’s easy to forget how terrific an actor he is.

Also he’s overwhelmed by how much he has to do, which allow you to forget how completely adequate to it he turns out to be. He always comes on set a little at loose ends and then it turns out all right.

Jimmy Remar, who plays the psycho killer Ganz, has this freaky temper. For about five seconds in our first night at the BART station, he wanted to kill me while we discussed what happened to his character. Walter has spent a lot of time in the last few days, teasing me about my failure to handle Remer properly. Walter has a strangely ambivalent attitude towards Jimmy, utterly respecting his talent, but condescending to him at the same time, referring to him as “a baby and a faker.” Walter is himself both impressed by and disgusted by Jimmy’s violence.

I spend the whole time never being able to get over my fear of Jimmy, which makes me somewhat awkward n accepting some of his very decent efforts to be friendly


Occasionally one reads a newspaper: The Falkland Islands war is bizarre. The English appear to be winning but the Argentine non-collapse makes each days results problematic to interpret. The cost of what seems like the inevitable English victory, seems enormous, their power is something bulky and pathetic and pointless.

“This will be the end of the idea of the third world” Walter said. I wasn’t precisely sure what he meant. He was referring to the fact that the Argentine’s had shot Brit aircraft down, but I wasn’t sure what the overall point he was making was.

I am not writing this to tell anecdotes of the filmmaking process. I am writing this to see to what heights or depths an individual psyche plummets or rises under the force of this impersonal collective weight.


Bruce McBroom has been renamed Bruce McStills to tell him apart from Bruce Kassan,the assistant prop-man who has been renamed Bruce McProps. Alta Loma Park, which is where we are parked with our vans, has been referred to as Alter Cocker Plaza.

Sosna has been responsible for making up all these names. Sosna passes these designations on to the Second ADs, a frail little girl Debbie Love and her assistant, a tall kid named Rob Corn. Walter simply refers to them as Corn and Debbie.

Craig Raiche, who is the main prop guy, has a nick name that stems back from working on The Long Riders…he’s called “Live Rounds” Raiche because of a mistaken rumor that live ammunition had been used in one of the big action scenes in that film. Craig is someone I briefly crossed path with on a t.v. movie I briefly worked on in a tiny capacity, a couple of years previously. He’s nice. Walter loves to retell how that completely untrue myth got started.

Indeed Walter has a tale-spinner’s love of how movie lore can be completely manipulated, made up, and the truth of the situation completely transformed. He refers to this as “The Rashomon of Movies.” The other nickname that is getting attention, is the one I came up with for Speilberg: “Victor.”


Putting up with Sonny Landham has been one of the few real difficult jobs on this film so far. Everyone finds him a bit ludicrous and dangerous at the same time. When a stunt involves a car almost hitting him, which he runs through with insane bravery, there is a lot of joking about the favor the stunt guy would be doing the movie if Sonny got hit. Actually no one dislikes the guy. It’s just that on his thus-far very smooth production, he’s about the closest thing to something to complain about. Along the camera failures. Joel is particularly maddened by Sonny, because Sonny’s thickness makes him impervious to Joel’s strategy of yelling people into submission. Sonny mentally turns the ear phones off when Joel yells. He just can’t hear himself being disciplined. His brain or lack thereof simply won’t admit to it and this drives Joel nuts.

Sonny, Then & Now

Sitting in the subway station, Joel nods in Sonny’s direction: “He’s such a moping asshole” Joel says.

Joel says that he overheard Sonny rage to his agent over the phone today at the hotel. This was Sonny according to Joel: “I’m stealin this picture, I’m turning into the star of this picture, Jerry listen to me, everybody has got his or her agent down here on this thing, you gotta help me out here, you gotta get down here and do things for me. Jerry, Jerry, I’m stealing this picture.”

Joel notices that only Sonny would have his dark sunglasses on as we shoot underground. His mind, Joel remarks, is a black hole, matching the black leather he wears. And look, Joel continues, his black hair and black eyes.

Joel is right that Sonny’s attempts to be suave and funny are slow and awful. You stand there having his huge paw like hand on your shoulder and his voice drones on like a metal racket only slower.

Endlessly starting and stopping the subway trains all night long. Locating the killers, Ganz, Billy and Rosalie their hostage, as they get on to escape form Nick. Nick then blocked from following them by a BART security officer.

The real people watching us making our movie…some of them blasted or crazy or worse.
They frighten me. My feeling of distance from them frightens me more. So. My fear, then my fear of my fear. We are all these blasted inactive stupefied people we flee from…our movies have to circle back to the grim facts of defeat and failure somehow.

Our distance from defeat and failure and poverty as glowing inhabitants of the dreamworld of movies, is somehow a confirmation of that which we give the most unique impression of having escaped. Our meaningless superiority clarifies something about their meaningless inferiority. What I’m trying to say awkwardly, is that what precisely separates us is unknowable, unidentifiable. If we claim to comprehend it or be able to define it we’re kidding ourselves.

May 29, 1982

We’re in Walter’s room working and watching a t.v. presentation of The Outlaw Josey Wales. One of in my opinion the best things Eastwood ever did. Walter respects Eastwood as a movie star but wildly prefers the movies he did for Leone and Siegel to the ones he directs himself. Walter wishes that great movie stars should know their place and stay great movie stars, and not stray into his profession…why shouldn’t they stay where they are… he figures… they get paid great and all the girls they could ever want… why do they have to be directors too?

My favorite line in the movie is Eastwood, saying somberly: “Sometimes troubles just seems to follow a man.”

Some men are different than others. Some kinds of experience are different than others.

Her’s a transcription of a typical moment in the subway.

SOSNA (yelling)
This is not a Glen Larson Cocktail party
We’re making movies. Okay!
Background–watching–and settle.

When Walter has instructed the principle actors.

Okay, starting places, back to #1.

Mr. Hill, go.

Walter barks:
AND ak-shun.



People telling each other their plans. They’re camped out for four nights. They look a bit like pictures of refugees of bombings, in London and Berlin during the war, hiding in cellars and subways. Each and every one with their pride and their plans. The way they hope things will turn out or the suddenly successful postponement of these considerations.


On the third night in the BART station, nothing is going quickly and plus some stuff from last night has to be reshot.

Joel, who almost never stops pursuing practical matters, starts to work on two blondes who are among the stand-ins that work everywhere we go in San Francisco, one being Annette’s stand in when the camera crew is lighting.

Joel says he wants to bed one or two of these girls in the name of the Jewish race, “I view it as practice deal-making, an attempt at negotiation.”


Joel and Larry continue their Punch & Judy-like quarrels. They should have their own t.v. show, The Joel & Larry Comedy Hour. A recurrent joke is quoting one of the most banal exchanges from Xanadu, their multi-million dollar music fantasy bomb:

“Dreams died!”

“No…No…We kill them!”

They enjoy blaming each other for that catastrophe… or more particularly, blaming each other for imagining it wouldn’t be the kind of bomb it turned out to be. Larry brings it up whenever he wants to prove Joel’s ignorance… as does Walter when he wants to needle Joel. Joel quotes back from insipidJekyll and Hyde Together Again, a film Larry did while Joel was away from him for awhile.

Larry pulls me in once during one of these quarrels.

“Let me ask you who know more about script” He points to Joel’s regular Amex credit card: “Him?…” he produces his own platinum Amex Card, “Or me?” But there is enough laughter and pshawing going on that everyone knows this is a feeble proof.


Last night I hear about the origins of the phrase “This is the Abby Singer shot” which Sosna says on the second-to-last shot for the night. For the last shot he will say things like “This is the cocktail, fellas” or “This one is home-to-mother, guys.”

The “Abby Singer” shot refers, it seems, to a famous production manager who, whenever he said this was the last shot of the night, there would prove to be one more. “This is not a Glen Larson show,” Sosna says periodically, referring to the fact that Glen Larsonproduced shlock one hour t.v. drama in bulk. When Sosna wants the crew to smarten up and perform better, he reminds them we’re a quality feature film and not lowly t.v. one hour drama.

Another of the obsessive relationships in the process of this movie is between Joel and his assistant Elaine. EK as she’s referred to. Elaine is an attractive clever twenty-six-year-old. Joel relies on her for everything, but is also incredibly cruel to her. His yells to her “EK, EK” are sort of reiterated mantra or joke to everyone on the set. Her first assignment whenever we arrive at a new location is to find Joel a telephone.

But for all his harshness with her, the only person Joel seems to really care for is Elaine, perhaps because she is the mother who doesn’t confuse giving up everything to him with sexual interest. Joel’s own mother is apparently ill, terminally ill. He may have to go back East to where he was raised, to say goodbye to her, any day. Elaine meanwhile does whatever Joel says… Seems to barely notice his brutality. Though she complains in a bantering type of way, there is no serious tone of reproach or complaint.

I overhear Joel making a reference to Nathaniel West’s Day of the Locust, while he’s hustling one of the stand-in blondes. I tell him my opinion which is that that book is connected to another important American book, Naked Lunch. Both books tell the story of the body being usurped by inhuman processes. The freezing, the deadening that those two books describe is the affect loss that I am terrified of having happen to me.

The intense exhaustion of all night shooting puts this deadness right on the agenda. You feel like your soul is becoming a rock.


Slept till four p.m. Am now totally turned around for nights…this night schedule is of course happily congruent to my nights-into-day proclivities.

The idea I’ve been fucking around with for a year-and-a-half is a novel taking place in motels. What walls should my fictional motel have?

You never need forget what you’re dong this for. You’re doing this for money.

Money is the ambition everyone on a movie set comprehends in common. The common denominator, whether or not “lowest.”

Grabbed my first meal off the set in an Indian restaurant off the set in four days… I am stunned when I look at my watch and see how slowly one hour and fifteen minutes passes compared with the drive to the set and opening hour there.

– Larry Gross
Written Contemporaneously… Published June 19, 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