Teaser 352: Making Family Rifts With Everybody Knows Her Name

I give Kendall all the credit here. He had leaned to dropping it all before I arrived and later he would confide this position, but because I let him cast it all out in the open without interruption to defend my position, my ego, and responded the way I did when he was through, I had already turned him around one-eighty. His biggest concern was the amount of time which transpired from when we first discussed the movie idea. I had been considering the movie script since I had finished with the book. “I have a very good idea what to say and where I want to go with this story, Kendall. The most important part is I know how I want to end it and this is always my biggest concern with any creative work. How do I end it? Because the ending spells it out for the audience and it's what they all remember, the ending. Once I return to Japan I will immediately start on it and let me propose this. I will call you weekly and we'll discuss it, what I've completed since we last talked, and I'll read you some of it, the best of it, and we'll conspire. I love a creative conspiracy, Kendall. Usually, when it involves open-minded, creative people, it results in unexpected, even inspired creative acts. Let me crank it out, and we'll do this, shoot it quickly, and get it out there. Are you with me?”

Kendall never answered my question. Instead he ordered me to stand and hugged me ferociously. In days I was back in Japan writing In Another World.

I wasn't very far into it when I got a call from an old friend. “John, it's good to hear your voice. I'm very busy. Call me back some other time.” It caught John off-guard, one of those few times when I rendered him speechless. “I was only kidding.”

“You are a dog, you know it, Al?”

“And women are cats.”

“Speaking of women you'll never guess who I'm with right now. Here! Let me put you on speaker.”

John did so and a female voice shouted, “Hello, Al-Barrak!”

“Okay, we've narrowed it down to three and a half billion humans. Do I still have to guess, John?”

I could hear two laughing and John shouted, “Meet Jodie.” John said her last name but everybody knows her name.

“You have been avoiding me, Jodie. Every time I'm going to some city and I know you're there by the time I get there you've already left. Is my reputation with women that bad?”

Jodie laughed. “I'm not marrying you, Al. I'm already married.”

“And did I not say, John, having a wife who's already married so each has multiple spouses is not insurmountable, although no one's going to argue against that type of challenge?”

“I've heard him say something very similar, Jodie.” Both laughed. “Al, we're calling you because Jodie has a movie idea, the script is nearly complete, but we were both thinking we'd ask you if you'd like to be involved.”

“In what way?”

“You'd play a supporting role as the brother of John's character.”
“It's not a big role, Al, so it wouldn't take too much of your time, but it's a comedy mostly, and you play my ne’er-do-well older brother.”

“May I ask why everyone who considers me for a movie role always casts me as the ne’er-do-well older brother? First, it's Drake. Now it's you. Is there some kind of subliminal reference I'm missing?”

Both laughed. Jodie answered, “No, that's not it. Your role is kind of down and out but you do have some of the best lines.”

“I've read some of the script so far, Al, and your role is hard to forget.”

“Who's writing the script?” Jodie told me there were three writing it together, two men and the wife of one of the men. I knew all three and all were quite competent as screenwriters and could write some decent humor at times, maybe better than me. “I will say this, John. Through you I have met some Ivy Leaguers, so you must attract them, but it's refreshing to finally talk to one who actually has a degree!” I waited for their laughter to fade. “You know those other two are such losers.” I waited again. “Are you directing, Jodie?”

“I am.”

“Well, because you're an Ivy Leaguer with a sheepskin, you have to promise me while we're on the set you will never talk over my head!” I heard more laughter and waited. “I think I'm a little taller, depending on the shoes you're wearing,...” and I had to wait again, “so it makes it a little more difficult for you but I think I will still require your undying empathy. Will you promise me this?”

Jodie laughed again. “I don't think I'll be talking over your head, Al. I think you do quite well with Ivy Leaguers. I can think of Hugh Bolden for one.”

“Oh, his was different, Jodie. It was on my turf since we squared off with written essays. It gives me days to contemplate. Spontaneity is a mighty challenge for me.”

“I think you're doing quite well for spontaneity right now,” Jodie advised.

“You caught me before my brain shuts down for the day. I only get ten or twelve hours and I hear, 'Good night,' and it's all over.” I heard more laughter. “Before I commit I have to read the script. When will it be ready?”

John replied, “It should be no more than a week, Al.”

“Send it to me by email, if you would, please. I'll start on it and if I read into it a little and I'm wondering where it's going, I'll want to talk to either of you about it, but don't tell me the story. Let me determine it first. Everyone has a different interpretation but I prefer to draw my own.” I received Jodie's phone number and Jodie promised to be readily available for any questions I might have and she insisted she looked forward to working with me. They both advised it was her suggestion to contact me.

“I have wanted to work on a movie with you for a long time now, Al-Barrak, and I was a little disappointed I never heard from you on your movie.”

“Jodie, almost everyone who worked with me on Terms has a tight personal relationship with me, crew, grips, best boys, P.A.s, everybody. It could have been difficult as my first but it never seemed like it to me. It always seemed like we were a huge family recording a reunion. Jeff told me before the premiere John was upset because I never contacted him. I didn't because I don't have a tight personal relationship with John and it matters to me. I will never push myself on anyone, even those I admire, and you will never see me pull up to your house, Jodie, unexpectedly. I will only arrive at your house after I've been invited. Period.” Both were silent. “I think I will enjoy being on a set with both of you. John worked with second unit so I was never on the set with him, but with you, Jodie, I know I'm going to enjoy it. I have great respect for you. You've made some really good movies but the one which was the most compelling to me was the movie about the woman raped in the bar. Those scenes had to be extremely uncomfortable for you to do, and it would seem to me it wouldn't matter how much the guys empathized and apologized, it had to be excruciating, but I know you did it because it had something mighty to say, and the worst from it is you took a lot of heat for it, and to me that's the most disgusting reaction. When you have the personal courage to make a movie like that I may languish on the set in total awe, thinking, what a woman!” Jodie thanked me and I added. “Just don't talk over my head and expose the buffoon I am, please!” They both laughed. “Maybe, as a favor to me, you'll consider shoes with thin heels.”

“Is he always like this, John?”

“Al-Barrak has claimed many times he can find humor in anything.”

“Humor is the great bonder, Jodie. It bonds more easily than any other tool one can devise, because it never matters what color, gender, origin or language, the moment one says or does something and all others laugh, at that very moment everyone knows they have something in common. They all think it's funny...The down side is it's gotta be funny. Not everything is funny. I think a lot of things are funny but not everyone laughs. I think it's why I'm not a comedian. On the other hand, many comedians do and say things which aren't funny to me, so what goes around, comes around.”

Several days later Kendall called me before I could call him for our weekly discussion. “What's this I hear you're gonna make another movie and soon?!!”

I could tell by his tone he was experiencing great exasperation. “I'm not making a movie except ours.”

“With Jodie and John?!!”

“I haven't signed. I haven't even seen the script yet and I'm not signing until I read it and approve.”

“You're supposed to be writing our script, not reading other scripts.”

“Are you implying I can't do both?”

“You're supposed to be working on our movie. I hear about this other movie and I'm having second thoughts about ours, Al!”

I had to think for a few moments so there was silence on both ends. “Okay, since you're having second thoughts, try a third one. Assuming I like the story and, further assuming there are a large number of parts and crew positions unfilled when I sign, I'm going to even further assume, going off on a limb here, Kendall, a large number of folks who work on this movie with Jodie and John are going to have a rather distinctive color and language, maybe not so much gender or language. So what I'm going to propose, since I am very familiar with John's integrity and I have a very good idea about Jodie's integrity, is we mix it up. I'll tell them I won't sign unless they agree to sign a very large number of actor and crew roles with color and origin and gender for positions still open and to speed up the process, I already have a large list of such people, including Kendall, who already knows about the story. He wants to see the script and the roles still open. And I can do it, Kendall, and get away with it, because as discouraging as it has been over these last few months for me, there are still a lot of people in the movie business who want to work with me and many of them are not my color or my gender or have my origin or speak my primary language. Because it's what you get when you consistently smash boundaries, my friend, so come and work on this movie with me and let's have some fun for once and stop being so damned serious all the time!”

With Kendall's gregarious laughter flooding my phone, it was sealed. Kendall agreed to consult with me about the story and if he approved, he would read it with my suggestion for a role or roles, since I was honestly expecting there would be a part or parts revolving around my character, and he would do it for scale as I intended.

I called John minutes later. “When can you get with Jodie so I can speak with both of you?”

“I have some things I need to attend to right now. Why?”

“Because I have some news for both of you that you're both gonna want to hear and soon, buddy boy, so get crackin' on those things you need to attend to and catch up with Jodie, pronto!”

Hours later John called me back with his phone already on speaker. “We're here in Jodie's office, Al. What's up?”

“I spoke with Kendall today and he gave me his tentative agreement to portray a role in this movie for scale. It will depend on the story and the role so get me the script, like, really quick. If you have to, pull out your stick and threaten those screenwriters of yours. Tell them it comes from me and I reminded you I wrote my award-winning screenplay in six days. What's taking these guys so long?”

I waited while the laughter of both subsided but Jodie interrupted me. “You really spoke with Kendall today about our movie and he agreed?” She leaned on the disbelieving side.

“We talk every week, Jodie, while I'm writing the script for our movie and he found out about your movie and called me to ream me. 'Why are reading some other script when you're supposed to be writing ours?' He was exasperated, Jodie!” They laughed. “Listen! I made him one more promise. It's a big one because it will affect whether I make the movie with you or not, so you can consider it a demand and view it from that angle, but hear me out first.” They both remained silent. “How much of the personnel do you have committed already?”

Jodie replied, “Very few so far, Al. We still need the script and a shooting schedule completed.”

“Good. I know most of John's attachments in the business, Jodie, and I have a pretty good idea of your attachments in the business. Both are small worlds within the entire business, John, agree?”

“I have made some friends in the business, Al, but, yeah, mine is a small part of it. I agree.”

“And I agree, too, Al,” Jodie interjected. “What's your proposal?”

“I think John would also agree, Jodie, based on what he has witnessed with his own eyes during my meanderings at parties and Oscar gatherings, due to my deserved reputation as cocky, arrogant, conceited, insane and incorrigible, not necessarily in that order, I possess a considerable amount of personal respect by a large number of people in this business, despite any repercussions from my most recent public statements and the flak I've been receiving from those, and all of these people who hold a personal respect for me don't really share the same color or gender or origin or language. They're all over and I keep a list of all of them. I know how to reach them easily. I want as diverse a cast and crew as can possibly be arranged and I will help get it done. I don't care who hasn't worked with whom, who doesn't like whom. We're all professionals so act like one.”

“Do you want to help produce, Al?” Jodie asked.

“If that's what it takes so I keep my promise to Kendall, I'll help fill the cast and crew and be on the set every day. If the story is worthy and Kendall's role is acceptable, he'll probably want to be on the set every day. Like I told him, 'Work on this movie with me and let's have some fun for once and stop being so damned serious!'”

Once the laughter died it was set. The next day I received a call from Jodie's partner who was serving as executive producer. She was uncharacteristically enthusiastic, for a producer, unless they sign some big-time actor or actress, though it wears off quickly. Producers tend to be a sour lot, though they try to be enthusiastic in the presence of cast and crew, but when it's only the producers, there's a lot of negative. Trust me. I've been there and done that.

“You want to serve as producer?” she asked me incredulously.

“As long as the story is worthy so where's the script?”

“It will be ready probably today. They worked on it all night last night.”

“They took my threat to heart, did they?”

“You scared the bejesus out of them, Al!” She was still incredulous but finally returned to a more calm and business-like demeanor. “Why don't you serve as executive producer? John is and John suggested it.”

“All right, but I'm not producing any executives. You and John cover that.”

- Just Desserts, Segment Forty-FiveAdvances and Retreats” by Gregory R. Schussele, © 2021

contact me, as always: schussprose@gmail.com