The Producer: One Dreamer’s Attempt to Make a Movie
Filmmaker’s skill can’t match his enthusiasm as ‘Die Cool’ dies on the vine
The Producer, TP for short, had taken his lumps, and I felt for my friend, so I let him sleep on my very uncomfortable couch. Soon enough, TP was in my bed, which easily fit two, but still… I had never asked for a roommate. I had certainly never asked for a bedmate.
How’d this relentless, extremely ambitious, highly-neurotic, sometimes-intelligent man wind up in my bed?
All TP wanted to do was make a movie. Just a small, independent film. TP was betting on a screenplay, something called Die Cool that he helped his childhood friend create. Die Cool was about “a band of LA criminals who commit thrill crimes around town,” explained TP in hyper-pitch mode. “They pose for the surveillance cameras. It’s all about being cool. Everything’s about being cool. They dress to the hilt in wacky fashion. The gang gets high on sugar, videos and 80s music.”
According to TP, his screenwriter friend’s family pledged $250,000 to make the movie happen. It was TP’s job to secure another $750,000, cash needed to finance’s Die Cool’s car chase heavy climax. TP and his partner paid $5,000 to retain the services of Ross Brown, the veteran casting director. Brown was not so much impressed with Die Cool as he was with the duo’s enthusiasm and camaraderie.
“Their energy was so captivating,” said Brown, who cast The Last Picture Show and several of the Halloween movies. “Each one protected the other. There’s something great about men that are friends that are protecting one another.” Butch and Sundance had nothing on these dudes.
Or maybe Brown just loved that this duo paid his retainer.
The pair’s first concern was landing talent, namely Scott Baio, who was tabbed to play himself. “We wanted to do for Baio what Tarantino did for Travolta,” says TP, who chased down the former Happy Days star at a reading at The Coronet Theater on La Cienega. “He looked around as if to say who are you,” recalled TP. “We never heard back from him.”
By chance, TP got another shot.
At Sky Bar, a too cool LA lounge, TP hooked up with a shady Israeli producer, who claimed to know the former teen idol. In less than two hours, TP and partner were in a hotel room with Chachi. TP was trying to make a movie, but sometimes it felt like he was starring in his own movie.
“I was petrified,” recalls TP. “I thought I would be cool. I was not cool. I did not say anything. I did not break my cool, but inside I was shaking. I was not prepared to meet this guy.” Cool or not, Baio had only one question: “Do you have the money?” Having immersed himself in producer how to books like Killer Instinct and Hit and Run, TP knew how to answer that question. You don’t.
“My answer is you should read the script first before we talk about money,” said TP.
TP’s pal, however, had not read those precious books. “We don’t have it, but we’re gonna get it,” said his pal, according to TP. At Brown’s urging, Baio did finally read the script but was not pleased, to say the least. “He was insulted,” said Brown. “How dare anyone think that he was a has been. It was hysterical.”
Of course, this was no laughing matter to TP and partner, who promptly turned the Baio character into a generic 80s washed-up star. With this change, faded stars practically lined up to play the part, according to TP. Todd Bridges of Different Strokes fame wanted in. Anthony Michael Hall was stoked but balked when he heard that there was no money. Richard Tyson of Three O’clock High read for the part and wanted in. TP and partner, however, wanted a name, someone who would attract the necessary $750,000. Specifically, TP dialed in on Matt Dillon, and he was going to do whatever it took to get him. One morning, a desperate TP threw on a suit and tie, jumped into his beat-up Nissan for an unscheduled, unsolicited, face-to-face with Rick Yorn, Dillon’s manager. TP got as far as Yorn’s secretary. “She looked at me like I was on crack,” recalls TP. “I wasn’t, but I was acting as if I were.”
Undeterred, TP trained his sights on John Stamos. This time, TP was cool, and he connected. Stamos signed on for scale plus ten percent, to cover his agent’s cost. “I liked the script,” explained the soft-spoken Stamos. “I liked the idea of playing an ex-teen idol. I love to make fun of myself whenever I can.”
And TP and partner were loving themselves. “We think we’re on our way,” recalled TP. “We get Stamos excited, get the agency excited, make him feel like there’s a good chance that he can be a star again and his agency (William Morris) will secure [more] talent.”
Finally, TP actually felt cool. He was living in Marilyn Monroe’s old home on Fountain Avenue. The young, wannabe producer spent his days sitting in his pool, smoking a stogie and working the cordless. At night, TP made the LA scene, partying at swanky, beautiful people spots like the Sky Bar. He strutted, schmoozed and secured the stare of a few starlets, actually more than stares. “I got laid!” shouts TP, again from my bed.
Other nights, he delivered pizzas. Throughout it all, TP firmly believed that he would be soon delivered to the corner table at Morton’s. All he needed was $750,000. Yet, even with the man who played Blackie in their stable, it was no easy task. With the cash not in sight, TP and his pal forged ahead and started to cast the role of the fallen rock star—“a Father Fagan type” says TP. The filmmakers charged after David Lee Roth – to Brown’s chagrin. “Who the hell is gonna spend a nickel to see David Lee Roth?” asked Brown. The crooner turned out to be unavailable, but Adam Ant was very available. Even more enthusiastic was Dee Snider, the Twisted Sister lead singer. At his reading, “he was really nervous,” recalls TP.
Team TP passed on the ex-head banger.
TP knew what it was like to be passed on. Just about everyone TP had shown the script to had passed. Potential bankrollers, who had once vowed to invest, had disappeared. “My oldest brother wouldn’t take my calls,” recalls TP. At one point, TP even attempted to cast the voluptuous Liz Guber, the daughter of movie mogul Peter Guber, in hopes that her father would contribute to the project. “I fell in love with her!” claims TP. TP’s partner did not think Guber was homely enough for the role.
After months of haggling, outright begging, and rejection, TP would take Guber or Snider. Now, TP was anything but cool, more like the mad man from Dog Day Afternoon. He says he dished out about $8000 to lawyers, $2,500 for the “Die Cool” mini-poster, and $4,500 on miscellaneous expenses, not to mention the $5,000 that went to Brown. He had driven himself stir crazy, pitching Die Cool to seemingly everyone, including the counter guy at In And Out Burgers. Now, TP did not care if he made any money or even made his money back.
TP just wanted to make a movie.
And after all this, it was still possible. Stamos was in, as were his pal’s film school cronies, who all had been cast in the film. (To his chagrin, TP himself was cast in a non-speaking role.) TP claims he had even managed to get the camera equipment donated. However, TP was nowhere near securing the $750,000. With no one willing to greenlight the project, TP decided to do so himself. To lighten the budget, TP wanted to scale down the production, perhaps lessen some of the vehicular mayhem. But his pal, the scribe, refused, says TP. And with no other investors coming forward, TP says his pal refused to part with his family’s $250,000.
Finally, the project came to a halt and TP decided to return to the east coast, perhaps a tad wiser.
“I was someone who was just trying to make a movie in LA and I thought it was the greatest project,” recalls TP from my bed. “You know everyone in town is just trying to make a movie. I was just another LA cliche.”