Monday, April 9, 2012

The "other" film writers

I briefly mentioned some work I did a few weeks ago in which I filmed interviews on HD video for a woman who is trying to put together a documentary on Raoul Walsh. She had recently written a book called Raoul Walsh, The True Adventures of Hollywood's Legendary Director.

A director friend of mine had met her and she mentioned that she wanted to interview the last few actors who had worked on Walsh films. Walsh himself passed away in the 60's. He started in silent films and went on to work on movies with Bogart, Cagney, Flynn and almost every major actor of the 40's and 50's.

My friend suggested I could film the interviews as at least half of me is a camera guy, working as a news film photographer way back when. Naturally I said yes, as I love shooting film and video.

The job turned into a few other things that I could do to help here and along the way I met a type of people I never really knew.

The other film writers.

They don't write screenplays, at least most of them don't and they live in a world of admiration and frustration, envy and to some extent, are rewarded with meager book sales and attention. Unlike screenwriters who even among the lowest paid still get, if they're WGA, around $42,000 for a screenplay that they might have taken 4-6 weeks to write.

Writers who write books on famous film people rarely make that much and Marilyn, the author, for example, worked 5 years on her book. It has recently been released in paperback and she will earn more, but nowhere like a comparable mid-successful screenwriter.

People who love trains and follow them across the country just to take photos of them call themselves "foamers", in other words, fanatics.  Like foaming at the mouth.

As I met and talked with more of these film foamers I entered a world I never really knew. There's a guy who works at an average job all day who puts together film noir festivals and eagerly tells you about the stars he's driven around. There's another person who quotes movie dialog lines at parties. Another tells me secrets about Katherine Hepburn.

There are critics now on the internet who look for attention by reviewing movies in hopes of getting invited to premieres where they can feel at par with the famous people.

There's also the book writers, like Marilyn, who spend hours and days and years on a book and there are some of them who are only too anxious to put down writers who might be more successful. Marilyn, to her credit, has written the definitive book on Walsh and did a great job.

Watching these people talk about movies and movie stars makes me feel like an outsider, they swap stories about the living and dead actors and directors and even the classic screenwriters of another era. Their world is far more immersed in movies than even I am, even my Sundays with the guys breakfasts at Venice Beach bring discussions of politics and other subjects.

But these other writers only talk about film, and the books they hope to write and the latest revealed secrets of the long dead movie people. Watching them watch old movies is almost voyeuristic, it almost seems to be a religious experience, the faithful watching their gods and goddesses in black and white.

In fact it really is worshiping the past when "movies were great", as they would say and they repeat lines of dialog from a Bogart movie or Gene Tierney (how's that for a reference), arguably the most beautiful actress of the 1940's.

Most of them have massive collections of movies and books on movies and often stacked in piles and seem to have a love/hate relationship with each other. And yet it's a strange passion that brings together people who love the movies and yet are distant from the reality of movies. I probably have a dozen movies and copies of the ones I wrote, and I rarely look at them.

My world is contrary to theirs, I live in a world of writing these movies, and we couldn't be any more different than them. We make the movies, while they talk about them and hang around the outside of the real film world of writers, actors, directors, cameramen and technicians.

My director friend jokes that they all live in basements but they don't. However the ones I met live in Hollywood and along streets that they can tell you were used in movies made a hundred years ago and who directed those movies and who starred in them and who had an affair with the lead actress. Marilyn has problems coming into the valley, as it's too far away from Hollywood.