Went to D.’s New Year’s Eve party at his Pulp Fiction house* in the hills of Beverly Hills. I first met D. — David — in a prior incarnation when we were all still living in Palo Alto; he and my significant other worked and warred together in the dot.com world. One reason why I like David is because when he went to law school (which he once referred to as “the fallback position for smart kids who don’t know what to do with their lives”) he rarely attended class but blacked out the windows of his room so he could watch movies all day. He averaged two movies a day for several years — saw the good stuff, the old stuff, the foreign stuff. Law school became a self-taught education in film. The dot.com boom was good to David, and after a highly successful IPO — which took place at least a year after the whole boom thing went kaput — he migrated south and reinvented himself as a movie guy. (Meanwhile, E had migrated south to become a space guy.) His company’s first film is THANK YOU FOR SMOKING, which did well at the Toronto Film Festival, sold to a major studio for a nice price and will be the opening film at Sundance.
I was a little bemused by the New Year’s invite, which laid down the law. Once you could just show up and hang out; but apparently there was some kind of ‘incident’ at last year’s party (E and I were elsewhere, so the details are a mystery to me) that made full-fledged security and Having A List necessary for this year’s. All male guests had to be On The List; female guests didn’t have to be On The List so long as they were with someone On The List. I realize this is a double standard, David informed us in his invite, but women don’t start fights in my living room.
I touched base with people I hadn’t seen in a while and got to talk to Jason and Michelle Reitman, who are swiftly becoming two of my favorite people in LA. Jason wrote and directed THANK YOU FOR SMOKING, and when David handed me the screenplay several years ago — saying, “I love this and I really want to make it” — I couldn’t help but be irked by how good it was and how young Jason was when he wrote it. The book — by Christopher Buckley — was optioned by one of the major studios and different writers struggled with it. Jason, still in his early twenties, decided to take a crack at it as a kind of learning experience and showed it around. A lot of people were impressed, but the project got abandoned and the script got locked away. David spent around two years fighting for the rights to it.
Jason is the dude in the t-shirt and baseball cap when the people around him are decked out in jackets and gowns. He reminds me of a nice Canadian boy even though he grew up amid Hollywood privilege; maybe it’s the influence of his wife, Michelle, whom he adores, who hails from Vancouver. Michelle’s been in LA for about five years now — compared to my four — and she and I talked about the general process of figuring out how and where you fit into this city. Jason and I always talk about the same thing — writing. After SMOKING David asked him to rewrite another script, which revolves around Salvador Dali and art fraud. “Have you read it?” he asked me. I said I had read the original version and the first of the two rewrites (by a different writer). We traded some thoughts on it and Jason talked a bit about his rewrite. At one point he looked at me and said, “Are you, like, the literary guiding voice of [David’s company]?”
I thought that was funny. “Nah,” I said. “I’m not sure they listen to me all that much.” I didn’t say it out of spite or as a complaint; I like those guys; I just have a different sensibility. I read some of the screenplays because I like to read screenplays, and it’s a chance to see what gets marked for serious consideration and what gets cast aside. (What I learned very quickly is that there are a lot of perfectly competent scripts circulating out there, at least once they get filtered through the major agents. The problem is that so many of them feel so familiar. And many of them also feel…small. Not small as in bad or trivial; small as in television-sized.)
“But E listens to you,” Jason pointed out, “and they listen to him.”
“If E didn’t listen to me, I would kill him.”
Jason strayed into an anecdote about John Lennon and David Geffen. When the Beatles broke apart and Lennon was up for grabs every music producer went after him in every possible way. Geffen didn’t go after him at all. He went after Yoko, and ended up with Lennon.
We discussed the Dali project some more and David swooped by, in a mellow, expansive mood. “Hey! What are you two talking about?”
“Oh,” Jason said. “Art and such.”
“This man,” David said, clapping Jason on the back, “is a true artist.” I knew from previous conversations that David was not just glad-handling him; he truly believes that Jason is the real deal.
Jason doesn’t deal with praise very well. “We were talking about the Dali script,” he said, possibly as a way to deflect David’s attention. He looked a little wicked. “Justine now knows more about it than you do.”
*So called because the house was used as the home of Marsellus in the movie. It is the ultimate bachelor’s pad, and David uses it to full advantage.