the day the prom music died (visiting the Prom Night set last spring)

I am extremely glad for the success of PROM NIGHT because my friend Marc produced it. It was Marc’s first major gig as producer and every time I see the poster in the theatres I remember the time I visited him on set.

The location was a gorgeous 1920s Spanish-y art deco kind of building that used to be a hotel off MacArthur Park (this was a week or so after the riots broke out at a pro-immigration rally in that neighborhood and the LAPD handled the situation with, shall we say, less than finesse). Marc led me through the ground floor and pointed to the elevator. It wasn’t a real elevator. But it was so convincing that the first day on set people kept standing by its doors and waiting for them to open, not realizing they were already on the set.

I watched them film the scene during the dance when the teacher calls out the names of the candidates for prom king and queen….except several of the teenagers don’t show up onstage, and the teacher repeats their names and looks bewildered. (“They’ve been killed,” Marc explained to me, but since this is a slasher film I’d already kind of figured, and don’t think it’s much of a spoiler to say so).

Marc was confident the movie would be successful and laid out the reasons why. There hadn’t been a PG-13 horror movie in a while, since Saw took the cycle back to the graphic R-rated violence and sadism of the movies cutely known as ‘torture porn’. He also pointed out how the movie’s storyline would appeal directly to teenage girls — the fantasy element of a teacher so crazily and obsessively in love with a female student he won’t let anything or anyone stand in his way (I imagine in real life this would be considerably less appealing, but so it goes) — while teenage boys would go for the blood and gore and suspense. He didn’t expect it to be well-reviewed, but he also knew reviews matter very little with a film like this. All in all, he thought the timing of Prom Night was perfect, and if you contrast the success of Night with a movie like The Ruins, which neatly removed the buzz from a director who (up until the receipts came in) had been considered hot property, Marc seems to have been right on the money.

Afterwards Marc and I had a conversation with a British crew member — I think he was a gaffer, although I’m not even sure what a gaffer is, exactly — who talked a little bit about working on the England-side production of Star Wars. They all thought George Lucas was nuts, he told me. They couldn’t even begin to decipher the movie they were working on everyday*, it seemed so absurd and bizarre, and Lucas either wouldn’t or couldn’t communicate his vision to them. I was obsessed with the first Star Wars trilogy all through high school and read everything I could find about life behind-the-scenes, so I already knew this, and it was fascinating all over again to get this information first-hand.

He also described his and his colleagues’ reaction to George’s proposal that they give up their regular salaries and take profit points instead. Profit points. Off all future earnings of Star Wars.

They thought the idea was insane. Insane. They laughed their asses off. To give up cold hard cash for a share of profits from a weird incoherent movie by this guy they’d never heard of. It wasn’t going to make any money, anyone could see that. So was this a joke? Were they supposed to be idiots or something?

Moment of silence.

“We didn’t know,” the guy said, and from the groan in his voice I could tell that, thirty years on, he thinks about this everyday. “We didn’t know. How could we have known?”

Another thing I remember is the general experience of walking with Marc through a set filled with people, many of whom were young and female and attractive**. Marc is a nice-looking guy to begin with — although he’s a family man there’s the faintest touch of something decadent*** and roguish about him, regardless of whether he is either or both or none of these things — and he had also raised nearly ten million dollars to direct his own feature-length independent film. Which he was still in the process of casting.

So the gazes.

All the soft sparkling doe-eyed gazes that kept coming our way…or rather his way…all the smiles offered up by nubile young things drifting by in their prom gowns…It was the kind of attention that for most men remains pure fantasy, and my first direct glimpse into what life is sometimes like for a producer. Although I would — and continue — to see this same overwhelming bounty of femaleness-on-offer through my friendship with Octavian/Octavius, it’s not quite the same. Walking around Marc’s movie set with Marc himself was like standing by the stove with your hand above the hot coil.

* Because so many of us grew up with Star Wars embedded in our everyday pop culture it’s difficult to appreciate just how startling and original it was when it first came out, in a decade characterized by the personal gritty visions of Cool Hand Luke, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Midnight Cowboy, etc. The week of its release, you could see Smokey and the Bandit, The Turning Point, Annie Hall…Star Wars. One of these choices was not like the others.

** The extras were specifically chosen to play up the physical appeal of the cast (ie: no extra was allowed to be better-looking/sexier than the leads).

*** I’m trying to think of how to describe this, because it’s a kind of masculinity that has a touch of the androgynous to it, a fluid, almost fey, gentle or vulnerable kind of quality. It might even hint at the transgressive, and works directly against the traditional idea of what masculinity is ‘supposed’ to be. Yet it exudes a powerful heterosexual appeal. It’s an aura or demeanor or something that many men would be quick to mock, yet which women — some women — women like me, for example — tend to find intriguing and magnetic. You know it when you see it. Johnny Depp has it. Michael Hutchence and Jim Morrison defined it. River Phoenix had it. Keanu Reeves and Robert Downey Jr both have it. Tom Cruise does *not* have it and couldn’t even begin to find it, although in Interview of the Vampire he sometimes came close. And although they’re hardly movie stars and would never be mistaken for such, my producer friend Octavian has it, as does Marc from the above entry and another male friend of mine….It’s the kind of guy who, once upon a time, would rather lounge around an opium den discussing John Keats (or at least give the appearance of doing so) than suffer some sporting-type activity with the ‘manly’ types…and probably got laid without even trying.

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