Pitchers and Catchers Report
"Once upon a time and a very good time it was there was a moocow coming down along the road and this moocow that was coming down along the road met a nicens little boy named baby tuckoo..."
So starts James Joyces A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.
Well, as the story continues the father with his hairy face (I have a hairy face) looks down on baby tuckoo, and Betty Byrne comes down the road singing, O, the wild rose blossoms and that becomes baby tuckoos song and his mother plays the piano and he dances, Tralala lala, Tralala tralaladdy.
But before that baby tuckoo wets himself, and it is at first warm and then it gets cold.
"The making of the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer movie "The Red Badge of Courage," based on the Stephen Crane novel about the Civil War, was preceded by routine disclosures about its production plans from the columnist Louella Parsons ("John Huston is writing a screen treatment of Stephen Cranes classic, The Red Badge of Courage, as a possibility for an M-G-M picture."); from the columnist Hedda Hopper ("Metro has an option on The Red Badge of Courage and John Hustons working up a budget for it. But theres no green light yet."); and from Variety ("Pre-production work on Red Badge of Courage commenced at Metro with thesp-tests for top roles in drama."), and it was preceded, in the spring of 1950, by a routine visit by John Huston, who is both a screen writer and a director, to New York, the headquarters of Loews, Inc., the company that produces and distributes M-G-M pictures. On the occasion of his visit, I decided to follow the history of that particular movie from beginning to end, in order to learn whatever I might learn about the American motion-picture industry."
So starts Lillian Rosss Picture, which goes on immediately to describe Rosss first meeting with Huston, in his suite at the Waldorf in New York, where they sip martinis and he talks grandiosely about the quality of the light and the importance of ponies and even about Cranes novel and the picture he wants to make from it. But nothing about dancing or wetting oneself or the moocow, though many years later Huston did make a fine film of Joyce's story, "The Dead."
And Joyce, though he believed movies would be a big thing and invested some of his slight capital in the first moviehouse to open in Dublin, did not address himself to Hedda Hopper or M-G-M or the industry even, in his writing, though Leopold Bloom does have some interest in the ponies. But Joyce was telling a different story, among other things about the way art can become the instrument that transforms lives and how one young man was thusly transformed, although, it should be noted, Joyce would likely have said that his art was about those moments when a person experiences a special sort of clarity that transforms his or her life--epiphany--rather than the other way around.
"Making Cherry" (you are reading here the first of what should be 90 or so nearly-daily installments) will attempt to broach the two approaches. That is, to tell narratively and novelistically about the process of making an American movie, a la Ross, but to do so with somewhat more of an open-ended, modern approach, a la Joyce. May whatever gods govern such things not strike me dead for making the comparisons, which in spite of appearances are truly intended humbly and without pretension.
The movie in question is called Cherry, and can best be described as a low-budget indie-romantic comedy. On this day, just a bit more than a month before shooting starts, there is no money invested by anyone other than the filmmakers and their backers, and no rights to Cherry have been sold off for distribution in foreign territories or in ancillary media or what have you. Which means that the film is as completely free right now of the industry and its big players as any movie you can find.
Which isnt to say that this isnt meant to be a commercial movie.
Cherrys budget pales beside the Craft Services budget of, say, Titanic, but it isn't being carried on credit cards.
And Cherry has a star, the supermodel Shalom Harlow, who was very effective in the popular comedy "In and Out" and is thought to have a very bright future ahead of her. Indeed.
Everyone involved not only wants Cherry to make money, but expects it will. Though, of course, only a very few of all movies succeed, and the odds of one that is made without a distributor already invested and on the hook getting clear are even smaller. There is serious talent involved at every level on Cherry, however, and the property is thought to have the potential to truly please a large audience. If all goes well. Which is why all involved have made significant compromises to work on Cherry.
And which is why, frankly, Im writing about it. If the risk is high, so is the potential payoff. Did I mention I sometimes play poker?
My name is Peter Kreutzer. In my life Ive done a lot of different things. One of those has been to write daily reports from baseballs spring training for ESPN SportsZone. The last two years in late February Ive headed south with the pitchers and catchers and spent 30 days travelling around Florida, going from camp to camp and ballpark to ballpark, and for each of those 30 days Ive written 1 of 30 consecutive columns about the players and games and teams and facilities and food and whatever else I thought might be of interest about spring training. I took it as my mission to be the eyes and ears of all those fans who were not able to get away from their obligations for a month and spend it living and breathing baseball. If they couldnt be there, well, I could.
I love baseball, and though spending each day for a month travelling to a game, writing about what I see, sleeping and then doing the whole thing over again the next day is thoroughly exhausting, being paid to write whatever pleases me about baseball is exhilerating. I cant really think of a better job, except for maybe writing about the movies with the same immediacy, intensity and freedom.
Another one of the many things Ive done in my life is to start a film company with two buddies, Jon Glascoe and Joseph Pierson. We called it Cypress Films, and we had the idea at the time (this being a little more than 10 years ago) to make a movie of Dylan Thomass poem-story, "A Childs Christmas in Wales." Which not a long time later we did, in partnership with a company of similar-thinking Canadians who had their own company called Atlantis Films. The movie was made for PBS and starred the great Denholm Elliott and got great reviews and won some nice awards. You can still see it each December on the Disney Channel, or on video, and I recommend you catch it if you can.
Especially since it's nearly Christmas now.
I left Cypress some years ago, my intention being to live much of the time in the county and to write about things that interested me, like baseball, while Jon and Joseph wanted to grow Cypress so that it was a bigger company with nice employees and nice offices and an ongoing chance to make movies for television and maybe even theaters, somewhere on down the road. Which they have done, primarily as producers, though they are filmmakers of the hands-on sort, so they dont just take fancy lunches but rather get involved with the nitty and gritty of the filmmaking process. Youll find their resumes elsewhere, but theyve done nicely for themselves. They've done work of which they're justifiably proud.
And now, with Cherry, they are making their debuts as director, or maybe its better to say it their debut as co-directors, which is a leap of faith for my friends to take, and as a writer that interests me. They are putting most everything theyve worked for these past ten years on the line, backed up by their belief that they can make this movie better than anyone they can afford to hire.
And since they are working from a scripta first scriptthat originated with another good friend of mine, Terry Reed, and because they dont have any big ol studio publicity machine trying to protect the whole filmmaking process from the intrusive examination of a conscientious diarist, I proposed to them that it might be a good and interesting and perhaps even helpful idea for them if I were to create this web site (and for them to pay me some, since I couldnt afford to do all that is necessary to keep it going over the three months otherwise), and they agreed.
We think were doing something new, though that will be proved as the months go by and we discover just how candid and revealing and insider-y and provocative we can be. All I can say now is that it is our intention to be honest, to take risks, and so well cover the disasters as well as the triumphs.
But to be honest, Joseph and Jon are paying me, so the best I can promise is that when there is something I think should be said that they think I shouldnt say, Ill make it as clear as I can what the dispute is about. And maybe I'll go along with them and maybe I won't. I dont anticipate much of a problem, but well see.
What I know, and they know, too, dear reader, is if you don't think I'm telling the truth, you won't keep reading.
Please read on. Next entry.
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