Julian James was a man of excess—both literally and figuratively. His appearance often stunned; “morbidly obese” didn’t begin to describe him. He was a ginormous mountain of a man. The last census had qualified him as a family of four. I tried not to stare, but it was almost impossible. He was like a living, heavy-breathing Guinness-Book- of-World-Records display come to life. His attire looked like it had been cobbled together from the closet of a Midwestern haberdasher: pockets lined with handkerchiefs, flowers on his lapel, a cane in his hand to help him walk and give the sidewalk some much-needed relief, lightly tinted prescription sunglasses and a fedora with a peacock feather tucked into the brim. This was the man they had hired to direct the feature film based on my script. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t gravely concerned.
Three months in Los Angeles had yielded few results. I was writing a lot and was getting meetings thanks to an aggressive agent, but they were utterly forgettable encounters. Ninety days in sun-soaked Southern California, and I didn’t even have a tan. I did have a girlfriend—sort of. Veronica and I had transitioned from random late-night sex to a more traditional dating routine. This was a good thing. I had been lacking in basic social interaction since I landed. At some point it felt I would run the serious risk of going from lonely guy at a hotel to quiet loner to person of interest in a serial killing.
I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t planning an exit strategy. I wasn’t delusional. I knew that any level of success in this business would not be achieved in a matter of months. But this city and I hadn’t found a rhythm. I was still a tourist in this urban sprawl, this cultural void.
After nearly a year of toiling—and what felt like a hundred pitch meetings—I finally managed to sell a script to an aspiring producer named Devin Blank, a cash flush hip-hop mogul-in-the-making who wanted to churn out some low-budget films. Our first meeting consisted of nothing but stories of his years living in the projects. Every tale involved dealing drugs, violent confrontations and inner-city tragedy. Eventually, he transitioned into the second phase of his life: working for a major record label.
It was a stark contrast to his early years. He went from moving rock on Normandy to hosting boardroom meetings with record executives. To him it was all the same; packaging a product and managing difficult personalities. He employed the same skills he did moving 5 million copies of an album as he had moving $5 worth of crack. He believed he could apply this same logic to making movies. After buying the script, he told me he already knew the perfect director for the project.
Julian sat there silently while Devin and the other producers engaged in pleasantries and introductions. While seated, his face sank into his many chins creating an accordion effect. He clutched my screenplay in his hands. I could see volumes of red ink scribbled on the pages. Rather than avoid the inevitable, I walked over and introduced myself.
“Julian, great to meet you. I’m looking forward to this.”
“Ah, yes, the writer,” he replied, not even bothering to look up. “Best job on any picture. If it goes wel, you can take all the credit. If it fails miserably, you can always blame the director.”
His voice was particularly grating: harsh and flamboyant. It was like Paul Lynde had taken up residence in the discarded corpse of Orson Welles.
“I have some concerns about this picture,” he said, leaning forward, clutching the cane tightly to prevent the momentum from propelling him into and, presumably, through the floor. That carved piece of wood was all that stood between him and the center of the Earth.
“The script is fine. It could use some polish. Kudos to you sir.” He pointed his enormous, sausage link of a finger in my direction. “My concerns about the picture are based solely on the budget. Your eyes are bigger than your stomach.”
I bit down on my lip hard enough to draw blood. Surely the man had to possess an ounce of self-awareness, I thought. Then again, this is Hollywood.
In order to make it through the meeting without an embarrassing outburst, I had to distract myself. But this puffed-up ponce made it nearly impossible. He refused to use any other word to describe the project than “picture” and he unnecessarily stressed the syllables with each utterance. Apparently, we weren’t working on a movie or a film; it was a “peek-ture.”
He seemed extremely confident for a man who had never directed a feature. His experience came from two places: music videos and soft-core pornography. The kind of high production value, genitalia-free banging found well after midnight on pay cable. After years of producing masturbatory fantasies for kids unable to get their hands on real pornography, he moved into music video production, filming boy bands and teenage pop singers in various states of undress, being hosed down with water, seductively eye-fucking the camera. Apparently, there was little stylistic difference between pop-music video and late-night Cinemax.
I picked up on something about halfway through the meeting. He would only engage with the executive producer, Devin. In fact, he was the only one of us with whom he made direct eye contact. Anyone else who asked a question would be met with a long pause followed by an answer that never directly addressed the subject. He would drift into general movie industry platitudes and spew out the most vague of answers with a particular affinity for the old standby: “We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.”
I’m not sure if it’s possible to pity inanimate objects, but I felt sorry for any bridge Julian James would ever try and cross.
“You’re going to need an actor who can actually act,” he said, gasping for a breath of air. Conversation had covered him in a thin layer of sweat. Even his most basic actions were akin to aerobic activity. A long sentence would wind him. I’d wager him waxing philosophical would be too much for his overburdened heart to bear.
“We can’t just use one of these B-movie rejects you seem so fond of,” he barked. “I’m going to need a real actor.”
There were nods and whispers in every corner—side discussions, people scribbling names on paper. Names started flying and were being batted down just as fast. Some names were unrealistic given the budget, while others were just acts of pure fantasy. After spending nearly an hour in quiet silence, tucked away in a corner just happy to be in the room, I finally opened my mouth and voiced my first opinion. “What about Jim Stahl?”