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The problem with being involved with a film that isn't a hit is explaining it. Not to the industry, but to your family.
Now, you must understand that I'm employing a bit of British understatement when I talk about the film that wasn't a hit. I've been hanging around with the British a lot lately, and I've picked up their knack for understatement, something they have developed to an art form. They still refer to World War II as "That spot of trouble we had with the man with the mustache."
And perhaps understatement is the only way to deal with the film I made with my British friends. It took three years to complete, and then it played for only four days in America.
A word to the uninitiated here. If you ever have a film coming out in August, do not count the summer days until its release. Especially don't go to see every film that comes out on Friday and read their reviews with a smirk on your face. April may be the cruelest month, but August gives it a pretty good run for its money, at least as far as the movie business goes.
My film came and went in August. I'm sure there have been baseball games that played longer. That didn't bother me. I saw it. Even seeing it didn't bother me. I just started the car, drove home from the drive-in and re-read my first draft, which was funny. I told myself it was funny and tried to sleep. That's when the phone rang.
“They pulled it!” the strangely familiar voice said. "They pulled your movie!"
"Who is this?"
"It's your father." You should know something about my father. He does not make long-distance telephone calls. He looks upon the telephone as a "gimmick." When my grandmother died, I read about it in a letter. Years later, when my mother died, I also read about it in a letter. The same letter, because he doesn't like to write letters, either.
"They pulled it,” he screamed into the phone.
"Dad, where did you ever learn a phrase like pulled it"
"You're in the business, you learn these phrases. Why? Why did they pull it?
"Well, 18 people went to see it in one weekend across the entire country," I explained.
"It's the second weekend that counts! That movie had legs! It had legsl" He screamed and screamed.
My father is retired. Most of his life—when he wasn't in the Army—he was a civil engineer. When I told him I wanted to be a writer, all he said was, "You're sure?" I don't think he has seen more than 20 movies in his life. And five of those were on TV. What I didn't know was that in the three years it took to make my movie, he had been studying up on show biz.
"It's like this fella, Cohn, said, 'It's good if it doesn't make my ass itch.' Well, my ass didn't itch once in your movie, and I was sitting in a car.
"But that poster? What's it aimed at? Children? For your devastating comment on greed and corruption in America , you want children?" he accused.
"I didn't have anything to say about the poster." I think I started to cry then, but I wasn't going to let him know. "Woody does. Woody makes sure he has good poster. And you know what else? Woody opens small! He finds out if the thing has legs before he opens wide and embarrasses his entire family across the whole country." He screamed again.
"Dad, I don't wanna take this call.
"You'll take phone when I give phone. I'm your father." His screaming probably woke up most of the Midwest .
"I organized my entire Parents Without Partners group, who really just wanted to have a square dance, to go see your movie. You know how many cars that is? Fifty-five! Fifty-five cars all the way out to the south side to see your movie. The gasoline cost more than the tickets. And when we get there, what's playing? Take This Job and Shove It. How do you explain this to people? You don't think that embarrassed me?" The scream had become a whine.
"Well, Dad, I don't know what to say. If you wait, maybe you can have the Parents Without Partners over to the house to watch it on cable.” I rubbed my watery eyes.
"Already! Already it's on cablet, Next you're gonna tell me I can't ride in a plane for two years without that damned thing glaring down at me."
I whimpered. "I really wouldn't know. I haven't been on a plane lately."
"Oh, yeah, you were on the Concorde every five minutes while making the film. No wonder the budget was so high and you know what else, Mr. Big Shot? I heard Rona Barrett made a joke about you."
"No, she didn't. And anyway, I don't even know Rona Barrett." I was pleading.”
"She knows you. And so does People Magazine. Us was scathing. And you know what else? I agree with Janet Maslin. It was acid. You are acid. You've always been acid. Ever since you were a child, you ran around making little acid comments. I tried to break you of it. I remember the first acid thing you said. We were all sitting around the table discussing the French Revolution and that lady who knitted while they chopped people's heads off on the guillotine. And you said, 'What did she knit? Turtleneck sweaters?' Not funny. Not at all funny," he said over the phone, acidly.
"Well, I was eight years old and not well paid," I replied, tersely.
"How much did you get for the film?"
"Less than everybody else."
"Ah, yes, but did you get points'!"
"Yes, Dad, I got points."
'"Finally, you did something right. I mean even Bobby DeNiro gets points. And he's just an actor. Bob Redford gets points, but he's moved on to directing which is something I think we should discuss. How many points did you get?" he jabbed at me long distance. -
"Dad, I'm really tired."
"How many points?"
"Not bad. Will you ever see any of it?"
"Dad that's almost a surreal question at this point, and I'm tired."
"One more question and then you can go to sleep... did you laugh at the rushes?"
"I think we did. As a matter of fact, on occasion we roared at the rushes."
"You bastard! You're no son of mine. Mel never laughs in rushes. Woody won't even have rushes. And I don't know about Neil, except that he's on the set all the time. Were you on the set?"
"From time to time I was on the set," I said, feeling as though I were on the stand. Dad went in for the kill. "Did the electricians laugh?"
"... Yes, as I recall, the electricians did laugh,"" I replied, frightened to death.
"Oh Christ! Had I known that, I would have seen this coming. Do you think I would have organized Parents Without Partners, knowing that the electricians laughed on the shoot!" He had obviously administered the coup de grace.
"I don't know, Dad," I replied like a kid who had just broken a window.
"Here's my plan." Then he spoke in a whisper like one of the witches from Macbeth, "I think we should go after the British director— blame it all on him."