By Rob Ryder
Special to Page 2

I'm still concerned about Eric and Aaron Goodwin -- African-American identical twins, and LeBron James' agents. I pitched them a movie idea and haven't heard back. I'm thinking it might be Aaron's recent DWB incident in Oakland that's diverting their attention.

It brings me back to a day on "White Men Can't Jump" when I got my own DWW (Driving While White). Actually, I wasn't even driving a car. I was riding a bicycle, which makes it more of a PWW (Pedaling While White).

Woody Harrelson & Wesley Snipse
The chemistry between Woody Harrelson and Wesley Snipes was apparent from the get-go.

It was early morning on the Venice Beach courts. We were socked in, waiting for the morning fog to burn off. We'd been shooting for only two or three days, and the cast and crew were still finding their footing and working out the dynamics. But it was already clear that this movie was a winner. Even that early in the shoot, we all knew it; and it was one of the best feelings in the world. From Day One, Wesley and Woody had the sparks flying.

We had a couple dozen players out there, shooting hoops in the chilly fog, calling out, laughing, scarfing down the hot coffee and breakfast burritos. The steel rims clanging, chain nets snapping. The surf, a dull roar from across the empty sand. Waiting for the sun.

One of the balls was flat. I looked around but couldn't find the prop guys, so I started walking down the Venice Beach walk towards the prop truck when I came upon Kirk, the incredibly crusty sound mixer (aren't they all?). He'd rolled his sound cart as far away from the set as was humanly possible and still be working on the same movie.

Kirk had a little BMX bike that he used to hustle in on when he was needed. I asked if I could borrow it. Since he hadn't had the opportunity to hold something against me yet, he said yes.

I jumped on the bike and sprinted down the empty walk through the fog, until I heard a loud voice: "Hey, you! Stop!"

I kept riding. Venice is filled with lunatics. When a stranger yells for you to stop, you don't.

Suddenly, I heard the "whoop whoop" of a police siren, and I immediately got that queasy feel in my gut. I skidded to a stop.

Two cops drove their black-and-white up the walk through the fog, stopped and climbed out. One was white, the other Latino. The white guy had a hair up his butt.

"Hey, a--hole, why didn't you stop?"

"I didn't know who it was."

"You didn't know who it was?"

"That's right."

"I'm a police officer."

"I didn't realize that."

"Do you realize it now?"

"Oh, yeah."

"Oh, what?"

"Yes."

"Yes, what?"

"Yes, I realize that."

"No. You mean 'Yes, sir.' Right?"

"Uh ... right. Yes, sir."

"Did you realize you were breaking the law?"

"I didn't realize that."

"You don't realize too good, do you? What are you, some kind of dumbass?"

I said nothing.

"Answer me, dumbass."

And on and on it went. My mouth clenched against the urge to say something really stupid that might cost me one of the coolest jobs I'd ever landed. So I stood there and took it as he systematically chipped away at my dignity until finally he'd had enough and let me go.

Venice Beach courts
The famed Venice Beach courts, where "White Men Can't Jump" was filmed.

I walked the bike back to the set -- apparently, it's illegal to ride on the Venice Beach walk -- burning with anger and resentment. It showed. A few of the players came over. Half these guys, I knew. We hired right off the courts we played on -- Venice Beach, the Hollywood Y.

"Rob, man, what's up?"

"I, uh ... I just got hassled by a cop."

"For what?"

"Riding a stupid f---ing bicycle on the walk."

"Wow, man, you look seriously pissed."

More players wandered up. A couple of them, Reggie and Mahcoe, peppered me with questions.

"They cuff you?"

"Uh, no."

"They make you spread on the ground?"

"No."

"They put a foot in your back?"

"No."

By now the black players were exchanging looks.

"They put a gun on you?"

"No."

There it was, the first smirk.

"They make you go to your knees and crawl backwards towards them?"

"Uh, no ... "

"Then what'd they do, man?"

"They, uh ... the guy was an a--hole."

"You mean he talked mean to you?"

Then the smiles started busting out, and I realized, man, I'm cooked. Pity the poor little white boy. I tried to save it by saying, "Yeah, he was a real meanie."

But by now, these guys were laughing, and then they were doubled over and laughing, and then they were slapping fives and laughing, and then they were absolutely delirious with laughter. And I just stood there like an idiot, half-smiling; and finally, when the roars subsided, I said, "F--- all uh yuhs."

And they started laughing again.

Now here's the part where I'm supposed to say: Look we know that most cops are doing a good job, etc, etc. But you know what? Today, right now, I'm not gonna say it.

Cops. Cops and coaches. The good, the bad and the ugly. When it's a coach, that's your choice. It's your choice to be there or not. But when it's a cop ... ask Wesley Snipes. Ask Virginia state judge Alotha C. Willis. Ask Aaron Goodwin.

The familiar burp of a fresh email pulls me out of the memory. I reach for the mouse. It's Eric Goodwin. He and his brother like my college basketball script, "94 Feet of Hell." No promises, but they want to meet -- with or without Ron Shelton.

This is good news.

LeBron James
LeBron James could be coming to a theatre near you.

Eric writes that they haven't shown it to LeBron yet. They want to keep him focused, but they'll get there when the time's right. He ends with a well-deserved boast: "LeBron's been too busy playing better ball than most NBA veterans."

Ain't it the truth? I personally worried about that moonshot jumper of his, but he's nailing that now, too.

I immediately reply to Eric. Glad you like it. Looking forward to the meeting. (Keeping it cool, professional.)

Okay, this is it, now. This is business.

I call Ron Shelton. Explain that I need advice. The plan is to pull together the hottest young players in the NBA to be in the movie. But it's gotta be a quick shoot. These guys get booked up with camps, commercials, families. Plus, the Olympics are on the calendar this coming August.

How many shooting days will we really need to make this thing? It's the story of one college conference championship game, told from the points of view of both sides. It's a war movie. "The Battle of Algiers." "Tora, Tora, Tora." Plus, it's the first sports movie where you can't predict the obvious winner.

It's simple, logistically, because the movie never leaves the arena. Can we light the crap out of it and shoot the whole thing in two weeks? What about multiple cameras? Second unit directors working opposite ends. Ron says he'll be glad to talk it through. We set a meeting.

Then I call David Lester. Lester is a line producer and he knows this stuff backwards and forwards. He's also the kind of guy you want on your team when things go south (and there's NEVER a movie where things don't go south). We talk about shooting in High Def Video. The need for the right arena. The difficulties of working with pro athletes who might treat this less than seriously. (God knows we've both been there.) He'll be glad to talk it through.

Than I email Nigel Miguel. Nigel's the one who set me up with the Goodwins. I expect him to be key in chasing down the NBA guys we want. The plan is to put together players with enough star quality to attract some name actors to play the coaches.

It's called packaging. There's no one set way to put the key elements of a movie together, except to say that it usually involves a great deal of begging, arm-twisting, misrepresenting the truth, calling in old favors, outright lying, threatening, more begging, more lying, beating down doors, beating up assistants, and even more begging (not necessarily in that order).

No more time for messing around. Stay focused. Stay hungry. There's a lot of work to be done. Enough with the cheap jokes.

I hear the burp of another email and click on it. It's Ollie, my Brit screenwriter friend. Uh, oh. I took some license relating a story of his in last week's column.

His email reads: "Nice work, Rob. License forgiven. Next time, why not use the anecdote about my 22-inch penis?"

NEXT: OLLIE'S ... (sorry)

NEXT: PACKAGING A MOVIE

Rob Ryder played basketball at Princeton and works as a screenwriter and sports advisor in Hollywood. He can be reached at robryder@sbcglobal.net.




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