Tuesday, April 6, 2004 Updated: September 22, 11:26 AM ET
Meeting of the movie minds
By Rob Ryder Page 3
Beverly Hills. I'm driving my beater down Wilshire Boulevard. I pass the Regent Hotel where I've got a meeting with NBA All-Star, Baron Davis.
I spot the valet parker but decide to find a meter instead. I can just hear the guy as he considers my car, "Uh, mister, I don't think so ..."
I hang a right on El Camino. Familiar turf -- the William Morris Agency looms big and black at the far end of the street.
Needless to say, the valet parkers of the world aren't awaiting the arrival of Hollywood Jock.
I was a client there once. The black hole.
I climb from the car and start quickly pumping quarters into the meter. I can feel the hum of the building at my back. "My force field is sucking you in. You have no strength to resist. Soon you will be within my bowels and no one will ever hear from you again."
Actually, the agencies have changed. Used to be you could pick up an agent quite easily. They'd throw a few of your scripts against the wall, if something stuck, you were on your way, if not, it's the black hole for you, baby.
Now, the agents have gotten a whole lot pickier. Who can blame them? All the crappy scripts everybody has to wade through. From Santa Monica to Burbank, they're stacked up on the curbs, spilling out of elevators, clogging the hallways.
I somehow break the force field and head towards the Regent carrying my snazzy leather briefcase (Staples, $29.99), prized screenplay inside.
I run into Baron and his young agent, Todd Ramasar, in the lobby. The Hornets are in town to play the Lakers. We head up to Baron's room and get down to business.
Baron is actually pumping some energy and money into several movie projects. Thoughtfully, systematically turning himself into a producer. He's also looking to make movies down in Louisiana.
I lay out "94 Feet" for him. In a world of cookie cutter sports movies, it's an original -- the story of one college basketball game. Not only do we never leave the arena, the script's got two endings.
The plan is to shoot them both. The first sports movie ever where either team might win and only the final shot will tell.
Baron and Todd are intrigued.
I'm not here looking for money. I'm looking for involvement. Baron says he'd be interested in playing one of the basketball players if the schedule works.
This is good news. This guy's an NBA All-Star. Maybe he'll play a producer's role as well -- helping attract other quality players. Players young enough to play college guys. (I'm open to suggestions.)
I want to get Luke Walton. I think that'd be a hoot. And Dwyane Wade of the Miami Heat, T.J. Ford, and others like that.
Carmelo and LeBron, obviously, but that's a tall order.
Besides, there'd be something cool about doing it with some of the unsung guys. Give it more of a hardcore attitude. And it'd be sweet to attract a couple of the "And 1" street ballers. Like the little white kid known as "The Professor." Or "Hot Sauce," or maybe "Skip to my Lou."
Of course we'd have to get all of that street junk out of them. Just real players, playing real ball.
But for the coaches, we'll need actors. I'd like to see Michael Chiklis of "The Shield" and Lou Gossett Jr. to play his wily old nemesis.
Baron digs this. It's fun to talk casting.
Will Baron Davis give an assist to Hollywood Jock? Time will tell.
Then we get into arenas. He brings up Tulane University in New Orleans. It'd be perfect. Small enough to fill with extras, big enough to look right. Plus there are real financial incentives shooting in Louisiana.
Baron asks for the script. I pull it from my briefcase, hand it over, shake hands goodbye and walk out.
The screenwriter's life.
How many times have you done this? How many meetings do you walk away from thinking, that's the one, that's the one right there?
You get knocked down, you get up again.
You get knocked down, you get up again.
Nam myoho renge kyo.
I came to Hollywood well-prepared. I started in the movie business in New York City as a production assistant. Then "The Warriors" came to down, and I learned first hand what it's like to get knocked down. Literally.
Riverside Drive Park, midnight, July, 1978.
Here's a story I started weeks ago and never finished telling. It's hot and sticky. I'm wearing a baseball uniform, black cap, my face painted blue and black. The sweat's running streaks down my neck.
Two weeks earlier, I'd been a locations scout on the movie, and Walter Hill had taken a liking to me (God knows why). Then a stuntman got hurt, and Walter offered me the job.
Walter delighted in testing guys' toughness, especially Ivy League basketball players. Hence my trepidation.
I'd witnessed a nasty bat fight in real life, and it wasn't pretty.
It was in 1975, three years out of college. I was living a shabby existence in a crappy Second Avenue apartment. This was my penance for two years of cavorting in the Rocky Mountains with a bunch of other free spirits who were convinced the world was about to end.
(After a while you realize, the world never ends. It just gets crappier.)
"Hey, God?! We're over here! Remember us? The Grand Experiment?! Save us from ourselves!"
"Save us from Osama!"
"Save us from Mel Gibson!"
Anyway, I bounced into New York City from Gold Hill, Colorado and shacked up with an old Princeton teammate, Dominic Michel. I still had a jones for basketball that I was unable to shake.
I was hooping anywhere I could find a game. Riverside Park, West Fourth Street, Central Park behind the Met. Rough and tumble. Street ball. But it wasn't enough. And I didn't have the chops to make the NBA.
So I called another old teammate, John Hummer, who'd been playing in the NBA for the Buffalo Braves. "I wanna go overseas," I told John.
"I'll call my agent," Hummer answered.
A week later, I got a call. Hummer's agent. He'd landed me a job, sight unseen, with a team in Finland. September through March. $350 a week, an apartment and a car.
But it wasn't even Helsinki. It was some town above the Arctic Circle. Swear to God. I said I'd take it. The agent came on strong, "Once you get over there, you gotta stick it out. There's no running home."
"No way," I answered. "I need to play some ball."
So I spent the summer working out. It was weird. It was a time in my life when I was truly lost. My first true love had left me. I had a huge chunk of an ill-conceived novel sitting alongside my battered electric typewriter. I was broker than broke.
The Vietnam War was still raging, tainting every good moment.
I'd tried to do my part. We'd marched in Washington. Marched in New York. We'd harbored draft-dodgers in a Princeton dormitory - scared, lonely guys trying to make their way to Canada.
We boycotted classes. Shut down the University. (Oh, now that's effective; let's stop a war by playing hooky.)
Still, the bodies kept coming home, week after week, 132 American dead, 104 American dead, 97 American dead. Every week.
It was horrifying. More than 57,000 total, in a war that anybody with any brains knew we couldn't win.
As a jock, it was particularly tough. Being a jock, back in the '60s, you might as well have been in the army, the way people looked at you.
Subjugating yourself to the system with the same unquestioning loyalty of those poor guys dying in Vietnam.
But some jocks spoke out -- Muhammad Ali, Dave Meggysey, Rosey Grier, Jack Scott, Harry Edwards. John Carlos and Tommie Smith at the '68 Olympics. Bill Russell. Jim Brown.
And the world listened.
But not the boys in power, LBJ and McNamara (good Democrats mind you). They still plowed on, up to their ears in blind hubris. While the body count kept rising.
Walk into any high school gym and somewhere you'll find a dusty plaque on the wall, honoring the American boys who died in Vietnam.
I just recently saw the name of a guy whose brother lives on my street. Chad Charlesworth. Killed in Binh Dinh, 1970. I mentioned the plaque to his brother, Allen.
"Yeah, he was 22 ..." That's all he could say. The pain still ran that deep.
During Vietnam, the argument was made, week after week, "If we quit this war now, then these guys will have died in vain."
So yeah, I was lost in New York City. Maybe basketball would save me.
One afternoon, I was down at the cage on West Fourth Street and Sixth Avenue. Contrary to popular myth, the games down there have always been erratic.
One day you'd find yourself running with Bernard King. The next day, you'd have some fat-assed, drunk, belligerent has-been posting you up like some Chocolate Thunder wanna-be.
The school of hard knocks. I'd do a solitary workout in the mornings. Shoot 300 Js. Then go find some crazy game in the afternoons.
It was twilight. I'd had a decent run at West Fourth. I was walking through Washington Square Park, brown-bagging a quart of beer. The drummers were out. The cool-cat chess players. The hustlers, the girls in short shorts. The swirling packs of kids.
It was New York City at its finest. All those rich folks could have the Hamptons. We had Washington Square Park.
I grabbed a spot on a bench, checking out the scene. Enough cash in my pocket for a subway token and two slices of pizza from my favorite joint on Second Avenue.
Clouds of marijuana smoke drifted over the throbbing music, over the mélange of young bodies out looking for action.
Then that quick, the vibe changed.
It started with the jarring clash of a broken bottle. Then another. Everybody froze. Heads swiveling.
Suddenly there were a good 30, 35 young teenagers, angry, shouting, stalking from trash can to trash can, yanking out empty quart bottles, grabbing the necks and smashing the bottom offs.
A turf war. Choose your weapons. Broken bottles.
The kids were mostly white, Italian descent, a couple black kids in the mix. Shouting at each other, working up the anger.
The onlookers swiftly dissipated, melting off the cobbled walks onto the grass, under the trees, away from the fountain.
While the angry pack of young thugs swirled into a tight, threatening mass, waving their broken bottles, amping up their war cries.
I sat tight on my bench.
Watching intently as I finally spotted the object of their anger.
Four young teenagers. Puerto Ricans. Standing on the path at the Northeast corner of the park.
Each held a baseball bat.
They were calm. They were resolute.
They watched silently as the growing pack of teenagers worked themselves into a frenzy, then started marching towards them.
The four Puerto Ricans stood silent.
Then they charged. Four kids with baseball bats - sprinting headlong into a pack of teenagers wielding broken bottles.
That quick, the huge pack broke and ran. Throwing their bottles away, hopping benches, sprinting for the trees.
And I heard the "Crack crack crack" of the bats hitting young skulls, crashing down on fragile collar bones.
And that fast, it was over.
Six, seven kids, sprawled out on the walkways. Moaning. Crying out. The blood spilling. The sound of sirens.
Three years later, this memory runs through my head as I test the weight of the Louisville Slugger in my right hand.
The scene is set. Swan and I face off under the bright white klieg lights. The A.D., David Sosna, calls for quiet, then calls, "Roll sound."
And the two camera operators call out, "Speed." "Speed."
Walter Hill takes a moment, then quietly says, "And&action."
Swan and I swing and duck through our routine. The last piece - I raise my bat high, and Swan takes a full swing, catching me in the solar plexus.
I fly backwards, land on my ass and roll onto my side. Gasping for the wind that's been knocked clear from my lungs.
I vaguely hear Walter yell, "Cut."
Swan and the stunt coordinator hover over me, "You okay?"
Here's the deal - stuntmen never show they're hurt. Never. You end up with a splintered tibia sticking six inches out of your shin you say something like, "Aw s---, I hate when that happens."
Now for an entire generation of suburban white boys who grew up just yearning to show Mommy their latest boo boo, this can be a jarring new reality.
But somehow, staying curled up in the grass in a fetal position on a movie set just doesn't cut it.
Jim Brown once said, "When you get brought down, always get up slow. Don't bounce up, that's stupid. Get up slow, so when you're really hurt, nobody's gonna know."
I get up slow.
Walter looks from Swan to me. "That's it? Let's do it again."
So we do it again. And again.
After the third take, I'm really hurting. Baxley comes over, "Think you can go again?"
My ribs are on fire. I can't get enough air into my lungs. "Oh, man, jeez, Craig&"
"You know you get a 50 dollar stunt adjustment for each pop you take?"
I bounce to my feet, waving my bat.
"Hey, Walter, that last one sucked, let's go again!"
Like I said, good preparation for the life of a Hollywood screenwriter.
NEXT: WHERE'S MARK CUBAN WHEN YOU REALLY NEED HIM?Rob Ryder played basketball at Princeton and works in Hollywood as a screenwriter and sports advisor. He can be reached at email@example.com.