Tuesday, January 6, 2004 Updated: January 7, 12:04 PM ET
Can Hollywood handle the truth?
By Rob Ryder Special to Page 2
Oh, man, what's going on? It's been 10 long days since I sent an e-mail to LeBron's agents at Goodwin Sports Management, and not a word.
Each morning, I open Outlook Express with a mixture of dread and hope. In that order. It isn't the e-mail grenades that worry me -- the ones that say, "Got to be the dumbest story I have ever read. I want my 10 minutes back."
No, what worries me is my concern that I'm antagonizing the very people I want to be working with.
Rob had some good times hanging out with Whoopi back in the "Eddie" days.
Like Mark Burg, one of the producers on "Eddie," which I recently called a piece of crap in the column. Is he going to hold it against me? I hope not. We'll find out. Making a good movie is one of the hardest things you can do. People fail. A lot of honest attempts go awry. Your skin can't be too thin if you're going to make a career of it.
At least Burg has a pretty good sense of humor. Like the time we were prepping "Eddie." We hadn't left for Charlotte yet, so we were working in one of Disney's high rises in Burbank. Whoopi was visiting, and she was one very unhappy camper.
You learn to keep your head down in the movie business. Doesn't matter what department you're in. As soon as the s--- starts flying you close your door (if you're lucky enough to have one). So there I was, alone at my desk, trying to figure out how in hell, in the midst of a nasty NBA lockout, we were gonna put actual NBA players in uniforms when the uniforms belonged to management.
Suddenly, I heard Whoopi go off. This wasn't one of those slow builds. Oh no, this was an explosion -- a monumental, seven-expletive tirade laced with what sounded like a string of extremely imaginative, quasi-sexual improbabilities about to be committed on said producer, Mark Burg.
I closed my door.
The thing about movie stars ... when they yell at you, you can't yell back. You've gotta eat it. You've gotta take it like the hot-shot producer you are.
Then you turn around and dump it on your assistant.
Whoopi was finally finished. She stalked out. A long silence. My door slowly swung open. It was Burg. His face was crimson. Maybe he couldn't find his assistant (although I never once heard him yell at Darcene, a proud woman who was unlikely to take it). With me, he decided to play it for laughs. He smiled wanly and hobbled towards my desk, knees bent, legs spread, gingerly holding his arched buttocks in mock pain.
"You got a first-aid kit in here?" he asked.
Hey, not every sports movie can be as good as "Hoosiers" ... or even "Teen Wolf."
So maybe Burg will be cool with my rips on "Eddie." There are a couple of projects we could do together. He's got a hit TV show, "Two and a Half Men." Plus, he's got a new movie out, "Love Don't Cost a Thing," which is worth the eight bucks -- a heartfelt plug in a lame attempt to mollify him.
But still, it's tricky territory. So I e-mail Mark Cuban, and express my concern.
"What do you care what people think?" he replies.
Easy for him to say, given that he's worth about 16 billion-gazillion dollars. It's called F.U. money. (For those of you under 18, that stands for "Forget You.") Whereas, I'm driving a Toyota with over 100,000 miles on it.
But Cuban's got a point. And -- love him or hate him -- he puts it on the line every day.
Like this feud he's got going with the Lakers. Cuban knows that for a rivalry to truly develop, things have to get personal. It's good for business. But then some whacko comes caterwauling out of the stands and you're suddenly wishing you were back at that Dairy Queen.
Anyway, I decide to buck up, lay it on the line. Figure people like seeing their names in print, even in less-than-flattering circumstances.
But I about crapped the day my third column came up and I saw that the knuckleheads at ESPN (you guys know I love you, right?) gave me this splashy Page 2 headline: "THE LEBRON PROJECT."
Like they were doing me some kind of favor.
Oh, man. There is no "LeBron Project." There is a project I had pitched to LeBron. Actually to his agents, the Goodwin brothers. Actually just to Eric Goodwin; Aaron was in the motorhome.
But there was not (as yet) a "LeBron Project." People are very protective of their turf. What was Eric going to think, seeing a headline like this?
I fired off an e-mail to him, explaining that yes, I'd taken the liberty of describing our meeting -- the one that had been arranged by our mutual friend, Nigel, who was also concerned for my relationships in the business. I expressed my respect. Explained my powerlessness over the headline writers. ("More Dirt from Hollywood." Jeez, fellas.) And I told him I hoped I hadn't jeopardized the Goodwins' potential involvement in my college basketball movie, "94 Feet of Hell." Not to mention LeBron's potential involvement.
Days pass. No reply.
I call my friend and fellow screenwriter, Oliver Butcher, for his take. Ollie's a Brit. The closest he gets to sports is bagging ground squirrels with his cross bow, but I value his opinion on all things Hollywood. He's recently returned from Vancouver, where he was doing re-writes on Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson's latest flick.
That night, as we're sitting around with our wives, Ollie tells a titillating tale about life on location. (One of our perks for being middle-aged guys with thinning hair who don't cheat is that when we tell racy stories in front of our wives, they actually laugh and don't get offended because they know how idiotic men can be and they're glad their men got it out of their systems before they got married.)
Anyway, Ollie was up in Vancouver, writing feverishly all day and living a pariah's existence during the off-hours. This is self-imposed, partially. The most dangerous thing a re-write guy can do on location is hang out with the actors, because they're always pushing for their parts to be expanded.
"So there I was," says Ollie in his clipped Cambridge accent, "drinking alone at the hotel bar. And I look over and there's this absolutely gorgeous woman staring at me."
"You were drunk," says Ollie's British wife, Sophie.
"I was not drunk. I was a living a very Spartan existence. I was having a beer. Then she walks over and sits next to me, and she's even more gorgeous up close."
"She had big boobs," says Sophie.
"Hhmmph, she was quite well-endowed, actually," says Ollie. "So we exchange names, pleasantries, and I'm feeling rather puffed up -- 'Hey, dude, still got some of the old stuff, say what?!'
"And the next thing you know, she's got her hand on my leg and she's asking, 'Do you have a room here?'
"I say, 'Uh, yes, as a matter of fact, I do.'
"She says, 'For $250, I'll follow you there.'"
We all laugh, and Ollie says, "I was crushed, absolutely crushed."
"What happened next?" I ask.
"She saw the look on my face, and added, 'That's Canadian.' And I bolted from the room."
Later, I pull Oliver aside and explain my dilemma.
"Don't worry, Raab," he says. (I guess that's English for Rob). "Look at William Goldman. 'Adventures in the Screen Trade.' Nobody knows anything. He slammed everybody in that book, and he works all the time."
"Yeah, but that was after he won the Oscar for 'Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.'"
"Then what about Cecil B. DeMille?" says Ollie. "What did he say? 'I will never ever ever ever ever ever work with that man again ... (beat) ... Unless I need him.'"
So, back to Goodwin Sports Management and how I might have blown a relationship. I'd been thinking to myself, They're busy, these guys. Maybe they never even got the e-mail. Hey, Aaron had just had a run-in with the Oakland Police Department. Maybe that's it. The DWB was demanding all their time and attention. An incident like that can be humiliating and infuriating and can really throw a man.
It brings me back to a day on "White Men Can't Jump," when I had my own run-in with the transportation cops -- except I wasn't even driving a car. I was riding a bicycle.
The memory comes back, vivid as yesterday. And even after all these years, it stings like a slap.
NEXT: THE VENICE BEACH INCIDENTRob Ryder played basketball at Princeton and works as a screenwriter and sports advisor in Hollywood. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.