Dreams of distribution
By Rob Ryder
Special to Page 2

Wanna make a movie? Lesson No. 1: It's the distributor, stupid.

This country is littered with the rotting corpses of unseen movies -- all financed on the backs of Mom and Dad, Uncle Joe and Aunt Rose, Capitol One, Providian, Cross Country Bank, a consortium of dentists from Omaha, a consortium of drug dealers from Boca Raton, and undoubtedly a consortium of drug dealing dentists from somewhere in between.

Don't get me wrong. Finding money to make a movie is no stroll in the park.

Baron Davis
The rock isn't the only thing Baron Davis can distribute.
I've got an old teammate, John Hummer, who became one of the hottest high-tech venture capitalists in the world. I've been trying to squeeze money out of Hummer for years -- all the way back to when he was playing NBA ball with the Buffalo Braves. No luck so far, although a business plan to launch a 4-on-4 full-court summer pro basketball league still holds great promise. (We want to give these guys the room they need to really play the game.)

But in Hummer's words, "The longest distance in the world is from an investor's pen to his open checkbook."

Still, people do write those checks. Then they can't get their calls returned.

Because finding a company to distribute your movie is even tougher than financing it.

Baron Davis, who played at UCLA and is now tearing up the NBA with the Hornets, played it smart. His movie, "Asylum," is being distributed internationally by Momentum Pictures this coming fall.

Maybe it's the L.A. connection. In fact, Baron was at the very first 4-on-4 trial game we ran in Pauley Pavilion.

Anyway, without distribution, you're dead. Why start if you can't finish?

But, nonetheless, I'm convinced I've got a good shot at pulling off my college basketball movie, "94 Feet of Hell."

For starters, it's a unique concept -- the first sports movie that's all about one game, with no flashbacks, no setting the scene, no corny love interest to bog things down.

It's also the first sports movie where it isn't obvious which team's gonna come from behind and win at the buzzer.

In fact, I'm thinking of shooting two endings.

Plus, a real-deal producer has just come forward and offered his services. We're in that due diligence stage right now.

What's "due diligence," you ask? Well, you know when you're walking your dog, and another dog walks up, and they start sniffing each other's rear ends? That's due diligence.

I'd like to direct it, but would gladly step aside in order to get it made. There's Ernest Dickerson -- he's been Spike Lee's director of photography. He's also directed one of the hippest sports movies ever: "Big Shot: Confessions of a Campus Bookie."

There are other directors out there as well.

In the meantime, we're going to need the right arena.

Time to bring on a location manager, right?

Sorry, no budget yet.

But, hey, I've done some location work myself.

Rob Ryder
Rob Ryder has the fever.
Which takes me back to New York City. The year is 1978.

(And for all of you wondering, "God, just how old is this guy?" ... I've got two words of advice when it comes to your own lives: Don't blink.)

It was a very weird time. See, I came of age with The Four Tops and the Stones. Jimmy Hendrix. Neil Young. The Allman Brothers. Led Zeppelin. Van Morrison.

Barefoot, brown-eyed girls wearing string t-shirts and cut-off jeans -- that's what worked for me.

But here I was, in the heart of New York City, having to face reality. The dream was over. It was time for ...

DISCO!

Donna Summer and John Freakin' Travolta. Platform shoes and high heels. Oh, my God.

Dude, where's my culture?

I was living the life of a struggling writer in a crappy walk-up on Second Avenue.

I'd already worked on two movies, including a super-low-budget slasher movie (never released, of course) called "Heritage of Blood," which we renamed "Heritage of Egg Salad" because that's what we got for lunch EVERY FRIGGIN' DAY!

The other movie was "The Bottom Line," aka "The Death Collector," aka "The Collector," aka "The Enforcer," aka "Family Enforcer." It featured the brilliant Joe Pesci, who later starred as DeNiro's brother in "Raging Bull" as well as that annoying guy ("Okay, okay, okay, okay ") in those endless "Lethal Weapon" flicks.

I owe Pesci a heartfelt apology for something I did on that movie. But that's gotta be for another time.

Anyway, I get a call. It's John Stark, who'd been the production manager on "Death Collector" and would later marry and divorce Glenn "Fatal Attraction" Close (and somehow live to tell about it).

A big Hollywood movie (to us) was rolling into town -- "The Warriors" -- and Stark needed production assistants. On "Death Collector," I made $70 a week. "Warriors" would be paying $50 a day! I jumped at the opportunity.

The movie was based on a gritty book by Sol Yurick -- a real hard-nosed take on gang life in New York. Walter Hill would come on and (in my cinema-verite mindset) turn it into a cartoon. But, oh, what a cartoon.

Why do certain movies resonate in the collective psyche?

Who cares? Here's what happened.

I show up at the production office for the first day of work; and, boom!, the s--- starts hitting the fan. Walter Hill has fired his first assistant director, and they're flying a new guy in from Hollywood. The producer, Larry Gordon, is ceaselessly dumping on Joel Silver, the young associate producer (who would later turn the tables by becoming the screamingest guy in Hollywood). Then there's the executive producer, Frank Marshall, grinning his way through the whole chaotic scene.

Seabiscuit
Tobey Maguire looks cooler in the Spider-suit.
These guys (young Turks, all) went on to produce a slew of famous movies -- the "Lethal Weapons," "48 Hours," "The Matrix," "Raiders of the Lost Ark," "Seabiscuit," "Who Framed Roger Rabbit?," "Back to the Future," "Alien," "Die Hard," and "Field of Dreams," among many, many others. An incredible body of work.

And coming soon, "You'll Never Die in this Town Again."

God, it was rough and tumble. Walter had a John Ford-Sam Peckinpah thing for testing his actors' toughness. We had teamsters hanging out, drinking pints of whiskey and brawling with each other. Paramount was pissed about accounting irregularities. There was paranoia, anger, jealousy. A typical Hollywood movie, I figured.

I befriended a couple of our security guys -- off-duty NYPD detectives. Big burly, Irish guys in black raincoats who I personally witnessed beat three onlookers to bloody, whimpering pulps because they mouthed off to them.

I was sliding through this mess, trying to keep my head down, when Frank Marshall started needling me.

"Hey, Princeton. Princeton fairy. How's my Princeton fairy today?"

Jeez, why do grown men behave like this?

I felt like saying, "Hey, Frank, you think you're gonna get to me? I played basketball in the Palestra down in Philly with 8,000 maniacs screaming, heckling, throwing coins, booing and spitting at us; and you think I'm gonna let some wuss Hollywood producer get to me?"

But did I say it? No. I was making $50 a day.

But I hated it. I was one of a dozen P.A.s. Bottom of the production. Everybody dumped on us.

Then the production manager, John Stark, pulled me aside.

"Listen, Walter's really ticked about our locations. We don't have a place to stage the big gang meeting; we don't have the street to blow up the car; we haven't found a bathroom to stage the subway brawl in. I'm moving you up to locations."

"Yeah?"

"Yeah."

"Uh, more money?"

Stark said, "Hey, f--- you, you want it or not?"

"I'll take it, man, I'll take it."

"Okay. But you better come through for me."

I'm on the crosstown bus home late that night, feeling, "OK, I caught a break here, a chance to show these guys what I can do. I'm not a grunt anymore. I am somebody. I am a locations scout on a big-time Hollywood movie."

At dawn the next morning, over at Columbus Circle, they don't have a car for me yet. So I have to ride in the van.

I climb in the front seat, feeling like God's gift, and stick my hand out to the teamster behind the wheel.

"Mornin'. I'm Rob Ryder."

"So what?" he says.

NEXT: BAT FIGHTS AND BATHROOM BRAWLS

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





HOLLYWOOD JOCK

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