Whacked But Fact #2.

CHRONIC

After the financing fell through on Box Of Moonlight for the 3rd time I got an email from one Fred Knimble. Fred had a production company based in South Africa that was looking for low-budget independent films. I sent him the script. He loved it. My producer Marcus Viscidi and I quickly worked out an option agreement that gave Fred and Uberlight Productions sole rights to the script for 8 months. During that time Fred and his partner in Los Angeles, Daryl Pelts, would attempt to raise 6 million dollars. Marcus and I were ecstatic. We’d never had that much money to make a film.

Over the next few months I spoke to Fred and Daryl many times on the phone, discussing casting, schedule and locations. Marcus actually met Daryl at a Dairy Queen in Malibu and was sufficiently impressed to get over having to drive all the way out there from West Hollywood.

Raising the cash was more difficult than Uberlight expected. But as soon as one French film fund faded away they called us with news that some Swiss money was pending. After 4 months they’d only raised $300,000; all from the sale of Fred’s grandmother’s jewelry. I wasn’t sure if she died before or after the sale but weeks later we were informed this money had been spent on “capital investitures.”

The warning bells were waking the neighbors at this point. At 7 months we got a surprise offer from Savior Films, another production company that had 5 million dollars already in the bank. Marcus and I informed Uberlight of the new offer but assured them that if they raised the 6 million in this last month of their option we would stay with them.

Fred and Daryl were upset. They were “inches away” from securing all the money from Brazil and wanted a 2 month extension on the option. Marcus and I courteously declined. Three days after Uberlight’s option expired we signed a deal with Savior. I never felt happier. The next day Uberlight sued us.

Savior immediately canceled our deal, saying, “We’re not investing money in a film stuck in litigation. Clear it up and come back to us.”

Neither Marcus nor I could afford a lawsuit. So, we had to go to Uberlight and ask what their terms were. Though they hadn’t raised a dime they insisted on full producing credits with Savior, and 2 million dollars to cover their expenses. Savior instantly rejected this and retreated even further with their 5 million dollars.

Despite numerous personal appeals Uberlight would not budge. I was entering my 5th year of trying to raise the money for this film. To see it actually sitting there in the bank and not be able to touch it was driving me insane. As the days went by my mood plummeted. At any moment my hands would clench, sometimes as if gripping a machete, other times as if firing a machine gun.

Then, one night around midnight my phone rang.

A woman spoke in a soft, hesitant voice. She said she was Daryl’s sister-in-law and had some information for me about “the lawsuit.” She was about to tell me when she stopped. “I can’t, I can’t,” she murmured. “It’s my sister’s husband.”

I wanted to reach through the phone and grab her by the neck. Instead I just played the guy who is really depressed and troubled but nonetheless is deeply understanding of family bonds.

“I understand completely,” I said.

She stayed on the phone. Apparently Daryl had said something very nasty to her sister, “making her feel like nothing; you know? Just nothing.”

I said I knew the feeling. She agreed to meet me in the morning.

The rendezvous point was a Dunkin’ Donuts on 23rd street. I walked in and there she was, sitting alone by the window. She was about 30 but she looked 50. I couldn’t tell what it was but there was something slightly damaged about her, like a pie someone had poked their finger into. Her name was Reena. She spoke for an hour.

She started with Fred Knimble. The reason he was in South Africa was because he was wanted in Maryland on drug-trafficking charges and if he set foot in the US he’d be arrested immediately. She even knew about the grandmother’s jewelry money but cleared up where it had been spent; on some very good coke.

When she got to Daryl her voice tightened. She hated him for what he was doing to her sister. The two had split up a year ago and now Daryl was living in a shack on the beach just south of Malibu. This explained the location for the meeting with Marcus. She said it really was a shack; plywood walls and plastic sheeting for the ceiling. He got electricity by tapping into a street light and spent almost all of his time surfing porn on the internet. I almost asked her how she knew this.

Then she told me on her own. One of the reasons her sister had left Daryl was that, “He was a chronic–” She paused and gazed at me with eyes murky with mascara and anxiety. They seemed to be encouraging me to finish for her.

“Gambler?” I offered.

“No.” Another blinking silence. “Masturbator,” she finally stated.

“Chronic?” I repeated like an idiot.

“Yes. All day. Every day. You’d never see him without a box of kleenex.” Marcus hadn’t mentioned this.

As disturbing as it was, Reena’s information gave me everything I needed to simply ignore the lawsuit from Uberlight. As I thanked her profusely she lay a damp hand on my wrist. Then she squeezed, very softly. Another long look, but this time I could almost swear I saw something different in the raccoon eyes. And it confused the hell out of me. She’d just saved me, I admit that. But did she expect me now to somehow “thank” her? Right there in Dunkin’ Donuts?

I eased my hand free and gave her what I felt was a very grateful smile. I told her I was deeply indebted to her and if there was anything I could do to help her she should just let me know. She placed a box of cd’s onto the table. “For you,” she said. “It’s all me, singing and playing the harmonica. I think my songs would go really well in your movies.”

“Wow, Reena, thanks,” I said. “I’m always looking for new music.” I slipped out the door just as she was about to take my hand again.

Uberlight’s lawsuit quickly evaporated. A week later we signed the deal with Savior. Two weeks later Savior went out of business.

Whacked but fact. Every word.

File Under: Raising The Money.          Subcategory:  The Family Jewels.

Moral: When you’re looking under every rock for the money be prepared to meet a few slugs. I should have been more vigilant in checking Uberlight’s credentials. I was so desperate to get the money I never noticed they hadn’t produced a single film. But, I was smart enough to get something in writing. Always insist on it. If a financier gets pissy about a deal memo or a contract walk away. I know that sounds terrifying especially if they claim to have the cash but trust me, they will respect you more. A written agreement is standard operating procedure and only chronic chicken chokers will balk at it. I did listen to Reena’s music. It was awful. But I felt so grateful (and guilty) I kept the cd’s for almost 5 years before re-gifting them. Every now and then some errand takes me by that Dunkin’ Donuts on 23rd street. It will forever be accompanied by the sensation of a heavy, moist hand laying upon my wrist.

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26 thoughts on “Whacked But Fact #2.”

  1. OUCH, Tom, reading that made me wince. Have you ever thought about dealing with one of the cable groups like HBO or Showtime? They seem more receptive to indie work and they do have chunky bank accounts. Then there’s TNT. It’s done some terrific work with independents like Robert DuVall, without cutting into the creative vision he brought to the table.

  2. Hey Tom,
    Sounds pretty whacked, but I’m sure I’d be surprised by the things that happen in the biz. Box of Moonlight is a favorite, so thx for going thru all this to get it made!!
    And now you’ve added Dunkin Donuts on the list of things with dual meanings; I already laugh when seeing hostess twinkies–so LIO moment!
    Love the family jewels angle…
    Elaine

  3. Hi Salli,
    By the time I reach folks like Uberlight it means I’ve already run the gamut of every other “legit” financing source. HBO and Showtime both passed on the script quite early and had a requirement at the time that the film would go straight to TV.

    They have branched out considerably since then and I’m really excited about what they’re making, both in film and tv. Certainly will always place them both at the top of the list when the next one is ready.

    best,
    Tom

  4. Hey Elaine,
    I wrote when I started this series that these episodes would all be things that actually happened to me. In the case of Chronic every thing is true except for the names.

    It would completely defeat the purpose if the stuff was made up. This is a strange one to be sure but if you think this is whacked, which it is, just you wait.

    best,
    Tom

  5. Hey Tom,

    I stand corrected :) This one was so bizarre, so whacked–and you have such a talent for making stuff up…I wasn’t sure. You’re right; I went back and re-read the first one and you mentioned the posts would be true.

    Reading that the only thing that changed was the names makes me realize just how absolutely strange and whacked this biz can be!!!! Truth is stranger than fiction, eh?

    And of course now you’ve spiked my curiosity with whatever other posts are to come!!

    Thx,
    Elaine

  6. Congrats on being accepted to the LA Film Fest! Best wishes to getting in Depp’s voice and at the festival. I didn’t see the new bit on your ‘News’ page until just now.

    Thx,
    Elaine

  7. Hi Tom,
    I just discovered this website,it’s really great. Just reading this post makes me relieved that Box of Moonlight got made,seeing as there seemed to be a lot of hassle getting it done. I just watched it again last night,with The Real Blonde and Living In Oblivion the previous nights. I’m in the midst of getting my friends into your work and on the basis of Johnny Suede and Living In Oblivion it’s going extrememly well,they love them:-) It’s quite hard to find your films in the stores over here in Ireland so im glad to get my friends into your movies because i doubt they might have seen them otherwise.

    I plan on showing them Box of Moonlight. It’s one of my all time favourite films…up there with Sunset Boulevard. Thanks for making such a great film Tom.

    Cheers,
    Wayne

  8. Hey Wayne,
    It’s really great to hear from you. From the efforts you have been undertaking recently I feel I owe you at least 10% of the profits I’ve never seen for the dvd rentals of my films.
    I sincerely appreciate your enthusiasm and willingness to take the time to share it with your friends.
    However, when you compare Box of Moonlight to Sunset Boulevard I have to stop you. Nothing I’ve done compares to the scenes in that film where they bury the chimp and the chauffeur reveals he’s been washing Norma’s underwear.

    I really enjoyed reading your comment.
    Keep me posted on the reactions from your friends.
    best,
    Tom

  9. Tom — I do hope Faber & Faber or some other publisher puts together these posts with a new book on your recent movies — maybe Delirious and “When You’re Strange” (which I’m dying to see). I posted a comment or two to you a while back thanking you for the posts and most importantly for the spirited, truly original movies you’ve made. Now I have a question for you, because I am currently in the process of authoring a high school textbook titled “Fundamentals of Film and Video.”
    Among the stills I’d like to include with the book are some from “Living in Oblivion,” and I’d also love to invite you to share any behind-the-scenes stills from “Delirious” that would be illustrative of the production process. In particular, from “Living in Oblivion,” the frame with the camera crew, AD, and director surrounding the camera during a shot is one I’m trying to get, along with Michael Griffiths, headphones on, getting ambient sound, as well as any technical shots such as measuring focus. Now, I’m not sure who holds copyright or if perhaps you have any behind-the-stills that you hold any permissions rights for, but I’m just starting by checking with you.
    Just so you know, the central concept of the book is that high school students investigate the basics of motion pictures (media communication, history, technology) and also learn by doing, so there are writing and production exercises with each chapter. It is designed not just for “film students,” but for any student to learn to think critically about moving images and to develop skills in visual communication and collaborative work. The publisher is Cengage (from their Delmar division http://www.delmarlearning.com/mad/Index.aspx?cat1ID=MAD), and the project is pretty far along — it’s scheduled to go to press during winter 2009/10.

    Thanks for any information or questions you may have.

    Best regards,
    Carl Casinghino

  10. Hey Tom,

    I finally gathered the troops around for the Box Of Moonlight night in my place and i showed it together with The Real Blonde. They absolutely loved them,you have 5 new Irish fans:-) So hopefully some of those elusive dvd royalties will start coming your way!

    I remember when i first rented Johnny Suede about 8 years ago i loved it so much i went straight back to the rental store and asked the clerk if i could purchase it from them, i was willing to give him 75 euro for a not-great quality rental tape and he still wouldn’t give it to me. I finally found a specialist film store in Dublin 2 months ago which ordered it in for me…so i finally got it and it sits pride of place with your other movies and alongside,yep,Sunset Boulveard.That monkey burial scene is definately one of the greats:-) As is the whole film.

    I will be having many more DiCillo nights man:-) Good times had by all.

    Cheers,

    Wayne

  11. Hi Tom,

    How’s it going on the film? I just got my ticket for the 21st at the L.A. Film Festival. I didn’t expect to be able to see the film this fast, I thought I’d be anticipating it all summer. Could you throw in an extra Morrison scream for me?
    I was pleased to read you appreciate David Lynch. He’s one of my faves but I’m usually alone in that. Actually, I’m usually alone in a lot of things but that’s not important right now.
    I don’t know if this has been brought up but there’s an interview with you from July ’95 on the Charlie Rose site. http://www.charlierose.com/view/interview/6751 .
    Take care and good luck on the film. I’m looking forward to it.

  12. Hey Carl,
    Thanks for your comment. I may gather these scribblings into a book one day–and hurl it against someone’s head.
    I am enjoying writing the posts. As I mentioned earlier they are somewhat therapeutic.
    Your text book sounds great. Unfortunately you’re going to have to go to the distributors of Living In Oblivion and Delirious to get the rights to the stills. I wish I could be of help to you but I have no access to the materials.
    best,
    Tom

  13. Hey Wayne,
    Well, all I can say is that you must be offering some really fine herb to your friends for free to get them to sit through a DiCillo double feature. Good on ya.
    I am immensely touched.
    Please tell your friends how much I appreciate it.

    That’s a great Johnny Suede story. I’m glad you finally got your own version. Did you get it on DVD? The European cut is much different than the US one, though that has now been changed to match. Check out the PHOTOS page above. I threw a still on there for you.

    best,
    Tom

  14. Hey Jeff,
    That’s pretty cool. I’m really pleased you got a ticket. There are plenty of Morrison screams so I think you’ll be happy.

    I can’t honestly say I like all of Lynch’s films but the ones I do like have had a profound effect on me. I may have said this before but I really do believe he is one of the few directors of the last 30 years to create a new cinematic language. That is an amazing accomplishment.

    You know, I remember that Charlie Rose interview as if it happened yesterday. The call to do it had come only an hour before. I raced down to his mid-town studio but every time he started the intro he mispronounced my name. He kept doing it, and starting over. It was just the two of us in the room. He started to get very uncomfortable. After helping him pronounce it three times I could only offer a smile of sympathetic silence. Finally after 6 tries he got it and we lurched into the interview.
    Which I think he handled very well.
    best,
    Tom

  15. you must be offering some really fine herb to your friends for free to get them to sit through a DiCillo double feature.
    **************
    Ah, Tom. You underestimate how much your films entertain and affect us :) Your sense of humor and soulful scenes are refreshing, and DiCillo double features are great things!

    Hope the screenplay is coming along; keep us posted on your projects!
    thx,
    Elaine

  16. Hey Tom,

    Thanks a million for that still from Johnny Suede,i have never seen any production stills from it,it’s really cool. I really love that movie,i was fifteen when i first saw it and it was the movie that got me into your work and the work of many other great independent film makers. Yeah man i got it on DVD,it runs at 93 minutes,would that be your original cut?

    Yeah the feedback from my friends has been really great to see,i love sharing great movies with others. I worked my butt off last year in a job i hated just so i could save up and buy a projector and a big screen(9 foot wide,6 foot long) and converted my old bedroom into a mini screening room,now i have regular movies nights introducing my friends into some of the greats…Welles,Hitchcock,Wilder,Ford,Leone,Truffaut,Huston,Lynch and your good self:-)

    Most recently i discovered Fellini(“8 1/2″ i think is on a par with Living in Oblivion as the greatest movie about making movies) and have been planning some Fellini nights but i really couldn’t wait to share your work with them first,i was so excited to see them enjoying them. I’m looking foward to showing them La Dolce Vita and Amacord…Fellini Satyricon may be best saved for a night with some of that fine herb:-) Have you ever seen Alejandro Jodorowsky’s The Holy Mountain? Satyricon reminds me alot of that film.

    I have ordered a DVD of Delirious at my local store,it’s another really hard movie to find over here and which i have not yet seen,i can’t wait!

    Cheers,

    Wayne

  17. Hey Wayne,
    Well, you motivated me. I dug up some more stills for you.

    I’m pretty impressed with your one-man effort to illuminate the film lovers of Ireland. You’ve really put together an impressive list. Fellini is a lifetime of pleasure. The most amazing thing about him is that he never gives up on his characters, no matter how complex or disturbed. He always allows their humanity to stay alive.

    La Strada blew my mind at 19. It actually influenced Johnny Suede. I have not seen The Holy Mountain. I will now check it out.

    Don’t forget Bunuel and Kurosawa. Also, some of the modern masters. Herzog’s Aguirre, the Wrath of God is stellar.

    If your dvd of Johnny Suede doesn’t have a stupid voice over on it then it is the European version, the same version that won Best Picture at Locarno. Unfortunately the US distributor forced me to cut some key scenes and add the voice over for their theatrical release. I was able to release the original version on DVD last year.

    best,
    Tom

  18. Well, thanks Elaine. Maybe it’s just some of the one-eyed, mud-souled Marketeers I’m dealing with now that makes me astonished at the prospect of anyone finding interest in a DiCillo double feature.

    The writing is coming. Another departure for me; a simple, sexually complex contemporary film noir. Might have the first draft in a month.

    best,
    Tom

  19. one-eyed, mud-souled Marketeers I’m dealing with
    ****
    Hey Tom,

    For some reason, the song “Flying Purple People Eater” and a visual of people wearing Mouse Marketeer t-shirts came into my head as I read this :)

    DiCillo double features are great; even fun to figure out *which* two to watch depending on mood. Although I know from experience that a great cure for a flu is the Johnny Suede/Box of Moonlight sweet and comfort movie combo. They should package those 2 with chicken soup.

    Thrilled to hear the screenplay is coming along so well. It’s challenging to stay focused when chaos and other commitments are hurling around me. Sounds like it’s coming along well. Keep it up :)

    Elaine

  20. Had to leave another comment in response to your comment. Bunuel and Kurosawa in the same breath! Awesome! I thought we only did that in my household! I just saw That Obscure Object of Desire again. I actually wrote my final paper on it.

    I have a question for you:

    What are your favorite films that have a nonlinear narrative? (I was going to ask what your fave films are but that’s so hard to narrow down so I’ll make it more specific.)

    Hey WYS has two dates at the LA film fest! Just got a ticket for Wed. I had an awful film experience at the LA film fest last year. I picked two films to see and they were both absolutely terrible. TERRIBLE!! I swore I wouldn’t go this year, but I’ve gotta go see WYS. This is going to make my month!!!

  21. Hey Tom,

    Looking forward to the NYC WYS premiere.

    Sorry to go off topic for a second but I recently saw the NYC premiere of Coppola’s ‘Tetro.’ Wondering if you’ve seen it and whether you might like to comment on it. My little review over at a social networking site was as follows:

    “Francis Coppola remains the Maestro. Astonishingly rendered and realized work. Like all great films, repeat viewings are sure to be rewarded. Gallo is mesmerizing. I had some issues with the digital projection in NYC. Just some brief stutter. But overall the black and white was silvery and gorgeous. Sound as in all Zoetrope films was lush, detailed, immersive, beautiful, frightening. A dream of a Film.”

    I tend to not go to the movies at all. Or I go and they sweep me away. I am thoroughly optimistic about what you and your crew have achieved with ‘When You’re Strange’ and I had to talk myself out of credit carding my way to the ‘Bloody Red Sun of Phantastic L.A.’ to catch the premiere there.

    One more note for you. I want very much to see a new biopic of Artaud, and you’re the man. It’s been 14 years since ‘My Life and Times with Antonin Artaud’ so, just like with The Doors film and WYS, enough time has passed for another major rendering.

    Are you interested in this story? In his work? It certainly threads forward to Morrison, for what it’s worth. In any event, I know appearance isn’t everything for biopics, but you could easily play Artaud from age 27 all the way through. Huge character arc. From brilliant angel to mad raver (he even referred to himself as ‘Artaud le Momo’). It’s such a rich tapestry. Connections to Henry Miller and Anais Nin in Paris. In and out of the Surrealist movement. The magic travels and visions in Mexico. On and on.

    I know you’ve got films in the pipeline already. We’re all tired of seeing the same recycled faces in film. Isn’t it time you get back to it? You have the presence for a role of this scope.

    Best,
    Erik J

  22. Hey Jessicah,
    I’m glad you’re going to the Doors screening in LA. Let me know how it goes.

    Favorite non-linear narrative films? Good question. These are in no order, just as I drag them out of my memory:
    Rashomon, Kurosawa
    Mulholland Drive, Lynch
    8 1/2, Fellini
    Every Man For Himself (Save Quil Peut), Godard
    Duck Soup, Marx Brothers
    Even Dwarves Started Small, Herzog
    Discreet Charm of the Bourgoisie, Bunuel.

    And of course the entire Fast and Furious series with its narrative structure that makes you feel like the directors cut open your skull and took a dump on your brain.
    best,
    Tom

  23. Hey Eric,
    I want to see the Coppola film. I have great respect for him. He’s attempting to go back to making personal films that have real meaning for him, as opposed to jumping back on the grinding studio merry-go-round.

    That’s an interesting suggestion about the Artaud story. I know a little about him. I will investigage further. I doubt anyone would put money up with me acting in it but thanks for the encouragement. I have been wondering if I would ever get back into acting and what kind of role it would take.

    The screening of WYS in LA is not a premiere, just a screening at the LA Film festival. If all goes well there we will get a US distributor who will plan a full release with potentially an official premiere.

    Your film asthetic and sensibility are inspiring. Keep it up. We should make a t-shirt that says “Not Everything Is Shit.” We could make at least $200.

    best,
    Tom

  24. Hey Tom.

    This whole whacked but fact series is great. kind of like Living In Oblivion, except serialized.

    I’m actually working on a pilot that deals with exactly that: a “scripted reality show” that follows the development of an Independent Media Company as it goes from Ground Floor to… Well, it’s based on the company, so it doesn’t have an ending yet.

    So would I be able to incorporate some of these whacked but fact stories into the series? If you made the series, it might become legally complicated. But if I created them, would either of us be in legal question?

    Thanks.

    Mike

  25. Hey Michael,
    I’m glad you like the Whacked But Fact stories. It’s crazy how agony can become humorous with the distillation of time.
    But, the stories are unfortunately based on real events and real people and would not lend themselves to public entertainment.
    Also, equally importantly, they are my stories. My experiences. If someone wanted to make a tv series they’d be better served by coming up with stories of their own–or paying me a shitload of money.
    I think your pilot idea is a good one.
    best,
    Tom

  26. Lesson to be learned — never do business with a man who has a silent “K” in the front of his name… there is something very sneaky about this and he is not to be trusted.

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