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Friday, September 21, 2012

We Meet Billy Friedkin And The DEA

The DEA Agent measured us with his cold cop's eyes. "I hope you guys are traveling clean," he said. "If not..." he shrugged... "You're on your own."

Chris snorted. "Just because we maybe look like Hippie Commie Symps," he said, "doesn't mean we're stupid Hippie Commie Symps."

The DEA Agent barked laughter. "You two don't look like hippies," he said, "but you do look like you take a walk on the wild side now and again."

"If we didn't," I pointed out, "Billy Friedkin wouldn't have hired us to write this movie."

The DEA Agent grinned. "Who do you think Billy will get to play me?" he said. "Redford, maybe? Or Warren Beatty?"

Chris said, "If we promised you Redford, then whipped out a Doobie and lit up, would you still bust us?"

The DEA Agent sighed. "Geeze... Robert Redford," he said. "My wife would be all over me like it was our second honeymoon."

"But you'd still put the cuffs on us," I said, starting to like this guy.

"I would," he said. "Although I wouldn't enjoy it... if that makes you feel any better."

"Never fear," Chris said. "Only shit we're holding are a couple of hip flasks of scotch in case Jacksonville is dry."

"Only on Sundays," the DEA Agent laughed. "And that's just until 2 p.m."

Our bags came up on the carousel. We grabbed them, and followed the DEA Agent out of the airport into the steamy Florida air.

I won't name the DEA Agent. He was undercover then, and even if he's retired now, I'm sure there are a lot of bad guys he put away who'd relish eating a cold dish of Revenge on his corpse's chest.

The "Billy" Friedkin I'm referring to is the great director, William Friedkin; and no, I'm not going all Hollywood on you with the "Billy" business. That's what he prefers to be called.

The movie he'd hired us to write - TARGET: CARLOS - was for Showtime and it was about Carlos Lehder, who along with Pablo Escobar and the Medellin Cartel, pioneered the modern Gazillion Dollar dope smuggling and murder business.

Our nameless DEA Agent was the man most responsible for bringing Carlos to Justice, where he is buried in a federal prison so deep they have to pipe in the sunshine - and that for only an hour a day.

The reason we were in Jacksonville, Florida was to interview the DEA Agent, who was tying up the loose ends after a series of Federal Court trials where Carlos and a group of American Good Old Boy associates had been judged Guilty, Guilty, Guilty.

If you recall from the episode before last, Marc (with a yuppie "c" spelling) Pariser, one of our agents at CAA, had promised to hook us up with Friedkin in return for a favor.

I know, I know... your jaw just bounced off the floor in amazed disbelief that an agent - especially an agent at the infamous CAA - had kept his word.

Well, he did. But in a bassackward way. No surprise there, right? It happened like this:


Chris and I watched in dismay as Suit after Suit filed into the room, each with coffee (or whatever) in one hand, and a napkin-wrapped cruller or bagel in the other.

There was no end to them: You had your TV Suits, your Movie Of The Week Suits, Your Miniseries Suits, your Network liaison Suit, your Production Suits, your Program Practices Suits, your CAA Agency Suits, plus a Three-Suit Business Affairs Team, led by a fat guy with a scabby Friar Tuck dome and a six-inch doughnut bar gripped in his teeth like a cigar. Or, well... you get the picture.

Chris stage whispered, "There's enough Suits here to start a fucking dandruff farm."

On the other side of the huge board room table, Pariser had picked up on Chris' comment and started to raise an admonishing hand to keep it down... then thought better of it and let his hand flop impotently to the table.

At the head of the table lounged Steven By God Seagal, star of the hour, with his long sheep's face, short pony tail, beady eyes and wearing an unbuttoned silk shirt that displayed a pudgy chest and thick gold chain.

"He's got bigger tits than Orson Welles," Chris whispered.

I don't know if Seagal heard him, but he flinched and rotated his face away. Chris had put him in his place two MisAdventures back (Chris Bunch Vs. Steven Seagal) and he had remained there ever since.

As each Suit entered they stopped to make obeisance before Seagal - who didn't rise. After all, he was the favorite bum boy of Michael Ovitz, uber-boss of CAA and the most powerful agent in the world. Seagal was also a teller of untruths so outrageous that Hollywood Suits hastened to worship at his feet. One by one he was presented by Pariser, and they all shook his hand and giggled nervously at whatever he condescended to say.

My partner was disgusted. He said, "Look like a bunch of groupies lining up to give him a BJ."

Fortunately, nobody heard him, because just at that moment the Business Affairs Baldy approached Seagal, removed the doughnut bar from his mouth, balanced it across his coffee (or whatever) cup and shook Seagal's hand, a wide grin splitting his puffed-up face.

"Looks like a fucking Cape Baboon," Chris whispered.

Finally, everybody found a seat - as lowly writers we had been shoved into a distant corner - but the meeting did not commence. One person was missing. There was a buzz around the room: Where is he? Why is he late? Should somebody call his girl?

The missing person was William Friedkin, and without him the meeting was pointless, because there would be no project.

Then, to everyone's relief, Friedkin entered. He paused in the doorway, looking every inch The Great Director. He was dressed casually and wore aviator glasses, which he adjusted with one hand as he looked around the room nodding pleasantly at various Suits.

He saw Seagal, smiled and said, "Morning Steven."

Seagal returned the smile and the greeting, then motioned for Friedkin to sit between him and Pariser.

But Billy had spotted us. His polite smile turned into a wide grin and he announced to the room: "I think I'll go sit with my writers."

Chris and I had lunched with Friedkin a couple of weeks before and had been impressed. But with those words - "I'll go sit with my writers" - he climbed to the very pinnacle of our admiration.

With that statement, he not only boosted our status, but declared the three of us the only Creative People in a room crowded with expensive suits, power ties and pockets full of beans to count. An aside: The glass ceiling was very much in place - not one woman was to be found among all those Execs. (Q. What's the difference between and a Male Suit and a Female Suit? A. Dandruff)

Somebody from Warner's opened the meeting with the usual blah, blah. Honored to have a director of the stature of Friedkin in their company. Praise for their new action star, Steven Seagal. And a few words about the writing team of Bunch & Cole who had been laboring hard on the project.

Then they kicked the ball over to us. Asking first, how long we envisioned the project to be. We had roughed out a movie with Friedkin in our meetings, but before I could say anything, Pariser caught my eye and spread his hands apart. Meaning CAA was on the hunt for a four-hour mini-series, not just a movie of the week.

(CAA perfected the art of "packaging." Meaning, they'd put together a team of their clients - writers, directors, actors, producers, composers, etc. - and strong arm the Studios into swallowing the whole thing. Loosely speaking, this meant CAA got many, many ten percents for one project. That this practice led to the manipulation of their clients and their clients' paychecks - and entire careers - was something Ovitz vehemently denied.)

Back to the meeting and the two-hour movie that had just been transformed into a four-hour mini. In my mind I was quickly expanding the story that was supposed to be about the Yakuza (Japanese mafia known for their elaborate tats) invading Hawaii, to an adventure that started in Hawaii, where it remained for the first two hours, then jumped to Japan for the exciting two-hour conclusion.

We'd agreed that I'd take the pitch - mainly because I had lived in the Far East for some years - and Chris would jump in with bits of martial arts and underworld flash.

It was a helluva pitch, if I do say so myself, and according to the clock on the wall - which I took occasional glances at - we completed it in a little over seven minutes. Everybody seemed pleased; Friedkin put his hands together, leading the applause from all the others.

All, that is, except for the Scabby Domed Business Affairs guy. Baldy's face was swollen in apparent fury. His two sycophants had started to join in the applause, but immediately ceased and desisted when they saw their boss's reaction.

Before anyone could speak, he growled, "I can't believe that I had to sit through all this shit! What a waste of my God Damned time! I thought we were here to meet on the deal. But, no. I have to sit here and listen to the story! Who gives a fuck about the story? What's about the deal, God damn it!"

Total silence. I felt like shit. I was thinking, Jesus, what did I do wrong? Did I somehow let The Side down? Wasn't I supposed to pitch the story? And if I was, did I go on too long? And on, and on.

Chris whispered, "Fuck him."

And I think he was about to say it again, but louder, and addressed more personally, but we heard Friedkin clear his throat.

Everyone turned to him - expectant. He was looking at Balding Fat Boy with amusement. "If this was a meeting about the deal, instead of the story," he said, "then it would be a waste of My Time. My lawyer talks deals. I talk stories."

He turned to us and said, "Great job, boys! When we met, it was just a germ of an idea that we discussed. Now, we have Real Story and for a four-hour mini to boot."

Baldy started to say something, but the Warner Bros. Big Shot jumped in with effusive praise and agreement with Friedkin. Baldy, meanwhile, stuffed the whole doughnut bar in his mouth and chewed. Unfortunately, he didn't choke on it.

Friedkin tipped me the wink and I realized Baldy's rude comments had been a ploy to get the upper hand on any deal discussions with the director and his team. A ploy that had been turned back on him. Next to me, I heard Chris laugh - and knew that he'd picked up on it too. Well played, Mr. Friedkin.

A week passed. A chubby check for our work thus far on the Seagal mini had arrived, putting us in the best of moods. I think we were working on Sten #5 - Revenge Of The Damned - so we certainly weren't idle. The previous Sten novel, Fleet Of The Damned, had ended in a cliff hanger and our publisher and loyal readers were practically hammering on our door for the next episode.

The phone rang. We were expecting a call from Shelly Shapiro, our editor at Del Rey Books, so Chris punched the speaker button before he picked up. He delivered his favorite greeting: "This anybody with good news or money?" Usually he'd immediately add, "No! Then fuck off." And pretend to hang up.

But he was quickly brought up short. Over the speaker phone I heard Friedkin laugh, then say, "God, I loved A Thousand Clowns."

"Shit, you're about the only guy to ever get it," Chris said.

"In this case," Friedkin said, "the question was right on the mark."

"How so?" I asked.

Friedkin said, "I've got some good news, and some bad news guys. Which do you want to hear first?"

"Let's hear the bummer, first," Chris said.

Friedkin said, "In a little bit you're going to get a call from CAA. Your agent is going to tell you that Warner Brothers passed on the mini-series deal. But, that's not the real story. The real story is that after looking over our pony-tailed friend (Seagal), I had second thoughts."

We got the idea that he thought Seagal was a walking, talking time bomb. He'd worked with the best in the business - Gene Hackman, Roy Scheider, Al Pacino - a whole galaxy of really talented stars. And Seagal would be a definite comedown. So, no dice.

But before we could despair, he said, "Now for the good news."

Chris said, "Shoot."

Friedkin said, "You boys ever see The French Connection?"

"Of course," I said. Every ink-spattered wretch of worth had seen Friedkin's brilliant tale of "Popeye" Doyle's battle against a mysterious drug lord.

Friedkin said, "How would you boys like to write something similar for me?"

"Far fucking out," said Chris.




The MisAdventures began humbly enough - with about 2,000 readers. When it rose to over 50,000 (we've now passed the 175,000 mark) I started listening to those of you who urged me to collect the stories into a book. Starting at the beginning, I went back and rewrote the essays, adding new detail and events as they came to mind. This book is the result of that effort. However, I'm mindful of the fact, Gentle Reader, that you also enjoy having these little offerings posted every Friday to put a smile on your face for the weekend. So I'll continue running them until it reaches the final Fade Out. Meanwhile, it would please the heart of this ink-stained wretch - as well as tickle whatever that hard black thing is in my banker's chest - if you bought the book. It will make a great gift, don't you think? And if you'd like a personally autographed copy you can get it directly through my (ahem) Merchant's Link at Click here. Buy the book and I will sign it and ship it to you. Break a leg!

Told in four parts, Episode Two now appearing in Diaspar Magazine, the best SF&F magazine in South America! And it's free! Here's the link. 
Sten debuta # 1 en español! Narrada en cuatro partes, Episode Dos ahora aparece en la revista Diaspar, la mejor revista de SF & F en América del Sur! 

Two new companion editions to the international best-selling Sten series. In the first, learn the Emperor's most closely held  cooking secrets. In the other, Sten unleashes his shaggy-dog joke cracking sidekick, Alex Kilgour. Both available as trade paperbacks or in all major e-book flavors. Click here to tickle your funny bone or sizzle your palate.    

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