It began before the smoking ban and after 9/11. I was working for a Japanese film company on 4th Street and Broadway, just above the now defunct Tower Records. I took my lunches at a nearby pub called Swift Hibernian Tavern, where I smoked my brains out for forty minutes each weekday while listening to the lilting brogue of Sean, the ever-loquacious bartender cum film industry matchmaker.
A year earlier I had been living in Portland, Oregon, where I had retreated after graduating NYU. There, I wrote a script called Running Out of Angels, which had advanced to one of the semi-final rounds of the inaugural Miramax Project Greeenlight contest. With this modest accomplishment under my belt, my newfound bravado and I returned to the greatest city on earth, where our worlds were turned upside down only a few months later. Nothing like a terrorist attack to bring a fellow to a crossroads. Living under a constant cloud of fear and sorrow brings to stark relief all those aspects of a life with which one could and should do without. For myself, rolling phone calls, scheduling meetings and living on poverty level wages seemed to fit that description.
“Sebastian, Michael here’s in film as well,” Sean said to me one afternoon, indicating a fellow at the end of the bar.
With those words began what’s approaching a decade-long journey.
Michael and I became fast friends. He worked for Focus Features in distribution. Soon we were having meetings about the script, usually at SoHo coffee shops where skirt-watching passed as one way to ameliorate post-9/11 malaise. Meanwhile, I began freelancing for a dot-com advertising research company, figuring if there was another attack, I’d rather die on my feet than on my ass staring at an Excel sheet.
Then something remarkable happened. Michael said he had news but that I shouldn’t get my hopes up. This was to become a familiar caveat over the years. A friend/colleague of his was starting a production company, and they were taking a look at Angels.
For a twenty-four-year-old aspiring filmmaker, the words “production company” and “taking a look” are tantamount to winning the lottery. Because you know you have gold (whether you do or not), and once somebody else realizes it, the rest is formality.
They did realize it. Problem was, this was my first rodeo.
“Eighteen months, a thousand dollars.”
Why sure! Of course I’ll trade you the exclusive rights to my work in exchange for fifty-four cents a day! And why not? It’s just formality. We’re sure to be in production within a year.
Alas, we were not. It took almost that long for them to shell out dollar one to develop the film. It was on a casting director, and it turned out to be money very well spent.
She was a fan, but once every major talent agency and management company started sending us favourable feedback, she became a zealot. After a round of auditioning and meeting New York actors, it was decided that we should rise to the occasion of being toasted by the L.A. elite.
Unfortunately, the company, whose lengthy option was at its mid-way point, lacked the fervour of us below-the-liners and balked at financing this little venture. So Michael and I sucked it up, wrangled the cheapest tickets we could find, sweet-talked a Beverly Hills boutique hotel into giving us some modestly-priced but extravagant digs, and shuttled our asses (on our own dime) to the left coast.
The first thing I noticed about L.A. was the rain. Denizens of that city apparently equate rain to fearsome munitions being hurled at them. I felt similarly about the denizens. There were parties, party favours, and the occasional celebrity doing the party favours. People were disingenuous while trying desperately to be real. I knew what to expect. I’d read Nathanael West.
However, on one of the last days of casting, I saw a glimmer of familiarity in the person of Noah Segan. He wore an army fatigue jacket and a toothy grin that usually can only be found south of the Mason Dixon. After he read, I knew I wanted to connect with this guy, to have a smoke with him. As we loitered in a tunnel on the Universal lot, I listened to this kid with his manic, infectious energy, talking—but seeming to mean it. His enthusiasm elicited in me a similar sentiment, and though it behoved me in no way to do so, I tried my best to genuinely indicate to him that he nailed it. I showed my hand, and in doing so, made a friend.