Kafka and I:
Angst for the Memories
Act I: Producer Meeting
Los Angeles. Early afternoon.
Im in the movie producer’s office, a plush suite high on top of a gleaming Century City tower. Layers of smog finger-paint and smear the sky pink for miles—all the way out to the Pacific Ocean.
The producer is lounging on an enormous sofa. A buxom starlet and the film’s director flank him. I’m seated on a chair across from the threesome. They are faces without substance, stick players in my waking script.
My hands are folded against my chest. I’m uneasy. I feel as if Im emerging from a dream, abruptly realizing I’m in another place. Sometimes I’m glad to snap out of it—that is, if my waking dream offers a more satisfying reality.
“So, Mister schmucko,” says the producer to me with a big smile. “Just kidding. Axel, really, come on, who cares if anyone thinks you’re selling out? We, our modest little circle, want to please, to appease—not create problems. No creative shit, no innovative stuff, no avant-garde. Spare me, God . . . spare me from writers who want to say something, please.” His eyes roll upward. “Look at it this way. The movie theater is our temple, box-office is like tithing, the audience is our congregation.”
“That’s really very good,” pipes in the director, “I like that imagery. It is saying something to me. Everybody compromises. Just read Variety.”
The producer continues with: “Who’ll know the difference. And what does all this selling out crap actually mean? Yeah, you bet I want to hear those two beautiful words—sell out, sell out crowds to this flick. My reputation is on the line here, too. Those studio bean counters have got us all by the family jewels.”
“Right,” says the director, “the show must go on . . . eh, right?”
As I watch the director flounder, I seem to remember Jack Benny saying: If there is anything in this world that doesn’t have to go on—it’s the show. It was more likely some ingenious, or perhaps ordinary, producer—not an actor—way back when, who uttered this cliché so as not to lose ticket sales.
At this moment, I have my own dilemma. Not only have I just turned forty, but I’m also fucked if I do what this producer is pushing up my ass. My first break in film is sitting across from me and I have to decide if it’s selling out time—already? But the producer does ask a relevant question. What does selling out mean?
I think: You can’t know what selling out means until the pressure is on, until the deciding moment tries to stomp out your integrity and your spiritual survival. You can sell out only to your self—that’s irony. While this nasty transaction may take on many disguises, the common thread that weaves through the cheap cloth of selling out is giving up your dream, giving away your inner truth.
I say to the producer, “You want me to edit out the soul of the story. I want this picture to say exactly what it says. I want this picture to speak from the heart. I don’t want a watered down film by committee. I want this film to be born, not aborted.”
“Ha, listen to him. We haven’t begun shooting and already he’s on a high horse. The fact is you’re the writer. If I wanted something to speak to the people I’d sell them parrots. We own your words.”
The director nods along in agreement.»