J.F. Lawton – the writer of Pretty Woman, Under Siege, The Hunted, Mistress – was a client since the very beginning. Little did we know that, a few short years after I began to manage his screenwriting career, we’d take the plunge and dive into new roles. The both of us, together. J.F. as a director, me as a producer.
The writers’ strike of 1988 shut down the entire business of film and tv production for almost a year. One day, J.F. came to my office. I think I surprised him when, out of the blue, I said “You’ve nothing to do and I want to make a film”.
I asked him to choose a script from the many he’d written, one that we could shoot in Los Angeles, on a shoestring budget. The one he’d most want to direct.
I’d never raised money for film production, but it never occurred to me it would be a problem or challenge. So I began dialing the phone and taking meetings. Within weeks, despite a rash of rejections, I’d raised Two Hundred Thousand Dollars. And off we went to make our first-ever feature length film – Cannibal Women in the Avocado Jungle of Death.
It was a comedy of errors, guerrilla filmmaking at its finest. Neither of us had an inkling what we were doing. We had barely four weeks until he and I were due to be at the Sundance Institute’s production lab. We thought about waiting to make the film til we returned from Utah.
But ignorance is bliss. With no idea four weeks was not nearly enough time to properly prep, produce, post-produce and deliver a feature length film, we chose to make the film before we left town. Together, we blindly jumped off the cliff of our own ignorance.
We plotted two weeks for pre-production, eleven days of photography (with one day off in the middle) and a few days to edit and post the film. Seemed sensible at the time.
I converted my offices to production offices. One week into our two week prep period, J.F. and I were the only two people there, each wearing way too many hats. I was the film’s creative producer, line producer, casting director, assistant director, and more. J.F. was acting as writer, director, editor, location scout and more.
One night around midnight, we realized we were missing a crew. We called all our friends. We told them to tell everyone they knew to show up the next day. Our seat-of-the-pants plan was to hire ‘on the spot’, and instantly fill each and every production job (script supervisor, cinematographer, line producer, and some 30-odd other positions).
Without knowing these people, we simply eyeballed them. J.F. and I had a very scientific approach and a subtle way of communicating. If someone was well-dresssed, we’d point and nod and they were instantly our head of wardrobe. If someone had ever held a camera or shot a documentary, they were our cinematographer.
Within hours, we were “crewed up”. We crammed thirty plus people into a couple of offices and, crawling all over each other with one week left, with no time to contemplate how much we didn’t know, we forged ahead and started shooting on the appointed day.
We made more than 25 company moves (changes of location) in eleven days that took us from Riverside, to Malibu and Hollywood. It was barely controlled insanity. We paid our actors and crew with huge appreciation and low-budget pay scales.
With only a handful of days left, the editing was ‘almost’ completed before the financier grabbed the film away and declared it ‘finished’. J.F. and I jumped on a plane to Sundance’s production lab on another project (later to become Pretty Woman).
While it was a matter of the blind leading the blind, we completed the film with what little time and money was available – and had a riotous good time. A feminist spoof of Heart of Darkness, the film is absurdly funny, made money, and ran on cable tv for fifteen years. And that is how we got into the business of making films.
Your dreams only need you to meet them halfway – by taking imperfect action and, as Quincy Jones once said to me “leaving a little room for God”.