December 23, 2005

James Lileks on Hollywood

A great post from James Lileks:


Setting: the office of B., a Hollywood producer. A writer we shall call “K.” enters.

B: Loved the script, powerful and timely. I know your agent has gone over the changes – we swapped out the Muslim terrorists for Mormon Nazis, and instead of trying to set off a nuke in New York they’re to assassinate a new Supreme Court nominee who’s pro-choice. Streisand is totally on board for the role and everyone smells Oscar. Anyway. There’s this scene here at the Department of Central Security – is that real?

K: It’s a composite.

B: Right, right, super-secret stuff. I see lots of monitors on the walls and really dim lighting and James Earl Jones grabbing phones and barking stuff like “Get me our man in Beirut,” right? Except in this case it would be, I don’t know, Beirutah, ‘cause they’re Mormons. Hah! Work that in. Anyway. It’s on page 35. The hero – we changed the ex-SpecOps guy to a dis charged transsexual Navy sniper whose pregnant daughter was raped by a GI who came back from Iraq all bent. We kept the name, though. Anyway. She’s watching this board where they track outgoing calls, catches a call going from a known terrorist in Washington to another terrorist cell in Hamburg, and she picks up and listens. Don’t get my wrong, I have the highest respect for your talent, but, uh, don’t you think this is a little far fetched?

K: Which part?

B: You expect audiences to accept they’ll just tap a call without a court order? We want them to like these guys.

K: (Scowling) Well, if the movie had to wait for the warrant they would have never stopped the bombing plot in the last reel, so unless you want them sitting around playing sudoko –

B: My wife loves that game! She’s addicted!

K: I’ll arrange an intervention. Look, I researched this. The president can order a tap if Bad Guy A in Kansas calls Bad Guy B in Wackostan with details on tonight’s bombing. Why worry about that? This town makes 200 cop movies a year and the closest you get to Miranda, let alone a warrant, is saying “you have the right to remain dead” after shooting a suspect. C’mon. This is what people want. It makes them feel better to think there’s smart people sitting around a dark room plugged into satellites, intercepting plans by sleeper cells and saboteurs to destroy America. It’s something they expect the government to do.

B: I know, I know, but what if we went “Munich” on this one here, showed the emotional toll of all this? Say the call was innocent. Hey Bob, how you doing, howza wife and kids. And then we pick up the story ten years later where the government is tapping everyone’s phones and the hero realizes, my God or Buddha or whatever, I am responsible for this. It’s like that old saying, first they came for the library records under the Patriot Act and I said nothing, because I didn’t use the library, and so on. You know?

K: So the former Marine intelligent officer fighting Islamic terrorism is now a transgendered Buddhist so concerned about the effect of no-warrant intercepts she lets Barbara Streisand get assassinated.

B: Well, we’ll send out the last act to some script doctors, but yeah. Basically. These are different times.

K: You make it sound like you’d end Casablanca with an arrest warrant for Claude Rains because he shot the Nazi.

B: Hey, things were different then. That was war.

K: And this isn’t?

(Producer looks out the window)

B: I don’t see anything on fire. Do you?

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