Guess What Movie I Walked Out On Last Night….
Last night, I walked out of my first movie of the year.
Not bad, since it’s now September. Pay those holding tickets on the “OVER.”
The movie received many excellent reviews. Rotten Tomatoes rates the movie an 89/100. Someone I trust as a film critic called it “one of the best movies of the year.” That was good enough for me, and my wife, too, who joined me for the 7:30 pm showing at Village Square.
By 8:45, we were out in the parking lot, barking out loud to no one in particular — “what the fuck was that?”
* * * * *
In the spring of 2006, I stepped out of the shower at the New Orleans Marriott on Canal Street. The phone was ringing, and all I was wearing was a towel.
This was a $75,000 phone call. So, when a $75,000 phone call comes in, you take it. Clothed. Naked. Sleeping. Showering. Or, wearing a towel. Good thing camera phones weren’t quite invented yet. Hey, it was a $75,000 phone call. You take a $75,000 phone call — unless your name’s Scott Wilson.
I’d flown into New Orleans earlier in the day because we’d already invested a lot of money in a film project. By “we,” I don’t mean “me.” I mean Poker Stars.com — the cash-rich, freewheeling, kickass company I was working for. I was their Director of Communications.
Several months earlier, Rich Korbin (Director of Marketing for PokerStars.com) and I were pitched on bankrolling some product placement for what was to be a new poker movie. I forgot the exact numbers, but it easily six figures-plus. We agreed to pay some huge sum of money — probably far more than the deal was really worth — for what’s called “branding” in a new movie already in production. Since poker was the theme, naturally it followed that we as a big poker company would want to be involved. Who knows — perhaps this is the next Rounders in the making, which is often cited by many poker people as a watershed moment in their lives when they convinced themselves, just like the protagonist “Mike McDermott,” they could really do “this poker thing” for a living. All I can say upon hearing the carefully crafted pitch alongside Rich Korbin was — it was an offer we couldn’t possibly refuse. After all, what would happen if we turned down the chance to promote PokerStars.com in some movie that turned into a huge hit? That’d be like the idiots who passed on drafting Michael Jordan. Our asses would be hitting the bricks out on the street quicker than you can say, “you two dumbasses!”
So, we forked over some big money to get involved in a movie and now the producers and crew were about to wrap up the production in New Orleans. So, what were we doing in New Orleans and why was I holding a phone in one hand and a towel dangling around my waist in the other dripping on the carpet?
About that phone call: They wanted more money.
* * * * *
I enjoy teenage movies. By that, I mean “coming of age” movies. I think many of us identify with the kids in these movies because most of us remember the awkwardness of our own teens. We remember the kids who were picked on, the bullies, the cliques, the haters, the breakups, and the awful terrifying joy of what it was like growing up.
Fast Times at Ridgemont High is probably the pantheon of all teen movies. But The Last American Virgin and The Breakfast Club also rank way up there, for me. More recently, American Pie joined the best of the teen-movie genre.
Last night’s movie triggered those lofty expectations. It’s the story of a 14-year-old girl in middle school who goes through all the normal pains and horrors of morphing from childhood into early adolescence, in front of what seems to be the whole world — or at least the entire school. The plot reminded me of Lady Bird, last year’s hit movie starring Saoirse Ronan. So, what’s not to like?
Well, after seeing about a third of the film — everything.
The name of the movie was Eighth Grade.
* * * * *
Why in the hell did these movie producers need more money?
We’re already here. In town. We thought the film was about to wrap up. Rich Korbin and I were in New Orleans to catch a glimpse of the movie during its final stages of production, and then go out and celebrate. Hell, the last three previous world poker champions — Chris Moneymaker, Greg Raymer, and Joe Hachem — were in town, too. They were scripted into the movie, branded in PokerStars.com gear. We’d all done our part.
“We need another $75,000.”
Apparently, they were cash short and tapped out. As the saying goes, the light was at the end of the tunnel and all that was needed was a few more bucks to reach the end. To wrap things up. Just another $75,000. A drop in the bucket.
The name of the movie was Deal.
* * * * *
This is the spot where I’d warn you of a spoiler alert. But there’s nothing to spoil.
I wanted so much to like and enjoy Eighth Grade. It’s a small-budget indy film with a first-time writer and director. The teen girl is perfectly cast.
The trouble is, the film is nauseating slow and often pointless. Normally, when a movie gets described as “realistic,” that’s a compliment. Well, Eighth Grade is realistic, all right. It’s too realistic. It’s like hanging around with a teenager for 90 minutes who never says anything and stares at her cell phone the whole time. I wish there’d been a spaceship or some Marvel character to look at. And I hate spaceship movies and Marvel characters. Make me mad and piss me off, that’s fine, but please — don’t fucking bore me.
About 20 minutes into the movie, I peaked towards Marieta to try and gauge if she was enjoying it. We see almost every movie together and we have this unspoken rule and a quiet understanding that we won’t discuss movies while they’re playing. When I looked over at Marieta she was looking at me out of the corner of her eye.
She was thinking the same thing: When is this movie going to get better?
* * * * *
But Reynolds died last week. That makes me sad. Hard to believe he was 82. How time flies. I think most of us of a certain age remember Burt as the hunk of the 1970’s. He was a real sex symbol. Perhaps that’s not obvious in recent years, but believe me — Burt Reynolds was the man. Every woman wanted to be with Burt. And every man wanted to be like Burt.
Burt Reynolds had been cast in Deal in a supporting role. He was the best-known actor in the movie by a mile plus a light year. He was in town for the final shoot, and call time was the following day. And here we were, negotiating a last-minute deal.
“Burt absolutely loves this movie!!! He’s so proud of what he’s doing!!! He told me he thinks he might be nominated for a Best Supporting Actor Oscar!!!”
That was the pitch. To get $75,000 more. The squeeze was on.
Rich had budget discretionary decisions. I didn’t. But this was a lot of extra money no one had budgeted, so we had to temporarily cut short the call with the Deal producers and get Dan Goldman and Isai Scheinberg on the line. Within 5 minutes, we both got bitched out for letting this thing drag on and get expensive, but we also had the green light to close the deal for a small concession.
After getting the producers back on the line and going back and forth on the phone for another half hour as to what else we could get from this last-second stickup, we agreed they’d shoot one extra scene the next day with Moneymaker, Raymer, and Hachem analyzing one of the key hands. No script. Just the champs chattering back and forth in front of the camera.
Gee, I wonder if this was how they did things on Rounders?
The producers got their promissory and funds were wired the following day. That afternoon, filming was to resume at Landmark, a warehouse in an industrial zone out near the New Orleans Airport.
Burt would be there, ready to give his Oscar-worthy performance, no doubt.
* * * * *
I think I asked her first….quietly.
“What do you think?”
We’ve been married for 27 years. I didn’t need an answer. Just the look was enough. It’s almost a sixth sense. You can tell what the other person is thinking. I didn’t even need to ask.
“Let’s give it fifteen more minutes,” Marieta said. “Everyone said this movie is great. It has to get better.” It has to!”
“Okay, fifteen more minutes.”
We agreed to give Eighth Grade fifteen more minutes.
* * * * *
The makeshift studio setup was really cool. Someone transported one of the two traveling World Poker Tour sets and installed the entire unit inside a giant warehouse, where the climactic final scenes of Deal were about to be filmed. Who knows if the $75,000 paid for that last day. I have no idea.
If you’ve ever been on a movie set, you know what I’m about to say is 100 percent true. Movie filming is exciting for a couple of minutes — maybe. Most of the time, it’s sitting around being bored. Dull ass boredom. Most of the time, they’re setting up lights, doing sound checks, making sure the equipment’s working. Come to think of it, filming a movie is a lot like poker. Sporadic moments of excitement punctuated by ceaseless boredom.
During one of the breaks, I was talking to the poker people who were present and out of nowhere Burt Reynolds walked up and said hello. I have no recollection of any of our conversation, but I suppose it can now be said that I’ve met the one and only Burt Reynolds. Fortunately, he walked up or else there might not be the article your reading right now.
As for the added scene, it was ghastly bad. Nothing against the three poker guys who were given nothing to work with, but the impromptu scene was painful to observe. Hell, I can barely watch real poker commentators talk about hands when there’s really millions on the line. In this warehouse studio, in a fake scene, dialogue invented on the spot, you can only imagine how awful the scene was. Though I can’t say I’ver ever watched the final movie from start to finish, I suspect the added bonus scene ended up on the cutting room floor. As for the PokerStars.com logo and $75,000 worth of added publicity, we might as well have handed out flyers on the expressway.
I don’t know why I exactly ended up in such a bad mood by day’s end. After the shoot, most of us piled into rented vans to be shuttled back to Downtown New Orleans. Everybody piled in — actors, the crew, everyone. I had no filter on my thoughts or emotions by this point and as were buckling up in the car blurted out something to the effect — “well, that movie’s sure gonna’ be shit.”
Everyone in the van went stone silent for like five seconds. Then, someone else in the rear seat turned towards me and said — “Have you met XXXXXXXX, yet? He’s the director.”
* * * * *
Fifteen minutes were up. Nothing much happened during the whole time, except the teen girl thinks about giving oral sex to a banana. She posts a few YouTube videos that no one watches, ignores her father, doesn’t fit into school, seems to have no friends, and seems thoroughly miserable.
That’s pretty much the way I remember my eighth-grade year, too, except for the part about blowing the banana.
That wasn’t until 11th grade.
* * * * *
I forget when exactly, but Deal came to theaters in Las Vegas sometime in mid-2008 and was gone quicker than a $20 bill stuck in a video poker machine.
I was one of the three people in town who saw it. My wife, Marieta was the second. The cleanup guy at Cinemark might have stayed through the first half before going outside to smoke a cigarette, so he gets credit as the third.
There were warning signs. The local film critic for the Las Vegas Review-Journal wrote, “Deal is such a bad movie, it makes Lucky You look like Citizen Kane.” Just brutal. Except for Matt Savage who played the tournament director in the movie and practically blew Robert Duval off the screen with his charisma, Lucky You was horrid. Think about it. Duval’s career has never recovered since To say Deal was worse than Lucky You, meant the movie was drawing dead.
Yeah, but I was there. I was there in New Orleans. I saw the shoot with my own eyes. Hell, I met Burt Reynolds. What do the critics know? The film can’t be that bad, can it?
Well, yeah. It can be that bad. Really. It can. It was.
I forget precisely how long we lasted before Marieta and I started giving each other those curious looks. Maybe it took 45 minutes. PokerStars.com didn’t get its $75,000 worth. Heck, we didn’t get our $9 worth.
Strange coincidence — we saw Deal at Village Square. That was ten years ago.
Once outside and in the parking lot I can’t remember exactly who said what to who, when and in what order. But I think it was something along the lines of — “what the fuck was that?”
But, at least I got to meet Burt Reynolds.
Postscript: A final thought — since I made it about half-way through Eighth Grade, does that mean I saw “Fourth Grade?”