Amanda: MacLeod, why don't you believe me?
Duncan MacLeod: Experience.
Amanda: The longer I live the more I get attached to myself.
(From The Highlander TV Series)
Crying gulls circled a bright yellow sun set in a sky so blue you just knew you had to be in California. Further proof: gentle waves lapped a glittering white beach, and there was a yacht berthed nearby where curvaceous young ladies in barely there bikinis gyrated to raucous music.
"Ah, The Golden State," Chris said.
The Highlander Story Exec chuckled, took a healthy swallow of his G&T and said, "You bloody Yanks certainly know how to bloody live."
I gestured, taking in the rich surroundings of the Marina Del Rey and said, "Producers on the downswing hang their toupees here. It's a helluva front. Lease a hot car. A condo unit with rented furniture and art. Find a broke boat owner and take over his payments. Stuff the boat with starlet wannabees, then play Mister Hollywood and invite out-of-state doctors and dentists to back your next film. Then party them down, hoping your creditors don't catch you before you score."
The Story Exec, a Londoner who used "bloody" as frequently as Hell's Angels use the Eff-Word, nodded knowingly. "Not too bloody different from the bloody Riviera," he said. "Except the birds are topless." Another big honk off the G&T. "Let's be bloody honest about it, mate," he continued. "When it comes to bloody filmmaking, it's the same the bloody world over. At heart, the bloody business is a bloody fraud."
I said, "We were sort of thinking along those lines when we drove over here. A meeting at a motel?"
The Story Exec had a laugh at this. "Bloody wondering if illicit drugs or sex were on the bloody menu, instead of a bloody story meeting."
Chris said, "I'm past the age of drugs. But sex..." He shrugged. "I'm not much into hairy faces reeking of gin, but, you know - if you go easy on the rewrite..."
Another big laugh from the Story Exec. "Bloody hell," he said. "I heard all about you blokes. If trouble strikes, they said, call bloody Bunch and Cole. Unless bloody Bunch and Cole are your bloody trouble. And then..."
He let the rest trail off. Finished his drink and waved for another round - One G&T, two Scotches. This guy was heavy duty. Damn, we might have finally met our match.
I just had to ask:"Who told you about us?"
"Your old mate, Bruce Lansbury," he replied.
Chris and I got a kick out of that. We'd met Bruce (Angela Lansbury's brother) - a Brit like the Story Exec - on Buck Rogers earlier in our careers. (See Episode #9 - Buck Rogers is A Fatty.) He was a good guy in our book.
I switched subjects: "What is it with the motel? I mean, it's a pretty posh place for a motel and all. But, Marla should have sprung for an office instead of sticking you all the way out here."
The Story Exec snorted. "Last bloody thing I need is to be in the same bloody office as Marla Ginsburg," he said. "When I bloody saw that the motel had business services - and heard old Marla was flying in from bloody Paris - I used my hard-earned lying skills to move things my bloody way. I'm bloody here. Marla will be bloody there. The only bloody time I have to hear her bloody voice, is on the bloody phone."
Our waiter came and we took grateful delivery of our drinks. Bad mouthing Marla was thirsty work. The Story Exec got the swizzle stick and lime-slice garnish out of his way and gulped fresh G&T.
Then, after a moment's hesitation, he said, "I'm not bloody good at this sort of bloody thing, but I'd best get it bloody done with."
We didn't know what to expect. Did he hate our script? We hadn't wanted to write the sucker in the first place, but Marla had arm wrestled us into it, saying Fox Studios wanted assurances that A-List American writers would be among the foreign crew writing for the show. She also pleaded with us to use our influence with two key Fox producers we were tight with to back the Highlander Series.
Plus, she said, that if Fox went for The Highlander, they'd be sure to get on board with our TV series - Angels Of Mercy, based on the International humanitarian organization, Doctors' Without Borders. Oh, yeah - And did I mention she'd promised to pay us double the going rate for a Highlander script? (For the hairy-scary details see Episode #70 - The She Devil Who Scared Hell Out Of The Highlander; and Episode #71 - Highlander Two: It's Just A Free Day In LA)
Continuing to hesitate, the Story Exec twisted his glass around in its coaster, then he said, "I just wanted to bloody say what a bloody honor it is to work with you blokes. I read your Vietnam novel. Brilliant. Just bloody brilliant. And your science fiction books - the Sten series. Bloody fantastic the way you get all those bloody insights about the bloody World, and bloody Governments, and the way things really bloody work. All bloody tied-up in fantastic action and all those bloody awful Alex Kilgour jokes."
As you might imagine, this was followed by embarrassed silence on our side of the table. Then - raising his voice - Chris looked all about, saying, "Okay, Mom. Come out, come out, wherever you are! Where are you hiding? We know you paid this guy."
We all laughed, and things returned to normal.
Chris decided it was time to get down to business. He said, "What about the script we sent over? Are we heroes, or are we goats."
The Story Exec grinned, and said - "Heroes in my bloody book. And Marla's as well. She's already bragged to Fox about it as well. I just have a few notes... there's been some changes in a few of the bloody characters. Bloody Marla is driving me around the bloody bend with the bloody Bible. Every bloody time I think we have things bloody nailed down, she wants another bloody change."
Chris said, "I feel for you, brother. We're having the same fucking problem with the Bible on our show."
I added, "We've gone six or seven different ways with most of the characters. We had one, for instance, who was a nun in her previous life. Falls in love, falls out with the Church, falls out of love, then signs up with Doctors Without Borders. The character is based on an actual nurse we interviewed in Paris."
Chris said, "So Marla says, fuck a bunch of ex-nuns. Make her an ex-hooker who sees the light and goes to nursing school, or some-such."
I said, "Then, it's back to the nun again, except she leaves the Order because she's a lesbian. And when we meet her on the medical team she's having a mad affair with a woman doctor."
Chris said, "And that's not fucking all, folks. Next, Marla says never mind the lesbian stuff. Make her older and she's having an affair with a much younger guy."
The Story Exec laughed. "Similar bloody problems, mates," he said. "Including the older woman, younger bloody guy thing. Except in our case the bloody younger guy is our bloody hero - MacLeod -who may look younger, but is really hundreds of bloody years old."
"In both instances she probably thinks she's just making the series edgier, sexier and more commercial," I said. "Even if it doesn't make sense."
Grudgingly, Chris said, "Can't blame her there. Television and making sense? That's a fucking oxymoron of the first and second order. Murkier you make it, the more Neilson dolts you pull in."
The Story Exec grunted. "I just bloody wish she'd make up her bloody mind," he said. "Let me finish the bloody bible so I can tell the bloody writers what is bloody what." He sighed. "Bloody producers are all over me because the bloody scripts are late. And how can they bloody cast, or bloody shoot, if the bloody scripts aren't bloody there."
I said, "Speaking of which. Tell us what changes you want on ours and we'll put everything aside and get back to you post bloody - I mean, fucking - haste " (The use of "bloody," I have found is infectious. We changed it to "clot" in Sten. Just as infectious. Try it sometime - "Clottin' hell. Too clottin' true, that. You clottin' dirty rotten clot!" See?)
Anyway, we got the notes - and he was right, they were minimal - and escaped the motel bar with our livers still semi-intact. Shipped the revised script to him a week later. Couple more notes caused by the endless Marla changes in the Show Bible. And that was our final draft, plus polish, so we were out from under.
Except for one clottin' thing: We hadn't been clotting paid.
And here's another thing: Marla was literally thousands behind in the money Gaumont owed us for all our hard work on our own television creation: Angels Of Mercy, the above-mentioned Doctors Without Borders project.
Meanwhile, the steady streams of changes in the Show Bible were driving us up the wall. Eventually, we got that nailed down. Then she called to tell us she wanted fifteen - why the fuck fifteen? - more story précis.
I said, "Marla, we already included ten in the Bible."
"Well, we think there should be more," she said, sounding pissed off. (Lately, she always sounded pissed off.) "It will be a big help to show the studios that the series has legs."
I said, "Jesus, Marla. There are enough disasters every single day in this screwed up world to make hundreds of stories - if not thousands. Don't you think they'll get that?"
"Well, fifteen more stories down on paper will help them get it more," she said.
I said, "Fine. But, if you check your handy-dandy Writers Guild Book Of Minimums, you'll see that every additional story premise will cost Gaumont more."
"I don't think that's very reasonable," Marla said.
"The Guild does," I replied. "Call them and complain."
"Oh, come on, Allan," she said, "we're all on the same team, aren't we? We're all working toward the same goal, right?
She was stalling again and I was getting steamed. I said, "At least you're being paid for your work, Marla. We are not. We've complained. Our agent has complained. And still, you are way short of what is owed."
Marla snorted. She said, "Why is it that every time I talk to you the subject of money comes up?"
I said, "Because every time we speak, you still owe us the money."
A long pause, then she said, "Okay, Allan. I'll see what I can do."
When I hung up, Chris glared at the phone, then at me. "What the fuck does she want this time?"
I told him.
Chris was outraged. "Fifteen stores? For Fucking Free? Who the fuck does she think she fucking is? That's weeks of work. And, while we're at it, where the fuck's our money?"
I told him that too.
"Shit," Chris said. "This is getting way out of hand. We've gotta do something."
I couldn't agree more. But do what, exactly? In my experience, when all is lost, and you don't know what to do next, hang on a beat or two while the world spins on its axis, and by and by it might come around to you with a solution in tow.
A few days later: The phone rings. It's a producer/writer friend I won't name because she might still be on friendly terms with Marla. Chris punched the speaker button so we could all talk.
After some preliminary chit-chat and a progress report on a World War II series idea the three of us had been laboring on for lo these many, the Producer/Writer Lady said: "You guys are working on something with Marla Ginsburg, right?"
"Two things," I said, only mildly surprised. In Hollywood people usually know your business before you do. I mean, at the Universal Studios commissary, frequently a star's sandwich is cancelled before he/she is told that their series has "gone into hiatus." (See Episode #20 - The Boxman Cometh.)
What followed is a case in point.
I said, "We did a Highlander script for a favor. And we've got a TV series with Gaumont based on Doctors Without Borders."
Our friend sighed. "Well, hang on, boys," she said, "I have some disturbing news about the latter."
Our ears perked up like dogs on a hunt. Tell us more, please.
Our friend said, "I've known Marla for years. This is a tough business and it's even tougher for women. There aren't many of us on the executive level, so we tend to stick together."
"Except when you don't," Chris said.
"Yeah, yeah," our friend said."Until we don't. And that's why I'm calling. I owe you guys a heck of a lot more than I owe Marla. In fact, I don't owe her anything."
I suddenly knew what was up. "Don't tell me," I said. "Marla called to blow in your ear about shoving us out and you taking over our show."
In the silence that followed, Chris looked at me quizzically, then nodded. He knew I was right.
Our friend said, "Shit, Allan. Do you guys have a tap on my phone or something?"
Chris laughed. "We'll never tell," he said.
I said, "I'm right - yes?"
She said, "Yes, Allan. You are so right. Marla says that your idea is brilliant, but you two are uncooperative, despite all she's done for you. She said you block her at every avenue. Always wheedling for more money than the deal calls for. And on top of that, she says, you begged her to do a Highlander script, then did a lousy job."
I said, "That's funny. She said she loved it. And so did her Story Exec."
Our friend said, "Well, he's no longer a factor. Marla just fired the guy and sent him packing back to England. She says he was a drunk."
I couldn't help but laugh. Every writer drinks - or used to drink. A lot. As the Poet so unpoetically put it: "I don't have a drinking problem. I have a writing problem." Or, as Dorothy Parker quipped, "I'd rather have a bottle in front of me than a frontal lobotomy."
But Chris did not find Marla amusing. He said, "Fuck her. Everybody in town knows our work. And that we never, ever swing the lead."
Our friend said, "If you don't mind me asking, what does she owe you?"
We told her. She said, "Jesus, guys!" Another pause, then she offered - "Do you need the name of a good attorney?"
I said we had a great guy - Marshall Caskey - who eats possum and grits for breakfast and dines on producers for lunch. Then we thanked her for the heads up and got off the phone.
Chris said, "Should I call Caskey?"
I said, "No. If we get all legal, she'll just declare war. Let's call Marla instead."
"And then what?"
"We figure out a way to hit her where it hurts enough to cough up our dough," I said.
Glumly, Chris said, "There goes Angels Of Mercy."
I had no reply.
After we worked out a game plan I called Marla. Made up some bullshit about getting the fifteen extra stories ready - seeming to surrender ground on the extra payment. Then said we needed to run through the stories with her to make sure we were solid before nailing them out.
Marla very sweetly said, "That sounds good, Allan. I'll talk to my girl and she'll get back to you."
When it was done, Chris said, "She's thinking that with those fifteen extra stories she's got the first season licked, which means she needs us even less."
Once again, I had no reply.
A couple of days later we drove to the new offices of The Highlander. I don't recall where they were situated, but it was a short drive so it was probably up near MGM (now Sony) Studios. I do remember that to our pleasant surprise we were greeted by two old friends and work partners - Barry Rosen and Gary Goodman.
We'd done a couple of deals with Barry and Gary (even put them in one of the Stens, but I don't recall which one) and had nearly gone to work for them on the new television incarnation of Zorro, which they helmed. (We'd gone over to Frank Lupo on Werewolf, instead.) Now, it seems they'd been brought in as Show Runners for The Highlander, which boded well for the series. With the two of them running production it would probably get on the air, stay on schedule and budget, and be of reasonable quality.
After a boisterous greeting, Chris said, "How the fuck did you guys end up here?"
Barry (or, maybe it was Gary) said, "Bad luck, I guess."
I said, "How are you getting along with Marla - or dare I ask?"
Gary (or, maybe it was Barry) replied, "No, you don't dare."
I said, "Are you two running the Story Department, per usual? Or, is that question also out of bounds."
Both men looked uncomfortable. They'd always prided themselves on their story sense, and their ability to get along with writers.
Barry/Gary said, "Marla's the Exec producer. Is that explanation enough?'
Chris opened his mouth to ask if they'd seen our script, but I gave him an elbow shot to shut up. No sense drawing Barry/Gary into the dispute.
As we moved down a long hallway, we passed by the open doors of a conference room, were we saw a mixed group of very grim looking people.
I said, "Somebody die?"
Barry/Gary said, "They're our writers."
"Fuck!" Chris said.
Barry/Gary finally broke down. "She's got them terrified," they said. "She hates everything they write and she has these meetings where she picks at least one person to dress down in front of the others. So, everybody's frozen in place, scared to write, and scared not to."
"Why am I not surprised?" I said.
Then one of them broke off to see to about some crisis and I think it was Gary who took us the rest of the way to Marla's office. She was at her desk, leaning over what I took to be a script, and writing marginalia (the scathing sort, we assumed) at a furious pace.
She looked up when we entered, then went back to her task while Gary got us seated and called to an assistant to fetch us some bottled water, then hurried away.
After a long minute, Marla put her down her pen and held out a hand. "Let's see the stories," she said.
I said, "If you don't mind, Marla, let's take this one thing at a time. First, there's the matter of the script we did for The Highlander. The final check - which is for fifteen thousand dollars - has been overdue for some time."
Marla glared at me. "That script isn't useable," she said. "You're going to have to rewrite it."
I heard Chris grunt, but he kept quiet - leaving me to do the talking. The last time he and Marla had an exchange was in Paris and Chris had farted his righteous reply. (See Episode #71 - Highlander Two: It's Just A Free Day In LA) They hadn't spoken since.
I didn't bother arguing. It could only lead to - Yes it is! No it isn't! Is! Isn't! In short, a lot of yadda-yadda that would go nowhere and solve nothing.
Instead, I said, "We have already done two drafts and a polish, Marla. We have completed our legal obligation to you and the Show and now we'd like you to do the same for us."
Marla kept glaring at me. Her face was all sharp angles - like a very large someone had pinched her head in. She was motionless, except the tap, tapping of her pen on the desk. Before she could reply - and perhaps this was deliberately timed - her secretary buzzed her. Marla got up, said she had something to attend to, and would be back in a few minutes.
Chris and I looked at each other, but didn't say a word. This was our habit when left alone in a producer's office. You never knew who was listening. Several scripts were stacked on one side of the desk. The one on top had a big Magic Marker star drawn on it - with exclamation marks on either side. I picked the script up and flipped through it. Handed it to Chris and he did the same. When he was done, he wordlessly handed it back.
Marla returned. But this was a new Marla. She was all smiles, sweeping in like Loretta Young on her old TV show. She settled behind her desk, then saw the script in my hand.
"Oh," she said. "Have you read it Allan?"
I said I had. She looked even more delighted.
"Well, I'm glad of that," she said. "That script is extra special. My baby from the start, so I have spent a lot of personal time working with the writer. And now... it's almost there."
Poor writer, I thought.
Then Marla fell into my hands.
She said, "What did you think of it, Allan?"
I looked down for a moment. Then gave a long and weary sigh.
I said, "Frankly, Marla, I thought it was amateurish. Clumsy. Terrible dialogue. Awful characterization and there are scenes in there that would break the budget of even a network show." (It actually wasn't that bad. Not great, but not too awful.)
A long moment passed. How long? Imagine the world breaking off from the Sun. Imagine it cooling and seas forming and various critters appearing and disappearing, the continents shifting, people popping up, farms, villages, then cities, on and on, until finally we are back in Marla's office, near MGM (I think) and she is just staring at me, her mouth hanging open in a way that would have earned her a slap from her mother back when Marla was still in frilly white socks and Mary Jane's.
That's how long.
And then her mouth closed and she slammed the desk with the flat of her hand so hard that I thought she must have either broken it, or possibly the desk.
She raised her head and shouted to the outer office. "Tell Gary to get in here right this minute!"
Gary must have been nearby because in a flash-and-a-half he came charging into the office, a worried look on his face. He looked at me, then Chris, then Marla, and saw we hadn't killed her. Was that a look of disappointment I caught flickering across his face?
Through gritted teeth, Marla said, "I want them gone. And I never, ever want to see them again."
She looked at me and said, "Fine. You want your money? I'll give you your God Damned money. And I'll gladly pay fifteen thousand damn dollars to get rid of you."
Back to Gary."Write them a check," she said. "And bring it here."
Gary dashed out. And I figured, what the hell, let's go for the rest.
"There's still the matter of Angels Of Mercy," I said. "It's a good project and I'm sure we can find other buyers."
The wrath etched on Marla's sharp features was a wonder to behold. She said, "Don't you dare show that project to anyone else. The Company has invested a great deal of money in it. Don't think you can just walk away with our property."
I shrugged. "Not your property. We created it. Says so on the front cover of the Bible, and more importantly, it's in our contract. Better still, it's in a contract also on file in France. And you know the French - they're worse than the Germans when it comes to following the Letter Of The Law. Especially when it comes to the Arts. You can't do a thing with Angels Of Mercy without our approval."
"We'll see about that," she said.
Then Gary came rushing back, carrying a check so fresh the ink was practically running off the edges. He gave it to her. She glanced at the check, then slammed it down on the desk in front of me.
"There," she cried. "Take your damned blood money."
I took it. Looked the check over carefully. Fifteen thousand bucks, sure enough. Showed it to Chris, who studied the check with care. He nodded, slowly unzipped his briefcase, found a good place for the check, and placed it there. He zipped up the briefcase and we rose in unison.
I said, "Thank you, Marla," and we strode out of the office - but not quite out of Marla's life. Not yet, at least.
First thing: We drove straight to a bank where Craig Studwell - Chris' friend and next door neighbor - worked. Craig was a big shot at the bank, a vice president of foreign investments or something. In a very few minutes Craig had someone clear Marla's check and wired the money into our business account.
Okay, so much for The Highlander. There was still the matter of our proposed series. Yeah, it was dead as far as we were concerned. But the money was still very much alive.
We kept our fingers crossed that Marla wouldn't twig to how we had pushed her buttons. And the pretzeling must have worked because Marla's attorney called a few days later. He made threatening noises about Angeles Of Mercy. He said he was messengering over a contract that - for a fee he felt was overly generous - would flat out buy our limited interest in the project.
I said, "Interest? We own the project. It's our house. We built it. We only let Marla crash in a couple of the rooms. That's a heck of lot more than a limited interest."
He repeated that Gaumont had been more than generous and so on and so forth and after that conversation, and several more, plus contracts flying back and forth to our agent, to us, and so on, and so forth, we finally settled on a sum for a complete buyout.
It was enough to carry us through the rest of the year and then some.
I don't know if Marla ever figured out what actually happened. I do know, however, that our victory was superficial. It would have been a helluva show and I have kept watch over the years and there has never been a whisper about a Doctors Without Borders TV series.
Ps1: Last I heard, Marla was hawking a line of clothing in Canada.
Ps2: Here's where you can kick in a little dough to help support Doctors Without Borders.
NEXT: CHUCK NORRIS NEVER BLINKS. NEVER!