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Frankie "Kash" Waddy
Frankie "Kash"
Inside the World of a
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at Galpin Ford
Kenny Gravillis
Kenny Gravillis
Smart Art for Hip Hop
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T.J. Hooker
T.J. Hooker
Desperate Hours of a
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Five-O Undercover
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Daredevil Alley
Super Joe Reed, Janet Lee, Evel Bowevel
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King Crimson
Prickly Prog-Rockers
Hold Court on Sunset
Kam Fong
Kam Fong
a.k.a. Chin Ho Kelly
The Five-O Farewell
George W. Bush
Regime Change
The Case for One Term
40 Years
January 1963
Playboy Magazine
Kris & Rita
30 Years
Kris & Rita – 1973
20 Years
Iron Man – 1983
Kerry Von Erich
10 Years
Kerry Von Erich
Previously on Five-O
Issue Two
Swingtime Strippers
Issue One
New World Evel
Alexander Payne

Five-O: When I screened "About Schmidt" it was last Spring before the festivals. I was actually worried that a picture like this might get lost in the shuffle. But on the contrary, you got a very warm reception at Cannes and the New York Film Fest.

Alexander Payne: They're receptive film festival audiences. And they seemed receptive enough, especially in New York. The audience in New York seemed to really get the film. Plus there was a great sense of event that night. It was the 40th anniversary of the New York Film Festival. Jack Nicholson, Kathy Bates and the rest of the cast were actually there, this was the opening night film and it had received a very positive review that morning in the New York Times. That all contributed to the sense of event that night and in part to the warm reception given the film.

Five-O: The public may not be as patient with character films.

AP: Of course. Verily do you speak the truth.

Five-O: What's going to put it over with general audiences?

AP: I never would presume to speak for anyone else or predict their reaction. Even people I know, people close to me — so who knows! That's the fun of it. We'll find out.

Five-O: Do you remember good word of mouth bringing people to see "Citizen Ruth" at the $2 theater —

AP: At Old Man Dollar World, I mean Beverly Fairfax? I don't even remember that. Look, I'm just making the movies that I myself would want to see. And if they're about people then I guess I'm just interested in people.

Your question is really more of a comment on the state of American film today than my own work. I'm 40 — came of age basically in the '70s when the Americans were making excellent character-based films. I've seen a lot of films from a lot of different periods and countries. But in terms of American film influence on me — look, up until 1980 Americans made really good movies with really good characters. Since 1980 character takes a huge backseat to easily digested and more importantly, easily marketed, plot ideas. It's not just movies — society changed.

Five-O: After "Election" were you given a free hand?

AP: Don't forget — "Election," I wouldn't really call it a hit. Critically it was very well received. But financially it didn't do all that well. I mean, it made money but not
all that much. Usually in Hollywood you're given a free hand only after you've made a financial hit. But I will say that on "About Schmidt" for whatever reason New Line Cinema gave me great faith in the size of the budget for the film and the fact that I had final cut and just the trust they showed me. I think that's probably due to "Election," due to the script, due to Jack Nicholson's involvement, and also due to who Bob Shaye is, [New Line's founder & CEO] that he would take a chance on people.

It's not that I ever got resistance to character per se — I mean my budgets have been so relatively low that it's
like, sure, whatever you want. And a lot of movie people like character-based movies even if the mandate they are asked to carry out is the comic books that pass as American film. You know, easily digested and marketed.

Five-O: Is it fair to say you also contributed to that with "Jurassic III"?

AP: Yeah, my buddy Jim [Taylor] and I wrote the last draft of "Jurassic Park III" and "Meet The Parents," uncredited on the latter.

Five-O: Is it fun to go in with the carnival ride mindset?

AP: One, since Jim and I live in different cities, it's a chance to hang out. Two, a nice paycheck. Three, they're like études. Excercises in craft. And it's kinda fun. They're hard work by the way, those rewrite jobs, a lot of work. Especially in a genre we're not immediately adept at like "Jurassic Park III." We even thought we were a strange choice for that job. But you know what? That goes back to your other question — I said, why are you hiring us for "Jurassic Park III"? And they said, well, we have a basic plot. We need characters. We need humor. So we were brought in specifically to beef up the presence of the humans — they already had the dinosaurs, now they needed the human beings.

And then they backed away from it in the final film. There's not too much left of the human beings in that film.

Five-O: "Meet The Parents" definitely had good character notes.

AP: That's a closer fit for Jim and me. Situational humor based on people in awkward situations. Like Schmidt. It's just funnier when he tries to find some sense of meaning in life and fails. And everything kind of goes wrong for the poor guy.

Five-O: In movies today they want the audience to love the character so much...

AP: They want the audience to love the character so much that I end up hating them. (pause) I want to see people that are more like the people I know in real life.

Five-O: What about the expectations that come with audiences regarding Jack Nicholson?

AP: It never occurred to me that because he's Jack Nicholson he should do anything besides play the part as
written. It's funny about expectation based on other films. I have absolutely nothing to do with that. I'm making this film with this script and this actor. Period. That whole
expectation thing is screwy. Gets us all in a whole lot of trouble.

Five-O: This film may not develop recklessly or aggressively but a lot happens. You see a retirement party,
a funeral, a wake, a road trip, there are arguments and money troubles, all the stresses before a wedding.

AP: A lot happens. You don't quite realize it. It's like climbing up a hill, narratively. You don't realize how high you've gotten until you look over your shoulder. Hold on —
my gardener's here.

Hello! How are you? Yes. Oh this is nice, the grass came back. Let's put in the soil and the flowers.

AP: Mack Sennett, the Keystone Kops, that was a little too broad for me. I of course love the work of Chaplin, Buster Keaton, Harold Lloyd. The Stooges in small quantities are hilarious, Laurel and Hardy. Harry Langdon, his films are a little more difficult to see.

I never saw "Dumb & Dumber." The bowling movie ["Kingpin"] was my favorite those guys did because it wasn't overdone. "There's Something About Mary" was a little overdone for me.

Five-O: Is passive aggressiveness the center of your sense of humor?

AP: Those are observations you make as an astute observer and a critic in the best sense, but it's not something I ever think about.

Part II

Jim Taylor: I'm working for Scott
Rudin, writing something for me to direct, but I can't talk about it. There's a bunch of competing projects so until I'm ready to go, we're not making it public because it will spur other people on to move faster.

Five-O: What genre?

JT: It's social satire. It's very similar to the work Alexander and I have done in the past.

Five-O: What was the origin of your writing team?

JT: We were acquaintances but then we ended up as roommates because Alexander had a spare room he needed to rent and I couldn't afford my apartment anymore. We wrote a couple of short films together that he directed and that went really well, and he needed feature scripts. He had actually written a version of "About Schmidt" called "The Coward" for Universal, but they weren't interested in making it. He needed material, so that's when we started writing "Citizen Ruth" together.

Five-O: You guys were out of college?

JT: It was after we did our first draft of "Citizen Ruth" that I went to NYU (film school), so I moved to New York. But Alexander was out of UCLA, yeah. So that script that he had written ended up being cannibalized for our "About Schmidt." We used about the first third of it.

Five-O: It's a real Frankenstein monster between the book and the early draft.

JT: Right. And then new stuff that we wrote, about the last half of the movie was new stuff.

Five-O: Do you envision an arc for your partnership?

JT: Arc implies going down. Hopefully it's a rising motion. Actually we've gotten sort of closer and closer. We can work faster together. There may be diversions since I'm trying to direct. We'll probably always continue to working as a partnership but we also may try and do things on our own. But it's been a really nice build into this movie and I think we've been really lucky to make the kind of movies that we have. They haven't lost money — well, maybe "Citizen Ruth" did. But not really in the end. None of them made a lot of money, but I don't think any of them has lost a lot of money either.

Five-O: Your rewrite movies made a healthy pile.

JT: Right, but to keep making the kind of movies we want to make on our own, they have to be at least somewhat attractive to people. Hopefully we can keep that going and this movie, because it was more expensive, will make the money that will justify its existence.

Five-O: Is there a complementary process at work?

JT: Slightly, but mostly it's more about us being in sync and having a similar sensibility, sense of humor, keeping an eye on each other creatively, but not so much I'm the
dialogue guy, he's the structure — it doesn't break down that way.

Five-O: Do you and Alexander talk about film comedies you like versus those you don't?

JT: Yeah very much and there are some ways we really share a sensibility, especially the Czech films of the late '60s mostly that Milos Forman made, like "Loves Of A Blond" and "Fireman's Ball." Yeah, we talk about film a lot and Alexander's very knowledgeable, able to retain a lot of what he sees, more than I am. And he's seen a lot.

Five-O: You guys must have seen some Buñuel, with the bourgeois comedies he did so well.

JT: That's more Alexander. He's a devotee.

Five-O: What did you grow up reading?

JT: Nothing that sarcastic. I don't know about reading. I was really into the Firesign Theater, which was a little out of sync with my age. It was what my older brothers were listening to. The people I think of reading were like John Steinbeck and Agatha Christie, Salinger of course. Mad
magazine. I grew up in Seattle, which is a very film friendly town, possibly because it rains so much. I saw a great many films without any context to where they fit in. I saw Kurosawa movies, but not necessarily what people think of as the pinnacle of Kurosawa. Herzog. Even Paul Verhoeven movies. "Soldier of Orange," "Katy Tippel" and "Spetters." I was able to see all this stuff that got me excited purely for what it was and not because I was told that I was supposed to like it. Oh, and Fellini of course. I love Fellini.

Five-O: Did you have the feeling you'd be a writer early on?

JT: No, and I still don't — I think of it more as filmmaking, editing and shooting and writing and stuff. It
just sort of turned out that writing was the basis for it all, but I really was an actor first. Then I got interested in filmmaking at a pretty young age and made some Super 8 films and then I kept acting and directing theater, so I still have a hard time feeling an identity as a writer even
though that's what I am.

Five-O: Was theater also Alexander's background?

JT: No, he majored in history. I think he had a dual major in history and — Spanish, maybe, I can't remember. He was a history major.

Five-O: You roomed together in L.A. then after that you
actually went to NYU?

JT: In '92 I went to film school and I was 30 years old. We had written one draft of "Citizen Ruth" before I left for school and then we wrote a bunch more drafts over the next couple years, and it got financed in '95, when I was just finishing.

I'd worked in the film industry for eight years before that so I didn't have unreasonable expectations. I had realistic expectations as to what it would do for me. I had a fine time. First for a couple years I was a receptionist at a place called Cannon Films.

Five-O: Cannon's awesome! You got any good stories from that place?

JT: It was wild. I was in production there for about a year and then I assisted the head of development and business affairs for another year and then I went to China for almost a year on a grant to study the Chinese film
industry. When I came back I knew what I wanted to do was assist a director. I'd met Ivan Passer at Cannon and really liked him and loved his movies. I worked with him for about three years. I ended up going into debt because a lot of it was unpaid. And I came out of that actually more and more determined to be a filmmaker and not to be helping other people make films. Ivan Passer made two movies during that time: one surely for money for cable, Showtime, I think, and another was a really nice movie that ended up in a lawsuit and never got released. I ended up temping in lofts in downtown L.A. around the time I moved in with Alexander because I wanted to be a writer-director or not be in the film business, so I just was writing and temping.

Five-O: Your next script with Alexander is "Sideways," kind of the misadventures of two wine-nuts in California wine country.

JT: It's a fun book. Not a ponderous philosophical meditation on anything. We're just going to have fun writing it. I've been working on it but I don't know how much it's going to be a real co-written script. He helped me with me script as well, same thing. We're sort of working that out. It's only by circumstance and not desire.

Five-O: Any chance you'll break from humor and satire and do something else as well?

JT: I sort of do. We talked about doing a Western and stuff, but I think there's a certain sensibility that will always kind of linger around what we're doing. Maybe someday we'll feel like we want to experiment and do a
straight science-fiction picture or something, I don't know.

Five-O: Alexander said he felt everything changed in 1980 as far as the value of American films. Do you ever wonder, why did 1980 kill character movies?

JT: Totally. They figured out they could sell crappy movies to people and that it didn't really matter if it was any good or not. Up until that point the top ten grossing movies, I think everyone could agree, they were good
movies. Like "Jaws" and all that. And now if you look at the top ten gross, sort of everyone can agree that they're bad movies. So why make a good movie? From a fiscal standpoint, it matters more whether you can make it into a three-letter logo.

Five-O: So how did they make an industry that's audience-proof? How did that happen? I mean we must have given them a helping hand somewhere along the line.

JT: Yes, totally. I think people went where they were sort of told to go. This is the next big movie. You all go and enjoy it and don't question. Certainly there are plenty of movies that are supposed to be the next big thing that just die, but still "Batman" is a movie that I really couldn't stand, but everyone went to see it and they loved it. That was sort of scary when that happened.

Five-O: Which is a good place to ask about the Nicholson factor.

JT: I'm sure many more people will see this movie because he's in it than otherwise. Yes. And they will bring
whatever their prejudices are about him to the movie. He's fantastic.

Five-O: They can't say he's playing himself in this one. It connects with his tradition of films made with Corman and Monte Hellman, Richard Rush, Mike Nichols.

JT: "Five Easy Pieces." Yeah. Actually at one point, it wasn't going to work out with Nicholson and we had to start thinking about alternates, and basically we couldn't think of anybody else that we would want to have in that role.

Five-O: Couldn't Len Cariou, who plays Schmidt's best buddy, or somebody of his caliber pull it off?

JT: Yeah, but I don't think that anybody would make the movie. Where we were at, they needed somebody with — and yes, we could have made the movie for x-million dollars with Len Cariou and it would have been a great movie, but we weren't in a position to do that. We'd be happy to do that. In terms of thinking about the Gene Hackman, Dustin Hoffman-pantheon of actors of that age that get movies made, none of them seem to combine the sort of humor and pathos we were interested in.

Five-O: I had no idea how "Schmidt" was going to end. It was nice that it came to back down to earth in a sort of graceful landing after having to run the gauntlet for so long and getting and giving all that abuse.

JT: Thank you.

Five-O: You're in a car driving to a Q&A right now. Where is that happening tonight?

JT: Actually I don't know. I thought I knew, but now that I'm on the freeway being driven there, I don't actually know (laughs).

World Poker Tour
World Poker Tour
Introducing the NASCAR
of Texas Hold-em
Tree Sitter
Tree Sitter
John Quigley
Onboard "Old Glory"
The 400-Year Old Oak
Bartok Takes A Bride
Eqyptian Theatre
All-Stars Party
with Thai Elvis
Malvin Wald
Malvin Wald
The Naked City Writer
on Al Capone and
Ronald Reagan
HEll House
Hell House
Interview with Filmmaker
George Ratliff
The Conqueror
Bow Down, Tartar Dogs!
It's John Wayne as
Genghis Khan
Film Noir
Film Noir Fest 2003
Black Lightning Strikes
at the Egyptian
Forrest J Ackerman
86th Birthday Bash for
Famous Monster
Funk Photos
The Funk Does
Charlton Heston
Omega Man
A Very Lemmy
Yuletide at the
Rainbow Room
Charles Phoenix
Charles Phoenix
Big Laughs in
Xmas Parade
The Hollywood
Christmas Parade
Unholy Spectacle of
Glitter and Filth
theron productions