Charlie was in early. He rarely, if ever beat me into the office and it was especially unusual given that today was a half-day Friday leading into Memorial Day weekend. These were the lazy days we lived for at the studio– a welcome reprieve from an endless string of 14-hour days. I was already dreaming of driving off the lot at 2PM, firing up the joint I had in my glove compartment, and turning on a Carlos Santana album for the drive home, up Cahuenga Pass, over the 101 freeway and through the leafy groves of the Hollywood Hills. I was dressed in jeans and a hooded cotton sweater that advertised my blissfully causal attitude about the day. Charlie, though, was standing up at his desk, trying to close the top button of a dress shirt. He looked like he hadn’t slept all night.
“What happened? You look like hell,” I said, handing him his Café Americano with three sugars.
“He’s flipping out.”
“Tubby,” as he invoked our private name for the studio chief.
“What now? Universal scooped us on some teen comedy spec du jour?”
“No. He’s flipping out about Dominic Leare.”
Charlie grabbed a yellow tie off the hook on the back of his door.
“Dominic Leare has been late on every draft he’s ever turned in.”
“Yeah, but not this late. Six months is like, sicko late.”
“He sort of won an Academy Award. Doesn’t that, like, let you get away with shit like that?”
I took the yellow tie away and gave him the red one out of his desk drawer.
“Usually. But not when the absence of a draft is going to lose you your director.”
“You sat with him at Dan Tana’s a month ago, right?”
“Yeah. For three fucking hours. He pitched out the whole thing, beat by fucking beat. He even brought his goddamn laptop.”
“So you know he has it in there, he’s just being all precious and writerly about it and won’t let it go. I mean, this is an epic. It’s a huge undertaking.”
“A 100 million dollar movie.”
“A lot of pressure.”
“You’ll get it out of him.”
“Right. And while I tell Tubby that, you’re going to actually have to do it.”
“Get it out of him.”
“I have to placate Tubby and then go to the weekend read meeting. You’re gonna have to find him, go over to his house if you have to, and not leave until there are 120 pages in your hands.”
“You can do this. I trust you. Time to step up and be a hero. How do I look?”
“You have food on your shirt.”
“I know. I don’t have any others.”
I had developed a pretty easygoing relationship with Dominic Leare. We’d talked on the phone plenty over the last few months as Charlie tried to pry the script out of him. After his first deadline passed, Dominic began to elude us for weeks at a time. After Charlie would leave a string of unanswered voicemails, he’d call up Leare’s agent, Stanley Greenberg and let him know that Dominic was AWOL, once again. It would take a couple of days, but Greenberg would somehow get him out from under the bed, and we’d get a hurried, sketchy phone call from him, where he’d frantically and profusely apologize and assure Charlie that everything was, indeed, progressing just fine. Leare probably liked me because I was by far the calmer half in the professional union between me and Charlie. Most of the time I felt like a hostage negotiator when I had him on the line and was trying to stall him with conversation long enough for Charlie to get there and pick up. I put on a calm, throaty voice. Step away from the ledge, Mr. Leare. Put down the gun...
My first call was to Stanley Greenberg’s office. His assistant picked up and I weaseled Leare’s home address out of her. Poor thing had only been there a month, she didn’t know any better and she’d certainly be in trouble when all this was through. Then I dialed Leare’s home number. It was only 9:30 in the morning. Someone had to be there. A female voice picked up. It was Maggie, Leare’s girlfriend. It sounded like I had woken her up.
“Maggie, it’s Nicky from Charlie Brewster’s office. I apologize for calling so early.”
“Mmmm, no it’s OK... How are you?”
“I need to speak to Dominic, is he around?”
“Yeah, he’s...” I could already hear Dominic shushing her.
“Right next to you... I can hear him.”
Maggie cupped her hand over the phone as Dominic started protesting in a steely grumble. “She can fucking hear you, idiot!”
“Just put him on the phone please, Maggie.”
I heard the phone clatter to the ground and the sound of Maggie’s heavy footsteps stomping away before Leare picked up.
“Hey, hey Nicky. What’s going on?” he spat, with false bravado.
“Listen, I know you told Charlie you needed more time, but we need to see whatever you have.”
“We need it today. It doesn’t matter how much you have left to finish, just print out what you’ve got and I’m even going to make it easy and come over to your house and get it so you don’t have to call a messenger.”
“Well it’s gonna take me hours to format everything properly.”
“That’s fine. Start now and I’ll wait if I have to. I’m getting in my car.”
“Really, you don’t have to do this.”
“But I do. I’ll see you in twenty minutes.”
I sped off the lot toward the 134 freeway, the studio’s legendary water tower in my rear view mirror. As I gazed at its blue and yellow logo the corners of my lips curved up in bemused bewilderment as I wondered how the fate of the studio’s next summer blockbuster managed to fall into my tiny, inexperienced hands.
Leare’s place was halfway up a steep one-lane road in Los Feliz. With some care and a decent landscape architect, it would have been a spectacular showpiece Spanish hacienda– the epitome of old Los Angeles. But this place was straight out of Sunset Boulevard, overrun with ivy growing wild up its stained limestone walls. A pair of eucalyptus trees shed leaves into onto the overgrown lawn and formed an ever-growing layer atop the kidney-shaped pool. I picked up five days worth of the LA Times as I walked up the driveway toward the enormous wooden door. I set them down in a pile before ringing the bell.
Maggie answered. I hadn’t met her face to face until that moment. She wore a pink terry cloth bathrobe over white cotton pajamas and looked like Stevie Nicks. A cigarette burned between her long slender fingers which waved me inside.
“Sorry about the stuff on the phone. He’s in a mood.”
Her valley-girl voice echoed off the hardwood floors in the vast foyer. She shuffled down two steps into the sunken living room, done up in a Southwest motif. Fancy saddles sat on display and I set my purse down on one of those tables that was made out of a wagon wheel. I took a seat on a brown leather couch while Maggie straddled the piano bench and picked out a few chords. Her long blonde hair fell in her eyes and threatened to singe from the cigarette that still hung from her lips.
“I didn’t sleep well last night. I just kept hearing music, you know. Had to keep playing.”
“Yeah. I wrote like all these songs. You wanna hear one?”
“I do, but I need to see Dominic first.”
“He’s upstairs printing out all that shit for you. Just sit. Listen to the music.”
She started playing something very Lilith Fair. After about ninety seconds I began to deflate with relief that this was an instrumental composition. But then she started singing. And not well. It didn’t stop for quite a while. There were at least five verses and two bridges.
I politely applauded when she was done and she excused herself to the kitchen for some coffee for the both of us. Once she disappeared around the corner, I inched myself out of the living room toward the bottom of the spiral staircase, listening for the sound of a printer. I couldn’t hear a thing.
Maggie returned with the coffees and we sat down on the couch. She seemed a little more awake and with it, so I did what I could in the way of small talk. She was from Encino, so we babbled about being natives in this city of transplants. Then I asked her where she went to high school. And of all the small, snotty private girls’ schools in L.A. County, this crazy bitch went to mine. She practically squealed at the coincidence of it all.
“Oh. My. GOD! No way! Did you have Miss Miller for English? She was soooo awesome! What about crazy Dr. Todd for bio?”
Maggie put out her cigarette and padded over to the bookshelf, where she opened a small wooden box and took out a joint.
“This was so fated to happen, I mean, we’re like sisters on like some cosmic level or something. It was like, you were MEANT to come here this morning.”
She took a drag and offered me a toke. Every professional instinct I had told me to decline, but if getting high with this train wreck of a woman could get me any closer to that script, well, in the name of cinema I had to accept.
I sat with Maggie for over an hour, querying as to Dominic’s whereabouts at least three times over the course of our increasingly loony conversation. Each time she assured me he’d be right out and immediately changed the subject. It was going on 11:30. Charlie was out of the meeting by now.
I asked Maggie where the bathroom was. She pointed around the corner as she shoveled Cinnamon Toast Crunch straight from the box into her mouth. I ducked out, leapt up the stairs two at a time, and started searching for Dominic.
His office was a cluttered, tiny cave of a room at the end of the hallway. Dark purple curtains blocked out any sunlight and the stench of stale American Spirits hung in the air. Dominic sat immobile in an easy chair with corduroy upholstery, staring at the ceiling fan that spun overhead. Black leather pants clung to his matchstick legs, his long, matted hair the color of the bottom of an ashtray. He hadn’t showered in weeks. A poster of his Oscar-winning film hung behind his desk, itself buried within a hurricane of paper while an outdated laptop sat atop the mess, displaying a page of text.
“I’m sorry I have to do it this way, Dominic. But I need you to give me the pages. You’ll get tons more chances to rewrite it. We just have to see where you are.”
“Just show me what you’ve got.”
“I’m telling you, I’m really nowhere.”
“What page are you on?”
He was silent for a moment. I saw a tear come to his eye.
“You’re on page nine?”
He nodded almost imperceptibly.
“Oh my God, Dominic.”
He leaned forward and sighed. His hands shook as he ran his fingers through his greasy curls.
“I really fucked it up. This might be it for me. I’ll never get another job.”
“We’ll figure something out. But right now I need you to give me those nine pages.”
He slowly stood and handed me an envelope. It was covered in coffee stains and had an old Universal Studios mailing label from the 1980's affixed to the outside. Whatever had been sent to him in that envelope was sent to him when he was a young Oscar winner on top of the industry, as well as his own game. Now he was too strung out and jacked up to function.
“Please take care of yourself, Dominic.”
It was a feeble closing line, but all I could muster at the moment. My own high was wearing off and I had a lot of explaining to do to Charlie, not to mention Dominic’s agents. Maybe they could get him some help.
It turned out that the tattered envelope with the Universal label carried the last pages Dominic Leare would be paid to write in Hollywood. I told the whole sordid tale to Charlie, and then to Tubby himself. Dominic was fired off the film and Stanley Greenberg got both him and Maggie checked into Promises Malibu a few months later. I’m really not sure what happened to either of them beyond that.
As for the film, word of the stunt Leare had pulled filtered up to the highest echelons of the studio, lighting a fire under the corporate brass to push even harder to get the film made in a timely manner. The director, now truly impatient, but still invigorated with the idea (especially now that the studio was firmly behind him) got to hire his own million-dollar writer, a notoriously fast veteran, and the two of them had a draft and a star within six weeks.
Cameras rolled twelve months later. The studio wrote off a $100 million loss on the film after it bombed twelve months after that. And if Dominic Leare hadn't done enough coke to get himself fired, the damn thing might have never been made.Change100 is an unemployed studio executive in Los Angeles, CA.