Gone Fishin’ on a Dreamboat
When you plan to sell out,
make sure you are ready to burn every bridge doing it.
make sure you are ready to burn every bridge doing it.
Gone Fishin’ was my first full-length feature. And what a fiasco that was. It was 1995, I was three years out of USC and already with a full gamut of crappy experience in the industry. I dabbled in independent production as line-producer, editor, sound editor, producer and distributor. None of it led to any success. At the time, I was working as a post-production accountant for ABC, getting fat behind a desk and feeling trapped by the miserly paycheck. Out of sheer desperation to do something besides counting other peoples money, I quit ABC for a fly-by-night offer to produce some reality base programing for the foreign market... That gig fell apart in less than three months without the company ever going into production. Shortly thereafter, I found myself, approaching thirty, living with my parents, and once again searching for change in the couch to buy cigarettes...
A friend introduced me to a guy who wrote a 26 page script for a reality fishing show with fictional sexual innuendo -- no, I’m not making this up... really. This show would have a premise of a fishing show with a famous fisherman as the host. Each week there would be a new celebrity guest, and while exchanging tips on the sport, they would also share their sexual fantasies, which in turn would play out in Playboyesque style. It was to be called, The Fantasy Fishing Show. The idea sounded completely absurd. Well, guess what? I cooked up a budget and went out fishing for financing.
Flash-forward: Three months later. With exactly half the money of the original budget, and the script now revamped, reworked, retitled, and rewritten by me and my partner in crime, J.B. Tintfass, into 89 pages somewhat resembling a comedy, we jumped head first into production. The new film title was now, Gone Fishin’ -- not a terribly original title, but we did came up with it approximately a year before Disney released their summer blockbuster with the same name and nulled our possibilities of using it.
There were lots of hard lessons learned along the way, primarily, never do anything out of sheer desperation while underfunded. I know it’s an oxymoronic statement, but take my word for it, lots and lots of film production is done in exact modus operandi. And more often then not, it leads to lots of personal debt. By the end of our shoot I acquired enough credit card debt to pay for at least two more years of USC film school.
Oh wait, I’m jumping ahead of myself, first I should explain how I became one of the directors of this endeavor. From the get go, it was understood that the original creator (name withheld to protect the not so innocent) was to be the director and I was there to produce. Six days before the principle photography, I got a frantic phone call from our creator, claiming that he couldn’t sleep all night. He was in utter dismay till morning light, and when he at last consulted with his wife at sunrise they decided that he was not fit to direct. I must admit, grimacing on the other end of the line so as not to laugh out loud, I was somewhat relieved (frankly, my doubt in his ability as a director grew exponentially day by day). And yet I was also bewildered, for even now in hindsight, it was the only courageous move he had made through the whole process -- not many would give up the coveted director’s chair. Still, with less then a week before production, I was now without a director. “No problem,” I replied, with my usual cocky, self-assured confidence, “I’ll direct it.” And that was the stupidest decision I made in a while. Not that it was the first or the last stupid thing I would do through the process, but what really happened in effect of me taking on this position of responsibility, is that in that moment, I lost the producer and did not really gain a capable, prepared director.
Nothing is ever as you expect it when it comes to film production. In our case it was like going on a three hour tour and getting marooned on the Gilligan’s Island. Day one, hour one, my partner, Felix (who is also my uncle) and I argued so feverishly over every set up in Russian in front of the whole dumfounded and seasick crew, that by mid-afternoon to alleviate the mounting confusion and possible actor’s mutiny I pronounced Felix as a second director. My dear uncle, Felix (an accomplished, award winning director, with 30 years of experience in the Soviet film industry) was instrumental from the beginning in introducing me to the money people. Now, he stepped up to the helm from behind the curtain and I... I assumed a position of a good whipping boy. We no longer argued. I was being schooled. Granted without his experience, skill, and foresight, we would have ended up with an even less of a movie... or worst, we’d be lost on the ocean pretending we were making a movie. That’s it, that the whole story how Gilligan and the Skipper ended up sharing the same director’s credit.
In retrospect, I’m proud of one of thing -- our tenacity. We finished what we started. We shot the whole damn film in ten days, on 16 mm, using up every favor and every cent of a meager budget and then some. There were seven days on the boat near Anacapa Island (with the whole crew between the rails puking their lungs out from seasickness for the first six and a half days). Then three endless scorching hot days in downtown LA in a non-air-conditioned warehouse doubling as our sound stage. This was followed by a year in post-production while pulling together completion moneys and we had ourselves a little movie.
The result of our labors was bluntly put into perspective by the first distributor who looked at the picture and pronounced the verdict: “Not enough nudity to sell this dreck, go out and shoot more.” Bound and responsible to a small yet growing group of investors, we took the advice to heart, raised more money, and shot six more nude scenes, which were promptly stock through out the film every ten minutes or so. Not really a good comedy and certainly far from a reality show, now it could only be labelled as pure exploitation B-movie crap. My sell-out was complete. We were ready for the market.
As most of us know, in life, as in sex, timing is everything. By the time we finally began shopping the film, the word among the distributors was that the buyers no longer were buying exploitation flicks. The market got over-saturated with similar product in just one year while we were in our endless post-production due to the lack of financing. “Family” movies were the next hot thing. In other words, we were screwed. Still, there were several distributors eager to represent us. And here lies the biggest lesson of them all, never trust anyone who sells others people work, they have nothing invested, they have nothing to loose. Once the contracts are signed, it’s no longer even your project. You’re just some schmuck that has a title in the main credits.
We signed with a mid-size independent distributor who seemed legit, excited about the product, and had decent reputation and track record. The distribution company renamed the film, Dreamboat. And it sailed out of our hands.
I should have been exuberant, we were finally going into the marker, the final and most important stage of film production. Yet, I was broke, in debt, and bleeping tired of the whole affair. The pre-production, production and post production nearly took a year and a half of my life. I had no idea then that I had already acquired enough experience for a life time, moreover that I will be intrinsically tied to this project for yet another ten years.
Ironically, there was another lesson learned along the way:
Director/writer/producer -- whatever -- sailor, I would most likely make a decent one, for all those days on an open ocean I never did get seasick.