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Amores Perros

   

   On a bluff overlooking the jawdroppingly gorgeous town of Matanzas, one of the lost perros of Chile.

   (12.29.2012:  My RexinChile.com web site is down for a few days for maintenance, so I’m posting here my adventures in Chile.)

   When I first arrived in Santiago I noticed a lot of untended dogs, the majority with no collars, wandering aimlessly about town. I asked about them and was told they were strays, or homeless. How many? Estimates range to over a million — and I believe it, because they’re everywhere. A high percentage appear to be some form of a Labrador breed, as if few other breeds existed here in Chile. You don’t see small dogs very often. Of course, in the U.S. these dogs would be picked up by The Pound in a matter of days, if not hours, and then euthanized in 7 days if not adopted or claimed. Here that would be, I’ve been told, unthinkable. Yet, there’s something interesting about these animals …

   In the U.S. all dogs are on leashes in urban areas — or are supposed to be. And they’re friendly, too friendly for my taste as they jump on you and slobber on you like you were their best friend, the dog owner’s thinking that you’re going to like their animal as much as they do. Often the owners have to restrain their animals because they’ll bark ferociously at you. The dogs of Chile are totally different in temperament. They’ll come up to you, but they almost always stop a few feet away and hang their heads shyly. They rarely, if ever, bark, and they never whimper or try to lick you or, God forbid, hump your leg. The Chilean people are not affectionate with these animals that they’ve clearly abandoned to the streets — one winemaker explained to me that when citizens can’t afford their animals — and it’s all dogs, not cats — they just release them, figuring the populace at large will find a way to take care of them. And they do, because, for the most part, the animals look pretty well fed. Sure they’re not particularly groomed because they’re out roaming all day and all night, but they seem relatively content to me.

   But they look lonely. Because they’re not used to affection they don’t beg for it. They’re quite humble. Chileans are tacitly encouraged not to feed them, but they do anyway. In some cities like Valparaiso the “problem” is so acute that garbage containers are mounted on poles so that the perros can’t get to the food, but they find a way to do so anyways.

   I have come to the ineluctable conclusion that the Chileans treat their stray dogs like we treat our homeless. We don’t, for the most part, interact with them, but we give them money and clothes and try to help them out, and not totally disacknowledge their existence. We wish they would go away and find a home, but we know that that’s impossible, so we tolerate them. Especially in Santa Monica where I lived for so many years. However, in an interesting ironical twist, I truly believe the Chileans treat their homeless like we treat our animals. I’ve spent enough time in the two major cities here — Santiago and Valparaiso — to conclude that homelessness (of the people kind) is virtually non-existent. I can only conclude that the citizens, or their family, take them in. Maybe there’s a governmental program that I’m unaware of that helps them, but I just have not seen any sign of homelessness, certainly not like the kind I’m used to in my country. We treat our dogs the same way. There are nearly as many dogs in the U.S. as there are people — over 300 million. And, for the most part, they are extremely well cared for.

   Maybe the Chileans have their priorities more in order than we Americans do. It’ just a thought, one which I’m sure will bring me grief for having voiced it.

Matanzas, Chile

   View from my bedroom window in Matanzas, Chile.  I’ve been blogging on Rexinchile.com, but for some reason the slow Internet connection here is making Wordpress (the browser I use over there) a little balky.  So, this is really more of a test blog than anything else.

A Life’s Work (to date) …

— UCSD’s Mandeville Special Collections Library

   Yesterday, I was driving down to San Diego to housesit a beautiful hilltop home overlooking the Pacific in Ocean Beach.  In the back of my car were some 14 boxes and canisters of films.  The boxes were filled with my archives – mss. (back when I typed and religiously printed out); films on celluloid, VHS, ¾”, DVD; 5 ¼” and 3 ½” floppies when I, more or less, stopped printing out; photos, important documents; published novels, including foreign editions; et alii.  I couldn’t believe how much my Honda Fit could actually haul, even if the car steered a little like a boat.  As I passed by La Jolla I could see part of the campus of UCSD, my alma mater, and where it all started for me.  On that campus today I will be delivering my archives to the Mandeville Special Collections Library.  First of all I’m flattered that my work will be resting next to that of, ironically, Dr. Seuss’s, and Dr. Jonas Salk’s, but it’s also a relief not to have to carry around the archives of my life’s work anymore.

   A life’s work (to date).  That’s what was in the back of my car.  I can distinctly, and vividly, remember my years at UCSD.  I almost didn’t want to leave.  I hated high school.  The instructors were uninspiring, my friends were mostly all stoner surfers and my life was empty, shallow.  UCSD changed me inalterably forever.  I remember, at the callow age of 18, walking into a Manny Farber (famous film critic/painter) film class and being exposed to the films of Luis Bunuel for the first time.  That was eye-opening, no pun intended (for those familiar with Un Chien Andalou).  And then seeing many more great filmmakers in succession until my whole view of the world was radically transformed.  I knew then and there that I wanted to be a writer/filmmaker/artist.  I met so many intensely intellectual and aesthetically-minded people at UCSD.  They challenged you, wittingly and unwittingly, to define your sensibility.  I guess I did.

   And then one day it was time to leave.  I left for USC graduate film school, which I loathed because of its martinet-like faculty and autocratic program, got married to Barbara Schock – now an Oscar winner for a short film that I wrote called My Mother Dreams the Satan’s Disciples in New York – and made two feature films with her that took nearly a decade out of our lives.  The second film was bought and released by Island Pictures, but they butchered it and it didn’t do well.  The ‘90s was a brutal decade and I’ve chronicled it extensively in a 15,000 word piece I wrote titled My Life on Spec:  the Writing of “Sideways.”  I’ve said many times I wouldn’t wish my life on anyone, and that article is testimony to it.

   Even after I wrote Sideways and it somehow miraculously became a movie, then a hit movie, and now an iconic movie and a hit play, I still dealt with institutions and individuals who seemed intent on making my life a living hell.  But this blog is not being written by a bitter artist who wants to recount that jeremiad.  This blog is being written by someone who is grateful for the fact that he’s lying on a bed with a view of the ocean, has a hit play running toward its record-shattering 20th week and is headed to much bigger things, and is about to embark on a 3-4 month journey to the country of Chile to write Part III of his Sideways trilogy.  And in a few hours I leave to drive up to La Jolla and the campus of UCSD, flooded with memories, to deliver my oeuvre, if you will.

   Being a writer – a filmmaker, an artist, etc. – is a life’s vocation.  You don’t choose it; it chooses you.  I have seen so many come and go because they either didn’t have the stomach for the rejection, didn’t “make it” – whatever that means – soon enough, so left for greener pastures.  Yesterday, when I glanced over my shoulder and looked at all those boxes of writing a shudder of nostalgia suffused me.  Nearly 30 years ago I left, not to go to L.A. to make it, but because I believed I had a story to tell, and, with that drive issuing from inside – not in any way a conscious decision – I did everything humanly possible to make that desire a reality.  I sacrificed much.  I chose never to have children.  I elected to travel little and go into my office every day and stare at the blank page until my imagination started pullulating something, anything.  I wanted for little.  And when there were scraps, I settled for them rather than sell my precious time for a better life.  In short, I suffered hardships that no one – especially as I got older – would tolerate.  To me, there was no other choice; there was nothing else I wanted to, or could, be.  This was a life, a life that had chosen me, and I felt fated to play it out.

   And now the accumulated result of that life – well, not all of it, as I have a lot more still to live, I hope – finds a home.  A lot of people helped me along the way.  I would list them, but then those that I didn’t list who also helped me would just write me chiding E-mails, so I’ll just leave it at that.

   It was an eerie feeling to bring back this body of work that I created in my years in Los Angeles and have it so appropriately enshrined on the campus where I met some of the greatest minds of my generation, and who inspired me to become what I’ve become.  If I had known what was in store for me when I left to go to L.A. I’m not sure even I would have had the stomach for what I’ve had to endure.  But I guess, now in retrospect, like I said, I had no choice.  And as I burrowed myself deeper into this life and kept pushing hard to go deeper into my soul I did, on several occasions, mostly notably Sideways of course, alchemize the proverbial gold.

August 2012

   ”Time is the enemy of most art.” - George Bernard Shaw

   Contrarily, and now officially, time has been very good to the movie Sideways.  And, with it, my novel of the same title, and the play — the image above is a still from the production — which is based on my ostensibly now iconic novel.

   I tend to only blog when I have something on my mind, but it’s been such an incredibly busy, and fast-paced, summer I thought I would update anyone who’s interested in what’s happening in my life:

   Sideways: the Play continues to sell out.  We just got through our 14th sold out weekend, and there appears to be no stopping it.  Without any real advertising to speak of, the word of mouth has been growing that there’s a play of the hit movie, that’s based on my lesser known novel, and it’s been wowing crowds.  A famous theater director told me that it was “richer and more emotionally complex than the movie.”  I don’t want to be quoted on that, but I do know that whereas the movie was a pretty faithful adaptation of my book, the play is a pure distillation of my novel in theatrical form; i.e., it’s a singularly different experience than the movie.

   At every performance of the play we pour hard-to-find, high-end, wine — mostly Pinot Noir (of course), but we’ve had Merlot weekends, as well as a recent weekend entirely devoted to the wines of Washington State.  It’s been one of the best kept secrets in all of L.A.  Over 42 performances we’ve poured over $30,000 worth of wine (at retail), nearly $100,000 if you were to order it by the glass.  For free!  In beautiful stemware.  I’m there every night to greet the winemakers.  I often fill in and man the pouring duties myself, which I enjoy immensely.  I there almost every night at the end of each performance to talk to the patrons when they come out, then hang out with the actors.  It’s been the single most rewarding creative experience of my life.  Who would have thought a play of my novel would have been my sweetest redemption of them?  Kudos to everyone at the Ruskin Group Theater — the actors, the stage managers, the managing director Mikey Myers, and my director Amelia Mulkey.

   Something I can’t talk about in detail is that I might be going to a foreign country to write Part III of the Sideways trilogy.  I’m very excited about this, but I can’t divulge the details.  Watch for a future blog.  If it happens it would take me out of the U.S. for over 3 months.  And after slogging in the trenches of Hollywood, getting beat up by, not one but, two major publishing entities — St. Martin’s Press on Sideways and Alfred A. Knopf on its sequel Vertical — I would love nothing more than the opportunity to leave the U.S. and discover a new frontier for the future adventures of Miles and Jack.

   The play is going to travel.  Again, unfortunately, I can’t talk about this, but I’m being courted by some pretty big entities for its future.  The success of the play at the little Ruskin Group Theater has been so beyond my wildest expectations that it’s no wonder it’s being asked about by theater companies in major cities around the world.  Unfortunately, loose lips sink ships.  All I can say is that I now have a theatrical touring agent at a major agency.

   As of this writing (8/13/’12) I’m getting ready to sojourn to the great Willamette Valley of Oregon.  I’ll be estivating on a vineyard property for a few days, conducting some publicity for Vertical (1/5 of which is set there), and then on 8/18 I’m to be the keynote speaker of North American Wine Bloggers Conference in Portland.  I’m looking forward to the mini-working vacation.

   On 8/25 I’m holding my first writing seminar.  Derek Christopher, who represents screenwriting gurus John Truby, Syd Field and, formerly, Robert McKee, has signed me as my speaking engagement agent.  The first event will be held at the Ruskin Group Theater.  It will be from 1:00 to 4:00 on a Saturday.  I’m going to take everyone through the writing of my novel Sideways, the development and production of the Alexander Payne-directed movie, and then the play.  I’ll be talking shop, the nuts and bolts of craft, in my own, non-academic, inimitable style.  Afterward, everyone will break, head to dinner, return for a complimentary wine tasting and a chance to see the fruits of my years of labor in the production of the play.  It will be a unique opportunity that I probably won’t be able to duplicate for a while because the play will likely close here at the end of September.

   The fans at the play have been unbelievable, and I want to thank all of them.  One of the reasons I don’t blog as much as I used to — aside from the fact that I think there are too many people blogging out there, that content is now officially outnumbering the people who can possibly consume it — is that I spend most of my time on Twitter (@RexPickett).  There you will find me dispensing my #Writing Tweets and engaging with a Sideways fan base that appears to be bottomless.

   I will be continuing to update my busy schedule and keeping everyone who’s coming to my Web site and reading about me and what’s going on in my life.

  — Rex

It Never Comes Together Until Opening Night!

   Okay, this is going to be one of my shortest blogs, written hastily, at times haltingly, at times in a veritable spate of words.  As I write this the premiere of my Sideways the Play is tomorrow night.  This has been a nearly 15-month journey to tomorrow.  Writing it really wasn’t all that difficult for me because the characters were in place and I was expertly guided by everyone at the Ruskin Group Theater, especially the director Amelia Mulkey and the Managing Dir. Mikey Myers, with assists from all the others.  However, once the play was cast — 6 weeks ago?! — everything moved with lightning speed.  Rehearsals (which I wasn’t involved in), production design, sets being built, costumes, PR, organizing with the indefatigable Barbara Drady to have great wines poured for free every night.  It moved incredibly swiftly; or, as I’m fond of quoting myself:  it suddenly became, this play, a living cyclonic force!

   Last week we had a Dress Rehearsal on Tues., a friends and family Preview on Weds., two SOLD OUT Previews for Ian Blackburn’s rowdy Learn About Wine crowd, then the Private Gala for friends of the Ruskin Group Theater on Sat.  I attended three of the above five straight run-throughs of the play.  It was nerve-wracking, but incredibly exhilarating to see it all come together so quickly.  Writing a novel or a screenplay, or making a feature film, is not like this.  You’re usually so sick of it by the time you’re near the end that you can’t wait to let it go.  This, this play, was moving way too fast.  I wanted to stop, I wanted to pull back, I suffered with the actors when they struggled, I despaired when a scene I knew would play didn’t that particular night.  I laughed with exultation when something played way better than I ever thought it would.  Then, on Saturday, during the Private Gala, I saw it all come together into one beautiful, felicitous confluence of comedy and feeling and heart and soul and I practically wanted to cry.  Maybe more out of outright relief than anything else.

   Sunday I traded E-mails with Amelia.  We had worked very hard together for six months to get the play script into shape, then collaborated on the casting, then I let her have it to stage it with little or no interference.  Monday we did final notes.  At some point she said her job was almost over, which meant my job was over.  It was up to the actors and all the technicians behind the curtains and walls to make it happen now for the next 12 weeks.  It’s a living thing.  There’s no more tweaking in the editing room; there’s no more going back for more rewrites.  This is it.  And a sadness enveloped me, a post-partum depression before the actual premiere!  I had never experienced that before.  Maybe I was feeling that I was going to miss working with Amelia.  We had shared so much in our back-and-forths on the script, listening to the cold reads, conferring, my going back in for rewrites, the whole wonderful creative process when you feel like you have something special.  We never argued, there was never a moment of contention.  We were always on the same page.  I’ve never experienced this kind of writing collaboration before.  Usually on scripts there’re a lot opinions you have to navigate — and some truly stupid and obtuse, and borderline intransigent.  Even on my novels I have had to listen to alien voices that make no sense to me — and I’ve been blogging about it extensively on Huffington Post Books.  But with Amelia and me … we never disagreed on anything.  It was as pure a creative dialectical process as I’ve ever experienced:  thesis, antithesis, synthesis.  And we kept moving forward, kept improving it, never ever retracing our steps.  Just moving ineluctably forward to where we had the two acts the times we wanted them, the precise scenes we wanted in them.

   Then, one night I saw the whole play run through.  The play is a beast for the small Ruskin Group Theater.  There are over 20 scenes in the two acts and a buttload of lighting and sound cues.  It is the single most technically difficult play the RGT has put on in their 10-year history from my understanding.  And Amelia — a 30 year-old, second-time feature play director! — pulled it off with amazing aplomb.  Her transitions are brilliant.  In the play script it just reads:  Lights go down, Lights come up.  Well, this never would have worked with an audience because those intervals between scenes when actors are frantically changing their costumes — sometimes in the parking lot! because there’s no inner entrance to the two stage entrances! — would have been deadly.  Amelia devised these funny little wordless scene changes that are fitting, sometimes quirky, at times creatively brilliant, but always advancing the story.  Is this what a theater director does?

   Yes, and more!  She also directs actors, of course.  And with the limited time to get this show up and running, I’m sure tensions ran high at times as the actors memorized their lines while construction workers were hammering together the set, our costumer was combing through the actors wardrobes with her parsimonious budget.  And, then, one  night … it all came together.  And tomorrow night, after a week of tightening the screws on everything, knowing that they’re 90% home I have this uncanny feeling that it’s going to really soar.

   I’ll miss the process.  It was like a 1,600 meter relay.  I had the baton for the first 1,200, the first 400 with the RGT people; the second 800 with Amelia; then, well, the last 400 standing on the periphery watching it all come together, cheering them on.  Now, they’re on their own.  This has been a much more personal process than the film Sideways was because I had little to do with the script, and absolutely nothing to do with pre-production, forget production and post-production.  That was Alexander Payne’s baby all the way once he took my novel into his creative hands.  But this play — well, the poster says it all:

                                                     REX PICKETT’S

                                                       SIDEWAYS

And below that:  ”Directed by Amelia Mulkey.”  Of course this kind of credit tiering would never happen on a movie poster in a million years.  But Amelia deserves so much credit for what she pulled off, what she went through to get this play where it is.  And, of course, the actors (John Colella, Jonathan Bray, Julie McIlvaine, Cloe Cromwell, Hamilton Matthews, and other tertiary characters), who have worked so hard, Mikey Jason, John, Mike, C.J., Nicole, Elizabeth, Kirstelle and too many others to mention, behind the scenes.

   One of the reasons I signed on to do this play was because I was hoping, as I blogged a long time ago, to return, sort of, to my indie filmmaking days, when the process of making a film was collaborative and not so lonely and private like that of writing.  What I didn’t count on was that I would be adopted into this family of creative beings who do this Equity-Waiver theater thing for peanuts and passion.  I’m not being disingenuous when I say it’s been the single most rewarding creative experience of my entire life.  The sorrowing voice I hear is that of my adopted family now taking off in their gypsy covered wagon with my words.  Then, too, I reflect:  it was only words, typed one day that brought this troupe together.  It’s as though I hurled a boomerang from my soul, it transited through Amelia, then the actors, who took it into their souls, and then delivered it back to me as something else and it struck me in the heart like a curare dart last Saturday night.  That thing is called theater.  And, when it clicks, it’s transcendent.

   Here’s Terra and Jack and Miles and Maya at the Ruskin Group Theater.  Sideways lives on in yet another artistic incarnation.


 

 

 


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© 2012 Rex Pickett