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.

Goodbye Hollywood (for now)

   - “Porn Star Sunny Leone debuts in Bollywood” — The above picture accompanies a totally nothing announcemnet in the once venerable The Hollywood Reporter that has run on its home page for an astonishing 2 months!!

   Film used to matter to me.  I’ve lost a lot of my interest in it – especially writing film … or TV.  When I moved to L.A. from San Diego in the early ‘80s I used to see between 150-200 films a year in the theater.  This was, of course, before Blockbuster, Netflix streaming, when there were over 30, what were known as, revival houses, screening different films every night.  Lonely, I would drive miles to see films.  I once braved barbarous traffic to see a Rainer Werner Fassbinder film, Love is Colder than Death, at the Vista Theater in East Hollywood, a drive that took me nearly an hour-and-a-half to get there.  I thought it was worth it.  Now, I can barely be bothered to get up off the couch and drive five minutes to the Santa Monica Promenade, sit in a shoebox multiplex with a bunch of text-messaging, ADD, multi-tasking young people watching the latest video game-turned movie, or some other soulless franchise film.  The other day I dragged myself down to see P.T. Anderson’s The Master.  I liked There Will be Blood.  It was a film that had the courage of its savage conviction.  Hell, it actually had a conviction.  The Master, however, was an elephantine bore.  Freighted with an embarrassingly mannered performance by lunatic Joaquin Phoenix, it was one of those films that was so desperate to be powerful and “heavy” that it ended up being shallow and downright ludicrous.  When even Oscar contenders are this bad, have no heart, no soul, no vision, are all surface pretentiousness, everything I grew up believing film should/could be, has left me.  Though not necessarily a proponent of the auteur theory, I used to look forward to seeing films by certain filmmakers.  A lot of them, in fact.  Now, sadly, there are few individual filmmakers that I would run out to see their latest films. 

   It’s facile to blame the Internet for this dumbing down of content, but there is some truth in the fact that when more people are producing content than are able to consume it, when link clicks determine content instead of trained senior editors or autocratic studio moguls, there might be an argument to be made for the old winnowing system of content that clearly no longer exists.  When a magazine like The Hollywood Reporter brings on a new editor-in-chief and, overnight, she turns a 80 year-old a once venerable institution of industry reporting into a rag indistinguishable from The New York Post – see above photo – simply because the Internet and its sophisticated algorithms, has outed the fact that a magazine’s subscribers would rather read about sex and scandal and law suits than intelligent film reviews, we have a culture that is sinking into a kind of low common denominator-ism that has no redeeming humanistic values.

   On 11/14/’12 I’m leaving for the country of Chile for 4 months to research and write Part III of my Sideways franchise.  When I return I will follow my Sideways: the Play on its road to Broadway – details to be announced in the coming weeks.  I am looking forward to getting away from the computer, where I’ve been tethered 24/7 for the past 5 years as I wrote a new novel, Vertical, a play, a show for HBO/Leverage Management (one of the worst writing experiences of my life), and clocked literally thousands of hours of eye-opening social media time, promoting all of the above, and more.  I’ve had such a wonderful time with the play, and such a miserable time in development with HBO/Leverage I said to my agent the other day that I hope to God to never again write FADE IN: (the a priori beginning of all scripts).  My new theatrical touring agent said to me the other day:  “We have to talk about your playwriting career.”  Hmm.  And though I wasn’t going to write another novel again, because of the incredible success of my Sideways: the Play, becaue of the love for my now practically iconic characters Miles and Jack and Maya, I feel invigorated – hell, rejuvenated – to spend another book with them.  This one in Chile.

   I’m looking forward to getting out of L.A.  I’m weary of all the frustration and heartbreak I see in my friends who are trying so hard to be writers and filmmakers in a world that daily disrespects them on so many levels it’s appalling.  I wish they all could have had, and continue to have, the experience that I’ve had writing, and staging, my play.  I wish they all could have had the good fortune to have written a novel that became a critically-acclaimed film and, now, because of it, will have the opportunity to travel to the exotic, antipodean region of the 2,700 mile long country of Chile.  Life is not a meritocracy, as I’m fond of saying.  I’m glad I’m escaping with my sanity in tact.  I’m glad I’m getting out at a time when film has sunk to its lowest nadir of expression.  I’m not saying I’ll never write another screenplay again, but … well, I’ve found a lot more love in both novel and play writing.

   Two weeks ago I delivered my archives to UCSD’s Mandeville Special Collections Library.  (UCSD is my alma mater, the place where my imagination was fired by inspiring individuals, and where I first knew I wanted to become a writer and a filmmaker.)  The 25 some-odd boxes contained mss., published books, films, disks, hard drives, memorabilia and more.  As I drove down it eerily, and surreally, occurred to me that nearly 30 years ago I left and came to L.A. in an effort to make my mark in the film business.  Now, here I was with the record of that journey.  I made two indie features, wrote tons of scripts, wrote a short script that was made by my now ex-wife Barbara Schock that won an Academy Award, wrote a novel (Sideways) that was the foundation for the Oscar-winning Alexander Payne film of the same title.  I also endured trying moments of destitution, unbelievable loneliness, frustration, the voices of complete idiots, duplicitous agents, charlatan would-be producers, mendacious producers who would stab you in the back and take credit for everything you ever worked so hard to accomplish.  Sure, I was bringing back a life’s work, but I was also returning with a life’s worth of frustration.  I never deviated from my goal.  I didn’t have children.  I never took up another occuption.  I never had a back-up plan.  All I did was write and make films, and then write some more.  A lot of individuals helped me along the way.  Many times I almost threw in the towel, but, in the end, I never wavered in my belief that I would “make it.”  I’ve often said:  I would never wish this life on anyone; but I would never trade it for anyone’s.  I don’t think you choose to be writer; I think it chooses you.  How else can I explain what I endured without conforming to something that would have produced a more stable existence? 

   Writing, it’s a life.  You never know where it’s going to take you.  I’m glad that it’s taking me out of this city, though.  This gridlocked city that ought to be renamed Moths to the Flame.  Look for me beginning first of Nov. at rexinchile dot com (it’s not live yet).  I plan to return to my play in rehearsals at the La Jolla Playhouse, a novel in progress and, hopefully, a film business that has refound its heart and soul.  I have great hopes for the former two.

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




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© 2012 Rex Pickett