I was in a bed wearing very comfy flannel pajamas in the midst of a brutal pillow fight with Lou Diamond Phillips, and Lou was winning (he has an unstoppable back swing that puts a head-snapping spin on a goose down pillow), because you know – he’s Lou mother fucking Chavez y Chavez Diamond Goddamn Phillips. A few days previous I had to break up a fight between Ron “The Hedgehog” Jeremy and Scott Thompson from Kids in the Hall over who invented the term “Rim Job”. A few days later, Bruno from the movie Lucas would tell me that my “orgasm” face needed to be bigger, and more violent.
And to answer your question… No, this was not some week long Eyes Wide Shut-esque, crazy Hollywood sex party (alas, never got invited to one of those), but some of the behind-the-scenes of a short film I co-wrote, co-produced, and co-starred in called Stunt C*cks back in 2002. You see, I was what I liked to refer to back in the day as a double-threat… ie… an actor/writer or writer/actor, whichever you prefer. Original, I know.
I had started writing in high school and college, mostly horribly violent short stories thanks to a never ending diet of Stephen King and cheesy men’s adventure novels during middle school (Deathlands was my JAM – Google it), and a dystopian Cyberpunk action script with a Usual Suspects twist at the end (look it was the mid-90s, it was all the rage). I enjoyed writing and seemed to be able to functionally string words together in an entertaining fashion (although I either use way too MANY commas or not nearly enough – just ask Alex). It was something I did while killing time at my day jobs, and I thought it might be a useful skill after I landed that big sit-com series lead.
But, by the early 2000s, I had been in Hollywood long enough to figure out that agents, managers, and casting directors had no idea what the fuck to do with me. You see, I was in this weird middle ground of not being good-looking enough to fit into the classic Channing Tatum/Josh Duhamel/Ryan Reynolds Hollywood leading man type, but I also wasn’t character-y enough to be that Steve Buscemi/Clint Howard/John Turturro weird guy. And Hollywood doesn’t like it when you don’t fit into the neat little boxes they have set up to make their jobs easier. To be fair, I didn’t know where I fit either.
I was funny, I knew that, but I desperately wanted to be seen as a “serious” actor who could do “serious” things — mainly shooting machine guns while making uber witty wisecracks — and because of that I was constantly trying to mold myself into what I thought Hollywood wanted, instead of being who I was. As a result… I wasn’t getting a ton of work outside of wacky over-the-top commercials which to be fair, I was doing a good amount of.
So, like a lot of other struggling actors in the late, post Swingers indie film 90s… I decided I would just write my own killer starring vehicle, shoot it, release it and BOOM! Instant Hollywood stardom. Well, that turned out to be harder than anticipated ‘cause apparently EVERYONE had that same idea. But damn it, I was gonna’ give it a go anyway.
Problem was, I was having a hard time writing something small and funny. Cryogenically frozen future assassins? No problem. Brutally violent teenage revenge stories? Done. Intimate, ridiculously-funny-but-with-an-emotional-heart comedies? That could also be made on a shoestring budget? Nothin’.
Luckily I met up with two guys I had known from the Factory Theater in Chicago (Michael Meredith and Kirk Pynchon) whose bread and butter was doing original kick-ass R-rated, low budget ensemble stage plays that had sold out runs for years at a time. I cornered them at a cast party for one of their LA shows (Poppin’ and Lockdown – A Breakdancing Prison Comedy) and while pounding beers we stole from the fridge, we decided to start writing together.
Over the next year we wrote 3 feature length scripts that were pure golden goddamn comedy genius – that absolutely no one was interested in making. One day we were horribly blocked on our latest take on comedy in screenplay format (I believe it was a Karate Kid homage set in the world of competitive Air Guitar) when Mike said “I have a great title for a short film… Stunt Cocks!” and 3.5 hours later, we had a pretty tight 18 page mockumentary about Bill and Earl, two kind-hearted young men who took their severe sexual dysfunction (“massive” premature ejaculation) and used it to turn the adult film industry into a business filled with family, friendship, and love.
We handed it out to a few people in “the biz” that we knew and started the long process of trying to get the damn thing made. At one point everyone from Bob Saget and Andy Dick to Brad Hirch (brother of Porn Mega Mogul Steven Hirch) and then porn starlet Raylene to Tommy Lee, the long-schlonged drummer of Motley Crue, were attached to either produce it, direct it, or star in it. Finally we scraped together like $3,000 bucks, a borrowed digital video camera, a bunch of actors that our director Tom Hodges was friends with, and started shooting.
And it was a blast. A ridiculous, raunchy, yet kind-hearted, blast (see first paragraph). After whittling our initial 20 minute cut down to a tight 8 minutes (thanks in some part to David Schwimmer and Roger Kumble – long story, ask me about it if you see me at a con) we started entering film festivals. And… got turned down by every single one.
Sundance = NOPE. Slamdance = NOPE. No Dance = NOPE.
Until by some stroke (see what I did there? Because the movie is about Porn… stroke? Jokes are better when they are explained) of luck we got into the Tribeca Film Festival. After that, well, we got into a lot of festivals.
Highlights were getting put up in a 3 floor, 6 bedroom ski house in Breckenridge for our 8 minute short because Jeffrey Lyons loved Lou Diamond Phillips (which became party central for the entire festival), getting higher than I have ever been in this or any past or future life on some kind of Colorado dank that had purple hairs on it, and winning the audience award for best comedy at the Deep Ellum Film Festival. It also got us our literary agent and combined with our first feature (the one about competitive air guitar titled… The Air Guitar Kid… we were inspired) that “went out” to production companies, got us meetings all over town.
We thought we were on our way to screenwriting stardom. Little did we know that the writing side of the business was just as full of nonsense as the acting side… just different and lesser known nonsense. The boys and I would spend the next 7 years writing, pitching, re-writing, and getting within a hair’s breadth of selling 3 different scripts without ever actually selling anything:
- We went to tons of meetings with eager development executives with completely asinine ideas, like the one who wanted us to put a raging inferno at the end of our slice-of-life roller rink comedy because she just, and I quote, “Really really really liked the way fire looks on screen,” as we would smile and nod through it, all the while thinking these people couldn’t be serious.
- Re-writing a script with a very well-known female producer whose name rhymes with Minda Bobpst for weeks while she would literally contradict herself multiple times within the same meeting, only to then have her contacts at Paramount change it the weekend we sent the script in for the final green light.
- We had an amazing 2.5 hour long meeting with legendary producer Albert S. Ruddy (I think we were supposed to pitch a remake of Mr. Ed starring Matthew McConaughey and Chris Rock — no, I’m NOT making that up) where he regaled us with stories of creating Hogan’s Heroes, making the fun fiasco that was Megaforce, and telling us that of all the things he had written/produced, Walker Texas Ranger was the one that had hands down made him the most money.
- And finding out that LaVar Burton had almost gotten a script of ours made at Disney… when we didn’t even know LaVar Burton had read the script, much less was actively trying to get it produced… at fucking Disney.
We unofficially called it quits somewhere around 2009 when it just got to be too much. We couldn’t handle another “almost sold” after putting heart and soul into something. Watching terrible movies that we pitched amazing rewrites to get made and bomb (Employee of the Month) or worse, watching competing scripts get made into amazing movies (Horrible Bosses). Or honing a pitch over six months with a producer only to have them bail at the first “no” from a studio.
All this coincided with my life spiraling out of control and I took it really really hard. I wasn’t writing. I wasn’t acting. I wasn’t doing anything other than being very bitter and trying to hide the fact that my diet Mountain Dew actually had 3 airline bottles of cheap vodka in it, on the off chance the guys and I did get together when someone somewhere showed interest in an old script. I remember thinking “What the hell was the point? I’ve failed at two careers. Great!” GLUG GLUG GLUG.
Now that I can look back on it without hazy beer-goggled eyes… It was the most consistently creative I’ve ever been in my life. Over 8 years we wrote 12 feature length scripts, a short that we produced and shot, an animated TV show, various sketches, a pilot, and countless outlines, pitches and rewrites.
And there was joy in that journey. Joy I just couldn’t fully realize at the time because I was so focused on the prize at the end of the road that I didn’t notice how awesome the scenery was. I was recently cleaning out some old files on a thumb drive and noticed a folder with a ton of our scripts in it. I worm-holed for the next four hours reading through them. And dammit if they didn’t make me laugh and remember the excitement of getting two guys, who I thought were two of the funniest dudes on the planet, to laugh with a good joke.
I get very wistful sometimes, longing for that sense of optimism that I had when I was first in Los Angeles, especially now that I hang out with so many young creative people in the Improv community in Austin. I’m rehearsing a show called Hardish Bodies, an improvised take on Magic Mike with “regular” body type guys (my vanity, knowing no bounds, has been in overdrive since getting cast – doing crossfit like a maniac – you can take the actor out of LA but not the LA out of the actor) and it’s been fearless and invigorating. I see the passion and drive that they all have, this attitude that anything is possible, and my first response is for the jaded, rejection soaked, Tinsel Town outcast in me to burst their bubbles with hard truths and tales of hard knock Hollywood heartache.
But then there are moments, like at dance rehearsal, where 6 normal dudes are dancing shirtless to Def Leppard’s immortal hair metal masterpiece “Pour Some Sugar On Me,” smiling and laughing like idiots for a show that no one is getting paid for and, if we are lucky, maybe 400 people will see – doing it only for the love of doing it – when that jaded jerk is kicked in his grumpy balls and is sent packing.
And I’m left as happy as a 30 year old me snuggling under the covers wrapped in the warm and magical embrace of Lou Diamond Phillips. Which, as it turns out, is a pretty bad ass memory to have.
You can find all of James’ previous installments in the Confessions series – right here.
Make sure to keep checking back for more updates — right here on GeekNation.
Latest posts by James Leary (see all)
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- Confessions of a G-List Celebrity: Part 6 – Big Empty - December 9, 2015
- Confessions of a G-List Celebrity: Part 5 — ‘Rick James Was Right’ - November 9, 2015
- Confessions of a G-List Celebrity: Part 4 – ‘I Am No Brad Pitt’ - October 26, 2015
- Confessions of a G-list Celebrity: Part 3 – ‘He’s Got Nathan Fillion’s Eyes’ - October 12, 2015