Wednesday, April 27, 2016

AN INTERVIEW WITH C.M. 'CARTY' TALKINGTON (PART 2 OF 3)

(1)
C.M. 'Carty' Talkington is the writer-director of the 'Western psychedelic road opera' LOVE AND A .45 (1994), a film that features Renee Zellweger in one of her breakout early performances and has an enduring cult following. Unfairly overshadowed by the success of Quentin Tarantino, who remains a fan of the movie, LOVE AND A .45 exudes the restlessness, wild imagination, eclectic tastes and rebelliousness of its creator. I talked to Carty about his career as a filmmaker and musician. In part two we talked about the scripts he has written since LOVE AND A. 45, working with Steven Spielberg and Ivan Reitman, and we looked back at his time working in video stores in L.A

 Part one of the interview.

What project did you work on after LOVE AND A .45? 
I finished the script for Hollywood Anarchist during pre-production on LOVE AND A .45. That's how much time I didn't want to waste. I turned down other projects in order to try and make it as a film. I was so single-minded in trying to get that film made that it didn't occur to me that people might think I'm crazy. I had a lot of passion and energy and I spoke my mind and it got me in a lot of trouble. I think if LOVE AND A .45 had been bigger it wouldn't have been such a problem. But that genre was dead when it came out.

(2)
Hollywood Anarchist is about a criminal from Texas who comes to LA to sell his life story to Hollywood and ends up killing all the people at the movie studio, being executed on national television, and becoming a media superstar. Savage TV is about a televangelist and a human guinea pig bonding together to stop TV mind control in America. That's the entertainment business we're talking about! They're about going to battle with the entertainment business. I didn't even see at the time that Hollywood was not likely to respond to them, although Johnny Depp was actually interested in Hollywood Anarchist at one point. I don't think the things I'm interested in are the same things that Hollywood is interested in.

I would still love to see Hollywood Anarchist get made but I am thinking of doing it as a graphic novel instead. It was my homage to Jean Genet. I believe that the connection between art and crime is almost seamless. About half of the people in prisons are probably frustrated artists. Graham Greene would agree about this line between creation and destruction. He wrote about it in The Destructors. I'm obsessed by it. It's a running theme in my work. LOVE AND A .45 has that duality. There's a light side to it, a positivity, that never gets mentioned. I'm very interested in the battle between good and evil that goes on within all of us – the 'war with ourselves' and how it drives our choices and behaviour. I feel compelled to explore that duality in my work. 

(3)
Aside from Hollywood Anarchist, which other projects are you trying to get made? 
There are three scripts I have worked on over the past few years that I'd love to see made. One is called 1977, which is about a group of oil refinery workers trying to break out of their bleak blue-collar existence through the power of music.

Another one is called Rodeo Fry Cook. It's based on an original play written by my late friend and mentor, Scott Mathews. I directed the play on the East Coast and we wrote the screenplay together. Its about a West Texas rodeo fry-cook who becomes an Elvis-like celebrity. I like to think of it as the DR. STRANGELOVE of American consumer culture.

The other one is called Tactics. I wrote it to be my third movie. It's about an Iraq veteran who finds out that while he has been away fighting, his wife has been cheating on him with the CEO of a defence contracting company. He decides to take him and his wife hostage and teach him a lesson. The sheriff gets called in, and he and the veteran start to realise that they share a lot of the same pain. They develop a friendship and then things start to get out of control. It's about men damaged by violence trying to make sense of what they have endured. 

(4)
What did you have to do with DEEP BLUE SEA? 
I re-wrote the script for Warner Brothers in 1997-98. My ex-agent, Jeff Robinov, had become an executive at Warners. I was desperate for work at the time and I called him about potential jobs. He told me that the studio had a script called DEEP BLUE SEA that they really wanted to put into production quickly because they wanted to use the underwater sets from SPHERE (1998) before they were destroyed to make room for a warehouse. But the script wasn't working, even though there had been about ten re-writes. Jeff told me he wasn't optimistic about the film getting made, but that I would be a hero if I could crack it. The writing schedule was brutal, and I worked like a dog on it. I have a slight fear of sharks so I scared myself a lot writing it, but it was a blast because I love movies like JAWS (1975), ALIEN (1979) and ALIENS (1986), which were also some of my main references.

After a few months I handed in my draft and it got the film greenlit for production, which was a great feeling. Akiva Goldsman was one of the producers and I did several story sessions with him, one of them at his awesome Malibu beach house, which was a very Hollywood moment for me. Everybody was happy and excited that the film was finally getting made, and I got calls from the producers and several execs thanking me. 

(5)
Why didn't you receive credit? 
They hired another writing team to go in and re-write all my dialogue, and they received final credit with the original writers. My dialogue had a darker, more serious tone and the studio wanted it lighter and funnier. Not much of the dialogue in the finished film is mine, but a significant chunk of the action sequences and a lot of the story moments are. I even wrote the moment towards the end when Sam Jackson is delivering the standard 'hero speech' to get everyone motivated when they're down, and right in the middle he is devoured whole by a shark that appears out of nowhere. I've only seen the film once but I got a big kick out of watching that moment on screen. My speech was a little different but the effect was the same. I didn't love the film. I think it could have been a lot scarier, but it was thrilling to see things I had dreamed up in my head brought to life up on the screen. 

Have you worked on any other studio movies? 
There were two others. One was for Steven Spielberg at Amblin, right after I finished writing LOVE AND A .45. They'd been trying to make a film of the comic book character Plasticman for a while. They'd read the script for LOVE AND A .45 and thought I'd be perfect. They didn't pay me much but I was beyond excited to work for Steven Spielberg. They even gave me an office at Amblin to write it, which my agent told me they never do. To my regret I never used the office, as I wrote the script at home, which I was used to. It would have been great to have got to have known everybody at Amblin, including Spielberg. They must have thought I was pretty anti-social. I thought the script was pretty good, but nothing ever happened with it, and I went off to direct LOVE AND A .45. My reclusive nature has definitely worked against me in the past, but I'm currently working on changing that. 

(6)
The other one was for Ivan Reitman. After LOVE AND A .45 had come out, he wanted me to write an original screenplay based on a character he'd created names 'Bones', potentially for me to direct. Ivan's company was on the Universal lot at the time. The story was about a really bad criminal who breaks out of prison on the eve of his execution by hijacking a news helicopter, which ends up crashing in the middle of nowhere. He's rescued by a benevolent group of self-exiles living off the grid, and eventually becomes their hero by leading them into battle against their oppressors. It had a kind of dark SEVEN SAMURAI vibe. Ivan ended up leaving Universal, and it never got made. I had a lot of fun working with Ivan, Michael Chinich, and the other folks in his office. I think it would have made a cool film. 

Can you talk about your experiences working in video stores a la Quentin Tarantino?
When I first moved to L.A. in 1990, I started working at a really great video store on the Sunset Strip called Videotheque. They had an amazing collection of hard-to find titles on VHS and Laserdisc. It was in the Carolco Building, and the parade of celebrities was endless – everyone from Johnny Depp and Winona Ryder to Tim Burton and David Byrne came into that store. The highlight of my celebrity experience there was helping David Byrne pick out a bunch of cool movies. I was pretty thrilled to do the same for Tim Burton and Peter Sellars, the brilliant theater director not the brilliant actor. Most of my background at that time was in theater so I was very aware of who Peter Sellars was. It was great to meet him. I've never seen anyone sign their signature on a credit card receipt the way that he did. He took about five minutes doing it, and it was a true work of art with calligraphy and little images. The guy could never stop being an artist, even when signing his credit card receipts. I can't believe I didn't make a copy and save it.

(7)
When I moved from West Hollywood to Silverlake, I got another job at another amazing video store named Videoactive. I didn't have a car at the time and it was within walking distance of my apartment, which was great. Videoactive probably had an even better collection than Videotheque, but way less celebrities. I guess that's another thing that Quentin and I share – we both worked in video stores, and neither of us went to film school. Working in a video store was actually a pretty good film school by the way, as I'm sure Quentin would agree.

I spoke to Carty by telephone on 3rd November 2015, and by email during April 2016, and would like to thank him for his time. 

Photographs are the property of CM Talkington and cannot be reproduced without his permission. All photos by Zachary Mortensen, except (1, 2) Renee Zellweger, (4) Warner Bros. 

Interview by Paul Rowlands. Copyright © Paul Rowlands, 2016. All rights reserved.