TRUE HOLLYWOOD STORIES
A Gun, A Car, A Blonde
My watch exploded. It was a cheap watch, to be sure. I’d bought it a few months before at an Army surplus store in Chicago, where I was on location with the production crew of A Family Thing. But even a cheap watch shouldn’t just explode like a watch in some zany cartoon. Its crystal and face had popped off, exposing its glittery twisted innards of springs and wheel, just moments after I’d consulted it for perhaps the tenth time in the last hour.
It was November, 1995. I was in a big house on top of a hill in Pacific Palisades. A movie was being shot. A Gun, a Car, a Blonde. I’d written it with my girlfriend, Stefani Ames. She was the director. And I was the producer. Which, I believe, explains why my watch exploded.
We had a budget of $350,000. Stef and I had raised the money ourselves. Much of it had come out of our own pockets. We had a shooting schedule of 18 days. It’s not easy to shoot a movie in 18 days. We couldn’t afford to fall behind. That would be disastrous. We couldn’t finish the movie if we fell behind. Movie sets are notoriously dull environments for visitors, what with all the standing around and fiddling with lights and waiting for the droning airplane to fly away, but for me the time passed with extraordinary rapidity. Time was my enemy. Time might make us fall behind. The minute hand of my cheap watch seemed to be sweeping around the dial like a second hand. I think my watch just couldn’t take the pressure of being anxiously glanced at every few minutes, and so had committed suicide.
We’d gotten together a terrific cast. Jim Metzler, one of the homicide detectives in One False Move, played the lead, Richard Spraggins, a cancer-stricken, wheelchair-bound man who escapes from his suffering into a black and white film noir world of fantasy. Kay Lenz, whom I’d had a crush on since the 70’s, was Richard’s greedy sister Peep. Billy Bob played Sid, Peep’s worthless boyfriend. The late (how sad to say that) John Ritter was Richard’s best friend Duncan. And sultry, slinky, smoky-voiced Andrea Thompson was the Blonde.
Stef and I wrote the script to accommodate the budget: not many characters and just a handful of locations. About half the shoot took place at the aforementioned Pacific Palisades house (we found out once we got there it had been used previously for porn movies, which is evidently what some of the neighbors thought we were up to). One of Stef’s best friends (and also one of our investors) lived in a house in Brentwood, which we used as the abode of the Blonde. And the people who owned the apartment Stef and I lived in in Playa del Rey also owned a tire factory in the hood, which proved perfect for our film noir climax.
I’m the quiet, contemplative type, and am very content to stay at home for days at a time with my books and my cats, so working 14- to 18-hour days as the producer of a movie didn’t come naturally to me. One day on the set Billy was looking curiously at me, and I asked him what was wrong. He said: “Your face. It’s gray.” My hair started falling out when I showered, and it wasn’t like I had all that much to spare. But I managed to survive the shoot, unlike my watch. We finished on time and on budget, and moved into post-production.
We were in post for a long time. We used black and white film to shoot the black and white sections of our movie (as opposed to shooting them in color then taking the color out), and mixing black and white with color turned out to be a daunting technical task. During this period, Billy had a screening for distributors for his own independent movie, which he’d shot a few months before ours. Around midnight the phone rang. It was Billy calling from his car. He said: “You’ll never believe what just happened.”
“What?” I yawned.
“I just sold Sling Blade for $10,000,000.”
When Stefani and I had a screening a few months later for A Gun, a Car, a Blonde, we were hoping for similar results. We fell a little shy of $10,000,000 though. About $10,000,000 shy. Not a single offer. We were crushed. Eventually we made a foreign deal, a video deal, a deal with HBO, but we never made a theatrical deal. We were disappointed our movie never reached the big screen, but we remain proud of the work we and our intrepid cast and crew did during those 18 swiftly passing days.
By the way. I never replaced my watch after it exploded. I discovered I didn’t need it. All I had to do was anxiously ask the people around me every few minutes what time it was. I probably drove them crazy, but at least none of them committed suicide.