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“Another Fine Mess” or How I Survived the 26th Annual American Film Market:

I have never been one for crowds. Perhaps this is because as a full grown adult male… my world dead ends at exactly 51 inches. That is, 4 feet 3 inches. In contrast, the rest of the world, and by this I mean statistically anyone over the age of eight years, not accompanied by an adult or an au pair (ala the Olsen Twins) and free of significant or even marginal physical compression, begins at around 62 inches, which translated is 5 feet 2 inches.

Please understand, I am not complaining, not at all. I am proud to report that, sans the assistance of Computer Generated Imagery (CGI), I have actually enjoyed a 34% gross increase in overall body mass and a remarkable 13 percent increase in net stature — a truly remarkable growth spurt since I was last measured in 1975. I remember the day to the day when the volunteer theater management staff had to revive me with Complete Patron Refund (CPR) after I was crushed to my last will and test … uh I can’t spell it out for fear of revealing the plot, by a horde of enthusiastically panicked “children of the corn,” at the Des Moines, Iowa premiere of Jaws.

Since 1975, my aim has improved considerably. I have learned to navigate the masses and infiltrate the secular habitats of the transient sybaritic with such an invisible deftness. … you won’t even know I am there. Because, I probably won’t be! What’s my motivation?

During the course of my stellar “Stella!!!!, been there, done that,” career. … I have bantered with the A-list over crab puffs at the Governor’s Ball and at Vanity Fair’s party. I have swooned over Zooey Deschanel and tripped over Mini-Me.

I have spun wild tales of deals and wheels, tummy tucks and power lunches from the Golden Globes to the Grammys. And then from the Gimmes, the Can You See Me’s? all the way to the Emmys and back, I have lifted the spirits and the faces of my noble colleagues.

Ultimately, here’s to my tour de forced entry: the swan song of my life sentence; a glistening night at the Oprah. I was living in Montecito at the time and was simply trying to find a short cut to the freeway…when I clicked my heels, popped my clutch on reality, burned rubber and found myself…oops, I can’t tell you any more. It is part of the gag order I agreed to sign in an effort to avoid prosecution.

I told the judge I hadn’t planned to stay anyway…and that an injunction wasn’t necessary as I had already been advised of my rights subsequent to my bloody two-year campaign to get a dwarf actor on “Gilmore Girls.” I asked him to contact Jody Zucker, head legal counsel for Warner Brothers Television in Burbank. “He or she will vouch for me,” I promised.

I remember how I was about to be exiled or excommunicated to the wilds of UPN or BET. “That is where you belong!” I was told. “Why are you picking on me? 1,200 people had to drown just so Celine Dion could have a career…and she gets a lifetime deal in Vegas. I want a little place in Stars Hollow, Connecticut, and I can’t even get one night at McCools.”

Alas, I have forged the maelstrom of designer butts and knee-caps to sway fleetingly across the gamut of the self-congratulatory repository of all “must have invitations “only to falter slightly at my first People’s Choice Awards — and solely for thinking it was supposed to be a political rally. Then there are the VMAs, the CMAs, the AMAs, I have engaged them all with the fury of one intent on realizing the dream of a three-picture deal with all the perks, the points, the front end, the back end, national grosses, international gross outs, cast veto, and my very favorite — the complimentary botox, lipo, colonic and valet parking guest package with paparazzi assault and batteries included. I almost got that one.

From Spago to the Standard, the Ivy to Le Dome and from Chasens to the Polo Lounge, I have hurdled the velvet ropes, slid blithely across the red carpets into the green rooms and blue skies and disappeared completely into the black, black abyss of the Hollywood bottom line. “Hey Toto…we are not in Iowa anymore and the 405 sure as hell ain’t the yellow brick road.” A little caveat; during the filming of the original The Wizard of OZ in 1937-8, Toto was banking a cool buck and a quarter per week. The highest paid Munchkin was only making $50. But then there was all the helium you could swill. Not to worry though, because the Screen Actors Guild has just approved a new contract for low budget independent films. Look whose laughing now…hah! 411 for all you Tarantino closet mimics…who believe the only road to Oscar is paved by Taft-Hartley kamikazes and minority and disabled actors who will work for nothing just to have something to do. You screw up your production schedule…you go over budget…your CFO flees to the non-extraditable provinces of the Banana Republic leaving you alone to shiv your muse and blame the lawyers…have no fear. Just throw in a couple of dwarfs, a few Africans and maybe a couple of Native Americans at the very last minute, and you can get money…tons of it to finish your low budget, independent film. How about that? Now, not only do you not have to pay the dwarfs, the Indians and Blacks who are included in your production…we’ll pay you.

This is why, from the Viper Room to the emergency room and with the cavalier abandon of a poseur throwing crumbs to the beggars…aka the hungry young filmmakers outside the line at Cannes “let them eat shitake” or sipping T&A (Tom and Alec) inside the Actors Studio with Professor Lipton, I have dropped the names of Wienstein, Lansing and Denzel. I have dropped these and others faster than the studios can drop the names Affleck, Gigli and Heaven’s Gate. I am living proof that Sizemore doesn’t matter and that Fleiss is this close to fleece. I have flirted with Jennifer Aniston while waiting for an elevator. I have publicly and proudly applauded Naomi Watts for her work in 21 Grams … at the premiere of another film … I think it was I Heart (icon here) Huckabees … and I know it was to the dismay of the producers and the director on the panel fielding questions. I have even looked deeply into the eyes of Paris Hilton….and I swear to MGM all I saw was the back of her head.

Yes, I have done it all, Sundance, Toronto, Tribecca, Santa Barbara. I was momentarily charmed by a free spirited intern at Paramount on the set of, of course, Charmed,…who had me convinced she was Martha Quinn and I was Peter Dinklage. Sometimes you spin, sometimes you schmooze, sometimes you are spun, It is how you play the name, if you are one of me and want to survive in Hollywood.

Yep, it would seem I had been everywhere. Everywhere that is except for the AFM (aka the American Film Market). For 26 years, it has been labored over and nurtured and has become one of the premiere film markets in the world and it is right here in our own back yard in Santa Monica. There are distributors, participants, lions, tigers and shares…lunches and deals on wheels transacted to the tune of nearly half a billion dollars. If you cannot imagine this large a sum…then put it in context. Think of it in terms of, say, the monthly allowance of the Hanks-Wilson brood.

The statistics are staggering. Over seven thousand people converged on Santa Monica from all parts of the world. Brazil, Belgium, Glendale and practically every other foreign country where you might be denied diplomatic immunity was represented. I wasn’t there. I missed it. I went looking for it though. But I was as lost as Arnold was after proposition Tuesday a few weeks back. Ever get the feeling he might be a one term-only-nator? I voted for him because he promised to restore Hollywood to Hollywood. I have seen no evidence of that at all. Why didn’t he tell me about the AFM?

On a recent Saturday night, I was forlorn, as my search for the catacombs of AFM had been swallowed by the neon oblivion which is the Third Street Promenade. It was there…where the festivities accorded the American Film Market dissolved wholly into just another fleeting memory. If AFM is the home of Independent Films…then the little pub where I stopped to nurse my wounds and to excoriate my misfortune must have been the home of independent filmmakers. As I drew myself to the bar to implore a cup of something hot, belligerent and caffeinated, I was reminded of George C. Scott as Patton.

Unfortunately, I had to paraphrase and yet at the top of my lungs with clenched fists I raged… “I cannot believe…an entire world is here for the American Film Market…and I am left out of it. God will not permit this…I must be allowed to fulfill my destiny.”

Then I spilled my Earl Gray and muttered an expletive as I fell from the bar stool. But, like any self-serving independent film aficionado, I rebounded gracefully to an extended splattering of applause from the patrons…the peanut gallery who all loved my work in Willie Wonka and The Station Agent. “Thank you…I love you all…does anybody remember laughter, my Ross Dress for Less commercial? I am here all week long for one night only.”As I made my exit, hastily and permanently into the stark vacuum of disappointment….I looked around and through myself just like I might have had I been a student at Stella Adler. As I was being gripped by the imagery of Jarmusch and Herzog, Soffer and Fassbinder, Capra and Aaron Spelling, I exclaimed…AFM….you cannot hide from me forever. I’ll get you next year. On that you can depend.” Then, quietly and to myself and before someone threw me a quarter, I smiled and said, “AFM, thank God you are not in Buffalo. Oh and void where prohibited…just don’t let the Santa Monica Police catch you. I’ll be back!”

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