From the LA Times, Tuesday, March 26, 1996:
Indie Pic Water Over the Bridge Stuns Oscars—Grabs Five Majors by Charles Champlin
Lightly regarded FineHall Productions shocked the reigning Hollywood establishment at the 68th Academy Awards ceremony last night by walking off with five major awards. The owners of FineHall, husband and wife team Natalie Fine and Gil Hall, accounted for three of the awards, Fein the producer taking best Picture while Hall received the awards for Best Direction and Original Screenplay. Hollywood veteran Richard Ellsworth, 58, also won his first ever award for cinematography and special visual effects, while newcomer Carl Pohler, 26, won for sound design. Water was also represented in the acting nominations but was prevented from winning due to its balanced ensemble of no-name actors.
FineHall Productions has been around for nearly twenty years quietly making money from a string of independently financed, moderately successful low-budget films. Its only previous brush with fame was at the 1988 Awards ceremony where its entry Running Against the Wind netted Fine a nomination for Screenplay and Hall for Direction. Neither won.
Immediately after the ceremony Ms. Fein made these brief comments before whisking her husband off to the usual dizzying round of after-ceremony parties and events. “When Gil came to me with the basic script for Water Over the Bridge nearly two years ago I immediately sensed its potential. It was of course in very rough draft form but over a period of about six months the following winter I worked on the screenplay and finally got it into shape. It seems to have worked out rather well.”
That’s putting it mildly! In the four and a half months since its release last fall, Water has generated an astounding box office revenue of nearly 200 million to date. The film, which was also independently financed and reputedly cost only 15 million to make, could be poised to break the all-time box office record for an indie picture. And that’s not even considering the international market. FineHall has released no information yet on distribution deals, but considering the picture’s evocation of small-town lives and relationships and its simple and easily understood theme it should be a major international success as well.
In an amazing show of support for this film which has been universally critically acclaimed, moviegoers from every part of the demographic spectrum have been flocking to theaters all over the country—in big cities as well as small towns. Water, which tells the story of a small Midwestern town in the early 50s threatened by major flooding seems to have completely won the hearts of America through its on the one hand sweet and sentimental portrayal of the townspeople and on the other the gritty realistic look at the brutal mechanics of trying to prevent a major flood.
Mr. Hall had only this to say as he was being rushed from the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion immediately after the ceremony: “It’s been a great thrill, a great honor, and I couldn’t have done it without Nat and all the other people involved in the film who somehow believed in me. As I said in my acceptance speech, it’s more their film than mine.”
No matter how it came about, Water over the Bridge looks to be an instant American classic which will be talked about, analyzed, and rewatched for years to come.
At about six AM the following morning early risers in the Hollywood Hills could have seen a cherry red classic 1956 Thunderbird convertible slowly weaving its way up Mulholland Drive. After entering the grounds of their Mulholland Drive mansion and firmly closing and locking the huge gates behind them, an exhausted but exhilarated Gil Hall turned to his wife Natalie and gave her a big hug and kiss. As they got out of the car they put their arms around each other, each one attempting to support the other as they walked unsteadily toward the house.
“Well,” slurred Gil as he fumbled for his keys and finally managed to unlock the front door, “whaddaya think, baby?”
“I think,” she said, slowly and carefully so as not to appear as drunk as she was, “that if this is the result of you writing a screenplay, then I’m all for it. Lead the way, big boy.”
Gil looked at her, a sense of drunken wonder clouding his eyes. “I got lotsa ideas,” he said. “You just wait. This is only the beginning.”
From Variety, Monday, March 1, 2004
FineHall Productions Does It Again—Retro Biblical Epic Blood of the Lamb Sweeps Oscars
…but the most notable award was that of Best Actor—the first such award given to an Iranian national for his role as Jesus Christ… And in a short but moving speech given by Ali Mohammed in which he managed to be both serious and humorous in his allotted time, he called out for friendship and unity between the Middle Eastern and the Western world. “Then,” he quipped, “when I told my father, a devout Muslim, that I was assuming the role of Jesus Christ, he all but ordered me out of the house and the family. But later I was able to reason with him. “Look Father,” I said, “I’ve played murderers and rapists in many Arabic movies before and you had no objection, so just because I’m playing a famous Christian doesn’t mean I’m not your son.” Then he turned to the audience and said with that famous wistful smile that audiences all over the world have come to love he continued, “Then we hugged each other and he forgave me. Especially when I told him about the many American dollars they were paying me.”
A few days later Natalie and Gil were having a quiet celebratory dinner at Musso & Frank, totally alone with each other, as was their habit lately. In the past eight years they had graduated from being eager to be seen to not really wanting to be bothered.
Gil was on his second scotch prior to the arrival of their dinner—the traditional huge porterhouse that they had not lost their taste for over the years—and Natalie was well into the bottle of claret when Gil suddenly ceased his aimless small talk and sat staring with ashen face and open mouth.
Natalie, instant concern registering on her still-youthful face said, “What is it Gil? What’s wrong with you? Heartburn again?”
But Gil did not reply immediately. What had startled him so was the sight of three small individuals that looked oddly like Cabbage Patch Dolls, making their way across the dining room toward his table. They had dressed for the occasion, not in their workmen’s garb of overalls and toolbelt, but in smartly tailored expensive-looking black tuxedos complete with red bow tie and patent leather child-size pumps. They wore no hats, all three of them exhibiting the identical short haircuts and slicked back hair of thirties matinee idols.
As they approached Gil’s table and then passed by it veering off towards the rear of the restaurant where the kitchen and facilities were located, the lead one (Warren, Gil presumed) gave him a wink and beckoned him in a follow-me motion.
Gil, frantically trying to compose himself, turned to Natalie and managed to stammer, “Yeah, yeah, must be the scotch or something. Got to go to the men’s room. Be back real soon, I hope.”
As he staggered to his feet Natalie attempted to make light of it by saying, “You go and do what you have to do, dear. I’ll have them hold the steak till you come back.”
Muttering his thanks, he left the table and followed the Norns (for so they were) toward the rear of the restaurant. When he caught up with them however Warren reached up and took hold of his hand. In the next instant, Musso & Frank’s dining room seemed to dissolve into a gray mist that seemed interminable to Gil but lasted only a few seconds. The next thing he knew the mists had cleared and he bumped his nose painfully against a closed wooden door. Looking at the door he was amazed to see that a plaque on it said, Suite 401—Presidential Suite.
The three Norns stood behind him, looking at him expectantly. “Well,” said Warren, “aren’t you going to invite us in?”
“Yeah,” chimed in Loren. “This is your place, after all.”
“The key is in your left pants pocket,” said Soren helpfully.
Not knowing what to think at this point, Gil dutifully rummaged around in his pocket, finally producing a key with a plastic tag that said, Hotel Remington—Suite 401. Fitting it into the lock, he turned the key, opened the door, and apprehensively stepped into the room followed by the Norns, Soren closing the door behind them.
Gil looked around. If memory served, the room looked exactly the same as it had ten years ago, when he had stayed there on what he now thought of as his infamous lost weekend. In fact he fantasized that, through the closed bedroom door, he could still hear Rosie gently snoring. He went to the window and looked out. It was nighttime apparently, quite late or early morning even, for he heard no sounds at all. Looking towards the sky he was appalled to see a bright orange moon leering overhead, surrounded by what looked like thousands of pulsating multi-colored dots that he took to be stars and planets. Shuddering a bit he turned away from the window and looked at the Norns, literally speechless as they looked back at him still expectantly.
Finally, Warren broke the silence. “Well,” he said again, “aren’t you going to tell us to sit down and relax?”
“Yeah, be a good host,” Loren chimed in.
“And some drinks wouldn’t hurt either,” added Soren, rolling his tongue about his mouth and patting his belly.
Gil was now beginning to come out of his trancelike state and attempt to relate to this absurd situation as best he could. “Sure,” he said. “Why don’t you guys have a seat or something. Drinks?” He looked around stupidly as if expecting a bottle to appear out of thin air.
The Norns went over to the couch and, with some difficulty, managed to scramble onto it then arrange themselves into a row as if they were dolls in a young girl’s bedroom, their backs against the sofa cushions and their feet barely managing to reach its edge.
“There’s a bottle of that scotch you like in the cupboard,” remarked Warren.
“Yeah, Glenfidditch, wasn’t it?” added Soren. “And there’s a bucket of ice in the freezer.”
“Um, okay,” said Gil doubtfully. But he got up, went to the nearest cupboard, opened it, and sure enough there was an unopened bottle of Glenfidditch twelve-year-old single malt whiskey surrounded by one large glass and three smaller ones. Feeling insanely like this were the mad tea party, he nonetheless dutifully went over to the refrigerator and looked at the freezer. Sure enough, there was a bucket of ice. Busying himself, he soon had filled the glasses with ice cubes and scotch. Then he went back into the living room, handed each Norn a glass, and went back to the kitchen for his glass and the bottle. Then settling himself in an armchair and placing his drink and the bottle of whiskey on a nearby end table he managed to quip, “So guys, what’s the occasion? Why are we here?”
In response Warren said, “We thought you’d be comfortable in more familiar surroundings.”
“Yeah,” chimed in Loren, “kind of your turf on our turf sort of deal.”
Soren said nothing as he was greedily slurping up his scotch.
Gil took a healthy gulp himself then poured more scotch into his glass, took another gulp, and finally found his nerves beginning to steady a bit. “So,” he said a little more boldly this time, “What’s the agenda for this high level meeting we’re at, huh?”
“Things have been going pretty good for you and Natalie, haven’t they?” Warren replied.
“Yeah,” added Loren, “you’ve got—what? Riches, fame, power in Hollywood?”
“Yeah,” agreed Soren. “What more could you want?”
“And I suppose I have you guys to thank for this, huh?” Gil said with a touch of sarcasm.
“Well, look at it this way,” said Warren. “Where do you get the ideas for all these great screenplays you’ve been writing?”
“Yeah,” added Soren. “And what about the fact that the critics all love you and the audience all love your movies?”
“Yeah,” agreed Loren, studying his now empty glass. “You think that’s all a coincidence.”
“C’mon, you guys,” Gil said, “I’m the one that made the movies. I’m the one that wrote the screenplays.” Then a new thought struck him and he added almost to himself, “Yeah, where do I get those ideas? They seem to come out of nowhere.”
“Anyway,” said Warren, brushing that aside, “you’ve got to admit we’ve done our best for you. Now—”
Soren took up the thread. “How about a little payback, Mr. Hall?”
“Uh, what would that be?” said Gil, now apprehensive once more. Without waiting for an answer he poured himself another healthy belt of scotch and drank it down. Soren looked at him and said mysteriously, “It’s time for phase two.”
“Oh, and what would that be?”
At this point the Norns laboriously got down off the couch again, came over and surrounded his chair. “Here’s phase two,” Warren said, and they all placed their hands on Gil’s head.
Minutes later Gil blinked his eyes, shook his head as if to clear it and looked around the room. The Norns were all sitting on the couch again studiously examining their drinks and taking sips from their glasses now and again. Gil looked at the bottle of scotch and did a double take. The bottle was now completely full again and he could swear that they had drunk more than half of it. He also began to worry about the time. This whole thing, he figured, must have taken at least half an hour if not more. “Guys,” he pleaded, “thanks for everything, don’t think I’m not grateful but I’ve gotta get back. Natalie’s gonna be tearing her hair out, getting the men’s room searched and the whole shmear. Have a heart!”
“Oh, don’t worry about that,” said Warren nonchalantly.
“Yeah,” said Loren, “this isn’t real time, you know.”
“Yeah,” agreed Soren, finishing his third (or was it his fourth?) drink. “We’ll have you back there and only a coupla minutes will have passed.”
Then Warren walked over and patted Gil’s shoulder. “Got everything straight, big boy?” he said, looking meaningfully into Gil’s eyes.
“Uh, I think so,” said Gil.
From the couch Loren chimed in. “Oh, and don’t worry about the drinks. What we do in the Remington—”
“Stays in the Remington,” completed Soren.
And with that, Warren motioned to Gil to get up, led him to the door and opened it. As Gil looked at him questioningly he said reassuringly, “Go ahead. Meeting’s adjourned. One step and you’re back.”
Obligingly Gil took a step past the open door and when the mists had cleared again he was six feet from his table at Musso & Frank striding toward it.
“That didn’t take long,” said a relieved Natalie as she noticed his approach. Gil settled himself back into his seat. “I feel great,” he said, and surprisingly he did. His head was now bursting with things he had not even considered before. “Now,” he said, “where’s that goddamn steak?”
From Variety, Monday, June 15, 2004:
FineHall Productions to Air Special Announcement Tomorrow Evening on TCM
Multiple award-winning independent film company FineHall Productions said today that they, in association with the Turner Classic Movie channel, will be making a special announcement of special interest to all cinema lovers. This announcement, according to a spokesperson from TCM, will be made in the form of a 15-minute video which will be broadcast exclusively on TCM tomorrow night at 7:45PM just before its feature movie presentation. This video will be repeated for the following six days at the same time.
The spokesperson from TCM emphasized that since they do not consider this to be a commercial announcement in that no consumer products will be advertised or funds solicited that it would be in accordance with TCM’s non-commercial policy. “We are treating this strictly as a public service announcement,” said the spokesperson.
So folks, watch for it, watch it. What can they possibly have to say?
The following is a transcript of the video.
Establishing shot of Gil and Natalie standing on the narrow apron of a proscenium stage. Directly behind them is a giant badly maintained theatrical movie screen. Its surface contains many rips and discolorations. Gil and Natalie have dressed for the occasion in costumes similar to the ones worn by William Powell and Myrna Loy in their roles as Nick and Nora Charles in the old Thin Man movie series. Gil is wearing a double-breasted pin-striped light brown suit and tie. His hair is cut short and parted in thirties fashion and his usually clean-shaven face now sports a pencil-thin black mustache. Natalie, now sixty-two but still gorgeous for her age, is wearing a dark blue suit with skirt below the knee, lisle stockings, and matching pumps. Around her neck is a simple strand of pearls and her hair is short with tight curls.
Natalie: Hi folks, I’m Natalie Fine, President of FineHall Productions. Welcome to our little video. We have a special announcement that we think will be an exciting one for all true movie lovers out there.
Gil: And I’m Gil Hall, Vice President of FineHall Productions. Right you are Natalie, and particularly those who enjoy their old favorites presented in their original uncut and uninterrupted versions on Turner Classic Movies.
N: And right here we want to say thank you TCM for having us. (turns slightly to look at Gil) And that reminds me. Say Gil, do you remember what it cost movie lovers back in those days to see the tremendously exciting films that they present here on TCM in their original theater releases?
G: Gosh no Nat, that was before my time.
N: Mine too, obviously (here she preens for the camera emphasizing her still-trim figure and youthful appearance). Well, I did some internet research. And did you know that back in the thirties an adult full price was only ten to fifteen cents?
G: (Playfully slapping his cheek in wonderment) Wow. What a deal!
N: And that’s not all. By the end of the fifties the same admission price was only fifty cents or less.
G: That’s amazing, considering what it costs now to go to the movies.
N: Yeah, now it’s up to around ten bucks a person.
G: That is both shameful and shocking.
N: I certainly agree, Gil, and that’s why we’re going to put our money where our movies are, so to speak.
G: (Cupping his hands to his mouth and speaking in a loud voice to the theater in front of him) Sam! How’re you doin’ out there?
Sam: (Voice of sam O.S.) Just fine, Mr. Hall.
G: Do me a favor and do a little panning for the folks out there.
A camera is seen panning various parts of what appears to be a long abandoned art deco movie palace. There are shots of a sagging balcony and many of the seats on the ground floor are missing or in various states of disrepair. The aisles are littered with various bits of paper wrappings, empty paper cups, etc. After about thirty seconds the camera pans back to Gil and Natalie.
N: Gil and I are standing on the stage of what used to be the Roxie Theater located in downtown Los Angeles. It has been closed since 1989 and the owners have indicated that it is still up for sale.
G: We intend to purchase this theater and pay for its complete renovation and restoration to the beautiful classic movie palace that it once was.
N: We hope that this will be the flagship of a nationwide chain of FineHall cinemas which we will purchase or lease long-term and restore.
G: We will staff these theaters with knowledgeable movie-loving employees from the theater manager down to the ushers and concessionaires. They will all be paid by FineHall Productions at a rate equal to or even greater than the industry standard.
N: And here’s the best part. For you cinema lovers the cost of a full-price adult admission will never more than five dollars. With children, students, seniors, and the handicapped tickets going at all times for half-price.
G: And that’s not all. We will be showing old-fashioned weekday matinees from one till five PM consisting of a double feature, cartoons and short films, time permitting. At which all admissions will be two-fifty.
N: And for all you kids and other food lovers our concessions, which will consist only of popcorn, soft drinks and candy, will never be priced at more than two dollars per item.
G: Well, that’s about it, folks. Wish us luck!
N: And now that I see that our time is drawing to a close, there’s only one thing left to say. (cups her hands to her mouth and in loud voice) Hello, Mr. Dorian!
Cut to a shot of Bob Dorian standing in his usual living room set.
Dorian: Hello, Gil and Natalie! I can hear you just fine.
N: All we want to know is, what’s tonight’s movie?
Dorian: Well Natalie, tonight we’re featuring that classic early talkie Queen Christina, filmed in 1932, directed by the late Rouben Mamoulian and starring Greta Garbo and John Gilbert.
N: (Still with hands cupped around mouth) That sounds great, Mr. Dorian. And again, thank you for having us.
Dorian: It’s been our pleasure, Natalie, so stay tuned for the feature presentation following immediately.
N: Take it away, Gil!
G: (Reaches behind him and pulls out an old director’s megaphone, placing it to his lips he calls out) Are you ready, Sam?
Sam: Ready when you are, Mr. Hall!
G: (Still with megaphone) All right then, quiet on the set. Lights!
At this command the soft pleasant amber lighting that has been used throughout the video is augmented by glaring white klieg lights.
G: (Continued) Camera!
The camera swings to a place up on the movie screen above Gil and Natalie’s head.
G: (Continued O.S.) Action!
At this the title and opening credits of Queen Christina are superimposed above Gil and Natalie’s head, then the video head and the video ends.
Gil and Natalie, now dressed in their usual evening attire, are sitting together on a large sofa in the spacious living room of their Mulholland mansion. They are watching the same credits for Queen Christina on a large flat screen TV. Gil has his arm around Natalie’s shoulders and there is a large bowl of popcorn between them. Natalie has a cocktail glass in her left hand and Gil has a highball glass in his right hand.
“So,” Gil says, “I think that went rather well, don’t you, Nat?”
“I sure do,” said Natalie, “and you sure looked funny with that stupid mustache.”
“Yeah,” said Gil, “I know. But for some reason I found I didn’t really want to shave it off.”
“Well,” said Natalie, “I still think you look better without it.”
“You know, Nat,” he said, turning towards her with love obvious in his eyes, “I had no idea you were such a good actor.”
Natalie made a little gesture of humility and said, “Well, I had a good director.” Then she punched him playfully in the shoulder. “Now shut up and let’s watch the movie.”
From the LA Times TV listings, for Friday, October 3, 2008:
12:30AM The Brian O’Connor Late Night Show. Tonight’s guest: Multi-Academy-Award-winning film auteur Gil Hall. Musical guest: Mumford & Sons.
The following is a partial transcript of this show.
Brian is seen just seating himself at his desk as the audience applauds.
B: Thank you, thank you very much, ladies and gentlemen. And now I’d like to bring out my first guest this evening, actually my only guest, the much acclaimed award-winning screenwriter and director, Mr. Gil Hall. Come on out here, Gil!
As the audience applauds enthusiastically Gil enters from stage right. He is dressed in his usual Hollywood casual attire—Hawaiian shirt, soft linen slacks, and oxblood loafers. Over his shirt he wears his lucky brown corduroy jacket unbuttoned. As he enters he flashes his trademark boyish grin and waves at the audience, eliciting loud applause and shouts of approval. As he approaches Brian’s desk he seats himself in a large comfortable armchair just to the right of the desk and facing the audience. Brian makes hand signals to the audience, encouraging them to quiet down.
B: Well Gil—I may call you Gil, may I not?
B: Well Gil, thank you so much for taking the time to be here with us tonight.
G: The pleasure is all mine, Brian. You know, I’m a big fan of your show and I watch it every night when I get a chance.
B: That’s nice to know.
G: But it seems like everybody that comes on your show is there to plug something. A book, a movie, whatever. What’s up with that?
B: Well Gil, what we try to do here is to invite people that are doing something interesting in the entertainment field. I mean, you wouldn’t want to hear some big Hollywood star come on and talk about his dogs just having puppies, would you?
Groans of disapproval from the audience.
G: Well, you’ve got a point there, Brian. But I promised myself before I came on your show that I was going to be different. In fact, I’m not going to plug anything.
B: Well Gil, I’m sorry you feel that way. I guess you’re not really doing anything now, then.
G: Oh yes, Brian, I’m doing something, all right. I mean, it’s a well-known fact in Hollywood that I’m either developing and writing a script or shooting a film based on that script. In fact, the only reason I could be here tonight is that I’ve got a small window between writing and shooting.
B: Oh, so you got a new film then! Why don’t you tell us about it?
G: No, no, I promised I wouldn’t do that.
B: Oh, come on.
With hand gestures Brian encourages audience reaction.
G: Oh, all right. Well, if you must know…
B: Oh we must, we must.
G: Okay then. (abandons all pretense of reticence) It’s a movie about a secret agent who has, unbeknownst to him, an exact double. The secret agent is a tough, no-nonsense heroic man of action. This is set in the seventies during the Cold War. His double is a meek, mild-mannered little bureaucrat that works for the State Department. The story involves the secret agent being discovered by the other side, thus making him go undercover, and of course his double has to take his place. It’s sort of like Moon Over Parador but the characters are more in the mode of Danny Kaye or even Inspector Clouseau. We’re going for that light humorous approach, even though there’s going to be plenty of action, intrigue and exotic locales, replete with beautiful foreign women.
B: Well, that sound terrific, Gil! What’s it called?
G: The working title is I’m Sorry, Have We Met? And for you young women in the audience my lovely wife Natalie, who is also my long-time producer, has managed to sign that young heartthrob Jack Gillison.
Screams of delight from many young women in the audience and not a few men.
B: That sounds wonderful indeed, Gil. How long do we have to wait to see this masterpiece?
G: Filming starts in a couple of weeks, but due to a lot of travel and set-up we probably won’t be able to get it into theaters until the middle of next summer. But we’ll let you know.
B: Okay then. Say Gil, you’re talking about Jack Gillison makes me think, doesn’t he have a father that’s in the business? It seems like I remember…I think he was a director back in the nineties if I’m not mistaken. Whatever happened to him anyway?
G: You’re probably talking about Steve Gillison. Steve and I go back a long way. We’re both members of the DGA—that’s the Directors Guild you know—and we’ve had him over to the house many times in the past. Him, his wife Norma, and of course Jack and his older sister Megan. Natalie and I have known them since their kids were teenagers back in the nineties. And Jack, as you may recall, was nominated for Best Actor a couple years ago for his sensitive portrayal in that great film Heartbreak Hill. In fact, that’s why we signed Jack for this picture. We feel he has great emotional depth as well as a light comic flair.
B: But getting back to his father Steve. You’d think with his son’s fame and all he’d be more in the news. How come we haven’t heard much about him?
G: Well Brian, I don’t want to spread any Hollywood rumors. But from what I understand both from talking to Steve at DGA meetings since and from the general talk, something happened to him back in the mid-nineties that caused him to fall out of favor in Hollywood. I was having my own problems at the time, so I didn’t’ really get the whole story. But I think Steve is working mostly in television now and he seems very reluctant to talk about anything the few times I’ve seen him in the past several years. In fact, the family started refusing our dinner invitations back a few years ago, and when I ask Steve if there’s anything wrong he just laughs nervously and says to the effect of no, no, everything’s fine, just took a different career move, that’s all. So Brian, I really don’t know much more than you do.
B: Well, that’s very interesting, Gil, and I’m sure we’ll all be looking forward to your next film. That was, I’m Sorry Have We Met? Probably opening at theaters next summer, am I right?
G: That’s right, Brian. But in the words of Arlo Guthrie, that’s not what I came to talk about.
B: (Raises eyebrows) Oh?
He puts hand to ear and turns head toward backstage.
B: (Continued) I’m sorry, Gil, my producer is signaling that we have to take a break here and pay some bills. Okay folks, we’ll be right back with legendary filmmaker Gil Hall and hopefully what he really wants to talk about, right after this.
There follows several minutes of commercials. Then applause, which dies down.
B: Okay folks, we’re back and I’m talking to multi-talented, multi-award-winning filmmaker Gil Hall. So Gil, right before we went on break you said you had something else you wanted to talk about.
G: That’s right, Brian. What I want to talk about is—and this is in all seriousness folks—the encroaching digitization of the film industry. Many of my fellow moviemakers and directors don’t like the digital filming process, they say it conveys too much information, and in digital all information is equal, and that’s what you get on the screen. It’s like nothing you intended. So I, together with a few of my like-minded colleagues, have formed a group to fight this encroaching digitization and keep movies filmed the old way—on celluloid, as God intended.
B: Gil, I don’t really know much about this but I’m willing to take your word. Could you explain it to us a little more?
G: In order to do that, Brian, I’d like to bring out on stage here some of my colleagues who have joined me in this protest group. We’re calling the group Celluloid Heroes of America and in a few minutes, if Brian will be so kind as to let us, we’ll tell you people out there in the audience and at home how you can join and get involved in this very important issue.
B: Okay Gil, I think I speak for us all when I say we’re all ears. And who are these mystery guests?
In answer Gil gets up from his chair abruptly and walks toward the stage right exit, returning immediately with four men trailing him. As Gil reseats himself it his chair the four men make themselves comfortable on a large adjoining couch. As the four seat themselves there are the beginnings of cries of recognition from the audience.
G: Let me introduce these people to you in order. First we have famed director Ford Copley. You may remember him from such films as The Family Saga and Imminent Armageddon. Stand up Ford and take a bow.
Copley does so modestly then sits back down.
G: (Continued) Next we have another great director, Marlon Cortessi. You may remember him from such films as Cruel Alleys and The Cabbie.
Cortessi stands up, grins, waves to the crowd, and sits back down again to much applause.
G: (Continued) Next we have the ultimate indie producer and a very good friend of mine and my mentor, Rod Gorman.
Gorman stands up with great difficultly as he is by now quite old but manages to wave to the crowd.
G: (Continued) Last we have a relative newcomer to directing but someone whose ingenuity and style is immediately recognized by audiences all over the world. Will you stand up please, Benson Farantino. Benson first exploded into our consciousness with the now-classic Dime Novel and followed up with the enigmatic Chill Will.
Farantino bounds up from his seat and clasps his hands over his head and waves them like a victorious prizefighter while grinning at the crowd.
Tarantino: Right on, people! All power to the celluloid!
There are howls of approval at this and much laughter.
G: (Continues) These four guys, among many others in Hollywood, are banding together with me in this important cause. In just a moment we’ll tell you out there in the audience and at home what you can do to join us.
He turns to the four seated.
G: (Continues) Anything you want to say, fellas?
They stand up together.
Ford: Don’t take the filming process out of our hands and give it to the editors. Keep films on celluloid.
Cortessi: Not only that, it’s going to be financially difficult for theater owners and managers to convert to the new way of projecting these so-called films.
Gorman: I’ve been doing movies for a long time now and if for no other reason I have a sentimental attachment to celluloid.
Farantino: So folks, won’t you join us in this fight to keep movies celluloid?
All: What CDs do to vinyl records the digital process will do to movies.
Gorman, Farantino, Cortessi and Ford link arms and exit the way they entered, leaving Gil and Brian alone on stage.
G: Well Brian, what do you think?
B: Well Gil, you’ve sold me.
G: Good. That’s what I like to hear. And now, if you’ll let me take up a few minutes of your program’s time, I would like to address the audience directly both here and at home.
B: Go ahead, Gil. I think we have about five minutes until the next commercial break.
Close up on Gil.
G: Here’s how you folks can join. Simply go to our website, celluloidheroes dot com, and all the information on how to apply will appear, in addition to information about upcoming presentations at FineHall Cinemas and related industry news. If you wish to join, click on Membership. It will give you the very simple membership application. All you do is print it out, fill it out, and mail it to the address given on the website. Remember, there is absolutely no fee or obligation for joining. You will receive your membership card in the mail within three to five business days upon receipt of your application.
Gil reaches into jacket pocket and pulls out a small card; he turns to Brian.
G: (Continued) Can we get a close up here?
Close up on small card—slightly larger than a business card— which Gil is holding up.
G: (Continued off-screen) As you can see, the card simply says Celluloid Heroes, and below it a line on which you can print or write your name. You will notice that around the borders of the card are little squares representing the months of the year. Your membership is good for one year, renewable anytime for no fee whatsoever. Now, here are just some of the benefits of joining our little club. As you may or may not know, in the last few years our production company FineHall Productions has initiated a program of purchasing or leasing grand old movie palaces around the country that have been abandoned and fallen into disrepair. We are constantly in the process of renovating these theaters and we are offering for all club members one free admission per month for every member including any children or household resident over the age of five. This will include free attendance at a FineHall Cinema of your choice and one trip to the concession stand for half-price concessions. But let me caution you that in order to take full advantage you must attend every month. In other words, if you don’t go in September, you can’t go twice in October. In this way we hope to encourage people not only to see only celluloid films but to attend movie theaters regularly as an integral part of their social lives.
Camera pulls away from card.
B: That’s a great idea Gil, and a fantastic offer. By the way, I was going to ask you anyway, how is that thing with the cinemas going?
G: I’m glad you asked me that, Brian. In the last few years since we started we have acquired seven or eight cinemas scattered around the country. We have I think two here in Los Angeles and so far also in San Francisco, New York, Philadelphia, and Boston. We currently have theaters undergoing renovation in Seattle and Chicago and are negotiating for several more. By the end of this year we hope to have at least a dozen up and running. For you small town members of the audience we apologize, we’ll get to you sooner or later. But for now it’s only good business sense to concentrate on the bigger markets. The only way that a low-cost venture such as ours can make it is through high volume.
B: And your theaters are all doing well?
G: So far. Frankly, I’m amazed. I thought FineHall Productions would have to pump a lot of money into the maintenance and operation of these theaters but the idea seems to be catching on so well that nearly all of them seem to be turning a profit after their first three months of operation.
B: Well, that’s great to know, Gil. But getting back to Celluloid Heroes, you definitely sold me. Can I become a member without going to your website?
G: Of course.
He digs in his jacket pocket and brings out a sheaf of cards; hands one to Brian.
G: (Continued) How would you like to become the first member of Celluloid Heroes?
B: (With mock over-excitement) Oh boy!
G: Here’s all you have to do. Recite after me the Celluloid Heroes pledge. Raise your right hand.
Brian raises hand.
B: I’m ready.
G: I, state your name…
B: I, state your name…
(Laughs along with audience)
B: (Continued) Sorry Gil, I couldn’t resist. (more seriously) I, Brian O’ Connor…
G: …do hereby promise and swear…
B: …do hereby promise and swear…
G: …to attend only first-run theaters or retrospectives featuring films on celluloid…
B: …to attend only first-run theaters or retrospectives featuring films on celluloid…
G: …foresaking all digital enticements…
B: …foresaking all digital enticements…
G: …so help me, deity of your choice.
B: …so help me, deity of your choice.
In response Gil grins and holds up his right hand toward Brian, thumb and forefinger bent into a semi-circle, so that to Brian it forms the letter C. Brian responds in kind.
G: You are now the first member of Celluloid Heroes. I have a few hundred cards with me. And if you wish to stick around after the show I will be glad to sign up as many of you as wish to join.
B: Okay Gil, thanks for that inspiring talk and this great offer. Always great to see you—
(Gil rises and they shake hands)
B: (Continued) I see that’s about all the time we have. So folks, don’t go away. Stay tuned for our talented musical guests Mumford and Sons.
He flashes the C sign at Gil who grins, returns it, and exits to great applause.
From the Hollywood Reporter, June 10, 2010:
As reported earlier, several days ago multi-award-winning filmmaker Gil Hall wowed the UCLA Film School graduating class in his inspiring speech by unveiling a bold new program he called the Hallway Foundation.
This he defined as “a means for specifically young novice filmmakers to get their scripts read and if found worthy their potential productions financed.” Hall went on to say that upon script approval the foundation that he is organizing (which he claims would be completely independent and financed by FineHall Productions and FineHall Cinemas) would give a potential filmmaker a grant of up to five million dollars upon script approval and other considerations (see Hall’s website HallwayFund.com for further details).
This announcement, sprung on Hollywood as it were out of the blue, has caused a firestorm of controversy which has enveloped the entire moviemaking industry. Comments have ranged from the head of NPR who said, “It’s about time somebody did something to encourage young independent filmmakers in this country, so that they won’t have to go to and be influenced by the corrupt Hollywood system.” While the head of Paramount was quoted as saying, “Who ever heard of such a thing? A production company financing other people’s productions? This time Hall has gone too far. I hope he loses his shirt.”
In the latest development one of our intrepid reporters Bambi Takanawa was able to track down Natalie Fine at her Hollywood Hills mansion. Ms. Fine of course is longtime head and president of FineHall Productions and producer, scriptwriter and wife of Gil Hall. She had this to say to our reporter:
“I’m extremely happy to talk to a representative from a legitimate Hollywood journal, Ms. Takanawa. You have no idea how many of the tabloids and other gossip rags have been sniffing around here trying to get a hint of some kind of rift or split in my relationship with Gil. After all, we’ve been a private and professional team for well over thirty years, and they ought to know that neither of us, Gil nor I, do anything without the other’s full consent and support. Let me make this even clearer: I want to go on record as saying I support Gil in this new enterprise of his one hundred percent. We both felt that it’s about time for somebody to do something about both the mediocrity and the expense of traditional films today. We both feel that a filmmaker today does not need a fifty-to-one-hundred-million-dollar budget to make a mediocre film that has to be forced down the throats of the viewing public by means of a heavy-handed publicity blitz designed to drag unsuspecting people into overpriced theaters to watch films the quality of which they could get better on Netflix.”
Ms. Fine went on to say that she, while not being directly involved in the administration of the HallWay Foundation, would nonetheless be, as she put it, one of the many script readers necessary to handle the expected high volume of scripts that have begun pouring in ever since Gil’s announcement was made public. “I will continue to do what I do best, and that is to continue to produce our movies while still writing the occasional script. After all,” she joked, “I’m not getting any younger.”
August 21, 2010
Once again Gil was hurtling down Mulholland Drive, being half and hour late for his appointment with a would-be filmmaker who, according to his vast army of script readers, had actually written something it sounded worthwhile to produce. Fortunately he had a car that would make up some time. He had reluctantly retired his beloved ’56 T-bird some years back and was now driving that epitome of all muscle cars, a powerful silver 1958 Corvette Stingray.
Within minutes he had emerged onto Hollywood Boulevard and was making the left turn onto Wilcox only a block from his office building on Sunset. Three years ago, seeing the need for expansion, FineHall Productions had purchased the entire building and they had just finished overseeing the conversion of the bottom half-dozen floors into a parking garage and an extremely high-ceilinged warren of costume shops, production shops, set construction areas, equipment storage, and what-have-you. FineHall Productions and its several affiliate companies now occupied offices from the ninth floor up to the fifteenth, with the upper part of the building being reserved for such helpful tenant companies as various legal firms, casting and talent agencies, and a huge commissary on the top floor.
Gil screeched into the parking garage, narrowly missing a parked Mercedes and then a BMW and finally careening to a halt in his private parking space. Bypassing the lobby was easy since he had installed an elevator in the parking garage itself, which would take him up to the fifteenth floor where the HallWay Foundation had its offices.
Emerging from the elevator he walked through the reception area, giving quick but friendly nods and brief greetings to his office manager, Ms. Chen, and her various assistants before striding quickly down the hall to his private office.
Though he was now just over sixty and running to fat, he still dressed in the same manner as he had for the last twenty years or so, the only difference being his thinning, now gray hair, the rather more expansive waistline on his trousers, and the latest in a succession of many clones of his original lucky brown corduroy jacket. He still, he reminded himself with a quick glance into the mirrored walls along the hallway, had retained his disarmingly boyish grin.
Opening the door to his private office with his even more private numeric code which he entered into the adjoining keypad, he strode over to his desk, sat down and picked up the cordless phone from its stand.
“Gil here,” he announced. “Would you please bring in the Hickson script and contract.” Within two minutes after he had replaced the phone, a young woman strode in and without comment placed the requested items on his desk. Turning in his executive chair to face her, he flashed the aforementioned famous boyish grin and said, “Thank you Emily, and may I say you’re looking extremely lovely today.”
The young woman (who really did look very lovely indeed) suppressed a chuckle and replied, “Of course you can, Mr. Hall, you’re the boss, aren’t you?” Then in a more businesslike voice, “Will there be anything else, sir?”
“No,” he replied, looking at his solid gold Rolex, “unless you allow me to take you to lunch in—oh, let’s say in about an hour?”
Now it was her turn to flash a very appealing grin. “As you wish, sir. You know where to find me.” And with that she turned on her heel and briskly went through the door to the production office located behind Gil’s private one.
He picked up the phone again and pressed a button. “Ms. Chen? Has Mr. Hickson arrived yet? Ah, good. Show him right in, will you?” Within a few minutes there was a knock at Gil’s door. Pressing a button underneath his desk, he caused the door to swing open and a young man with rather unruly brown hair entered tentatively, the door closing automatically behind him. He stood in the middle of the office looking around nervously but Gil, sensing the young man’s discomfort, sought to put him at his ease by grinning at him and coming around from behind his desk, his open hand outstretched. “Mr. Hickson,” he beamed. “Arnold, isn’t it?” As the young man nodded slightly, Gil grasped his hand firmly and shook it. “So very glad to meet you. Please.” He indicated a plush chair in front of his desk with his left hand. “Have a seat and let’s get acquainted.” Gil then resumed his place behind his desk and picked up the script. “I’ve heard some very good things about this screenplay of yours,” he said, riffling through the pages. “Everyone who’s read it—and that’s probably at least half a dozen of my staff—thought very highly indeed of its potential as one of the more thoughtful movies we’ve come across. So before we get down to business, why don’t you tell me a little bit about yourself and the script and how you came to write it.”
“Okay,” said the young man, finally overcoming his nervousness and finding himself able to speak with only a slight stammer. “First of all Mr. Hall, let me say that I’m a big fan of your movies. I’ve seen everything you’ve done in the last fifteen years, most of them at least twice, and I think you’re the best filmmaker to come along probably since Scorsese.”
“That’s very kind of you to say,” said Gil. “But let’s skip the soft soap, shall we? After all, we’re here to discuss your movie, not mine.”
“Okay, sure, well, as you probably know… You have read the script yourself, haven’t you?”
“Well, I sort of skimmed it, just enough to get an idea,” Gil admitted. “So why don’t you just tell me about it?”
“Well, as you can see, it’s called—at least this is the working title—The Chessmaster of Tompkins Square. It’s about a bunch of really disparate people all living on the cheap in New York’s East Village in the early 80s—you know, just before gentrification?”
“Yeah,” Gil agreed. “I heard about that. My wife would know more about that, she’s from New York originally. Although she had really rich parents and lived on the Upper West Side and she moved out here in the early seventies. Back in the sixties though she was a social worker in Manhattan and probably knew the area. I’ll have to ask her.”
“Oh, that’s good. Well anyway, it’s mainly about these old guys—Ukrainian guys I think they were—that used to sit out there in Tompkins Square Park just drinking, smoking and playing endless games of chess. I’ve done my research and from what I understand, at one end of the park they had these stone tables with benches—you know, sort of like small picnic tables—that had squares of actual chessboards painted on the surfaces. So all these old guys had to do was bring over a bag filled with those cheap plastic chess men and plenty of vodka and cigarettes and they were set for the day. But—“ He held up a hand to Gil who seemed about to comment— “that’s not the whole picture. It’s about a lot more than that. The old guys in the park are just sort of, you know, symbolic of the times. It’s really about all of the different kinds of men and women who lived there during that time, people from all kinds of different cultures, from all over the world, all getting along together because, well, everybody was kind of poor, you know?”
“Yeah,” said Gil, “I get the picture. Sounds fascinating. So, how did you think up something like this as a basis for a movie? I understand that you are a beginning filmmaker and this would be your actual first full-length production. Am I right?”
“You’re right,” admitted Hickson. “But let me tell you a little bit about myself. I’m from Council Bluffs, Iowa, and I was fortunate enough to be able to attend the film program at Northwestern on a scholarship based on a short film I did in my backyard in high school. I just graduated from Northwestern a couple of years ago. I’m twenty-five now but ever since I was a kid I’ve been inspired to make something like your first Oscar winner, Water Over the Bridge. You know, a bunch of people coming together and helping each other.”
“Okay,” said Gil, “I’ll buy that. But why Tompkins Square Park? Why the early eighties? Let’s see, you’re twenty-five, that means you weren’t even born until about eighty-five.”
“Yeah,” agreed Hickson. “But this is the interesting part. You see, my grandfather on my mother’s side was an actual Ukrainian immigrant. We came over from the old country not long after World War Two and he lived in the East Village for over thirty years until gentrification drove him out. And one of my favorite childhood remembrances is when I was a young kid in the mid-nineties. My grandfather was very old at the time, probably about seventy–five or so, but we never discussed it. Anyway, I used to visit for a couple of weeks in the summer when I was, you know, nine or ten or so. At that time he had moved to a cheap two-room apartment in Long Island City in Queens, just across the river from midtown Manhattan. I remember sleeping on his couch and eating all kinds of great sausages he bought from the local pork butcher. So he used to tell me these fascinating stories about his life in the East Village and all of his friends—and I’m including as a climax to the picture the Tompkins Square riots of the late eighties, when they were driving out all the old, what they called disreputable people, you know, people dealing drugs and just hanging out and drinking, that sort of thing didn’t sit well with the yuppies who were moving into the neighborhood in droves. So they apparently got the cops to come in and roust all the old guys and make the park safe for this new wave of young rich kids. I think it’ll make a terrific movie.”
“Okay,” said Gil, putting down the script he hadn’t really been looking at anyway, and began to focus his attention on the contract, one copy of which he handed to Hickson. Then he said, “All right, let’s get down to business. First of all, let me say that what we’re trying to do here at the HallWay Foundation is to encourage more movies about average ordinary people. You know, no gimmicks, no superheroes, that sort of thing. And I think your script qualifies. But let’s go over a few points, shall we?”
“Okay by me,” said Hickson. “You’re the boss.”
Gil looked up and grinned. “Seems like I’ve heard that somewhere before.” A dreamy look came into his eyes which he quickly shook off. Then he said in a more serious tone, “All right. Section one is basically the script guidelines. Let’s go over the checklist. One: you wrote this script yourself. You didn’t adapt it from anything or have any substantial help on this script that would require you to either compensate somebody or compromise the script in any way?”
“Nope,” Hickson responded. “I wrote it myself. My only collaborator—if you want to call him that—was my grandfather, and he died about ten years ago. So, no problem there.”
“Good. Now also, it’s a straight narrative. No fancy flashbacks or memory scenes that would interrupt the linear flow of the film?”
“Nope,” Hickson responded once again. “Straight through, beginning to end.”
“Good. And, considering your subject matter, I guess I don’t have to ask if you’re considering digital. You know, CGI, 3D, any of that crap.”
“You must be kidding me, Mr. Hall,” Hickson grinned. “After all, I’m a card-carrying Celluloid Hero.”
“Good for you,” said Gil also grinning. “Let’s move on to section two. What we can do for you. First of all, how are you set for actors and technical people, and are you planning to direct yourself?” Because we can offer you help and even production facilities, if you want to go that way, and it will be taken out of your film budget at what are considered normal rates. Okay with that?”
Hickson frowned in concentration. “I think I’ve got that covered,” he said, “but I’ll let you know when we start production.”
“Sure,” said Gil. “Now as far as the money goes, are you ready to begin production within six weeks of receiving the necessary funds and willing to set a completion date of six months from the initial filming?”
“Sure,” answered Hickson. “I don’t think it’ll take even that long.”
“Okay. Now, on completion of the film, we reserve the right to show your film in FineHall Cinemas and in their affiliates—that is, theaters not directly owned by FineHall but agreeing to the same policy. We will exhibit for thirty days minimum in all of said theaters, with an option to extend if it proves to be quite popular. After that, you may independently arrange any further distribution that suits you. Understood?”
“I have no problem with that.”
“Okay, now we get to section three, the financial part. First of all, if we give you the budget that you applied for, do you have any other or are you considering getting any other additional financing from any other source?”
“No.” Hickson shook his head firmly. “That’s why I put in a request for that amount of money. I don’t want anybody to use money as a reason to make changes in anything in my script.”
“Good for you,” said Gil, “and that brings me to something I forgot to cover. I don’t think it will be a problem. But there is a clause in the contract that says if your script is changed in any substantial way during filming, if we at HallWay disapprove of these changes, we have the right to cancel this agreement.”
“Don’t worry about that,” said Hickson. “This is my baby, my firstborn. I labored over this script for over a year before I got it the way I want it.”
“All right. Finally, money. You’re asking for 250 thousand, right?”
“Yeah, I think that will cover it.”
“Does that cover location shooting?”
“Well, sort of. To tell you the truth, I’ve been kind of vacillating on that. I mean, I live out here now. Do I want to go all the way to New York to film, or just recreate the scenes in some park around here?”
“Let me give you some advice,” said Gil, looking him directly in the eye. “When you’re doing a historical film, don’t skimp on location shooting. Noting looks cheesier than pretending that someplace is another place. You can get away with that for interiors, but it sounds like the park is gonna be your main scene. Am I right?”
“Well yeah,” Hickson said, considering it. “I guess it really should be, huh?”
“Tell you what,” said Gil. “We’re willing to up the figure to half a mil. Just do me a favor. Don’t skimp. Pay your actors and crew what they deserve. And do as much as you can to make your film look period authentic. Okay?”
Hickson looked a bit stunned but managed to reply, “Yeah, I see what you’re saying, Mr. Hall. Sure. I’ll do that. You know,” he grinned, “you’re the first guy I’ve negotiated with that wanted to give me more, not less.”
“Well,” Gil brushed it aside, “that’s what we’re here for, isn’t it? Now here’s what’s going to happen. In fifteen minutes, if you don’t mind waiting, you will have in your hand a certified check for 500,000 dollars. It will be made out to you. Is that acceptable?”
“Gosh yes,” replied Hickson, still stunned. “I don’t know what to say.”
“Well, good. Now, here’s the final part of our agreement. Are you ready? You’ve got the half mil, right? You can use it all in the production of your film now. When the film is shown we are going to keep records of how much business it generates and we expect you to do the same after the initial thirty-day period with wherever you take the film next. You owe us nothing until you make back the five hundred thousand. Beyond that, you owe us twenty-five percent of the profits.” He grinned. “And no creative accounting, okay?”
“Absolutely,” agreed Hickson. “With a deal like that, I’d have to be stupid to try to cheat.”
“Great,” said Gil. “Then why don’t you read the contract over and then, as they say, sign on the dotted line? I’ll do the same and then I’ll call accounting and you’ll have your check in fifteen minutes.”
Twelve and a half minutes later Gil and Hickson were standing at the office door shaking hands and then Hickson walked out of the office, a half-million dollar check in his pocket, whistling a happy tune.
Satisfied, Gil walked over to his desk, picked up the phone and pressed a button. “Emily my dear,” he said, “how about that lunch date?”
January 1, 2011
Gil and Natalie were relaxing on the heated patio of their Mulholland mansion, doing the requisite post-mortem on the previous night’s big blowout. It was about two in the afternoon and the sun, although shining brightly, had been unable to advance the temperature beyond the mid-fifties; hence the patio heaters had been turned on, allowing the celebrated couple to sprawl comfortably on the patio chaise lounge while wearing only the skimpiest of attire. They had opted for hair of the dog in lieu of breakfast, the evidence of which was a large half-empty pitcher of bloody marys sitting on a table place conveniently between them.
The party had been both energetic and loud, so loud that Mrs. Sibolboro, who was now well into her sixties and beyond her partying years, had needed her super-strength earplugs to be able to ignore the whole affair. Consequently she slept soundly and had arisen at the usual time, marching downstairs at eight o’clock in the morning, only to view the wreckage of the party complete with a few still-sprawled bodies here and there. At this she had thrown up her hands, muttered a few appropriate curses in Tagalog, and had taken herself promptly back up the stairs and retreated to her room where she commenced with her usual form of entertainment, watching Filipino soap operas on satellite TV.
Gil and Natalie needless to say had slept through all this themselves, not arising until about an hour ago when the scheduled cleanup crew had shown up and began making it impossible for them to sleep anymore, which is why they had removed themselves to the patio.
“Man,” remarked Gil, “that was some party last night, wasn’t it?”
“That’s putting it mildly,” returned his wife, taking a healthy slug of bloody mary then continuing, “You know, there must have been at least two hundred people here at one point.”
“Yeah,” said Gil, “how do you figure that? Did you go around and count them?”
“No, I asked Marty. He was filming the whole thing, you know, and that was his count. He’s usually pretty good at that sort of thing so I believe him.” She gave a chuckle. “You know, I thought I’d plotz when Bob pushed Julia into the pool.”
“Yeah,” said Gil. “You know, I’ve never seen George that drunk. He would insist on reciting dirty limericks at the top of his lungs. Until we had to lock him in a closet to get him to stop.”
“And wasn’t it a scream when Jack got himself up in drag and teamed up with Megan for a rendition of ‘Sisters’?”
“Yeah,” agreed Gil. “I told him I had a part for him in my next movie if he wanted to go female. But alas, he turned me down.”
And so they continued to reminisce while the sun passed over them and began to sink towards the western horizon and the pitcher of bloody marys was emptied and replaced by a pitcher of margaritas and the cleanup crew continued to make the interior of the house presentable once more and Mrs. Sibolboro made continued use of her earplugs and thus was peace and harmony was restored in the mansion on Mulholland Drive.
And this set the tone for the ensuing decade. Relishing their roles as Hollywood’s premiere power couple, Gil and Natalie continued to make movies which were both critically acclaimed and award winning, to say nothing of their worldwide popularity. The Celluloid Heroes movement continued to grow and flourish, with more and more filmmakers returning to hands-on—rather than technological—moviemaking; FineHall cinemas continued to sprout like mushrooms from coast to coast, numbering over a hundred by decade’s end; the HallWay Foundation continued to grant large amounts of money to deserving filmmakers, thus creating for movie audiences everywhere an alternative to the increasingly mediocre Hollywood studio shlock.
Gil and Natalie meanwhile had never had so much fun. Even though he was over sixty and she had turned seventy in the waning months of 2011, they nonetheless lived life to the hilt. They gave outrageous sums of money to the most unlikely causes, thus creating more and more for themselves, while at the same time doing some real good such as the jaded denizens of Hollywood had rarely seen. They took the opportunity to travel the world and everywhere they went they met knowledgeable fans of their films, who were only too happy to provide them with the best in lodging, food and drink in return for publicity photos and videos of themselves with or without the most popular movie stars of the day. They gave outrageous parties while at home, causing a local critic to remark that the parties were more lavish than Gatsby’s and that the couple were zanier than Scott and Zelda.
As Mrs. Sibolboro approached seventy, Gil and Natalie graciously allowed her to retire. They bought her a lovely house in Brentwood and endowed her with a lifetime pension. This having been done, Natalie went out and replaced her by buying a catering company which she renamed Mulholland Caterers, thus the entertainment problem was taken care of. And as the couple aged, for them it was truly a golden era. Until…
Cedars-Sinai Hospital, February 4, 2020
It was cold and raining in Los Angeles and Gil’s mood and expression matched the weather as he settled himself into a chair in front of the desk of Dr. Saeeda Patel, head of the hospitals’ oncology department.
Neither spoke for a few moments; then Dr. Patel said in a strong but hesitant voice, “Well Mr. Hall, thank you for coming in. I’m afraid it is what we suspected. The cancer has progressed beyond her liver now and is attacking other surrounding organs, most notably the pancreas and the gall bladder. I see at this point no reason to continue either chemotherapy or radiation therapy. In our collective opinion they would only buy her maybe three more months at the outside and increase her pain and discomfort greatly, to say nothing of the inconvenience. Do you have any questions, Mr. Hall?”
Gil’s answer was slow and toneless. “No doctor, I think we all know what she’s facing here.”
Dr. Patel waited for him to continue but since he didn’t she said, “I personally believe that your best option is, since you obviously can afford it, to let her live out her remaining time at home as comfortably as possible. This will require hiring a live-in nurse and caretaker. We will be glad to recommend some qualified people and you will be free to choose from among them. His or her duties will include, beyond monitoring the patient’s condition, regulating such things as diet and medication and making her as comfortable as possible. Is she in much pain?”
Gil spread his hands and replied, “She says not, but a husband can tell. So far she seems to be taking it pretty well.”
“That’s good,” said Dr. Patel. “What I’m going to do is to write her an unlimited prescription for a morphine drip and some other medications. I will instruct the nurse to give her what she wants, as much as she wants. At this point I don’t think we have to worry about addiction.”
“That’s good of you, doctor,” said Gil. Then rousing himself he continued in a slightly more animated voice, “Did you relay my request to the administrative office to meet with someone about endowing the hospital?”
“Yes,” she said, “and they assured me that the proper official would be glad to meet with you at your convenience.”
“Great,” said Gil. “I want to endow a new wing to the hospital to be called the Natalie Fine Cancer Research and Treatment Center. If that’s acceptable.”
“I see no problem there,” said Dr. Patel, “and it’s very good of you. But the administrator will be able to give you more information on how to make this a reality.”
Then she grinned for the first time, somewhat sheepishly and continued in a voice that was almost a little girl’s, “I know this is not the most appropriate time, Mr. Hall, but since we may not see each other again, I have to confess that I’ve been a huge fan of your movies and I feel somewhat somewhat stupid about it, but can I have your autograph?” At the same time she proferred a leather–bound book and gold pen.
“I’d be glad to,” said Gil, taking the book and the pen and writing in it, “To Dr. Saaeda Patel, thank you for everything and especially for your kind consideration at this difficult time. Yours always, Gil Hall.” Then he returned the book and pen to her and, as if deciding something on the spur of the moment, reached into his raincoat pocket and pulled out a small plastic card. Handing it to her he said, “I’m giving you a lifetime pass which will get you and a companion into any FineHall cinema nationwide, anytime you want to see a good movie.”
“Wow,” she said, now sounding totally like a teenager. “That is so cool. Wait until I tell the members of my staff. Will they be jealous!”
“I figure it’s the least I can do,” said Gil. “Thank you so much for your attention to my wife’s case and meeting with me in person. I guess I only have one question. It’s the usual one I guess. About how long?”
Dr. Patel shook her head. “It’s so hard to say in these cases. Sometimes the cancer speeds up, sometimes it slows down. But based on my experience and personal observation of this case, I would say maybe a year to a year and a half.”
“Okay,” said Gil, “thank you for being so frank with me.”
“I wish I could say my pleasure but I’ll just say I think that it’s no more than you deserve considering your position and your long marriage.”
There was nothing more to say really, and as they both stood up Gil solemnly shook her hand, then turned and left the office.
On the way home because of the pouring rain Gil’s driving was slow and careful. He was obviously on automatic pilot, his mind a million miles away. He had taken the gray Mercedes town car instead of his Corvette as he simply didn’t feel all that sporty today.
Arriving home back on Mulholland Drive, he parked the car in the garage and entered the house. Pausing only to toss his wet raincoat onto a nearby kitchen chair, he went directly upstairs to Natalie’s room.
She was stretched out on her bed, lying on her back, and looking more like some famine victim than the famous Hollywood screenwriter and producer that she had been for over forty years. She was fast asleep and breathing irregularly through her mouth in little snorts.
Gil quietly walked over to her bed and, brushing back the now snow-white curls, kissed her lightly on her damp forehead, eliciting only a few low moans but no other response. Shaking his head, he turned and left the room without a word, quietly closing the door behind him.
He went slowly down the stairs and back through the hallway to the cavernous living room, in one corner of which was located a well-stocked wet bar. Decisively he strode over to it, grabbed a fresh bottle of twelve year-old single malt and a heavy crystal old-fashioned glass. Bending down, he filled the glass with ice cubes from the bar’s mini fridge, then straightened up and poured himself a generous double, topping it off with a splash of seltzer from an antique siphon he had bought at some Hollywood auction or other, he couldn’t remember where. He then took the drink over to a leather upholstered armchair and sat down and placed the drink on a convenient end table. The chair faced a large picture window and its drapes were wide open as they always were to capture the maximum amount of sunlight. The window faced south and on sunny days afforded a fantastic view of Hollywood down below, but today the view was only gray. Gil sat there staring out the window looking through the raindrops but seeing nothing, while the ice in his drink slowly melted.
After about twenty minutes his eyes regained their focus and he stared at his drink as if seeing it for the first time. He now knew what he had to do. Picking up the drink he drained it in three quick gulps, including the now nearly melted ice, and quickly put the glass back on the end table.
Standing up, he strode briskly out of the living room and down the hall until he reached his office. Going inside, he shut and locked the door, then turned on his old-fashioned desktop computer. Within a few minutes he had accessed the online New York Times of the previous Sunday, the Arts & Leisure section. Scanning it, he quickly found the information he wanted—the Broadway revival of Tennessee Williams’ classic, The Rose Tattoo. There was a website listed for the production and he clicked on that, discovering that the play was due to complete its run by the end of April. Then he picked up one of the many mobile phones he had stashed in various places around the house and punched in a familiar but long unused number.
“Hello”, he said, “I’m glad I caught you. This is Gil. No, don’t ask. Listen Rosie, I really need a favor.”
May 12, 2021
“Okay Max, you can bring her down now,” Gil said over the house intercom, then stood at the screening room door and watched as Max, the giant six-foot-six Ukrainian appeared at the top of the stairs with Natalie cradled in his arms like a small child.
Max had been her live-in nurse and constant companion for more than a year now and they had gotten on famously. Max was, of course, not his real name. His real name was Valery Zoshchenko and he had been born in Los Angeles of Ukrainian parents who had seized the opportunity presented by the fall of the Soviet Union to flee the country and talk their way into resident US visas. Thus Valery—or Max—had been legal since he had been born on American soil.
Max was called Max and not Valery because Natalie had been so impressed with his hugeness and his devoted tenderness that she had named him for Norma Desmond’s ex-husband/director-turned-faithful manservant in Billy Wilder’s classic film Sunset Boulevard.
So when Natalie was up to it Max often read to her or simply talked about his experiences growing up, as well as skillfully managing her constant medication and physical care. The fact that they openly flirted with one another, sometimes using language that would make D.H. Lawrence blush, was no secret from Gil. In fact he heartily approved, for as Max was known to remark, It is a simple thing and brings the roses to her cheeks, does it not? And Gil had to agree.
Gil however had been mysteriously absent for most of the previous year beginning in the summer. He reappeared briefly for a few weeks during the holidays and assured Natalie that everything was all right, he was just attending to their vast business empire. But now for the past two or three months he had been in constant attendance. They all knew that each time the sun rose over another beautiful Southern California day that the day was one day closer. This however was not discussed or even hinted at for there was really nothing left to say.
Now, as Gil watched Max come slowly and carefully down the stairs and as he approached the screening room, Gil stood aside and said, “Put her on the couch down front, will you, Max?”
Max nodded his head, complied, then returned to Gil. In a low voice he said, “I have given her as much morphine and as many amphetamines as she can handle. She should be relatively pain-free and lucid for awhile, but I can only guarantee you a couple hours.” Then he shook his finger in admonition at Gil. “I would not recommend this often,” he said reprovingly. “For it will only hasten the inevitable.”
“Don’t worry, Max,” Gil said. “This is a special occasion and I only need a little time. It’s a short film.” Then he added, “You know what to do.”
Max went up to the glassed-in projection booth while Gil took his place beside Natalie down front. Pressing the button on his portable intercom he said, “Okay Max, we’re ready.”
“Yes, Mr. Hall,” came the voice, and then on the huge screen directly in front of them appeared the following: On a solid black background the following titles were written giving the effect of white chalk on a blackboard:
FineHall Productions Presents
A Gil Hall Film
At the End of the Day
featuring Rosario Batista as Maria
and Ricardo Perez as Jesus
This is Dedicated to
My Longtime Producer, Business Partner
and the World’s Most Wonderful Wife
You’re the Greatest, Baby.
This last was superimposed over a background that consisted of extremely blurry images, obviously done in extremely soft focus. As the words disappeared, the blurred images began to sharpen until one could see that it was a hospital scene, an open ward with people in various stages of activity in freeze frame. After a few seconds the figures came to life and ambient sounds of big city traffic and other noises were apparent, as well as the anonymous murmurs of people talking. Though there was no time mentioned, one soon could infer that it was a period piece set back in the fifties or sixties as the doctors and nurses were all decked out in the professional uniforms of the day.
The scene soon focused on Maria, who was sitting at the bedside of an obviously terminal patient and we soon realize that this was a terminal cancer ward for indigent patients. The obvious draw for the audience was the fact that every terminal patient that the camera focused on was a famous Hollywood actor, all bonafide cinema stars in their own rights and all over fifty. The procedure was that Maria would encourage the patient to tell his or her story, sometimes in the form of a reminiscence, sometimes of a confession. Scenes inevitably ended with Maria saying, “Are you ready now?” and the patient responding, “Yes, I’m ready.” Maria then would place her fingers on the patient and leave them there until the patient slowly closed his or her eyes, after which Maria would rise and draw the bedclothes over the patient’s face. She was known to the other doctors, nurses and patients as the Angel of Merciful Sleep and her personality was such that she exuded a strange mixture of saintly grace and extreme humility. The hospital scenes were all in black and white and interspersed with scenes of Maria and Jesus in their small suburban cottage.
Jesus was a humble gardener and obviously not comfortable speaking English, for the scenes between Maria and Jesus were in Spanish with English subtitles. The movie progressed this way for the first seventy-five minutes as the couple aged and grew old, obviously through childless still deeply in love with each other. Finally we see Jesus lying on the bed in their tiny bedroom, obviously his deathbed. Then came the scene that the critics would be talking about for years to come. Maria had been listening to Jesus pour out his heart as they both knew it was time for him to go. But instead of immediately sending him on his way Maria said, “Just a moment,” and got up from the bed and looked out of a tiny begrimed window that faced their postage stamp-sized and unkempt backyard.
The camera showed the yard in detail from behind Maria, with her in the foreground. There was no snow on the ground but it was obviously winter, as the clumps of grass were brown and overgrown by straggly dead weeds. Twenty feet beyond the house their yard was enclosed with a rusty chain-link fence broken in several places that separated them from the grim alley beyond. The camera then focused once again on Maria who, after surveying the scene for a few seconds, slowly raised the window. As she did so with the camera once again looking over her shoulder, the image blended into full color and the audience could see that she was now looking at a much bigger yard which was neat and clean, completely well kept. Furthermore the sun was shining down and the grass was lush and green. Then the camera focused on a far corner of the now larger yard on something that hadn’t been there before: a swing set with two swings, each containing a chubby girl, one about four years old, the other maybe six. Behind them was a young woman who, though her face was not in view, looked very much like a young Maria. She was laughing along with the children, fully concentrating on them as she gently pushed both swings back and forth. The camera turned back to the older Maria, who now had her head partly out the window, a look of wonder on her face.
Cut back to the young mother who now looks up at Maria and we can tell that she is, in fact, a younger version of Maria. She and the girls, as if noticing Maria for the first time, wave at her in what looks like both greeting and invitation. Cut back to Maria, who gravely shakes her head no, then closes the window as the scene becomes once again black and white, while the yard reverts to its original wretched state.
She crosses over, joins Jesus on the tiny bed and says to him gently, “Are you ready now?” He says yes. She put her fingers gently on his throat until he peacefully closes his eyes. Then she lies down on the bed beside him and placed her fingers on her own throat and closed her eyes peacefully. As she does so the scene changes to a full color animation sequence.
In the distance we see a mythical-looking shining city with huge gleaming towers and other buildings that reflect the brilliant sun. Leading back to it is a small winding path. In the foreground are animated representations of a younger Maria and a younger Jesus. They are walking hand in hand on the path toward the city. “How much longer?” says Jesus. Maria replies, “We will be there at the end of the day.” Then the camera shows their backs as they walk toward the city and the scene fades to black. The end.
Gil let the end credits roll without comment. He had spent more time during the movie watching Natalie than the movie itself. He obviously knew the movie and was much more interested in Natalie’s response. During the entire film she had sat there more or less erect, wide-eyed, but had not commented except to give a little exclamation or laugh when an actor she knew appeared for his or her cameo death scene.
The end credits were a little different for this film than the normal order for a FineHall production. After the end came the announcements: Produced by Natalie Fine. Then, Directed by Gil Hall. Then, Original Screenplay by Rosario Batista. Then, the credits of the various other actors and cameo stars that appeared in the film.
Then the projector was switched off and the lights came up. Only then did Natalie turn to Gil and, giving him a sly wink said, “That was some picture I produced.”
“I’m glad you liked it,” was Gil’s noncommittal reply.
“Did Rosie really write the screenplay,” she asked, “or was just that just a gift credit so she would appear?”
“No,” said Gil, “she really wrote it. At least, the first part. I gave her the idea for the first part and she pretty much ran with it. The ending was mine though.”
Natalie put her hand on Gil’s arm. “Honestly, I thought it was a great film. You know, I always wanted to do a film like that but somehow I could never get it out.”
“Well,” Gil said, “you know what they say,” He paraphrased pompously. “The student should exceed the teacher or what’s an education for?”
She laughed a little at that and said, “I guess my problem is I was always too verbal.”
“Yeah,” Gil ventured cautiously, “your dialogue was always really good, but you had a little trouble opening it up. You know, the visual.”
“Yeah, I get the picture,” she punned. Then she yawned and said, “Oh, I dunno what that stuff was that Max gave me but now I’m really starting to crash.” She turned her head toward the back of the room where Max was lurking somewhere near the entrance. “Hey Max,” she yelled. “I need you.”
Immediately Max hurried to her side. Gallantly he bent and kissed her hand. “Yes, my lady?”
She held out her arms to him and said simply, “Home, James.”
Max swept her up in his arms and looking at Gil said, “I’ll be right back if you need me.”
“Don’t bother,” said Gil. “Everything worked out just fine.”
July 24, 2021
It was a sweltering day in LA. By 11AM the temperature had already reached 90 and by two in the afternoon it was threatening to exceed 95. This caused thousands of people in the greater Los Angeles area to jump into their cars and clog the freeways and through boulevards that led out of the city. Some headed toward the Santa Monica pier, hoping for some fun and entertainment as well as a possible cooling sea breeze. Others headed toward Malibu and the string of beaches south of LA, hoping for the same cooling effect but with a little more privacy. Still others headed east and northeast towards the San Gabriel mountains above Pasadena and San Bernardino, hoping that the elevation of the mountain cabins that they owned or rented would give them relief from the stifling LA heat and pollution.
At the FineHall mansion, high atop Mulholland Drive however, the windows were tightly shut, the drapes closed, and the only sound from within was the low steady hum of the central air conditioning, pumping out cold air to the max.
Gil was sitting on a chair in the cavernous living room staring at, but not comprehending, the latest issue of Variety. He looked like a man in a dentist’s office waiting for a root canal he knew would be incredibly painful.
His cell phone which was lying on the end table buzzed. Gil snatched it up immediately. “Max,” he said.
“It’s about that time,” Max’s grim voice said in his ear. “You’d better get up here.”
Without replying, Gil pocketed the cell phone, threw the copy of Variety across the room jumped up and hurried up the stairs. He opened the door to Natalie’s bedroom and strode in. Max was sitting on a chair beside her bed, alternately holding Natalie’s hand and stroking her hair, although she appeared to be unconscious. The only sign of life was her rapid and labored breathing.
Without ceremony Gil said, “Thanks, Max. I’ll take over.”
Max vacated his chair and said simply, “I’ll be in my room if you want me, Mr. Hall.”
Gil seated himself in Max’s chair and took hold of her hand. In a soft voice he said, “Natalie honey, can you hear me? It’s Gil.”
With what appeared to be a great effort she managed to squeeze his hand, then her eyelids fluttered briefly and she opened them wide. There was a curious little girl smile on her face as she turned her head and looked at him. In a child’s voice she said, “Mommy? Am I going up to heaven to be with the angels?”
In as firm a voice as he could manage Gil said, “Yes you are, darling, yes you are.”
Seemingly satisfied, she relaxed her grip, closed her eyes and her breathing ceased. Gil took her hands, arranged them on her breast, then gently pulled the sheet over her head. Then he got up and with tears blinding his eyes, he groped for the door. Finding it, he stepped out into the hall and went to Max’s room. He tapped gently on the door saying, “It’s all over, Max.”
Max came to the door, opened it and looked at Gil. “What do you want me to do, Mr. Hall?”
Gil wiped his eyes and sighed. “Max, you’ve been a wonder. But do me one more favor, will you?” He waved his arm back down the hall towards Natalie’s room saying, “Make the necessary calls and arrangements, will you? I don’t think I’m up to it today.”
“Sure Mr. Hall, whatever you want.”
“I’ll be out by the pool. Call me on my cell when everything has been, uh, you know, taken care of.”
“Right, Mr. Hall,” Max said. Then he added, “It may sound presumptuous of me, but I feel it’s my loss too, even though I knew her for such a short time. She was a fine woman.”
Gil reached up and clapped both hands on Max’s shoulders. “Brother,” he said bitterly, “you don’t know the half of it.”
Then he turned, walked down the hall, went downstairs and over to to bar. Going around behind it he reached automatically for a bottle of scotch but then seemed to think twice and put it back, taking out instead a large cut glass pitcher and a bottle of Jose Cuervo 1800 gold tequila. He poured about half the bottle into the pitcher, then filled the pitcher with ice cubes and poured in a bottle of Tia Maria margarita mix.
Then, divesting himself of all unnecessary clothing besides his swim trunks which he wore under his pants this time of year, he picked up the pitcher and a margarita glass and strode out through the kitchen to the patio by the swimming pool where he was greeted by the blazing sun. He noticed that there were two empty chaise lounges sitting side by side with a small table between them. Going over to them, he placed the pitcher and the glass on the table, settled himself in the chaise lounge nearest him and putting, on his sunglasses, poured a generous glassful of the contents of the pitcher. He took two healthy gulps and, raising his glass toward the empty chaise lounge said, “Here’s to you, Natalie. Wherever you are, I hope you’re having fun.”