Greetings and salutations people and peoplettes,
My name is D.B.Tarpley and I am a writer. Occasionally people are gracious enough to allow me to interview them so that their words and thoughts are captured for posterity. And rarely, ever so rarely, these people are gracious enough to allow me to invade their brain twice. This is one such instance. After recently interviewing former director and current film producer Alan Smithee, it was pointed out to me that very little of the interview was dedicated to disseminating what exactly it is that a producer does. I know this is something many people are curious about and so I contacted Mr. Smithee again and requested another meet and greet. Last time I was on vacation in sunny California but this time I was fortunate enough to be able to catch Mr. Smithee on a layover at Nashville International airport on his way to Atlanta, GA for a potential location evaluation.
I meet him in the Delta Sky Club lounge. I have never been in a VIP lounge before and I have to say that it is rather nice. There is a low, golden/ amber mood-lighting over everything and all the furniture is plush and comfortable. An attendant takes me over to Mr. Smithee sitting in a plush chair in the corner. The producer is wearing Bermuda shorts and a Hawaiian shirt with calf-high socks which nearly cover his pasty white legs. It is 35 degrees in Nashville. He is sucking on a cigarette like it is a heroin cumming cock and steadily sipping a short glass of bourbon. The attendant takes my coat and my drink order.
D.B.Tarpley — I’ll have a Coke please.
A.Smithee — A Coke? You’ll never make it in Hollywood drinking that.
D.B.Tarpley — Not really one of my primary goals in life.
A.Smithee — Don’t kid yourself son, it’s everyone’s primary goal in life.
(Mr. Smithee takes a long sip and squints his eyes.)
D.B.Tarpley — Alan, good to see you again, do you have a headache?
A.Smithee — Jetlag.
D.B.Tarpley — Jetlag? You just flew in from California. It’s 11 AM here so it is only 9AM there. Surely you are up by 9A…
(He gives me a look which lets me know I know little to nothing about his life.)
D.B.Tarpley — So tell me about Atlanta. Where is this location you’re scouting; and what is your new project about?
A.Smithee — Well first off, I thought the South was supposed to be hot, (He waves at his ensemble.) and secondly, the location is scouted already, we have people who do that sort of thing. On bigger budgets there is a location scouter, a person whose sole function is to scout and procure every location for every shoot. On a smaller budget, like the one I’m currently wrestling with, we usually just throw an AP at it.
D.B.Tarpley — AP?
A.Smithee — Associate producer. It is a title given to someone instead of money. It means nothing. It is a running joke in town that there are at least 10 AP’s for every 5 seconds of footage shot. But people will do anything to see their name up there on the big screen.
D.B.Tarpley — So Atlanta, what’s up?
A.Smithee — Pirates.
D.B.Tarpley — Pirates?
A.Smithee — I know, I know — pirates are the death knell of any respectable distributer… Yellowbeard, Pirates – put Walter Matheau in a swashbuckler — sure, that’ll work, Cutthroat Island — Geena Davis? Wow, all flops.
D.B.Tarpley — Pirates of the Caribean?
A.Smithee — That’s Disney. They play by different rules than everyone else. But never fear, my project has legs.
D.B.Tarpley — Is one of them a wooden peg?
A.Smithee — Ha, ha… cute but no. My property is a refranchisement opportunity.
D.B.Tarpley – What exactly does that mean?
(Mr. Smithee takes another long swig of his drink and raps his empty glass on the table when the attendant brings me my drink. I take a sip of my soda and wince.)
A.Smithee — What’s the matter?
D.B.Tarpley —I ordered a Coke and they brought me Pepsi.
A.Smithee — Send it back.
D.B.Tarpley — No, it’s cool. This is the South, a Coke order is good for any cola product on hand. It’s not a brand it’s a suggestion.
A.Smithee — I like my bourbon cut but I don’t trust your water down here.
(He stares at his empty glass.)
A.Smithee — Weird place your South. Don’t know how to accommodate visitors (Again he gestures to his shorts) and they give you the wrong drink on purpose.
D.B.Tarpley — I actually prefer Pepsi.
A.Smithee — So you got what you wanted.
D.B.Tarpley — In a roundabout way.
(The attendant returns with Mr. Smithee’s bourbon.
He clutches his drink and points at the attendant.)
A.Smithee — If this ain’t bourbon you’re fired.
(For their part, the attendant just nods and returns to their station. It must indeed be bourbon because after a sip my subject nods and continues.)
A.Smithee — My property already has a built in audience. That is what refranchisement opportunity means.
D.B.Tarpley — You keep calling it a ‘property’. Why is that?
A.Smithee — Because that is what it is. As a producer you have to own the rights to produce, and the object of production is known as your ‘property’. This particular property is 30 years old.
D.B.Tarpley — Wow. Does that mean you have owned it for 30 years?
A.Smithee — No, it passed through many hands. The original script was by David Odell in 1983 but he was quickly sidetracked by the motion picture blockbuster which was ‘Supergirl.’ Kind of a hard opportunity to pass up.
(I nod. I rather enjoyed Supergirl.)
A.Smithee – Then the project sat dormant for awhile. One of the original script writers, John Hughes, tried to revive the project for a moment but his tone was all wrong to catch the interest of investors. And he was busy with his ‘teens are better than you’ movies which made him so damn popular. Can you imagine Anthony Michael Hall as a pirate?
(I shake my head no. These simple notions of agreement seem to be all he is looking for when he asks a question.)
A.Smithee — Me neither. And the whole of Hollywood neither. The property stood a very real shot of getting made when Joel Silver gained the rights but Bruce Willis wasn’t interested so it fell into pre-production Hell. At one point Joel Schumacher was scheduled to direct but then someone higher up saw Batman Forever and he was promptly detached. They even tried to turn it into a musical with original songs by Billy Joel. Try if you will to imagine a musical with pirates.
(Having seen ‘The Pirates of Penzance’ it is not that hard a task but I just nod as usual since he seems to be on a roll.)
A.Smithee — Over the course of the years the script has been doctored alternately by Stephen King, Quentin Tarantino, and Nora Roberts.
D.B.Tarpley — How did this ‘property’ come to end up in your hands?
A.Smithee — I won it in a poker game from Uwe Boll.
D.B.Tarpley — Seriously?
A.Smithee — Seriously, my 7 high straight beat his trip 9’s. He was not a happy camper.
D.B.Tarpley — Is Uwe Boll ever a happy camper?
A.Smithee — Yes but it usually involves a ton of cocaine and a Mexican donkey show.
D.B.Tarpley – So you obtain this ‘property’ and then what? What is it as a producer that you do exactly?
A.Smithee — Think of a producer as an odds maker in a sports betting pool. It’s our job to take a property, figure out which assets can be attached to it and for how much – assets like stars, director, writer, etc. and then calculate the overall cost versus estimated return. If you can project a reasonable enough return for the investment then you can get your project greenlit. The bigger producers have in house deals with all the major distributors, essentially working on their payroll. Us independent guys have to scrounge a little harder.
D.B.Tarpley — But you said your property has legs.
A.Smithee — Yes indeed.
D.B.Tarpley — 30 year old legs.
A.Smithee — That is correct.
D.B.Tarpley — Might require some knee replacement surgery or something do you…
(Mr. Smithee stares at me over his bourbon. He does not share my sense of humor. I should have remembered this from the previous encounter.)
D.B.Tarpley — So Atlanta huh? This is a good old Southern story I take it.
A.Smithee — Actually it takes place in New Zealand.
D.B.Tarpley – New Zealand?
A.Smithee – Yes, it is about Pirates. How many pirates do you know sailing around Atlanta? We aren’t shooting in Atlanta, my connecting flight is just to there. We are shooting around a few islands just off the Georgia coast.
D.B.Tarpley — Why Georgia?
A.Smithee — Because Georgia is hot right now. Why is Georgia hot? Because they are paying filmmakers via tax breaks, etc to come there and shoot. In the late 80’s it was Vancouver — up and coming. That was where you went to shoot a fast flick on the cheap. You know that Chuck Norris flick ‘Invasion U.S.A.?’… Canada.
D.B.Tarpley — Not Chuck, say it isn’t so.
A.Smithee — Abso-Chuckin-lutely. Then in the 90’s Romania became the hot place to shoot, (Nothing like a third world country with that old world flair). For a while, everything independent was coming out of Austin. Now, Georgia gives the best tit to suck on. You don’t shoot in Hollywood unless you’ve got bank. The unions alone eat you alive. State laws are designed to suck a…
(The attendant walks by and Mr. Smithee covers his drink and squints.)
A.Smithee — I have the distinct impression that man wants to spit in my drink.
(I give our waiter a glance but I can see no desirous spit indications at present.)
D.B.Tarpley — You were saying that California State laws suck…
A.Smithee — Indeed they do. The health insurance liability alone on a major feature shoot is enough to make you wanna run to the valley and crank out porn.
D.B.Tarpley — So a pirate movie, 30 years in the making, with the coastline of Georgia masquerading as New Zealand. I am dying to know what it is.
A.Smithee — This is a huge cult hit, its popularity has grown over the years and the time is ripe for a sequel.
D.B.Tarpley — I am wracking my brain and I can’t think of what it could be.
A.Smithee — I’ve got three words for you, are you ready, are your panties tight and secured?
D.B.Tarpley — I’m not wearing…
A.Smithee — Tommy Lee Jones
D.B.Tarpley — What?
A.Smithee — Tommy Lee Jones, how’s that for star power?
D.B.Tarpley — Fairly decent I guess. Was he in the original?
A.Smithee — Yes, and signed on for the sequel.
D.B.Tarpley — I still don’t get it, what was the movie?
A.Smithee — Nate and Hayes!
D.B.Tarpley — What?
A.Smithee — Nate and Hayes! It has a huge cult following. Early eighties action pirate flick. Did the ‘rope bridge banging against the cliff’ gag a full year before ‘Temple of Doom’.
D.B.Tarpley — Oh yeah, I vaguely remember seeing that as a kid.
A.Smithee — And I’ve got all the principles back, Tommy Lee Jones, Michael O’Keefe, and Jenny Seagrove.
D.B.Tarpley — All 30 years older.
A.Smithee – It’s old pirates vs young pirates. It’s Space Cowboys on the high seas… called out of retirement for one last haul. People are ready for some heroes with wisdom.
D.B.Tarpley — Even old people don’t like watching old people. Just ask Morgan Freeman. Why do you think he does all that voice over work?
A.Smithee — Well our market research indicates otherwise.
D.B.Tarpley — You have already done market research on this?
A.Smithee — Kid anytime anyone ever asks you anything just tell them your market research indicates otherwise.
D.B.Tarpley — Trick of the trade?
(Mr. Smithee flicks his nose with his finger.)
D.B.Tarpley – So back to the production side of things, how much of the day to day meanderings of the shoot do you personally supervise?
A.Smithee — None of them if I am lucky.
D.B.Tarpley — I don’t get it, I thought that was what being a producer entailed?
A.Smithee — A good producer does nothing once all the elements are in place. That is the key and the crux of all great production… picking the right elements. If you put the right people in the right positions then the machine will run itself… which it rarely does, but it’s always nice to hope.
(He begins to whistle ‘Always look on the sunny side of life.’)
D.B.Tarpley — So basically you are just in charge of hiring and firing.
A.Smithee — Well no, I am ultimately responsible for the whole damn thing. I report to the other investors as to the progress and greatness of what their money is earning them. But if I wanted to micromanage everything then I would just direct the damn thing myself; So yes, it is extremely important to put the round peg in the round hole because ultimately I oversee all the fiduciary aspects of the process in perpetuity from tit to tat. Speaking of which, Ms. Seagrove still has a fantastic pair of gravity defying hoo-ha’s.
D.B.Tarpley — Excellent, I was just wondering about that. So how are things going with this production…smoothly I take it.
(A.Smithee raises his hand for another glass of bourbon and I think it is a good thing he is not flying the plane to Atlanta.)
A.Smithee — Hey drink boy! Nother! Not at all. Goddamn talent wants the moon. Jones has to have his own trailer and demanded one with its own pool table. I offered to set up one in the crew break area but noooooo he demanded a private one in the actual trailer. Of course not a single trailer in Georgia fit the bill so I had to have a special one trucked in from Pittsburg. Then all of the crew’s set jackets came in one sleeve too short.
D.B.Tarpley — Set jackets?
A.Smithee — Yeah, nearly every set gets set jackets for the crew.
D.B.Tarpley — That’s nice of you.
A.Smithee — It’s either that or full dental. You do the math.
(The attendant brings Mr. Smithee his new beverage.)
D.B.Tarpley — Did you send them all back?
A.Smithee — Hell no, I had an AP stay up all night, cut the long sleeve to match the short, then re-stitch the hem.
D.B.Tarpley — And what do these jackets say? What’s the name of the sequel?
(He waves his fingers through the air.)
A.Smithee — Nate and Hayes: Soiled Booty.
(I choke on my Pepsi.)
A.Smithee — You O.K.?
D.B.Tarpley — Wrong pipe.
A.Smithee — You ought to be more careful.
(Mr. Smithee takes a sip of his bourbon and immediately spits it out as well.)
D.B.Tarpley — Wrong pipe?
A.Smithee — No, the son of a bitch spit in my drink.
D.B.Tarpley — Well you did say you preferred your bourbon to be cut.
A.Smithee — I suppose I did at that.
D.B.Tarpley – So you got what you wanted.
A.Smithee — In a roundabout way.
D.B.Tarpley — Welcome to the South Alan. And good luck with your ‘Soiled Booty’. I am sure it will smear the competition everywhere.
A.Smithee — Thanks D.B.. I thank you and old ass pirates everywhere thank you.
(We clink glasses and I leave the inebriated man to his Bermuda shorts and his spitty bourbon. On the way out the attendant winks at me when he gives me my coat; I don’t know if I am supposed to read something into it or if it is just one of the added perks of the VIP lounge. Maybe I’ll make it big in Hollywood one day and get to find out the real deal. One can only dream.)
Alan Smithee was interviewed by D.B.Tarpley in Nashville, TN on 1-8-2015.
The son of a poor immigrant philanthropist. D.B. Tarpley got his start writing dialogue for the imaginary friends of imagination deficient kids on the Lower East Side. ‘The Death of Love’ is D.B.Tarpley’s latest book. I am telling everyone and anyone who will listen to take a look at this book!… It’s a page turner… I have NO IDEA where Tarpley is going with this!… Tarpley must be a genius, he surprises in (both) big and little ways”. – five star review. Over the years D.B. has been discovered and recognized by the Lewis N. Clark committee for creative mastery; in addition to this D.B. was recently tossed the Paul Reubens Fellowship for excellence in self awareness. He currently Summers in Manitowoc, Wisconsin; and Winters in Oconomowoc, Wisconsin. In addition to writing, D.B. is an internationally acclaimed adult diaper model/ pastry chef. His work has been featured in ‘Pee-n-Poop Wear Quarterly’ as well as ‘Dem Some Fine Damn Muffins Magazine.’ His advice to readers everywhere is “Leave the pages bloody.”
Alan Smithee is an American director. From 1968 to 2000 he directed 79 films and television movies. He currently produces motion pictures, mostly directed by Michael Bay and Uwe Boll. Mr. Smithee lives a quiet, heavily medicated life in Los Angeles, California with his life partner Pat and their 3 Pugs, Bell, Biv, and Devoe.