Ahoy-hoy, everyone! I just wanted to engage in a brief bit of unabashed self-promotion, but I promise you that I wouldn’t do it if it didn’t involve the opportunity to read something really awesome that’s right in the wheelhouse of most of the folks who frequent here.
The back story: when I did my Random Roles with Jon Cryer for the AV Club several years ago, I remember thinking that his 1987 film DUDES was ripe for an oral history, if only because the idea of Cryer and Daniel Roebuck playing punk rockers was one that seemed ripe with stories. As such, when Shout Factory announced that they were going to be doing a Blu-ray reissue of the film, I thought, “Well, this is clearly a sign that I should do this thing.” So I sent Cryer a direct message on Twitter and said, “If I do this, A) would you be willing to participate, and B) do you think others from the film would be up for it?” And he wrote back, “I would, and I think the others would, too.” And a few hours later, he wrote me another message: “Here’s Dan Roebuck’s phone number. I told him you’d be calling.” By the time all was said and done, I’d talked to Cryer, Roebuck, Catherine Mary Stewart, Lee Ving, director Penelope Spheeris, screenwriter Randall Jahnson, and producer Miguel Tejada-Flores. I also had the green light from VICE that they were going to run it.
Well, that didn’t happen. I turned in the piece, they sat on it for several weeks, and when I contacted them and asked them to lock in a run date – because you can’t use potential income to pay actual bills – or else I’d have to try shopping it elsewhere, they apologized for the radio silence, explained that they’d had some turnover that had wreaked havoc in the office, but said that I should feel free to both shop it elsewhere and pitch them further pieces in the future. I did try shopping it elsewhere – The Ringer, for one – but in the end I decided that I’d just go ahead and post it on Amazon as an eBook for a buck.
Of course, we’ve just about reached the point where I offer up a link in order for you to pick up a copy. Before that, though, the least I can do is offer you a clip to tempt you into picking it up…
SO THIS SCREENWRITER WALKS INTO A PRODUCER’S OFFICE…
Miguel Tejada-Flores (producer): I started out as a hardcore film nerd. I was a story analyst and I worked for several studios. This was in the days before people knew what a reader was, and it was a great gig, because I actually had a couple of degrees in literature, I went to film school, and I loved movies. So I could do this shit in my sleep. [Laughs.] I was a very good reader at a couple of studios, and then I started moving up, and after everybody else got fired because they lost too much money, I briefly ran the film division at Lorimar and did a very cool sci-fi movie called The Last Starfighter, which I put together. For various reasons, I left Lorimar, and I started writing—because it isn’t a career choice, it’s a disease—and I wrote a lot. And then a distinguished, brilliant, and thoughtful old-school producer, Herb Jaffe, who was the classic Hollywood gentleman and is one of the coolest people I’ve ever known or worked with, made me an offer I couldn’t refuse.
Herb said he was starting a new company, and he didn’t have a huge amount of financing, but he asked me to come and run his development and some production, because we had a mutual friendship and respect from the other projects I had brought him in on. I said yes, but as part of the deal… We actually made a handshake deal, one which he totally honored, because he was a cool human being. But because I was writing—and I actually had written [Revenge of the] Nerds, which coming out, so I was known as a writer at that point—I said, “The deal is, I want a multiple picture writing deal for myself and my partner, Tim Metcalfe, so he can make some money, and I want to produce a couple of movies.” And Herb said, “Fine,” we shook hands on it, and that was it. It was a simple, classic, old-school way of doing things.
So I went to Herb’s company, and…we weren’t starving to death. [Laughs.] We were okay. We had enough money to develop movies, and then we would get other people to produce our movies. We had a couple of hits and a couple of misses. And after a couple of years of more hits than misses, we had some Wall Street partners that did a public offering and raised us $75-80 million, which paid for financing slates and movies for a couple of years. And I was basically responsible for creating the whole slate, or at least developing it. Not totally always producing it, but I was the boss of all the scripts.
We didn’t have enough for me to go out and spend like a drunken sailor, so part of my job as an executive for a moderately well-financed but struggling good indie company was to find good writers who I could afford. And by that time, I’d read enough bad scripts and done enough work with bad writers to know that bad writers can be either well-known or unknown, and the chance of getting a good writer just because somebody had credits was not necessarily carved in stone. So I spent a bunch of my time reading scripts and taking meetings with agents and trying to find good writers. And Randall wrote a really cool script.
Randall Jahnson (screenwriter): I’d gone to the UCLA Film School, I graduated in 1982, and I was inspired and swept up by the independent music scene, particularly the punk and art music scene that was going on in L.A. at that time. So I was out seeing a lot of shows, and I found music just being my primary source of inspiration. Even though I was aspiring to be a screenwriter, music was just blowing me away. I was quite struck by the tribal nature of the whole scene—you had your rockabilly tribe, you had your hardcore tribe, you had your New Romantic tribe—and it all struck me as a metaphor for the Wild West, in a way. So I had some things kicking around in my head.
There were a lot of bands at that time that had a fascination with the American west as well. The Dead Kennedys had covered the theme song for the old TV show Rawhide. A band that was a big influence on me, Wall of Voodoo, they covered Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire,” they put out an album in 1982—the one with their big hit, “Mexican Radio”—called Call Of The West, and when I used to see them live, they did a live version of [Ennio] Morricone’s Hang ‘Em High and The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly themes. So I was just interested and fascinated by the fact that these bands were interested in the west and all of that, and I had grown up as a big fan of American history and especially western history, so…it was a clash of elements in all these things.
When I first got out of film school, my first attempt at writing something commercial was a horror script called Slaughter Alley, about a stretch of highway that was haunted by a guy who was killed on it back in, like, 1962. That was also inspired by the same scene, in the sense that this was a guy who was probably cruising, sniffing glue, and drinking sloe gin in a hip flask in high school. He was a bad ass who rumbled with a tire iron and chains. But I wondered what would happen if some of these poseur kids that I was seeing at these rockabilly shows, with their cuffed jeans and their pompadours, ran up against a guy like that, the real McCoy, who wants to rumble. How would that go down?
So I wrote that script, it landed me an agent, and I started being sent around to meetings and meet-and-greets. The script was under option with another company, but you use it as a calling card. So I went around to a bunch of different companies, and they liked the writing and they liked the story, but I really wasn’t relating very well to any of the executives. And then I came into the office of the Vista organization and I met Miguel Tejada-Flores. I walked into this office that was just a mess. [Laughs.] It was piled high with scripts and books, stuff all over the place, and then on his desk were science-fiction characters, Godzillas, and toys. I just felt like I’d come into the right place.
Tejada-Flores: [Slaughter Alley] had moments of being brilliant, and Randall is a smart human being with a voice, he’s film-literate, and he’s cool. The other thing is that it’s true that when you make a movie, no matter what you’re doing, you’re spending a bunch of your time doing it, and you don’t just want to work with people who are good, you want to work with people who actually inspire you and who you want to spend time with. And Randall was not only a good writer, he was also a cool human being who was totally film-literate and could have conversations about all kinds of shit. So I did the usual routine: I forced him to come to my office and said, “Man, this is a cool script, but we’re not gonna fucking do it, so…what else do you have?”
Jahnson: It was out of my head before I even really put a lot of thought into it, but I just said, “Punk rockers out in the wilds of Wyoming.”
Tejada-Flores: I said, “Man, that’s fucking cool. That’s really cool. But what’s the story?” So we had to go through the whole mating dance, but we enjoyed it. He had to create enough of a story so that I could pitch it to my boss, because I didn’t have the power to sign any checks myself, and I had to convince both my boss and myself that it was worth spending money on, which I took pretty seriously. And at the same time, I also had to convince myself that he was a writer I could work with, that we could communicate and listen to each other and do all that stuff.
Here’s hoping so, because here’s the link: