James Schamus

James Schamus

A weeklong electronic journal.
Sept. 27 1997 3:30 AM

James Schamus

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Last night even Proust
         couldn't put me to sleep,
and I wake with a low hum
         in my ears, a kind of radio interference
beamed in from the life I should be living
         at home. Anna, Martin's assistant,
picks me up from the hotel. Her dashboard
         is peopled with cartoon figurines.
Are you a Space Jam fan? "No,
         but I am a McDonald's fan, I collect
everything they give out." As if by way
         of explanation, she adds: "I am an East
Berliner!" How old were you when the wall
         came down? "15!" At the office,
Kutlug is busy trying to get the German
         computer to print out Turkish characters.
Symbolic, or what? Martin takes me
         to the Cafe Einstein for breakfast
and a serious talk. We sit
         in the garden, swigging coffee.
Are these linden trees I'm sitting under?
         The sunlight is dappled; it
dapples, at least, Martin. I point above the trellis:
         the garden is rung with barbed wire.
We discuss the film. "The bank
         will cover me, but tell me honestly, will I
get my money back?" I promise
         to talk to David about the sales projections.
We've spent four years trying to
         finance Lola, but in the end it's
Martin who is taking the lion's share
         of the risk. I'm stunned, even if I fail
to express it. By the time we get to the
         Akademie I'm practically delirious with fatigue.
I go with it, and deliver half lecture
         on the macroeconomics of the film business and half
stand-up comedy routine. The discussion is
         wide-ranging: the mechanics of license deals,
the changing German TV market, the
         rising costs of theatrical distribution,
the politics of auteur-driven cinema. Klaus:
         "What advice would you give, in parting, to
the people in this room, who are the future of
         German film?" Don't ever take advice from
Hollywood types like me. I go
         straight from the talk to Tempelhof Airport,
one of the few remaining Hitler-era buildings
         in Berlin, a kind of Nazi Greyhound station.
On the prop plane to Copenhagen, I flip through faxes.
         The New York festival itinerary,
complicated by the two staggered screenings:
         "5:30 Limo pickup at your home.
6:00 Cocktails at Avery Fisher Hall promenade.
         6:30 Dinner.
7:30 Leave dinner and head to Alice Tully Hall.
         8:00 Introduce film at Alice Tully Hall.
(You will not be sitting through the film.)
         8:30 Get into cars (you will be put into
groups). The cars bring you to the front of the hall and drop you
         at the beginning of the press line.
8:30 Walk the press line and head to the green room.
         9:00 Introduce film at Avery Fisher Hall.
(You will not be sitting through the film.)
         9:15 Go to green room for photo-ops.
9:45 Head to Alice Tully Hall.
         10:00 Spotlight box finale at the end of the film (all cast).
10:15 Head to Avery Fisher Hall.
         11:00 Spotlight box finale at the end of the film (all cast).
11:15 Head to your respective cars through the stage door.
         11:30 Opening night party at Tavern on the Green.
1:00-? Fox Searchlight Pictures after-party gathering."
         Your basic precision-drill fun and glamour.
We land late at the Copenhagen airport. I run
         to the gate and find the nearest phone. As I
yammer away a barbershop quartet strolls by,
         singing "Oh Susanna" at full throttle. Don't they
know I'm talking to the fucking president
         of the studio? He's giggling. "You're so
cosmopolitan." I love you too, in fact I'm going to make
         this movie with you only because
I love you so much. Weirdly enough,
         it's true. Copenhagen. Ten years ago,
staying in the dorm at Amager, I would
         ride my bike every morning to the Film
Institute, and copy longhand huge swathes of Danish
         prose from Carl Dreyer's correspondence. It was
a summer of what they would call
         during the Renaissance
white melancholy, an alternating expansion
         and contraction, like one of Hammershoi's
interiors, filled to the brim
         with air that no one would dare to displace
by being there. I was mildly
         creepy back then, but that came, I suppose, from
not knowing anybody. And now I'm just
         a cab ride away from what could be
a momentary, perfect re-creation of that loneliness,
         but the plane is already boarding,
and it's time to go home.

James Schamus runs the independent film-production company Good Machine with his partner, Ted Hope. He is an associate professor at Columbia University's School of the Arts, and has collaborated on all Ang Lee's films, including The Ice Storm, which opens the New York Film Festival this Friday. Schamus also wrote the screenplay for the film, which won an award for best script at Cannes last spring.