James Schamus

James Schamus

A weeklong electronic journal.
Sept. 25 1997 3:30 AM

James Schamus

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8 a.m. Djuna eyes me warily from her
         booster seat, squeezing small fistfuls
of scrambled egg in the direction of
         her mouth. "Daddy! Sit!" How does
she know I'm leaving today?
         "Will you get me and Djuna a Barbie
from Berlin?" It's a short trip, Nona,
         just two days. "Well don't get me
a T-shirt. I have a lot of clothes
         already." An energetically brief
visit with Doctor W. this morning.
         He's happy, being one of the
deservedly rich. Then a taxi to work
         instead of the beloved subway: precious time
on the phone. At the office, Ted leads
         the staff meeting. Do all these people
work here? I screen the rough-cut tape
         of Ice Storm's 30-second TV spots
to cheers all around. And then
         it's time for the development meeting.
A four-page agenda, 50 projects
         to track. Anne: "Technically, it's a
hot property. They have 72 hours."
         "Is it a Jackie Chan movie or an
Ang Lee movie?" "Depends on who
         you ask." Two hours left to return
calls. Noreen comes in: "Did you review
         the payroll?" Yes, and it looked as
though it had many different
         numbers in it. Oops. David breezes in
and immediately picks up the phone
         on the side table. "CAA is under
the impression that the offer is for
         domestic only." One hour left,
and 30 more people to tell I can't
         get them into the party.
"My biggest career mistake was continuing
         to live in New York after Ice Storm
was chosen for opening night." No wonder
         club promoters do drugs and order
hits. A reporter from New York magazine
         gets me to pontificate on the phone
about "indie" film. He believes that
         companies like Miramax and Fine Line
are "cynically" making controversial films
         to drum up business. My theory: The
art-house distributors have three main audiences:
         the creative so-called community, which
expects them to take risks and trust
         talent; the corporate parents, who punish
risk-taking at bonus time; and
         the niche audience, which wants to
pretend that it is discovering the films
         instead of being sold them. "But isn't
your main allegiance at Good
         Machine to the talent, to art?"
If that were all I worried about
         I wouldn't be making movies--I'd
write a poem. Bob comes in. I fill
         him in on the casting. Did I
remember to put him on the list
         for the "after-party" party?
Will any of us still be alive by then?
         Sig tosses my itinerary and a
long fax from the Akademie der Künste
         in my direction as I race out. Where's
my ticket? "It's electronic." I read
         the fax in the car. It's quaintly
Prussian. "During the screening, Klaus Keil,
         intendant of the Film Board Berlin-Brandenburg,
will meet you for a pre-discussion about
         your contribution on the following day. ...
After the screening please discuss your film
         with the audience." All right.
The flight is blessedly uneventful, but I
         hardly sleep: fear of drooling?
The young driver meets me at the gate.
         On the drive to the hotel we make small talk
about his student-exchange year in
         Calgary. "No one played soccer." And then,
a shock as I enter my blandly expensive
         room: it reeks of wildly aromatic hashish,
as if the ghost of some uneventful
         and placidly libidinous life had decided
to hang around to meet me. If only
         I had the time to do drugs! Some days,
funneled through the world
         as if in one of those pneumatic
tubes, connected by a thin
         continuous stream of telephone chatter to my
comrades and interlocutors, I
         land in the middle of
someone else's smell,
         and am grateful.

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.