James Schamus

James Schamus

A weeklong electronic journal.
Sept. 24 1997 3:30 AM

James Schamus

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I carry Nona's Barbie lunch box to school for her.
         "I've changed my mind. I want hummus and chips."
The classroom is calmly riotous. We read
         a Cinderella book. Will you marry me? asks
the prince. "No, you are disgusting."
         Up the street, I wait in line at our new coffee place. It smells
of fresh roast and a kind of Seattle-style
         "progressive" corporate ethos: a sign invites one
to apply for "associate" positions,
         whatever those are.
What's the special coffee today? "Kenyan double-A."
         I'll have a tall. (I have learned to say "tall" instead of
"medium," and "grande" instead of "large,"
         as the underpaid counter help are apparently instructed
not to respond
         to requests made in non-New World Coffee lingo.)
"We're already out of it--
         but it was the special."
I drop off my shirts at the laundry, where the multiracial staff
         is always so blissfully happy.
Are they Moonies?
         In class, Plato is accused
of inconsistency. "It's ironic, because
         he argues that virtue can't be taught but he
is teaching it." Is he? I ask, unconvincingly Socratic.
         1 o'clock. I race from class to a waiting town car--
a more brutal transition than usual between academe
         and studio business. The whole day devoted
to Ice Storm screenings and press conferences.
         I begin maniacally punching
numbers into the phone. "They would like the board meeting
         on the fifth." I bark back at Sig: Where am I on the fifth?
"In Tokyo." That's right. Why am I
         talking like such an asshole? Low
blood sugar?
         Sam: "I just want to make sure
the terms of the deal are clear."
         They are. They just keep changing.
"He would have to convert his preferred shares to common stock."
         Ted now has caller ID on his cell phone: "Hello James."
I haven't set foot once on set. "It's going to be
         the greatest independent film ever made,
and we're all going to jail!" My battery is low,
         so if I hang up on you
it's unintentional.
         I arrive at the screening room for the tail end
of the Q&A, begging the publicists for food.
         The room is packed. Ang looks happy.
"I tried for photo-realism,
         but it was always too cloudy, so all I got
was Impressionism." Into the town cars again
         and over to Lincoln Center for the film festival press screening.
The cast gathers. I'm on a pay phone the whole time.
         "They're slipping us the script."
Behind a curtain, there are little sandwiches and a Caesar salad,
         and Kevin Kline has a goatee.
I compliment Christina
         on her interview in Interview. "He was very nice. He corrected
my grammar. I'm really not that intelligent."
         After the reception, we walk out to see
President Clinton's motorcade pull up--
         he's going to the opera. And 65th Street
is empty:
         the Secret Service
has shooed all our limos away.

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.