Tag Archives: the player

A Dream Team: Patricia Resnick on 3 Women

As a film student at the University of Southern California, new to LA and without connections, Patricia Resnick had a habit of following film trucks, just to see where they’d lead. One took her to Westwood and the set of California Split (1974). The director was Robert Altman, her favorite. That afternoon, she hovered around the trucks (“I had more guts than brains,” she says), and when Altman turned up, Resnick told him she wanted to interview him for a paper she was writing on the greatest living director—which was true. He said okay. The next day, Altman called and said he wanted to hire her, not then but later. By the time Resnick graduated in 1975, he had a job for her: assistant to the publicist on Buffalo Bill and the Indians (1976). It was while they were working on that film that he asked if she wanted to write a treatment for the idea that became 1977’s 3 Women.

There’s a rule in the films of Robert Altman: if something works, turn it around and look again. A good Altman picture turns its people and places around so many times, it feels less like a single movie than x number of movies, one for every turn. And with every turn, more flavor. Dreamy and satirical and alarming, 3 Women is a Persona-like slow roast skewered on a spit, a picture of Altman’s frightened unconscious if it woke up in, well, Dodge City. Resnick, whose career as a Hollywood screenwriter was launched that day on the California Split set, would go on to collaborate with Altman on A Wedding (1978) and Quintet (1979) and appear briefly in The Player (1992)Here, she discusses her work with the filmmaker and his translation of 3 Women from brain to screen.

Sam Wasson: So you’re working on Buffalo Bill—

Patricia Resnick: Here’s what happened. He was producing Bob Benton’s movie The Late Show. Lily Tomlin was in it, and she was improving a lot of her dialogue, and she was asking for suggestions. And I was there and threw out some suggestions she liked. She eventually asked me to write a couple pieces for what became her first Broadway show. Altman went to see the show and said, “Oh, the kid can write.”

SW: It was around this time—as Altman told it—that his wife, Kathryn, got sick and he had this dream, a sort of nightmare.

PR: The dream was mostly cast and setting, more than it was story. Sissy and Shelley were in the dream. And he had the desert and something about switching personas. Those things were there, but they were vague. It was a dream.

SW: And he takes the dream to Fox?

PR: Yes. He had a good relationship with Fox and told them about this dream, and they said, “Great, but we’re not going to finance this dream without seeing something on paper.” So Altman came to me and said he wanted a treatment written, and if Fox moved forward with the film and wanted a script, I could come on as screenwriter and that would be my first screenwriting credit.

SW: Beyond the dream elements, was Altman specific about wanting anything else in the treatment?

PR: No. He just wanted a treatment, about fifty pages. We knew there had to be something of a story and we knew there had to be a third woman.

SW: Why?

PR: He just wanted a third woman. He liked the title 3 Women, so we needed a third woman. That was Bob.

SW: Did he let you go from there or did he work closely with you on the treatment?

PR: At the time, I was sharing an office with Scotty Bushnell, who was his right-hand person, who was casting all the time, so all these actors were running in and out. Ed Ruscha was around a lot, and various other sundry people. I was upstairs and Altman was downstairs, and he would come up all the time and we would go over everything, about every ten pages or so. But mostly he just let me go. It wasn’t like most writing—a collaboration between left brain and right brain. With this, I tried to use my left brain very little—I tried to dream it also.

SW: How did he give notes on a piece of unconscious writing based on a dream?

PR: He wasn’t a real note giver. I don’t think I ever got a written note from him on anything ever. Generally, conversations would be more about what he was seeing. I’d show him pages, and he’d say, “Okay, good, but I really want a run-down bar with all this crap out in the back, with shit piled up. I want that.” That was an Altman note. You know what I mean? He wasn’t a reader. Trying to get him to read a book or script was impossible. I wondered in later years if he might have been dyslexic, not seriously, but he was that averse to the printed word. His process was completely anti-intellectual. I remember at one point there was a film he wanted to make, a film based on a book, not a particularly good one, and it was set in a factory. He liked the idea, visually, of the factory—and that did it. He went from there to try to make a movie around it, but it didn’t go forward. That’s sort of how we worked on 3 Women. He’d like something and in it went.

SW: How long did the treatment take you?

PR: About a month. I wrote it quickly. When I finished, he was very happy with it, and he went to Fox, which decided to go ahead with it. And then a couple weeks later, he called me into his office and said, “I’m really sorry, but I’ve decided not to do a screenplay. I’m going to have the actors do it. But I’ll have you work on the movie in some way, as an extra or PA or something.” He knew I needed some kind of job. I was only twenty-two, twenty-three, and without any other prospect. So I was pretty devastated. Altman was the only Hollywood connection I had.

Continue reading at Criterion

 

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Goodbye, David Brown

“In this business,” said producer David Brown, who died Monday at 93, “you’re either an artist or a salesman. When you fall in between it becomes problematic.”

David Brown fell in between. He came to power in the 1970s, at a time in Hollywood when the industry was losing its first generation, and with it, it’s old-world, old-fashioned power hierarchies. “Things had changed,” Brown said. “Actors were telling the Studios how to make a movie, agents were just as powerful as producers. The Moguls didn’t understand that world and couldn’t tolerate it. It was a Hollywood Darryl F. Zanuck wanted out of.”

The system was in flux. What it needed was producers who could help the young talent translate their ideas – ideas not customarily associated with Hollywood fare – into studio terms; producers, in other words, with one foot in the old and one foot in the new. That was David Brown. To see him you would see good taste. And that’s where you wanted your money.

He was from New York, a journalist, Columbia educated, and he looked like it. He looked like the kind of man you wanted on your side, a gentleman equally at home in boardrooms as he was at Le Dôme. His battles, after all, we waged on both fronts.

It took the vision of an artist to see in the unproven Steven Spielberg the makings of a giant, and it took the chutzpah of a salesman to get the ridiculous proposition of Jaws into production. Everyone in pictures has to fight, but on Jaws, David Brown did double duty in two wars, against the studio and against the Spielberg, the sharks and the shark. Rather than make him seem duplicitous, Brown had a finesse, an air of suave in style and substance, that made his wrangling invisible, or if he got caught, justified, putting him in that ultra rare echelon of Movie Generals, who not only knew which battles were worth fighting, but how to win them.

An artist and a salesman. The salesman saw The Verdict, Driving Miss Daisy, and A Few Good Men to their maximum box office potential, but the artist saw in The Player, Michael Tolkin’s Hollywood novel, a “true authenticity,” and bought the rights. Movies about movies never do business. But Brown was in the business of quality.

As if making a movie of The Player wasn’t risky enough, Brown agreed that Robert Altman – renowned for his temper, the liability he brought to his productions, and his recent succession of flops – was flat-out perfect for the job. “Bob,” he said to Altman, “I agree you were born to direct this, but you have to be a good boy and play ball.” “I will,” Altman said. He didn’t.

Altman might have smirked to himself as he got off the phone with Brown, thinking he pulled yet another fast one on yet another suit, but chances are the fast one was on Altman. At that point, after forty years of finesse, Brown knew what he was getting himself into. He knew Altman thrived on resistance, so he gave it to him, and in the space of a few words, the artist transformed into the salesman, which proved he was a better salesman than he’d ever let on.

David Brown, September 25th 1916 – February 1st 2010.

Altman’s Hollywood

In this week’s New York Times Critic’s Pick, A.O. Scott takes a look at Robert Altman’s The Player, which he calls, “perhaps the greatest Hollywood satire ever made.”

Of course, a statement like this is bound to arouse contention, but the fact is, Scott’s right. There is no other film as sensitive to the mores of the business and the slippery people who engage it. Like M*A*S*H and Nashville, and Altman’s other masterpieces, The Player is pure anthropology.

If the movie feels more alive than other movies, it’s because it is. Where others use only canned vegetables, Altman goes for the organic. “Making a film is like painting a mural,” he said in the film’s DVD Commentary, “You’ve got this big wall to fill and you’ve got a subject, and the only difference is, as you got up there and you’re painting it, you’ve got living pigment. So you’ve let me paint a horse over here in the upper-right-hand corner and you turn around and look bak and the horse is moving across the stage and you have to quickly paint a fence. You have to kind of control it, but you’re dealing with a living thing that’s really forming itself. So you’re sitting up there doing damage control all the time. But the style in which one paints these films is…their personality, it’s what they do, it’s their artistry.”

Have a look.