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Advice from the Hollywood Caucus





DATE: March 25, 2004


There’s no time for pleasantries, Karl. We just got the overnight Nielsens, and buddy, we’re deader than the opening weekend of Gigli. Did you see the headlines in Daily Variety? Kinda rough. BUSH: THE NEXT EISNER? And then, under that: CONGLOM-KINGS MULL ’04 RE-WRITE AS GOP SCRIPTS DISSOLVE LIKE BRAND X TOILET-PAPER. And under that-

My God, you read that so fast!

First off, let’s give the devil his due. Clarke was incredible. First, he wrongfoots us with that apology bit-which played huge in the room-and he was off-book on that, we believe, it sure wasn’t in the freakin’ script that we got to peek at–isn’t Gordon Liddy still doing B&Es, Karl?-anyhow, Clarke sells the hell out of that apology speech, and there isn’t a dry seat in the house–plus he’s working that gravitas thing like a fuckin’ mastiff with a hamsteak, and…hey! Miller! Put that notebook away–you’re trying to steal my freakin’ line, you god-damn serial flop–

I wasn’t stealing it! I was admiring it! “Working that gravitas thing like a fuckin’ mastiff with a hamsteak-”

Right. And–

–or, or like Winona Ryder cadging a Vicodin scrip from a cut-rate Botox hustler-

Uh, Dennis? 1994 called. It wants its smirk back.

(Brief silence.)

As a great man once said, “Life is easy. Comedy is hard.” On Frazier, we-

Gentlemen, gentlemen, let’s get back on pointwe agreed that Clarke was very strong, doing Act Three of The Insider-that aging Russell Crowe thing, more in sorrow than anger, blah blah blahNine-Eleven, Schmine-Eleven: it played.

Right. And who do we send up to book-end the dude? Rove-O, we begged you to play the Rice card, but no. You’ve got a halfway-usable Halle Berry type, with that whacked-out, hell-hath-no-fury-like-a-woman-scorned thing working for her-and she plays all her big scenes OFF-CAMERA, for Christ’s sakes–when she was just voted “Most Likely to Appear in Groovy Hate-Fuck Fantasies” by white males between the ages of 55 and 70! MAKE the bitch testify, Karlie! Don’t let her sulk in her freakin’ trailer like Monty freakin’ Clift on a Seconal-and-vodka weeping-jag, OK-show her the power of that mighty Rove member, and dominate that fine brown frame, Herr Rovemeister! Of course, I may be–

-incredibly boring? still doing shtick that’s so old it should getting prescription-plan benefits? managing the incredible feat of bringing down the ratings at CNBC, for God’s sake? Face it, once and for all, Dennis-the hair is gone. It lived a good, full life, and it gave you a shot at a career in-what-comedy of some kind, I believe? Dennis, entre-nous, a little show-biz tip. You look silly flipping your head as if you were whipping back a headful of unruly hair–that whole lions’-mane thing from the SNL days-’cause it ain’t hap’nin’ any more, Slick.

Sorry to interrupt, girls, but please–can we get off of Dennis’ hair for a minute and back to the subject? Thank you. Now-speaking as an Oscar ™ winning director-

Oh, Christ, here we go-

Oh–so solly, Mr. Baseball-San! But as a creative force in this industry, I know a little something about dramatic structure. Climax is everything, OK? So let’s compare our climaxes here. How does Clarke end Act 3? BY HUGGING THE FAMILIES OF 9/11 VICTIMS! I mean, reallythat’s cinema! It played like the last scene of It’s A Wonderful Life-where Capra uses the whole mise-en-scene to create a sense of-

Hey, Orson, we’re on the clock here–

The Kev-o-Matic is right, though: they close with the hug. We close with this Richard Armitage thing up there, who looks like the freakin’ bald wrestler-zombie from those old Ed Wood movies! Whose genius idea was that? Even with hair, the guy’s a bad George Wendt, on his best day. But with that single tooth shining and that fourth-rate Harmless Moron shtick-I mean, talk about overplaying! The Dickster couldn’t do a cameo as a high-school football coach in a friggin’ TNT movie! He couldn’t play the slow-witted water-boy in a feel-good Jim Carrey dramedy! He couldn’t-

(Sounds of Miller talking continue, but inaudibly, as if someone has pushed the tape-recorder to an another end of the conference table.)

We’ve got to think “outside the box,” as I like to put itI mean, the whole image of a “Senate hearing” works against us, y’know? It brings up bad memories. I’m just spitballing here, butis there any way to do this as a Western?


Sure, Kev, sure-any wild guess who might play the lead? Or do you just wanna dazzle us with more of your Oscar ™ directing chops?

if we could get black to-back to Condy Rice-for a second-

I bet that Connie Wright has big chalupas!

(Brief, stunned silence.)

Governor, why don’t you run outside and play for a little while, OK–the grown-ups need to talk now. And find out why Maria keeps shrieking in the hall, would you?

Ah, she always does thatcan I come back later?

We’ll see, governor, we’ll see. Just go outside and grope a few assistants until nap-time, and we’ll tell you what happened when you wake up-OK?

(Sound of heavy footfalls; Schwarzenegger apparently walking out of the room.)

Schwarzenegger (growing fainter:)
Yah, OK. I hear that black women have really big Rumsfelds, and–

Would somebody shut that god-damn door?

(Sound of door closing.)

Good God! The man still uses cute nicknames for women’s breasts, for God’s sake.

Right, Kel– like those Vegas lap-dancers you keep marrying would really be offended.

Hey stud, I’ve got two words about your manhood: Alison Kutcher.

(Sounds of scuffling; muffled curses; and apparent crying from Grammer. It sounds like Heston and Costner are pulling the fighters apart.)

(Brief silence.)

I suggest we focus on the positive for a moment.

(Long silence.)

I kinda liked Tom Kean’s choices

Exactly. In my day we called that underplaying. But LehmanThompsonmy God

Again, Karl, not to be petty, butwe begged you for a rewrite on Lehman’s stuff. I mean-bad enough that he looks like some kind of mix between an evil Don Knotts and Eddie Haskell after thirty years of swigging Gallo Red straight from the jugbut to try setting Clarke up with that see-through shit about being old buddies-when everyone in the audience saw Clarke wasn’t buyin’ it-and then bumbling through that terrible “I envy your booksales” bit-which took FOREVER, it seemed like-who decided to write in an irony beat for this clown?

I believe it was Twain who once observed: “Life is hard. Irony is-”

You’re on thin ground here, Mr. Meterosexual-Before-His-Timeif you think anyone really buys that marrying-a-silicone-blonde-again bullshitso just shut up.

(Inaudible sullen muttering from Grammer.)

And besides Lehman, how about this Thompson? The man isn’t even recognizably human on a basic physiological level! He looks like a chunk of random ectoplasm that some infant God with a case of the terrible cosmic twos threw against the bathroom wall in an I-hate-Mommy tantrum! We give him the money line, for the love of God, with the leaked deep-background memo from Scotty Hannity at Fox-O-I mean, here we are, blatantly trashing the last of the Beltway good-faith agreements to make one freakin’ point, and this cornholer who gives the term “flyover country” a whole new depth of meaning HAS TO READ FROM HIS GOD-DAMN SCRIPT, number one; and number two, when he FINALLY hits the punch-line, Clarke’s right there waiting for it like a debate-team Roadrunner dropping a sound-bite anvil on Governor Wile E. Coyote’s ugly head! Or likeum

(Sound of chair scraping on floor, as if someone’s trying to move closer to table.)

Miller, I swear, if you sneak a look at one more of my lines-I paid good fuckin’ money for this material-move your damn chair back! NOW!

(Sound of chair scraping backward.)

Karl, we need to take five here. We’ll meet again later today to help you formulate that warm and personal speech where you fire Scott McClellan.

Oh yeah. Ari Fleischer! Now there was a pro. I’m glad we’ll be getting him back.

That reminds me, Karl: when you break these notes down for the President, you might remind him of that old show-business adage-the one that’s always worked-long before Tony Blair or Ariel Sharon were even born.

I think I know where you’re going, Kelsey, and if so, you’re right as rain-

Yep, Charlton: “Dress British, Think Yiddish.”
(Verbatim transcript ends. Eighteen-minute silence follows.)

JOHN ESKOW is a screenwriter. His credits include one of CounterPunch’s favorite flicks, Air America. He can be reached at:



John Eskow is a writer and musician. He wrote or co-wrote the movies Air America, The Mask of Zorro, and Pink Cadillac, as well as the novel Smokestack Lightning. He is a contributor to Killing Trayvons: an Anthology of American Violence. He can be reached at:

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