Down Home Julie

In film school, many of the screenwriting students swore by the arithmatic-driven, year-long feature film development class taught by Jodie Foster's producing partner. Personally, that stuff scared me to death. I wasn't even sure what "development" was, let alone why I would want to call on such a seemingly businesslike process in the creation of all the quirky little films flickering in my head.

I sat in on class the first night anyway, mostly to see if Jodie would show. She didn't. It must be she already knew that filmmaking requires not a writer, but rather an idea, an accountant, one or more superfluous blowhards, their toadies, and a star. The latter can't be just any old celebrity, mind you, only one proven able to "open a movie" without the help of a co-star, big name director or even a script. While the studio number crunchers can tell you who these rarefied individuals are, concluded our lecturer, you can just as easily put that together yourself. "If you think Uma Thurman alone is going to get your movie made, ask your Uncle Harold back in Podunk," she said. "It's a bad sign if he can't even pronounce the name."

At the last minute, I decided to spend the holidays in the small town in Florida where my parents recently retired. On Christmas morning, my father made me a pecan waffle with Benecol and sugar-free Log Cabin, then took me to see his grave. My mother's, too.

I looked him up and down, checking for a suspicious mole or visible tumor. Mom smiled brightly from the car, where she sat listening to the new Rod Stewart CD she got for Christmas. Maybe they'd made some kind of a pact to crank up "Maggie May" and end it all if they weren't able to reserve a verandah suite on their next Caribbean cruise. "Pretty spot, isn't it?" he boasted, giving the marker etched with their names a little kick like the tire of some sweet new roadster.

"You're sixty-nine years old!" I wanted to shout. "Mike Wallace is eighty-eight and he beats up cops!" But I couldn't speak at all, so I just stood there and started to cry. Female outbursts really aren't Dad's strong suit, so he mumbled something about bringing around the car.

All I could figure is he couldn't face the idea of death without dragging me and my mother along—as if on one of his ridiculous camping trips separating us from another fabulous sale at Lord & Taylor. Or maybe he just wanted to remind me that he wouldn't be around forever so I'd eat the wild pig he'd shot in the woods and pretend it didn't taste like shoes. Or maybe he just wanted to pick the next movie for a change.

After dinner, I put down my fork, knocked back the last of the Sauvignon Blanc and announced my willingness to see King Kong. "I saw the first two," he said. Though relieved, I also knew that trying to sell Brokeback Mountain as a reinterpretation of Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid would be pushing my luck. I suggested The Producers. It turns out he'd already seen that, too, with Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder. "Wouldn't you like to see the musical version?" I asked. "I hear Uma Thurman wears a thong."

"He doesn't know who Uma Thurman is," my mother chimed in.

"I do so know Oona Thurman," insisted my father. Though a brilliant, well-read man, his cinematic tastes reveal a childlike sense of wonder. The last really great one, by God, was The Polar Express. On the other hand, he can't seem to get through Sideways because it's about two losers. "I like heroes," he said with a shrug.

It suddenly occurred to me why it was so important for him to show me his grave, and why it was equally important for me to see it. Everybody needs a hero, and here mine sat right across the dinner table, with all his flaws and ticks, for a limited time only. Unlike us Hollywood types, he'd mustered the courage to get up and go to work every day without ever questioning whether or not it was fun. Though I wasn't equipped to argue the concept in film school, finally getting something onto the big screen might well mean knowing less about Uma Thurman and more about Umatilla. It might mean really knowing my dad. "We could just stick around here," I suggested. "I'm not sure if I'm up for hiking, fishing or gunplay, but I am willing to cook up some of that dead pig of yours."


  1. Great blog, right funny. Good luck w/ creen writing. Check me out @ Rollingpix

  2. Anonymous4:45 PM

    Blaaaa! Funny but also way sad. Why don't you write a tear jerker?

  3. I'll bet you've already written several tear jerkers... Great post. Made me cry. Again.

    Warm wishes from the Great White North this holiday, Julie. Here's to 2006.

  4. Great stuff, Julie. Was the wild pig a new leather tasting shoe or a death of nose hairs kind of shoe?

  5. How is it you keep turning out the incredible stories? If Hollywood doesn't make your movie, I'm going to stop going to the pictures.

    By the way, there's an Umatilla Oregon which is where I thought you were going.

  6. Well said.

    Looks like a good set up for the new year.

  7. Thanks for writing all. You are all very sweet and you never fail to make my day. I am somewhere between Umatilla and Hollywood and promise more later, none of it death related.

  8. Maybe in the meantime (or the same time) you should write a book! They give bloggers with far less talent than you book deals.

  9. Anonymous11:03 AM

    You are one of my heros in Hollywood! Hang in there Julie. You have a heart and that's what counts in life (well, other than paying the rent, the dentist and that pesky school loan).

  10. Hope you're having a good, story-inspiring time!

  11. Nice one, Julie. Sometimes, the best things to know are within reach (of a plane ticket or phone call anyway).