Saturday, July 26, 2008
It looks like my house isn’t quite ready for its close up.
I thought I had a great idea: I wanted to rent out my family’s house to movie and film crews so we could make some extra cash while rubbing elbows with Hollywood creative types.
I had seen this article in the New York Times Real Estate section about allowing filmmakers to put your house in pictures and I thought, why not?
The house is huge, I’m the only one here, and we could use the dough. It all adds up.
And, since I’m a movie freak and would-be filmmaker who never had the nerve to move to Los Angeles, I thought I might be able to bring the mountain to Mohammad, so to speak.
My blogging buddy over at Crazy Stable had the Law & Order bunch in her house and in addition to seeing her home appearing in a hugely popular TV show, she got a load of free bacon.
I would gladly skip the bacon just to see a film crew in my ancestral home, to hear cries of “action” and “cut” and “make up!” and whatever else these movie/TV people say.
I planned to let the film crew run around the empty upstairs apartment, then go up there to see if everything was okay and then—oops!--casually drop one of my scripts on the floor with a cry of, "oh, my goodness how did that get there?"
Why, yes, funny you should ask, I am interested in film making and screenwriting, just like you guys. What a coincidence.
And did I mention my shamelessly desperate need to get the ever-loving fuck out of my current miserable existence and start a brand new life as a movie mogul millionaire—and, by the way, would you guys like some Frito's and Diet Pepsi?
The way I look at it, I have to move once we sell the house anyway—so why not Beverly Hills?
I know I can get used to wearing Armani suits, calling everyone “babe” and driving a Mercedes---or having someone drive it for me. It would be a challenge, but I'm sure I could do it.
They could shoot a family scene in our backyard, or a horror movie in the basement, assuming there isn't a real monster down there waiting to rip their heads off. It is pretty dark down there.
They could use my old bedroom as a place that’s been ransacked by desperate diamond thieves or a flea market that's been hit by bomb, or the bedroom of a middle-aged guy who dreams of running off to L.A. and working in movie business.
And when they were done and the movie or show hits the screens—big or small—I would wait and wait and wait until the 2.8 second shot of our place and so I could scream “that’s my family’s house! that’s my family house!” while being pelted by obscenities, Goobers and stale popcorn.
I had the fantasy all lined up; now I just had to make it happen, which isn't really one of my strong points.
I called the two big auction houses listed on the City’s film and TV office web page—didn’t I send them a resume once?-- and left messages with both. As soon as I finished making the calls, I got this queasy feeling, like I had made a huge mistake.
What was I thinking? No one wants to shoot a movie in our house, unless it's a fly-by-night, seat-of-their-pants pack of losers without a penny to their worthless names shooting some kind of slasher-porn-rock video-nature documentary-mouthwash commercial.
They’ll probably trash up the house, infuriate our neighbors and leave the place looking like postwar Berlin...or my bedroom. This could be a first-rate disaster, I thought, and it would be my fault.
Meanwhile, we had a real life drama happening on my block, as I learned the other day when I helped Emma, one of the local senior residents cross Fifth Avenue.
“Robert,” she asked as she took my arm, “have you heard anything about Mrs. Watson missing?”
My jaw fell, hit the pavement and bounced back into my mug. Mrs. Watson—not her real name, of course—is missing?
She is an elder stateswoman on Senator Street, one of the last few surviving parents from my mom and dad’s generation—if not the last. How could she possibly be missing?
“No, I haven’t heard anything like that.”
“Yeah,” Emma, another fake name, told me. “I heard they found her wallet in Staten Island—”
“What?” I shrieked. “She has a woman living with her, for God’s sake, how could this happen?”
“I don’t know…”
The “wallet found in Staten Island” line hit me pretty hard because usually if your wallet is found in Staten Island, your head will be found in New Jersey—if it’s ever found at all.
I didn’t actually believe anything like this had happened to Mrs. Watson, but there was nagging bit of doubt in the back of my mind, like, well, you know, these things do happen to somebody…
Cut to the Chase
What the hell was going on with my block? Were we under some kind of sorcerer's curse? Where in the hell were those Law & Order guys when you need them?
My sister suggested I just knock on Mrs. Watson’s door and ask, which sounded logical, but I felt a little strange about that.
What do you say? Hi, heard Mrs. Watson has vanished off the face of the earth and you have no hope of finding her, and, hey, do you have any Frito's?
I would have to give this one some thought.
The next day a woman from the auction houses called me back, but she didn’t sound all that enthusiastic. I have no doubt that she got a thousands of calls after the Times article ran and I guess she was just doing her due diligence.
“They usually want places in Manhattan,” she said, implying that Bay Ridge was somewhere in the lower regions of Tajikistan as opposed to be a 40 minute subway ride away. “And they’re looking for places that are spak-tack-u-lahhr.”
I think she was actually saying “spectacular,” but I can’t be certain. After the Seinfeld episode with Teri Hatcher I thought people would avoid that particular adjective.
And how am I supposed to respond? My house certainly seems spectacular to me. Well, maybe not spectacular, but certainly stunning and fabulous and magnificent, and hey do you want to shoot a goddamn movie here or not?
I feel like a frustrated stage mother. Can’t you see how beautiful this house is? It’s got personality, pizazz, all that je ne sais que crap.
What are you people looking for? Tara from Gone With the Wind, or stately Wayne Manor? It’s a nice house, there’s only one guy living here, now let’s make a movie deal.
The other auction house never called me back and I was feeling kind of depressed. I want out for sushi during the week with some friends and one woman told me that a crew had used her apartment during a commercial shoot.
Her flat wasn’t the star of the ad, however, it just served as an equipment store room. She didn’t sound too thrilled with the experience, which included the director deciding to pick up a pair of bongo drums he found in her apartment and start banging away at 4 AM. Her neighbors were so pleased.
But she suggested that I keep trying. Look around online or post a notice on Craigslist. And I thought yes, that might work.
Maybe my house won’t be a star, but it can be a supporting cast member, a memorable character actor, like William Bendix or Gabby Hayes, or one of those other celebrated faces my dad would get all excited about when he saw one of them on TV.
“Look who it is!” he’d exclaim, pointing at the screen.
“Who is it?” I’d say.
“I don’t know,” my father would declare, “but he’s been in a million pictures.”
After going through the same exchange several thousand times, I eventually learned not to make any comment and watch the movie in silence.
After making that decision, I finally got the nerve to ring Mrs. Watson’s front doorbell. This is what the Law & Order guys do all the time.
I was a little anxious, half-expecting to see a house full of grieving relatives and a squadron of cops asking questions, taking pictures, and putting everything smaller than a Mini Cooper into plastic bags.
Instead Mrs. Watson’s aide answered the door and immediately I knew I had gotten a bum steer.
“Hi,” I squeaked. “I just wanted to see if everything was okay…”
Well, of course it was and now the aide was giving me the raised eyebrow, as in, why shouldn't everything be okay?
I felt compelled to tell her what I had been told, without naming the source, and the aide rolled her eyes.
“It was Mrs. Watson’s sister,” she said. “She went to the Staten Island Mall and while she was there she lost her wallet.”
Okay, that’s just a little bit different from the story I had heard. I’ve had about three people tell me that this story sounds like the game “Telephone,” so I’ll spare you that analogy…even though I really didn’t.
I felt a bit foolish walking back to my house, but I was being a good reporter, going directly to the source; I had done my due diligence. And I’m glad the news was nowhere near as bad as it could have been.
So my house isn’t famous yet. Mrs. Watson is safe at her home, praise the Lord, and we don’t need the Law & Order guys around here after all.
I don't know if I'll pursue the idea of renting the house out to filmmakers. And I don’t know if I’ll ever get out to L.A.
But I’m pretty sure I’m going to stay away from the Staten Island Mall.