May 05, 2013


Dear Gato,

Bocas del Toro couldn”€™t be more different than Puerto Viejo.

In Bocas, the “€œVenice of Panama,”€ the only way to get around is by dugout canoe, paddled by genial 15-year-olds smoking weed and accepting beers for payment”€”a regular dugout taxi service! With barely two inches between the rim of the boat and the water, these youngsters had it down and let not a drop in the boat. The archipelago should be a UNESCO landscape site, it’s so damn beautiful. It’s like the Industrial Revolution never happened here. And it felt good, gliding through the sweet-water lagoons, sizing up hotels, shacks, and posadas from water level. Life is different and altogether better at water level, I would venture. I found a gem of a hotel, the perfect place to begin the screenplay”€”a hybrid of the Disaster Tourism and Horror Porn genres. I had found the perfect place to crack on with it…then my cell phone buzzed. 

And I made the mistake of picking up. Mickey’s wife was on the line and she wasn”€™t happy. By the time I got off the call I knew what I had to do, and it wasn”€™t what I felt like doing, which was becoming a Central-American gondolier. I had no choice. I did the honorable thing and flew back to LA to help out.

It transpired that Mickey had escaped from a “€œholistic recovery facility”€ north of San Diego. He”€™d vanished”€”most likely across the border into Tijuana. When I arrived at LAX, though, I only knew that my mission, as instructed by his longsuffering spouse, was to find Mickey.

She picked me up at the airport and gave me the lowdown while driving me home. The fix was this: Mickey had agreed to write a reboot of Fantasy Island in 3D, something he”€™d never agree to in his right mind. He probably couldn”€™t resist the challenge of doing something completely wrong for him. 

One advantage of this kind of sell-in is that, when doing something completely wrong for you, the pain of selling your integrity permits some people to “€œact out”€ and indulge in every vice available to compensate. This is the psychology. It’s a tough fix, writing something you hate for money. Mickey did what any pro writer has to do. Namely, accept the advance of $4M for writing the script and”€”here’s the rub”€”completing a legacy-heavy motion picture inside a time window of three weeks!

“€œIf the script wasn”€™t delivered on time, Mickey would never work again”€”in this town or anywhere else.”€

Why? On account of a Fantasy Island: China theme-park deal that, the trades report, is worth four billion dollars, and which the studio is about to close on with its Chinese partners after years of negotiating with the government. JCB diggers were standing at the ready, waiting to move some heavy dirt and construct this gigantic playground for the new middle class. 

Depending, that is, on one condition: that tangible proof existed that the film was in pre-production at the studio and scheduled for release simultaneously with the grand opening of the theme park in 2015. The evidence the Chinese partners required was 1) a shooting script; and 2) several A-list attachments, with box-office records exceeding $2B each. The latter had been taken care of. What remained for the deal to close was delivery of the script. 

Mickey found himself unable to resist, then unable to back out of, a piece of work which had “€œwrong”€ written all over it. According to his agent, Mickey’s recent recovery stints, far from diminishing, have actually increased his scarcity value and so doubled his standard writing fee. That wasn”€™t his only motivator, Jennifer revealed. It turns out he was on the hook for a significant sum to some “€œvery bad people.”€ I didn”€™t pry because I didn”€™t want to know more. Because if I knew, maybe I”€™d be asked to advise, and if I was asked to advise, then maybe I”€™d be asked to mediate. 

Jennifer saw it starkly. If the script wasn”€™t delivered on time, not only did they risk foreclosure on the place in Benedict Canyon, Mickey also risked a lifetime of immobility or permanent brain damage (the terms his creditors had stipulated). That’s not all. If the script didn”€™t arrive on schedule, the Chinese deal would fail and, worse, Fox or Universal could come in under the studio’s nose and, through a “€œleveraged rights buyout,”€ they might steal the deal that took so long to accomplish. (The delay was due partly to the “€œvoluntary relocating”€ of 75,000 people in the Tianjin area to make room for the construction.) If the script wasn”€™t delivered on time, Mickey would never work again”€”in this town or anywhere else. Mickey’s assistant accidentally let it slip to the studio that she hadn”€™t seen her boss for over a week. Now the studio lawyers and Mickey’s agent and everybody with a finger in the pie were coming down on Jennifer hard. Where was Mickey? 

After a case of writer’s block…followed by a three-day bender…followed by a return home and a severe comedown…followed by a major freak-out at the pressure of the circumstances he”€™d so boldly gotten himself into…after this sequence he did the right thing and checked himself into a recovery clinic near Oceanside. There he would spring-clean mind and body and set about writing the damn thing”€”in the eleven days left to him. 

A few days later Mickey confirmed to his wife on the phone that his head was clear; he was ready to write. And write fast. Jennifer asked him how many seasons of the original Fantasy series he”€™d viewed, and he lost his temper, yelling how watching those episodes would take up a week alone. Wisely, she hung up, giving him the space an artist needs.

That was her last contact with him.

As we pulled up in my drive, Jennifer choked back tears. “€œPlease find him,”€ she implored. I assured her I”€™d do my best; I had some ideas as to where her man might have gone underground. “€œWe only have six days….”€ She broke down at the thought of the consequences. I told her to be strong. I hopped straight into the Merc. I made my way downtown and onto the 5 Freeway: southbound. Mexico-bound.

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