28th February 2010

Now that Flavia is retired she can come out and spend some time with me in Pittsburgh. The best month in terms of our timetables is February but February in Pittsburgh is grim winter so, when I book her trip in October, I plan a weekend in Los Angeles as a respite. This forward planning seems a stroke of genius after Pittsburgh experiences its worst February in recorded time. Well before the end of the month more snow has fallen than in any months since they began keeping such statistics in the nineteenth century.
As we drive through the sunlit avenues of Los Angeles I feel , for the first time since I stopped producing, a twinge of regret that I am no longer in the game. I suppose that is because Hollywood remains the one unrealized ambition. Not that it was an ambition when I started as Head of Production in 1985. The world of British independent film, of the BFI and Channel 4 was at that time a world sufficient unto itself. Indeed you could say that professionally my producing world was the world of films that could not get an American distributor. And in my early years as I made an annual visit to Hollywood, the studios seemed terminally stupid, always wanting to make last year’s hit with last year’s stars – I think it was Pretty Woman, Richard Gere and Julia Roberts the first year I had these monotonous conversations. However, over time I realized that they weren’t stupid, just businesslike. Making last year’s hit with last year’s stars was good steady business. Making this year’s hit was very risky business indeed, risk that the studios left to the independents. I really warmed to Hollywood in l989 when our sales agent had a screening of Venus Peter and Sabrina Guiness, always a great source of local information, took me and Christopher Hitchens to the Marquis on Sunset for brunch. I was entranced by the hotel with its pools, lawns and a clientele almost exclusively of British rock stars with appalling haircuts. From then on, I stayed at the Marquis and whether it was chance, charm or being mistaken for one of the rock stars, I would always book the cheapest room and then be upgraded to a magnificent villa. Finally I also did serious business there – but it wasn’t producing features but buying clips for our documentaries on the history of film. Paul Jalfon and I used even throw drinks for the poor executives who worked in the clip licensing departments. But when we closed Minerva’s offices in 2002, there was no longer any excuse to go back. By then I had encountered enough of Hollywood at its most vicious to know that I couldn’t deal with the agents, an essential Hollywood producer skill.
I hadn’t thought about any of this for a long time but as we crossed La Cienega on Sunday morning en route for the very disappointing La Brea Museum and the tar pits where they dug out the sabre tooth tiger ( ok cat) and the huge mammoths, I said to Flavia “Let’s go and have brunch at the Sunset Marquis”. Of course, the place had changed, the most beautiful lawn covered with a huge restaurant, the pool shortened and the villas being remodeled. We had a very nice meal and promised ourselves that we would come back but the Sunset I stayed at in the nineties has receded into the past along with my fleeting ambitions to be a Hollywood producer.


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