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No Juice / Mark Rogers


photo by Mark Rogers



“You have to embrace the chaos. That way life might just astonish you.”

Hot Tub Time Machine

 

This is circa 1995 or so:

 

I met a young Chinese student, Han, who was studying film at NYU. His father was a heavyweight film director in Beijing and Han was sent to the States to learn the American way of doing business.


We decided to form a production company of our own to try and develop a joint Chinese/United States film project.


Han was laboring under the psychological burden of pleasing his father. Han was a man with a mission—a point scout for his father’s company. I was similarly desperate. I figured if I could come up with the right project that was at least half-funded by the Chinese, I might be able to push through a co-production with a U.S. company.


There was a novel I’d always wanted to see made into a film, The Chinese Bandit, by Stephen Becker. It would be a perfect choice for a Chinese/U.S. co-production. I did a little research and found the rights were owned by Barry Spikings, a producer whose biggest credit was the Academy Award-winning The Deer Hunter. I gave him a call and got his assistant on the phone, who happened to be Sam Peckinpah’s daughter. We hit it off and she connected me with Spikings. In a perfectly polite English gentleman manner he told me to get lost, that he wasn’t interested in my ideas on rewriting a script he’d already commissioned—a script that Mel Gibson was interested in directing and starring in (this was just after Braveheart).


I discussed it with Han and he contacted Beijing. They came back with an offer to supply Spikings with all the hardware for the production: the extras, the gear, the vehicles, as well as helping scout locations, all for a piece of the film. I thought I was being a real player when I forwarded this offer to Spikings.


He came back with a blistering letter threatening to sue me for damaging his production and for meddling in his business affairs.


Jesus. I had a vision of my family being homeless, at the mercy of Hollywood lawyers.


I wrote back with an apology, telling him I wouldn’t contact him any further about Chinese Bandit.


Becker had written a trilogy of Chinese novels. One of them, The Blue-Eyed Shan, wasn’t under option. Becker’s literary agent agreed to a free, three-month option and I got down to work. Since I was a nobody I needed a name director. I figured John Milius would be ideal since he gravitated to big and bold projects shot in Asia, like Apocalypse Now and Farewell to the King. I sent a presentation package to his office and got a call back immediately. His assistant tells me John is a big fan of Stephen Becker’s work and wants to talk.


That night I call Milius and we connect over the phone, talking about our favorite films—even the firepower in each one, like the Sharps rifle in Valdez is Coming. This is a strange moment for me, standing in my New Jersey living room talking to Milius about working together.


Then comes the douche-chill moment, when Milius says, “The movie I really want to make is Chinese Bandit. I was wondering if you’d do me a favor. Will you call Spikings and tell him I want to direct Bandit? If that falls through, then we can talk about Blue-Eyed Shan.”


What choice do I have? I bite the bullet and call Spikings. He comes on the phone, listens to my spiel and then laughs, saying. “You’ve got the biggest pair of brass balls I’ve ever seen. I’ll give Milius a call.”


When I tell Milius he thanks me and says, “Don’t worry—I don’t forget my friends.”


Time slips by and Milius is incommunicado, hard at work on a re-make of Wanted: Dead or Alive. I never learn the outcome of his discussion with Spikings.


My option lapses on The Blue-Eyed Shan, and I realize, finally, that nothing is going to happen with Beijing. There’s something fundamentally wrong with the Chinese connection.


Part of it's cultural, part of it's Freudian, and part of it’s me—my lack of juice.

 

from my memoir Orpheus on the 101, published by Cowboy Jamboree Press


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MARK ROGERS is a writer and artist whose literary heroes include Charles Bukowski, Willy Vlautin, and Charles Portis. Rogers lives in Baja California, Mexico with his Sinaloa-born wife, Sofia. His award-winning travel journalism has brought him to 56 countries. His crime novels have been published in the U.S. and UK. Uppercut, his memoir of moving to Mexico, is published by Cowboy Jamboree Press. NeoText publishes his Tijuana Novels series and Gray Hunter series. You can reach him at markrogers627@gmail.com.

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