Lizardo, the Bog Man
by Harry Buschman
You may have heard of me, but then again, it's just as likely you haven't. My name is Woody Hatton and I was a non-union Hollywood screen writer for almost four months. I went out to Hollywood to write a screen play for Meyer Flick. It was the first one I ever wrote ... one was enough.
I'm in a United jet on my way home to New York.
The way it began was Meyer Flick found me on the Off Broadway circuit. I had a one act play running in the Village and three full length plays sitting on my kitchen table waiting patiently for their first performance. I also parked cars in the garage next to the theater where my play was running and that's where I met Meyer in the garage I mean, not the theater. I was working there when he walked in with his chauffeur and Gina Marina the Italian movie star.
"They tell me in the theater next door that the author works in here, name's Woody somethin'. You know him?"
"Yeah, I'm Woody. Woody Hatton. Mind puttin' out your cigar Mister there's no smokin' in here." Then he introduced me to his chauffeur and handed me his card, I ran my finger over it to see if it was engraved, that's how you can tell if a guy's on the up and up.
"I'm Meyer Flick. Flick Studios." Gina here liked your play." Then he introduced me to Gina Marina, and while his chauffeur got the car he walked her up and down, the way you'd show off a thoroughbred horse. "Lookit the way she moves, nice piece'a work, huh? Gina don't speak English awful good, but she got an idea for a movie from your play. Y'ever done any screenwritin' ....?"
Naturally I said yes, although at the time I didn't know anything about screen writing, but I figured it was a way of getting out of New York, broadening my horizons and maybe picking up a buck or two. Mr. Flick said he was going to be in the city for a few more days but sometime the following week I should drop in on him out at Flick Studios in Culver City. I didn't have a thousand bucks to blow on a round trip ticket to Los Angeles, so I told him I didn't know whether my schedule permitted me to travel the following week.
"S'pose I spring for first class round trip tickets on United?"
"You got a deal," I answered quickly.
I gave him my address and we shook hands on it, then we stood and watched Gina climb into the back seat of the limo. After Meyer caught his breath he told me he had the utmost faith in her creative ability in the business of making movies. "What can I tell ya," he said "You wouldn't think it to look at her, but she's got a head on her too."
So that's how it all started, and that's how I became a full fledged screenwriter for Flick Studios. But it didn't last long, a few months later I was cleaning out my desk and heading back home to New York. I console myself now by remembering that a lot of great writers didn't make it in Hollywood. They came back east too frustrated and disillusioned. Just because I didn't make it out here doesn't mean I'm not a great writer it doesn't mean I'm a good one either. In fact it doesn't mean anything at all.
The movie that Gina had imagined turned out to be nothing like the one act play I wrote back east. That one was called "Out of Sight" and it dealt with an airline pilot who was suddenly struck blind in the cockpit of a 747 half way across the Atlantic, and then agonized over whether or not to tell the co-pilot. Maybe it was the language barrier. Meyer Flick told me that Gina didn't speak English very well it's possible she didn't understood it either.
This movie would be called "Lizardo, the Bog Man," and starred, of course, Gina Marina as an Amazon Queen and Axel Wilder as a young scientist lost in the jungles of Brazil. Fabio Ponti would direct and James Wong Who was our cameraman. We made up the plot as we went along, and my job was to invent the dialogue as the plot unfolded.
The plot, you ask? Yes, we had a plot and I suppose I should lay the plot out for you.
There was this warlike tribe of women deep in the jungles of Brazil. They had never seen a man until Axel Wilder staggered in more dead than alive after having been clawed by a jungle beast. They washed his wounds, and in doing so, noticed he wasn't put together the way they were.
The only children in the village were girls and they were conceived during the annual emergence of Lizardo from the depths of a nearby bog. Lizardo came up for air during the summer solstice. That was the big presentation number in the movie. All the Amazon girls danced in wild abandon during the Feast of the Impregnation.
When Axel regained his strength he taught the Amazonian women the error of their ways and showed them pictures of television sets, limousines and wealthy families of white men and women and children of all sexes. When Lizardo realized he was about to lose out on a good thing, he waylaid Alex in the jungle and a bloody brawl ensued.
... I just looked back over that synopsis and I think maybe I've gone far enough. Films are always better seen than described anyway the medium is the message, they say.
At our first story conference I did my best to persuade Meyer and Fabio that the scenario was unbelievable and it would give me great difficulty creating dialogue.
"Shut uppa you mout, rookie," Fabio finally exploded. "We know the business up and down, forget the dialogue just write down what the actors are supposed to say."
I asked him about the dialogue for Lizardo, and after considerable thinking both Meyer and Fabio decided the bog man would speak in his native Amazonian.
"We use sub-titles, see." Meyer said. "Getcha self a book on Amazonian outta the liberry."
Our budget was limited, and almost half of it was spent on the Bog Man suit for Lizardo and costumes for Gina and the rest of her lost tribe of Amazonians. We tried to maintain a racial mix, six blondes for every brunette. The cast grew so large that Meyer finally put his foot down "We sure ain't takin' this mob to Brazil, y'hear, Fabio. We just do it in the lot like we always do, see. Any remotes y'gotta do, y'do in Laguna Beach."
I think we lost some native authenticity that way, and it put an enormous strain on the shoulders of the camera man and the film editor. Our editor was an old timer I got to know well. His name was Quincy Gables and he'd been in the film business nearly forty years. He claimed he could make a movie out of nothing. "Just tell me what'cha story is and I'll make up a movie from the strips I got layin' around on the floor of the shop." He got his chance to prove it, and you can decide for yourself how successful he was by watching the TV Guide for "Lizardo, the Bog Man." It can usually be found on the Sci-fi channel late every Saturday night. You'll see my name rolling by, "scenario and dialogue by Woodrow Hatton."
The dialogue was dubbed in after the scenes were shot. Neither Gina Marina nor Axel Wilder could be trusted to remember their lines during the action. It also meant that one take was enough for almost everything. You remember silent movies, don't you? Oh, you don't! well in silent movies the actors pretended to talk but didn't, then a title would pop up telling the audience what they said. I couldn't help thinking it would have been the perfect solution for us as well.
Gina's accent was pure Sicilian, and trying to make, "Looka! Lizardo. he's a comma!" sound as though it had been spoken by the duly crowned Queen of the Amazonians was not easy. On the other hand Axel's voice was as pipey and petulant as a pimple faced teenager, his brave assertion that civilization was only a day's journey up river was feeble. But that's why good editors are worth their weight in gold. Quincy was able to chop off the vowels from the end of Gina's almost every word in much the way as you would trim off the inedible ends of asparagus. Axel Wilder's voice was lowered an octave or two until he sounded just like Darth Vader.
There are some directors who know when their picture is finished, but Fabio Ponti was not one of them. His truck driver's voice was amplified far beyond intelligibility and could be heard halfway to Las Vegas. He and Who sat in the cherry picker with the camera careening above our heads like a pair of deranged witches, their faces purple with rage Meyer finally pulled the plug on the movie.
"Fabio, sweetheart! FABIO!! (Bring him down, Goddammit.) No more already, we're through yet. Outta money, outta film and Gina's gone back to Sorrento, or wherever the hell she come from." Gina had seen some of the test prints and brought suit against Flick Studios for fraud. She also caught Meyer 'en flagrante' with one of the blond Amazonian slaves. Flick Studios was now in the hands of attorneys and the future of the picture was in the hands of Quincy Gables.
That was enough for me. My salary stopped abruptly when Flick's assets were seized. Even a tight-fisted man like me cannot exist without money in California. Luckily I still had my first class return ticket on United and the little money I had saved from six months living in a walk-up flat in Culver City. I wish I could have stayed and watched Quincy put the picture together, but even my frugal life-style could not be maintained on the little money I saved. My rent was due and if I paid it I would be penniless in a pitiless town. Like Maxwell Anderson, Dalton Trumbo and the rest, I kissed la-la-land goodbye.
So it shall be as it was before writing plays and parking cars. Will I be sadder? Not really. Will I be wiser? Hardly. Will I be older? Definitely! With philosophical detachment I look down and see the Grand Canyon passing below, reduced to the size of a pothole in a New York City street. I am moved to think that reality is an illusive thing, and when you're in the belly of a 747 flying at 40,000 feet. The plane is a far more solid place than the universe itself.
Where you've been and where you're going are figments of your imagination. It's where you are that counts.
©Harry Buschman 1999