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The Importance of Being Earnest 

Two teenagers show how to get your script read by a big-name movie actor

Wednesday, Apr 17 2002
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The Importance of Being Earnest Today's DIY inspiration: 14-year-old Maraya Massin-Lezey, a San Francisco student, and her New York-based cousin, Joanna Gurin, age 15, just returned from taking a meeting in London with Jude Law. Gurin wrote a screenplay about a gay love affair and the surrounding politics in the 1870s, with the aim of getting it to Law and Ewan McGregor's production company, Natural Nylon. The girls caught Law's performance onstage in Christopher Marlowe's Dr. Faustus ("The production wasn't very good, but he was," Massin-Lezey reports), but couldn't get near him in the adjacent cafe, where he was hanging out with friends after the show.

"In the morning, we went to the production company," Massin-Lezey relates. "We tried to make our whole presentation, and they said we had to go through an agent. I said, '"Well, I'm her agent.' But they didn't really believe me. We talked them into [letting us leave] one copy of the script." That night in the cafe, having seen the play a second time, the persistent teens nabbed a table across from Law. "Joanna starts to flip out with the actual reality of seeing him," Massin-Lezey says. "She doesn't want to interrupt him. But you have to. He got up to go to the bar and she jumped up." Law's response to being handed the script, according to Massin-Lezey? '"Wow, this is amazing. No one's ever done this. I will write to you.'" The lasses are still waiting, though it's only been three weeks. "While it was happening, I felt a little like a stalker," Massin-Lezey concedes. "But the point was to get him to read this truly beautiful piece of work."

Cat Women of the Moon "OK, here we go," said Berkeley writer Mike Wilkins when he and director Steve Kessler received an Oscar nomination in 1992 for their humorous short Birch Street Gym. "We're going to set Hollywood on fire." Kessler did get hired to helm Vegas Vacation, a Chevy Chase vehicle that burned only ticket buyers, but the duo -- who met at Stanford circa 1980 -- had no luck interesting producers in their screenplays. So they took one of those scripts, The Independent, a clever mockumentary about a fictional sub-Roger Corman B-movie producer named Morty Fineman, and set about producing it themselves.

"When Jerry Lewis said yes [to starring], we started renting space and hiring people," Wilkins relates on the phone from his job at a Marin County hedge fund. "At the last minute, he said, '"You haven't turned it into what I want to do.' At first you think, '"Jerry Lewis, crazy old man.' Three months later, we're shooting the film and get to this big problem, and we go, '"Oh, that's what Jerry Lewis meant.' He actually did have some valid concerns." Looking back on all the rookie mistakes he and Kessler made on the set, Wilkins concedes that it was fortuitous the easygoing Jerry Stiller replaced the perfectionist Lewis. "[Lewis is] a producer/director/writer/actor, and he's been doing it forever. He would have been impatient."

Wilkins got turned on to high-octane genre movies, Hong Kong-style, at the late Pagoda Palace Theater in S.F.'s Chinatown in the mid-'80s, and co-wrote a devotees' guide, Sex and Zen & A Bullet in the Head, published in 1996. You can still detect a lingering HK influence among the titles in Morty Fineman's vast (imaginary) oeuvre, best viewed at www.finemanfilms.com -- among them To Hell in a Picnic Basket and Drive-By Drive-In. Wilkins and Kessler will be on hand when The Independent opens at the Lumiere this Friday, April 19.

Save the Tiger The wildly successful Roxie benefit on April 7 raised $22,000 toward the theater's outstanding debt for back rent (see The House of Tudor, April 3). The theater's future is still uncertain as we go to press, although the "Underground Zero" show of 9/11-inspired shorts is optimistically booked for a week in May. ... "Independent Exposure," a showcase for shorts, kicks off its monthly series on May 28 at 111 Minna Gallery. ... The San Jose Film & Video Commission has pulled the plug on the Joey Awards after 19 years of honoring the best South Bay corporate and industrial videos. More than ever, the emphasis is on selling San Jose as a production location -- and filling those empty hotel rooms. ... New Yorker Films picked up East Bay filmmaker Maureen Gosling's vibrant doc Blossoms of Fire, which returns to the Fine Arts Cinema in Berkeley April 22-24.

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Michael Fox

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