Friday, February 13, 2009

My Dinner With Marcus

The director of Friday the 13th makes me a sandwich.

I’m sitting in the beachfront Malibu home of infamous German director Marcus Nispel (Friday the 13, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre), hoping to convince him to pick me as a writer on his next horror film, Subterranean. Unlike the remakes he is famous for, Subterranean (aka "Pod") is based upon his original idea, and Marcus is being very picky about who is going re-write the script. In the middle of our heated debate about whether or not more exposition could have improved the original “Alien,” Marcus abruptly goes to the kitchen to make sandwiches. When he returns, I realize that if I eat the sandwich I will probably get the job, and if I don’t, I probably will not.

The sandwich is made of blood sausage and sliced tongue.

One of the never ending challenges of being a screenwriter is the necessity of collaboration. In the past, my collaborators have asked me to write startlingly ridiculous and insipid things. They have asked me to write about puritan ghosts who haunt freshman dorms. They have asked for nurses to take showers in asylums at midnight. They have concocted “satanic, chollo, midget priests” and “goats with shark teeth.” They have changed my male protagonists into lesbians and my heroines into werewolves.

It’s my job to eat the sandwich.

Before this meeting, I was told to prepare myself for the worst. Marcus, they said, is difficult to collaborate with. His mind jumps quickly from one idea to another, one inspiration to the next, and often these bursts of insight seem confusing and contradictory. His insistence on managing minute and seemingly irrelevant details, has given him the reputation of being eccentric and even crazy. But as I sit there, watching his eyes grow wide with excitement as he recounts his favorite scene from The Thing, I can’t help thinking, “is this man any more insane than the other genuinely creative people I know?”

Is he crazier than the artists I knew who would build found-object sculpture out of rubber ducks? Is he crazier than the mathematicians I knew who would wouldn’t eat or sleep until their proofs were not just correct… but “elegant?” Is he crazier than my friend the Prop Master, who spends hours in his garage designing and constructing absurd, robotic “inventions.” Is he crazier than my own father, rising every morning at 6 AM to do the same mouthpiece drills he practiced at age 11?

Is he any less sane than me?

No, in fact, his rants and inspirations feel frighteningly familiar. So I take a second look at the sandwich, the thinly sliced meat, and decide that I am actually sort of hungry. I take a bite, and realize that blood sausage and sliced tongue may sound like a horror film, but it actually tastes more like bologna.

So as we take out the script for Subterranean, and as we outline sequences, flesh out characters, and argue over dialogue, I eat the sandwich. I eat every last bite. And when I am done, I politely ask for another. I do NOT eat it just to humor him. As it turns out, he couldn’t care less whether or not I eat the sandwich. I eat it because I want to.

Because it tasted good.

P.S. And yes, I got the job.

You can read Marcus Nispel's response to this blog here.

For other Genre Hacks stories try reading these posts:

How NOT to Pitch A Studio

Why YOU should write Stigmata 3

Just Listen (A love letter to cinema sound)


Anonymous said...

Interesting read. I hope you get it. Do you think Brendan would have ate the sandwich too?

Unknown said...

Congrats on the job. Actually I like blood sausage and tongue. We ate both regularly when I was growing up. The sandwich sounds good!

Anonymous said...


Don Roff said...

Way to TASTE one for the Gipper, Sean! Congrats on getting the job, and that the job is not writing a remake!

Anonymous said...

Thanks Sean, I enjoyed reading your blog about "My Dinner With Marcus". Blood sausage and sliced tongue must have been an experience, to say the least. I myself am a big fan of "liverwurst" and "bologna", but with a tall glass of milk.

Your story reminds me of a time when I use to go to a Mexican joint named "Taco De Mexico" and my colleagues at the time convinced me to buy a
"Lengua Burrito". After tripping over peer pressure and taking one big "Lengua Burrito" bite, I immediately felt the texture of "cow tongue taste buds" on my "human tongue taste buds". Ahgg! I was like, ok! "More Horchata Por favor, its time to change to the Pollo, ¡Arriba!" : )

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The Slurrys said...

Great story, and congratulations on scoring the job!

Anonymous said...

Haha, awesome. Looking forward to it.

Anonymous said...

You're right, he sounds about average sane.

Well done. You made the correct decision. Barring a foreign inedible object in the food, you had no choice. It reminds me of when I was presented with a turtle in Japan. I ate it, and put on a smiley face. There's not enough Sake and beer that can cover Turtle. Not a pleasant meal.

Congrats on the gig!

Bo said...

I love these sorts of stories, about how mundane much of the creative process may be, while still essential, even something as simple as eating a sandwich and finding the meaning in it.

Look forward to seeing your stuff on the big screen... and was it McKee that changed that male protagonist to a lesbian?

Anonymous said...

As if this guy isn't gonna ask you to write the same inane crap as the others. Have you seen his films? David Lean he's not.

Anonymous said...

The director of the remakes of "Texas Chainsaw" and "Friday the 13th" discussing ways to improve "Alien" has to be one of the funniest things I've ever heard.

Integralvision said...

Nice little story, Sean!
I can identify. I try to eat something esteemed by the locals where ever I travel. So far the only thing I've balked at was the bat in bat soup on a tiny western pacific island. The soup was fine - sort of in the Tom Kha Gai genre, but the bat, still adorned with wet fur and tiny claws, was more than I wanted to try to bite off . . . having chopsticks and no knife to adjust it to mouthful sized bites, I sheepishly backed down from my discipline of "if they love it, you should at least try it."

Anonymous said...

awesome story! congrats!


Anonymous said...

Dear Sean Hood:

You've been duped if you think this is an original story.

This is a re-working of "Level Zero", an abandoned script at Disney that Marcus came in on ten years ago. Originally written by Corey Mandell.

Find it, and then see where Marcus' got the inspiration for his "original" piece.

Sonya Rose said...

Congratulations and good luck at landing the job! That’s really awesome.

Well, I have never eaten Black or Blood Pudding or don’t think that I ever will. If you have a strong steel stomach, I'll tell you a little story why: Once, my boyfriend’s mother brought Blutwurst over to us. I couldn’t help but notice my mother’s reactions towards it, as she declined to have a sandwich. My mother took me aside later that night and shared with me something so painful, so unimaginable: She once had a special friend growing up on the farm, a cute pig. Then, one day, without warning, it was time for her friend to say a final goodbye (on the day of slaughter). A few of my farm relatives tied her pig’s legs up first (well, they didn’t know that it was her pig; to them, it was survival…)

But, how sad for the pig because up till that point its friends on the farm fed it well and now became its worst enemy. That pig felt betrayed … howled badly as the farmers continued to pull its legs back to expose the throat area. My mother begged for help. She was frozen in fear and felt so helpless. She witnessed the puncturing, the flow of blood, and the death that came to her animal friend. It was the sound; it’s squealing for help, which broke her and me, too, once I heard it. Not to mention, the cleaning of the pig, which was a difficult sight, as the hair was swept … covered with hay, and burned several times to remove all the hair. Next, the eye was removed to help drain further blood and tossed to the dirt. Following were the hooves, ears ... So many flushing’s … so much blood my mother saw, which came from that 500 or more pound pig. So many cuttings of limbs and peelings … it’s beheading was the worst image to its butchering.

This is her last memory of her favorite pig as a kid she never forgot over 50 years. The river of blood still flowed through that Blutwurst. I think, too, having recalled those graphic images of animal slaughter brought back those horrible images of WW II: She was about 10 or 11 years old when the war finally ended … Once, she went with her grandfather up the hillside of their farmlands with a wheel barrel to collect bodies … recalls grabbing a blue-black arm in the high grasslands. These are horrible images for any child ... and now, they run through me, in a sense. But, even greater than war is often the wars within…or so I’ve found.

rockbot said...

Great article and read. I would've eaten it too.

Anonymous said...

I love this story.

I was a P.A. on "PATHFINDER" which Marcus directed. It was crazy fun. We went on these sort of guerrilla units during the shoot where I would drive with Marcus in my truck and the crew would hang back in a series of vehicles about five minutes behind us. We were shooting various scenes of the hero running for his life.

We would be driving and Marcus would be like, "THERE! We shoot there!" And I would pull over and we would wait for the crew and then start shooting. I thought it was a student film it was so crazy (from a locations department perspective re: permits etc). Lots of fun.

I will always remember that I had to drive him for about an hour from one location to another. He did not know me and I did not know him, we only did this for a few days together.

We were driving and he decided to go through my ipod (hooked up to the car stereo) which I had turned down so not to disturb him.

I have mostly hip hop on there so I was trying to select unoffensive songs on there that were pretty safe.

to my surprise he wasn't interested in those and started going through the list of songs I had.

Well, my girlfriend is from SLOVAKIA and when her mother was visiting us, I had downloaded a few songs from her homeland that I thought she might enjoy while we were driving around in Vancouver.

Well, a famous Czech artist, Karel Gott, was super famous in Germany, where Mr. Nispel is from.

So our conversation is very subdued and polite. Then he sees it.

"KAREL GOTT! I can't believe anyone in this country has this on their ipod!

Next thing I know he is pumping the song TRESOR (which is a dope song I must say, and no I don't know what its about).

I will never forget that moment anytime that song comes up on shuffle.

Many great times on that shoot.