After all my research, including a week with Christophe Rocancourt in Paris, I’d learned only one thing for absolute certainty; the con man maintained a tenuous relationship with the truth. It was his most consistent trait – from his orphaned childhood all the way to his lengthy hours interviewed by me.
Thus was born the script’s motif: the telling Christophe’s life-of-crime story would be in itself a frustrated search for the truth – if truth of any flavor could be unearthed. Florent loved the plan.
The writing routine was familiar. Florent would be driven daily from Santa Monica to my Sherman Oaks hacienda. While I outlined and banged the keys, he’d sit on my couch, correspond via email, surf the net for real estate, vid-chat with his family, and when I had something for him to read, he’d inspect and add his directorial thoughts.
Meanwhile, I was still tying up lose ends on Christophe’s story. There’d be daily phone conversations with the con man, always wrapping up with him promising to visit as soon as he could get away. Besides wanting to spend more time with me, he had old pals like Mickey Rourke to reconnect with, as well a Ferrari and a Bentley in storage he was itching to drive. These assertions felt dubious as hell. Despite Christophe’s assurances, I couldn’t imagine the feds ever allowing him a return visa.
On Christophe’s insistence, I contacted his criminal lawyer and his ex-wife, Playboy Playmate Pia Reyes. While Florent took a night off, I sat down for dinner with Chris’ attorney, who confirmed what he could of my assumptions, including the visa situation.
“Chris Rocancourt will never, ever again set foot in the United States,” said the silver-haired lawyer. “At least if the feds have their way. That was one of the terms of his release. Plane ticket to France and don’t ever think of coming back.”
“So when Chris tells me he’s going to visit…” I cued.
“He’s lying,” said the lawyer. “But that’s what he does. He’s a con man. The best, I might add.”
Early the next morning was my scheduled telephone call with Pia Reyes. She was living in a humble apartment in New York, raising the child she had with Chris, a boy they’d named Zeus. If ever there was a front row witness to Rocancourt’s escapades, it was going to Pia. She’d been by his side from Hollywood to New York and until his eventual arrest in British Columbia. She was a big part of the story.
We talked for hours. Then came this strange slip in our conversation:
“Gawd,” stressed Pia. “Chris is such a liar. He lies to you even when you know and he knows he’s lying.”
“Yeah. I’ve discovered that,” I said.
“He can’t stop himself.”
This was where I volunteered to Pia my recent frustration with Chris’ constant insistence that he would be visiting me in Los Angeles. Only to be told by no less than his lawyer that a return visa could never happen.
“… Right, right,” agreed Pia, though her tone had suddenly downshifted. She speedily wound up our chat and I resumed my attention to the script outline.
Barely an hour passed before my office line rang. It was Christophe. And he was practically screaming at me from somewhere in France.
“You told Pia that I was never coming back to America!” accused Chris.
“Over and over again you insisted that you were coming for a visit,” I defended. “You demanded I talk to your lawyer. You pressed me to talk to Pia.”
“But Pia didn’t know!”
“Sorry,” I shrugged. “We were both talking about the kind of liar you are. All I did was draw on your most recent line of bullshit.”
As it turned out, Chris had been promising both Pia and Zeus that he would be returning to New York. Instead he’d been selling just another fantasy. And the moment I’d hung up with Pia she’d dialed Chris to give him a taste of her vitriol.
So Chris in turned his own anger on me. Unsatisfied with my limp apology, he called Florent and Thomas Langmann, threatening to call the whole production off. As perturbed as the producer was, Florent was the least concerned.
“Chris has eez ego,” calmed Florent. “He wants us to make eez movie. Zee mask is off heem. All he has left to sell eez hees fame.”
My French director was oh so correct. Within hours, Hurricane Christophe had fizzled to little more than a tepid gust. At least I began to commit my Rocancourt story into screenplay form. The tale unfolded as seamlessly as I’d imagined through a series of conflicting conversations – from a European news reporter shortly after Chris’ release from incarceration to the prison tattoo artist seeking explanations behind the ink he was applying to the growing canvas on the con man’s back.
All systems were go. And it was full steam ahead until my French director pal made this odd request:
“Do you theenk we could put my name on the script as well?” asked Florent.
“As director?” I asked.
“Perhaps eet could say ‘adapted by?’”
“’Adapted by’ because you adapted what?” To say the least, I was confused.
As Florent explained the French tradition, movie directors often receive an adaptation credit for their supervision of the screenplay’s evolution. I kindly retorted that the Hollywood standard for an adaptation credit assumes the adaptor had written something prior to the penning of the script. Or the adaptor was the writer himself.
“Ah,” Florent replied, letting the subject go.
Or so I thought.
At that workday’s conclusion, Florent returned to the subject of the adaptation credit.
“Steel,” Florent argued. “Eet is a credit afforded me in my contract with Langmann. And we are making a French production. Would eet be difficult for you to give me such a credit?”
“I would if I could,” I replied. “But it’s not up to me. It’s a Writers Guild issue. And to hire me, Langmann had to become signatory with the WGA.”
“But I’m not asking the Writer’s Guild,” said my French friend. “I’m asking you.”
“And I could type up your name and put it on the title page just like you ask. But if it’s an on screen credit you ask for, then the Guild won’t have it. Because you’re the director and your name’s on the script there will be an automatic arbitration.”
“Arbitration?” asked Florent. “Like what you had on Hostage with Robert Crais?”
“Exactly like that. And the WGA will ask you what you adapted and to please provide the written pages that prove you adapted it.”
“It ees not the French way,” said Florent. “And I have a French contract.”
“You know what?” I solved. “I will get on the phone with my attorney and ask him. He consults for the Writers Guild. He will have the answer.”
“You trust your lawyer?”
“I do. Most honest guy I know,” I added, fully understanding how bizarre such a statement might sound. Yet believing and knowing every syllable of what I said to be truth.
“Then tomorrow,” finished Florent.
Sad as I am to say, my dear French friend was not going to care for the resulting answer.
Next week, the final chapter to CON JOB.
Wow! It’s amazing how many people think that because they provide some support on a script that they deserve credit.
Well, you what they say, Gooner: in Hollywood, getting a credit is everything – or something like that.
I remember an article with maverick director Walter Hill who said:” On every movie I directed I had great input on the script”. On some he got credit, some didn’t. If someone asks me, I don’t think a director should’ve his name under screenplay credit- unless he wrote a script alone. Or that he actively participated in the process with his co-writer from the early beginning.
Part 5 next week? What is this, an 80’s slasher franchise? I’m starting to think us readers are the ones getting conned, Doug. 😉