Nicolas Iacona died twenty years ago today at a tiny motel at the corner of La Brea and Hollywood Blvd from a drug overdose. The motel is still there. They recently slapped a new coat of paint on the exterior.
"I've been here before," you say. This sounds familiar? I wrote about this nearly TWO YEARS AGO HERE.
Thirteen years ago (just seven years after his death), a book fell off a shelf in front of me at A Different Light in West Hollywood. It was September 17th to be exact. One week after the attacks in New York. It was a book called "Wonderbread and Ecstasy." It was a biographical look at a porn star and his rise and fall and his addiction that cost him his life.
I wrote to an individual named "Chi Chi LaRue" and asked to speak to her about writing a screenplay about his life, since "Chi Chi" was an instrumental part in telling the story. Within 48 hours, Chi Chi wrote me back and said, "I have zero interest in ever talking about this story."
The book went on a shelf and sat there nine years.
In May 2010, I was ready to move back to Atlanta. Quit everything. I hated everything about LA and I just wanted to move back to Georgia and spend the rest of my days, miserable as an extras casting director. Work was picking up in Georgia and I knew I would do well because of my years at Central Casting in LA.
While sitting on the deck at St. Felix in West Hollywood, my friend Adam Cuculich (who had just participated in a no-budget film AWAY that I did with my friend Ryan Green - and has never seen the light of day and I wish would be broken up as a web series) encouraged me to "make your own film."
I laughed. I had NO interest in directing (out of fear of having to tell actors what to do) and I had no scripts that were remotely that inexpensive to shoot.
"The only story I've ever wanted to tell is the story of Joey Stefano."
For the next hour, we talked about how I felt haunted by this story since I read it: it was the very typical story of young man comes to LA in pursuit of fame and gets caught up in the trappings of drugs and what he perceives as "fame" and dies. I had seen several of those kids in my days at Central Casting and I thought it was a great story, but it was the supporting players who MADE the story.
The "Porn Brat Pack," this family of performers, loved and supported each other, but were also so caught up in their own addictions, that they couldn't save him.
We concluded our drinks, we stood up, we rounded the corner and we ran right smack into... Chi Chi LaRue. The real Chi Chi. His real name is Larry and I was so bizarrely stunned at the coincidence, I couldn't really move. In all my years in LA (at that point, ten of them), I had never met him and there he was in the flesh.
The next day I was sitting at a table with him at a Starbucks and after our conversation, he agreed to participate and reach out to the others.
I would later learn that "Mickey Skee" is someone I knew from church, but had no idea. I would travel all over the country meeting the surviving members of "the pack" and end up writing the best script I've ever written over the course of the next year.
Having never directed a film, I would direct GROOM'S CAKE (which would also get me PROJECT: PHOENIX, BIRTHDAY CAKE and MOVING DAY). I would learn how to produce. I would learn about marketing and distribution.
I would move to Atlanta out of sheer frustration and attempt to start a new life, that would lead me directly back into casting and every time I would return to LA, I would be met with an opportunity to write a new script for a new company.
Now that I'm in LA for... a while... I'm writing two screenplays and praying that two other films go into production in early 2015, if all the funding lines up.
I'm hoping to get INSTALLATION shot in the spring.
But I really, really, really, really, really, really want to shoot X-RATED in 2015.
In the the 4 years since I sat down with Larry, so much has changed. So much has happened. And everyone who has sat in a reading of the script has gone on and on about how the script is amazing and brilliant and needs to be made.
I attached three actors very early on (Missi Pyle, Ryan O'Connor and Willam Belli). The movie has sat on their IMDB pages as "pre-production" for three years. I've made offers to DOZENS of "Joey Stefanos" only to have their agents return with "he won't do $100 a day" (btw... not the scale...) or "we don't want him playing a gay character" (YES, seriously) or "we don't want him playing a porn star..."
We shot video...
It takes many, many years to get films made. I know that. And sometimes a check can get dropped the next day and you're shooting in two months.
I moved to Atlanta last year to... hell, I have no idea. I'd like to go back in time and ask me a year ago, "WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU DOING!?" BIRTHDAY CAKE was in the middle of its festival run and what do I do? I pack up my Prius and head east.
I would credit most of my decision due to a very toxic relationship (and subsequent others, poisoned by said relationship), but other than that... "dude, WTF are you doing!?"
I had plans to start a casting company with a former friend. That didn't work out and ended that relationship all together. I broke my arm. I had another cancer scare. In many ways, 2014 wasn't that great.
BUT... I love Atlanta. I love my loft. I love my city. I loved being out of the desperate rat race every day. I love having seasons. I love not sitting in traffic at 10:00 PM for no reason.
I loved working on SELMA. I LOVED working on MAGIC MIKE XXL. I tried to get INSTALLATION done, but instead, I just found myself writing more scripts. I think I thought Atlanta would lead me to investors for INSTALLATION and X-RATED. It didn't.
So now I sit back in my house in Los Angeles, where I continued to pay rent for the past year. Another year has gone by without X-RATED getting made, but in the past year I:
1) Sold THE MARKED (which become THE DAMNED, which become R.I.P.) to Medient (which became Moon River Studios) and hopefully we will be rolling camera in March of 2015.
2) I have another project I can't talk about that hopefully will be rolling in late January/ Feb here in LA.
3) I was tasked to write an amazing script about a relationship coach. It's one of my favorite scripts I've ever written and we're doing a reading here in LA in two weeks.
4) I'm starting another script after that script.
5) We got BIRTHDAY CAKE distributed. We got PROJECT: PHOENIX released.
Not bad for a year.
But it always comes back to X-RATED.
Late last year we started talks with the team for a "Joey Stefano." As it would turn out, they asked me to "hold off" because their client was entering rehab to deal with his own addiction issues.
We've all lost so many people to addiction. Whether they are Cory Monteith or they are guy we sat next to in Biology. Doctors. Students. Mothers. Siblings.
X-RATED is an important script because it is about addiction. For actors, it's a great, juicy script with lots of character development and great scene work, but for the audience, it has an important message about dangers of addiction. These were internationally known personalities. And they are still famous, 20 years later.
I need to shoot it at $625,000 (and in Georgia, for the tax incentive - 30%). At $625,000, I feel confident my investors will make their money back. I KNOW this movie will do well. We've had great press about it. It's a "sexy" story.
We shot BIRTHDAY CAKE for under $20,000 and the fact is, the movie has no sex or nudity and all the distributors told us it will be hard to make money on it. BIRTHDAY CAKE won a lot of awards and it pro-family, pro-marriage equality.... but no sex, no nudity... it's possibly going to fail. We just recently got onto Netflix and that was after a lot of pushing. Had I had Rib Hillis full frontal? We would have been on our way to selling 200,000 units.
Lesson learned: sex sells. Message received.
I refused to believe that, but our numbers test that. And I find that to be a really sad state of where our LGBT audience puts their money. Another story. Another day.
We all learned A LOT of lessons on the distribution of BIRTHDAY CAKE. I'm still shocked that I have actors who still don't promote the film - again - it won a bunch of awards. Those are all actors I won't work with again in the future...
But X-RATED is a different beast. It's our Sundance movie. It's the mainstream film. Most of the comments were, "your cast consists of 95% gay characters, but it's not a "gay" movie." That's because it's NOT a "gay" movie. It's a biopic about addiction.
So where does that leave me?
Still sitting here. Looking for $625,000 to make an indie.
The hardest part about filmmaking is finding the money. But I keep putting it out there... "I need $625,000" and hope that one day someone will hear my plea and be all, "show me your business plan and let's get this made."
I feel a deep responsibility to tell Nick's story and the story of all of the members of the Porn Brat Pack. They trusted me to tell they their story in a script. It's an incredible story.
So send happy thoughts.