Walter Mencken 9:01 a.m., April 29
Surfing with Mel: Opening Scene
Look, if Mr. Marks can cast the Stooges, I can indulge a little...
Open on the Santa Monica office of MASON GREED, film executive with Grope Entertainment. Posters of his past films line the wall: titles such as TITS, TITS II: TITS AND ASS, and POOP JOKE. GREED is just hitting middle-age, and it's clear he's not eager to accept the passage of time. Still, he looks good. He also looks annoyed; it's clear he doesn't want to take this meeting. But take it he does, and in walks MATTHEW BEBONA, sad-sack scribbler for a SoCal alt-weekly.
GREED: Bebona, you wag! What brings you to the land of Fitzgerald's glittering, grosser power?
BEBONA: Rats fleeing a ship, old man. The S.S. Printed Word is sinking fast, and there won't be a 3-D re-release. So I'm here to pitch the last guy in Hollywood who still answers my emails. One minute, and I'll go.
GREED: One minute. I'm due for lunch at Mozza. Not that I eat lunch.
BEBONA looks at GREED with a mix of envy and disgust, sags into a chair, gathers his waning strength, and leans forward.
BEBONA: Two words: Mel Gibson.
GREED: You're kidding. Gibson is dunzo. Contrary to what he said back in '06, the Jews aren't responsible for all the wars in the world, but they do make most of the movies. This town only let him off the hook back then because he apologized, and because he still brought in box office. Apocalypto made it look like maybe he'd found a niche for arty bloodsport. Then he punched a woman, and then The Beaver did under a million on a 21 million budget. End of story.
BEBONA: Not Gibson as actor. Gibson as character. The whole Eszterhas-Maccabees thing. Think Adaptation meets Day of the Locust.
GREED: Adaptation had Charlie Kaufman. Day of the Locust had Nathanael West. This has you?
BEBONA: I know. But listen. Remember back in '97, when you got first-look on Dogma? You called me to see if the Jesus-people would go nuts? I told you that Catholics would get mad about Post Hosties communion cereal, and you passed on it.
GREED: You're not helping your case.
BEBONA: Wait. You wanted to take Dogma because you wanted a film that took religion seriously enough to really dig into it, but not so seriously that it got all Bill Maher-pissy about it. This could be that film. Think about it: Mel Gibson, Hollywood A-lister who has it all but doesn't want to live any more. He stops partying, recommits his life to Jesus, makes The Passion, has the biggest success of his career - it's all for God, and it's on his terms. Triumph. And then it all goes to hell. His co-writer sues him. His marriage falls apart. He starts drinking again. Remember what he told the cops in '06: "My life is f*cked." That was before the he said the Jew stuff. He lays it all on the line for God, and God drops him like a hot rock.
GREED: I'm listening.
BEBONA: On the other side, you've got Joe Eszterhas, one-time screenwriter of sexual excess: Jagged Edge, Basic Instinct, Showgirls. Gets cancer, finds God, moves to Cleveland - hell, writes a screenplay about the Virgin Mary appearing in Mexico. Then Mel Gibson calls, says he wants to make a movie about Maccabees - about Jews! Says he wants Joe to write the script. And here's the best part: it turns out Joe's dad was a Nazi collaborator who wrote anti-Semitic propaganda. And then you have Mel's dad, a guy who questions the Holocaust and thinks the Second Vatican Council was a Masonic plot backed by the Jews.
Mel and Joe, each trying to please the God who picked a Jew to mother His Son, each with fathers who have Jew issues, getting together to make a movie about heroic Jews.
GREED: Too many issues, not enough story. You're losing me.
BEBONA: Read the Eszterhas letter and tell me there's not a movie there. The screenwriter in a tropical island paradise, trying to write a screenplay for an increasingly unhinged employer/host. Hello, Barton Fink! And all the while beginning to suspect that the employer hates Jews and is just using him as a Jew-friendly tool. Gibson descending into madness through rage at God and Oksana; Eszterhas descending into paranoia over the Jewish question. The trouble could start as soon as Joe and his wife Naomi first arrive at Gibson's place.
MEL: Naomi - lovely to meet you. Hope we don't wind up calling you Mara!
JOE: What's that supposed to mean?
MEL: Nothing. It's stupid. You know, Naomi means 'sweet' in Hebrew. But when God screws her over and she loses her husband and her kids, she calls herself Mara - 'bitter.'
JOE: What the hell, Mel?
MEL: If there's one thing God loves, it's screwing people who love Him. Just ask Job. If I was a Jew, I'd wake up every day wondering what I did to deserve being one of the Chosen People. Are you Jewish, Naomi?
NAOMI: Is there somewhere I could lie down? It's been a long day.
BEBONA: Right off the bat, the Jewish thing is causing tension, and God is a problematic element. But here, let me get out of the way and give you an opening scene. After that, I'll leave. Just think about it, and call me if you think there's something there.
Open on a long shot of Mel’s Malibu estate. We hear sounds of sobbing, screaming, stuff getting broken, a marked contrast to the serene, Mediterranean splendor of the vista.
MEL (Voice Over): The Catholic Church is not a big fancy church in Rome paid for by people trying to buy their way into heaven. It’s not a guy in a funny hat telling people who they’re allowed to screw and how they’re allowed to screw them. It’s not even weeping, bloody Jesus on the cross – I should know, I made a movie about him.
As the voiceover progresses, we cut to a mid-range shot of a private chapel on the estate. It’s a gorgeous little building. Suddenly, one of the stained-glass windows shatters from the inside, and we hear, clearly, Gibson bellowing from within.
MEL (Voice Over): No, the Catholic Church is rehab. It’s a halfway house for people who are just smart enough to know they’re f-cked up, and just dumb enough to hope there’s something that can be done about it short of getting their own sh-t together or blowing their brains out. They know they can’t make it out in the world on their own, so they come here for support. Meetings on Sunday. There’s rules posted by the door, but nobody really checks to make sure you’re in compliance.
As voiceover progresses, cut to interior of chapel. Gibson is inside, and he’s tearing the place apart. Pews are upended. Light fixtures shattered. The crucifix has been torn off the wall behind the altar. Now Gibson is wielding a huge monstrance like a bat, breaking windows and smashing statues. We come on the scene just as he winds up on a statue depicting Mary – one that looks just like the Mary from The Passion of the Christ. With a guttural cry of anguish, he swings and smashes her head.
MEL (Voice Over): You meet a lot of people inside. Some are on their way up, some on their way down. Some are lifers, and some walk in one day with their eyes shining like they’ve just found Jesus or something. Others have tried to move out and go it alone, only to wind up back inside. That’s how it was for Joe and me. Maybe that’s why I thought we could work together.
Panting, heaving, Gibson stops his rampage and surveys the damange, simultaneously thrilled and horrified at what he’s done. He pauses to look at the monstrance, which still amazingly, contains the Host.
MEL (Voice Over): That’s part of why I liked it in the Church. It’s the kind of place that makes you think things like that. Makes you hopeful. But eventually, you learn what I learned, what everybody in the recovery business learns if they’re not lying to themselves: some of us just aren’t going to make it.
He drops the monstrance to the ground, turns, splashes holy water on his face like the font is a sink, and walks out of the chapel.
CUT TO TITLE: SURFING WITH MEL
ROLL OPENING CREDITS