Foreign Matter—the movie

Toby travels with a woman who pays. He's got it made, except that her nine-year-old daughter is smarter than he is.  Set in Greece and based on the novel:


“A very, very funny book"—The West Coast Review of Books 
“Enormously enjoyable”—Kirkus Reviews 
“Fresh and spirited”—Publishers Weekly

Think of:

Toby Tucker gets along as a tour guide, though all he knows how to do is keep the clients amused. 

In Venice he falls for rich bubble-head Marcie but can't afford her style.  "To-bee!  Let's just live on my money!"  Well—it’s awkward but what can one say?  He reclines into the good life.

Victoria Pratt
Marcie Harding, sweet, fresh, blonder than blonde and all heart, is a lonely widow who takes a tour in Venice.    Toby abandons the tour to take her to Rome, and when he runs out of cash is about to abandon her.  He loves her more than he knows.
But for Andrea, things would be perfect.  "The child."  Toby and Marcie are no smarter than anybody else; the child is smarter than anybody else.  She'd have got rid of him long ago but her mommy loves him, so she keeps him around to, how shall I say, play with.  When you’re not looking she rotates her head like Linda Blair.

Proposed cast: Dave Thomas

Marcie’s father-in-law, billionaire Hazelton Turnbull “Hard Turd” Harding IV, loathes Toby, and loathes giving Marcie her allowance to feed him.  But he loves his little granddaughter, and there lies the control.
When Haze spends Marcie’s money on a painting for the Harding Memorial Museum it looks like Toby's meal ticket is gone.

Proposed cast: Catherine Tate
Johna Nerg is the butch-nightmare artist whose painting Toby accidentally steps in, sits in and sets on fire.  He really doesn't mean it but she thinks, as who does not, that he's trying to destroy it—and gets real mean with him.
He has no choice, finally, but to try to steal it.  But until the child takes a hand, nothing works.

Foreign Matter is part of the Toby series: 
Pretentious Pictures presents a summer comedy. 

CHOCOLATE AND CHAMPAGNE, a comedy in the spirit of Lubitsch

Reg’d © Library of Congress
A Beverly Hills woman wakes up middle-aged and finds her life with a younger man undignified.

The stage version was performed in New York at the Creative Place Theatre.  Think of...

...only this is her movie, and she gets the younger guy.

Diana, a woman of a certain age, deals with a birthday by throwing out her younger live-in Jim.

They're right for each other, and she regrets it immediately, but she can't take him back: her daughter Jackie, who idolizes and competes with her, tells her Jim has seduced her, and Diana believes it.

So she makes do with the respectable but empty new life she'd thought she needed—with older lawyer Griff.

Jim gives a driving lesson to frantic neurotic Betsy, who almost shoots them off a cliff.  He calms her down and she takes him home. But he can't forget Diana.

Proposed cast: Barbara Hershey (Diana)

DIANA, the Hamlet at the heart of this comedy, is a clothes designer with a boutique on Rodeo Drive, a house in Beverly Hills, and a younger lover, Jim, her kept man for two years now. There’s nothing she can’t handle—except getting older.

Proposed cast: Gael García Bernal (Jim)

JIM is happy with a champagne-and-sports-car life, but he’s also a talented script-writer who’s postponing seriousness into a future that never comes.  Together they’re fast company.  They must have been brilliant at her birthday party last night.

This morning, though, even while he’s making love to her, she’s spooked.  She tells him he has to go.  She wants something more presentable, more—respectable—before it’s too late.

Which shocks him.  He takes life as it comes, but this is a bit violent.

Proposed cast: Kathy Bates (Betsy) 
BETSY, the suicidal widow of a husband she drove to suicide, is too scattered to pass a driving test, takes a lesson with Jim, spins the    car onto a Mulholland Drive cliff and is ready to gun it and take him with her.

Proposed cast: John Goodman (Griff)
Diana's lawyer GRIFF, more her age and on her success level, has been in love with her for years.  Now’s his chance.  When Jackie tells Diana the lie that Jim has seduced her Diana gives up on Jim and tries to make a go of it with Griff.

Proposed cast: Adelaide Clemens (Jackie)
JACKIE, Diana’s daughter, idolizes her and so misses no chance to pick at and defy her.  Inwardly shaky, she is outwardly impish and sexy.  She thinks she’s in love with Jim; in fact what she needs is a father.

Proposed cast: Jack Roth (Dylan) 

Betsy's son DYLAN—eccentric hair, psychotic eyes, twitches constantly and rhythmically as if keeping time to music he doesn’t much enjoy—is in the same class at UCLA with Jackie, over whom he moans uncontrollably.  He disgusts her.

Proposed cast: Rosie Perez (Maria)
MARIA, Diana's housekeeper, is the deadpan foil to Diana's Hamlet, secret ally to Jim, and the one person Diana doesn't dare defy.

Proposed cast: Stockard Channing (Gwen)
GWEN is Diana's mischievous best friend and alter-ego.  She'll take Jim if Diana doesn't want him!  Just kidding.  In an attempt to bring them back together she throws a party and invites both of them, but it turns into a confrontation....

And the final character is Beverly Hills—
—the tone, the climate, the village size and ambiance that make it inevitable for these people to collide. 

The stage version of Chocolate and Champagne was produced by Love Creek  at the Creative Place Theatre in New York.

Pretentious Pictures presents a comedy with a dark center.

Reg’d © Library of Congress

Nifty quotes from Mortal Coil

What is life, anyway, but a lingering feeling of guilt? Might as well enjoy it! 

Don’t worry about photographs of yourself. You don’t look like that.

He thinks she farts fairy dust, and so does she.

“I thought you were going to change!” “Well, I’m still me.” I sighed inwardly. Still me.

She made a little swoon as if I already had her in the bowling grip and Mae-West-walked away.

The head tells you it’s all random, the heart tells you it’s not and the generator is too busy to think about it.

We are caught between the ding and the dong of the dialectic, ambivalence the very law of life, for it is inherent in this system, in this particular system, that there is no system, inconsistency is a principle of the system, each new formula a liberation from the last, everybody’s got something to sell, and it’s nice, oh, it’s so nice when we find something we can stay with for a while—Nabokov, Letterman, Crest—but we move on, we move on, upping the ante with each success, with each defeat, it doesn’t matter, put in on this number, stabilize here, but on we go, grabbing at an illumination that can only come when we have exhausted everything, though we never do, we know we never will, it’s all there to keep us moving, keep us interested, distract us perhaps, from the crushing conviction that God in his Infinite Boredom broke himself into a trillion us just to have somebody to talk to!

But this too is a contortion, life is a series of contortions, pushing us into every possible position, having us every way it can think of, and even when we lie there, sated and sore, we are still sealed in, still have no clue what’s next, our ignorance so seamless as to suggest a law in ambush, another law, the corollary to The Law, inscribed in stone over the exit sign: YOU DON’T KNOW SQUAT!

What did I do, she wanted to know.
I told her I was an artist.
Oh, how interesting, what kind?
Conceptual stuff.
What was it, painting? Sculpture?
It wasn’t much of anything, I told her. I was a minimalist who had arrived at the supreme elegance of statement. I just didn’t do it!
She ambushed me on my way back from the toilet and held me against the wall by the love handles. I was too stunned to protest!

That other incarnation that is living in the south

“Of course money can’t buy happiness,” she reminded me.
“Not unless you know where to shop.”

She touched her chin to her shoulder in a way that suggested I might as well throw my chops on her right now. Just walk right up and achieve bliss. It would, her look said, be a bun-clenching experience.

A stooped elderly man came over and spoke to me. “Are you Delmore Danruther?”
“Sort of,” I said.
“I’m Walter Dadd. This is my crematorium.”
“Oh,” I said. “Gee. I’m sorry.”
Fire trucks were pulling in.

Nadine could put you back together if you swallowed depth charge.

Short-listed for the London Observer's PG Wodehouse Comic Novel Prize; stage version at Samuel French.

"A first-rate contemporary farce, one of the hardest - if not THE hardest genre to pull off. I look forward to seeing the movie."—J. Maas, Amazon

Also by Robert MacLean, the "Toby" books,
Will You Please Fuck Off? at Amazon USAmazon UKAmazon FRAmazon DEAmazon ITAmazon ES and Smashwords;
Foreign Matter at Amazon USAmazon UKAmazon FRAmazon DEAmazon ITAmazon ES and Smashwords; 
Total Moisture at Amazon USAmazon UKAmazon FRAmazon DEAmazon ITAmazon ES and Smashwords; 
and these, too,
Mortal Coil: A Comedy of Corpses at Amazon USAmazon UKAmazon FRAmazon DE, Amazon IT and Amazon ES;
The President's Palm Reader: A Washington Comedy at Amazon USAmazon UKAmazon FRAmazon DEAmazon IT and Amazon ES; and
Greek Island Murder at Amazon USAmazon UKAmazon FRAmazon DEAmazon IT and Amazon ES.

Agustina Bessa-Luís—

—is the Portuguese poet and novelist who has scripted some of De Oliveira's films: "If we lost our illusions about women, the world would end."

Not Taking Taking Yourself Seriously Seriously

A screamingly funny comedy, in which a little girl steers her mother to the right husband by mastering the black arts:
Kiki (a part for a short adult who does sarcasm) is only nine but she’s much much smarter than her mother Liz.
Liz is lovely, likeable and luxurious—but she’s also spoiled and strong-willed, and approves of everything she does.
One thing she does is love Burf, her rich and vaguely criminal husband—who is not Kiki’s father.  In fact he’s in possession of her dead father’s money.   Burf’s brutality excites Liz, but to Kiki he’s an abrasive belligerent bully.
It’s her teacher Kiki wants for a father—Larry Yorgensen, a tender and wistful idealist.
But he is not the kind of man Liz could even like, nor could Larry have any time for a vapid worldling like Liz, and when Kiki arranges for them to meet they insult each other disastrously.
So Kiki summons up a Devil—ugly and evil but no match for Kiki—and has him prepare a love potion in exchange for sacrificing a cat.
When Kiki arranges the simultaneous drinking of the potion, Liz and Larry do fall in love—but they continue not to like each other one bit.
This is double-bad, because as a chairman of the board Burf is Larry’s boss.  And Larry’s fiancée Pepper has their boring little lives all planned out!
But preparing to electrocute the cat, Kiki inadvertently kills Burf instead.
Liz and Larry decide to murder each other; then try to commit suicide together; then, overcome by love, accidentally hang themselves and swing around till Pepper rescues them.
Larry lets Pepper down easy, the Devil accepts Burf’s corpse as payment  and Liz and Larry marry.
When Kiki finds their non-stop in-loveness a little dull she re-invokes the Devil and does new experiments.
The play had a staged reading in at FirstStage in Hollywood with set pieces, lights, sound and music, directed by Josh Costello of The Magic Theatre in San Francisco:

Hi Bob—

We had our first rehearsal last night and it was a blast.  The cast is great, and they love the play.  We laughed a lot.  I think the audience will do the same.

Another thing that struck me in hearing it out loud is just how right Kiki is about Liz and Larry from the beginning.  I think she's really doing each of them a favor by breaking them out of their personas and getting them to expand their horizons.  She may be evil, but she's also very sweet somehow.

Anyway, I'll keep you posted.  Our next rehearsal is Saturday, and we'll finish the staging and run it through.



Hi Bob—
Well, the reading happened tonight and it was a tremendous success. I was so proud of all of it—your script, the actors, and my own work. The audience laughed a whole lot, and stayed afterwards to tell us how much they enjoyed themselves.  Congratulations!

I wish you could have been there, Bob.  Everyone had a great time.  Sadie, my fiancée, was completely impressed.

Dennis has a copy for you of the video of the reading and of the discussion after.  The response was overwhelmingly positive, with people saying they were caught up in the play and wouldn't change a thing.

The audience was genuinely delighted.  Congratulations again—I hope this script goes far and I've got to tell you that I hope that I get the chance to direct a full production of it someday.  This was my first directing gig in Los Angeles, and it was a total blast.  Thanks so much for everything.



(Dennis Safren is the manager and dramaturge at FirstStage, whose Board includes Ed Asner, Julie Harris, Syd Field, Paul Newman and Lily Tomlin.)
Pretentious Pictures presents a screamingly funny comedy.


(A chapter in YOU HAVE UPSET THE BALANCE OF THE UNIVERSE BY BEING BORN: Advice on How to Live by Dr Robert MacLean, PhD: Watch this space for the next one.)

It's not that you deny the horrors of life, it's that you want a world without them, and the act of faith that is charm gives it instantaneous birth—an innocent rather than a naive world. And innocence was born to be insulted.
Your charm, if you only knew it, is your seriousness, but you experience seriousness as danger. When it takes hold it replicates, draws other seriousnesses to it until it collapses under its own weight and makes a fool of you.
It is your defense against being a fool that you identify yourself as frivolous. Nothing can take you in. You work yourself into an ecstasy of confession but your positions are larks.
You affect, for example, a character (see SELF-IMAGE, YOUR). Character is always a comic device—people don't have characters—and your arch parody of your own holds at bay a screaming claustrophobia.
Do you want more? You might not be able to perform your service if you had more, not that it's available. Even this threatens to become a style.
(See also MANNERS.)

PAS DE DEUX, a lesbian romantic comedy

“A man is a poet if difficulties inherent in his art provide him with ideas; he is not a poet if they deprive him of ideas.”—Paul Valéry

A pickpocket falls in love with a pianist who leads her on a chase through Athens, with the police right behind them.

In the past, when shooting in Athens, or writing scripts about Athens, I have been careful not to emphasize the locale, so as to avoid a clichéd treatment. Here, though, Athens is a character, a labyrinth, because this is a chase movie—not a wild broad chase movie like Louis Malle’s Zazie dans le métro, but a chase that gets us around the city, and through some of its most beautiful and picturesque areas. (If you’ve forgotten what Zazie looks like there are a few minutes of it here.)

Jacques Rivette’s short film Paris s'en va gives an idea of what I’m aiming at, with the help of Athens, though Pas de deux has a plot. I’m not claiming to be Malle or Rivette, but I think we can do something fun and saleable on a minimal sum—sort of a nano-budget Grande Belleza.
Sexy puckish pickpocket Becky (Despina Mirou, whose show reel is here) is teasing a wallet out of a purse on a crowded Athens metro when she notices beautiful callow Miranda (Fiona Georgiadi, whose reel is here) and falls in love. Miranda escapes her, Becky escapes the purse-owner, and the chase is on—past the MuchaTrella Jazz Band playing our theme song Sweet Sue.
Oops, Becky picks the pocket of a policeman on vacation, and he’s obsessed with catching her. “My name is Wesley Stankovitch, my pocket has just been picked and I have a photograph of the culprit! Now can I have some men over here!” 
They send him a policewomanPetroula Christoureel
whose captain, Ero Lefa, distrusts her, especially when she gets pregnant on the job.
Becky’s father doesn’t know what his daughter is up to, in any sense. Mihail Anthis’s reel is here.
But her psychiatrist Eleni Tsefalareel, gets it as it happens, and she and Becky keep up a running commentary on the action.
Miranda’s mother, Rea Karayanidou, reel, doesn’t know what Miranda is up to, and is shocked when she finds out her daughter is having a lesbian affair.
So is Miranda’s music professor Steven Lever, reel (14:58), who wants to marry her,
and so is her priest and substitute father, Ian Robertsonreel.
When Becky picks the pocket of a Chicago dentist, Tom Alexopoulosreel, he falls in love with her, and he’s on her trail too.
A dream for the psychiatrist: Miranda sits high up at the crest of the otherwise empty Panathinaiko Stadium. In the distance Becky enters from the street and comes to the near end of the field. “I love you!” she calls. Miranda is impassive. The cops rush in toward them and Becky has to scramble up through the seats and disappear into the trees.
In an open-air cinema Becky tries to hold Miranda's hand. She jerks it away. Becky puts her arm around her and she gets up and changes seats. Becky follows, and from up high we watch as Miranda changes seats, Becky follows, Miranda changes seats, Becky follows.
Becky arranges a dinner for four to introduce Katerina to Mihail. Katerina likes him. Triumph for Becky. She looks across the table at Miranda, but Miranda is gone. Becky chases her out into the night.
Street music, crowds, cathedrals, the Plaka, dreams of desire, a non-stop chase—we’re in motion. Becky will never entirely catch Miranda. “She’s like Mrs Darling in Peter Pan—there’s a kiss in the corner of her mouth her husband can never quite get.” But together they play the comedy of desire.
Passion, young love, Athens, the police, a chase, a death, a comedy—for pocket change. We shall create the legend of the nano-budget romantic comedy.
The first scene is based on the opening of the masterful Samuel Fuller’s Pickup On South Street (I’m not Fuller either), specifically the hand in the purse. You might like this whole movie—every shot is a poem.
But let’s get back to mine.
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