THE ART OF THE DEAL
“These guys are soulless killers,” Nicky was saying. Despite the frigid air-conditioning, he had started sweating; the collar and front of his silk shirt were drenched. They were sitting in the magnificent lobby at CAA, one of the most powerful and respected talent agencies in show business.
“You gotta let me do all the talking, bubeleh,” Nicky instructed. “I know how these deals are made. Singh’s agent, Jerry Wireman, is a fire-breathing serpent, a gontser macher. He’s gonna want his pound of flesh.”
“How can it be that tough? We’ve got a hundred thousand dollars. They’ve got a script that’s collecting dust. We trade?’
“The hundred large is bubkes… parking meter cash. You gotta readjust your thinking, babe.”
“What time is Dennis Valentine’s party?” Shane asked, trying to change the subject.
“It’s at six this evening in the garden patio of the Beverly Hills Hotel. The guy loves that hotel; drives all the way from Mandeville Canyon in the Palisades to have what he calls his power breakfasts in the Polo Lounge every morning at ten. Only he eats alone or with one a his apes, so it’s more like breakfast at the zoo.” Nicky’s gaze shifted down to Shane’s blazer. “Where’d you get that thing?” He scowled. “The Navy Surplus store?”
“What thing?” Shane looked down at his jacket.
“If you’re gonna be my partner, we gotta do something about your threads. You dress like an NBC page. ‘Zat tie left over from when you were in the Boy Scouts?”
Shane glanced down at his plain blue tie. When he’d picked it out this morning he thought it looked nice with his dark blue blazer. Now, in the harsh sunlight streaming through the glass lobby of CAA, he had to admit it was pretty cheesy.
“Mr. Wireman is ready to see you,” a very attractive black woman said from behind her two-ton semicircular, granite reception desk. Roman legions had held passes in the Alps with smaller fortifications. Shane and Nicky stood.
“Sixth floor, end of the hall,” the receptionist said. “His secretary, Barbara, is waiting for you.”
Barbara was pretty enough to be an actress herself. She led them down a very busy corridor where hyperfocused secretaries of both sexes were hammering out deal memos and contracts on computer keyboards. She showed them into Jerry Wireman’s office.
The agent was aptly named: wiry body, wiry hair, wire glasses, wire-gray eyes… Wireman. He exuded all the personal warmth of marble statuary.
“Sit. What’s up?” That was all he said. He made it clear by his elimination of all superfluous words that he had a minimal amount of time for them.
This guy is going to be a treat, Shane thought.
He waited for Nicky, who was their predesignated talker, but Nicky didn’t say anything. Shane looked over and saw that his new partner had frozen. He was just sitting there, his hands clasped together, breathing through his mouth, jaw clenched. Sofa art.
“Go,” Jerry Wireman repeated impatiently, frowning at his Cartier timepiece as if the watch dial contained distressing results from his last cholesterol test.
“Mr. Wireman, Mr. Marcella and I are partners in CineRoma Productions,” Shane started.
“Never heard of it.”
“Yes, well, we have become extremely interested in a script I believe you represent, called The Neural Surfer, by Rajindi Singh.”
“Great merchandise. Ferae naturae-a term we use, meaning full of untamed nature. That product has endless shelf life. It’s why we’ve been in no hurry to accept an offer. The Neural Surfer demands concept-friendly execution.”
Shane looked over at Nicky, who was now sweating big drops. They were dampening and curling his hairline. He seemed to have gone into some kind of semiconscious trance. “Jerry, we share your enthusiasm for the material,” Shane finally said.
“Hard not to,” Wireman said. “Piece is transitional… transcendental. It blends neo-impressionist heroism with gut-wrenching social commentary.”
“Exactly.” Shane didn’t have a clue what he had just agreed with.
“Okay, good deal.” Wireman glared at his watch again and frowned. He looked as if he were about to start tapping the dial.
“So gimme the drill,” he suddenly said. “Does CineNova want to buy it?”
* “Cine-Roma,” Shane corrected him. “Not buy it just yet. What we’d like is to get an option.”
“A priori of that, we have an existing quote sheet on this material, and I’m afraid our price is solid. We’re not negotiating.”
“Apre-what?” Shane asked, bewildered.
“A priori,” Wireman responded, “means conceived beforehand.” He looked at them askance. Tney didn’t understand Latin. They had just lost important player points.
“Oh, I see,” Shane said. “So what is the price?”
“The cheapest, front-end-friendly option I can offer is two hundred thousand for six months. The important non-negotiable soft clauses include no rewriting or line changes without Mr. Singh’s written approval, and all rights revert back to Mr. Singh in six months. Absolutely no extensions-hoc tempore.”
Shane wanted to hit him, but said instead, “That sounds like a pretty tough deal.”
“We’re talking filmatic breakthrough here. This isn’t Charlie’s Angels where you got three gorgeous chicks running around in see-through dresses. This is a work of inestimable depth-fac et excusa.”
“Huh?” Nicky grunted from the sofa, finally reentering Earth’s atmosphere.
“Means make your move. This is a straight yes-or-no proposition.”
Shane was close to feeding this asshole his wire-rimmed glasses. He looked over at Nicky, who was still leaking water like a Mexican fishing boat.
“We don’t have two hundred thousand to pay for an option,” Shane said.
“Tempus omnia revelat.” Wireman sneered. “Time reveals everything… Catch ya on the flip-flop.” He stood, shot his cuffs, and motioned toward the door.
“Excuse me, we have a counterproposal,” Shane interjected.
Jerry Wireman wrinkled his nose as if the strange smell of decaying flesh had just wafted into his office through the air vent. “Go.” They no longer merited even a short Latin phrase.
Nicky looked like he was about to start convulsing.
“We’ll pay you one hundred thousand for a one-month option,” Shane continued. “All rights revert back to Mr. Singh at that time. If we have not set the script up at a studio or obtained our financing within a month, we may need another month extension. I’m willing to pay you an additional one hundred thousand for that second month.”
Jerry sat back down behind his desk, grabbed a yellow pad and made some notes. “Interesting.” He leered. “So restating it per gradus, what you want, in essence, is a step-deal on a short clock for the same two hundred. I like that. We come off our stated front-end price, and you tighten up the timetable with two option bumps… that could fly. Of course, we’re gonna need ten back-end points calculated from first-dollar gross, against a purchase price of two million, or ten percent of the budget, whichever is higher.”
“And there are some boilerplate creative and approval issues. Nothing too onerous.”
“Let’s draw it up,” Shane said.
“What was that name again?”
“The Big Double S.” Wireman smiled warmly. In seconds, Shane had gone from an extreme annoyance to the Big Double S. Showbiz. “I like the way you do business, guy,” Wireman enthused. “Let’s get this into memo form and you can write the agency the first check to hold the deal in place.”
“Sounds good,” Shane said.
Then everybody was smiling except for Nicky, who seemed to have turned into stone-hoc tempore.
An hour later Shane had written the check for one hundred thousand, draining the bank account Alexa had just set up. He learned that Michael Fallon was also a CAA client. In fact, Wireman informed them that it was Fallon who had arranged for Rajindi Singh’s representation at the agency. Jerry Wireman agreed to arrange a breakfast meeting with Fallon for ten the next morning at the Polo Lounge. Then Shane and Nicky signed the deal memo.
An hour and a half after arriving at CAA, they were walking out of the air-conditioned lion’s den, back into the late afternoon L. A. heat, heading toward Nicky’s maroon Bentley.
“You have just made the shittiest script deal in the entire one-hundred-year history of moviemaking,” Nicky groused. He was out of his trance, and angry.
“Filmmaking,” Shane corrected. “And what the hell happened to you? I’ve seen lawn jockeys with more on their minds.”
“Whatever. One month for a hundred grand, ten gross points against ten percent of the budget for a screenplay that was written by a drooling idiot? We should be put in Bellevue for this deal.”
“Nicky, we’re not gonna make the film. It’s not ever going to get shot. Got that through your fuzzy head? The hundred grand just ties up the script for a month. After that, I’ve either got Valentine in jail, or it’s over. This is a sting, not a film deal.”
“This is farchadat, is what it is-crazy. When this gets out, my reputation is in the shitter.”
They got into the Bentley and Nicky put it in gear. He looked tiny, peeking over the wheel of the mammoth car. But Shane had to admit he loved the smell of the English leather interior, and made a resolution that, whenever possible from this point forward, he would ride with Nicky.
Then they headed across town to pick up Shane’s car at the studio, before going on to the six o’clock A-list party for the New Jersey mobster at the Beverly Hills Hotel.