The screenwriter’s challenge for Act Two is seamlessly threading the studio mogul’s public and private lives. 2,260 words. Part One. Part Two. Part Four. Illustration by John Donald Carlucci.
Hollywood – 1969
The second act of his screenplay, the Untitled Jules Azenberg Biopic – First Draft, gave Dave problems as second acts generally do. Determined to push ahead, he rose every morning at seven and, hangover or not, sat down at the typewriter with a pot of coffee and waited for his fingers to magically click into action. On a day when his hands just sat there stiffly poised on the keys and not a single coherent scene emerged, Dave took a break. He and his pal Joel Rodgers went out on the town for a movie, dinner and drinks at Trader Vic’s where Joel regaled him with the details of the latest showbiz scandal. Dave listened, but without much enthusiasm. Like most current gossip, it was graphic and tawdry and destroyed what little illusion was left about movie stars’ private lives. What was Hollywood without glamour? Without fantasy?
When the muse finally revisited Dave, she came equipped with a metaphor. Act Two opens with Jules at a gaming table tossing dice in a visual motif establishing the studio mogul as an inveterate gambler and a smart one at that. For Jules proves himself an expert crapshooter, knowing exactly how long to play, how high to raise the stakes, and when to walk away from the table.
By the early 1930s, his Argot Pictures is on a roll. Most of its B-movie competitors fall by the wayside, victims of the Depression. Argot slowly buys up all the rivals and establishes itself as a viable rival to the A-list studios like MGM and Warner Bros. Here, the script hones close to the real story by assigning Jules due credit. Given his brother Mort’s cautious nature, Argot might have survived the transition to sound but not the economic reversal of the times. It took more than business savvy to keep Argot afloat: it took Jules’ ingenuity and daring.
His risky gamble is to jump head-first into larger budget movies at a time when everyone else, including the established major studios, is cutting corners. And for that he needs an ally because Jules feels inferior to the task of convincing talent to sign with Argot rather than a more deep-pocketed institution like MGM. He needs someone with the polish and finesse to talk to theater types. So he enlists a celebrated and ceaselessly charming German-born director and appoints him vice president of production. It’s a curious choice and, at first, the board expresses concern that a creative type will run financially amuck.