Entry Level Movie

In a cineplex world ruled by mega-corporations, how much damage can one man do?

That sort of thing. It came with a coupon for four more books just like it. Vivian Stephens said she couldn't remember Love Match, which meant it was nothing unusual.

The Harringtons wrote one more Harlequin together, and then Sharron was sick of it. She turned 50, and her insurance premiums doubled, and she curtailed her writing to take a regular job with "fabulous benefits." After nine years of selling makeup, she still swears that "I am not at heart a Maybelline rep" and says that it is books that keep her going. For her birthday this year, Rick recorded seven novels of their favorite author, Dick Francis, and Sharron plays the tapes as she drives, patiently waiting during the emotional parts when her husband has paused to weep.

Ten years since the last Harrington novel was published, Rick continues the life of art unabated. The ideas come so fast they keep him awake at night, and there's a pad by the bed to stop them from getting away. Each morning, he writes for about half an hour. He can type 100 words a minute but said he slows down to about 45 when he's writing, "which is normal speed, I guess. You don't want to rush it when you're composing."

He has been utterly obsessed with his movie during the last two and a half years, but in that time, he has finished three novels, plus a sequel to Entry Level Male, and a screenplay he has chosen to call A Cold Day in Hell.

"I love writing," said Rick. "Words can make people sing."

Short and bald, Joel B. Carroll looks very much like the lost twin of Larry "Bud" Melman. Back in the '60s, he was working for the United Way, overseeing an ad at Ben Taub Hospital in which a patient was being wheeled into the emergency room. The doctors didn't think it looked realistic, "so they splashed blood on Rick, and he turned white as a sheet, and that was the first time I met him."

Joel went on to work with the March of Dimes and the Living Bank and to his present position as fundraiser for the Salvation Army. Over the years, he and Rick collaborated on many public-service announcements, and Joel came to the opinion that Rick is "way ahead of his time."

It was not an uneducated opinion. Joel adjusted his glasses and looked soberly through their dark frames and said, "This figure will astound you, but in my lifetime, I have seen 22,000 movies." He watches three to five a day. Just behind Citizen Kane, he said his favorite is Night of the Living Dead, in which "people die and come back to life and have to roam the countryside eating other human beings."

Sometime after The Texas Chainsaw Massacre was released, Joel agreed to help Rick produce their own horror film.

"It was something like Blood Shack," he tried to recall. "No, it was Blood Shed. Two words. Rick knew this snake trainer near Conroe, and I personally detest snakes, and we thought they'd be pretty scary."

He has broken records raising money for the Salvation Army, but for some reason, he couldn't raise a dime for Blood Shed. People said, "Not right now, Joel. Wait till you prove yourself," and they said it again and again, and Joel realized eventually that he was getting old and might never have the chance.

He decided he was going to fund the bulk of a movie by himself. Rick brought him a pile of scripts, and it was Joel who chose Entry Level Male. The plot had no sex or violence, but "I said, 'This is the one. This will sell right now. Hell, women are taking over the world anyway. This isn't futuristic at all!"'

On November 13, 1994, all the Harrington friends and the friends of their friends gathered in the Bagby Street studio of a dear old friend. Rick told the cast they would be paid on a "speculative contingency deferred" basis, and he probably could have used just one of those words, but he used all three because it seemed more generous.

The captain's suit that Rick wore aboard the Artemis became the costume for the lead character. The windows they were installing in their house became part of the set. For 10 percent of the normal cost, the Harringtons bought 45,000 feet of leftover film from the sitcom Coach. The studio was not soundproof, so someone stood outside with a walkie-talkie and the film was shot in the intervals between passing cars.

"Every time I had to do a scene," Rick said, "I had to think, 'Okay, how can I do this and spend absolutely no money?' And so I compromised and got through it, compromised and got through it."

They had one camera and one lens. The movie gets darker as it goes on because they began with ten lights and finished with four. Most of the special effects involve Christmas lights. They had a fog machine they were unable to regulate, so rather than ignore it, they added a line that made heavy fog a kind of lie detector.

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