Entry Level Movie

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

The only praise in Bergeron's review was for a "snazzy ad campaign and a dazzling display of self-distribution." Rick vowed the next day that, with a few dots in between, the words "snazzy" and "dazzling" would forever connect E*L*M with Public News.

"Michael Bergeron -- what a great guy!" said Rick with a smile. And he told a volunteer to send flowers.

It was Rick's stepdaughter, CeAnne Jones, who was responsible for the dazzling distribution. As a film distributor, she had helped bring the world "all the turtle movies, seven or eight Freddy Kruegers and two or three Jasons." She added to her credits Entry Level Male, and the movie opened in Houston on September 20.

The night of the premiere was not what Rick had hoped, but he never let on. At the Harrington home, the stars in their evening black climbed into two white limousines. After one of the limos was jump-started, they were all on their way to their big-screen debut.

"We'll just breeze in and try to bring a positive atmosphere," said Rick, on the way to Memorial City Mall.

They made a great show of getting out of the limos. Rick had hired a couple of cameramen, and they got out first and turned their lights upon the stars and gave the arrivals an authentic feel. Joel stepped out wearing an outrageous orange sports coat. "Takes guts to wear this," he said, but then Seanna saw him and cried out, "You have the coolest clothes!" and the executive producer strode into his premiere with a beautiful woman on his arm.

No one clamored for their autographs or even stopped them to ask who they were. Inside, five minutes before the show, there were only eight people in the seats. Each of them was vigorously thanked, and then the stars waved and departed for Tinseltown.

"Uh-oh," said Michael Rhoads, the entry level male, "we got a crowd, kiddos."

"You're not kidding," said Seanna. "They're all kids!"
At the Cinemark Tinseltown, the limo doors opened onto a horde of jumping, screaming, delirious children. The stars were thoroughly mugged for their autographs, but the theater remained empty. Rick stood apart from the crowd, quietly regretting that he ever wrote the "f" words that brought his movie an R rating.

At Deerbrook Mall, the children formed a wall around Seanna. Some wanted to know where she got her shoes, some wanted to tell her that they were going to be famous, too. "Here," said one girl, handing over her paper. "Sign it, 'I love you forever.' " Seanna did that, and then one of the boys presented her with a teddy bear, and she said it was the sweetest thing that ever happened to her. He posed, blushing deeply, with his arm around her and his baseball cap on backward.

"She's a natural," said Sharron, standing proudly by.
Rick had raced to the theater. He was handing out fliers as fast as he could.

"Show your mom and dad and have them bring you," he said to the children.
"You're leaving?" he said to an old couple. "You haven't seen E*L*M!"
"You have to see it in the next three days," he said to a Hispanic woman, "or it will disappear forever."

At Armando's, Seanna had waited on Beau Bridges a few days before, and he had said he might come to her premiere, but he didn't. One of the extras who used to dance for the Rockets said she had called Charles Barkley and Jeff Bagwell and all her friends and told them to come. They didn't.

Rick had been up since 4:30 that morning, selling his show. In the limo in the dark, he stared out the window, yodeled softly to himself and fell asleep.

"Let's go in and see if people are laughing," Seanna said at Meyer Park.
But no one was laughing in there, or even smirking. The audience was quite silent, and so was Rick, leaning against the door, until the cast began to howl. There they were, their faces at least ten feet tall, their own voices booming out at them. This was extraordinarily funny! They laughed, and Rick began to laugh, too, and it was clear that Entry Level Male was truly a magnificent film.

Five of the seven theaters canceled the movie on Monday, but "Good God, no, I'm not disappointed," said Rick.

If his publicity did not pack the theaters, it did bring him the attention of would-be directors from all over the city who wanted his advice. Rick had signed up two new investors, and he had heard from those people who understood his art, like the woman who saw the entry level male as Christ at the crucifixion.

"She got all the nuances and metaphor sequences where God and the universe come together in time and space," Rick said, happily. And if he never knew all that stuff was in there, he would never let on about that, either.

One week later, Entry Level Male quietly disappeared from the big screen. Rick believed there would be other cities and midnight runs and cable and video. He still thought E*L*M could earn millions of dollars. When the money comes in, it will be A Cold Day in Hell for him, or maybe he'll do the E*L*M sequel in which Roger Rigian returns from "the ass end of never" with "an elite band of alien female commandos." Maybe the kids would like that one.

"I'm afraid I don't think about retiring," said Rick. "I don't have the time for that. E*L*M is just the beginning.

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