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FROM THIS EPISODE

Twelve Minutes
This is Rob Long with Martini Shot on KCRW.

Back when I was an unemployed film student, I convinced myself that spending all day at the movies wasn't a sign of laziness, but of a deep commitment to my craft and what I pretty un-ironically called THE LANGUAGE OF CINEMA.

It also cost about eight dollars a day, at which point I realized that it was either THE LANGUAGE OF CINEMA or THE CONSUMPTION OF BEER, and, well, figure it out yourself.

The good news for anyone who wants to watch their movie and drink it too, however, is that at any given time in Hollywood, someone is holding a test screening of his most recent film. And because the guest lists for these things are drawn up and supervised by the lowest ranking person around -- the press assistant's assistant, the studio boss' water boy, the guy who underlines "Variety" for his boss the talent agent -- it's easy to crash any screening with just a simple phone call.

Hollywood is a vast, rainless version of Upstairs, Downstairs -- all the downstairs types know each other, hang out together, exchange gossip, and call each other on their bosses' cell phones. It's a class system organized by age: people in their early twenties tend to know everyone else in town that age, and the result is an invisible web that links the assistants, the young actors, the agents-in-training, and, lucky for me, the unemployed film students. After the screening, we'd walk out into the lobby, past the phalanx of studio executives and marketing gurus, past the actors and their cigarettes, and finally, past the nervous-looking director. I'd always make eye--contact with the director, smile knowingly, then give him a thumbs-up sign, like I was a big-shot who knew what was what, like I was an IMPORTANT PERSON and not AN UNEMPLOYED FILM STUDENT DRIVING A SUBARU.

Once, sauntering out, I gave the half-smile/thumbs-up to the director -- a particularly famous and powerful one this time -- and was almost out the door when he called me back.

"Hey!" he shouted.

I stopped.

"Yeah?" I said, trying to act cool.

"Whadja think?" he asked, mistaking me for an IMPORTANT PERSON.

I shrugged nonchalantly, though inside my leather jacket, I was drenched in sweat.

"Could lose 12 minutes, easy."

The director looked at me for a moment. Then nodded.

"Yeah," he said. "Faster is better."

He started to say something else, but I didn't hear him. I was dashing out to my Subaru.

Last week I was invited to a screening of a major picture with a November release date. The guy who invited me is the vice--president of production at a large movie studio in town, though I remember him as the guy who used to underline "Variety" for his talent-agent boss back when I was an unemployed film student. This proves that if you stick around Hollywood long enough, good things happen.

The movie, though, was not a good thing. It was an awful thing. An awfully long thing.

Walking out of the screening my friend pulled me aside.

"What did you think?" he asked, worried.

I shrugged. "It's not bad," I lied. "How close is it to being done?"

"How CLOSE?" he hollered in a whisper. "That's our final cut. That's it."

"Oh," I said. "Well, to tell you the truth, I think it could lose 12 minutes."

"Twelve minutes? What the hell kind of crap answer is that?"

"Well..."

"I ask you here as a favor, and that's the best you can do? Twelve minutes? It can lose 12 minutes? We're talking about MY JOB here, okay?"

I suddenly felt guilty for all the invitations and free xeroxing this guy had provided for me all those years ago. I could do better than "12 minutes," I was pretty sure.

"Well," I began, "I think it could lose 10 minutes in the first half..."

His face lit up. "Yes! Of course!"

"And at least two more at the end."

He nodded vigorously. "I agree. Hey, man, thanks. I owe you, okay?"

He hugged me. I gave my ticket to the valet parking attendant and waited for my car. The truth is, it doesn't really matter where my friend finds the twelve minutes to cut. Certain movies can't be too short.

That's it for this week. Next week, we'll get political.

For KCRW, I'm Rob Long. This has been Martini Shot.

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