Hollywood from the basement

The Associated Press

LOS ANGELES "The Player" was a movie about making it in Hollywood. A new batch of show business satires is about striking out.

"My Life's in Turnaround," "... And God Spoke" and "Rhinoskin: The Making of a Movie Star" all follow struggling filmmakers and actors as they really try and mostly fail to succeed in show business.

As a group, the three movies offer a fresh portrait of life at Hollywood's edges.

While that world is filled with frustration, disappointment and hopeless determination, it is also rich with humor. The films are often darkly comic, and most of the comedy springs from real-life situations.

"A lot of this movie is drawn from my work on big Hollywood films," says Arthur Borman, a former production assistant who directed "... And God Spoke."

The movie's limited release begins Sept. 23.

"The Player," which earned director Robert Altman an Academy Award nomination, was a polished, accomplished production. It featured kinetic cinematography, slick editing and beautiful costume design. Its all-star cameo cast included Julia Roberts, Bruce Willis, Cher, Lily Tomlin and Elliott Gould.

Set inside a fictional Hollywood studio, the 1992 black comedy was as much a murder mystery as it was a study of cynical, manipulative filmmaking moguls. It gave the audience a rare view from inside the backlot suite Altman's point of view was from the ivory tower, looking down.

The three new films are set in the basement, looking up.

All were made on shoestring budgets, and they look it. The production qualities are often crude, and what passes for big cameos are Soupy Sales, Phoebe Cates and former Miss USA Kelli McCarty.

Most important, the three new films track people looking for a big break and not finding it. That may help explain why filmgoers and distributors are not tripping over themselves to get to these movies: Failure isn't as alluring as success.

Tod De Pree's "Rhinoskin" is the one true documentary among the trio. Co-director Dina Marie Chapman followed De Pree for a year as the unemployed actor looked for work and encountered the town's cottage industry of actor-support personnel.

Between auditions, De Pree consults with a self-help author, acting coaches and dollmaker. He gets workout tips from a trainer, and even visits a colon hydrotherapist. "If you want to succeed," says the bowel specialist, "you have to be clean inside and out."

All of it amounts to very little. De Pree's most visible acting job is playing a dancing chicken outside a Los Angeles restaurant. His stardom is elusive.

"People can relate it's a universal struggle," says De Pree. "Everybody at some time is struggling and fallen on their face trying to get to their dream."

"... And God Spoke" follows two fictional low-rent filmmakers whose credits include "Nude Ninjas" and "Alpha Deatha De Kappa" as they struggle to adapt the Bible for the big screen.

The original script's 2,000 pages are trimmed substantially to "cut the depressing parts" and Job's role is axed. A dwindling budget leaves them without enough disciples; when pyrotechnics don't fire, the burning bush looks like a cigar puff.

"We deal with the nuts and bolts of filmmaking," Borman says. "Our movie begins where 'The Player' and 'The Big Picture' (a 1989 Hollywood comedy) end," says Borman. "I think that's different: It's not the deal; it's physical production. People want to know how films are made.

"We deal with the things you don't see."

The movie's jokes elicit laughs from industry veterans but may have limited its commercial prospects. Its distributor, Live Entertainment, has virtually no theatrical experience.

"Everybody had a really positive reaction," producer Richard Raddon said of trying to sell "... And God Spoke." "But people would say, 'It's too industry-specific. It will only play in New York and Los Angeles.'"

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