Friday, March 28, 2008

Deracinating Aaron Seltzer and Jason Friedberg: A Brief Biography of North America’s Version of Worker and Parasite

Deracinating Aaron Seltzer and Jason Friedberg. And Let’s Throw Charles Mazin In There Too: A Brief Biography of North America’s Version of Worker and Parasite

With Aaron Seltzer and Jason Friedberg getting free rein to foist the rotting garbage--otherwise known as their “films"--on the world’s illiterate and unemployed, the balance seems to have tipped in the intellectuals’ favour. Movie critics--many of them bitterly sarcastic, but eminently literate, vinyl collectors--have started digging ice picks into these boys’ talkies. But critics can only go so far; they seem to have stalled at four-syllable adjectives. They just don’t know about Plato’s perfect forms of shit.

And they’ve never hit on the real story here: Who are Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer? Where did they come from? What high school did they fail to graduate from? What was the name of that book they read? Who’s that rich uncle who owns so much Fox paper that F&S can neither be fired nor have their Hummers towed from the lot?

I tapped my LA contact for information, but he came up with nothing. Friedberg and Seltzer were ghosts. I was ready to give up and just spout an ad hominem attack, but then the phone rang--it was my LA friend on the other end. He’d met a guy at a pitch-fest who, growing up, reported to have known Friedberg and Seltzer. And this is what the guy said:

First, Friedberg and Seltzer aren’t their real names. That’s why a quick IMDB search fails to turn up birth dates or family connections. And, really, now that you think about it, it’s pretty obvious: Seltzer. Not a likely last name. Friedberg is really Parker Maxwell, and Seltzer is really Cody Malone. Both graduated from Pacific Collegiate in Santa Cruz, California, though neither attended college. Apparently, they chose “Jewish-sounding” names with the intention of “sounding funny.” The logic was that it would be easier to insist on having some sagacious credibility if people believed they could be related, through tradition, to an Albert Brooks or Jack Benny.

Their first screenplay--a vehicle that was bought but never made--focused on the life of a dog who, after eating a magic bone, became a young boy. The boy appeared at the door of a disintegrating uber-contemporary family (cheating dad, working mom, angsty daughter, rocker son, etc.), and united the clan by teaching its members to believe in themselves.

Their big break came after Malone’s second uncle’s firm was retained to do some legal work for a Fox executive. Malone and Maxwell, who had been working as landscapers, were sweating over a script that would spoof the spy genre. The executive was looking for a comedy, and the uncle facilitated the script’s transfer. The result was Spy Hard.

Here’s where it gets interesting: Fox realized Spy Hard was the filmic equivalent of a child’s finger-paint rendition of Marcel Duchamp’s Nude Descending a Staircase. But their pre-screening tests proved the movie was so popular with children (twelve and under) and unemployed adults (I kid you not), that Fox begged the writing duo for a new franchise.

But Malone and Maxwell began to have artistic pretensions. They started reading--film scripts, not novels--and they thought they could be legitimate Oscar-contending hacks. Maxwell tried to write a book, but quit after realizing that characters needed both to think and speak. (He tried writing from experience, but it didn’t work.) So he rejoined Malone, and the two spent the next three years writing a biopic of Liberace, a script that was bought but never produced.

And who bought it: Fox.

Fox, dying for a Spy Hard-ish sequel, needed M&M back. And the only way to do it was to buy their coruscating Liberace prose-drama. In return Malone and Maxwell agreed to get back to their real milieu. The result: Scary Movie.

They grew, as artists and writers, in Scary Movie 2. And then Scary Movie 3 was loosely based on Styron’s The Confessions of Nat Turner. In Scary Movie 4 they travelled to the Library Congress to read rare hand-corrected proofs of John Osborne’s The Entertainer.

Then came Epic Movie, Date Movie, and Meet the Spartans. Asked about the writing process, Maxwell is reported to have said, “The toughest thing is coming up with the titles. It takes about nine months to write the screenplay, but the titles take forever. We just sit around, eat pizza, and pitch to each other. But, like George Eliot…you know, like he said, writing isn’t supposed to be fun.”

So that’s the story of Friedberg and Seltzer nee Maxwell and Malone. An interesting coda: brimming with ideas, but unable to spare the time to get them on paper, the M&M duo sold a story idea to Charles Mazin, the genius behind movies like Rocketman and Senseless. Mazin was so taken with M&M’s nugget, that he pitched it to Spielberg’s Dreamworks. Rumour has it that Dreamworks employees were later required to show evidence that they’d wiped their asses with Mazin’s script, which was torn in half and deposited, in equal quantities, in the men’s and women’s bathroom.

That script is now being released as Superhero Movie, with the writing credits going to Mazin. Friedberg and Seltzer are uncredited, but we can measure their involvement in a quick and easy way: just look at that gorgeous title.

Update: Friedberg and Seltzer are currently teaming up to write a children's book spoofing Dr Seuss's aesthetic. It's called, understandably, Children's Book.

1 comment:

Zeit Geist said...

So are Aaron Seltzer and Jason Friedberg in fact not jewish?? (because there real names dont sound jewish)

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