April 18, 2024
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April 18, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

Josh Steinberg had never been to a movie mogul’s office before. He was expecting it to be lavish, or at least plush. But he was disappointed. It was a big room with attractive mission furniture, an Oriental rug (he assumed handmade Persian), and a view of the Pacific, if you craned your neck to the right just enough. He had been expecting something more, something larger than life. The only sign that Ron Mayer was a player was the humidor on his desk, filled with what Josh assumed were Cuban cigars, and the picture of him and John Huston on the wall.

He had never been taken seriously before. Sure, Josh had done rewrites of some blockbuster scripts in the past. Memoirs of a Geisha. Pearl Harbor. A horror flick that was never made featuring one of the cast members from Friends—he always forgot which one. But when Josh got the call from Marty Abromowitz, his agent, that Ron Mayer wanted to meet with him, the hair stood up on the back of his neck. This was it, his big break. You don’t get called to the office of the president of Tiger Gate Studios unless it was serious.

Josh elected to go without his agent. He wanted to be one on one with Mr. Mayer, to get a sense of the man. If it all worked out, they could iron out the details later. Mayer’s secretary let him into the inner sanctum, they shook hands—Ron Mayer had small, dry hands but a firm grip—and went to work.

“So Josh—may I call you Josh?”

“Of course, Mr. Mayer.”

“Please, call me Ron.”

“O.K., Ron.” Josh thought his head was going to burst with glee.”

“Josh, I hear you’re working on something that has potential.”

“I hope so Mr., um, Ron.”

“You’re too modest, Josh. Everyone is talking about it in the trades. It has a lot of positive buzz.”

“Thanks, Ron.”

Ron Mayer picked up a cigar and rolled it between his fingers. He looked out across his desk expectantly at Josh, who stared back in silence. Josh didn’t know what he was supposed to do.

“Let’s have it, son. Give me your pitch.”

“Oh, O.K. Essentially, it’s a remake of The Ten Commandments. You know, the whole Jews-out-of-Egypt story.”

“Yes, Josh. I read the book. I went to Hebrew school, just like you.”

Actually, Josh had been to much more than Hebrew school. He had attended twelve years of New Jersey’s finest Jewish day schools before attending NYU Film School. But he was not about to correct Ron Mayer. No one corrects Ron Mayer.

“Right. The difference is that I’m going to do it as a strict period piece, hewing very close to the original. The characters are going to speak in ancient Hebrew and Egyptian, with subtitles. And we’re going to be very loyal to the story, using the actual words of the Torah as our guide.”

“Kind of like Mel Gibson in The Passion of the—“

“Lehavdil,” Josh jumped in. “But essentially, yes, it’s the same idea. And I want to use Jewish actors as much as possible for authenticity.”

“Authenticity?”

“Yes. I thought that either they might feel a stronger connection to the material or perhaps they already had some Hebrew skills.”

“And why not? I’m sure that will play well in the press. After all, Hollywood could use a stronger Jewish presence.”

Josh assumed Ron was making a joke, but he went on.

“The script’s already written, and my agent’s been sending out feelers to see who might be interested.”

“Well, it’s certainly an unusual idea, picking Jewish actors on purpose.” Ron said. “We could cast Natalie Portman as Moses’ wife. What’s her name?”

“Tziporah.”

“Right. And maybe Zack Braff as Moses. And Jake Gyllenhaal as Aaron.”

“Is he Jewish?”

“I think so. At least I’m pretty sure he’s at least part Jewish.”

“Uh huh.”

“And we could get Robert Avrech to direct. He’s a natural for this. I’m guessing his Hebrew is impeccable.”

“Sure, why not.”

“And here’s an inspired idea. How about Bill Gates as the voice of God?”

“Um. I don’t think Bill Gates is Jewish.”

“Really? I always assumed he was.”

“No, I’m pretty sure,” Josh said in his most contrite voice.

“Then how about Steven Spielberg? He would make a great God! Some people in the industry would swear he already thinks he’s playing the role.”

Josh gave Ron a few seconds to laugh at his own joke.

“But seriously, Spielberg is an inspired choice. If he gets on board, we could get some great special effects for the plagues.”

“Actually, he did an animated movie about this story. It was called ‘The Prince of Egypt.’”

Ron slapped his desk top. “Of course he did! Still, he might consider the whole God thing. He’s very spiritual, you know. And essentially, it’s just a cameo. You know that Cecil deMille did God’s voice in the original.”

“By the original I assume you mean ‘The Ten Commandments,’ with Charlton Heston?”

“Of course.”

“Because in the original, I think God did His own voice.”

“Yes, I see your point.”

Silence ensued for a few moments, then Ron spoke.

“So, what’s the hook?”

“The hook?”

“Yeah, what does the movie hang on? What is the key to the movie, the denouement, so to speak?”

Josh cleared his throat.

“The script is based around the first commandment that Hashem, God, gives the Israelites in Egypt. Just before the Plague of the Firstborn hits, God tells the Jews, “Hachodesh hazeh lachem rosh chadashim. This month will be for you the beginning of months.” God is telling the Jews to establish the Jewish calendar. The people are now responsible for setting when Rosh Chodesh, the new moon, occurs every month. That makes them responsible for controlling the days the holidays will take place. It shows the direct and close relationship between God and man in Judaism.”

“But Josh,” Ron said, “where’s the action?”

“It doesn’t have action. The story is about the forming of a nation.”

“Couldn’t you focus on the plagues? Now, that’s drama for you. Or at least concentrate on the next commandment, the Passover sacrifice. Then you can open with a close-up of blood on the doorposts. Blood puts people in movie seats, let me tell you.”

“No, it’s Rosh Chodesh, the new moon. That’s the key to the whole story.”

“How about a relationship crisis to liven things up? In ‘The Ten Commandments’ there’s this whole love triangle between Moses, played by Charlton Heston, an Egyptian princess, Olivia de Havilland, and Pharaoh, Yul Brynner. And in ‘Prince of Egypt,’ there’s sibling rivalry between Moses, the voice of Val Kilmer, and Pharaoh, the voice of Ralph Fiennes.”

“No, said Josh. “In this movie I’m staying close to the original, so the relationship that matters is between God and the Jewish people. And that’s where the celebration of the new moon comes in.

“This commandment is so important that Rashi, the medieval Jewish commentator par excellence—”

“Yes, I know who Rashi is,” Ron interjected.

“Sorry. This mitzvah is so important that Rashi’s first words on the Torah, all the way back at the beginning of Bereishit, ask why doesn’t the Torah just start from ‘Hachodesh hazeh lachem.’”

“Wow. That’s heavy.”

“Yeah, I know. So that’s the heart of the movie. There’s no other way.”

“Groovy. Far be it from me to question your artistic vision,” Ron said.

“Thank you.”

“The whole thing sounds terrific. Tell Marty to give me a call and we’ll see if we can get the ball rolling.”

“Wow, really?”

“Yes, really. My people tell me the script really rocks. And besides, I respect your integrity.”

“That’s great, Ron.” Josh shook hands with Ron Mayer again and started toward the door.

“And Josh, how about Ben Kingsley to reprise the Edward G. Robinson role of the evil Dathan from the original movie? Or maybe Richard Dreyfus?”

“Call my agent,” Josh said, as he closed the door behind him.

Larry Stiefel is a pediatrician at Tenafly Pediatrics.

By Larry Stiefel

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