The screenwriter Andy Weiss reveals more on this true story adaptation about these internet pioneers
Last week we brought you the first trailer for the new summer film Middle Men, which hits theaters on August 6 and, as per one of the perks of my job, I got to take a look at this trailer a day early. Paramount invited a select group of internet journalists to take an early look at this awesome trailer at a West Hollywood event and we also got a chance to meet and speak with some of the filmmakers as well. Producer Christopher Mallick was at the event and he was not only a producer on the film, but he was one of the real-life inspirations behind the film - which tells the tale of the men who changed the face of the internet by enabling anyone with a credit card to purchase goods and services or, in their case, pornography.
While many of the journalists were talking to Mallick, who was telling several of the incredible stories he had through his years in this business, none of these stories could be recounted on the record. However, screenwriter Andy Weiss, who wrote the film along with director George Gallo, and he was more than happy to talk about his experiences on this film. Here's what Weiss had to say about this unique new film.
Can you talk about how you first got together with these guys and got the project going?
Andy Weiss: It started with Christopher Mallick and his story. He was just a brilliant protagonist. Nine times out of 10, and writers get this all the time, stuff like, 'You want to write a movie? You should write the story of my life.' So I was like, 'Oh, here goes another blowhard, thinking he's had the most interesting existence that's worthy of a movie and he's great and everybody else sucks.' The problem is with most people, if somebody comes to you and says they were at the inception of something great, or something related to the porn industry or the internet, you go, OK, maybe they've lost they're perspective because, being inside for so long, they don't realize what's normal or abnormal anymore, making money hand over fist. This guy was still normal. I asked him if he ever did drugs and he said, 'Never,' so he seemed like a normal guy. He was telling me these stories and he was telling them in a way that was like, 'Oh my God, this is crazy.' He's a good, honest guy, who was in this for the right reasons because it was the gold rush and there was money in it and he had family, but he never got sucked in all the way. His partners got sucked into drugs and the porn aspect of it, so his take on it was really through the eyes of the common man. He'd say, 'You want to hear bizarre, Andy, let me tell you how it all began,' and he started telling me this story about these guys in an apartment, living like crap, but they were both brilliant. All they were doing was blow or weed or whatever they could get their hands on, and they were thinking about how much the internet sucks and how all they could find was some dirty Polaroids. They started uploading pictures from magazines and figured out that they could get paid from it and one guy develops this way to accept payments from credit cards for porn, and under a nondescript name. They get into trouble are were like, 'OK, we don't know how to run a business and I think we're stealing their money. We can't seem to get enough porn for them, they just want more, more more.' Chris said, 'There's already enough porn in the world. What you guys developed is a great way to get it to the public, the middle men aspect of providing it all over the world to different countries, that's where the money is, being that middle person.' Nobody wants to give their credit cards to prostitutes in China or whatever is going on in other countries. So, here's a reputable bank, this is a real credit card thing and we're going to establish a trustworthy third-party payment source. It's amazing, and now there are like 90,000 sites and you're just taking 10% of the transaction fees back and forth, all day long. You look at these sites like CC Bill, that's where the money's at. It's not in the content. They pay the girls, they put it up, but it's in the volume of, around the world today, 4 million people subscribed to different porn sites. 3 million of those, one company is handling all the transactions for. That $10.99 or $9.99, that's 99 cents a transaction, but you do the math with 4 million transactions a day....
It's like Office Space.
Andy Weiss: Yeah, exactly. 'Fractions of a penny over three months...' It's like that with porn. When he starts telling me all this stuff, I mean, most writers have to find and rip the story out. I was talking to Oliver Stone about when he was writing Midnight Express. He told me all these interesting stories about Billy Hayes in this Turkish prison and what was really said, and, I don't want to quote Oliver here, but there was that famous monologue that he had and I actually talked to Billy Hayes and asked if that was really what he said. He said, 'No, that's not at all what I said.' I said, 'What did you say then?' He said, 'I told them that they were being really unfair and they were mistreating me and, where I'm from, that's not the way we conduct justice.' I said, 'Well, how did it become that incredible monologue?' He said, 'Well, I was sitting there with Oliver Stone and all of the sudden, he just threw the typewriter across the room and he said, 'Stop telling me what you fucking said. I know what you fucking said. I want to know what you fucking feel!' He said, 'How did I feel? How did you think I felt? I felt like they were rotten pigs, they're mothers were rotten pigs, they fuck their sons and they fuck their daughters in that country.' He said, 'That's what we're going to write.' That is what you're looking for, normally, as a writer. Every now and then, you find somebody where the real truth is right there for you and you don't need to direct, really. Chris got it, and that's rare.
Did you find that there were things that were too outrageous that people wouldn't believe, but was actually real?
Andy Weiss: Yes, and some of it is in the film. But, the way that it's handled in the film has a lot to do with (director) George Gallo. We introduced a world that is so absurd, and we laugh at its absurdity and let you in on it. I mean, when you see the terrorist sequence in this film, people will be talking about it. I know people will be talking about it. People will think, 'Is that really true, that they tracked the 9/11 terrorists through porn sites, and that they needed this guy's help to do such?' The answer is yes, truth, we can back it up. The crazy thing about it is that, yes, it's so bizarre and so strange and nobody would ever believe it, but if you introduce it in a way and direct you a film in the way that George did, you begin to go, 'Oh my God, I get why this is worth it.' It's all over the place, but you're totally with it the entire way.
Can you talk a bit about the timeline of the film? It says this starts in 1995 in the trailer. How far forward does it go from there?
Andy Weiss: 2004, yeah. I actually think that's a good question because, since '04 is when the entire business that's discussed in this film, is kind of done. It's over. It was a nine-year run, but those were the years. It's sunk. Porn's worthless now, it really is. There's so much of it free now, you can get everything on every site and everybody has this where you can pay like 10 bucks a month and just download a library of like 4,000 films, if you have the space. That's how these things go. Everybody gets rich real quick. It reminds me of those PartyPoker people. They were some of the richest people in the country at one time, and it was this just huge sale of billions and billions of dollars. I wonder what that day must have been like for whoever was on the other side of that purchase, the day that the government decided to outlaw gambling on the internet, that it wasn't actually a gray area, that it could be policed, and that no American bank could authorize charges to go through. That must have been a pretty bad day. 'What did we spend on that? 11 billion dollars.' On the other side, they got out of that in the nick of time.
When you first started to get together with Chris, what are some of the more surprising things that you couldn't really believe yourself that he told you?
Andy Weiss: The terrorist thing was big, but I think the biggest thing was with the straight-up incompetence of his two partners. He had to pay them their equal share, but these guys were nuts. They would go out and say, 'OK, I want a World War II submarine. I want a jet pack. You know what would be cool? I want the world's biggest water slide in my back yard.' They had so much money and they were these two hicks and, all of the sudden, they started getting a couple of million a month and they both got really into drugs. They just did not give a shit, and that to me is terrible because he's trying to conduct a business with real clients and these guys are running around naked. They went to some Vegas hotel and bought 500 lobsters and they were like, 'We're freeing the lobsters.' They were up in the Presidential Suite and they were flinging them off into the swimming pool at some major hotel and were like, 'Look, all of the lobsters are running free!' They woke up in the morning and all of the lobsters are just crawling around in the pool, everywhere. Chris was like, 'You spent $37,000 on this shit!' Only the truly, newly rich, like you saw in the trailer, that quick shot of him throwing up the $100's, they were like those guys, the first guys to do that cash throw thing at the club that people were doing with singles, they were doing with $100's. You're around that, and if you're any kind of normal, decent person, it would be just ridiculous, like what is wrong with these guys? I thought those stories, and there are a lot of them threaded throughout the movie, were interesting and I thought that the underworld aspect of it, where they money goes and is there danger associated with it, absolutely it is. Like there's a stripper who becomes a porn star who has some pre-existing deal with a strip club owner/mobster in Croatia that hunts them down, stuff like that.
This cast is pretty amazing as well. Were any of these guys people that you were aiming for?
Andy Weiss: I'd love to comment on that but I can't. Obviously, I love the cast, but I was kind of left out of that part of it. As a writer and co-executive producer, I was more involved in bringing George on board. For most writers, though, one way to not be invited to the festivals and the parties and all the nice little perks, going down to the set every day and seeing your name on the chair, one way to make sure that doesn't happen is to start vocalizing too much about who should be in the picture and who shouldn't be. Anytime a movie you write actually gets made is great.
Middle Men hits theaters nationwide on August 6 and if you want to check out that trailer again, you can CLICK HERE. Be sure to check back for my interview with director George Gallo in the very near future.