I had just won a cinematography award and Hannah asked me for a favor. Robert Towne wanted to do a screen test of two actresses for a film he was doing or was pitching or was about to be doing.
It was going to be the first film he was to direct and I guess he was being extremely cautious. His assistant was a writer who went on to becoming a good director, Curtis Hanson. Towne also had a dialogue director there.
The two actors (actresses really but the present term is ‘actor’ for anyone that acts) were Marielle Hemingway and and an unknown, Patrice Donnelly, an athlete that had never acted before.
I had flown in from New York (where I was working at the time) especially for this favor and my AC was Robert Elswitt, who later became a terrific cinematographer, eventually winning an Academy Award for his work.
Robert wanted to film the scene as a single take which threw me, as the scene was complicated with moments that needed unnecessary discipline to ‘hit the proper marks,’ something a little complicated for an actress (actor?) that did one film and another that hadn’t acted before. Sho’nuff, they drove Elswitt nuts as he tried to keep them both in focus as they stumbled through the awkward scene.
After a number of takes we got something satisfactory to us, if not Robert, and we called it a day (or a morning). A few handshakes (cursory) and I left.
I’m not sure where I got the dirty details, but I was told that Towne was having an affair with Patrice, the athlete non-actor. I also heard that Towne was disappointed with the test and wanted to re shoot it.
I ran into Hanson in a parking lot in Venice (California) and he said that Towne had been disappointed in the test’s cinematography. Hanson had said that there were only two or three takes that were any good. Of course, I mentioned that it was a miracle that any were any good since the girl that Towne was fucking was terrible and it was unfair to criticize the film itself, because it recorded the events accurately.
Then I heard something really bizarre (and funny). Towne approached Haskell Wexler to reshoot the test. Haskell asked to see what I had done and after the screening told Towne that he couldn’t do any better.
The film came out a few years later, a longer time than I had expected, and I didn’t like it at all. I didn’t feel like the actors were up to it in any way and it had no ‘look.’ The two girls were awkward and unconvincing and some of the more experienced performers (I use the term performers, so I don’t have to differentiate between the current trendy, actor vs actress) didn’t seem to do their best work.
A final irony was that I was chosen to present the best director award to Curtis at the Chicago Film Festival a few years later. Curtis had become a better writer and director than Robert Towne.