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Monday, January 28, 2008

Diablo Redux on Letterman

Diablo Cody returns to Late Night to talk with Dave Letterman about being an Oscar nominee, what success has done to her, and the Starbucks at Target in Robbinsdale as inspiration for writing her screenplay JUNO.

The now famous, Diablo Cody developed many of her professional skills and interpersonal negotiations from being a stripper. I can say, even before she wrote JUNO she was plying her ability to manipulate people attentions for her to the maximum effect. She will admit to this fully.

At the magazine I work for we had an incident where we sent a photographer out to shoot a photo of her during the time of her “Candy Girl” book release. She was working at City Pages and had a desk there, so she wore fishnets and stripper lingerie and stuck a provocative pose – camera down low, one leg up, bottie hitched high. A lot to see...

Before our photographer left, she begged, pleaded and promised, in order to get him to give her copies of the photos “just for her personal use.” Within hours those digital photos were up on her blog site and she was spreading vicious gossip about our magazines art director -- most of it invented with a National Inquirer like tone.

The hot pose story spread like wildfire with both the StarTribune (gossip clumnist CJ) and The Rake magazine doing stories about the story. That’s one of Diablo’s biggest talents – she’s a self-marketing team onto herself and could teach a few of the handlers in LA some tricks. At that time, I wrote an quick message to Diablo telling her the trouble she caused the photographer because it violated our contract with him when he gave her a copy and then that she used it was yet another instance. She immediately removed the photos from her web site and apologized for her indiscretion in the matter, insisting, “I am a professional.”

By this time, however, Cody’s purpose had been achieved to double and triple her exposure and get everybody talking even if it involved some double-crossing to get there. I think she is very smart.

There is bound to be a lot of resentment and envy from fellow scribes for Cody’s actions and her stellar rise. Screenwriters’ never get the attention she has been able to garner and, likewise, screenwriters are not the most generous of folks when it comes to ego. Mind you, we do often get shafted and treated poorly by directors, producers and the industry in general. I am in sympathy. Especially in these times of the strike, when a great big shaft is being perpetuated against us.

I’d say there is a dimension to “Diablo Cody phenomena” that transcends her as an individual. Cody’s is the American rags-to-riches story so many in Hollywood like to glorify. Sure, here in Minnesota we have fairytale fantasies but perhaps it is the weather that prevents us for going about thinking we can act them out and live them. LA and California has no such pragmatic restraint.

More than anything else, the Diablo Cody fee-nom is related to the place Hollywood is in today. There is a perception that due to the internet, the business of entertainment and making movies is slipping away form the studio execs and their old-world models of filmmaking. They are grasping at straws, trying to find the next great, best thing that will walk in their doors. And Diablo being an irreverent, mouthy, self-promoting, PC generation standout is, for the moment, a dream come true.

But, no question, Cody did jump the stack. A lot of writers have been humping the LA treatmill for years and none have come near the stardom, celebracy, and attraction that Diablo has suddenly found herself inside. JUNO, her first screenplay has won her an Oscar nomination and she seems to be leading the polls. Not too many people are going to like she moved to the front of the line. The popularity polls don't vote for Oscars, the screenwriters' and members of the academy do. Her bubble will burst. As much as America likes to create sensational stories of the rise to fame, it just as quickly likes to expose and undermine them.

I don't use any of it against her. Diablo Cody is an entertainer. And so is everybody else working in the industry in Hollywood and New York. I think she has fun with the game and more of us should also. Compared to the droll hatred and self-righteousness of Robert Towne (even if he is a better screenwriter) I'd take Diablo any day over Towne. Cody's rise does not have much to do with great screenwriting but even she cannot live on her personality and instinct for the jugular alone.

Diablo Cody still has to sit down and write an interesting story and good dialogue and she does better at that than most first-timers. She's not a genius but this is not an industry for them. Afterall, look at all the brilliant writers in the 30s and 40s who went to Hollywood and got nowhere. It wasn't that they weren't great, it was just that they were in the wrong town.

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