Imaginative Truth

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We live in a culture in which news has replaced art. The quest for information substitutes for an interest in the truths of the imagination and the heart. People understand and care about something if it is factual, if it is on the evening news — no matter what a pack of lies it is, or how trivial the story might be. But they don't understand or care about something that contains personal, private, imaginative truths. If any proof is necessary, read the following letter I recently received from a young filmmaker.

July 1, 2001

Dear Ray:

Below is one story of what has happened in our experience with this movie.

Our Story

Once upon a time we tried to sell our movie in Hollywood...

"It’s as real as it gets," we said.

Not necessarily a lie more like a variation of the truth. But it is what we knew we had to say if we wanted Happy Cole (A Mr. Big in Hollywood - not his real name) to watch our movie.

Cole, of Cole Public Relations, was the publicity mastermind behind Spike Lee’s films, plus Forrest Gump but more importantly he was the man behind - The Blair Witch Project.

We knew that Cole was the ideal promoter for our film: a dark mockumentary called "They Shoot Movies, Don’t They? – The Making of Mirage" about a filmmaker willing to give up everything – including his life – to get his film sold.

I co-wrote "They Shoot Movies, Don’t They?" with Frank Gallagher, and I portrayed the main character Tom Paulson, whose suicide is implied, but not actually shown, in the movie’s conclusion. Initially, Frank and I sent more than 80 copies of the film to publicists and distributors in Hollywood and New York.

Nearly 40 companies responded. They liked it! But each time we revealed that it was just a movie, interest in the film diminished. They liked it as a documentary but were not interested in it as a movie. We never got beyond the phone calls when we told the companies that it wasn’t real.

So we decided to send out 20 final copies of "They Shoot Movies..." But this time, we changed our strategy.

We sent out the tapes with made up press clippings... and an obituary on Tom Paulson. We were intentionally vague about whether it was a true documentary or fiction. Based on the clippings and the movie itself, people could believe what they wanted.

The tapes shipped on a Friday. And it didn’t take long for the phone to start ringing. The following Tuesday, the call that we were hoping for had come: Happy Cole was interested.

And when Hanna Burgoff from the firm asked if the film was real, I responded the only way I knew would guarantee us some face time with Cole. I told Burgoff that the film was "as real as it gets."

Before the meeting was even scheduled, Burgoff wanted three additional copies of the film to ship to some of the firm’s contacts in New York. She wanted a copy to send to the Cannes Film Fest in the documentary category.

So, we sent the tapes. And Frank, Adele and I worked out a strategy for the potentially life changing meeting.

dv theater

Thu Aug 24 1:12 AM US/Eastern 2000

i am surprised this movie was shown, although I support ifc's right to show it. i am opposed to government censorship of any kind, but i do believe with the right to show this film comes a responsibility to anticipate predictable, undesirable outcomes. this film encourages others who may confuse fame with notariety to follow this directors' example: ifc may then have blood on their hands. – george heath jr.

We were afraid that if we told them that the movie was not really a documentary, it might go south like the others and then they wouldn’t be interested. But we figured, hey, when we tell Happy Cole the truth he’ll get it, he’s going to love it even more because after all he’s the ‘Blair Witch’ guy!!!

To lend even more reality to the film, we agreed that Frank alone would attend the initial meeting with Cole. After all I was dead.

At the offices of Cole & White, practically every staff member greeted Frank. "They were shaking my hand, giving me business cards, I had six business cards stacked up in front of me" said Frank. "I knew everyone there had seen it. Cole gushed over the film. He really got it. He thanked me and kept going on and on about how scenes were shot, the metaphors we had built in, and all the things we were hoping people would get, he got. He talked about body language in this scene. He talked about wall sconces in that scene. He was in love with it!!"

Cole went on for more than an hour and a half about the film and told Frank that he already had people who were interested. Frank said, "I realized that he had been pitching and marketing our film before we even sat down face to face, he had already invested a fair amount of energy and a lot of emotion, too ." Frank went on, "He even told me he could get money for it. But because he was going on and on about camera angles and metaphors, I was still uncertain whether Cole knew if the movie was not real or not."

The Making of Mirage

Thu Aug 24 1:35 AM US/Eastern 2000

You've got to be kidding me. NO ONE had a clue as to how alienated Tom was becoming? Frankly, I'm pissed off and appalled at the lengths Mr. Gallagher felt he had to go. By deciding to keep the cameras rolling at the same time he must have undeniably been viewing (as I had) the deterioration of Tom's emotional constitution (from unconfident to fragile to unstable) without thinking to intervene (either on or off camera) makes me wonder "how amazing did he think the appeal of this documentary would be?" But, I don't even mean to single out the director. I'm sure any one of the people following Tom around until his last day in Vegas could have seen that something in his demeanor had darkened dramatically. The last vestiges of a dying civilization were not being captured on film here... no, only a twenty-seven year old man attempting to make a movie (good, bad or ugly), and now he's dead? The truth is stranger than fiction and much more horrifying. – M Rosenblum

Then the answer came, Frank realized he had the "fish hooked" when Cole asked how Adele, Tom’s girlfriend in the film, was handling everything. Meaning, how did she handle the death?

"He began going into his own personal life, into his history, into his family history," Frank said. "Under the circumstances, I began to get real uncomfortable with the direction of the conversation."

With that Frank decided to tell the truth and was now just waiting for that right moment. "But it would be OK, after all this is the Blair Witch guy, he’ll get it certainly."

It wasn’t long before the moment of truth came.

Heather Burgoff began asking more detailed questions about the film. She asked Frank about the rights and licenses to the film Mirage, which of course is the non-existent movie that Tom Paulson was trying to make and sell in our mocumentary. Frank said, "I did all right with all her questions until she asked when Tom and I had first met. It was such a basic question, but one that we did not cover in our preparation for the meeting, and I had to really think about the timing of it and how that worked with the movie and it wasn’t coming together and I could feel myself turning red," said Frank. "I could feel my face getting redder and redder and then I just said that’s it, 'You know what, I can’t do this anymore. It’s not real.’"

They Shoot Movies...

Thu Dec 21 1:29 AM US/Eastern 2000

Great movie! I've never written in praising a movie before, but this one just really hit me...the reality of it!!! Borderline genius; the interplay between the two movies that were actually trying to go on at the same time. I'll be going on to after this to see what else there is! Wicked!! – James Elliott

"What do you mean it’s not real?" asked Cole.

"It’s a movie, we wrote it," replied Frank.

Cole was incredulous.

"There’s no Tom Paulson?" said Cole.

"No Tom Paulson." Frank replied.

Then simmering, "And no Adele?"

"No Adele." replied Frank.

Cole seemed to go through the entire cast list, according to Frank. "I was stunned. I’ve never seen anybody deflate like that, he literally shrunk into his chair, and I could tell he was going over everything he had done with the movie that week, who he had told, who he had sent it to..."

"Get out." It was clear that the meeting we had set our sights on was ending. Badly.

frank gallagher is a genius

Sun Dec 24 3:40 AM US/Eastern 2000

‘They Shoot Movies’ is absolutely phenomonal. The talented actors (so convincing, so perfected), that had people sitting on the edge of their seats, sincerely rooting for "Paulson." The way director Frank Gallagher approached this project is absolutely mezmorizing; the long-lost art of story-telling is evident from beginning 'til end–-the sign of a true genius! Multi-faceted, emotionally developed and layered... it almost makes you wonder if "Paulson/Hollywood" are metaphors for things that most of us don't want to take the time to ponder (but unknowingly ended up there). Allegory or not, this is probably the best thing that has been put on our plates in a long, long–-LONG time, and we have to hail the genius behind it! Thank you! – Jeff Lampton

"He just said, ‘Get out’ and I felt an odd sense of power. I could have crushed him with a few carefully selected words but I thought better of it, I just slid the business cards away and said ‘I guess I won’t be needing these?’ He wouldn’t shake my hand. So I slinked out of his office into the silence of the hallway. Doors closed all around as the once noisy office was engulfed by silence."

Frank left Cole’s office and wasted no time in calling me and implementing "plan B." Plan B was as follows, "upon learning the truth, should Happy go south on us we were to send him a nice bottle of wine and some flowers with a note showing our remorse at allowing him to be deceived."

With Plan B in effect and figuring we had nothing more to lose, I decided to call Cole.

"I’ve been promoting this film, I’ve put some serious work into this and you lied to us," said Cole. " come over here and pick up these flowers and this damn wine... this is insulting!! And while your at it bring me $2,500 for all the work I did."

"Wait a minute," I said "Just an hour ago, you were really touched by this movie. You were touched by Tom’s (my character’s) plight. Doesn’t that matter anymore? Look at it this way Happy. I’m alive!! Doesn’t that matter!!

"I don’t give a damn if your alive or not," Cole snapped back "I’m trying to run a business here!! And you lied to me!"

"Now wait a minute Happy. I didn’t lie," I said.

I watched your film here in my apartment from 4:15 am to 6:00 am EST today. This movie should have never been shown. It is a major disrespect to Tom Paulson and to his family and friends. There is a line that should not be crossed... you have crossed it. – William Elliott Jaeger

"You did, you did. In the beginning you said it was real!!" replied Cole.

"No I didn’t. ‘It’s as real as it gets’, that’s what I said. Come on Happy! Aren’t you the ‘Blair Witch guy, isn’t this Hollywood?" I said. "Isn’t this what Hollywood is all about?"

It was flying fast and furious as Cole retorted, "We never lied with the Blair Witch. We never lied. Look at the poster!! Four words!! It says ‘Once Upon a Time!!’"

So we didn’t say, "Once upon a time?!

So sue us!


How much should we really trust our TV? And does the TV really owe us the Truth?


Fortunately for us, the story of "They Shoot Movies" doesn’t end with Cole & White.

In 2000, Bravo purchased the rights to "They Shoot Movies" and aired it on the Independent Film Channel. We were shocked at the response. What’s interesting is that the people who realized it was a mockumentary, gave it the most positive comments.


Tom Wilson


Nobody Productions


cc: FG


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Text Copyright 2003 by Ray Carney. All rights reserved. May not be reprinted without written permission of the author.