Believe it or not, in the early 1990s some in Fayetteville really thought that our on-going battle with a proposed incinerator, and then the seemingly endless battle to get out from under the weight of the financial obligations of an incinerator that was never actually built would be just the thing Hollywood would be interested in.
Then again, when Fayetteville Open Channel was being shut down, some board members were frantically trying to call CNN. Sometimes we are a Silly People.
Anyway, this was my answer to what I thought of as lunacy - the idea that film makers might descend upon us and tell our story to the world. My favorite part of the whole piece, upon rereading it, is the idea of Sigourney Weaver going off to do Gorilla’s in the Mist II: The Haunting.
This is another excerpt from my book, “Ozark Mosaic.”
Incinerator - The Motion Picture
The 1992 recession, which had hit the rest of the country like a cyclone, was felt even in the Ozarks, which previously had considered itself impervious to a shattered economy. The much vaunted "New World Order" was bankrupt, and the former allies were engaged in brutal trade warfare. In a misguided attempt to help American business, President Bush signed legislation making it easier for American factories to be located anywhere in the world where the workers could be paid one dollar, or less, per hour. The growing army of the newly unemployed failed to appreciate the gesture.
In July, announcing an early candidacy for Fayetteville City Board of Directors, "Buffy" Funicello suggested turning one of the abandoned industrial parks into a Poultry Theme Park, extolling the virtues of the chicken, and what it has done for our local economy.
Tour guides would be dressed as drumsticks, she suggested, displaying some outfits of her own design. As an indication of just how perilous times were, the Chamber of Commerce enthusiastically endorsed her proposal.
The City Board grew worried. Surely there had to be some way of boosting the local economy, short of criminal activity or losing what was left of our dignity A high-priced consultant in New York City was hired by the city to come up with ideas. Within a few weeks, after reviewing some of Fayetteville's recent past, he called and said, "Why not build a movie studio? It seems you have a wealth of material in your own files."
Though meant facetiously, his suggestion caught the public's imagination.
Imagine, the newspapers enthused, a publicly run movie studio! Everybody knew that movies made money hand over fist. The City Board (though understandably reluctant to have city secrets revealed on the silver screen) agreed that it was indeed a feasible idea, and the call went out to production companies to run the studio, for a share of the profits.
Immediately, the public sought to influence what sort of films would be produced with public funds. A lawsuit was threatened, should sales tax money be used for any part of it. The citizens group COWW (Citizens Opposed to Whitewashed Westerns) wanted assurances that only "Politically Correct" movies would be made, especially if dealing with the early days of the area. BURP (Baptists Urging Responsible Productions) wanted to review the scripts before any public money was spent on "liberal propaganda." The unemployed just wanted jobs, and hoped the public posturing would end before unemployment benefits ran out.
Finally, the selection process was complete, and Mass Burn Productions (a small company known mostly for cheap science fiction and "art" films) was chosen to run the twin studios, converted from abandoned factories.
A local JP wondered publicly whether perhaps they might consider changing their name, just for the sake of appearances.
Within days, it was announced that Mass Burn would present the tale of Fayetteville's infamous incinerator fiasco. It was said that Dustin Hoffman was interested in playing the lone Fayetteville resident who had inspired city-wide revolt against the metal monster, with Sigourney Weaver playing his chief opponent, the mayor. Stanley Kubrick had agreed to leave Europe for the first time in 25 years and direct from a script by Gore Vidal. The working title was Earth Song.
The proposal was met with great public approval; each side in the still ongoing controversy was convinced that its stand would be vindicated.
This was partly due to skillful persuasion on the part of the film company, which held a series of meetings (public and private) with those concerned in the imbroglio. Of course, everyone understood that, for various legal reasons, real names couldn't be used. It was the story that counted, after all. The message was all.
So nobody was too terribly upset when the title was suddenly changed to Night of the Recyclers. Producer Sy "Slash that Budget" Merkel explained, “Got to have a catchy title to attract the kids, baby. Once they're inside that theater, they're ours. Then we can educate ‘em.”
Many local residents were given small speaking parts in the production, and local businesses were featured in some scenes.
Even so, it was mildly disconcerting when a new scene was added to the script, featuring a Ninja-led assault on the Northwest Arkansas Mall.
Sy Merkel responded to the resulting criticism, in a fog of cigar smoke, "Symbolism, sweetheart. I've seen the incinerator bonds myself. Bank of Tokyo, right there on the bottom, in small letters. We're talking Fellini here." When Gore Vidal (bored with what passed for Fayetteville's night life) departed, he was replaced with a young writer who had done promising work on Miami Vice.
The title was changed again to Incinerator of Doom, Dustin Hoffman discovered his schedule would not permit him to film the motion picture, and he departed. Bruce Willis expressed interest, but with an eye to certain character changes.
By now, the elections were upon Fayetteville, and City Board candidates based their platforms on how they stood on the film.
Sy Merkel gave each one a speaking part, even if only as a cop or short order cook. Stanley Kubrick, who departed for Europe after creative differences with Sigourney Weaver, was replaced by a young man who had done outstanding work in the Mexican film industry. That he didn't speak a word of English would put the confusing issues in their proper context, Merkel explained.
Symbolism, can you dig it?
By January, 1993, the new City Board was sworn in, and vowed to help the production in any way possible. After all, hadn't Sy Merkel himself come to them and explained about foreign film rights, video rentals, and residuals? Not to mention the inevitable line of toys? In all the public debate over what to call the board game, hardly anybody noticed that Sigourney Weaver had left to do Gorillas in the Mist II: The Haunting, and Joan Collins had slipped in.
By now, almost everyone in Fayetteville had appeared in the film.
People were convinced that, when eventually released, it was bound to be a blockbuster. Sy promised it would be compared to All the President's Men. Of course, by now the title had been changed to Landfill Massacre.
In March, Sy came to the board with what he described as "just a small problem." Bruce couldn't do the flick, but Charles Bronson ("And he was our number one choice anyway. We just thought we couldn't get him.") had agreed to step in. But he insisted on getting paid up front, and the present budget couldn't swing it. Could the city consider helping out? Maybe they could issue a bond or two? Why sure, the star struck Board said, no problem. Glad to help out. We'll just declare an "emergency" and suspend all the usual rules.
And then it began all over again.
Grapevine, November 1, 1991