Walking the Red Road to the Red Carpet
…Let it be known that Leonard Peltier is a spiritual warrior who shares the heart of our ancestors who fought for the rights of our people, such as Crazy Horse and Sitting Bull. As a Sun Dancer, he has sacrificed his life to the People, so they may have happiness and peace once again. I pray that his words become etched in the minds and hearts of all people and that the wounds on his soul heal. And I ask those who continue to inflict such pain and suffering on him to see the error of their ways. Let us all work together to restore justice so that the hoops of Our Nations can mend and our children may see better days…From Introduction by Arvol Looking Horse – Leonard Peltier, Prison Writings: My Life Is My Sun Dance
I remember Los Angeles fondly, the 18-hour production days I worked as I reluctantly accrued “permit” days as a Union Grip. I earned my hours mainly from accepting numerous 3 a.m. calls from Sony Studios, usually to rebuild the backdrop set of the television game show, Wheel of Fortune. While crawling under that infamous wheel with a ratchet, I had a fortunate moment of clarity. I suddenly realized that I had no desire to become a Union Grip.
Meanwhile, Cathie landed a coveted Executive Assistant position on the Warner Brothers lot for a very benevolent, old school Director. He was the quintessential Hollywood ‘Mensch’ and the daily office parade of the wildly famous, soon-to-be-famous and used-to-be-famous, along with their attending sycophant media peddlers, made for entertaining coffee shop talk among the envious and unemployed actors we hung out with.
While I drove truckloads of scenery flats all over town, Cathie scored a Production Assistant (PA) spot on the movie, Lethal Weapon 4. PAs are the worker bees of the movie world with absolutely no rights… As the less than cordial “boss” sent Cathie on wild goose chases to secure the “right” donuts each a.m., I swear I saw her Ivy League MFA Degree cringing on the wall.
While printing “call sheets” for hours for LW4 Cathie camped out by the back door of the office, which opened to an empty alley. Every day, Kevin Costner, who was working on the film Message in a Bottle, walked right by her. In Hollywood part of the unspoken ethic when working on a studio lot is, “when encountering an actual Movie Star, be cool and always act as though it’s no big deal.” She did her PA job humbly and so they never spoke.
Shortly after their “close encounters,” while at a stoplight, again in front of Warner Studios, Mr. Costner walked right in front of my grip truck. I’d seen a few movie stars by now, but somehow that guy’s physical presence could stop time…But hey, no big deal.
Lethal Weapon 4 wrapped and Cathie and I took our meager Christmas paychecks straight to the computer chop shop to bring home our very first PC. By now we knew exactly who had the coolest job in Hollywood. Writers rule. We spent the entire holiday hiatus, 10 days straight, co-writing our first Original Screenplay, Fallen Warriors. The entire story had descended upon me while waitig at that same exact stoplight in front of Warner Brothers Studios while listening to sports talk radio in my scenery truck. I swear I should visit that cosmic power spot more often.
At Reservation ceremonies we attended, we had met a few of the Native American actors from Dances With Wolves (which starred Kevin Costner) and had written a principle part for the young Lakota who had played “Smiles-A-Lot” in the film. When he read the screenplay he was very moved and invited us to visit him and his family in Rapid City, South Dakota. Cathie and I hit the road as my pager went off summoning me back to what we now called Wheel of Torture. I tossed that pager into the back seat and never went back.
Eventually we returned to settle in our beloved Boulder, Colorado. One day, our friends from South Dakota called saying they needed us back. Their old friend Kevin Costner was calling for a meeting with them. It seemed he wanted ”permission” to install a massive sculpture of Buffalo on his land in the Black Hills, and set up a Lakota Cultural Center called, ‘Tatanka, Story of the Bison.” I was impressed with his effort at respecting the protocol of ‘asking before doing’ in Indian Country.
Our Lakota friends had instructed Kevin to seek the counsel and blessing ofArvol Looking Horse, the 19th Generation Keeper of the Original White Buffalo Calf Pip – the most Sacred object of the Lakota people. They said, “Paul & Cathie, you should come with us. That way Kevin won’t be the only Washichu (white guy) up there.”
We bravely accepted our role as “Cross Cultural Tour Guides” and prepared for the pilgrimage to the Holy Place of Green Grass, SD.
We watched Costner’s sleek Gulf Stream jet, featuring the Warner Brothers logo on its tail, taxi into the private terminal of Rapid City Airport. Kevin disembarked alone with an overnight bag and a very old Pendleton Blanket folded under one arm.
“I feel like I’ve come back home,” he cheerfully offered. He extended warm handshakes all around and gave Cathie a hug and kiss on the cheek. Now that she had been properly introduced, her mind suddenly traveled 2000 winding miles, to that back alley of Warner Bros. Studio.
As she thought: “But, you can’t get here from there,” I was thinking, “We may not know where we’re going, but we sure ain’t lost.’
Next: Roaming the Black Hills with Mr. Costner…
Paul Soderman was born in NYC and raised in Princeton, NJ. PHS 76′. After an inauspicious start to young adulthood, Paul survived a cataclysmic conversion experience and subsequently focused his energies in helping youth, working as a drug and alcoholism counselor for the NJ Dept. of Corrections. Wanderlust drove Paul from NJ, and while traveling throughout the American West, he simultaneously discovered an intense interest in Native American culture and a genuine talent to sing the Blues. He spent the next 15 years as a fulltime musical performer and frequent visitor to numerous Indian Reservations.
After meeting his future wife Cathie in Telluride, Co., a Theater Director from New York (Columbia 90), he became fascinated with Film. Combining an interest in all things Native American and Artistic, the Soderman’s started their Production Company, Warrior Artists producing numerous projects. With their partners at Elevate Films, they have been given the honorable opportunity and responsibility to produce the feature film PELTIER. This film is based on the book by Native American Federal prisoner, Leonard Peltier, Prison Writings: My Life Is My Sun Dance. This blog will document their various experiences producing the film. All of these stories are true. Paul currently resides in the foothills outside of Boulder , Colorado with his Wife Cathie and their beloved Golden Retriever, Auggie.