by Alan Swyer
Illustration by Mark Scicluna
In the formative days of their relationship, Hallahan’s stories were a great part of his allure. First professionally, then personally, Colleen found him to be a captivating raconteur whose tales, anecdotes, and exploits provided an ongoing source of pleasure.
Though at times she sensed a line of demarcation between the events themselves and what might have been embroidered, added, or exaggerated, her doubts and suspicions were occasionally, but not always, allayed by a piece of evidence that emerged, or by corroboration from someone who happened to be present.
Since far too many of the directors Colleen encountered were effete, stricken with what she dubbed “Screening Room Pallor,” or downright nerdy, Tim Hallahan was a refreshing anomaly. Among those making music videos and commercials, no one else was at once an ardent fisherman and hunter, to the point of fabricating his own lures and filling his own bullets, yet also given to creating large-scale abstract paintings, plus first-class action photography.
Above and beyond his actual filmmaking talent, which Colleen, when wearing her producer’s hat, secretly graded somewhere between a B and a B+, it was Hallahan’s personality that made him one of her go-to directors. Crew members who responded to him (which in truth was not everyone) were willing to walk through walls for him. Then there was the reality that, as someone seemingly devoid of self-doubt, Tim was relentlessly and refreshingly decisive. That meant no time lost while ruminating, second-guessing, or soul-searching, which translated into a much-appreciated ability to bring projects in on budget and schedule.
Despite her longstanding reluctance to mix her personal life with her professional endeavors, it was with Hallahan that Colleen made a rare exception. First as drinking buddies, then as lovers, and ultimately as co-tenants of a house in Pacific Palisades, their lives drew closer and closer.
With their business and pleasure merging at a time when the world of music videos that had provided much of Colleen’s professional activity was contracting, a decision was reached to make the leap into what’s known as narrative filmmaking. In other words, the two of them would attempt to enter the world of movies and TV.
Though never actually articulated, their respective roles were nonetheless clearly defined. Hallahan would be the artist-in-residence, a seemingly larger-than-life figure with what they would bill as a singular vision and a distinctive personality. Colleen, meanwhile, would wear multiple hats. In addition to producing, she would also serve as the team’s – and especially Tim’s – unofficial agent, manager, and publicist.
Despite the myriad obstacles inhibiting entrance into the almost hermetically sealed world of Hollywood, it was thanks to Colleen’s relationships, plus her numerous honors and awards, that a deal materialized at a cable entity.
The network’s initial proposal was for her to serve as what’s called an in-house producer, shepherding not just projects that she brought in, but also those already in the works with their favored writers and directors. Colleen balked, insisting that her focus, at least at the outset, be solely on projects she would develop and, hopefully, make with Hallahan.
Thanks to one of the key execs, an ex-agent named Friedman who nonetheless counseled her that it was shortsighted to “Put all her eggs in one basket,” inevitably Colleen got her way.
Though Colleen suspected that some of the incidents Hallahan continued to recount were amplified, or to some degree inflated – that a tussle in a parking lot may have actually been verbal rather than physical… or that a thwarted mugging may have involved one wasted meth freak, not three malevolent bikers – it was only when the two of them were among others that her boyfriend/partner did his heavy-duty grandstanding.
At cocktail parties, at dinners, and especially at receptions after screenings, Hallahan took to holding court as never before. Colleen loyally bit her tongue while listening to repetitions of stories heard (sometimes often) in the past, then smiled when new ones were told. Some were elaborate tales of Hallahan’s youth as a street kid in Brooklyn. Others were inspired by his time spent as a boxer at the Police Athletic League, or as copy boy for the New York Daily News. Then there were the youthful encounters he described with the likes of Norman Mailer, Joe Namath, Jimmy Breslin, and Debby Harry, plus Lou Reed and the Warhol world. And a seemingly inexhaustible supply came from his early no-budget videos with Afrika Bambaataa, Grandmaster Flash, and other pioneers of New York hip-hop.
Recognizing that his prowess as a raconteur allowed Hallahan to stand out, making him, in show biz terms, a commodity, Colleen made little effort to interfere or intervene. Nevertheless, she could not stop herself from wondering whether at some point his emerging public self might overwhelm the private person whose company she continued to enjoy.
When she and Hallahan got what’s referred to as a green light on their first cable movie – a thriller about corporate intrigue that Colleen privately felt needed revisions by someone other than Hallahan – problems began almost immediately.
First it was the Director of Photography who came to see her.
“I’ve worked with some pretty big names,” the DP said. “And not one of them has given orders the way your guy’s doing. He thinks he’s Kubrick, Hitchcock, and Spielberg rolled into one, which is no way to make friends.”
“I’ll speak to him,” Colleen promised.
Before she could do so, Colleen was intercepted by the leading lady.
“You’ve got to explain something,” the actress said. “Has your director started believing his clippings?”
“I’d say yes, except that he has no clippings. But I’ll talk to him.”
To Colleen’s chagrin, Hallahan was in no mood for conversation.
“It’s a director’s medium,” he stated peremptorily when she tried to reason with him. “Which means this is my film.”
“Then you better hope it’s a giant goddamn hit,” Colleen said firmly.
“Because if not, it’ll be the last you ever make.”
Begrudgingly, Hallahan toned down both his stridency and his dictatorial ways. Yet even with Colleen forced to do double-duty – supplementing her producing duties by being both a diplomat and a mother hen to cast and crew – the damage was sufficient to keep the tone on-set from being as positive, constructive, or collegial as it could have, or should have, been.
That, however, did not in any way deflate Hallahan. During the weeks of post-production, he continued to present himself at gatherings and in interviews as an emerging auteur, regaling everyone imaginable not just with tales of the shoot, but also with sagas – both old and new – from his past experiences.
Questioning what had become of both their personal and their professional relationship, Colleen was edging toward calling everything quits when, having largely kept clear of the editing room, she was invited by Hallahan to view the rough cut put together under his supervision.
“Like it?” Hallahan asked hopefully.
“Not sufficiently,” she replied, choosing her words carefully.
“Well, I think it’s strong.”
“Which is why it’s lucky you don’t have final cut.”
“B-but it’s my film!”
“It’s ours. In case you forgot, this is a collaborative medium.”
On the verge of erupting, Hallahan instead glared momentarily at Colleen, then stormed off.
Hallahan was conspicuous in his absence throughout the rest of the afternoon, then nowhere to be seen until he returned home shortly after 10 PM.
“Give me the verdict,” he said with uncharacteristic humility. “Is it salvageable?”
“Not just salvageable, but potentially good,” Colleen stated.
“So what can I do to help?”
When Hallahan’s only response was a nod, Colleen continued.
“Stay far away from the editing room.”
Hallahan winced. “And what in hell am I supposed to do in the meantime?”
“You can spend time painting or taking photos –”
“Or take up tennis or golf –”
“Not likely –”
“Or go to the track –”
“Then how about being constructive and working on a script so that if we manage to pull this one off –”
“Maybe we’ll have another ready to go.”
Hallahan bit his lip, then nodded again.
Though Colleen did not perform the kind of post-production alchemy that catapulted messy rough cuts into films the world knows as “High Noon” and “Annie Hall,” her contributions yielded a tighter, more coherent, and significantly less self-indulgent film. Beyond eliminating some of the problems that, as she saw it, long existed in the script, plus several redundancies, her efforts additionally erased many of what she felt to be Tim’s intrusive directorial thumbprints. Out went a couple of artsy overhead shots that seemed not merely extraneous, but willfully show-offy. Out, too, went a seemingly endless tracking shot, plus several extreme close-ups that would have made the late John Cassavetes’ work seem restrained.
The critics, though far from laudatory when discussing the finished film, kept their bombs and bazookas in check, and the numbers, according to the Neilsons and other rating systems, were more than acceptable.
In the eyes of Friedman and the other execs at the cable company, Colleen and Hallahan, if not quite heroic, were suddenly seen as people who delivered. That translated into an even greater eagerness to green light their next film.
Instead of being wannabes or one shot wonders, Colleen and Hallahan, who made a point of sitting together during the network’s special screening at the Directors Guild Theater, were on the verge of becoming a bona fide production team.
Once pre-production was underway on their second film, which addressed the trials and tribulations of Marines returning home from Desert Storm, Colleen’s hopes for an older and wiser Hallahan swiftly disappeared. Instead of being chastened, he seemed all the more determined to prove his status as a visionary.
That, it quickly became clear, resulted in tyrannical behavior reminiscent of legendary martinets such as D.W. Griffith, Otto Preminger, and Fritz Lang, all of whom were known for demanding ridiculous numbers of takes until they got what they wanted, as well as tongue-lashing crew members and torturing actors.
Not wanting to jeopardize their start date, Colleen tried to allay the fears of Friedman and his colleagues, who were all-too-aware of the rumblings.
“Leave him to me,” Colleen said, trying her best to appear cool, calm, and collected.
Waiting for an appropriate moment, Colleen approached the director later that afternoon while he was blowing off steam by shooting baskets on a hoop that, per his demands, had been set up in the parking lot exclusively for his use.
“Am I now supposed to call you Field Marshall Hallahan?” she asked.
“That supposed to be funny?” Hallahan asked.
“No funnier than if you have to shoot without a crew.”
“What’s the film about?”
“Guys who have been through a war.”
“And which one of us can speak from experience?”
“I have no idea.”
“Shows how much you know,” said Hallahan. With that, he launched a jumpshot from the top of the key, then smiled when it swished.
To keep the production from capsizing, Colleen did her best to placate first the crew members, then, once filming was underway, the cast as well.
Compounding Colleen’s woes were the tales that Hallahan took to telling to journalists, network execs, and seemingly even trees, about subject matter that took her completely by surprise: his exploits as a Green Beret.
When queried about the adventures that were thrilling listeners, Colleen took to giving a pat response: “Tim’s one of a kind.”
Only when he and she bumped into each other in the kitchen late one night did Colleen broach the subject with him.
“You never told me you were in the military,” she mentioned while pouring herself a glass of wine.
“You never asked.”
“The funny thing is, though, there’s nothing on the internet.”
“My activities were classified.”
Vividly aware that a blow-up would almost certainly torpedo the film, which by then had only ten days of shooting left, Colleen chose not to mention that she had reached out to several of Tim’s friends and family members, not one of whom could confirm that he had served. Nor did she explain that she had also contacted her uncle, who was a colonel in the Marine Corps. His response, after doing some checking, was one of total dismay. Tim Hallahan, it was increasingly clear, was either leading a double life as an American James Bond, which seemed highly unlikely, or alternatively was a whackjob, a bullshit artist, or both.
More concerned about her fiduciary responsibility to the cable network than her rapidly deteriorating personal life, Colleen focused her energies as best she could on keeping the production from falling apart. As a consequence, communication with Hallahan dwindled to the point where it was only on a “when-needed” basis at work, and virtually nonexistent at home.
Until, that is, Hallahan approached Colleen three weeks after the final day of shooting.
“You haven’t asked to see the cut,” he said.
“And risk undermining your vision?”
“Would you like to take a look?”
“I can answer that in two ways.”
“#1: Only if you’re prepared to hear the truth.”
“And the other?”
“Sure you’re up to it?”
“I’m a big boy.”
“Not to mention a Green Beret.”
Hallahan tensed, but forced himself not to blow. “Fire away.”
“I can wait until you turn in your Director’s Cut.”
“Then do whatever the hell you want?”
“More like what’s best for the film.”
Hallahan took a deep breath. “I’d like your opinion.”
Two-and-a-half hours later, Hallahan turned on the lights and motioned to the editor to leave the bay, then turned to face Colleen.
“So what do you think?” he asked.
“First, what do you think?”
“I may be a little too close to be objective.”
“If you want, I can give you the usual euphemisms.”
“Like when I’m forced to say something after a painful screening.”
“It’s really something. Or, A lot went into that. Or, Some piece of work.”
“All of which mean?”
“What do you think?”
“That I don’t exactly have ‘Citizen Kane’.”
“That’s a fair assessment.”
“So where do we stand?”
“Up to you. I can run it for the network –”
“Which likely means?”
“Your days on this – and maybe other projects – are probably over.”
Hallahan took a deep breath. “To that degree?”
“Unless I’m all wet, and they see things differently.”
“I can boot you.”
“Off the film?”
“And maybe out of the house.”
“Have I been that impossible?”
“If you think that requires an answer, we’re in bigger trouble than I thought.”
Hallahan paced for a couple of moments, all the while biting his lower lip.
“Do what needs to be done,” he said softly.
With a subdued Hallahan keeping a low profile during the re-cutting of the film, Colleen found her pique diminishing as the film, bit by bit, sequence after sequence, slowly came into focus.
When, after the two of them ran the new cut for Friedman and the other execs, Hallahan gave her abundant and vociferous credit for contributions that went beyond those of a typical producer, Colleen started thinking that perhaps there was hope for them after all.
As Hallahan continued to be solicitous in the aftermath, she went so far as to start convincing herself that his behavior had been a phase, or perhaps some sort of aberration.
What Colleen took to be a return to normalcy led to what seemed to be a new phase in their lives, one largely devoid of Hallahan’s stories and tales, especially those involving the military.
So it came as a great shock when, on a day when her twelve-year-old niece was visiting, Colleen heard him respond to a question about a photograph that was hanging in their hallway. “Who took that picture,” Darcy asked, regarding a dramatic shot of Mike Tyson biting Evander Holyfield’s ear.
“I did,” Hallahan replied proudly.
“Since when?” Colleen interjected.
“Since always,” he asserted.
Knowing full well that the photo had been taken not by Hallahan, but by the friend who had given her the print – a celebrated boxing photographer named Holly Stein – everything suddenly crystallized for Colleen. That Hallahan had clearly gone beyond the pale meant that there was zero chance for the two of them to continue, professionally or personally.
Hallahan had become someone she no longer knew. Or perhaps, had been all along.
Alan Swyer is an award-winning filmmaker whose recent documentaries have dealt with Eastern spirituality in the Western world, the criminal justice system, diabetes, and boxing (www.elboxeothemovie.com). His fiction has appeared in England, Ireland, Germany, India, and in several American publications.
Inspired by local culture, music and other art forms, Mark Scicluna works mainly in illustration and concept art, varying his distinctive style from sketchy character designs to highly detailed graphics both in traditional and digital media. Responsible for several book illustrations, Mark won two Illustrator of the Year Awards at the Malta National Book Awards. Mark works as a lecturer at MCAST Institute of Art & Design in Malta and is also responsible for designing weekly cartoons for MaltaToday. His current projects involve drawing ‘A Space Boy Dream‘.