With his movie finally in theaters, writer-director Jake Goldberger can look back at the struggle to make his film, Don McKay, and laugh - a little.
Still, much of the mirth is reserved for himself and his naïve belief that landing the actor of his dreams meant his film was on the fast track. Seven years later, well, the fast track seems like a relative concept.
"The day he was nominated for an Oscar for Sideways, my phone rings and it's Thomas (Haden Church), saying he had read my script and wanted to do it," Goldberg, 32, recalls. "In my naïve thinking, I thought we'd be making it in three months. It actually took another four-and-a-half years until we actually got the money. I had to move back in with my parents when I ran out of money."
Still, Church, who plays the title character, served as the first-time filmmaker's rock through the trials of getting Don McKay off the ground: "L.A. is a pessimistic environment," Goldberger says. "Nobody cares. Having Thomas have my back was crucial - he insisted that I direct. That kept me going."
Don McKay casts Church as a lonely janitor, who is summoned back to his hometown by an old flame (played by Elisabeth Shue), who wants to reconnect because she is dying of cancer. Once he's there, however, Don finds himself caught up in a web he doesn't quite understand, one that involves murder and deception, at a minimum.
A would-be filmmaker who had moved to L.A. to break into the business, Goldberger got the idea for the film after seeing a revival of the Coen brothers' first film, Blood Simple.
"I loved the way the audience has a bird's-eye view of what's going on," he says. "Everyone has their own weird, twisted story and nobody knows what anybody else is thinking - except the audience. So I felt inspired to start writing Don McKay. It's about a man living with regrets and loneliness. I thought it would be interesting to make a noir that wasn't really a noir.
"I was at a friend's parents' house and he was playing the Motown hit, You're All I Need to Get By, and I had this image of a man in janitorial outfit handcuffed and being led away to that song. And I started from that."
Goldberger finished the script and began holding workshop readings, where he got strong positive responses: "So I started offering it to actors," he says. "For a first-time director, the odds of getting an agent - or even an agent's assistant - to read it are minimal. And even offering the part to an actor - it was a bullshit offer. There was nothing concrete."
One way around that was to hire a casting director to send the script out, despite not actually having the money to make the film. Goldberger assumes that's how the script got to Church - but beyond that, he can only guess.
"I'll never know how it became the script he chose to read," Goldberg says.
Follow Marshall Fine on Twitter: www.twitter.com/hollywoodnfine