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A Movie With a Surprise Beginning

By Richard Leiby
Wednesday, November 10, 2004; Page C03

Hollywood on the Potomac: This summer, 25-year-old Scott Schafer of Alexandria was just another would-be screenwriter with stars in his eyes. Then he bought some scriptwriting software and, in three weeks, churned out his first screenplay, "Fatwa," a political thriller about an al Qaeda operative who wants to kill a U.S. senator. Much to his amazement, his low-budget indie movie is now in production around Washington with a cast that includes veteran actors Lauren Holly, Roger Guenveur Smith and Mykelti Williamson, and a hot young property named Lacey Chabert (of "Mean Girls" and TV's "Party of Five").

They may not be huge stars, but as Schafer excitedly told us: "We got everybody we had wanted and then some. It's a one-in-a-million shot where we coerced Hollywood to come here and make this little movie."


Mykelti Williamson took a low salary to be a hit man in the political thriller "Fatwa." (Jeff Vespa - WireImage.com)


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The director is his longtime friend John Carter, 39, another first-timer. He's working on a $500,000 budget, using high-definition video, shooting scenes in Alexandria, Mount Vernon and Union Station.

Having been in such major pictures as "Forrest Gump," "Con Air" and "Three Kings," Williamson doesn't mince words: "The director is as green as a pine tree." But he also said of "Fatwa's" producer, Carol Flaisher, a legendary veteran of D.C. moviemaking: "She can get anything done."

Williamson, who plays a hit man, was such a believer in the script that he accepted a "very small" salary. "It's actually costing me about $700 a week to be here," he said from his hotel room. A month of principal shooting wraps Friday.

Flaisher has described the movie's themes as "sex, drugs and terrorism." Asked to distill his script, Schafer said it posed this question: "How do free will and duty coexist in a globalized world?"

Not your classic Hollywood pitch. True, he agreed with a laugh. "People look at me and say, 'You're a bit of a Washington guy, aren't you?' "

Coming Soon: A Few Words From the Distinguished Gentleman?

• Senator-elect Barack Obama (D-Ill.) hasn't even moved to town yet and already he's in cahoots with literary super-lawyer Robert Barnett about a book. Or two. Not about his campaign -- but rather, we hear, about public policy.

Obama's autobiography, "Dreams From My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance," written more than a decade ago, was reissued this summer and became a bestseller. Evidently he now wants to cash in on his newfound popularity: The Chicago Sun-Times earlier this week mentioned a possible advance "ranging from $500,000 to $1 million depending on the details of the deal." The married father of two has admitted to having concerns about making it in Washington on his $158,100 salary. (He pointed out Monday that he is a "member of the smallest caucus in the Senate -- the non-millionaires caucus.")

Obama's spokesman told us yesterday his boss hasn't signed a book deal and "nothing's been done that would give anyone figures yet." Barnett offered a blandly typical response: "I'm proud to be representing the senator-elect. He's a real hero to many of us and has a fabulous political future." Translation: money in the bank.

SQUIBS

• "Straight male seeks Bush supporter for fair, physical fight," reads a recent posting on Craigslist.org, the popular nationwide bulletin board. "I would like to fight a Bush supporter to vent my anger." A joke? No, says Paul Valerio, 34, a graphic designer from Oakland, Calif., who told us yesterday that he's ready to rumble but hasn't gotten any takers yet. "I'm 6-foot-1 and 236 pounds. I think that's a heavyweight category," he said, then warned all comers: "I can hold my own." Guess all we need now to settle this is a willing red-stater and some airfare.

• Speaking of taking a flier: Disconsolate Democrat Bill Duggan, who owns Madam's Organ restaurant and bar in Adams Morgan, has sent us two unused AirTran tickets, one-way from Washington to Houston. They're in the names of George W. Bush and Richard "Dick" Cheney. "We were feeling so confident of change that we bought the tickets for them to return to Texas on the first flight out on Nov. 3," says Duggan, who spent $238.40 on the nonrefundable, nontransferable tix. "I'd hate for them to go to waste," he told us yesterday, asking that we offer them to the White House. (Sure thing, but don't those guys have their own airplanes?)


Sam Donaldson and Helen Thomas, a self-proclaimed "glamorous liberal." (Louis Lanzano - AP)
• Media bias confirmed: At Glamour magazine's Women of the Year Awards on Monday night in New York, honoree Helen Thomas hammed it up with presenter and pal Sam Donaldson. In the press room when photographers asked Thomas to move to the left, Donaldson jabbed: "She's already on the left!" Quipped Thomas: "Yes, I'm already on the left. I'm a liberal, a glamorous liberal!"

With Anne Schroeder


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