HOW DO YOU BREAK INTO THE MOVIE BUSINESS IN D.C.? WAIT A MINUTE - DOES D.C. EVEN HAVE A MOVIE BUSINESS? THESE AND OTHER PRESSING QUESTIONS MAY OR MAY NOT BE ANSWERED IN THE SCRIPT BELOW - BUT, HEY THE AUTHOR WOULD BE HAPPY TO TAKE A MEETING AND REVISE IT.

AS THE CREDITS ROLL:

There is a scene in "Raising Arizona" -- produced by the Pedas brothers of Washington -- in which two convicts, having just escaped through an underground tunnel, pull themselves out into a wide screen of rain and mud. They are exhausted and filthy, the first slimy amphibians to crawl onto the land; there are days when my partner and I know just how they feel. But in a moment we're watching them skip and whoop through the torrents of rain and the swamp of earth on their way to the illusion of freedom and prosperity. What a scene! Funny and sad. Muddy and wet. Full of hope and despair. The theater itself mildews. Then, suddenly, we know.

We know what it means. We know what it is trying to say to us. It is The Parable of the Obscure Writer and the Unknown Director Trying to Peddle a Movie Project. In Washington, no less. Interpretation is easy when you're self-centered. And desperate. CUT TO: LUNCH IN MARROCCO'S ITALIAN RESTAURANT IN LAFAYETTE CENTER ON 20TH STREET DOWNTOWN.

I am having lunch with my director friend, Perry Schwartz. Better yet, we are having lunch with the president and executive vice president of Washington's Powerhouse Studios, Joe Fries and Jan Kovarick respectively.

Perry and I are pitching a short script of mine called "Potomac Round-Up" with the idea that I will expand it into a full-length feature film and Perry will direct it. I see James Garner as the male lead and my wife as the female lead (as I left the house this morning I promised to mention this latter bit of casting).

Perry (a bachelor) pictures Jessica Lange as the female lead. Or Melanie Griffith. Or Michelle Pfeiffer. But then Perry pictures these women with or without a movie to put them in.

Powerhouse Studios, on the other hand, is in the business of picturing things. As one of the more important Washington players in an increasingly opulent worldwide filmmaking market (others include the Pedas brothers, Ted and Jim, who produce Coen brothers movies -- "Blood Simple," "Raising Arizona" and the just-released "Miller's Crossing"; and Marilyn and Hal Weiner, who produced "Family Business" and "The Imagemaker"), Joe Fries has been buying properties (books like He's a Rebel by Mark Ribowsky, and Spycatcher by Peter Wright) with the idea that he will turn them into full-length films. As yet, Powerhouse Studios has not made a feature movie, and that is why, like most film production companies outside Hollywood or New York, Fries has a number of other ventures: French wine, real estate, talent management and something called post-production, which is the heart of his video business.

Post-production is the editing of the raw footage shot for, say, a Ted Koppel program. What Powerhouse Studios does is run the film or tape through a bank of $15 million worth of electronic equipment in order to turn it into the broadcast-quality video you see on television. (The interior of the studios on 21st Street NW looks like the submarine in "The Hunt for Red October.") With clients like Koppel and Barbara Walters, Powerhouse Studios is obviously very good at what it does. But to Joe Fries and Jan Kovarick, all this is steady, reasonable work around the edges of what they really want to do: make movies.

"What do you have in mind?" Fries asks us. He is a man in his thirties who, when he wears his round eyeglasses, has a Warren Beatty-in-"Reds" look about him. The restaurant's owner, Edward Marrocco himself, has brought us to a spacious round table and is now laying out menus and wine lists. Joe is a habitue of Marrocco's Italian Restaurant (it is "where I do my business," he says) and as such is treated very well indeed. Jan is packing away a cellular phone and sorting through some papers -- in search, we hope, of the script we have sent in.

What we have in mind, of course, is fame and fortune. I'll spend my share of the latter on a sprawling ranch out west and a helicopter with my brand embossed on its sides; Perry wants to pay off his Visa card and replace his aging Ford Escort with various white Cadillac convertibles (they're to be our logo; you'll see why in a moment) stationed in the cities throughout the world where he'll be shooting one Jessica-Michelle-Melanie movie after another: Jessica and Perry in Paris; Michelle and Perry in Rome; Melanie and Perry in Madrid. We are both pretty sure we'll quit our teaching jobs. PAN TO PERRY AND BOB DROPPING THEIR NAPKINS ON THE FLOOR OF THE RESTAURANT AND BUMPING HEADS AS THEY BEND OVER TO PICK THEM UP.

The problem with this dream is that neither of us has any film credits. Not that we are totally without talent or accomplishment. For Perry's part, he's been directing plays in Washington for the past 20 years (as the producing director of the Washington Theater Wing he did dramatic stage shows such as Ionesco's "Macbett" and Albee's "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" at the Black Box Theater on the Montgomery College campus in Takoma Park); recently he's been running his own TV production company -- Ol' Black Bear Productions.

Perry's videos, shorts to be sure, have won various national cable awards. For a while he toured the country in a U-Haul truck with the late Adolph Caesar ("A Soldier's Story," "The Color Purple") as the director and production manager for Caesar's one-man show. Still, for all his exceptional work to the left and right of center stage, Perry has found neither the California nor the New York spotlight. But then neither have I.

As a fly-to-L.A.-by-night script doctor in the late '70s, I am the author of about a thousand screen words scattered over 10 or so movies and television shows (I am most proud of a particularly raw piece of monologue in "The Electric Horseman" that is one of the most socially unredeemable moments in popular American film). I am also a specialist in not getting my work made into movies: A novel of mine, The Last Cattle Drive (known in Hollywood as "Road Show"), was not made into a movie by George C. Scott in 1978; not made into a movie a few years later by John Travolta and Cher (he did "Urban Cowboy" instead; she did "Silkwood"); and finally, not made into a movie in the early '80s by Jack Nicholson and Timothy Hutton, which was a major not-making-of-a-movie-project, complete with world-class lawsuits. Even as I write, this same novel is not being made into a movie by Cher and Sean Connery; some of the best actors in Hollywood have not made my novel into a movie.

But that's about it for Perry and me in film. In truth, our power at the lunch table is a few horsepower less than that of an old VW with a beer can propping open the engine lid. Not that we are doomed to failure. We have something going for us: prostitution.

Perry and I have agreed in advance that, unlike the writer Robert Redford plays in "The Way We Were," neither of us will resist the demands made by the movie moguls -- Washington or otherwise -- we hope to meet. Our idea is to fall over backward upfront. Nothing illustrates this more than our willingness to change the nature of the script we are peddling: a story of a cowboy father-and-son team who run a roving auto body shop out of their dusty white Cadillac convertible (now you see) while they search the East Coast for the wife/mother who ran away from their hardscrabble ranch in Kansas. It was called "Manhattan Round-Up" because I originally set it in New York, hoping to get Woody Allen or Spike Lee on board. But in order to interest the Washington film types, we have replaced Fifth Avenue and Gramercy Park with Connecticut Avenue and Kalorama and called it "Potomac Round-Up." In the version we sent Powerhouse Studios -- as well as Circle Releasing (the Pedas brothers) and Screenscope (Hal and Marilyn Weiner) -- our heroes eat their pickled eggs and beef jerky while parked in front of Suzanne's, where, as the plot turns, Jessica Lange does her shopping.

"We'd like to interest you in developing our script," Perry says. Perry does the talking for us, and for good reason: I am, he points out, a "book person," not a "film person."

It is true. I don't know my actors, much less my directors. I get Tom Cruise and Tom Selleck mixed up: I know one of them thinks the National Review is funny, but I can't remember which. Worse, I mix up their movies. One of them keeps carrying off women in the final scene and one of them is always changing diapers, and one of them keeps falling in love with this driving teacher -- but for the life of me I don't yet have it straight.

"That's possible," says Joe Fries. "We liked some aspects of your work. We don't see it set in D.C., however."

"That's negotiable," says Perry.

That's understatement. In fact, just now as we were walking through Lafayette Center to lunch we were rehearsing relocation to a number of different cities should our prospective producer have special interests.

"Boston, you say? What a good idea is Boston . . . New Orleans? We can see New Orleans. Our heroes pound out dents in Dixieland band tubas . . . Flint? As in Flint, Michigan? You want to pick up on the success of 'Roger and Me' and do 'Flint Round-Up' with Bob Newhart, Goldie Hawn and Bart Simpson? We can see it. We can see it."

"Where do you see it?" says Perry.

"Boston," says Jan.

"We can see Boston," I say.

Joe Fries smiles. Jan smiles. We are all smiles. The sun shines in your face when you lie on your back. We order pasta and wonderful Italian wines. I can tell that in his mind Perry and Jessica are driving south toward Sorrento.

"The truth is," says Joe Fries, who in the end has very good reasons for wanting our project set in Boston -- and indeed has very good advice on how to develop the script -- "the truth is that the movie business is 60 percent luck for someone like me. And I'm a glass-is-half-full kind of guy. Still, it's how things break, and I can't tell at the beginning how they'll break."

"What does that mean?" I ask.

"It means," says Fries, "that if I get interested in your project and get lucky and find myself in the middle of a big-budget film, you guys might get left behind. Nobody's going to let Perry direct a $50 million movie; nobody's going to let you write one."

It all seems reasonable to me, if not to Perry.

"What happens if we stay small and try to do it ourselves?" he asks.

"Who knows?" says Fries. "We might be able to make it work. In either case, it's slow going. And right now" -- here he flips through the script Jan has found for him -- "we don't have enough to go on. You've got to do a treatment, at least."

"Are you interested in a treatment?" I ask. I may not know my actors, but I know something about the business. A "treatment" is a short narrative of the movie you want to make. Some writers won't do them (even for the modest sums they usually pay) because that means you're in a "step deal" where you get only a little bit of money to begin with and the producers can cut you off whenever they like, not having invested much in the project. On the other hand, some writers offer up treatments for free as a way of interesting producers, who then shop them "around the lot." The best deal is to get paid everything upfront before you type word one. But if your specialty is not having your work made into movies, you probably don't have that kind of leverage.

"We might be interested in the treatment route," Fries says. "We'll talk it over and let you know." CUT TO ME: INTERIOR MONOLOGUE.

It could be worse, I think. We could have gotten turned down flat. Still, Jessica Lange and James Garner don't do small budget movies (probably my wife doesn't either). And with the fall semester just a few weeks away, it's probably a good thing I turned in my textbook order. Over my thoughts I hear Perry ask who else we can call.

"If you want to go big from the start, try Ted Pedas," says Joe. "Circle Releasing. Ted's the major player in town. He has a script reader, but she probably doesn't buy anything. I'll call him if you want." We want, especially since we've been trying to get to the Pedas brothers for some time now. CUT TO:

THE BRASIL TROPICAL RESTAURANT ON PENNSYLVANIA AVENUE NEAR GEORGETOWN. IT IS TWO DAYS LATER.

Washington, as it turns out, is not a bad place to consider doing movie business. Joe Fries, the Weiners and the Pedases do enough work with the studios in California and New York that they have made the important connections. The city itself is attracting a number of film projects. The Mayor's Office of Motion Picture and Television Development estimates that local firms annually do about $50 million in business making commercials, documentaries and corporate and government films and videos. About $20 million more is spent by companies coming to town to shoot feature films, TV programs and music videos. If nothing else, such a flow of cash produces a network of contacts. None have more than the Pedas brothers, who have negotiated deals with Francis Coppola and 20th Century Fox.

"We don't usually buy scripts," says Kathleen Karr, who rejects screenplays and videotapes for the Pedas brothers' Circle Companies (there is Circle Releasing, Circle Management and Circle Films). If anyone in town can foot the bill for a full-length script upfront, it is the Pedas brothers.

"What do you do, then?" says Perry.

"We read the scripts we get and send them back," Kathleen says. "Since I'm a writer myself {her novel It Ain't Always Easy -- the irony is not lost on us -- will be published soon by Farrar, Straus & Giroux} and know how difficult it is out there, I try to reject these projects with some words of kindness. But the fact is, most of what we see here in Washington has already been passed over by the 'majors' in New York and California."

Kathleen's meeting with us at this modest but lively Brazilian restaurant is her "word of kindness." Not that we don't have an interesting project, she says (in fact, she's sent Ted Pedas something of a positive account of our idea). It's just that the Pedas brothers don't buy the scripts or videos she gets through the mail from folks like us.

Perry is not pleased by this news. "Let me get this straight," he says. "You read scripts and never buy them."

"Not so far," says Kathleen.

"How many have you read?" says Perry.

"We get six to 10 a month," says Kathleen. "Over the three years I've been reading scripts I've only gone down the hall a couple of times."

"Down the hall?" says Perry.

"To the Pedases' office," says Kathleen. "As far as I know, neither of the scripts I recommended made it to New York."

"New York?" says Perry. He is getting annoyed; if we had wanted to shop our project in New York, we could have kept the title "Manhattan Round-Up" and made fools of ourselves at Windows on the World.

"The Pedases have an office in New York and people there who look these things over," says Kathleen, "and then send them to the Coast. We are not Hollywood here in D.C. The wide world would agree."

It seems obvious to me. But from the grim look on his face, I can tell Perry is pretty sure he'll have to return to the classroom soon.

"But the main fact is," Kathleen goes on, "that the Pedas brothers are pretty much tied up with the Coen brothers." Perry nods; he seems to understand. I don't.

"Who are the Clone brothers?" I ask.

"Coen brothers," says Perry. "Coen. They made 'Blood Simple.' "

I think about this a minute. It all sounds pretty suspicious: Clone brothers, "Blood Simple," Pedas brothers. In fact, the more I think about it, the more suspicious it becomes, because for weeks and weeks we've been trying in vain to see the Pedas brothers. The closest we've gotten is what sounded like a voice from the bottom of a rain barrel emanating from what we took to be a car phone stuck in Connecticut Avenue traffic. The voice told us we'd have to put off yet another meeting.

Then it occurs to me. "Have you ever seen the Coen brothers?" I ask Kathleen Karr.

"Yes," she says.

"Have you ever seen the Coen brothers and the Pedas brothers together?" I ask. Kathleen thinks about that for a moment.

"Yes," she says.

"All four together," I say. "In the same room? At the same time?" "I think so," she says, although I can tell she is trying to remember for sure. I don't think she's so sure. "Don't you see," I say to Perry, figuring it doesn't make much difference at this point how the meeting goes, as it is clear we're not going to make a sale. "It's like when we learned that Jane Parker and Ann Page weren't real. Or that Laura Ashley and Ralph Lauren aren't real. The Wizard of Oz of Madison Avenue makes them up. The Pedas brothers invented the Coen brothers, or the other way around."

"Laura Ashley was real," says Perry. "She died. She fell down a flight of stairs."

"Very convenient," I say.

"Why would the Pedas brothers invent the Coen brothers?" Perry asks.

"For tax reasons," I say. "Deregulation. Business works in strange and mysterious ways. What do we know? We're a couple of college teachers."

"We know better than that," says Perry.

"How about the Pedas brothers invent the Coen brothers so they can say they are busy and don't have time to talk to the likes of us? And they hire Kathleen here to front the deal."

Perry turns to Kathleen. "He won't believe that Chevy Chase is an actor."

"Who would?" I say. "It took me 10 years to believe it was a suburb. What kind of name is that for a neighborhood?"

"He's from Kansas," says Perry.

"You guys are a little weird," says Kathleen.

"I'll tell you what," I say to her. "Tell Ted or Jim Pedas -- if that's who they are -- that the Mackinaw brothers want to take a meeting with the Pedas brothers and the Coen brothers."

"Who the hell are the Mackinaw brothers?" says Perry.

"We are," I say. (Perry's from Wisconsin, where they wear mackinaws, and besides, it sounds better than the Jayhawk brothers.) "There's obviously a brother fetish going on around here, so we might as well cash in on it. It doesn't look to me like we're getting this movie made just by eating lunches and changing the 'Round-Up' to every city on the East Coast." Perry groans.

"You want to teach Introduction to Speech the rest of your life?" I say. I am hitting below the belt.

"It's worth a try," says Perry. "Tell the Pedas brothers the Mackinaw brothers would like to have a meeting with them."

Kathleen does not seem amused, and we doubt she will convey the message. When we leave Brasil Tropical, I tell the waitress, Esmeralda, whom I have noticed Perry has cast for some picture he has in mind, that my friend is none other than Robert Altman, the director of "Brazil." I thought the coincidence might amuse her. CUT TO: OUTSIDE ON PENNSYLVANIA AVENUE.

"Robert Altman wasn't the director of 'Brazil,' " says Perry, pounding his fist into his forehead. "That was Terry Gilliam. He was part of Monty Python."

"There's nobody named Monty Python," I say.

"For once you got something right," says Perry.

AS THE MACKINAW BROTHERS WALK DOWN PENNSYLVANIA AVENUE THERE IS VOICE-OVER CHATTER FROM A BUSY RESTAURANT, THEN WE CUT TO: DUKE ZEIBERT'S.

The facts of business are these: Even if we can get Joe Fries to put up a modest sum for a treatment, that means nothing for Perry; production money does not go for a director to sit around and think about how he's going to shoot the picture. What Perry has to do is get somebody to buy my script -- either upfront or in bits and pieces -- and hope he can hook onto the deal because he's good and knows the material. At this stage in the game, that might be possible with Joe Fries because there seems to be something of a gambler in him, but given our botched meeting with Kathleen Karr, it is probably not going to happen with the Pedas brothers. Even Perry concedes he's not in a league with Francis Coppola, though he points out that I'm no Walter Bernstein ("The Front," "Yanks," "Semi-Tough") either. So in a sense, we're getting down to the wire, and the wire is the looming fall semester.

It is two days later. Neither the Pedas brothers nor the Coen brothers have called us back, but Marilyn Weiner of Screenscope has. She and Hal will meet us for lunch to discuss our project. We arrive at Duke's amid a flurry of dark blue suits -- very expensive and very dark blue suits; the Mackinaw brothers are in their traditional costume of Lee shirts and jeans.

"I think senators eat here," says Perry. "Lots of them by the looks of the place."

"I thought they were voting to censure each other today," I say. We look like rats, but Duke Zeibert himself waves us through the heavy trees of blue wool to the Weiners' table. We introduce ourselves all around and sit down.

What has attracted us to the Weiners -- besides the obvious fact that they will talk to us -- is that of the film producers in Washington, they are among the few who do nothing else.

"That's the problem," says Hal when we ask him about it. "It's only us and maybe a few porno-producers who do nothing but make movies."

Not that all their attention goes to producing the kind of feature film we want to make. Over the years they have done hundreds of educational and documentary films, nearly 25 a year for a while. But recently they've been more interested in doing feature-length films.

Their first such movie was "Family Business" (with Milton Berle), a made-for-television movie. Next came "The Imagemaker," a story about the less-than-wholesome relationship between the press and Washington politicians, directed by Hal Weiner himself. For a number of years now they've been trying to make "K2" (a story based on a play by Patrick Meyers about two climbers stranded on the world's second-highest mountain). They've signed British director Franc Roddam ("The Bride"), and will soon cast Michael Biehn ("The Terminator") in the lead.

"What's your pitch?" Hal Weiner says to me. I am not listening; instead, I am looking at Hal's tie -- an astonishingly ugly silkscreen composed of garish theater tickets. It makes me feel I'm not so badly dressed.

"Bill Regardie's wife gave it to him," Marilyn says. "She bought an even better one for him." The waiters are distributing the salads.

"If you're not to the plot by the time they grind the pepper on the salad," says Hal, "you've lost."

"We'd like to make a movie of the script we sent you," Perry says. For this meeting we have decided to change the setting back to New York; both the Weiners come from Brooklyn, and we have spent the previous day studying Brooklyn street maps. "What do you think?"

"Fantasy land," says Marilyn Weiner. And she's the optimist of the two.

"With Perry as director," I say.

"Now you're in double fantasy land," says Hal. He smiles and shakes his head over the salad. Somehow we get the impression these people like our chutzpah if nothing else. As well they might, for in turn we sense it's the chutzpah in them that has paid off. That and a determination to be very independent from Hollywood.

"We do business in Washington," Marilyn says, "because we want a life outside of movies. If you're in New York or California and in 'the business,' then it's your whole life. Here, we have something more. Politics. Theater. Literature. I like John Barth novels. Can you imagine sitting on the beach at Malibu and reading something as thick as Tidewater Tales?" We can't imagine that.

Hal agrees, but adds that there's also a certain business advantage to being in Washington: When he and Marilyn go to California, the studios know they are only there for a few days and so don't put off appointments.

"Besides," says Hal, "in California you can't overeat." He pats his gut -- not all that big, but there. "They spend a lifetime abusing their bodies in the sunshine, and the air is nasty, so I guess they think they can purify themselves by not drinking real coffee and by eating yogurt five times a day. Who wants to live like that?"

"We do," says Perry, pointing at the script that Hal has laid on the table. Marilyn laughs.

"Double fantasy land," says Hal again, but still he smiles.

By now, not only has the pepper been ground, but the plates have been cleared. We haven't gotten to the expanded plot of "Brooklyn Round-Up" (where -- in our new version -- Barbra Streisand is the female lead working a foot-long hot dog stand in Coney Island), much less to treatments or full-length scripts or money. Both Perry and I begin to see our classrooms getting full. There is a lot of silence at the table. Behind Hal Weiner I can see various senators patting each other on the back and shaking hands by holding the other fellow's elbow at the same time; no doubt deals bigger than ours are going down.

"Do you know the Pedas brothers?" I ask.

"We do," says Hal. "They produce for the Coen brothers."

"Have you ever seen them all together?" I ask. "The Pedas brothers and the Coen brothers?" CUT TO PERRY GROANING, HIS HAND BEATING HIS FOREHEAD

There is another moment of silence, then Marilyn Weiner laughs. "No," she says. "No, I haven't. That's very funny." She seems to understand us; big John Barth novels have a way of expanding the limits of your imagination.

"Would you be interested," I say to Hal Weiner, "in a story about two brothers -- the Mackinaw brothers" (and here I slap Perry on the back) -- "who are trying to sell a screenplay to two other brothers who, as it turns out . . . "

"That's very funny," says Marilyn again. Hal looks at her. I look at Hal: He is not the gambler that Joe Fries is, I think, but he loves what he's doing, and he's a hell of a listener.

"We might very well be interested," says Hal Weiner. He pauses a moment. "Tell us about it," he says as he signals for a waiter. "Over coffee. Real coffee. And get to the plot before they pour. And to the characters by the bottom of the cup."

It is great fun to the end of dessert, but, alas, it is no sale. We go home and wait for the Pedas brothers to call. CUT TO:

CONNECTICUT AVENUE. MIDDAY.

In front of Suzanne's we see a stretch white Cadillac convertible with three sets of very successful brothers in it. From various bumper stickers we understand it has been to the great countries of Europe: France, Italy, Spain. And from the obvious prosperity of the brothers (titanium sunglasses, wafer-thin gold pocket watches) we understand that they have created all that they see before them:

Coming and going along the sidewalk are a plethora of famous film actors and actresses: Tom Cruise, Jessica Lange, James Garner (eating a steak sandwich), Spike Lee, Woody Allen, Melanie Griffith and Tom Selleck laughing over the National Review while carrying a baby.

From inside Suzanne's Richard Gere exits with a pretty, albeit overworked, salesgirl in his arms. Everybody on the sidewalk applauds. Tom Cruise goes over to the curb, where his fighter jet is parked, and puts two more quarters in the meter. Across the street Joe Fries is cutting a deal; Hal Weiner is calling some shots; and Kathleen Karr is rejecting a script.

And over the entire scene we hear a phone begin to ring; ring, insistently ring. It is the phone that Robert De Niro will not (cannot) answer in "Once Upon a Time in America." Finally, like somebody from a different world, I lurch across the bed and pick it up. It is for me; it is for Perry. It is a student wanting to know tomorrow's assignment.

Needless to say, Robert Day still teaches at Washington College in Chestertown, Md.