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Nothing in that dubious résumé can explain Schaeffer’s relentless belief that he’s on the verge of huge success. And yet he’s reluctant to find outside backers for his next project because, “I would hate to have this one be the one that gets sold for $3.5 million at Sundance, when we finally took someone else’s half a million bucks.”
On the Saturday night after Thanksgiving, Schaeffer meets his old pal Donny Ward to discuss their new film over Indian food in the East Village. Schaeffer, with a yoga mat strapped to his back, strides to the rear of the restaurant and points to a table where a couple is eating. “They usually put me over here,” he says to the waiter. “But that’s okay.”
Returning to the last time things were good, Schaeffer and Ward are making the “unofficial sequel” to My Life’s in Turnaround, titled They’re Out of the Business (unofficial because neither owns the rights to Turnaround). The duo plans to cobble together $300,000 of seed money with credit cards, loans and friends. The story follows two guys in their 40s who once had a hit TV show, and are getting back together to make another show and re-create their glory days. At the beginning, Schaeffer’s character, an actor who stars in a TV show called Mr. Big Shot, legally changes his name to Self-Indulgent as a publicity stunt and is then stuck with it after the show is canceled.
After they talk over their plans, dinner conversation turns to the more mundane matter of traffic — a subject close to Schaeffer’s heart, owing to the amount of time he spends commuting from New York City to a farmhouse he owns in Vermont. (He bought the farmhouse with money he’s made from TV jobs; by remortgaging it, he’s been able to finance his movie habit.)
“My philosophy is that I’d rather be going a hundred miles an hour in the wrong direction than sitting in traffic in the right direction,” Schaeffer says, describing how he was recently stuck in stand-still traffic near Hartford and found an alternative route that took him 80 miles out of the way in order to leap over the 15 miles of traffic. “So, Donny, if you were told it would be the same hour and a half to get through that 10 miles, would you do the drive or would you stay there?”
“I would just find something to do in Hartford. I’d wait for it to all go away.”
“But what if you had to do those two choices?”
“I think I would just go somewhere else.”
“No, you don’t have that as a choice. These are the two choices. You could drive . . .”
“But that’s my choice,” Ward cuts in. “I’ve decided that. That’s my choice.”
“Well, in this game we’re playing now that’s not a choice.”
“I quit the game. Just like I quit the highway. I would quit the road. I quit the game.”
Schaeffer shakes his head with supreme annoyance and returns to his food. For him, quitting just isn’t an option.
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