At The Movies
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Wayne Kramer draws from his own family's bad
luck to create a comedic Vegas mob tale/love story.
Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles
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ON NEW CONSTRUCTION-<
3355 Orchard Lake Rd. • Keego Harbor
(Between Cass and Commerce Rd.)
ayne Kramer identifies with
the karmically challenged
hero of his sleek new movie,
The Cooler. Bernie Lootz (William H.
Macy) has bad luck so contagious, a
Las Vegas casino employs him to cool
down high rollers.
Kramer more than relates. "My fami-
ly has a legacy of terrible luck," the
Johannesburg native said. "It's like a
black cloud hovers over us.
His grandmother, a compulsive gam-
bler, squandered her money and a cou-
ple of husbands. His father lost several
businesses, the family home and his
eyesight, due to retinal pigmentosa.
Kramer's mother uses an oxygen tank
due to a SARS-like illness; his 40-year-
old brother had rectal cancer; an uncle
had his fortune stolen out of a safe; and
Kramer almost lost his life to malaria
while in the South African army.
In an interview from his Los Angeles
home, he described how he survived
anti-Semitism at boot camp, only to
be shipped off to Angola to shoot a
training video. "They didn't bother to
give us malaria pills," the candid
Jewish director said.
While on leave for the High
Holidays two months later, he experi-
enced severe chills and was rushed to
the hospital. "I was told that the
strain I had would either kill me or
that I'd completely recover, with no
recurrences," he said. Of course, he
got it twice.
No wonder he was drawn to sad sack
Lootz when his friend, Frank Hannah,
e-mailed him The Cooler idea around
1999. "I immediately knew I had to
[co-write] and direct it, because this guy
was me," Kramer said. "I was going to
make a movie about the world's biggest
loser and exorcise several generations of
rotten luck from my psychic aura."
Kramer, 38, has often courted disas-
ter. As a teenage film buff, he collected
videotapes of classic films, such as A
Clockwork Orange, banned due to vio-
lence, political or sexual content. But a
classmate ratted on him, and the vice
squad banged on his door one day
when he was 17. "It was like a drug
raid," he said.
Although the charges were dropped,
casino owner, Shelly Kaplow (Alec
Baldwin), modeled after brutal Vegas
moguls such as Meyer Lansky.
For Kramer, getting to direct the film,
his first feature, proved brutal. "No one
wanted to know from me," he said.
He braved rejection until hooking up
with producers Sean and Bryan Furst in
2001: "Wayne was more than ready to
make this movie," Sean Furst said. "He
came to us with more than a thousand
storyboards he had drawn, a detailed
outline of what the film was going to
look like frame by frame."
Yet even after top actors signed on,
Kramer remained nervous. He knew
he would have only 21 days to shoot
the film, including explicit sex scenes
and ultra-violent sequences, on a budg-
et of just $3 million.
And he had that penchant for bad
luck: "I felt, if things could go wrong
in a big way, this would be the time,"
Kramer again found himself in trouble
when he suffered a malaria relapse just
before moving to the United States in
1986. He refused to postpone his trip,
"I hated South Africa because of
apartheid and because of the artistic
repression," he said. "Ever since I saw
my first American films when I was
small, it had been my dream to live and
work in America."
Eventually, Kramer moved into a
series of dumpy apartments in Orange
County, where he bused tables and
resurfaced bathtubs while trying to hus-
tle screenplays. "I survived on $400-
$600 a month," he
said. When he tried to
direct a low-budget
feature in 1990, much
of the film came back
out of focus.
Five years later, his
luck began changing
when he became a
teaching assistant at
Stephen S. Wise
School, where he met
his future wife, teacher
Maria Bello, Alec Baldwin and William H. Macy in
One of his screenplays
made the semifinals of
But when The Cooler received rave
the 1995 Nicholl Fellowships in
reviews at the 2003 Sundance Film
Screenwriting contest, and in 1996, his
Festival, Kramer was suddenly hot.
short film Crossing Over premiered at
"My phone started ringing off the
the Santa Barbara International Film
and I'm now booked two years
he said of his career. His
But his career progress was slow. "My
projects include directing his original
bad luck was holding steady," he said.
screenplay Running Scared for Lions
Thus he was riveted when Hannah
Gate and his noir thriller The Sleeping
began regaling him with stories about
Detective for Paramount.
Vegas "coolers" in the late 1990s:
Kramer, nevertheless, remains phobic
"Frank described nights playing craps
his history of bad luck. "I've
on a roll, when suddenly someone
suggested to The Cooler's' distrib-
would show up at the table and the air
utors that they hire some armed guards
pressure in the room would change,"
to protect the negative," he said. ❑
Kramer said. "The whole mood would
change, and he would start to lose."
"I realized that I could have been
The Cooler is scheduled to open
employed as a cooler," he said in an
Dec. 19, at the Main Art
essay. "Maybe my whole family
in Royal Oak, (248) 542-
could've gotten on the payroll."
0180, and the Michigan Theater
The authors decided to set their gritty
in Ann Arbor, (734) 668-8463.
fable in the seedy remnants of old Vegas,
Start dates are subject to post-
"which is sort of Fellini-esque in its char-
ponement after we go to press.
acters," according to Kramer. The pro-
Check your local movie listings.
tagonists include "older cocktail waitress-
es with big bouffants" and a retro Jewish