Mike Pallagi felt like he knew Ryan Page way before he actually met him.
At Sandpiper Elementary School in Scottsdale, Pallagi was an ungainly, bookish nerd who hung with the other overachievers. Page was the epitome of pre-adolescent cool, a blond-maned golden boy who coasted through his classes and was beloved by the schoolyard masses. Throughout fifth and sixth grades, Pallagi couldn't open a school textbook without finding Page's name scrawled across the pages, usually with a big "I Heart" preceding it.
Page's popularity--particularly with the opposite sex--was so considerable that when Sandpiper's sixth-grade class took a trip to Catalina Island, Pallagi felt compelled to strike up a conversation with him. It very nearly qualified as a kind of social experiment.
"I wanted to see what made him tick," the 23-year-old Pallagi remembers. "How did he pull this off? Girls all over the place loved him. So we talked about some girl that we both liked, but that I was sure he would beat me to."
In junior high, the two unlikely friends were brought together by alphabetical seating. Whenever they had a class together, it seemed that Page and Pallagi were always seated next to each other. Although they moved in different circles, Page was drawn to Pallagi's intelligence, and Pallagi was intrigued by Page's personal magnetism.
In high school, they both played football, with the bespectacled, pudgy Pallagi at offensive tackle and Page at running back. "Again, he was good and I was horrible," Pallagi recalls.
But however different they seemed to their respective school cliques, Page and Pallagi--two upper-crust Scottsdale kids from Ozzie and Harriet families--shared a budding appreciation for the absurd and grotesque. Page's outlet was filmmaking, working avidly on Super-8 home movies and taking summer filmmaking courses at UCLA. Pallagi's medium of choice was literature, spending most of his free time writing mammoth novels that would never be published.
In the summer of 1990, the two friends went to see David Lynch's eccentric celluloid love story, Wild at Heart, and by the time they'd left the theater, their path was set. Pallagi would write a novel, and Page would set it to film.
In 1993, their senior year of high school, Page and Pallagi collaborated on a script called A Single Bound. It was a strange story about a group of characters who are all fascinated by a VCR in a thrift store. They sent the script to the agent of their favorite actor, Crispin Glover, star of such films as Back to the Future, The River's Edge, and, not coincidentally, Wild at Heart. To their utter amazement, Glover read their script and liked it. He phoned Page to say that he wanted to direct this film, under one condition: "Can I make everyone in the film have Down Syndrome?"
Page's answer was swift: "Sure."
Just like that, Page and Pallagi, two smart-ass teens who'd been in the cafeteria line at Horizon High School only a few months before, became film producers.
"There was a certain surreal sensibility that was present in the script that you don't see very often, and I thought there were elements of it that were quite interesting," Glover recalls of the screenplay they sent him. "They were trying to produce this for one of them to direct, but I knew that it would be their first film. But I had been through several experiences before that, and I'd vowed that the next thing I went through with a first-time director it would be me directing, basically.
"But I thought there were enough interesting things in the script that it would be worthwhile to pursue that as something for me to direct."
Five years after hooking up with Glover, their script (which has been retitled It Is Mine) remains unshot. But Page and Pallagi have co-produced a prequel, directed by Glover, entitled What Is It?, possibly the most bizarre, uncompromising movie ever made by a major Hollywood name.
The low-budget, stream-of-consciousness film has been Glover's obsessive labor of love for the last five years, ever so gradually expanding its scope from a short to a feature-length film. After countless delays, it now looks to be only a few months away from release, although Glover has given up on predicting a date.
Meanwhile, Page is taking his first serious steps as a director. He's helming a "meandering documentary" about the powerful spell that fame casts over our society, fittingly titled American Royalty. The film is a series of interviews with celebrities of all types and dimensions, from movie stars to rock stars to porn stars to models to budding child actors. Page is currently taking a break from shooting American Royalty, but, within the next month, plans to start filming in the Valley, focusing on people who've experienced fame on more of a local level.