Onward, Crispin Soldiers

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.

When Page and Pallagi are together, two facts quickly become apparent: Pallagi is by far the more cerebral and articulate of the two, but Page is the dominant personality, the guy with the kind of charisma and initiative that make things happen in an industry where such skills are crucial. It is Page who used his smooth phone skills to get everything from film stock to catering for free on the shoot for What Is It?. And it is Page who has taken over the reins of their production company, One Tree Productions, while Pallagi concentrates on his studies.

If Page gave Pallagi popularity by association in high school, Glover has done much the same for Page in Hollywood. Glover took Page under his wing, letting him live in his deconstructed Silverlake mansion--a house once owned by Dorothy Lamour--and giving him instant cachet in Tinseltown. It is because of Glover that Page got David Lynch to sign on as executive producer of What Is It? It is because of Glover that Page has been able to discuss film projects with one of his heroes, David Byrne. And it is because of Glover that Page was able to draw the interest of indie icon Vincent Gallo for a film he contemplated making earlier this year.

"Trust me, I was an 18-year-old punk who had no business talking to anybody," the 24-year-old Page says of his fortuitous affiliation with Glover. "I was going somewhere, but I was not ready for that. I got thrown into it."

Everyone who encounters Ryan Page speaks about his odd personal magnetism, the unspoken sense he conveys of a confidence so great that he doesn't care what anyone thinks of him. In truth, he's a walking series of unresolved contradictions: a guy who has little respect for the phoniness of show biz, yet dated notorious Hollywood bad girl Shannen Doherty "for quite some time"; a guy who's unfailingly affable, yet is so attracted to the macabre that he photographed himself playing on a swing set in the backyard of JonBenet Ramsey's home shortly after the 1996 murder, with yellow police tape all around him; a guy who laments the conservative tastes of the masses, yet enjoyed playing high school football and being the toast of his school's most popular clique.

Page is suspicious of celebrity, but he's also fascinated by it, and it's that fascination that's resulted in American Royalty.

Page is talking about the project from the slick north Scottsdale apartment he shares with a friend. He kicks back on a plush sofa, his feet up on a glass coffee table. Aside from its elaborate audio and video systems, and an acoustic guitar that rests in the corner, the apartment is sparsely furnished. Page vaguely apologizes for the generic decor, saying nothing in the place belongs to him.

After four years in Hollywood, and a short stint in Denver, Page has moved back to Arizona, at least temporarily. He complains about the rudeness of people in L.A., but says, "Unfortunately, I'll have to go back soon, within the next year. If you're in my industry, you can't stay away for too long."

Technically, he splits his time between Tucson and Scottsdale, but he constantly seems to be flitting from one city to another. It's part of the Page mystique that no one seems quite sure how he affords all this travel.

"He's like the globetrotter kid," says Chris Pomerenke, drummer for local duo the Les Payne Product and a collaborator with Page on American Royalty. "He'll call and say, 'I'm in Puerto Vallarta,' or, 'I'm in Montreal, meet you in San Francisco.' Burn Hollywood burn, you know?"

Pomerenke and his musical cohort, guitarist James Karnes, semi-affectionately call Page "Hollywood scum," a label that would probably make him cringe. But if he's not from Hollywood, his vibe often suggests that he's of it. When he's not wearing shades indoors, he's usually got them planted on his head, in a manner that screams terminal postmodern hipness.

Pomerenke and Karnes like to mimic his phone messages, with the rhythmically perfect pauses and deep, ever-so-professional tone:

"Hello, gentlemen . . . this is Ryan Page . . . just touching base with you."

Page's wanderlust may be rooted in an early childhood as an Army brat. He was born in Germany, where his father was stationed. When Page was five, his father decided to leave the military and attend law school; the family moved to Sacramento, California. They settled in Scottsdale (where both of Page's parents were raised) in 1982, shortly before Page started second grade. Over the years, his father has emerged as a successful medical malpractice attorney, currently a partner with the Page & Hommel firm in Scottsdale. Ryan has three younger brothers, the youngest of whom is 12.

Page describes his parents as "very conservative" and says they don't necessarily understand his theories about art. His father fell asleep during a home screening of a rough version of What Is It?, and his mother once asked him, "Why can't you make films like Free Willy?"

But Page is unabashed in his love for his parents, and knows they're proud of what he's accomplished, even if they don't appreciate the work itself. He even credits his father's phone acumen as a model for his own.

"He's actually had a lot to do with why I'm a decent producer, because so much of it is just talking to people and getting what you want out of people," Page says. "My dad is just a master. I studied him from when he was young. He'll just get on the phone, talk to somebody, and he always gets what he wants."

Pallagi's upbringing was similarly short on drama. A Scottsdale native, Pallagi is the elder of two boys. Both his parents work in the Scottsdale Airpark. His dad does electronics work for Saunders and Associates, and his mom works in sales for Eltrax.

"They're very, very normal, and I think Ryan came from a very normal situation as well, and I think your minds get claustrophobic in that situation, and that's what pushed us to other things," Pallagi says. "Being exposed to nothing but television until we were at the age where we could spend three dollars at a movie theater and stay there all day, like we used to do."

Pallagi's need to escape his mundane environment pushed him into the world of fiction. He wrote his first novel at 12, a Star Trek story, because he was too insecure at that age to create his own characters. Since then he's tirelessly worked on one novel after another, primarily for his own enrichment, not even considering sending them to publishers until recently. It's the kind of discipline that would be hard to imagine from Page, who says he won't even begin a film project unless he's sure he'll be able to find distribution.

If Pallagi is more earnest than Page in his work ethic, the same could be said for the way he expresses himself. Pallagi crafts his sentences with utmost care, reflexively falling back on simile and metaphor to convey his ideas. For instance, this is how he explains the creative inspiration he and Page took from their mundane childhoods: "It's like holding back the fist. Our fist is our interest in things. And the thing holding it back is that sterile environment, and once adolescence hit, when we could actually move about freely, the fist flew forward and we really lashed out and became interested in a lot of things."

To hear Page and Pallagi tell it, they owned Horizon High School in their senior year. By that point, their interest in David Lynch had spurred them to seek out wilder, more unconventional films and books. These discoveries only made them more convinced that their teachers were dull-witted hacks with nothing useful to impart.

Page had tried taking a film-appreciation course, but was amused to find popcorn-movie fare like Dirty Rotten Scoundrels offered up as a classic of the cinema. Pallagi confronted history teachers, asking why the students were merely being taught dates behind important events, and not what motivated those events.

"We were trying to develop our minds and our vocabularies and the way we presented ourselves, so when we would feel rebellious, we would be taken seriously," Pallagi recalls. "So we could actually talk to these teachers. It was really interesting. The kids who were causing the problems--us--were also the kids who were talking like the adults. So it threw them off.

"It wasn't just these pot-smoking, cigarette-smoking little ruffians. We really were honestly serious about not liking the teachers and thinking they were hacks: 'You don't know what you're talking about, and we know it.' We'd tell them, 'If you really knew what you were talking about, you'd be teaching at a university.'"

By this point, Page had quit the football team. He says he'd realized his interests were elsewhere, and besides, he didn't get along with his coach, Doug Shaffer. Recently, Shaffer recalled no problems between himself and Page. He remembers Page as a player with considerable ability, who simply couldn't crack the starting lineup because he was stuck behind the talented runner John Clayton, who later went on to play for San Diego State. Shaffer describes Page as a "nice kid, easygoing, kind of quiet." Perhaps predictably, he doesn't remember Pallagi at all.

Page and Pallagi's reign of intellectual terror at Horizon reached its zenith in their creative writing class. At one point, Page left a line drawing of a naked dwarf on his teacher's desk. Next to the drawing, Page had written the name "Peter." By some strange coincidence (Page insists he didn't know), the teacher's son was also named Peter, and she regarded the drawing as a personal insult. She removed Page, Pallagi and a friend from her class.

"We went to the vice principal," Pallagi says, "and I tried to use all my vocabulary that I could, and he went and talked to her and we got back into the class."

They say they both ended up with an A for the semester.
"One thing Mike and I did share, we were united in this strong desire to get the hell out of high school," Page says. "Most people love high school--and not to say that we didn't have fun there--but we wanted to get going in making movies and things like that. Junior and senior year, Mike would pick me up for school, and every day I'd beg him not to go to school."

Page's early films were shorts that he now dismisses as "lame, surrealistic stuff." The one running thread between these films was the prominent role of Mark Trombino, a local dwarf who Page and Pallagi had befriended. "We started out thinking, 'surrealism equals dwarves,'" Page says with a shrug. "We'd kind of learned that off David Lynch.

"The thing that first interested us in Mark was that he claimed to have magical powers. That's how I met him. He claimed something real interesting to me: that over the course of time, when magic was no longer necessary for dwarves--because they didn't have to ward off angry men or beasts or whatever--little people forgot their powers. But he thought that they could get them back, and he claimed to have them. We did this documentary on him, and he told all these stories about throwing fireballs, but he never did it, of course."

Page thought about studying film in college, but his summer experiences at UCLA had soured him on higher education. "I kind of had an idea of who was there, what kind of people were there, and I wasn't really interested in doing that kind of thing. It seemed to me to be breeding really bad ideas--a lot of people whose parents were really wealthy sending them there, and they were ultimately going to go on and make Free Willy or something. There was nothing at all creative."

So Page concentrated on learning the art of filmmaking on his own, while Pallagi enrolled at Arizona State and studied writing.

The big question about Page is how he manages to make a living on the meager budget of a producer for an indie film that has yet to be released. Even Pomerenke and Karnes seem mystified by his ability to throw money around on expensive hotels or frequent airline flights. He tends to skirt any specifics on the subject, but it's reasonable to assume that he's been getting at least some financial assistance from his parents over the last five years. Page insists that he's lived on money he's paid himself out of One Tree's budget.

"We've been paid for our work there," he says. "I've kind of spaced it out well. We were paid for working on What Is It? and it tided me over to this new film we're doing, so it kind of worked out."

Crispin Glover elicits a weird devotion among his fans. Because he brings an unhinged, neurotic quality to even his most conventional parts, he has a way of cutting through the conventions of "performance." You could see it as far back as 1985, when he played Michael J. Fox's father, George McFly, in the blockbuster hit Back to the Future. George McFly was so outside the bounds of the movie that he almost seemed to be commenting on it.

The sense of uncertainty about where Glover ends and the character begins is ultimately what makes him so creepily magnetic. It's telling that among his acolytes, Glover's talk-show appearances are at least as prized as his film work. What Glover diehard can forget the nervous, stuttering, perspiration-filled Tonight Show rant that earned an almost paternal sympathy from fellow panelist Gore Vidal?

The Citizen Kane of Glover's talk-show canon, though, has to be his July 28, 1987, appearance on Late Night with David Letterman. He walked out in a long, unkempt wig, with striped pants and black platform boots that would have been considered over-the-top in the disco era, clutching a briefcase that he said contained news clippings about him. After babbling incoherently for a few minutes, Glover flexed his arm and assured Letterman: "I'm strong. I can arm wrestle. Do you want to arm wrestle?" Before Letterman could respond, Glover jumped out of his chair and did a karate kick in the close proximity to Letterman's head.

It was a debacle, but a brilliant debacle, the kind that American TV hadn't seen since the death of Andy Kaufman. In fact, Glover handled the incident in pure Kaufmanesque form, subsequently claiming that a look-alike friend had impersonated him on the show and that his friend had consciously tried to make Glover look bad by acting so strangely.

Such gonzo mythmaking probably explains why the 35-year-old Glover can fill art houses whenever he tours with his oddball slide shows/book readings, or attract devoted listeners to the kind of childlike psychobabble found on his 1989 Restless Records CD, The Big Problem.

"He's actually one of the only people I would have been star struck by, and I was at first," Page says. "I don't want to meet Marky Mark. I like actors like Crispin, who's also an artist. I'm not really a big fan of actors in general. For me to be really interested in someone, they have to do all kinds of things. Crispin records, he writes books, he's a filmmaker, an actor, he does it all. And he has an amazing mind that always has to create something."

Page doesn't hesitate to call Glover his "mentor," and the actor's influence over both Page and Pallagi manifests itself repeatedly. When Pallagi drops by Page's apartment, he brings with him five titles by the late, great German director Rainer Werner Fassbinder, because "Crispin has been talking about him lately." Page also praises the unrelenting style of Harmony Korine's indie film Gummo, a picture he saw with Glover in L.A. when it was released.

Glover has continued to act in recent years, doing likably oddball turns in such well-received films as What's Eating Gilbert Grape? and The People vs. Larry Flynt. But he's expressed growing frustration with the quality of scripts he's sent. For years, he'd been looking for a chance to get his own vision on screen, and he saw something in Page and Pallagi's screenplay that offered him that chance.

The film they started working on together, What Is It?, was originally intended to be a short prequel to the Page-Pallagi screenplay, It Is Mine--something to attract potential investors for the full-length film.

As early as the fall of 1995, What Is It? was described in Film Threat magazine as nearly finished. Four years later, Glover continues to tinker with it.

Page attributes the film's slow progress to a combination of limited finances and Glover's unwillingness to check his creative impulses.

"We had investors, but their investments were sporadic, they kind of came at different stages," Page says. "Crispin's even become a primary investor, he's put a lot of his own money into this thing.

"As a producer, my primary task was to get things for free: to get people to work for free, to get film stock for free, catering for free, everything for free. I had never done that before, and now that's kind of what I'm known for.

"Once I'd accomplished that, then we said, 'Look we have all this stuff, let's just do a feature. Why do a short? A short's never gonna make any money.' So it just grew. And Crispin's mind is always working. He gets probably 100 new ideas a day, but they're kind of filtered down to, like, one good idea a month. So then we go back and shoot again."

Pallagi says with a laugh, "You'll cut from one scene to another, and there'll be a four-year gap between when they were shot. If you look at two long productions, this started shooting before Titanic and it'll be released after Eyes Wide Shut."

Page says Glover financed the film with the help of "some of his actor friends, who are going to remain anonymous." Although Glover has had distribution offers from various companies, he's chosen the unconventional approach of distributing the film himself. "Crispin really wants to keep it to himself, and he's the auteur of this film," Page says.

Glover has chosen to go the self-distribution route, at least initially, because distribution companies tend to take a huge chunk ("50 to 60 percent," according to Glover) of the film's receipts. Since What Is It? already has interest from art-house theaters, Glover hopes to bypass the normal distribution process and save a lot of money.

Even in incomplete form, it's easy to see that What Is It? has few parallels in film history. Even something as outre as Lynch's Eraserhead was linear and highly accessible by comparison. In a disjointed, dreamlike way, What Is It? follows the internal lives of several characters with Down Syndrome, not in the service of a conventional story, but as a series of haunting images that never let up, never pause to explain themselves. It's the power of those images that stay with you: a boy with Down Syndrome crushing a snail, and attempting to glue it back together; another snail coming in and unleashing a horrifying scream (courtesy of actress Fairuza Balk); a man in black minstrel face repeatedly claiming to be Michael Jackson; a picture of Shirley Temple with a swastika behind her; and, most memorably, a man with cerebral palsy being masturbated by a creature in a gruesome mask.

Two weeks ago, Glover was in New York working on a film. He sounded nervous and brusque, insisting that he was very busy and didn't know when or if he'd have a spare moment to talk. A week later, having finished his work in New York, he was much more engaging. He explained why he wanted a Down Syndrome cast for What Is It?

"I'd written several screenplays that had already had people with Down Syndrome written into the screenplay," he says. "I felt people with Down Syndrome had a certain kind of history immediately when you looked at them. I felt also that people who have Down Syndrome are not thinking necessarily about the same things most actors are thinking about, so I knew that could be valuable on film. I also thought certain things in the screenplay would be enhanced by that casting of those people."

Though the mere presence of Down Syndrome actors will inevitably make some people feel that Glover is exploiting their mental handicaps, he says he's not concerned about any criticism he might encounter.

"It's funny, I just did a recording today with Werner Herzog for a film he directed in the late '60s called Even Dwarfs Started Small. There's a DVD coming out, and I was one of the people asked to participate. And he had similar questions asked of him about that film. But, in a similar way, I've always thought there was a respect for the thought processes of the people in this film."

Glover credits Page and Pallagi with "moral support" during the long making of What Is It? and verifies that Page has a knack for getting things free.

"He's very good at that," Glover says. "The reason I wanted Ryan to be involved as a co-producer was to gain experience for any future projects, particularly It Is Mine, should that go forth. We had to make the film inexpensively, get whatever favors we could for free, and Ryan was particularly good at doing that. He was very aggressive in that matter."

At test screenings, such as one last year at Valley Art Theatre, What Is It? has generally been well received by audiences, which have been dominated by hard-core Glover fanatics. But even in such settings, a few feathers have been ruffled.

"I was in Denver watching the film there, and most of the crowd really enjoyed it, it was one of the better shows," Page says. "But there was a group of maybe five middle-40s women who walked out, saying, 'It's not George McFly anymore.' And it's not George McFly. If you're coming to see George McFly, save your money."

If Glover is the auteur of What Is It?, then Page is unquestionably the mastermind of American Royalty. The film is rooted in a gig that Page attended at Spaceland, a rock club in Silverlake, California.

For a while, Page had been hearing from old friends about the Les Payne Product, a smart, campy guitar-drums duo with a decidedly twisted sense of humor. They also may be the only guys on the planet able to look stylish in mechanics' jumpsuits.

"They intrigued me because I'd heard that they were a two-piece and that they were financed by the Illuminati," Page says. "And that could be true, or could not be true, but that really intrigued me."

Page was suitably impressed by the Les Payne gig, and approached the band after the show. "He was actually kind of pulled back from it," Pomerenke says. "He was just being himself and kind of conservative and removed and calm. He's Hollywood scum, and that's how they behave. He didn't gush or anything.

"I just thought to myself, that he was a devil in sheep's clothing. With the blond hair and everything, he was this golden boy. And James started calling him the 'golden boy antichrist.' It pretty much fit. He has this really odd charisma. It's really soothing yet disturbing."

"He's definitely the dark overlord type," Karnes chimes in.
Page was so taken with Les Payne's music and aesthetic that he asked them to write and star in a film he was planning about the end of the world. With the help of local singer/songwriter Dominic Salerno (who performs as Vic Masters, and writes for New Times under the name Serene Dominic), Page, Pomerenke and Karnes bashed away at a script. Often, all four writers would be at a computer at the same time, in a higher-tech version of what happened in 1968 when Jack Nicholson and the Monkees quickly hammered out the screenplay for the cult classic Head.

As the film began to take shape, Page talked of having actor/director Vincent Gallo (Buffalo 66) as one of the stars, and promised that a prominent actress would be cast as the female lead. But he quickly cooled on the scripted film.

"The problem was that there were too many cooks in the kitchen," he says. "Plus, I kind of phased out on my whole interest in the whole end-of-the-world kind of talk. No one could agree on the script, and we had these financiers that were like, 'What's going on?' and that's when it became interesting.

"And Les Payne Product were kind of concerned with how they were going to be in the film. They didn't want to speak, so that became kind of a problem," he says with a laugh, "since they were the main characters in the film."

So Page took the end-of-the-world theme and mutated it into a documentary that would look at how celebrity has overtaken our culture: If not a literal Armageddon, the film would capture a spiritual one.

"At first, it was more about wrapping up the century," Pomerenke says. "And one part of that was celebrity, Jesus Christ being one of the primary celebrities and watching 2000--his birthday--coming around the corner and watching how in America, this is American royalty. If you can be in front of the flash bulbs, anything that you say goes. That whole phenomenon is revolting and seductive at the same time."

Part of Page's reasoning behind making the film a documentary is his belief that the conventions of scripted, narrative material have become so familiar, that the entire form has lost its power to affect us.

"Documentary is the wave of the future," he says. "You see it on television. Stories are kind of boring, almost, now to people. People want to turn on their television and watch Cops, and that intrigues me, too. I'm not a fan of Cops, but people want to turn on and see these white-trash people being arrested for an hour.

"What is real now has become more interesting than what is fake or what is staged. This film is so neat because it's about all of that. We're dealing with celebrities of all kinds, from the biggest rock stars in the world and movie stars down the line, but even that whole thing of watching people on the Internet brush their teeth or something will be part of it."

Because he's a writer at heart, Pallagi doesn't share Page's fascination with documentary, and besides, his studies have drawn his attention away from film. After taking academic sabbaticals to work for One Tree, he's now nearing a degree in English, and working on his seventh novel. He thinks his writing has finally ripened to the point that he's ready to talk seriously with book publishers.

While Page and Pallagi expect to collaborate on film projects again in the future, Page is producing American Royalty without Pallagi, with the help instead of friend Torrance Jestadt, a highly savvy fund raiser.

So far, shooting for American Royalty has taken place in Los Angeles, San Diego and San Francisco, with Karnes and Pomerenke handling many of the celebrity interviews. Beyond his own connections, and those he made with Glover, several of Page's celebrity contacts have come from ex-girlfriend Shannen Doherty.

"She's being helpful now," Page says. "We haven't gotten along always, but she's been very helpful, especially with these sitcomy actress types."

Doherty was also the source of the film's most tempestuous moment, when she visited the scene of a shoot in L.A. three months ago.

"We were interviewing Jonathan Davis of Korn," Pomerenke says. "I guess we did something bad for Ryan. [Doherty] came out and was like fidgeting or something, and digging through some of our notebooks or whatever, and we were throwing popcorn at her, because she was being rude.

"We were all sitting around there, and she thinks she can do that, so I threw popcorn at the back of her hair and she flipped out. And Ryan's like, 'They're my friends. It's Les Payne.' And she's like, 'I don't give a fuck who they are.' She left, and according to Ryan, they haven't spoken much since then.

"She was there to see Ryan, and he was busy doing things, and I think it kinda irritated her."

Pomerenke and Karnes says that among the celebrities they've interviewed, it's been the porn stars who've generally had the most honest, realistic take on what their fame means. The strangest part of the experience has been watching famous people in situations where they don't have the power.

"With a few of them, we actually went into their apartment," Karnes says. "It's odd because you've seen them on the screen or whatever, and now you're in their house and setting up all this film equipment, and they're nervous. They're on the couch with all the lights, and we're totally in control and they're like, 'Was that good?' They're wanting to do good for us."

Page's predilection for the discomforting will also lead him to film a Shakespearean acting troupe composed entirely of burn survivors. At Page's suggestion, they'll perform Grease, preferably at a local theater. He admits that this is one storyline that draws no interest from Karnes and Pomerenke.

"He's really attracted to the macabre and morbid," Pomerenke says.
"In a Hollywood sort of way," Karnes adds.
Page's dark humor has extended to his apparent willingness to take the blame for the JonBenet Ramsey murder, which occurred while he was living in Denver.

"Ryan has a particular affection for that case," Pomerenke says. "It's a sick kind of affection. He's basically admitted to it. He wants to take the fall for it. He e-mailed everyone he knew and said, 'Turn me in. I did it.'

Ultimately, what Pomerenke and Karnes find appealing about Page--his apparent detachment from the very concept of morality--is what they also find somewhat disturbing about him. They joke that Page is the kind of guy who could commit a terrible crime and get away with it, while all his friends end up doing time, because they can't overcome their pangs of remorse.

"I just feel that this will all end in tragedy, and somehow we'll carry on that guilt forever," Pomerenke says of their collaboration. "And [Ryan] will call us from Puerto Vallarta, and say, 'Did you guys ever get over that thing?'"

Contact Gilbert Garcia at his online address: ggarcia@newtimes.com

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