Mr. Hollywood Florida

With a little smoke, a few mirrors, and an ego big enough to reach California, Craig Marquardo wants to build his own movie-making empire in South Florida

Steven Seagal's voice was blooming in Craig Marquardo's ear like an exotic flower, and the voice was saying yes.

Yes, Seagal liked the script. No, he wouldn't mind acting the lead role, and yes, he would agree to do it with a "verbal handshake." A bankable action-film star whose movies could make money not only in U.S. theaters but in Europe or from the video market was just the ticket for the young producer.

"A verbal handshake? What's that?" asks Marquardo testily, recounting his telephone conversation with the actor just two days earlier. "He wanted me to fly to L.A. and sit in his living room and discuss the deal with him and his people, but I wouldn't. I won't. I hate L.A., I go there as little as possible. That's why I live here. Besides, we need something in writing."

Dealmaker Craig Marquardo runs Fathom Motion Pictures from unpretentious offices in Hollywood, Florida
Joshua Prezant
Dealmaker Craig Marquardo runs Fathom Motion Pictures from unpretentious offices in Hollywood, Florida
Caterer’s assistants can make $100 to $150 a day working on the set of the movie The Breakers, being filmed at the hotel of the same name in Palm Beach
Joshua Prezant
Caterer’s assistants can make $100 to $150 a day working on the set of the movie The Breakers, being filmed at the hotel of the same name in Palm Beach
Where are the stars? There’s no sign of Gene Hackman or Sigourney Weaver as well-paid workers earning tax-free money move across the set of The Breakers.
Joshua Prezant
Where are the stars? There’s no sign of Gene Hackman or Sigourney Weaver as well-paid workers earning tax-free money move across the set of The Breakers.
Miami-Dade Film Commissioner Jeff Peel, who earns $80,000 a year to recruit film and television productions, disagrees with Craig Marquardo’s criticisms of the state’s efforts.
Joshua Prezant
Miami-Dade Film Commissioner Jeff Peel, who earns $80,000 a year to recruit film and television productions, disagrees with Craig Marquardo’s criticisms of the state’s efforts.
Bill Burke

Now Seagal's signed letter of intent lies on the desk of Marquardo, president of Fathom Motion Pictures in Hollywood. That's Hollywood, Florida. The letter, addressed to Marquardo, has freshly arrived in a Federal Express envelope that originated in Seagal's Los Angeles home the day before. The letter says Seagal is interested in starring in a film to be called Wild Game. But only if Marquardo meets several conditions. The conditions are marked by asterisks. Seagal's loopy, fluid signature appears at the bottom.

For Marquardo, who calls himself "an executive producer, a packaging agent, the guy who puts the money and the talent together, the ultimate middleman," the deal could mean good money. Just as important to him, a clinched deal would amount to Fathom's champagne voyage in the movie industry, the first of a number of feature projects now in various stages of negotiation.

Marquardo's plan is to set Wild Game in Africa but to film much of it in South Florida, reserving a few special scenes for shooting in Kenya. In the story a good guy named Max (that would be the Seagal role) runs across some very bad bad guys who poach exotic animals, sell them illegally to collectors and zoos, and do nasty things to people who try to stop them. The Max character sounds like stereotypical Seagal, judging by the muscled-down dialogue pulled randomly from the script lying atop Marquardo's desk.

MAX: I'm going to ask you one last time, who are you working for? (He sticks the barrel in Barbosa's mouth, and cocks the weapon).

(Barbosa says nothing.)

MAX: I'd say you're about to become fucking extinct.

But Seagal won't get the chance to make Barbosa come clean on a movie screen unless Marquardo can make the deal happen in real life first. The business of negotiation is the business of control, of one-upmanship, and Marquardo doesn't have it -- yet. He frowns, his young lip curling slightly upward -- he is 27 years old, a man who insists that "older is not better; neither is famous."

Marquardo wants the deal set on his own terms. He glances at the big board on his office wall, a sort of game board of feature-length films not yet born, all of them relying on deals, all written in grease pencil. He studies the board in silence. Wild Game heads the list of 20 projects, under the heading "Film." Next to "Film" appear other headings that sum up the status of each project. For Wild Game, Marquardo can see genre (action), budget ($24 million), producer (Greg Alosio), director (Eric Schwab), cast (Seagal), and distributors, both domestic and foreign. Disney is listed as the foreign distributor; no name appears yet under domestic. Finally the heading "Date" and under it "September."

That starting date remains some distance from reality on this busy afternoon, set to a backdrop score of ringing telephones. While Marquardo contemplates the letter and his next move, his four-person staff slides around him, working in a suite of several rooms noteworthy for their lack of glamour: The desks and chairs are functional rather than grand, the walls contain a few framed movie posters celebrating films he says he helped finance before he founded Fathom. Using connecting offices down the hall is his financing partner Eric Baquero, owner of Parasol Films, a business devoted to raising money for Fathom.

Marquardo appears delighted by each company's motto: "Ours is, "We don't make films, we make films happen,'" he says. "Theirs is, "The deal is the orgasm, the movie is the cigarette.'"

Next to a stack of movie scripts on Marquardo's desk -- one for each project in the works -- are neat piles of letters exchanged in negotiations that may or may not prove the mottoes true. Marquardo's distinct letterhead reads, "Fathom Motion Pictures in association with Parasol Films." He says he wants to see those eight words appear on the silver screen for the first time by next year.

But that will happen in a film starring Seagal only if Marquardo can persuade the actor to back off one of his stated conditions of employment. In addition to a $7 million paycheck for the role, Seagal wants "pay or play." Sometimes demanded by the movie industry's biggest stars, the term means money must be placed in an escrow account for the star before any shooting begins. Pay or play guarantees the star his money whether or not the film is made, and it prevents producers from using a star's name to promote their projects, then backing out of the deal with the star. Seagal wants all the money in escrow in advance.

Marquardo studies the letter and shakes his head. He says venomously, "I don't mind paying him $7 million, but who the fuck does he think he is with this "pay or play'?"

Marquardo snorts derisively. He isn't doing it for Seagal. In fact, he announces, he wouldn't do it for anybody. "It's just not good business," he explains. "If you have a solid project, with investors and distributors agreeing to go, it doesn't make sense. We have that kind of a deal. The star isn't out anything, either."

According to Marquardo, only a few actors "at the top of the A list" could ask for that deal, and Seagal isn't one.

He spins through a Rolodex, comes to a halt at Steamroller Productions, and begins punching telephone numbers.

Steamroller is Seagal's production company, and Marquardo is reaching out to Steamroller's executive director, Phil Goldfine, who represents Seagal. A quick argument ensues as soon as Goldfine picks up the phone. Marquardo's expression darkens, his voice bridles, he tells Goldfine that pay or play is out, absolutely out, as an option. Then he lectures Goldfine about mixed messages -- one message from Seagal agreeing to do the film and backed up by a letter; another message from Goldfine.

"I shouldn't be talking to different people who are giving me different answers, Phil, you know that. You know that -- so you resolve it with your client. I happen to know you guys are at a disadvantage and Steven has a habit of not keeping you guys in the loop. I can't have Steven telling you one thing and [me] another. Really, Phil, you and your client should get it together. You don't have it together right now."

The two men agree to a conference call the next day. Marquardo slams down the receiver and smiles. "We'll get him," he brags optimistically, "but we won't do "pay or play.' And if it isn't him it will be somebody else. [Richard] Gere's next on the list."

Anticipating the unspoken question -- couldn't rudeness and hard bargaining kill the deal? -- Marquardo says, "You have to talk to these guys this way. This is just how it's done."How it's done Marquardo-style appears to be both confrontational and casual -- like Jerry Maguire, the protagonist in the 1996 film of the same name, one of Marquardo's favorites. In the film, an arrogant, successful young sports agent (Tom Cruise) decides to play it honest, loses his big-agency job, and makes it on his own. Marquardo says it's his story.

"That's how I see myself; that's how I see my office," he says, recalling one of the film's memorable lines: ""Our little project, our company, had a very big day.' That's something I sometimes say when things go right in my office."

Time spent in Marquardo's office is like time spent in a hall of mirrors, where reflections prove difficult to substantiate. His business is built on deal-making talk, a fact confirmed by producers, directors, and distributors in the film industry who know him. They praise his knowledge but universally agree that his background is obscure, hard to check. His company, Fathom, not yet a year old, has yet to produce a single project.

Movie talk for Marquardo is not small talk, something he avoids assiduously in or out of his office. He never talks about the weather or chats about golf handicaps. He routinely works in open-necked cotton shirts and blue jeans, spinning conversation with anyone who will listen about what's happening at the current work moment. He sports moccasin-style leather loafers, drives a new Grand Cherokee, and owns a two-bedroom condominium on Hollywood beach.

Tall and slender, Marquardo has light brown hair that swings neatly back from his forehead with a jazzy little lift that seems apt, considering his musical passion for such stylized swing and big-band acts as Harry Connick Jr., Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, and the Brian Setzer Orchestra. The music is more than an elaborate hobby. "I love to sing," he announces -- so much so that in the fall he plans to hire a 15-piece band. Since Marquardo also loves to appear at the center of events, he's arranged to front the band as a singer in a tour that he expects will perform in more than 15 Florida cities on weekends. None of it is yet booked.

"This is what I do to relax," he says. He swings and sings. And he sketches vivid autobiographical stories, painting bright dream clouds on the sky of his ambition.

Although his voice may be big, Marquardo's hands are small, the fingers short and slender, the skin soft. This is odd only because Marquardo is fond of announcing that, for one on-the-road year when he was 17, he played professional baseball.

Marquardo's script goes like this: Graduating from Maldon High School in the Boston area ten years ago, he signed first with a Single-A Yankees team, then moved up to a Triple-A Astros team in Tucson before being traded in the off-season to the Boston Red Sox. In spring training the following year, he tore ligaments in his pitching arm, and the short, happy baseball life of Craig Marquardo came to an end. He never pitched in a major-league game, he admits.

On his desk, as spare and plain as everything else about this would-be Hollywood mogul, is a baseball, mounted on a small wooden stand. Marquardo's story about the trophy, with a single scuff mark on its surface, is that he hurled the ball "the first time I ever threw in the majors," during spring training with the Sox.

Possibly he threw the same ball for the last time, too, since a press spokesman for the Red Sox in Boston can find no record of Marquardo in any team roster dating from a decade ago. Neither is his name listed in Yankee records or records of the Tucson Sidewinders, then an Astros farm team, now in the Diamondbacks system. He might have been cut or traded quickly and the records lost, say the spokesmen for those teams.

That's what happened, says Marquardo, who can point to pictures on his wall showing him in younger trim on a green diamond wearing a Red Sox uniform, surrounded by a couple of players.

"What I got out of it was some contacts, some rich guys who liked me, and they invested in films." He says those investors got him started in the industry before he was 20 years old. Like much else about Marquardo, that's hard to check: He says the investors require anonymity.

In spite of his youth, Marquardo came equipped with experience when he opened Fathom last fall. He proved a capable distribution agent during his brief time with Warner Brothers, which hired him as a freelance distributor of films in the U.S. and abroad, according to Barry Reardon, a retired Warner Brothers executive.

"He was aggressive, persistent, brilliant, and a pain in the ass, all of which I admire," says Reardon, who offered the comments at Marquardo's request in an e-mail reply. Reardon could not be reached through Warner Brothers or at his Palm Beach County home to verify the comments.

Marquardo also succeeded as an independent middleman who could get on the telephone and round up investors willing to pump dollars into hemorrhaging film budgets on big productions. Among the list of films he claims to have helped finance: Die Hard II with Bruce Willis, End of Days with Arnold Shwarzenegger, Deep Blue Sea with Samuel L. Jackson, and Stepmom with Julia Roberts.

Here's how he describes his work: A studio goes over budget or faces a sudden need for cash and wishes to keep that fact hidden, so it calls a money-raiser, a "fixer." He signs a secrecy clause agreeing to discuss nothing about his involvement and brings in investors. "For the films I did that way," says Marquardo, "I could make in the six figures. I had a lot of money when I was very young, then I lost some of it, then I regained some of it. Now I sock it away, and I don't live a lavish lifestyle, because I want to retire in my thirties."

Marquardo says he cannot talk about his specific role in financing past films without violating his agreements with the studios who hired him, a position confirmed by a studio executive in Hollywood who did not want to be identified but said he is familiar with Marquardo's help in five feature projects.

Although Marquardo's investors include "about 40 percent Germans right now" and the rest Californians, he refuses to name them. To do that, he says, would result in the investors receiving unwanted and countless solicitations from a world of people eager to make films.

Marquardo's difficult-to-confirm account of his experience isn't uncommon in the film business, says Steve Jones, a reputable Hollywood feature-film producer of such movies as Wild Things, a Sony production starring Kevin Bacon, Matt Dillon, Neve Campbell, and Denise Richards and filmed partly in Broward County.

Jones, who is planning several movies with Marquardo, says the names of such finance freelancers never appear in film credits because studios aren't eager to advertise expensive problems they failed to anticipate. To check Marquardo out, Jones talked with people in Hollywood who believe the young businessman can probably put money together for a project.

"But you know, this stuff is hard to confirm because the studios don't talk about these kinds of dealmakers, and investors aren't usually eager to have their names exposed, either," he says, chuckling. "So people can put this on their résumés whether it's true or not. And I don't care what kinds of stories the guy tells about himself as long as he can do what he says," which is put the money together and guarantee distribution.

Jones aims to direct feature-length dramatic productions, and says of Marquardo, "I think he can help me." He's listed as the producer of three of the evolving projects on Marquardo's big board. And his name appears as both producer and director of a fourth, known as Midlife.

Producer Gregory Alosio, whose company, Alosio Productions, is based in L.A, and Cody Ruimy, an L.A.-based distributor and owner of THF Pictures, share Jones' assessment of Marquardo as a capable enigma.

Ruimy's company holds letters signed by Marquardo saying he has the right to produce a couple of films, "which is what they do when they're legitimate," Ruimy says of executive producers. "When they aren't legitimate, they don't sign anything because the legal consequences can be bad."

Alosio owns the script to Wild Game, which he plans to produce and direct with Marquardo's financial help when he finishes his current project, a film called Dragonfly Jones. That film is billed to star In Living Color television actor Tommy Davidson.

It was Alosio who first sought out Seagal for the lead role in Wild Game. "I took Wild Game to private investors who knew [Craig] and recommended him. I met with Seagal. He said he was interested in doing the film. We now had some funding for the project, but we needed distribution -- that's a key in this business."

No matter how good the film may be, if it doesn't reach a lot of screens, it will disappear, he explains. So Alosio invited Marquardo to get in on the deal and to consider Seagal.

"Craig has told me he can secure distribution, he can help put money in place, and he can guarantee top-named talent their fee," Alosio says.

Marquardo's knowledgeable pitch led Alosio to conclude that "he's really, really good on the telephone, one of the best. He always seems to know what he's talking about."

The opinion is echoed by Eric Baquero, Marquardo's financing partner and office mate at Parasol Films. "He's always on the phone with these top people in Hollywood [California]," he says, "people you can almost never get. He knows what he's doing."

At this point in the game, Marquardo says he works with producers who have proven themselves and, like Alosio, who already own the scripts or have selected them. "I don't have time to read 500 scripts and pick one," he says, "and their judgment might be better than mine anyway, since they get 'em through the studios, which have filtered out all the crap."

In the case of Wild Game, Alosio also did the filtering. He says he read about 200 scripts before deciding to buy this one, by a relatively unknown screenwriter named Peter Rocca.

The dealmaking in Hollywood, Florida, has captured the attention of two prominent trade publications in Hollywood, California, Daily Variety and the Hollywood Reporter. Producers and directors say that's a promising sign for Marquardo. In each, several Fathom projects are listed by name and producer. Daily Variety also reported that Marquardo's up-and-coming company is the title sponsor of the 15th annual Fort Lauderdale Film Festival, set to run from October 16 through November 2. According to a festival spokesman, Marquardo has already put up $20,000 of the $100,000 he promised.

Such notoriety has elicited hordes of applications from actors, directors, producers, screenwriters, and even music composers in Florida, New York, L.A., and elsewhere, all looking to break into the big time.

Two large file cabinets at Fathom contain nothing but introductory solicitations from people eager to make it in the business, especially actors. Marquardo can leaf through countless still photos of men and women posed glamorously. The photos come attached to résumés that often cite wide experience in local theater or school productions or bit work in movies and television.

"I can't do anything with these," Marquardo says. But that isn't entirely true. Every so often he'll set aside somebody's résumé, then slip it later to a director or producer. A stunt man, for example, has captured his attention, and so has a Los Angeles­based composer who submitted a CD of symphonic music.

Marquardo slaps the recording into his computer and begins to play it, apologizing for the poor quality of the speakers. "Isn't this great?" he asks. "This is just great." The music, full of horns and strings, ebbs and flows like a John Williams imitation. It probably won't do for Wild Game.

None of this appears to have gone to Marquardo's head -- or at least to his lifestyle, which is studded with few of the club-hopping, drug-taking, hipster qualities for which movie people are famous.

Unlike many a hero of the silver screen or movie-industry executive, Marquardo maintains the ingestion habits of a Puritan: He never smokes, he never drinks, he consumes no coffee or tea, he's never tried any drug, and he's proud of it. "Why can't you go into a bar and have a good time and NOT drink?" is a question he asks periodically, especially when he glances out the bay window of his second-floor suite of offices in a pink building on Harrison Street. Directly across the street he can see the Village Bar. Next to it is a health club with 100 feet of plate glass windows, which Marquardo studies fondly from time to time, especially if nubile young women in body-hugging outfits appear on the exercise machines facing the street.

In movie-mogul tradition, Marquardo likes women. Some dance in the local strip clubs, he says of those he can see entering the health club in early afternoon. He points out one through the plate glass. "She was [Playboy's] Playmate of the Month once," he says, "and we dated a few times, but she's too short for me and too interested in herself. But we get along."

Getting along is something that didn't happen with his parents. They divorced when Marquardo was young, by his account, and his mother took him to Florida, before sending him back to Boston as a 13-year-old who lived in the care of social service agencies. As with other Marquardo stories, this one is difficult to substantiate: Records of such juveniles were not computerized in the 1980s, and some are lost, according to a Department of Social Services administrator in Boston.

His father, Marquardo surmises, helped teach him the business end of movies, which often relies on "smoke and mirrors, and a lot of talking. I won the skills you need in this business from him, from listening to him bullshit. I used to believe everything he said, and later I found out none of it was true. I didn't learn that part from him, though, the how-to-be-a-liar part. But all the rest, yes.""All the rest" must have included a rancorous desire to take on political appointees whom Marquardo judges ineffectual.

In a series of lengthy letters written to Gov. Jeb Bush and circulated among state legislators, Marquardo has asked that new legislation designed to promote film and television production in Florida be scrapped.

The legislation provides incentives that allow both film producers and the local businesses they hire to escape taxes when they work in Florida. Several other states, including North Carolina, Georgia, and California, also have such incentives, which in Florida can save filmmakers roughly $25,000 per $10 million in production costs.

The state system to promote the lucrative industry also includes a state film commissioner, whose $600,000 budget and $70,000 salary come from taxpayers, and 49 local film commissioners paid wholly or in part from county budgets to act as liaisons with the industry.

Marquardo's complaints about Florida stem from his conviction that state bureaucrats and politicians could make much more from the industry if they tried.

As it stands Florida's film industry is tied with Texas' as the third largest in the U.S., bringing about $600 million per year from film and television productions, commercials, and music videos. By comparison industry accountants report a $25 billion annual revenue in California and $5 billion in New York.

Marquardo says Florida could approach New York as a focal point over time but not without changing how the state lures production.

Producers and filmmakers "don't need tax breaks, although they're happy to take them, obviously. But they're already rich," insists Marquardo. Instead they should have up-front cash.

The tax incentives aren't large enough to become the deciding factor in a studio's decision to shoot a film in Florida, anyway. "People come here because it's Florida, and the weather's nice, and they'd rather shoot here than somewhere else."

Marquardo points to a Warner Brothers film called The Breakers, starring Sigourney Weaver and Gene Hackman and now shooting in Palm Beach, to make his point. The story is set partly in the famous Palm Beach hotel of the same name. The film would have been made here with or without the incentives, according to a film publicist speaking for Clifford Townsend, the executive producer. She would provide no other information about the movie.

According to Marquardo, politicians like the tax incentives as a way to help local businesses, which might luck into lucrative short-term contracts with film producers on location in Florida.

Such contracts mean tax-free work for them, too. Pulling out a list of wages paid on film sets in Florida, he points to the most common: a makeup artist, for example, can earn $2500 a week. A hairstylist gets $3000 a week; a costume designer can make $40,000 for 16 weeks; a dog-handler can make $30,000 for about 11 weeks, according to the list. "Why should they get to avoid taxes when everybody else has to pay them?" asks Marquardo.

Instead he proposes an "entertainment incentive fund" of millions to be collected by taxing the film industry. The money would provide cash incentives upfront that might attract even more filmmakers here, a system employed by both Canada and Australia, he notes. The Canadian system has reportedly boosted the industry there by five times since 1990, now creating $10.5 billion (Canadian) in annual revenue.

Marquardo also recommends creating incentives for private investors in the fund and extra funding for films that remain here in postproduction, paying for crew, restaurants, hotels, and other services.

In scalding language that made him no friends in the state film commissioner's office, Marquardo wrote to Bush: Commissioner Rebecca Mattingly "is in over her head. The advisory board is not experienced enough to advise her. The commission structure in the state is cluttered."

Bush ignored the Marquardo letters, but Mattingly, a former Disney executive, left Marquardo a "furious" telephone message, he says.

"Why should Mattingly make $70,000 a year to do nothing but travel around?" Marquardo asks, bristling at news that Mattingly has just returned from a Los Angeles trip to promote Florida's film industry.

Mattingly didn't provide requested records of her travel. Of Marquardo, she would only say, "He has a lot of ideas. So does everybody in the business." She wouldn't elaborate.

Miami-Dade Film Commissioner Jeff Peel says Mattingly is doing a good job.

"She's done a remarkable amount of work getting her house in order," he says, recalling that a state bureaucracy appointed by the late Gov. Lawton Chiles to promote films was cited for corruption and mismanagement and shut down before being restructured by Bush last year.

Peel, who earns $80,000 per year, says the current legislation on incentives "is the only thing we had a prayer of passing in the legislature. Marquardo has a point of view, and he's forceful about making it, but there is a reality he doesn't get. Given the political climate and the incentive the industry has been clamoring for, this is absolutely the right thing to do. It's a token. The competition is so fierce between us and Canada right now that we felt we had to do something."

Besides, Peel argues, Florida will never be Hollywood, and commercials and music videos, especially those aimed at a growing Latin market, are probably the wave of the future here.

Faced with that unsettling notion and waiting impatiently for calls from Seagal's company on a recent afternoon, Marquardo can't keep his hands off the telephone. He grabs it suddenly and begins punching numbers again. This time he calls the governor's office in Tallahassee. Demanding to speak to the governor or a senior aide, Marquardo is put on hold. Finally a receptionist tells him nobody is available and hangs up on him.

The young president of Fathom doesn't have long to fume about the snub, because the telephone rings with a call from California. Marquardo turns on the speakerphone. On the other end of the line is Goldfine.

Goldfine gets right down to business -- he proposes what he calls a "sweetheart deal." Seagal will agree to do Wild Game if Marquardo will agree to a pay or play of only $500,000 -- much less than the original $7 million demand. Marquardo dispenses with the pleasantries and cuts off Goldfine brusquely.

"Phil, shut up a minute. In the conference call [with Seagal] we made it way clear we were not willing to do a pay or play, and Steven was still willing to put together a letter of intent."

Goldfine replies that he just got off the phone with Seagal, who says "as of today he wants pay or play, or out."

Marquardo: "I'm not going to kiss his ass or acquiesce -- this is business, not art. I'm going to take a hit on this with Disney [the tentative distributor] if things go bad."

Marquardo says he tried to recruit Disney, an A list distributor whose support is an almost-sure guarantee of money, by announcing that Seagal may play the lead. His reputation is at stake, he says.

Although Goldfine protests, Marquardo brushes him off and hangs up.

"It doesn't look good," he admits. "Somebody's fucking around -- it's either [Goldfine] or Steven."

And indeed it isn't good, because a day later the deal falls apart. Marquardo decides to move on. He mails a script to Richard Gere's agent the next day.The broken deal with Seagal is one of many that occur in this business, Marquardo says. But another phone call later in the day will ease the sting.

Marquardo says his investors are particularly interested in a film to be called The Horseman, for which Kevin Costner might be well suited, in spite of the ominous title that recalls his flop The Postman.

"He's still got great cachet here and in Europe," Marquardo says, "and that means we'd have no problem finding distributors."

Eyeing his big board, Marquardo waits while the phone rings at the office of J.J. Harris, an agent for Costner. A male voice answers it with one word: Hello. Marquardo explains quickly who he is, says he's calling for Harris to talk about a script, and asks to speak to her.

"Who did you say you were?" the voice inquires.

"Marquardo, Fathom Pictures."

"Hold on," says the voice. Then it comes back on the line. "She's busy at the moment, maybe I could help. What was it you wanted?"

Marquardo briefly explains. He's a producer who has tentative financing for a film Costner might be interested in. He praises Costner, briefly describes the story -- some hotshot pilots are hired by a small country to train its air force and end up defending it themselves against a tyrant -- and says it would be perfect for the actor.

"Well, sure, I think he'd be interested in taking a look," says the voice.

Marquardo's expression suddenly shifts from thin-lipped impatience to smiling recognition. The voice is clear to him suddenly, a voice hard to distinguish in low tones at first over the speakerphone.

"Wait a minute," he says in a rare moment of surprise, "how do you know?"

"Because you're speaking to him," says Costner. "This is Costner."

"You're pulling my leg," replies Marquardo, momentarily at a loss.

Costner explains that he was waiting in the office for a meeting and just happened to pick up the phone, sort of kidding around. The two talk quickly about baseball films -- Marquardo praises Costner for "making the best films about baseball," a reference to Bull Durham, Field of Dreams, and For Love of the Game -- and Costner says he's heard about Marquardo as a former ball player.

"You couldn't have," says Marquardo, "you'd have to have been in Boston for about 15 minutes ten years ago and known everybody they looked at."

No, says Costner, he's heard about Marquardo in California as "that producer who once played ball."

The actor agrees to look at the script for The Horseman and asks when he can see it. "In about two minutes," says Marquardo, and makes good on his word. Fortuitously he has already mailed a copy of the script to the agent, who has it in her office.

Moments later Marquardo is talking to the agent's assistant, asking her to hand the script to Costner. Which apparently she does.

Marquardo hangs up, glowing. "All right," he says, "all right. We can do this."

For his little project, his company, it's been a very big day.

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