About a decade ago, Trent Harris went to Hollywood with the dream of writing and directing his own feature films.
Now, 10 years later, he finally has that first feature in the can, and he's come back home to give it an old-fashioned world-premiere sendoff Friday, June 7, at the Tower Theater.Harris is best known locally for the eccentric short videos he made for "Extra," a TV news magazine program that aired on KUTV Ch. 2 during the early '80s. His new feature film is similarly eccentric, a comedy called "Rubin and Ed," which he wrote, directed and filmed in Utah. It's the story of two nitwits thrown together by fate and a frozen cat.
That's right, a frozen cat - as in, a dead cat resting in the freezer until a suitable burial place can be decided upon.
"Actually, you would be surprised how common that is," Harris said during an interview this week. "I've run across it twice myself - and I've had people say to me, `You know, I had a friend who did that.' Really."
In "Rubin and Ed," the frozen cat belongs to Rubin, a young man with long hair, thick glasses, broad-striped bell-bottom pants and large platform shoes who apparently suffers from agoraphobia, the fear of open places. (Bill Murray suffers similarly in the current film "What About Bob?")
Ed, on the other hand, wears a bad toupee and a cheap leisure suit, and he's trying to convince himself that he's on the road to success with a seminar, "Power Through Positive Real Estate."
They meet when Rubin is told by his mother to go out and find a friend and Ed is trying to recruit people for the seminar. Before they know it, they're lost in the middle of the desert with Rubin's cat quickly thawing in a cooler.
Rubin is played by Harris' longtime friend Crispin Glover, a quirky actor best known for his roles as Michael J. Fox's father in "Back to the Future" and as the leader of a group of alienated teens in "River's Edge."
Ed is played by Howard Hesseman, best known as Dr. Johnny Fever on the "WKRP in Cincinnati" TV series and for several seasons on "Head of the Class."
Together they make one of oddest odd couples in movie history.
And "Rubin and Ed" is a film born of frustration because Harris got tired of seeing Hollywood deals go awry.
After graduating from the University of Utah, and spending a few years at "Extra," Harris went to Los Angeles to attend the American Film Institute. He was there three years and made the very well-received short "The Orkly Kid," which starred Glover, then a struggling young actor. It won several awards and opened some doors, and Harris spent the next several years writing scripts and trying to get his first feature credit.
"I was mixed up with a project for Warren Beatty called `Honeybear, I Think I Love You,' which Beatty had had written for him many years ago. Sean Penn (a friend from AFI) wanted to star and recommended that I direct. It dragged on for four months and finally it evaporated. I could never figure out why."
Meanwhile, to help make ends meet, Harris worked for the National Geographic Society, making documentaries, where he found the stuffy atmosphere creatively stifling, and free-lanced for NBC, primarily on the "Today" show.
After more than 10 years of struggling and watching movie deals come and go, Harris finally decided to make it happen himself. "I decided to write a script that was so simple I could come back to Utah, make it on 1/2-inch video and just make the movie - just make a movie! So I wrote `Rubin and Ed' and gave it to my agent. He said, `This is the worst thing I've ever read and I don't even want to represent you anymore,' and they kicked me out of the agency.
"But three weeks later I sold it (as a 35mm film project), got a new agent and said, `Things are looking up.' "
That wasn't the end of his problems, however.
Harris started filming in Utah with his small cast and crew, along with his stars, Glover as Rubin and, in the beginning, Peter Boyle as Ed. But two weeks into shooting, Boyle suffered a stroke, which brought filming to a halt.
"Rubin and Ed" was a little independent production, budgeted at a paltry $1.25 million for a five-week shoot, and Harris was afraid this project would also evaporate if he didn't act fast.
"We had to obviously scramble to cast it again. So I ran back to Los Angeles and he (Howard Hesseman) came in and read and seemed real funny, and so we cast him. It was hard to make the adjustment, but now I can only imagine Howard in the role."
The only screenings of "Rubin and Ed" for a public audience so far have been at the recent film festival in Washington. "It was shown twice and people were lined up around the block. Cris-pin has a huge following, which I didn't know. It sold out both shows and it was a big theater."
Harris said two distributors have expressed interest in the film and he expects to see it released nationally this year - possibly before the end of summer. But that doesn't erase his anxieties about the business.
"I still feel like I'm struggling. I've always had people interested in what I was doing, but whether they write out checks is another question.
"The Hollywood system is based on flattery and dangling carrots, and you finally catch it and it turns out to be a rubber carrot.
"When you get one feature done it should be easier to get the next one. They know you can do it now; they know you can actually do it on time for that amount of money and it will make sense at the end.
"But it's not an easy thing. It's like running on a treadmill at 70 miles an hour."