Who: Ben Zion Baer leads a very sheltered life. A 22 year old Hasidic Jew living with his parents and working in his father’s kosher butcher shop, he has nothing to look forward to.
What: Working alongside best friend Manny, Ben Zion dreams of moving out of the family home and finding a cute girlfriend. Moving out is as much of a long shot as the cute girlfriend inasmuch as his dating life is dictated by Malka, the matchmaker hired by his parents. Without means, there’s not much chance of a decent match. The Baers are ground beef and Ben Zion is hoping for filet mignon (although flank steak would do).
Life takes an interesting turn one day, thanks to Manny who needs Ben Zion to substitute for him at his delivery job because he has to attend his sister’s quinceanera. Ben Zion had no idea that Manny even had another job, but reluctantly agrees to help.
A bad 80s apartment complex. Ben Zion approaches the number scribbled on the piece of paper Manny gave him and KNOCKS ON THE DOOR. SUNNY (20s), a bleached blonde with fake tits, answers. Ben Zion is caught off guard.
Ben Zion: Hi. I’m Ben Zion. Manny’s friend.
Sunny: Oh, hi. I’m Sunny. (tugging on his peyos) Cute. Like Shirley Temple.
Ben Zion pulls back, uncomfortable.
Sunny: Just gimme a sec.
Sunny retreats into her apartment. When she returns, she’s holding a pink bakery box. Ben Zion takes it.
Sunny: Aren’t you a gentleman?
Ben Zion: Thank you.
As he turns to leave:
Sunny: No. Thank you.
Ben Zion politely smiles and returns to his minivan. He places the bakery box in the back, but not before peeking inside to see an apple pie.
Ben Zion: (annoyed) He sent me here for this?!
Ben Zion climbs into his van, only to discover Sunny, sitting shotgun.
Ben Zion: What are you doing?
Sunny: You’re supposed to drop me off.
Ben Zion: I thought all I was supposed to do was pick up a package?
Sunny: (laughing) I’m the package. Didn’t Manny tell you?
Ben Zion: No. He failed to mention that.
Sunny: No biggie. All you gotta do is take me to the Safari Inn on Olive. It’ll be real quick. In and out in an hour... as long as he took his Viagra.
Ben Zion’s eyes widen, as he finally puts two and two together.
Ben Zion: Um, are you a... hooker?
Sunny defiantly shakes her head.
Sunny: Call girl. There’s a big difference.
And so begins Ben Zion’s initiation into the underworld. Despite his initial shock, Ben Zion treats Sunny (from Seattle, all irony intended) with respect and she recommends him to others. The price of his soul? $100 per delivery and well worth it. What he didn’t realize, however, was that Sunny’s employer expected a cut of the “delivery fee.”
Picked up by two thugs in a Prius (“My boy Anton hates wasting gas.”), they deliver him to the “Lasting Impressions” headquarters for a sitdown with the boss, Reggie.
INT. LASTING IMPRESSIONS - REGGIE’S OFFICE - LATER
TIGHT SHOT on Ben Zion, sitting on a teal leather sofa.
Ben Zion: (V.O.) Before I met Reggie, I had an idea of what a pimp should look like. He would be black, wear lots of gold jewelry, and carry a chalice. Sure, my preconceptions were cliché. But so were most people’s of Hasidim. Maybe pimps and Jews had more in common than I thought.
ARC AROUND to see REGGIE, a middle-aged white man with thinning hair and highlights. A far cry from Don “The Magic” Juan, he wears denim shorts, a dandruff covered Polo, and boat shoes hiked up on his desk.
Ben Zion: (V.O.) (CONT’D) I was wrong. Reggie resembled an insurance salesman. On his day off.
Reggie leans back in his chair, scrutinizing Ben Zion.
Reggie: So you’re the little shit who stole my cut? Do you know what happens to drivers who steal rides behind my back? (before he can answer) Anton! C’mere!
Thug #2/Anton saunters into the office, eating an eclair.
Reggie: What happens to assholes who go behind my back?
Anton squeezes the eclair, squirting custard onto Reggie’s oriental rug.
Reggie: Shit, Anton. Get the Resolve.
As Anton cleans his mess:
Ben Zion: Look, I don’t want any trouble.
Reggie: Then you’re in luck. Instead of having Anton kick your ass, I’m gonna offer you a job. One of my drivers just quit and Sunny said you have a minivan-- which’ll come in handy for this bachelor party. (wryly) Try fitting five girls in a Yaris.
Ben Zion: Um, thanks for the offer, but I already have a job.
Reggie: (suspicious) Who you drivin’ for? Gordon in Culver City?
Ben Zion: I don’t drive call girls. I work in the family business.
Reggie: For the Italians? Or Russians?
Ben Zion: (exasperated) Neither! I work for myself!
Reggie’s eyes narrow into steely slits.
Reggie: So you run your own ring.
Ben Zion: What? No! You misunderstood.
Reggie: I gotta hand it to you, kid. The costume’s a great cover.
Ben Zion: Are you kidding me?!
He’s not. Reggie SNAPS HIS FINGERS and Anton grabs Ben Zion’s collar.
Reggie: Stay away from my girls. You steal from me again... and it’s war.
Ben Zion is almost glad to be back at the Baer and Sons Kosher Meats. But fate has other things in store for Ben Zion when Crystal, another one of Reggie’s girls, calls for a “ride.” It is during this latest escapade that Ben Zion hooks up (pun intended) with his business partner – Malka the Matchmaker. For what, Malka reasons, is a matchmaker than a pimp for her clients? Better she should make some real money and have some fun for once in her life. As for Ben Zion? He’ll have that apartment deposit in no time, as long as his father doesn’t get wise to the fact that he and Malka are running their stable out of the kosher meat market in the evenings (and, God forbid, on the Sabbath).
No Meaner Place: Like nothing else I’ve ever read, Charmelo and Snyder have hit this out of the proverbial box – that one that all the development execs are always talking about. As side-splitting and offensive to all, “Meat Market” is as blasphemously hilarious as that 1990s British television series, “Father Ted,” about two priests exiled to a desolate Irish island for sins, embezzlement and moronic behavior.
It can only be fear that prevented this show from being made (so far) – fear of religious reprisal, fear of the unknown, fear of the different, fear of (fill in the blank) – because the originality of the characters and situations spell water cooler buzz.
(Note: Nicole resembles Carolyn Jones’ Morticia in beauty and delivery; Eric is her manic Gomez)
Nicole: First off, I have to tell you that I love your name. I’m obsessed with Valley of the Dolls and Neely O’Hara is one of my favorite characters.
Neely: (laughing) You must have been a gay man in an earlier life. Long ago I worked in a gay medical practice specializing in HIV. All the boys loved my name for its Valley connection. We bonded over my name and “The Wizard of Oz” (I got all the Dorothy references).
I always ask everyone the same question, but in your case there’s going to be some emphasis on it. Where the hell did this come from??? Where did you guys come up with this idea?
Nicole: (all laughing loudly) As opposed to some of the other things we’ve written, we actually have quite a good answer for that. This is actually very much inspired by a true story.
Four years ago I was on a trip to NY and having drinks with a friend of ours who had moved from Los Angeles to NY. We were knocking them back and he said, “I have to tell you something.” And I braced myself. “What do you have to tell me? I have a feeling I’m not drunk enough yet.”
And he proceeded to tell me that when he was living in LA and trying to be an actor, he drove prostitutes to make money. Now this is a nice Jewish boy from Long Island, college educated, not who you’d expect to be driving around hookers. I was taken aback and said, “One more round of drinks. Tell me everything.” And he did.
The second I left him I called Eric and I said “I have our next script idea.” And Eric said, “Great!” But Eric, who loved the idea, pointed out that it wasn’t enough. He couldn’t just be a nice Jewish boy from Long Island; he had to be something more. So he became Hasidic. (Neely guffaws)
Neely: (still laughing) It is, probably, the most politically incorrect script that I’ve read; or at least it’s certainly one of the most politically incorrect. And that would include a script that I covered by Mark Wilding and Mark Legan called “The Cell” which was about a terrorist cell of guys planted in Chicago who assimilate too much.
You were aware (laughing again) of how…
Eric: …politically incorrect…
Nicole: I don’t think it is politically incorrect.
Eric: I don’t either. I loved the idea. First of all, the juxtaposing worlds, and secondly, you know, I mean, I just think there’s just something great to be said about the repression by religion, something most people who have been raised in religious households can certainly relate to. But outside of that, it’s about this young boy who’s on this journey and discovers himself in this world of sex for money.
Nicole: That’s it! I don’t know, but when I hear “politically incorrect” I think offensive and maybe I shouldn’t connect the two, but it was never our intention to offend anyone. We were trying to write it as pure and true as possible. And make people laugh. It’s interesting when you say “politically incorrect;” maybe we just don’t think about that when it comes to our writing.
Eric: But we don’t think that’s a bad thing either.
Neely: And I like that response because, much like “Book of Mormon” on Broadway which is done almost affectionately, those who believe in that religion, regardless of what they’re saying publicly, are going to find it offensive because it is about orthodoxy and the repression that it brings.
Neely: I had so many laugh-out-loud moments with your script and the whole time I was going, “Oh my god! How did they even come up with this?!” (Eric laughs). But in terms of political correctness, or rather political incorrectness, from a scale of 1 to 10, this is as close to a 10 as you can get, at least as far as certain groups will be concerned.
Eric: We’ll take that as a compliment.
Neely: I would. (laughing) So which one of you is versed in Hasidic Judaism?
Eric: Not me, I was raised Catholic. But I certainly know about repression.
Neely: Well, I have to admit that I was looking at “Charmelo” and I’m thinking, “No. Not him.” And Snyder?
Nicole: (meekly nodding) Yes. I am Jewish, but not Hasidic. I was raised around Hasidic people but I’m a Reform Jew; so I’m at the other end of the spectrum.
Eric: But Nicole and I love to eat in restaurants in Hasidic areas. We’re quite fond of those neighborhoods. (laughing)
Neely: You really know the Fairfax district.
Eric: Oh yes. We certainly do.
Neely: All I have to say is that if there’s a hell (even if there is no afterlife in Judaism), you’re both going there for sure. (all laugh)
Nicole: That’s fine. It’ll be more fun.
Eric: Yeah. (laughing)
Neely: Ben Zion is the sweetest, most frustrated protagonist ever. From his failed attempts at masturbation; his lack of success as a butcher (because it’s tough to cut meat when it disgusts you)…
Neely: …and his lack of worldliness really created a bubble that was ripe for pricking. I assume that’s exactly how you set it up.
Eric: Certainly. Again, it relates to being able to sympathize or empathize with this character, I think all of us are repressed to a certain extent. I wanted people to be fond of him. This was somebody who was shackled, in this case by his religion…
Nicole: …and not just religion, but also by family.
Eric: Yes. Family. Whatever preconceived notions his family had for his fate, was something I certainly could relate to.
Ever since I was a kid, my grandma used to say that I had a surgeon’s hands. So, they basically brainwashed me into thinking that I was going to be a doctor. I had gone all through school thinking I was going to be a doctor and I was pre-med in college. I even applied to Med School and then at the last minute I bailed because I had finally realized that I didn’t want to be a doctor; my family wanted me to be a doctor. So, I think that’s something that everyone can relate to. That’s what rooted me in that character.
Eric: Expectations. Yes.
Neely: Speaking of expectations, why don’t you describe your mothers to me.
Eric: (laughing very loudly) My mom doesn’t look like that, that’s for sure. (more laughing) I don’t think either of our mothers looks like aging call girls (Neely laughs) - for better or for worse (laughing). Is that a good thing or a bad thing? (all laughing)
Nicole: Go ahead with your mother.
Eric: She is a…
Nicole: …and remember she might be reading this.
Eric: …passionate, opinionated, loving Italian mom.
Neely: And Nicole?
Nicole: Wow, Eric, that was good!
My mother is a glamorous, devoted, slightly naggy but wonderful Jewish mother and grandmother.
Neely: And yes, you’ll send it to both of them. I asked the question, not because it’s juxtaposed with Crystal, of course, but because this really is a lot about family and family expectations.
Now, you really nailed the Fairfax area of Los Angeles. It’s that Kosher district of bakeries and butcher shops, tchotki stores and hip restaurants - the juxtaposition of chic and kitsch, expensive and down-at-the-mouth, religious and heathen. It really is pretty unique, I think. Just recently I had dinner at Animal. It’s a hip new restaurant specializing in meat – exotic cuts and lots and lots of pork, including pig tails. You gotta love the location of this restaurant.
Eric: I do love it.
Neely: It’s across the street from Canter’s Deli. I mean… really… a haven of pork in a kosher enclave?
Eric: (laughing) Yeah.
Neely: So what brought you to the Fairfax district in the first place?
Eric: Like I said, Nicole and I love to eat there. On top of that, and again, I think the reason why that’s always stood out for me is exactly what you said. It’s the juxtaposition of all that - of the uber-righteous and the heathens. You have Farr’s, you have Julie Newmar who owned “Eat a Pita” that was right across the street from…
Nicole: It’s gone.
Eric: …which is gone. We used to love it. It’s kind of like caught in this time capsule in the middle of Los Angeles. Places like that I love. I just love anywhere where there’s juxtaposition.
Nicole: And especially if you’re going to tell a story about a religious Jew in Los Angeles… it seemed like a natural location. It was Eric who said we should write about the Orthodox community. Eric is fearless when it comes to writing about subjects that he’s not necessarily familiar with, he likes to learn. Whereas I’m the opposite. If I haven’t been to a place, if I don’t know the community, I don’t want to go there. But I think it worked out well because I taught him Yiddish (Eric laughs) and we had a lot of laughs doing it.
Eric: I learned “beshert” and I learned, how do you say matchmaker?
Eric: Shadchan, yeah. I learned “meeskite;” that was my favorite, “meeskite.”
Neely: There’s even a song in “Cabaret”…
Eric: Oh, is there? About meeskites?
Neely: … yes, it’s called “Meeskite.”
Neely: Do matchmakers even still exist?
Nicole: They do! There’s a whole reality show about the millionaire matchmaker. Do you know the show?
Eric: It’s on Bravo.
Neely: I don’t watch reality.
Eric: And she is a Shadchan. She’s like a nice Jewish girl from, I think, Miami originally.
Neely: I meant this kind (the Ben Zion kind) of matchmaker. Of course there are matchmakers for rich guys…
Nicole: But I believe that this specific woman is from…
Eric: …a lineage of matchmakers. Her mom was a matchmaker and her grandma was. So they still exist.
Neely: My Jewish grandmother, the youngest of seven children, was the only one who refused to have a matchmaker. She had found “the love of her life” and was insistent upon marrying him. And she had the most miserable marriage of any her brothers and sisters.
Neely: Yes. Yes. Absolutely.
Nicole: Wow. That’s very interesting.
Neely: So tell me more about the Manny character. I loved that Manny asked Ben Zion to deliver for him the first time so that he could go to his sister’s quinceanera. I mean, these are ordinary guys from very different backgrounds casually mixed up in extraordinary circumstances.
Eric: I love the Latin culture in Southern California as well. There are a lot of things that are similar between repressed Catholics and repressed Orthodox Jews. It’s just different arenas but very similar mandates and overall themes in the culture. So we felt like it was a good match and it made sense from a geographical point…
Nicole: Yes. It’s very true to…
Eric: …Southern California.
Nicole: … it’s just so Southern California that these two cultures would intersect and these two boys would become best friends and get into trouble together.
Neely: Are you guys from here?
Nicole: No. I’m from Miami.
Eric: And I’m from Chicago.
Neely: Where in Chicago did you grow up?
Eric: I grew up on the south side.
Neely: Where on the south side?
Eric: It’s a small city called Calumet City. Do you know it?
Neely: I do. I grew up in Flossmoor.
Eric: I went to Marion High School.
Neely: You went all the way, that far south, to go to Marion High School?
Eric: Um hmm.
Neely: I was luckier. I went to Homewood-Flossmoor and only had to go to catechism on Wednesdays. I spent most of that time in the priest’s office for my “unorthodox” opinions.
Eric: That’s funny. Some of my friends went to HF. That’s crazy.
Neely: There are so many people out here from Chicago and you ask that question and they’re always from the north side.
Eric: I know. But not me. One of the executives on the show that we’re working on right now is from Dalton, (note: another south side suburb) which is crazy, right? Jane Lynch is from Dalton. Did you know that?
Neely: No. I didn’t know that.
Eric: Born and raised.
Neely: David Mamet was born in Flossmoor (or at least that’s what his Wikipedia page used to say). He’s in my age range, so I went back through all my yearbooks, but they must have moved before he started school.
Eric: That’s hilarious.
Nicole: You couldn’t find him?
Neely: Nope. Unh huh. Neither he nor Lynn.
So, back to topic… at the root of it, you had the two most common structures: fish-out-of-water and what I like to call “the avalanche of circumstance” – where the pebble triggers the rock slide. (Eric laughs). Were you thinking “fish-out-of-water” or just…
Nicole: We tend to write a lot of fish-out-of water stories. I don’t know, but maybe it’s just the nature of pilots – writing a premise pilot and starting out in a new place and a new situation for a character – but I guess it’s fish-out-of-water and double lives that fascinate us…
Eric: Those are the two things that permeate almost everything that we write. Our new series is about double lives. A couple of things that we’ve written in-between “Meat Market” and “Ringer” were also about double lives. So we just love that theme of duplicity and people doing things behind closed doors that you wouldn’t assume that they’d do…
Nicole: …and also people being thrust into new situations.
Eric: Yes. Both are ripe for trauma, conflict and betrayal.
Neely: In its own way, this is also a story about taking control of your life. So what’s going to happen to Ben Zion?
Eric: (laughing) Lots of things! I mean, I think when we set out to write the pilot, it was a liberation tale and about somebody who, over the course of the series, is going to find his voice, assert his voice and maybe even become a “Scarface” of sorts.
Nicole: Well, yeah. One of our favorite shows on television is “Breaking Bad.” I love that it’s about a very ordinary, simple family man who has basically become “Scarface.” And that was one of our intentions in creating Ben Zion and giving him Malka as a partner – the two most…
Eric: …unlikely people…
Nicole: …that join forces and become pimps. That’s where we wanted to go with these characters.
Neely: Who else were we going to meet and which of the girls was going to stay in the picture?
Nicole: Crystal for sure was going to stick around.
Eric: Yeah. We liked Crystal.
Nicole: Crystal and… Sunny…
Eric: …Sunny from Seattle (laughing)…
Nicole: …Sunny from Seattle (all laugh).
Eric: I think when we had written the original draft – this has gone through a couple of different incarnations –we had a younger call girl who was going to serve as a love interest for Ben Zion…
Nicole: …and that was full of possibilities…
Eric: …and that may still come into play. The foil to her would obviously be the girl that he was set up with by Malka the matchmaker.
Nicole: We’ll meet rival pimps…
Nicole: …Reggie’s not the only one. And more call girls; more johns.
Neely: I love the fact that there’s a prostitution ring in Culver City. (all laugh)
Nicole: They’re everywhere.
Neely: I truly did love this. Did you guys write this as a spec or as a writing sample?
Nicole: A writing sample. No one would pay us to write this.
Neely: Only because nobody had the imagination.
Eric: But we tried selling it. We came close a couple of places.
Nicole: No. I’m just saying that no one would ever say “We have an assignment and could you please write this.”
Neely: To whom did it go?
Eric: It went to Fox; it went to Comedy Central…
Nicole: Fox, HBO, Showtime, Comedy Central…
Eric: Spike. Spike as well, because remember Lisa Ullmann?
Nicole: Yeah. I think that’s who it was.
Eric: And I think that was it.
Neely: How close do you think it came?
Nicole: I don’t know. That’s always hard to say.
Neely: I know… “Oh we love it. We love it.”
Nicole: Especially since we went out with it three years ago…
Eric: It was longer than three years ago.
Nicole: …we wrote it four years ago, but I think it was shopped three years ago. And having just gone through the process of selling a pilot, making a pilot and getting it picked up to series - not even on the same network that we sold it to - there are so many steps in the process. It’s so crazy and overwhelming. So to say it came close… who really knows? That said, it was extremely well received.
Neely: Surely this had to have been viewed as offensive by some. Maybe they didn’t tell you…
Neely: …even though it does fall into the Bette Midler “fuck ‘em if they can’t take a joke” category. Were there any notes worth talking about; or any notes at all?
Eric: At the time we had… what was the production company that was on board? Was it Fox 21?
Nicole: No, it was Nancy Cotton, right?
Eric: It’s the production company that does “The Killing.” They were our onboard producers at the time. And they embraced it for what it was; they didn’t want us to dilute anything. They didn’t want us to buffer any of the jokes. I think it was either you take it or you leave it. Ultimately, I think Nicole and I have always been of the mindset that we’re going to put our best foot forward, and if you love it, great, if you hate it, that’s fine too; but at least you have a strong reaction. I’d rather somebody hate something than to be completely ambivalent about it.
Neely: I understand completely, because that’s our touchstone on friendship. You don’t have like the same things but you do have to have an opinion. Nothingness is so much worse. I had a friend in college you used to say that if you didn’t have an opinion, you might as well be a carrot.
Nicole and Eric: Absolutely.
Eric: Indifference is the worst.
Nicole: You know, very few people (that told us) were offended by it. I think, you had one friend who was offended, or found it offensive, but…
Nicole: …we did not get that reaction.
Neely: Well now that you have a show on the air, “Ringer,” and we’ll talk about that later, maybe somebody will look at this again. It is truly brilliant.
Eric: Thank you.
Nicole: Thank you very much.
Neely: Too much to ask and too little space. Let’s continue this conversation.
More mayhem to come… TO BE CONTINUED