It may “take a village” to raise a child, but it can take that and more, over decades, to make a movie — especially a serious one. I commenced the first draft of a screenplay called “The Gardener” — opening Friday, first in New York and Los Angeles, and then across the country, as “A Better Life” — in 1989.
That was the year producer Paul Witt asked me to work on his idea about a Mexican illegal alien gardener in Los Angeles whose truck is stolen. I ended up doing a dozen or more drafts of the script over many years until I dropped out early in the current millennium and eventually got rewritten by another writer. The movie finally got shot last year.
But that is just part of the story.
The Roger L. Simon whose name is on “A Better Life” is not the same person who walked into Witt's office over 20 years ago.
Then I was known as a typical Hollywood liberal, even a far-left one. Today, I am CEO of the right-leaning websites Pajamas Media and PJTV and have been called, alternatively and often pejoratively, a neocon, a libertarian or a plain old conservative.
So it was with some trepidation that I went to a screening of the finished “A Better Life” a couple of months ago. Beyond the normal fears of a first writer seeing a completed film — would it be anything like he envisioned — there were political considerations. A sympathetic portrait of an illegal alien was fraught subject matter. The film could be construed as a liberal tract.
I am relieved to report that aesthetically and emotionally the completed film, at least to my admittedly biased eyes, was fine. The movie was everything Witt and I had initially imagined and more.
In my case, watching “A Better Life” challenged me to compare my 1989 positions on immigration with those I hold today. Back then, my views were so liberal I even favored open borders. And in a perfect world, I still would.
But the events of Sept. 11, 2001, have taught us that we live in a world that is in no way perfect. And my views on immigration have changed substantially. I am vastly more concerned, as many are, with border security.