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And you didn't speak a word of French, but you ended up writing four novels in French!
Yep. What happened was one night, I walked into this bar and I saw a newspaper and read this story about a murder. And I started talking and said, "I don't believe that shit! Sounds fishy." I was alone and I was talking away! I had realized that I read the newspaper.
All of the sudden you realized you could read French?
Yeah, I could speak it before, but now I was reading the fucking headlines! So I said something was fishy about this. So I go to this newspaper, and I told them I thought the story about the murderer was bullshit. Because I could speak French fluently. No, not French. Patois or slang or whatever. I was around beggars all day. "No no man, You know me, get off that shit." That's what I was talking in French. I talked French!
So what happened was I went to the head of this newspaper, and he said he'd make me a reporter of me, so go ahead and follow it. So I took my girlfriend, my Wednesday Girlfriend—Don't laugh. Look, I had no bread, I had a girlfriend for every day of the week. We were all poor, so I arranged that I had everybody's free day. When they had a day off, they'd come see me. Or I'd go see them, since I didn't have anywhere to live.
Girlfriend, it ain't funny. When you've got no place to bathe or something. So you'd go into these places where you could take a shower. I'd go in and wash everything I had. So then I'd have to walk until I got dry! That was a drag, you know what I mean.
Ah. Air dry?
You're walking around with all this steam coming off, like you've come out of Mars or something. And you walk fast, because you don't want to slow down till you get dry! That was some shit. Anyway... So I follow up this story. And I cracked the case! And after that, everybody started... "Mr Van Peebles." So that's what happened. So then there's a law that says a French writer can have a temporary director's card.
And through that you could get French funding, for films that were "artistically worthwhile but not commercially viable."
Yeah. That was the next step. And at that moment, Melvin the piece of shit was suddenly, "Melvin! How are you, buddy?"
So you wrote it specifically for French funding, right? You said it was a flattering to the French?
It was a fucking French fairytale! This black guy that's very race-conscious, but there's no racism in France. Bullshit. But the French love to see themselves that way.
But you were smart, you did it for the funding. But it's subtle, too. The way he's rewarded for being "A good black man", for being a "trustworthy."
Exactly. I was born at night but... Well what happened was one day these people wanted me to meet someone and introduced me to this very tall, elegant black man. "Oh you must know each other!" I don't know this guy, but he was very nice. And he asked what I did, and I told him I'm a writer but I'm working on this movie. "Oh, a documentary?" "No, it's got a story." "Oh how long is your film? 30 minutes?" "No it's a feature." "You're doing a feature film? Who's it for? Columbia or..." "No, it's a French film." This guy's eyes glaze over, and he goes, "Wait a minute, wait a minute. You're making a French feature?" And so I ask him what he did, and he was the curator of the San Francisco International Film Festival. So he asked me if it could be ready by October. And I asked him, is a pig's ass pork? Is the Pope Catholic? It WILL be ready. I will have the motherfucker ready.