The film business is rife with outlandish stories about the scars writers have incurred pumping their independent visions up onto the screen. But if you try comparing war wounds with “Permanent Midnight” author Jerry Stahl, who’s also the main character in Live Entertainment’s upcoming indie feature of the same name, you’ll lose every time.
Not that Stahl, a Pushcart Prize-winning short fiction writer and journalist (Playboy, Esquire, Buzz, the Village Voice) who crashed and burned a lucrative network TV writing career, is shy about exposing his self-inflicted lacerations. Heck, the guy managed to crawl back from what “Permanent Midnight” director David Veloz calls “a dark pit of self-abasement and humiliation” to pen a bestselling memoir about how drugs, depression and, to a lesser degree, television ravaged his life.
But ask Stahl himself if there’s an easier way for a writer’s life to end up on film and he’d be the first to listen to your ideas.
“Jerry will never cop to it,” Veloz says, “but he’s a sweet guy who happens to have been places most of us never visit in our nightmares. That sweetness is what I wanted to capture on film. And that’s why Jerry’s character (played by Ben Stiller) finds redemption through a love affair.”
A romance between the Stahl character and a recovering Arizona addict may motor Veloz’s film, but “Permanent Midnight,” the book, is a courtship of another sort. Stahl’s sharply written, Beat-type stream of thought, chronicles his frightening and at times hilarious (shooting up on the set of “Alf” and imagining the furry alien clawing at the men’s room door and wheezing out Stahl’s name), efforts to seduce that most tenacious of creative muses, heroin.
“Drugs made my planet real black and white,” Stahl notes, “as opposed to all the gray stuff that goes on in Hollywood and the straight world. With dope, you woke up every day and you went out to score. Crystal clear and very simple.”
So where does this unlikely indie success story go from here, now that sobriety has a firm hold on his life?
“I’m writing a novel called “Perv,” about a perpetually freaked-out 15-year-old, growing up in the late ’60s,” Stahl deadpans. “And Ben (Stiller) and I just finished an adaptation (bigscreen) of Budd Schulberg’s “What Makes Sammy Run?” That experience amazed me, because after writing for TV, I didn’t think there was a place in Hollywood for a guy like me. But working with Ben was fantastic.”
Of the demons that nearly claimed his life, and ironically propelled his writing career to a new level, Stahl is clear-eyed and wary, like a soldier at the gate: “Ultimately, ‘Permanent Midnight’ is more about the dark places in the human psyche than heroin, the train that gets you there,” Stahl whispers.