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HOLLYWOOD HUSTLE

HOLLYWOOD HUSTLE

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Just below its seedy surface, the Tennessee Waltz scandal has the unmistakable glow of Tinsel Town. Indicted state senator Kathryn Bowers worked on legislation that would have offered tax incentives to filmmakers, making Tennessee more competitive with showbiz-savvy Louisiana.

Memphis city school board member Michael Hooks Jr. circulated a press release saying that he met with representatives from FBI dummy company E-Cycle Management while attending the Miami International Film Festival because of his budding film career.

But of all the players in the Tennessee Waltz scandal, former lobbyist, convicted felon, and FBI informant Tim Willis may have been bitten hardest by the film bug.

Willis’ desire to break into the movie business was recounted last week by a number of media outlets. Much to the dismay of many in the Memphis film community, he was misidentified by WMC reporter and blogger Darrell Phillips as an “assistant to the director” for Craig Brewer’s Memphis-shot Hustle & Flow. Phillips’ mistake was an honest one. According to reports from the Memphis/Shelby County Film and Tape Commission, the impression that Willis was closely associated with Hustle & Flow was common. In the lead-up to Willis’ own film project, the commission received several calls wherein Willis was identified as Hustle’s assistant director. Though he wasn’t part of the creative team, the fallen-lobbyist-turned-FBI-front did have a connection to Brewer’s film: He briefly and unsuccessfully hustled product-placement deals for the Memphis-based film.

Earlier in 2005, Willis began work on a project, alternately identified in the media as a film and a TV pilot, featuring Judge D’Army Bailey as a tough cop named Mike Stone. Some scenes were shot in E-Cycle’s now-infamous office where state senator John Ford was caught on grainy surveillance video depositing a wad of bills into his back pocket.

A letter on file at the Film and Tape Commission suggests that BunZ Entertainment, Willis’ hastily formed production company, was disingenuous in its dealings with Memphis film professionals. Those working in pre-production to secure permits, cars, locations, etc., were never paid or reimbursed for out-of-pocket expenses.

The Flyer recently obtained a copy of Street Life, the screenplay Willis was shooting in the E-Cycle offices, and although it would be a stretch to suggest that it was based on Willis’ adventures with the FBI, there do seem to be a few interesting parallels.

The characters in Street Life have allegorical names. The story revolves around Jarez Green, a high-tech thief whose “banker,” a hedge-fund manager named Dan Turnkey, has turned up missing along with over a million dollars of Green’s dirty loot. Worse for Green, the man who fences his stolen goods (cleverly named Fence) has been nabbed by the authorities. What follows is a drama of shady doings, paranoia, and betrayal.

“My best man got popped,” Green tells one of his co-conspirators. “Who else I’m gonna sell the stuff too [sic], and it won’t be long before that cat starts talking ... He’s not so good under pressure ... That nigga FENCE ain’t the kinda cat who’ll do a stretch, especially when them folks put that pressure on ’em he won’t hold water long.”

Green is a crook with a heart of gold. All he wants is a yacht, like the one he once saw some “dudes partying on,” and enough money to live in comfort. He plans to give much of the proceeds from his “last heist” to a North Memphis community center. But danger lurks at every turn.

“You’re doing the right thing,” Officer Stone tells Nicole, his most valuable mole and informant. “We’ll protect you, I promise.”

“I’m off the hook now?” Nicole asks. “Almost,” Stone answers. “I need to catch [the perp] in the act, and then I need more names ... Get him to talk ... Get me what I need and you have nothing to worry about ... I promise.”

Calls to BunZ Entertainment about the screenplay went unanswered. Willis’ voice message claims he is on location shooting a movie.

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