After a few very kind words about my activism as documented in How to survive a plague, he asked me about the script problems. I tried to explain the history of AIDS denial, which involved describing quite a bit of the overall history of AIDS as well. Without this broader knowledge of the crisis, it would take time for him to understand just how serious the script issues were.
Fortunately, he immediately made it clear that he wanted to get it right. “I want this movie to be beautiful, and I want it to be true,” he repeated. But I could tell that most of his knowledge of AIDS came from the script itself, which he was led to believe was the real Woodroof story. He immediately suggested setting up a four-way conference call with me, him and the two writers, Craig Borten and Melisa Wallack.
Richard Jefferys furiously helped me on Google everyone involved in the movie, but we found very little information about the writers. Both were apparently based in Los Angeles and in their forties. Borten had no previous screenwriting credit. Wallack had a previous screenplay project, having written and co-directed Meet Bill, a 2007 film starring Aaron Eckhart.
Vallée was already in New Orleans, living in a rented apartment as he researched possible locations for the filming. He suggested a Skype call for later that night. Borten wasn’t available at the time, so we called Vallée, me and Wallack.
After friendly introductions and courtesies, I started explaining AIDS Denialism 101 again, starting with Duesberg and ending with Mbeki. I pointed out that Ron Woodroof was not a Holocaust denier. After being asked about the toxicity of AZT, Woodroof was quoted in a 1992 article. Dallas Morning News article saying, “I don’t see how anything can be more toxic than HIV itself.
They let me ramble on for ten or fifteen minutes with just one or two questions from Vallée. I had no idea what Wallack was doing with this story, but once it finally weighed in, it all became clear in an instant.
“Well,” she said, “I can’t believe you would say derogatory things about a genius like Peter Duesberg.”
DING-DING-DING! My eyes widened. My nostrils dilated. Our negationist had just revealed himself. In a few seconds, we are shouting at each other. “You can’t be serious,” I shouted at one point.
“I have met and interviewed Duesberg, as well as other experts who agree with him,” she shouted back. “Their story is extremely important to tell! “
Our screaming match only intensified. Vallée looked stunned, not quite understanding what was going on.
And then the AIDS gods stepped in: the Skype call stopped. Vallée called me back immediately on his cell phone. The power had been cut in his apartment. He offered to use three-way calling on his cell phone to wake up Wallack.
“No, no, no,” I replied, “I never need to talk to her again. Jean-Marc, Melisa is an AIDS denier, and she added denial to your script, even though it didn’t. was never a part of Ron Woodroof’s Amazing Life. The number one drug distributed by his buying club was contraband ddC, a drug very similar to AZT. Ask Melisa why her script doesn’t mention ddC. I I’m going to tell you why: because that would destroy his denialist scenario.
I could tell he was a little frozen at this point, not knowing enough to pass judgment anyway.
“Jean-Marc, I know it’s a lot to take in, but what you do next could make or break this movie,” I continued. “I implore you to seek out any opinions you can find in the next twenty-four hours – find others who have lived through the early years of AIDS and know its history. Find doctors or experts. Contact some national AIDS groups. If you want a true movie, you have a job ahead of you. Don’t just trust me or Melisa, because one of us is right and the other is crazy, and you have to figure out which one of us to listen to.