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“Bob, I’m a bad secretary,” Josh confesses to his boss in the movie “Haiku Tunnel.” But Bob Shelby, a heavyweight tax lawyer, refuses to let his staffer quit — even after Josh tells him he’s been writing his novel while he should be doing his work. “I can see that you have an artistic temperament,” Bob tells him. “Now just go back to your desk. Settle down. Focus. And catch up.” Sounds like a nice bit of Hollywood fiction. Except “Haiku Tunnel,” a comedic look behind the scenes at a large law firm, is based on the real-life adventures of a former San Francisco legal secretary. Josh Kornbluth, who co-wrote the screenplay, spent a year and a half at San Francisco’s Pillsbury Madison & Sutro supporting tax lawyer James Canty, the inspiration for Bob Shelby. The film, which stars Kornbluth as a fictionalized version of himself, parallels closely his experiences at the firm. The real Kornbluth, 41, left Pillsbury in 1990 and has since made his living touring the country performing one-man shows. The screenplay for “Haiku Tunnel” was developed out of one of his monologues, in collaboration with younger brother Jacob Kornbluth. The resulting film had audiences at last month’s Sundance Film Festival in Utah howling with laughter — so much so that festival organizers added a fifth screening. Now, producers say, a major studio is close to signing it to a deal for national and international distribution. That should come as welcome news to many lawyers and legal secretaries, who are, according to the film’s producer Brian Benson, among the most zealous of Kornbluth’s fans. Legal secretaries, Benson said, have told him that “settle down, focus, catch up” has become a favorite mantra to be scrolled across law-office screen savers. “Haiku Tunnel” offers a glimpse of the factory-like strangeness of a huge law firm through the eyes of the “poor, unstable and white” Josh, who makes his rounds as a temp in the big firms of tongue-in-cheek-fictional “San Franclisco.” The firm he goes to work for is Schuyler & Mitchell, or S&M. The unfortunate double-entendre inherent in the firm’s initials again recalls Pillsbury, known as PMS until its Jan. 1 merger with New York’s Winthrop, Stimson, Putnam & Roberts. S&M’s head legal secretary, Marlina D’Amore, is an expensively dressed Cruella DeVil with a well-coifed bob. An arctic wind howls every time she passes Josh outside Bob’s office. His second day on the job, she corners Josh by the coffeemaker. “Bob likes you,” she says, as the camera zooms in on her stern and sneering face. “He wants to know if you want to go … PERM.” “Sorry,” he tells her, terrified by the prospect of committing, “I don’t go perm in my first week.” Kornbluth reserves his most arch parody for the lawyers, who justify their use of speakerphones as a paranoid avoidance of “kissing” their colleagues on a handheld phone. He describes some neurotic young attorneys as “litigators on crack.” His description of the hierarchy of lawyers at the firm is particularly amusing. Associates, Kornbluth says, are like “frightened puppies frantically hunting for billable rabbits,” while seasoned partners are like “big dogs with spikes who already know where all the fat billable rabbits are” and thus don’t have to scramble so desperately. Summer associates, he says, are barely pupa. But the characters ultimately humanized for the audience are the other legal secretaries, who embrace Josh — but only after he “goes perm” — and help him out of the hole he digs for himself thanks to his paralyzing inability to mail 17 important letters for Bob Shelby. “To me, it’s an interesting irony when his greatest deficiencies are really within himself, and when the seemingly stifling people around him turn out to be his salvation,” Kornbluth said about his film character in a recent interview. But what is not reconciled in “Haiku Tunnel,” says Pillsbury’s Canty — and where Kornbluth’s former boss takes issue with the movie — is the reason why the film’s boss puts up with Josh’s tardiness and abuse of workplace privilege. “Josh was incredibly smart, and he did some pretty important things for me,” said Canty about Kornbluth. That was “the only reason,” Canty said, that he was willing to be so permissive with him. He said Kornbluth, who studied math and physics at Princeton, was able to help him build spreadsheets to organize content for clients, and used his journalistic skills to help Canty edit and enhance many of his written documents. “He’s an overly considerate, overly indulgent boss,” Kornbluth said of Canty, with whom he still stays in touch. Pillsbury lawyers Timothy Burns, Laura Watts and Toni Rembe had bit parts in the film, and tax partner Julia Divola helped convince Pillsbury client AirTouch to allow the film to be shot in the company’s since-demolished downtown offices. And even though Canty once permitted Kornbluth to adjust his schedule to accommodate late nights doing his monologue on a Berkeley stage, he had no idea how funny he was until he saw a recent pre-screening of “Haiku Tunnel.” “He wasn’t hilarious in the normal give-and-take of the office,” he said about his time with Kornbluth. “If you asked him something, you could get a funny response, but it was a normal relationship in the office. “I knew he was funny,” Canty said, “but I didn’t realize he had this gift.”

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