Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Hollywood moment

Hollywood Moment #1: I’m in a luxurious top-of-a-hill mini estate wearing a leather coat and sandals. It’s 1 am. The temperature is 85 degrees. Out of the window I can see a glowing, digital billboard on a far away street advertising the latest films. Beyond that, the dark sea. Somewhere in between here and there is my house, where two hours earlier I had been browsing random part time jobs available in Mexico…and Costa Rica…anywhere but Los Angeles doing anything but making films.

My laptop computer is actually on my lap because the table is occupied by not one or two, but three movie producers. They are watching footage of a partially completed film. A partially completed film is sort of like a partially completed space launch in that the results were almost certainly disastrous. Either you launched or you didn’t launch. In fact, my very presence in this room, with these three movie producers, is ample evidence that the situation is dire and calls for extremely desperate measures. This should have been clear when one of the producers said, “Who are you?” when he met me.

The cursor on my screen blinks after the words “Sexy…Angels…striptease…like “Garden State” but better.” These and other notes were taken in the heat of a brainstorming session moments earlier. I’m acting secretary but have actually been summoned to this meeting to perform a magic trick: write a new movie around the existing footage. What kind of footage are we talking about?

“This…this is shit.” Exclaims Big Producer as he reviews a scene. One need not even watch the scene to agree with him, such is his confidence, though he is absolutely correct in this case.

B.P. points a finger and continues, “What is this? Oh, no. That’s got to go.”

The producer, Small Producer, who invited me, casually waves her hand. “Him? He’s gone. We fired him.”
S.P. is talking about the actor on the screen who, laying in a hospital bed, reaches out to his son, reaching for emotional closure. The scene is awful.

“Good.” B.P. is older and more experienced. More experienced, in this case, means he has a multi-million dollar film with a large cast of A-list actors in theaters as we speak. In fact, his movie is on the digital billboard I can see out the window. The only experience the other two producers have is what we are watching.

“That’s not bad, but who the fuck picked her wardrobe?”

I squint at the laptop where the lead actress strolls down a street wearing a wardrobe that I would describe as “contemporary flirt”.

“Oh, I know,” says the quiet producer, who probably picked the wardrobe herself. Q.P. has been text messaging someone on her cell phone for the last half an hour and is not even in a position to see the screen. She is, however, in a position that allows me a view of her ample and unbelievably fake tits. She probably wears a size two but her tits are a size “holy shit”. B.P's eyes dart from her tits to the screen.

B.P. points at me without looking in my direction... “Take this down: ‘Leather. We open with leather. She wakes up in a bed with a guy…with two guys. She goes to the bathroom. Looks in the mirror. Bam!”

I type “Leather…sex…2 guys…bathroom.”

Then I say, “Her wings have been cut off. She’s an angel and she’s lost her wings. We see the scars. She has to earn them back.”

Silence followed by an outburst of suggestions.

“And tattoos. A cat tattoo. A black cat. Nine lives. And black fishnet stockings. Torn.”

“Are the two guys dead?” asks someone.

“No. She just fucked them. Or they could be dead. Then the bathroom. Then the cat thing.”

“Oh. But they could die later. Right? I know a hot actor.”

“This scene is too dark. It’s too dark. You can’t see anything.”

“How about this…we open in a desert. The guy is in a bed in the middle of the desert. A door is hovering there. He examines the door. Then he opens it.”

Someone says they know a designer who can do a poster of a cat. No one blinks or explains that we’re getting ahead of ourselves, that a poster of a cat isn’t a priority. I feel like I did in High School when a group project got so complicated and out of control that the only way for it to be finished would be if everyone did some work. We all know how that turned out.

But I tell myself that this isn’t High School. This is Hollywood. This is how movies get made. True, I’m the only one taking notes on this critical brainstorming session, and my notes consist of “Leather…sex…2 guys” but I tell myself that we’re making progress, we’re getting somewhere. This is good stuff.

B.P. looks at Q.P and says, “What nationality are you?”

I think, what a great line. Why can’t I think of lines like that to use on hot women? What a loser I am. I deserve to be alone.

Q.P. doesn’t look up from her cell phone. She’s playing it very cool, like she flirts with movie producers on a daily basis, which actually turns out to be true. Her features are indeed exotic, but her accent is pure Pasadena.
She says, “Half Armenian, Half Russian.”
B.P. looks at her tits and says, “Which half?”
Between lines like this and his Mazerati parked outside this guy must get so much ass it isn't even funny.
Q.P. grins. “My father is Russian.”

I notice S.P. chewing on her pencil. When she called me several hours earlier (as I clicked on a link for “Prep Chef – No experience needed”) she was even more desperate than me.

“Oggy. I’m going to put you on a conference call with B--- P----. He just produced B----. Ok?

“Uh, about what?”

“About this movie. He wants to co-produce. He said he read your coverage and thinks it is exactly right.”

I felt a flush of pride. My coverage on the movie in question was submitted months before production began. In my innocence, I had told the truth, that the script was incomplete, the plot was inane, the dialogue was obvious and polyanna, the dénouement unsatisfying. It was not ready, I had written. The central concept was completely undeveloped. “If X is dead, then why is his afterlife boring and mundane?” I had written. But my advice had been ignored. “Don’t worry it’ll be great once we add a soundtrack” Q.P had said. I said, “You could add Beethoven’s fifth symphony and this dialogue will still suck.” But I was a minority and quickly found myself out of the loop and surfing help wanted ads in Florida as the movie launced into production.

At the time I announced that if the script ever saw a theater then I would quit writing forever because it would mean that I had completely misunderstood cinema and my role in it. I might, I added grandly to a stoned production designer housemate, commit suicide since there would be no place for me in a society that rewarded such shit.

Now I was being asked by S.P. to rescue her drowning project. The script had entered production without even minor changes. Before B.P. arrived I had watched all the footage and was amazed at how prophetic my coverage had been. The scenes looked exactly how I had imagined they would look. Worse still, I learned that the single take of the scene was the only take of the scene. Multiple angels and closeups, I learned, did not exist because there was no budget to film them. Scenes had been filmed in real time, in one take, from one angle. What I was seeing was not a forgiving edit, but the only footage that existed. From this I was expected to create a movie.

All I needed to know about that evening was right there in that first conference call:

B.P.: Oggy, what’s your take?
Oggy: Youth, man. Youth!
B.P.: I like it. Look, I want you to take care of this.
Oggy: It’s got to be simple. No death. Only life.
B.P.: Great!
S.P.: So are we good?
B.P.: Baby!
S.P.: Oggy, bring your notes up here.
Oggy: You bet.

Foolishly, I had stopped looking for real work and drove into the hills with my laptop. The notes, S.P. had been talking about? Like the multiple angels and close-ups, they were nonexistent. Just smoke and mirrors for the benefit of B.P.

B.P. and Q.P. flirted as S.P. laughed anxiously.
“How about this,” I say as I sense our focus drifting.
This meeting was an attempt to bail out the sinking ship and set course with new command. The entire crew had been fired. The writer/director was suing everyone with a checkbook; including S.P. Everyone from the caterers to the makeup department had been stiffed. This was the only thing worse than a complete disaster because there was this footage, this awful footage that had cost 2 million dollars to film and was now occupying our time. If 20 people die in a bus fire then you have a disaster. But what if 20 people are fatally injured and trapped in a lake of fire? Well, you have to send someone in to rescue them. So you may end up with 40 dead people. That’s how I felt as I watched another scene where a dying father reached out to his son. Wasn’t he really reaching out to us, pleading with us to turn back, to abandon him rather than risk our own lives? “It’s not worth it. Let me die.”
“Forget the cat thing. How about this…The angel is a stripper. A fallen angel. Lost her wings. She can only earn them back by saving what’s-his-name.”
B.P. pointed at my computer and I typed “Saves guy by sleeping with him”

This movie, which was arguably about a man coming to terms with the death of his father, suddenly becomes soft core porn. The director, I imagine, is waking up covered with sweat.

“What do we have to work with?” asked B.P.

S.P. scribbled some notes on a piece of yellow notebook paper.

“This is all the footage.”

“This? This cost two million dollars?”

All three of them laughed like vultures. Two million dollars. I could almost hear them say, “It wasn’t our money.”

I laughed too, for my own reasons.

“The line producer completely screwed us.”

“I’ve seen worse.”

B.P. shakes his head as another darkly lit hospital scene appears. I type “No hospital” Then I say, “What about this, you know Defending Your Life. Albert Brooks? We use all this footage as the footage he sees when he looks back over his life. This is his life…in retrospect. That’s why it’s so bad. He can even comment on how bad an actor he is in real life. See?”

No one is listening and I think that I have become as crazy as them, offering advice that creates more problems than it solves. It’s this damn footage. They would be better off if the footage were destroyed. Everyone would be better off because to make a good movie around a bad movie is perhaps the hardest thing to do. How can you rewrite a movie around footage that is months old? What if the footage you have is horrible and many of the actors have been fired so their scenes can’t be used? What if you only have a single take of these awful scenes? What if you had to use them or else the investors would claim fraud? What if the actors have all moved on? What do you do then? What if the writer/director is aggressively suing everyone involved? I try to look on the bright side of things. At least I’m back in the loop.

It’s 3 am. B.P. looks at me. Then he looks at S.P. Then he looks at Q.P’s tits.

“What we need,” he says through a yawn, “Is a real writer.”

Suddenly, all of Los Angeles is as dark as the sea.
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Man in the Van by Oggy Bleacher is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License.