Will was seriously thinking retirement when they called him from the set. Or rather, his office put the call through from the set while he was considering suicide, which amounted to the same thing. He used to think he’d just go down with his boots on; the possibility of ever actually retiring—or just quitting with extreme prejudice—from what he once considered the coolest job in the world was just out of the question. But somewhere along the line it all just became Not Fun. Like these drives these days he was making, each one longer than the last.
The company was up in the Santa Monica mountains. They’d built a little Revolutionary War stockade in a copse of elms that would stand in…eh…ok…for Upstate New York in the 1700’s once you added some expensive computer graphics. Twenty years ago they would’ve budgeted an out-of-state location and shot it right, without the computers and the post production bullshit. And—need he mention?—twenty years ago you’d have never found him within ten miles of the set, one of God’s most boring places and a complete waste of his time.
The GPS found the location no problem. It was a 200-yard walk through a large stand of deciduous trees, and Will was thankful for that--for the trees with leaves that aren’t oaks in Southern California that were rare enough indeed, and for the pleasant solitary walk in the shade where he had time to gather his thoughts. If thoughts could be said to be what he was having these days.
They were rolling when he got to the set, which was good. Page count is page count, and it was a pretty big day. Jack had decided to shoot the scene between the girls and their father here, outside at the compound, rather than back on the stage in Culver City. It was “production value” over “budget,” something that Will was always in favor of. Which is why he--and Jack—got the big bucks. But they were, probably, the last of a breed when you came right down to it. And it wasn’t just “reality shows” that were taking over. The whole concept of “faster, cheaper, nobody cares” had become pandemic. Plus, like George Burns used to, they both worked slow.
Jack Jorden was one of the few real “dramatic” TV directors still in the business. He had style, he had class, he was expensive and he was a pain in the ass, but he always got the big shot and Will loved him like a brother. Well, love? In Hollywood? Let’s just say the two men were fast friends when they had to be.
And right now they had to be. Miranda McCoy had locked herself in her trailer and refused to come out.
--Cut. Excellent. Once again, please, right away said Jack, quietly noting Will’s arrival with a nod. Most of the crew were old hands--a few touch-ups and a brief consultation between Jack and the D.P. and they went again.
Jack was shooting over Miranda’s photo double’s shoulder. Not good. He was miraculously still on schedule, and when he got this shot they’d turn around for Miranda’s coverage. The fact that Miranda was not here reading her lines for her father’s shots was not only unprofessional, it was unfair to Murray Blaine, who was playing her dad. Murray was old school too, but you know it had to bother him.
As he watched the scene unfold, Will suddenly realized why they hadn’t fallen behind because of Miranda: the sister was missing. Lucy had dialog in this scene with her father and sister. In the time it had taken for Will to drive to the set, Jack had apparently cut the younger sister out of the scene. Will wracked his brain to consider how this deletion would affect the story.
Brain-wracking, actually, was his new favorite pastime. He hated it.
--And cut. Perfect, said Jack. Let’s turn around.
The movie machine came to instantaneous life. As Jack said something intimate and encouraging to Murray Blaine, probably promising him a drink after all of this, a hundred men and women swung lights, broke down walls, moved horses, background actors and grip stands for the next shot. It was really quite a beautiful thing if you thought about it.
Finished with Murray, Jack lifted his black baseball cap with the single word “remember” embroidered on it and scratched his curly salt-and-pepper brown hair as he approached his producer.
--Sorry, Bawf, he said quietly, out of everybody’s earshot.
--Hey, said Will. It’s only a movie.
Jack rolled an unlit Cohiba in his lips as they walked off the set. He’d given up his six-cigars-a-day habit years ago, but he still liked to suck ‘em.
--We coulda got Sophia Bush he said, thoughtfully.
--Minka Kelly said Will.
--Minka Kelly, Kristin Kreuk, Ami Teagarden—
--Hell, I bet I coulda got us Katherine Heigl said Will, ‘I started early enough.
--Too old said Jack. Please.
They’d reached Jack’s trailer. The director slammed the screen door open. Will was having a major déjà vu.
--Coffee? said Jack as they entered.
--Naw, said Will, shaking his head, standing just inside the door. Naw. “This is the role she was meant to play.”
The two men stood thoughtfully. Finally:
--Sorry ‘bout your scene, Bawf.
--No, said Will. I been thinking about it. We don’t need Lucy—really—in this scene. She’s fine. We could even play that dialog at breakfast.
--With barely a single thought—
--Barely half a thought said Will, you wanna be honest.
He was thinking how tired Jack looked. A four-hour movie in thirty-two days, with horses and Injuns…. It was a hardship tour.
--Hey, said Jack, how you feeling these days bubba?
--Oh, I’m good. Good.
A soft breeze rocked slightly the trailer. Will nodded then to his friend.
--Whelp, he said, turning to the door, much as I’d like to stay and chit chat—
--You have an actress to pamper—
--I have an acTOR, old man. A FEMALE actor. I’d like to wring her neck.
--God, I miss the old days said Jack after a while.
--You mean when we actually DID wring their necks? Me too. Never thought I’d say that.
--Sorry to drag you out here, Will.
--Think nothing of it, my hero. I live to serve.
He leapt nimbly from the trailer step. As an afterthought:
--Nice location, by the way.
--Isn’t it? Jack smiled. Leave. I gotta call my agent.
Will shook his head.
--I need a bigger trailer! Jack hollered as Will ambled out of the scene, knowing all too well what came next.
Miranda’s trailer was large and new, a special deal per her contract, a real home away from home with satellite TV and interior appointments she’d picked out herself. Will had to admit: there were times he couldn’t blame an actress—acTOR—who didn’t want to face the day. It was one of the world’s more unfortunate jobs. The better you got at it, meaning the older you got while you were doing it, the less people wanted you to do it at all. But she was only twenty-two years old. This had to be something basically easy. He knocked on Miranda’s door, soft enough he hoped.
--Miranda, honey, it’s Will.
He was a little surprised when the door swung slowly open. Miranda was sobbing, her face streaked with tears. She was out of costume, in her robe, a pretty enough girl however you found her.
--I’m sorry, Will, she said, turning quickly away from him so he couldn’t see more of her, but also for effect. I know I’m being bad.
--What is it sweetheart?
--I don’t know. Everything.
--EVERYthing? Oh, dear. Do I have to start worrying?
--It’s just not fair.
--No it’s not, baby. What?
She reminded him of his daughter, back in ninth grade when the great love of her childhood chickened out of the prom, then ended up going with her ex-best friend.
--It’s not fair that she’s so pretty.
--Ah. Lucy. Ah.
--She can wear her costumes cause she’s so pretty and you don’t have to see her shape, like me, and all I am is—you know—
--Well, you’re beautiful, Miranda—
--No, I mean, I have the BODY and all, and that’s who I am, as a actor I mean, but if I can only wear this—she held up her frontier gingham…
--Well, you look at the two of us together and you just want to throw up.
--Well, Miranda, honey, I look at the two of you together, on camera, and you know what I think? I think that General Thornbroek is lucky to have such beautiful daughters. When I wrote about the General and his daughters, in the first place, you know? I think: Hey! I didn’t even have any idea his daughters would be so beautiful, and he would be so lucky, and imagine how beautiful his WIFE must have been and how sad he is, now that she’s gone and he’s out here all alone. In Indian Country. With rebels—insurgents!—everywhere.
Miranda whimpered pitifully.
--Can’t you just rePLACE her or something? I mean don’t you fire actors all the time for being difficult? I mean, she’s VERY difficult, Will. You could ask Jack and Jack will tell you that Lucy is VERY difficult and she should be replaced.
--Miranda, you know I can’t do that. We’ve shot too many scenes to do that. But I tell you what I will do.
--What I will do is—how ‘bout this: What we’ll do is we’ll shoot her.
--You’ll SHOOT her? No. No, you can’t do that.
--No, honey, in the MOVIE. We’ll shoot her, in the movie, with an ARROW and it’ll leave a great big scar. Right across here. He drew a line on his forehead. How about that?
Miranda warmed to this idea very quickly.
--It would be a big scar, then, you think? she said.
--Well, how big a scar do you think an arrow will make? said Will. Pretty big, right?
--Bigger than this then, OK?
She parted her left eyebrow with two fingers. Sure enough, there was a tiny white scar underneath that you’d never see in a million years unless you were a horny ophthalmologist.
--My brother did that she said. With a rock in a snowball when I was six. It’s always bothered me. He never even apologized.
--Oh, it’ll be WAY bigger than that. Guaranteed.
The sobbing was stopping for good, Will reckoned. Miranda’s features were suddenly overtaken by things very much resembling revenge and delight.
--And I’ll tell you something else said Will.
--You just gave me an idea.
--You know your love scene?
--Let’s do it nude, whaddaya say?
--Can we DO that on TV? Great!
--Well, no, not nude nude, no, this isn’t HBO. But we can shoot it in shadow, and the audience will certainly be able to see your beautiful body and—I guarantee—they’re going to say to themselves: Look how beautiful she is! Have you ever seen a more beautiful woman? I don’t think so. How’s that?
--Oh Will! said Miranda McCoy, this week’s nomination for Gelusil Moment. You’re a genius!
--Thank you, honey. You know I love you. We all love you. So can I have hair and makeup in now? You’ll let us get on with things?
She nodded enthusiastically.
--I’m putting this in my diary, you know, she said.
--That’s good, Ran. I’m glad you’re writing everything down.
--Can I get you something? A coke or something? Oh! Oh! And I’ve got a great idea to talk to you about for when I realize I love the insurgent. The minuteman. What do you call them, anyway?
--Thanks honey, no, either one is fine, and I’m sure Jack will love to hear your idea. I’ve gotta go talk to him about the arrow.
--Right. Right in the face! Wow!
--And the nude scene.
--Oh yes! Goodie!
When he got back outside, Will could see that they hadn’t lost the light. By happy circumstance of topography, season, and brilliant location management, page count would be preserved and they would all live to film another day. You could take that to the bank and smoke it, as his ex-wife used to say.
Next: In the Beginning was Rock n Roll
Intruso, a cinematically postmodern love story
- Her voice was shiny
- Timed Writing
- On Location
- In the Beginning was Rock n Roll
- Cell Phone Interruptus
- The Hooch
- Blackbirds at One O'Clock
- Probiotics and the Muse
- Email by Rodney Strong
- Dope and Flax Seed
- Free to a God Home
- Lemonade and Consequences