08292017 - Can We Make Jennifer An Alien IMAGE 01B 1500

Can We Make Jennifer Alien?

by John Bensink

A screenwriter uses every Hollywood trick to keep control over his project. 992 words. Illustration by John Donald Carlucci.


“Averill, no. We cannot make Jennifer an alien.”

“I didn’t mean alien, Zack. I meant… anything else.”

“I’m not changing her.”

“But now Jenny’s a—“

“I don’t know this Jenny. My character’s name is Jennifer. She was never a Jenny. She’s an Adjunct Professor of American Literature.”

“Wow. Killer.”

“It’s not who she is, it’s not our story. There’s a thirty-second classroom scene, then she gets the call about her daughter—“

“Why’d she give up the daughter?“

“Did you read this, Averill? She had the baby when she was fifteen, gave it up for adoption, went on with her life.”

“As a sponge diver.”

“What the hell?”

“I don’t mean sponge diver—“

“Good, because the story’s set in South Dakota.“

“I just meant something besides—“

“This is that one thing that executives get stuck on. That one thing. They won’t let it go, and it fucks up everything.”

“Zack, what’s going on here?”

“Fighting for my story. And for Jennifer.”

“Zack, it’s a good script. But you haven’t worked in a while. Maybe notch back the ‘tude? And South Dakota won’t work.”

“Not working makes it all easier. I know that’s counterintuitive… can’t really explain it. And all that South Dakota stuff? That’s where it takes place.”

“Jennifer needs something.”

“I love her the way she is, and so will the actors. She’s right there, on just about every page, and she’s right. She gets tested, she fails, she comes back. Did you cry at the end?”

“I don’t cry. Our readers cried. I see where the audience would. But you could amp that up.“

“She rescues her daughter, returns her, says goodbye, gives the girl her number, says call any time day or night — doesn’t need ‘amped’ if it’s all there. Jennifer will always be her mother, will always be there for her. But she knows what’s best for her daughter: to stay in the world she grew up in. Jennifer’s a fucking hero, first for getting her kid back, then for letting her kid go.”

“Zack, before we show it to a director…“

“Averill, if you get a director on board, with ideas that make sense, I’m there. Otherwise, I won’t start throwing things out and putting things in just to please someone who doesn’t exist yet.”

“That feels like a go-fuck-yourself.”

“You’re entitled to your feelings.”

“Your agent’s gonna freak.”

“That’s what agents do.”

“Writers don’t act like this.”

“More would if they knew how good it felt.”

“Kudos, Zack, you won. First director we showed it to.”

“He’s a smart guy. I told him what he could have and what I wasn’t moving on.”

“You ‘told him?’”

“Yeah: straight up. Radical honesty, he loved it.”

“He told me it was a great meeting. But you ‘told him?’“

“What I thought he brought to it that was right, and what I would walk away from if it got out of control.”

“Zack, this producer credit…“

“Averill, you know the company’s lawyers slugged it out with mine, and you guys backed down.”

“We didn’t realize you meant you would literally produce.“

“I’ll be there for every second. Deal’s in place.”

“What did you say to our star to make her all gooey? She thinks you’re Ben Hur and Robin Hood and Clive Owen and—“

“I said, ‘Let’s make a movie that we’ll never be ashamed of, not any part of it, ever. We have a great female character here who’s forced to call on parts of herself she didn’t know were there. She rises to it, then gets kicked around, then comes back and finishes off her journey.”

“Did you get laid?”

“I didn’t hear that, and I know you won’t ask it again. I think she’s perfect for the part. Yes, we’re spending a little time together. But that’s mostly for writer and actor to get in sync.”

“’Mostly?’”

“Averill, let’s be friends.“

“Everyone knows you’re kicking me around!“

“Don’t think of it as me kicking you. Think of it as me fighting for Jennifer.”

“Jesus, you’re in love—“

“Just spending a little time—“

“With your character—with Jennifer, never Jenny!”

“She’s worth it, and I’m honored to protect her. Go with it, Averill — it’s your project, isn’t it?”

“Why doesn’t it feel like it anymore?”

“Because you haven’t fucked it up yet?”

“I know you’re gonna tell this story, and I know you’re gonna use that line.”

“I swear it never leaves this room. Unlike me: Gotta go meet our star.”

“Get used to being that mystery guy seen with her in Us Weekly.”

“Did you see that photo where we’re crossing Melrose, and she’s leaning into me? Where we’re all tangled up like a couple of lovestruck kids?”


“How’s Malibu, Zack?”

“I like it. A lot. Whole. Lot.”

“She just said, ‘You wanna move in with me?’”

“Actually, Averill, she said, ‘Please move in with me. It feels so right.’ Her kids like me, and I like them. I’m working well there.”

“You do know that she and I were a thing once.”

“She said it was a thing that was never really a thing.”

“I’m issuing a major ‘Whatever’ on that, motherfucker. Gear-shift: not sure we can let you direct your next one. Whoa, Zack, sit down. Where are you going?”

“Im writing and directing my next one or I’m gone. Averill, I feel great-slash-alive-slash-powerful. Not fuck-people-over powerful, but in charge of whatever it is that’s in me. And people get it. They sense it. They react positively. I like it. I know it’s right — I’m right.”

“What the fuck happened to you, Zack?”

“I’m willing to walk away. I’m committed to my work, to my—“

“Fuck. To your vision.”

“Yeah. I should go. No hard feelings?”

“Okay, you can direct. Can I make suggestions when I have them?”

“Averill, you know I’ve always valued your input.”

About The Author:
John Bensink
John Bensink has written network movies-of-the-week and pilots. His teleplay A Whisper Kills was nominated for the Edgar Allan Poe Award Best Television Feature. His produced titles include Moment Of Truth, My Very Best Friend, Every Mother's Worst Fear, A Mother's Revenge, Nightmare in Columbia County, Naked Lie. He is now working on a short story collection: Other People's Lives Are Easy.

About John Bensink

John Bensink has written network movies-of-the-week and pilots. His teleplay A Whisper Kills was nominated for the Edgar Allan Poe Award Best Television Feature. His produced titles include Moment Of Truth, My Very Best Friend, Every Mother's Worst Fear, A Mother's Revenge, Nightmare in Columbia County, Naked Lie. He is now working on a short story collection: Other People's Lives Are Easy.

Leave a Reply

​Commenting at Hollywood Dementia
is a privilege, not a right.

Your name will be kept confidential if you want. Comments are monitored. So please stick to the story's characters and plots because this is Hollywood fiction, remember?

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>