A screenwriter is trapped between the conflicting demands of a film’s producer and director. 5,184 words. Illustration by Mark Fearing.
The wallpaper was tired. And Ross Flanagan couldn’t decide if the hotel’s floral fresco pattern scheme was old or just old-fashioned. The joint was clean enough. Hardly first class and suspiciously shy of the three stars it had somehow earned on Priceline.com. He didn’t have to ask how the unit production manager had settled on housing the Los Angeles-based crew at the downtown Abbey Inn — aka “The Shabby Abbey” — as the costume team had quickly coined it. This was simply the best flophouse the dusty Utah town could offer. That, and the former teleconferencing office next door provided a convenient space for the production office. Temporary. Serviceable. Not the least bit inspiring.
The graying writer had been brought onto the Western’s shoot for two reasons: his valuable past experience with the notoriously difficult and aging movie star, and he was also very available and in need of a quick cash infusion. Four kids and two divorces kept him in constant dire straits.
The air conditioner was blowing full on. Ross hoped it would create some airflow with the door wide open. The pair of second-story windows bolted permanently closed provided a view of scrubby hills scarred with stirring gashes of bright red clay. The late spring heat wave had done away with whatever snow was leftover, leaving the ground grassless and brown.
It looks like the inside of my head, Ross admitted to himself. Dull, wasted, and somewhat bloodied.
A three-knuckle knock sounded on the door. Two quick raps followed by a growl of oak-aged vocal cords.
“How’s it goin’?” inquired Kenny Braxton. Or just “Braxton” if one was familiar with him. Which generally meant everybody over 40 years old in showbiz. The producer had just tipped 70. And, to hear him tell it, he was still kicking the ass of men half his age on the tennis court and, by night, screwing tail young enough to call his granddaughters.
Ross looked over the top of his MacBook and acknowledged the hulking figure filling his hotel doorway. The sunlight behind Braxton cast him in silhouette, reminding Ross of John Wayne in The Searchers.
“Must be close to noon,” guessed Ross. It had been five days since he’d been gifted the hardest assignment of his career. And every morning since, just shy of high noon, the old warhorse had filled his doorway in hopes that a solution had been reached.
“Have you figured it out yet?” asked the producer.
“Don’t think I’m your man.” Ross lowered his eyes back to his computer screen. He could tell he’d already lost both his place and his mojo for the scene he was supposed to be vomiting into gold.
“Gotta be today,” said Braxton.
“Think I’ll retreat to my first response to your incredibly stupid query. He’s your old buddy. Who better to tell him the bad news than you?”
“Because he’s my old pal and I want to keep it that way,” pushed Braxton.
“You’re a chicken shit.”
“I am. And you’re the writer. Getting paid crazy money per week. You’re expendable and I have faith in you.”
Faith, thought Ross. What the hell had that gotten anybody? Long ago, he’d put his faith in the movies. Faith in his own damned talent. He could’ve easily argued that he’d placed show business over and above his family, his health, and even God. Ross wondered when death arrived — be it sooner or later — if there’d be time enough to grovel before the Almighty and state his oft rewritten case for redemption. After all, who was God but the most hard-to-impress movie critic of all?
“You must,” pressed Braxton. “And today.”
“Yeah, yeah. I must and today,” repeated Ross.
I must write the sonofabitch out of the movie.
Five days prior and, it seemed to Ross, a million hours ago, Braxton had knocked and leaned against the doorframe wearing his daily uniform of a pastel polo shirt and faded designer denims. Below the always-popped collar, the older man’s shoulders were already flaccid from self-defeat. And had been a full week before even the first frame of film would be exposed.
“It’s Duke,” Braxton had complained. There was no surprise in that, either. Duke was short for David “Duke” Denby, the movie’s veteran director and resident prickly prince. “You know he wants to play the Chief of Police.”
“County Sheriff,” Ross had corrected. “And yeah. He told me.”
“He can’t act,” the producer had insisted.
“Tell him that,” Ross had flatly countered. Though he agreed with Braxton’s assessment, Duke was the picture’s El Jefe Ultimo. It was a production rewrite and Ross’s job was to be servile to the visionary behind the camera even if that meant indulging the director’s misguided acting bug — or in Duke’s case acting cancer.
Some four movies back, Duke decided to give a nod to Hitchcock and delicately insert himself into a scene. It was a mere wink of a single-shot appearance: director Duke Denby loitering in the background, a veritable overpaid movie extra. Since that seminal day, that cameo had sprouted into smallish speaking roles in his two subsequent pictures. And the bug had taken hold. In his most recent picture Duke claimed a quasi-dimensional supporting role as the distraught father of a fallen 9/11 firefighter. The movie turned into a rather notorious box office humiliation.
That was five years ago.
After a stint in what movie insiders call director’s jail, Duke had reemerged only slightly tarnished. He developed a pair of failed TV pilots and took on a few episodes of directing premium cable television. Humility should have followed. Yet Duke’s acting jones was once again stoked by a small part he played in a festival-only indie movie written and directed by a grateful protégé.
By most accounts, Duke’s performance in the flick was underwhelming.
“You need to write Duke out of the movie,” Braxton had insisted. Ross recalled the producer’s bass-of-a-voice dropping a full octave underneath his normal baritone.
“Right. Sure,” Ross had laughed.
“You are, but you’re not.”
“I’m not just saying it,” Braxton had forced. “Far as I know this might be my last picture. And I can’t let him fuck it up because it gets his dick hard being on that side of the camera.”
“I’m just the writer,” Ross recalled sing-songing.
And that was that. Or so Ross had thought until the next morning when Braxton had once again darkened his door with the same insane request.
You have to write Duke out of the movie.
Ross laughed at himself. As if the screenwriter was the ultimate magician who, with the power of the mighty notebook computer. could solve any idiotic damage inflicted on a picture by a moviemaker’s egotistical whimsy? Were such an ideal even close to accurate, it would be the screenwriter who could negotiate his or her name above the title, as well reaping the accolades for a movie’s ultimate success instead of those mythical self-described auteurs otherwise known as film directors.
The ancient producer’s request was recycled over and over again. Not only at the darkened door of Ross’s Shabby Abbey hotel room, but during production meetings, at meals, and even via cryptic text messages:
figured out yet?
u can do this!!!
the asshole cant act!
The reminders had reached the point that a mere eye-flick from the producer across the production’s central conference space was a reference to what had become an elephant in the room. Braxton would be tilted in his special office chair, feet up on the massive oak table, speckled scowl framed between his brand new neon-trimmed Reeboks (freebies from the product placement company).
You need to write Duke out of the movie.
“There are obvious limits to my job and my talent,” Ross kept reminding. Politics was never quite his forte. He’d learned a few tricks. Yet however far he’d made it in his dubious career was surely not based on chess-playing skills. The only pieces he felt comfortable moving were scenes, characters, snippets of dialogue, and sometimes the musical chairs at the Moorpark Boulevard AA meetings. Even if he were to take on responsibility for executing Braxton’s note, how in the Sam-hell would that be accomplished on the page? The picture they were less than four days from commencing was a programmer at best. An old-fashioned throwback of a modern-day cowboy movie centering on a past-his-prime action hero. It was nostalgic, not even medium budgeted, and required zero CGI. The studio wasn’t even financing. They’d agreed only to shepherd the show and distribute domestically. Duke might’ve been out of director’s jail, but bona fide movie studios were still unwilling to bet on him.
In order to write Duke out of the movie, Ross would have to remove a key character. A lynchpin to the entire structure. Excising the duly-elected county sheriff from the story would be akin to executing a losing move in a $40 million game of Jenga. Which was probably the precise reason Duke, the Prince of all Pricktitude, had called dibs on the role for himself. That way there was no way in hell even the bossiest of studio chiefs could remand the character to the cutting room bin during post.
“Can’t be done,” Ross pled. He was relieving himself of a bladder full of hotel coffee when Braxton slipped not-so-silently into the urinal stall next to him. “Time for someone — ergo you — to cowboy up and give him a reality check.”
“Ever tell you about that bar scene in Enter the Chameleon? You saw the movie, right?”
“Ashamed to admit I bought a ticket,” poked Ross. “But yeah.”
“Whole enchilada we shot in Pittsburg,” continued Braxton. “Great people. Lousy food. But this bar we scouted for the scene. I mean, we didn’t know it was — you know — a gay bar. Way back then? Nobody was thinkin’ about that kinda shit. Parker just loved the look of the joint and wanted to shoot the scene there. We make our pitch to the owner. Swear to Christ the guy looked like a troll. You know those kid dolls with the hair that goes straight up? Two nights. Cover his average costs plus 10 percent. We leave the troll to think about it and head to the men’s room. So here we are. Me and Parker both takin’ a leak. Two guys. Just like right now with you and me. But there’s no partition. It’s one of those troughs. Remember? A porcelain sink to piss into. Maybe 10 feet long. Anyhow, I notice that, right in front of us, is this mirror. But it’s not like flat against the wall like some places. Like most guys wanna watch themselves pee? I never got that. No. The mirror in this joint… is at an angle. Downward.”
“Right,” said the old producer. “So all the other fellahs can check out each other’s dongs. Maybe to see who’s circumcised, who’s not.”
“I get where you’re going,” Ross said flatly. “You view this whole ‘write-Duke-outta-the-movie’ as an exercise in dick measuring. That’s why you thought of the story?”
“Naw,” said Braxton. “No reason at all. Just two guys takin’ a leak. Made me think of the story. That’s all. Funny shit, though. Never seen nothin’ like it before or since.”
Braxton zipped, washed and dried his hands with a fistful of paper towels, and left Ross to wonder if the producer was still pushing or if he’d given up on his request-slash-near-demand. Was the old sack at last willing to fold?
The Friday afternoon script meeting was set to unfurl after lunch. Ross chose to challenge his cholesterol prescription with a steak sandwich in his hotel room, a treat he found surprisingly tasty considering The Abbey’s lack of culinary rep. When in Rome, he rationalized. After all, what was Utah good for but breeding cattle and a never-ending supply of Mormon-ready Stepford wives. All blonde. The production office was already chock-full of them, serving as secretaries and production assistants. Once the magic started and photography began, Ross wondered how many virgin sacrifices would result at the hands of a horny crew transplanted from hedonist Southern California.
At 2:00 PM straight-up, the principles began to assemble in the conference space — a glassed-in rectangle with a modernity unlike most of the southern Utah locale which cleaved to all things related to the Old West. The list of classic American cowboy pictures lensed within a radius of 100 miles was staggering. Duke had clearly pressed for the location for that very reason. A recent government-issued tax break had sealed the deal.
Already seated at their usual perches were a pair Braxton had come to refer to as the two juniors — or, as Duke called them, Frick and Frack.
The Frick character had arrived with Duke as a personal assistant-cum-development slave named George “Gig” Lee. He was Korean-American. Early 30s, Ross guessed, and well soft and balding like an over-stressed civil servant. The Frack side of the equation was the studio’s assigned production executive, Benjamin Knapperberger. Better known as Benjy, the company man was teenager slender, bearded to a hipster fault, with trendy eyewear as if to punctuate that he’d indeed graduated from an East Coast Ivy. For his planned two-week location-vacation, Benjy had proudly packed movie-shoot casual, bringing to Utah nary a single power suit in hopes it would assist him in dovetailing with the filmmakers.
“Fellahs,” was Ross’s standard greeting before making a hard left for the single couch backed up against the one wall that wasn’t acoustic-buffered glass. The sofa’s oiled leather upholstery sucked Ross into it like an old beanbag chair.
Mere seconds behind Ross was Kenny Braxton. He lumbered through the door and dropped into his personal swiveling chair with the ultra recline function.
“Boys,” grumbled the producer.
“Boss,” began Benjy out of verbal respect, pocketing his iPhone as he piped in. “I’ve been on with Emily all morning. And she’s about to go bat-shit over all her script notes going unaddressed.”
“All her notes?” fog-horned Braxton.
“I can practically give you a spreadsheet of studio notes I’ve knocked out,” added Ross without even lifting his chin.
“Case in point,” said Benjy. “The police chief character.”
“County sheriff,” corrected Ross as he began to truly wonder if anybody’d actually read the pages he was unleashing with daily alacrity. His red-meat lunch twisted in his gut.
“You know what I mean,” said Benjy. “Emily thinks the character’s one big fat cliché.”
“Cuz that’s why you pay me the big money,” mocked Ross. “I write only in fat clichés. And not just the most obese ones,” Ross found himself rewriting himself. “Conga lines of sweaty, obese clichés.”
“I’m going to abstain. You can voice that note to Duke without my help,” suggested Braxton. Only the reclining-with-his-feet-already-up sack-of-Swiss-potatoes wasn’t eying the studio veep. He was winking at Ross.
“I’m telling you now,” pressed Benjy, “because you know I can’t bring it up to…“
Benjy’s eyes froze a millisecond before his mouth. His pupils tracked left to right as a flash of blue and gold Lycra swept toward a door with the failed teleconferencing company’s corporate logo still etched on the glass. The one and only Duke Denby had arrived, pushing into the conference space in a skin-fitting running suit that appeared better designed for speed skaters seeking a Teflon defense against the wind. The movie director looked 10 years younger than his age of 57, a bit chunky, yet still fit and revealing little sign of all the rumored plastic surgeries. If he’d already been out for a noontime jog, Ross was left to wonder how the man’s Beverly Hills haircut — complete with a fresh shade of chestnut caramel — could look so damned camera-ready.
As was his habit, Duke wasn’t much for sitting in meetings. To have him tell it, he’d taken seriously that copy of Sun Tzu’s Art of War the once super agent Michael Ovitz had personally handed him.
“Read the new scenes,” Duke began without even a good afternoon. As he spoke, Gig automatically engaged the voice-to-text recording software on his laptop. “I’m okay with most of Big Joe’s dialogue. But I’m worried that it might pop a bit more than The Hairpiece’s. And that’s grief I don’t want to deal with once we’re five days in.”
The Hairpiece. That was Duke’s pet name for the picture’s leading man whenever outside the actor’s earshot. It was hardly a term of endearment. Duke had even so much as suggested the action hero play the role without the usual wig. Au naturale, he’d not-so-politely teased. The appeal had gone over like a Warner Bros cartoon, complete with anvil falling from the sky. The actor’s mega-manager had posited his own advice: replace the director. A flurry of phone calls later — plus a person-to-person apology by Duke Denby himself — had calmed the pre-production waters enough for all to move ahead with deliberate speed.
“Duke?” braved Benjy with a nod to Braxton. “There’s another issue we need to first engage.”
“What’s that?” replied Duke, ignoring Benjy’s gaze in lieu of eyeballing the old producer with a stare that asked, what the hell have you idiots been talking about behind my back?
“Benjy,” smirked Braxton, gesturing surrender. “This is all you. Just saying.”
Ross watched the executive attempt to mask his double dry-swallow with a shuffle of freshly Xeroxed script pages. He felt instantly sorry for the young veep, despite the natural contempt experienced writers had for movie studio spokes-holes. Benjy had practically put his low six-figure job on the line in the fight to resuscitate Duke’s dormant directing career. Benjy had been a Duke Denby fanboy since before puberty. The veteran action director’s early films had launched a dream of working in the movies. And then, in the flash of his young life, Benjy had found himself sitting in the presence of the man himself, taking part and contributing his idol’s cinematic oeuvre.
Respect, thought Ross. This. Takes. Some. Balls. Of course, that’s only if Benjy didn’t consume his own tongue first.
“As representative of the studio’s interests,” began Benjy in a badly qualified start.
“No real studio money on the line,” shot back Duke. “Roll film on Monday. Which means we officially don’t give a crystal fuck about what the studio thinks. Which begs the obvious question, why in shit’s sake are you even here?”
“Emily…” Benjy backpeddled, reflexively thinking that invoking the studio boss’s familiar first name could be a defense against Duke’s narcissistic will.
“Is Emily here?” interrupted Duke. “I don’t see that redheaded little dyke anywhere in this room.”
“Duke. Please. She’s my boss.”
“Whose problem is that? Now, can I please get on with my work with the writer?” For reference’s sake, Duke embarked arm and index finger in a weak bit of guesswork to Ross’s general direction.
Ross, in the meantime, was still in full study of Braxton’s face, in search of any sort of tell. Would the old school producer attempt to step in to mediate? From what Ross could gather, Braxton gave away hardly a twitch.
“I gotta say it,” injected Benjy. “Only because if I don’t I might get fired. And I don’t want to get fired.”
Duke mockingly slumped, bracing himself on the table with his left arm while rotating a “bring it” finger wave with his right.
“Fine,” said Benjy. “And thank you. I say this with all the respect in the world. But Emily thinks the PD chief character is stock.”
Once again, Ross thought to correct the boyish executive. In his mind, how could somebody confuse a county sheriff for a chief of police. The former is elected, the latter appointed. One was usually associated with rural settings, the other in urban terms. They were making a frigging Western.
“Stock?” repeated the director.
“Her words,” said Benjy.
“You understand I’m playing that ‘stock’ character,” reminded Duke.
“Like I said. With all due respect.”
“Stock?” asked Duke yet again. “As in some kind of fucking cliché?”
“As in we’ve all seen it before,” Benjy smiled. The relief on his face was conscious. The stress which had momentarily defined the muscles of his neck was in full retreat.
“You say ‘we’ as in you and Emily?” pressed Duke. “Is this your note now? Or is it Emily’s alone? Cuz just now I distinctly heard you say ‘we.’”
“The studio, Duke. You know what I mean.”
“The studio. As in Emily?”
“My boss. Yeah. Emily pretty much is the studio.”
“Emily thinks the character which I’ve chosen myself to play is like some kind of bad, movie re-run?”
“I suppose,” gulped Benjy.
“Has she even read the fucking script?”
“The whole concept behind the making of this movie is a fucking re-run, you eight-year-old dipstick!” Duke was ramrod straight, arms lifted over his head, all jazz hands with fingers wagging. “Old action star. Old producer right there. Old writer there. Old director here. At least old-souled,” Duke quickly corrected before easing closer to poor Benjy. “Old-school story about a washed up cowboy-cum-cop stuck in his old ways, not takin’ shit off nobody and getting things done the old-fashioned way?”
“That pretty much nails it,” Ross couldn’t help tossing his voice into the stew, all the while letting his 15-inch MacBook screen conceal his ridiculous grin.
“Retro is what we’re selling,” Duke rocked. “A present-day kickass nostalgia ride back to a time when men were men and all women wanted to be Veronica Lake.”
“Veronica… Who’s Veronica Lake?” asked Benjy in full-press ignorance.
“Keep in mind, we’re all Hollywood progressives here. Men aren’t men anymore and women aren’t sex toys unless they freely and righteously choose the sex-toy lifestyle,” reminded Braxton only, if only half-heartedly.
“I think we’re getting a little off task here,” said Benjy. “Emily’s note about…“
“-I wipe my ass with Emily’s note,” spat back Duke.
“She’s the president. Of. The studio,” Benjy over-enunciated.
“She’s a cunt,” dismissed Duke. “Worse than that. She’s a dyke and a cunt who doesn’t know shit about making movies.”
“Which is why Forbes listed her as one of the most powerful women in the U.S. under 35,” argued Benjy, stretching what actual backbone he possessed to the tensile.
“She doesn’t know shit about this movie. Or what or how it ticks.”
“The chief of PD character is stock,” quivered the executive upon repeating the note. If Benjy was a nerve he would’ve be been an exposed tooth waiting for the drill.
“Fuck her,” dismissed Duke, now pacing along one of the floor-to-ceiling walls of glass. “Cunt, bitch, dyke. She’s a poster child for why men should hate women.”
Benjy suddenly locked eyes with Gig who had, all through the meeting, sat with his elbows flanking his laptop, glancing from his boss to the screen, making certain each and every one of his words was duly and digitally transcribed onto the hard drive. Duke would sometimes contradict his own ideas with countermanding directives so Gil had taken to employing a voice-recognition software to document every syllable that came from Duke’s mouth — just in case Gig Lee required some backup.
Ross carefully watched as Benjy circled round to Gil’s chair and, without even attempting to read what had been transcribed, pressed and held the backspace button on the assistant’s computer. The cursor instantly reversed direction. In Pac-Man-like form, it began eating up each of Duke’s dangerous invectives.
“Come to think of it,” Duke continued to rant, “of all the cunts I’ve met in this business — and God only knows I’ve probably met them all — your boss Emily is the cuntiest cunt of them all. Think I didn’t know she wanted some other douchebag to direct the movie? Some pussy-sniffing yes man, am I right?”
“I fucking fought for you!” reminded Benjy, continuing to delete Gil’s transcription. He wanted to make unimpeachably certain that the evidence of Duke’s rant was forever swallowed and would never see the light of day should if ever they should get hacked by either a competing studio or the North Koreans. Benjy then whispered into Gil’s ear, “Are you online? This isn’t like being duplicated on the cloud is it?”
Gil could only shrug. If he had a glimmer he wasn’t about to share.
“You may have fought for me, but you still work for her!” With that, Duke began to punch at the air, shadowboxing an invisible foe. “Then Emily the Cunt comes in and cuts my budget by $5 million. I mean it’s not even her money, but she let’s fly an email from her shriveled wicked witch fingertips and zip-zing! Five mil. Gone. Seriously, Benjy. As a man. And I’m assuming you’re a man. And it doesn’t even matter if you’re a gay man. I’m talking any kind of man. How can you work for a castrating cunt like that?”
Duke’s voice had elevated considerably. Ross wondered what would it take on the decibel scale to penetrate the noise-cancelling glass. Had anything truly changed in the Western world since the suffrage movement? Weren’t they all supposed to be modern males? The sort of educated men who had not only embraced feminism, but celebrated it?
After all, Ross, didn’t your mother raise you to be more than just another knuckle-dragging dick?
“If I might insert myself here?” Ross found himself sounding. “After all, I’m just the writer.”
Duke stalled his pacing, pivoting toward the writer sunk so deep into the cushions of the leather sofa that he appeared as something of a human fungus. All attention had swiveled Ross’s direction. There was static in the air. The floor was clearly his; he was free to speak whatever was on his mind. Perhaps an indignant tongue-lashing: a wet towel reminder of workplace dangers befalling men who couldn’t curb their own fat mouths? Or maybe something less confrontational: a psuedo-politic lesson on appealing to the better saints of man’s nature?
Saints? Man’s better nature? Hah. It’s the movie biz, ass clown.
Like so many showbiz survivors, Ross understood more than a few of Hollywood’s laws of gravity. For one, better saints didn’t get movies made and distributed onto three to four thousand domestic screens. Hollywood was a state of existence where the bloom of man’s uglier side was not only encouraged, but usually rewarded.
Ross keenly sensed a change in the room. Minute, yes. But such increments in momentum, if artfully engaged, were fulcrums where physics and leverage could be employed.
“Practically speaking, Duke,” continued Ross, “you don’t care much for Emily. That is plainly clear.”
The understatement of Ross’s words forced a muffled guffaw from Braxton.
“If you think you’re gonna school me with highlights of Emily’s finer qualities, you can put a cork on it,” advised Duke.
“Not gonna try,” promised the writer. “In fact, I’m taking sides. Your side. Think I recall a breakfast you and I had at Hugo’s. Remember? Where you told me how about a year or so ago, Emily sabotaged you on the Barbarella remake.”
“Case closed. Emily is a cunt.” Duke pointed his finger accusingly at Benjy. “Saving your life with truth, kiddo.”
“We’re not talking about Benjy here,” reminded Ross. “We’re talking about Emily. And we’re agreed that she’s — how you most indelicately phrased it — a cunt of cunts. Can we all agree on that?” Ross volunteered his hand.
“Here we go. A vote of cunty confidence!” grinned Duke, his right arm reaching comically high. The broadness of his smile revealed some of the facial consequences from his most recent surgery.
“Switzerland over here,” claimed Braxton, who wisely crossed his arms.
Gil dutifully lifted an arm while Benjy obviously abstained, way more concerned with his vigil to delete the digital chronicle on Gil’s laptop.
“The motion carries,” said Ross. “Now, let’s also stipulate that Emily the Cunt…“
“The Castrating Cunt of Cunterville,” Duke couldn’t help but interject.
“Emily, the studio president of production, thinks the county sheriff character is stock, a worn-out cliché, been-there-done-that, all of the above.” Again, Ross raised his hand for a vote.
“Proving she’s a…“
“We Goddamn get it!” blasted Benjy at Duke.
“I have a foolproof solution,” announced Ross. “And with my solution, I place my job on this picture in jeopardy.”
“Duke might wanna fire you,” winked Braxton, his chops ever-so-slightly wet with Joe-cool anticipation. “But The Hairpiece might have a thing or two to say about it.”
Ross noted that Duke appeared to be momentarily suspended by puppeteer’s strings. His eyes narrowed, fixed on the writer without blinking. As if to say, “aaaaaaannnnnnddddddd?”
“Let me rewrite the sheriff character,” eased Ross. “But not as a man. But as the Castrating Cunt of Cunterville.”
“What?” For the first time in a minute, Benjy released the pressure on the laptop delete button.
“I’m saying I rewrite the character as our favorite Emily,” explained Ross, his eyes unwavering from the veteran director’s. “Better than that, we cast somebody who looks exactly like her. Like that actress on that cable sci-fi show. The cute one with the red hair. What’s her name.” Ross snapped his fingers until the answer came. “Megan… Megan…”
“Megan Orsi,” saved Gil.
“That’s her,” clapped Ross. “We see if she’s available. Or someone just like her. Then we dress her like Emily. Cut her hair just like Emily. I mean, I’m talking about making the sheriff character exactly like Emily. Send her the pages and fucking dare her to call it cliché or stock.”
Once finished, Ross let his eyes swivel over to Braxton. The old codger’s face was an empty question mark colored in with hope. Had Ross actually done it? Had a week’s long harassment turned into a genius stroke of success?
“You’re an asshole, you know that?” said Duke without having once altered his gaze. “And you might be something just shy of brilliant. I hesitate calling you brilliant because…“
“Because I’m the writer. Yeah, yeah.”
“But…” said Duke, animating himself with a gun-like finger-barrel aimed at Ross’s heart, “You might actually have written me out of the movie.”
“He might just have what?” asked Benjy, a few degrees behind the content curve.
“Ross just wrote me out of the movie,” clarified Duke. “Which hurts like a motherfucker because I just spent eight weeks flogging myself in fucking Flagstaff to get in camera-ready shape.”
“But you are saying Ross did just write you out of the movie, yes?” confirmed Braxton. “We’re gonna go with this new, female-driven idea?”
“We are,” said Duke. “Because it’s so edible I can taste it. Gil? Find out who represents…”
“Megan Orsi,” finished the assistant.
“See if she’s available,” continued Duke. “This is better than edible. It’s so damn delicious I wanna snack on it till I puke.”
Ross settled deeper into the couch, satisfied. Across the room, that old codger of a producer remained with his feet up, leathery face bracketed by those free Reeboks. At last, Braxton nodded his approval on a screenwriter’s job done well.
As it turned out, actress Megan Orsi was available for the re-written role.
This story first posted here on Aug 11, 2015.