Anna pitched The Streaming Service what she was told no one should ever, ever, do. 1,501 words. Part One. Illustration by Mark Fearing.
Anna had been forced into participating. In terms of any successes prior, she didn’t really have any because she was basically still in high school when she was drafted by The Streaming Service. For years she had thought that The Streaming Service was a laudable institution. Who didn’t love to binge-watch mindless entertainment? It was simply part of being American. In fact, she remembered being fascinated by it when she was younger, watching with her family, enjoying herself whenever a new series would come along.
She even fantasized what it would be like to be one of those creators. Imagine: making money by thinking up stories, a sweet deal generating a high net worth based on simply writing bibles and treatments and screenplays and the like. It was everyone’s dream. The Service became a driver for new online colleges devoted to turning out the next generation’s writers and producers. Student loan debt inflated in this particular area at a higher rate than monies doled out for more traditional curriculums such as the ubiquitous MBA.
But when the drafting process came along, even she knew as a young person that something was not as it seemed. Volunteering to make content for a YouTube channel was one thing, as was submitting a screenplay for consideration to an agent. These were opportunities you chose to seek. Once it became a potentially mandatory career, Anna’s thinking on the subject changed 180 degrees. It amazed her how the public went along with it, or at least it seemed that way to her. When single-payer health care was put before the electorate, there would be nonsensical screaming devoted to freedoms being abridged. But being forced to write entertainment for a company that was already rich beyond all measure? Sign everyone up. What did it matter if someone couldn’t afford surgery so long as the sitcom was ensured?
Deep down, Anna understood the power of storytelling, how wE all want to tell each other our own stories. How wrong can that be? She was even thinking about going to Hollywood after she graduated, no more immune to it than anyone else. It was more than viral. It was a virus.
That next session before the Evaluators, Anna moved on to a comedy about an ASMR artist on YouTube played by Bill Murray and shot in a Wes Anderson style. Might be a movie idea, she suggested. Her draft notice specified episodic, but she knew there was some wiggle room.
The panelists complained that Murray was too hard to contact (a flimsy excuse). She sketched out an idea about someone wanting to make a movie with Bill Murray and how it is so hard to get in touch with him. (He’d only be in it at the end, slotted in for a day’s work to keep budgets reasonable, she noted helpfully.) Nope.
She then extemporaneously riffed on a Jason Blum-type idea where the ASMR artist kills people by putting them to sleep. Didn’t work. A YouTube channel that sees events in the past? Puh-leeze, they essentially replied, and enough with the YouTube; was that even a thing anymore? There were newer and better platforms anyway.
What about a recent article she read about billionaires preparing for the apocalypse with bunker-mansions in New Zealand? Let’s see what happens when their wealth means nothing as the only currencies left involve skills and labor. It could be a dark comedy.
“Black Hole Prize,” she blurted.
“Come again?” one panelist asked.
“A tech company, like Alphabet, offers $1 trillion to any team that can successfully travel inside a black hole and come out safely.”
“Isn’t $1 trillion a bit much?”
“Well, this would be way into the future, and inflation and all…”
“Perhaps if it weren’t set too far into the future,” another exhibitor proposed. “The high prize could be offered because no one in the company believes it could happen. Then some Elon Musk-type entrepreneur actually does it. But, of course, there would be consequences a lot worse than a Disney movie.”
Anna smiled internally. Did she have them? Did she?
“Something had to give. The financial obligations necessary for proper development/production of original content had stretched everything to the breaking point. Talent, as it always seemed to do, ruled the proceedings. But executives had ideas.
“Once the guilds on both coasts were effectively neutered, the conglomerate looked at the country as a whole. Economic dislocation and a military that no longer needed budgets as high as were necessary in the past meant a lot of the younger population weren’t doing as much as they used to in terms of part-time jobs and higher education. (Debt for tuition was no longer a cultural touchstone). This was viewed as an opportunity. For instance, if a teenager out of high school didn’t need to work on a farm – that industry moved inside and underground following a worsening of global warming and advances in hydroponics – then all that inactivity produced potential creative energy that could be harnessed and put to use.
“A selective-service apparatus was set up so that the young could be called upon to create the television shows/movies that they would consume. They would be paid small wages relative to what Hollywood used to pay in the past. It started out with writers; those who scored high in that area were drafted to come up with concepts and bibles for episodic series or feature-length projects. Others who were talented behind the camera were also selected.
“It was reasonable to assume that most of these draftees would find the event solicitous of celebration. Originally, such attitude was ubiquitous among the youth. But, later, as the process evolved, it became clear that coercion to create contained a dark side for many. It was only natural for the protests to follow.”
Anna was having a great time. Her pilot script was going smoothly. A vibrant writers’ room was set up, filled with some wonderful draftees who were perfect for a show driven by smart science fiction.
No one was sure if the working title Black Hole Prize would become the actual title; others were proffered, like Singularity, Portal, The First, Apollo 99, The Rabbit Hole, and, oddly, A Bigger Bang Theory. Anna had her heart set on the original title, but it didn’t matter, really; all that mattered was that her idea had received traction.
But this is Hollywood, a place that had a way of fulfilling dreams unexpectedly for those who fell into the craft, and crushing them constantly for those who indefatigably put the work in day after day.
“We’re sorry. We’re not going forward with Black Hole Prize.”
The words from Production hit Anna like a dense object from space.
“What does that mean?” She choked back emotion.
“It basically means another trip into the Pitching Room.”
When she went back to her room, Anna sobbed. Then she called her parents, with whom she was not allowed any contact until she had completed an episode of a series or a few days of production on a film. She decided to break the rule.
Inside the Pitching Room once again, Anna did her best but it wasn’t working. They didn’t want what she felt was her best idea – a theoretical physicist who could change reality depending on the correct way to look at the universe. Change the theory, change reality. Which caused all kinds of problems. The Evaluators said it probably wasn’t original.
She pivoted to a comedy with a failed science fiction writer who decides to become a theoretical physicist and succeeds beyond his wildest dreams by coming up with worthless thoughts on the cosmos that are so imaginative they capture the public’s attention. Anna really liked that one, but it was rejected.
Then she pitched what she was told no one should ever, ever, do:
“A streaming service takes over the globe,” Anna began. “The leaders of the world are no longer in Washington D.C. but in Hollywood. A revolution takes place that sees the population rise up by no longer binging on all the crap entertainment given to them. Instead, people opt for books over eight-episode orders, and stop talking about Ozark Season 10 on social media and actually take a walk and enjoy the fresh air. They bring their proverbial pitchforks to the company’s headquarters and bring the whole mega-enterprise down. Is that original enough for you?”
She was shot in the head almost instantly…
“Why was it so hard to believe that a streaming service could have such power, including the power to render immediate dispensation of justice? Many forget that authoritative actors such as the police have been given independence to the degree that wide latitude is afforded upon interactions with the public. The Supreme Court backs up those charged with enforcement the vast majority of the time in sweeping decisions. Similarly, the jurisprudence on The Streaming Service is clear: it can, and will, do what it wants. Would the public have it any other way? Stranger things have happened…”