A movie producer and a studio head begin a tough negotiation that ends with a surprise twist. 1,524 words. Illustrations by John Donald Carlucci.
“Mr. Allen will see you now.”
The middle-aged secretary barely looked up from her computer screen as she flicked her head in the direction of a short hallway just beyond. When no further direction was forthcoming, Movie producer Tim Munson realized it was time for him to move. He rose from the barely comfortable seat in the powder blue outer office, fumbled with his briefcase, and headed past several closed doors to the one that was ajar at the end of the hall. He tentatively poked his head in, not quite sure if this was where he was supposed to be.
At the far end of the room, behind a broad mahogany desk, sat I.F. Allen, head of Tigerslair Pictures. His white hair and neatly trimmed beard were countered by his lively eyes. At this moment, they were focused on his electronic tablet, while he also tapped his ear. He was wearing a Bluetooth and seemed to be engaged in a conversation. He looked up and saw the young producer and waved him in.
As Munson tried to figure out which of the many seats available was intended for him, Allen was wrapping up his conversation. “Look, Barry, it’s my way or the highway. If you think you can make a better deal elsewhere, good luck to you. I’ve got to go.” Without so much as a goodbye, the conversation apparently concluded.
Allen put the tablet aside and then swiveled to face the new arrival, who had taken a seat to the left of the desk. A long table piled with scripts and other documents extended from the center of the desk, forcing visitors to choose whether to go left or right, never being quite sure if they had made the right decision, and Allen never indicating where they should sit. It was one of the many ways that those bringing their projects to Tigerslair were kept off-balance.
Now, however, Allen was all smiles. Munson thought he could detect a twinkle in the studio chief’s eyes, but given how carefully arranged the lighting was in the office, it could have been a special effect. Seemingly by chance, the several Oscars, Golden Globes, and other awards which the studio had won had their own spotlights, jumping out from otherwise darkened bookshelves.
But Munson had little time to reflect on the office decoration as Allen made it clear that he wanted to get right down to business.
“So,” the executive began without so much as a greeting, “I understand you have a project that you think would be right for us.”
“What I’m offering you is the next big movie franchise.”
“Ah, the Holy Grail of Hollywood,” the avuncular Allen chuckled. “Many are launched. Few make it to a second film.”
This was the reaction Munson had been expecting. He came prepared. “Exactly. The big studios have the major properties locked up. Paramount has Star Trek. Warner Bros. has Batman and Superman from DC Entertainment. Disney bought up Star Wars and Marvel Comics. You need something different.”
Allen nodded but looked impatient. “Tell me something I don’t know.”
“The way a smaller operation gets a blockbuster franchise is to find a property that already has a built-in audience that will grow with a successful film. Think of Twilight or Hunger Games, both based on YA novels. The tweens and teens gobble them up and even adults crossed over.”
“Until the copycats came in,” said Allen. “We were burned on a few of those ourselves.”
“Exactly. The first in a dystopia is original. After that, it’s obviously just an attempt to cash in on the trend. As they say, everyone in Hollywood is first in line to be second. Occasionally it works. But most of the time it falls flat. Been there. Done that.”
Munson had baited the trap and was now ready for Allen to step in. It took a few minutes, but Munson had been quite the poker player in his frat days and could wait out another player trying to decide what to gamble.
“And you have something different?” asked Allen, finally.
“The trick is to see what works – in this case, films based on YA novels – and then find something unlike anything else out there. And I have this.” Munson reached into his briefcase and pulled out a dog-eared paperback which he slid across the desk to Allen.
The studio boss picked it up and glanced at the title. “The Babysitter Mafia?”
“Four books. All bestsellers. The fifth one comes out next month and the pre-orders are setting records. This is the hot book series that tween and teen girls are reading but it’s flying under everyone’s radar. I’ve got an option on the whole series.”
“How did you hear about it?” Allen asked.
“A neighbor’s daughter. I saw her and a bunch of kids passing around a book all excited and thought that was so unusual that I asked to look at it. This was it.”
“Okay, so what is it?”
“The YA books are all about taking familiar genres and telling stories from a teen’s perspective. Novels about oppressive civilizations can fill a bookshelf. But the smart writer decides to make it about the high school teen who has to fight to survive. The Babysitter Mafia crosses adolescents with gangsters.”
Allen picked up the book again and looked at the back cover, hoping to make sense of it from the jacket copy. He looked at Munson. “I’m no fool, but I’m also not a teenage girl. I don’t get its appeal.”
Munson smiled. “It’s The Godfather meets The Babysitters Club. You have these three sisters who have controlled all the babysitting business in their suburban neighborhood, and then a new family moves in with a daughter who tries to compete and starts to sign up other girls.”
Allen rolled his eyes. “Where do the gangsters come in?”
“Don’t you see? The girls are the gangsters. One of the sisters is a cheerleader and when she’s out on a date with the captain of the football team, their car explodes. That’s when the new girl wakes up to find the head of the family’s pet poodle in her bed…”
“No one’s ever done anything like this for a mass audience. It’s a raw emotion. Action. Romance. Teens will eat it up. And adults will become curious when it becomes a hit.”
The studio boss seemed intrigued. “How old are these characters anyway?”
“In the book, they’re fourteen and fifteen. For the movie we’ll make them eighteen – high school juniors and seniors – and we’ll have twenty-somethings play them. We should be able to inject plenty of sex without it looking like kiddie porn. But we’ll also need to skirt an R rating.”
“I like it. Who do you see in the lead role?”
Munson had a big smile on his face. He knew he had pitched well. Now he just had to bring it home. “That’s the beauty of it. We cast an unknown. Someone with just a few minor TV credits so we know she’s got talent and watchability. And we put her under a multi-film contract for the franchise so we don’t have to pay a fortune to do the sequels.”
Allen put the book on his desk. “This sounds like a well-thought out plan. How much do want for the rights?”
Now it was Munson’s turn to go in for the kill. “I’m afraid you misunderstand, Mr. Allen. I’m not looking to sell the rights. I’m looking to enter into a partnership. There’s going to be enough money in the pot to make us millions.”
“I already have millions,” replied Allen testily. “And I’m not looking for a partner. But I do admit you have a very good project here.” He started to cough and raised a handkerchief to his face.
Munson wasn’t sure if Allen was jockeying for position or in serious distress. Then Allen removed the handkerchief.
That’s when Munson saw that the studio mogul’s jaw had detached from his face and dropped six inches.
“What the f…”
Before Munson could finish his expletive, a thick tendril with four sharp points shot out from Allen’s mouth and pierced Munson’s chest. It immediately began ingesting all of the producer’s internal organs. In a matter of moments the producer had been reduced to skin and bones. He, or rather his remains, slumped to the floor in a heap.
It had been the studio head’s turn to kill.
The tendril withdrew and Allen reattached his lower jaw, then sat back in his chair with a contented sigh. He pressed a button under his desk and the secretary came in.
“Karen? After you take care of disposing of Mr. Munson, have someone look into acquiring the rights to a book series called The Babysitter Mafia. I understand it’s just become available.”
The secretary made a note on her pad, then spoke.“Very good, Mr. Allen. Don’t forget that you have an appointment with Tony Kroft at 1 pm.”
“Tony Kroft? Remind me.”
“The young director just out of film school you wanted to meet?”
“Ah yes. Just in time for lunch.”