'The Script Conference'
by Phineas Redux
Summary:— Stephanie 'Stevie' Garroch, 34, and Kelly Humber, 32, are lovers, film producers, and part-owners of Redoubtable Films Inc, a 'B' film Poverty Row movie studio located in Hollywood and New York in the 1930's. While in New York they struggle with the script of a forth-coming movie.
Disclaimer:— All characters are copyright ©2020 to the author. All characters in this story are fictional; and any resemblance to real persons living or dead, is purely coincidental.
Caution:— There is some swearing in this story.
Being so close to the Hudson River the air quality in this section of West 54th St., NY, was rather higher than average; which did nothing to lift the spirits of those in Boardroom A, the Cailley Building, where on this sultry morning of June 1934 the headquarters of Redoubtable Films had its East Coast offices. Present were Stephanie Garroch and Kelly Humber, both Producers as well as having a large share stake in the Company as a whole. Keeping them company, at this conference on an up-coming movie they were nearly set to put into production, were several managers, production assistants, and general characters from Front Office—each and every one with a differing take on the importance of their own input to the ongoing discussion.
"—at which point Nancy, Mary Shelling playing the part, gets out'ta bed in the nude an' heads for the bathroom centre stage—the camera viewing her from the back, so we get a quick view of her behind as she hits the bathroom." Gilbert Montrose, script-writer, getting into the feel of the scene. "Nothing outrageous, you know; just a quick nudie scene; all done in the dark—a little flesh, a little bit of behind, a little thrill for the audience, no harm done. What d'ya say?"
The penetrating silence which followed might well have been heard half a mile away on the banks of the Hudson; but finally Kelly took it upon her shoulders to face the enemy.
"Yeah, Kel?" He looking at his Producer with both the heart and expression of an innocent. "Dam' good scene, eh? Nuthin' sordid, just a little sexy, is all. An' Mary's up for it, too. Not as if we're press-ganging her in'ta it."
"—er, yeah?" Gilbert finally realising something was slightly errant in the way his setting-out of the scene was being taken in the boardroom.
"You ever heard of the Hays Office?"
"Oh, come on, Kel; what could they have against such a dinky little nudie scene?" Gilbert sitting up and defending his imaginative results with verve and resolve. "What's a bit of skin, where it does the most good? Why, she won't be on screen more'n four seconds, tops. Who could oppose that?"
"The Hays Office!" This from a grizzled old Front Office Accountant with grey hair sitting at the end of the table. "They can an', by God, they dam' well will. Scrap it."
"But there ain't nuthin' to it!" Gilbert loath to abandon his jewel in the crown. "A bit o'flesh, sure. But, four seconds, an' that from behind? Why, there won't be anythin' interestin' t'see, anyways. What? Ya all suddenly all come down with a rampagin' case of the heebie-jeebies, or what? Dam' the Hays Office; set all sails fer full ahead, an' dam' the consequences, I say."
Seeing things were becoming ever so slightly heated, Stephanie stepped in to pour soothing balm on the topic.
"Nobody's got anythin' against a bit, a little bit, of nudity where nudity'll do the most good." She smiling confidentially all round the table. "Why, Kel an' I've both done some scenes, in years gone by, when we showed a mite more flesh than'd be acceptable today. But that's the rub, Gil; today's today, an' the Hays Office'd shut us down in one flap of a humming-bird's wings if we made that scene an' showed it to them. There ain't no way it'd get past the Office censors t'day—no way."
Gilbert sat silent, contemplating defeat; then, unexpectedly, came back fighting.
"That's a bummer. Y'see, I've written three nude scenes in'ta the script."
"What?" From Stephanie, dumbstruck.
"You what?" Kelly even more astonished. "Three! Give."
"Well, ya see," Gilbert up for this like a soldier in the vanguard. "the first nude scene takes place in the plot when Mary's—I mean Nancy's, living at the shack in the woods in the wild countryside. Scene opens-river in background-Nancy emerges from the waters entirely nude and walks casually towards the camera, all taken in distant long-shot, heading for the shack-camera holds the shot for ten seconds-cut to interior of shack where a swirl of cloth covers the lens', an' Nancy's decent again, with a housecoat on. End scene. It all bein' lensed from such a distant viewpoint you never see anythin' other than the most remote view of her nakedness, as it were. Nuthin' t'worry the beadle of a local church, at all."
The silence following this realisation of a projected scene was even longer than the first.
"You lost your mind, or what?" Kelly gazing at the script-writer with furrowed brow. "Only askin', in case we need to call the guys in the white coats in, is all."
"Oh, very funny." Gilbert miffed at this criticism. "You haven't heard the third scene yet."
"Oh, God; bring it on." Stephanie by now ready to hear almost anything.
"OK, it's like this—it's a sex scene. Mar—I mean Nancy, in bed with the lover-boy hero, Todd Vallance." Gilbert grinning widely as he brought his imagination to bear on the great scene. "All done in low light, of course; but there're, wholly by necessity, some flashes of bare bodies—some slippin' an' slidin' of bare flesh of both sexes over each other—and, of course, a brief few flashes of breasts; well, ya got'ta, haven't ya? The whole scene takin', oh, one minute of screen time. That's all."
This third silence extended itself without heed or reproach from the inhabitants of the boardroom until it seemed that all that would ever take place again afterwards in the long room was simply silence unhindered by any noise whatever for all time to come. Stephanie, first to recover from the worst effects of the late script recital, sighed, took a deep breath, then let rip.
"Gil, you have certifiably lost your dam' mind!" She scraping the tabletop with her long nails in her intensity. "I have never heard such a farrago of imbecility in all my puff. Nudity here, nudity there, nudity in the offing, nudity dam' well close-up, an' finally, sex in all its glory right on camera for the audience t'imagine they're one or other of the competin' partners! What you need, Gil, is a long holiday in a straight-jacket!"
The break for refreshments, which took place immediately after this confrontation, allowed the heat to dissipate somewhat before fisticuffs broke out; the inmates of the boardroom dissolving into several groups, muttering amongst themselves. Kelly and Stephanie walked across to one of the high windows, apart from the majority of the others, where they could have some privacy if they spoke quietly.
"Close call there, Kel."
"Dam' sure, sis." Kelly nodding in agreement with her lover. "About as crazy a script as I've ever heard. Nudity in the past is one thing; but today it's more or less a no-no. The Hays Office'll come down on us like a ton of coal if we tried it."
"Don't I know it." Stephanie sighing as she contemplated the situation. "One thing's for sure—the script needs a rewrite."
"Do you think Gil'll be easy on that score, about his sacred screenplay, when we ask?"
"He'd better be, or he's out." Kelly showing all her pragmatic nature. "Lot's of other writers' gasping for the chance to submit their scripts to the movies. And lots waiting in the wings for just the chance to take over a struggling screenplay and inject fresh life in'ta it."
"Everybody ready to start again?" Barry Jamieson, the Front Office Accountant, a Canadian now working somewhat south of his origins, stood at one end of the long table. "We can get on along with the script; Gil says there are some action scenes he needs people's thoughts on."
"Back to the grind?"
"Yeah, oh well, let's get to it." Stephanie turning to stroll over to her chair once again.
The problem with action scenes in a movie always revolves around the particular level of violence shown on screen in the cinema. This detail raised its head immediately the discussion began.
"There are two big action scenes." Gil taking this new tack in exhibiting his script. "The first is when the hero meets the Bad Guy in an alley at night. A fight ensues, taking note of the objects and setting surrounding the two men. Ned, the Good Guy, gets a fair few punches in to the body—the usual groans, growls, and sounds of chests being thumped—all the usual fight details. But then Ned gets Larry, the Bad Guy, in a neck-lock and proceeds to bash his head off the alley wall, finally rendering Larry unconscious. I wondered what you all thought of that? As a thoroughly entertaining piece of cinema, I mean."
Jamieson took it upon himself to counter this question.
"How many times does he get his head bashed against the bricks?"
"How many?" Gil a trifle confused.
"Yeah." Jamieson raising his forbidding ancestral Scottish eyebrows as he continued. "Four times; the Hays Office'll scrub three and edit most of the first. If only the once, then the Office'll edit it till there' ain't anything left. What I'm saying is, Gil, you can bash the Bad Guy's head off the bricks as many times as you like—in the script; but none of it'll get t'be shown on the screen, that's for sure."
"Oh, come on." Gilbert not at all accepting this friendly piece of advice in the tone in which it was meant. "You got'ta be kiddin' me? Guy attacks the Hero—Guy gets his head bashed in—all's good with the world. What's t'complain about?"
"Apart from the Hays Office," Stephanie coming forward with her take on the matter. "nobody in any audience'll want t'sit in the dark listenin' t'someone having their brains bashed in. Stands t'reason. God, Gil, ain't ya got any appropriate understanding of moral borders, at all?"
"I seen, an' heard, worse things in the Great War." Gilbert obviously taking the attitude that what he had experienced at the Somme allowed him to create the same level of harsh reality on the silver screen.
"That was, what, fifteen an' more years ago." Stephanie shaking her head dismissively. "And most ordinary folks didn't have the same personal experience you did; so they won't be able to sit through that level of violence without throwing-up, take my word on it."
"What about the second action scene?" Kelly attempting to relieve the tension, which was growing out of proportion once more. "Tell us about that."
"It involves the second female murder victim—"
"Oh, God!" Jamieson, at least, already fairly sure he knew where this was heading.
"—who, as you've all read in the script copies you each have, is attacked when she opens her apartment door to a late night knock." Gil getting into the swing of the scene as he spoke. "—is then beaten around her living-room—and eventually thrown out the window of her fifth floor apartment—landing on the sidewalk with a solid crunch. I figure you'll need to work with the sound technicians t'get that just right. Y'know, the sound of broken bones, an' all. Meb'be a quick shot of the body lying crumpled on the pavement in a pool of dark spreading blood? That'll look really good in Black and White—Realism, y'know. They're doin' great things with Realism, over in Europe, so I'm told."
A peculiar sound washed through the boardroom—that of fourteen people all sighing heavily in tandem, like an Opera Chorus; Stephanie being first to recover her wits.
"Gil, have you ever heard of the Hays Office? I only ask, because you seem to be under the misapprehension that you can write, and we here at Redoubtable can film, anything you come up with—be it nudity, sex, outrageous violence or cold-blooded murder in all its gory detail? Don't you have any concept of limitations? Things, I mean, you can't show? Scenes the Public don't want any part of?"
The scriptwriter wasn't going to give up without a fight himself, however.
"What about Artistic Licence?" Gilbert looking round sourly at his compatriots. "I,—we,—got a right to write what we want, don't we? I mean, this script here's a story detailing a series of scenes in a number of ongoing lives. If you want to reflect Life as it is, you got'ta show the realities; an' they're messy most of the time. If you don't show this, you ain't really giving the Public an honest mirror to Life, is my opinion."
"Well, now we're getting to the heart of the matter." Kelly on top of this statement. "Honesty—Reality as we understand and interact with the world around us—is all well and good; but what we provide to the Public is a show, not pure reality. When the audience sits in their seats in the cinema, watching one of our films—anyone's films come to that—they are watching an entertainment, not a mirror reflection of the world as it really is. So the details of certain actions, like the nude, sexy, or violent scenes you've written in your script, are not relevant to the finished product. They are not acceptable or pertinent to an entertainment of any description, never mind in films. Sorry, if I'm proselytizing."
There was a widespread movement round the long table, everybody easing cramped limbs and breathing more deeply as the conversation finished. Jamieson, acting as Director, taking this instant to bring the conference to a close.
"It's nearly midday, fine time to call this discussion to order." He standing and grinning round the table. "I'm sure, if Gilbert takes a week and brings a revised script to the next conference, we'll be able to get the movie back on track in a timely manner. Shall we call it a day, gentlemen-ladies'?"
Two minutes later the boardroom was empty and silent.
After lunch, the same day, somewhere around 1.00pm, the boardroom was no longer silent and empty—if two solitary women could be said to have broken the spell of the hushed and deserted auditorium.
"Can hear my voice echoing off the walls an' ceiling, now everyone else's gone." Stephanie making this comment as she and Kelly took chairs together at one end of the long table. "So, what d'ya think?"
"About Gil's script?" Kelly placing her forearms on the table with deliberation, preparatory to getting comfortable. "Well, it has its ups and downs, that's for sure. The sex and violence will have to mostly go or be heavily toned down, certain; but what about the rest of it? The plot, I mean."
"It's a crime thriller, mainly shot at night—lots of darkness and shadows and things happening you can't quite see; that sort of effect." Stephanie here shuffling the pages of her personal script. "Good, in its way, sure; but needs work still."
"Yes, I noticed that—the night angles, I mean." Kelly nodding confidently. "Means we'll save on set design and furnishings, at least. Electricity too, hopefully; those dam' Kleigs' cost a fortune to run."
Quiet reigned for a few seconds as the ladies ran over their scripts; judging both its style, content, and relevance to contemporary times.
"We've got the Hero, Ned, and the Bad Guy, Larry; but what about the two women? Geraldine and Cora? They take up a fair slice of screen-time together. And I mean, together; what if we suggested they had, well, you know?"
Stephanie gazed at Kelly, considering this suggestion from her inamorata with a sparkle in her eye.
"A personal understanding, you mean? A beautiful thought, baby; and I'm sure most audience's wouldn't be particularly shocked; always supposing we steered well clear of Peoria, of course—give 'em a censored print." Stephanie sat forward as she spoke, however, having thought of something pertinent. "But we ain't taking the Hays Office in'ta account."
Kelly raised sad eyebrows towards her lover.
"They won't spring for it, you think?"
"Not a hope, babe." Stephanie sure of her footing. "Bring the slightest scent of unnatural sex, as they'll definitely see it, in'ta the recipe an' they'll have a blue fit."
The following week, when the film accountants had perused their red and black invoices to the nth degree; the technicians had been allowed this longer period to consider the difficulties of working on location; and the Front Office had pored over the problematic task of how to advertise and sell the upcoming movie to the Public, having sleepless nights in doing so, everyone once more rolled up to Boardroom A like pupils returning to class after the long Summer break.
"Everyone here?" Barry Jamieson once more taking command of his forces as they all sat round the table. "Good-Good. So, shall we start with the continuation of Gil's script re-writes? I find that to be an important item, before we get onto other matters—the accounts, you know; there being, still, some vagueness about just where the majority of the finance is coming from: but we'll get to that in good time—Gil?"
Gilbert, looking remarkably like a pupil called on to recite an essay he had failed to write, shuffled the copy of the latest incarnation of his script on the table before him, glanced up and down the double line of spectators, and came to the point.
"Yeah, I've done some re-writing—some." He glanced quickly all round again; looking strangely shifty as he did so. "I dumped the doll bein' flung out'ta the window—seein' as how she didn't go down so well, if ya forgive the pun, last week. God, censors! Anyways, that leaves the first action scene—and before I begin; yeah, Larry doesn't get his brains smashed out this time round. There's just a fist-fight, an' Ned knocks him down. A great scene ruined, in my opinion but, hell, am I the Director? So, where was I? Oh, yeah,—sex!"
"There better not be any." Jamieson speaking before he had engaged his brain, judging by his following shame-faced expression.
"Very funny, Jamieson." Gil clearly not impressed in the slightest. "You an old hand from Vaudeville? Anyways, I got Ned an' Cora talking together in their hotel room, they being married, y'all recall? But they only talk, in a kind'a romancy way; another great moment sent t'hell, but there ya are."
Kelly piped up here, she being snappy that way by nature.
"God, the Hays Office—"
"F-ck the g-d'd-m Hays Office!" Gil putting Kelly in her place and letting-off steam at the same time.
"Oh." Kelly bowing her head, muttering unintelligibly under her breath.
"So, where was I, again? Oh, yeah—so, what with blood on the walls, realistic violence, an' bare flesh all nixed t'hell, there ain't much of interest left in the dam' script. Ya wan'na dump it, an' make a cheap Oater instead, Kel—Stevie?"
"Ho-ho!" Stephanie taking the moral high ground. "Get on with it, Gil. What about these night scenes? Sure there ain't too many? I mean, most of the dam' movie seems t'be set at darkest night; the audience'll eventually get fed up straining their optics trying t'make out what the hell's goin' on in the shadows most of the time."
Gilbert took this mild critique way too much to heart, however.
"The underlying note of the story deals with the black nature of the human soul." He looking sourly round at his own personal audience, none of whom seemed much impressed. "Greed, hunger for wealth and social position, sex—or, at least, it did till the re-write. And, of course, the violence inherent in the modern mode of living; again, all shot t'hell in the weak pasty re-write. Hell, I'm almost ashamed t'put my name on the credits as scriptwriter."
Kelly had by now exhausted the last remnants of her patience; not a sentiment she embraced to any great extent at the best of times.
"What Stevie's saying is, Gil, if it wouldn't be too much trouble, how about setting more of the movie in the daylight—so folks can dam' well see what the hell's going on, is all."
Gilbert, hounded on all sides, slapped the already battered copy of his rewrite on the table; perhaps with more violence than he felt was now going to be allowed in his finished movie.
"I'm tryin' t'create an atmosphere." He glanced up and down the table, meeting everyone's eyes with a steely grimace. "Gloom, despondency, desolation, sketching all those figures who only come out at night in the modern metropolis. What's the use of bringing 'em out in the sunshine? Breaks the whole concept of the movie. You'll be telling me next I should make it in'ta a romantic flick. What've I got'ta do to get it past you? 'cause I don't know; I've given you all I got, is all. An' no, don't ask for another rewrite, 'cause that'd just give me no option but to do something dreadful."
"Calm down, Gil." Stephanie attempting to bring her Captain's skills to the situation before it really got out of hand. "We ain't asking you to go crazy over it. You've already done some great rewriting; getting rid of all the excessive, er, bits. Scenes, I mean, the Hays Office won't stand for—"
"F-ck the Hays Office!"
"Gil-Gil, easy baby, easy." Stephanie standing firm but kindly. "All we're sayin' is, we got borders, rules, to navigate by. Some things we can do, some we can't. Some we can get away with, if we slip it past the censors when they're focused on something else; some we just got'ta jettison for the good of the whole movie. Now, where we are now with this flick is a good place; we've avoided the worst of the Ha—the censors' quibbles on the most important issues, while retaining the overall tone of the movie. All we got'ta do now is keep it up. Get the plot sorted out—I mean, it really does need to have more daylight scenes. Much as you like the standpoint you simply can't set almost all of the movie at night; it just won't play in the theatres that way. Get your characters out in the sun, where the audiences can see who they're dealing with for their thirty cents entrance fee."
Kelly broke in here, having a point to make on her own account.
"Yeah, that's right." She nodding solemnly, as if perusing the Bill of Rights itself. "Get 'em all, Ned, Larry, Geraldine, and Cora out in the daylight; ease off the dark doomy atmosphere, let the characters have some life and happiness. That'll go down well with the audiences. Give them despondency and violence all the way, taking place in the shadows and cold dark night, and we'll have the spectators walking out in droves, halfway through, asking at the desk for their money back, and you know it."
Gilbert, harassed beyond endurance, sucked in a deep breath, only to let it out in a snarl of rage. Picking his criticised script up he flung it on the floor with a round curse and walked out the boardroom, banging the door behind him. A silence ensued.
"That went pretty well." Stephanie perhaps looking on more of a bright side than actually prevailed.
"Yeah, I'm sure Gil's next rewrite'll come up trumps." Kelly backing her lover all the way. "What, another week and we'll really see progress with the script, I'm sure."
At this point Jamieson, having listened to the previous discussions with his head bowed low over his account books, now took it on himself to change the subject and tone of the meeting entirely.
"Can we take this opportunity to discuss finances?" His usual baritone seeming even more prevalent than usual. "Gardray, Rogers, and Fringley have put up some twenty thousand dollars; but we still need at least another twenty from somewhere. I'm in discussion with Carbison, Cordray, Halliday, and Kamlet; I'm fairy sure they'll spring for fifteen thou in the next week, but I'll only be really happy when we find another fifteen over and above that. I was wondering, Stevie-Kel, if we shouldn't reach out to Berminster and Frangiot?"
Kelly was ready with a quick rebuttal to this request.
"All the other backers' settle for the ordinary five per cent; Berm an' Fran always hold out for fifteen? If we agree it'll cut our profit margin by—by—"
"Thirty-seven percent, Kel." Jamieson wholly on top of his figures.
"Sh-t! That means we wouldn't make a profit at all." Stephanie seeing the end of the road as clearly as anyone. "Nix Berm an' Fran, look for someone else—not so dam' miserly; someone who'll part with an orchard an' only ask for a bag of apples in return, not the whole dam' crop."
Jamieson had another angle on this problem, however.
"We could cut our print total?" He glancing, somewhat apprehensively at the two Producers. "Maybe only run-off thirty thirty-five millimetre prints, instead of thirty-five like we usually do?"
"How much'd that save?" Stephanie looking quizzical in her turn.
"Around a level five thousand dollars."
"Uum, what about the lost audience numbers?"
"If we're lucky, and it's a success from the get-go, then the cinemas who do run it'll have extra audience figures from then on as a result." Jamieson here shrugging his shoulders, apparently only half convinced himself of this possibility. "Should make up for the cinemas which lose out because of the low print run."
"Uur, suppose that'll have to do; unless you can come up with some real flash backers in the interim, Barry." Kelly crumpling her copy of the first rewrite in her fist and looking around for the waste-paper basket. "Well, goodbye script; just hope your descendant, next week, is more fit to purpose. OK, folks, let's call it a day. Next week, same day, same time, different outcome, I hope."
A week later, and closer to the first day of filming on the new movie than anyone felt comfortable with, the usual suspects congregated once more in the long boardroom in the Studio's offices in New York; everyone who had any sort of finger in the pie being there, ready for the fray.
"Order—Order." Jamieson looking, if anything, greyer round the temples than ever, bringing the court into line. "Right, first, the script—how're things going in that direction, Gil?"
Gilbert, obviously none too happy, squirmed on his chair, clutching the latest incarnation of the questionable script in his hand.
"Uumph, Kel an' Stevie gave me the low-down on their requirements after the last meeting." He giving the impression of a prisoner who had just been visited by the warders to let him know the chamber was ready and waiting. "Lose this, lose that, lose that too; nah, that won't wash, better get rid of it as well—Jee-sus! I tell ya, the amount of material I've cut, it's a dam' miracle there's any story left at all. One more word, one more scene, cut an' the movie'll consist of the opening credits, a ten second black screen, then the end credits, nothing else."
After a slight silence Stephanie came to the rescue of her favourite film company.
"Gil, you're breakin' my heart. What's the problem? A script always needs re-writes; that's how the system works." She, unimpressed by this tirade, shaking her head confidently. "We decide on a story, we then take all sorts of things in'ta consideration, we change the script t'fit. Over the course of a few weeks a number of re-writes take place, ending in the shooting script. You know that. What's irking ya so much this time round?"
"Yes," Kelly unable to hold herself back from interrupting. "we're only on the third re-write; I've known other companies make ten, maybe fifteen re-writes, before they felt they had a workable script. Ease off, smell the roses, get ready to re-write like nobody's business over the next week or so. Shooting-day One being in three weeks from now, y'know."
This was too much for the harassed script-writer, however.
"Anyone'd think I was a machine, like those things under a glass bell-jar that print out the stocks from Wall Street on rolling tape." Gil taking on the expression of a sidewinder that had just missed an easy prey. "Re-write—re-write, that's all I ever hear. You picked the dam' film, way back when, didn't ya? I wrote the script for it, all shipshape and Bristol fashion; covering the whole gamut of what was required—atmosphere, character building, romantic scenes, action scenes, drama, tension, and a great denouement. Jeez, an' all I've heard since is—re-write this, re-write that-re-write the—"
"Gil, stop repeating yourself." Stephanie halting any incipient mutiny before it could develop wings and fly free. "So you've got a lot of work t'do on this one. So buckle-up an' get to it, is all. Everyone else is ready an' waiting to get their claws in'ta the thing—t'get the movie goin'. There're some minor changes, sure, Kel an' I thought needed attention; but there shouldn't be any problem ironing them out."
"Yeah, I've cast an eye over your latest script, here," Kelly raising the offending copy of the document under discussion in her hand. "good, as far as it goes, I allows."
But Gil picked up on this hesitant approval in an instant.
"As far as it goes? What'n hell does that mean?"
Kelly, ordained by nature to stand fast against all comers when they became argumentative towards her, sat forward on her chair, elbows on the table surface in a business-like manner—eyeing the errant script-writer as if he was John Dillinger turned up out of the blue asking how y'all were doin'.
"It's a good script—a very good script." She allowing her eyes to scintillate with dangerous brown depths as of an Irish bog. "It was good at the start, it's good now—but it still needs attention. Things are working themselves out, certainly; but the characters' personalities still need some sharpening-up, and the action scenes aren't yet what they could be, that's all."
"That's all!" Gil, shocked to the core, sitting back with arms falling to his sides in disbelief. "Ya mean ya want another re-write?
"Wouldn't go astray, yeah." Stephanie backing-up her lover with an affirmative nod. "The majority of the script's fine; but certain passages—character, action, the general smooth unrolling of the story, all need just a final brushing-up. Shouldn't take ya more'n ten days, just in time for the filming to begin on schedule."
Gil sat silent, almost as if petrified, looking up and down the table at the forest of faces gazing back at him—some quizzical, some concerned, some wholly entertained by the unfolding drama, some frowning, not at all happy with the apparent unprofessional nature of the discussion. Then he exploded.
"Brushing-up! Again?" He rose to his feet in a passion of varying feelings. "Ya bunch a'bums'! G-d'd-mit!"
Raising one arm high in the air for the second time in succession he threw the offending copy of the script across the boardroom, it bouncing off a wall and slithering back across the floor to end up underneath one of the street windows. He glared, like King Kong himself, at his audience, then strode to the door and exited, not forgetting to slam the article loudly behind his disappearing frame.
Another pause descended on the battleground that was the boardroom; many of the audience slowly, carefully, sitting up straighter like soldiers just rising from their slit-trenches after a bombardment.
"Well, that went pretty well." Kelly abandoning all logic in favour of outright fantasy. "Think we moved forward on the script issue fairly well, there."
"Yeah," Stephanie finding backing-up her other half becoming harder and harder as the morning progressed. "—er, yeah."
The conference, after a much needed fifteen minute coffee break, again took up the cudgels in defence of the ongoing necessity to bankroll the upcoming movie—Jamieson once more at the forefront concerning this topic.
"We've finally roped in the usual sus—er, group of backers, all coming up with the necessary without quibble." He here sighing in relief at visions of what might have otherwise been. "We gave Berminster and Fangiot the bum's rush, as required; but we managed to hit paydirt with a Mr Thomas Ingerfel, of Crane Motor Corporation—he, off his own bat and out of the blue, oiling the hinges with twenty thou at five per, thankfully."
"That's great." Kelly applauding an excellent deal with all due respect. "That puts us back in the black, so's we can get the movie going without worry now."
"Yes, quite." Jamieson nodding solemnly, his Protestant Scottish ancestry forbearing to allow of outright delight in the matter, much as such was heartily deserved. "So, as far as finance goes, we're in the clear."
Sitting down to a round of applause from all present Jamieson sat with head bowed, like a saint who had just performed an indubitable miracle—which, in the circumstances, wasn't far from reality.
"Well, with that sorted out we can go on to other matters." Stephanie taking control of the discussion. "First up, the electricals; there's gon'na have to be some mighty pretty footwork with generators and Kliegs', what with all the night shooting we'll be doing. You up for it, Brian?"
Brian Todhope, senior electrical manager, nodded calmly having been through this wringer many times previously.
"All's well with the generators, Stevie; no problems, we'll keep the lights goin' like it was daylight on a Summer's afternoon, like always."
During the pause which followed this clear instance of unmitigated hubris towards the Gods a curious scraping rubbing noise could be heard throughout the boardroom; everyone touching wood in hopes of avoiding the consequences of this much too free-handed assertion.
"Aah," Stephanie recovering first. "what about the stage and set designs, Neal?"
Neal Kingston, set designer, sat at ease himself; he also being an old hand in Redoubtable pictures, having seen and experienced the whole gamut of what could go wrong on a movie set over a period of years; so being somewhat accustomed, if not entirely blasé, towards the whole situation.
"Sets are up and running; only three major sets, rooms in houses; then a number of outdoor set-ups that need dressing, but no trouble there. Yeah, we're good t'go, Stevie."
"Great," Stephanie openly relieved, sitting back with a sigh. "OK, I think that clears everything up for this morning. Next conference next week, same time, hope t'see ya all there, rarin' t'go. OK, let's wrap this up, then."
"What about changing the tone of the script to a Romance?"
Stephanie, sitting beside her lover at the abandoned table in the now empty boardroom, pondered this request with some intensity.
"It is, at the moment anyway, a crime story; that's why it has such bleak atmosphere, dark lights, heavy action scenes, gloomy personal associations." She shrugged non-commitally. "Where does changing the whole thing into a Romance help matters?"
"I was thinking, re something that came up at an earlier conference, that the Public may look on the script as it is at the moment as too harsh to enjoy." Kelly raising her own shoulder in a doubting manner. "They'd stay away, and the movie'd be a flop, possibly. Making it a Romance might bring it back into the popularity fold, do you see?"
Stephanie shook her head, rejecting this hypothesis out of hand.
"We're talking in what might be's, here." She coming back strongly. "As it stands it's a bleak experience, I admit; but I'm with Gil, as it happens—it makes a fine movie; just that necessary changes, because of the nature of movie-making, have to be taken in'ta consideration—"
"Yeah, I agree."
"—so, what with everything, these changes are necessary even though they kind'a water down the initial effect of the original script." Stephanie defining her personal understanding of the script as she went along. "What we'll end up with is something similar to the original, if changed substantially in the interim; but that ain't bad, it's just the way the world goes. We got'ta take account of general moral issues, the stance of the dam' Hays Office, what we think the Public'll stand and what they wont. All these sort'a things; it all adds up."
"Yeah," Kelly taking the chance of a snappy repartee when offered. "to more re-writes for Gil! He ain't going to be a happy camper in the next few weeks, that's for sure."
Stephanie, however, had now taken up a wholly pragmatical approach to the subject.
"Hell, what're script-writers for? To sweat blood day by day, week by week, for the good of the majority, is what. He writes and, by God, he'll dam' well re-write as long as he has fingers t'hit the dam' keyboard. We pay him, we get the most out'ta him we can—standard working policy."
"You're a hard case, lover."
"God, in this dam' movie business if ya ain't a hard case ya don't last, honey-bee."
The next meeting, the following week, slightly differed from those previously in being less attended by those who mattered; several having important duties to attend to re preliminary preparations for the now fairly imminent movie. As before Jamieson opened the discussion; bringing, right-off, the focus straight to the elephant.
"Hi, Gil—how's the script going?"
Gilbert, by now a sadder and a wiser individual, sat stoically, latest copy of his ever-changing script in hand, flicking its page edges with his fingers; he clearly battered by Life in general and re-writes in particular.
"How's it going!" He glancing around as if trapped in a nightmare with a posse of demons haranguing him. "I never thought Redoubtable'd be so set on the write part of script-writer; re-writes, in particular. D'ya all realise this script—this movie—has changed completely since the first iteration of its being? I thought you wanted a dark intense crime drama, with the characters' living in a dangerous milieu. Now it's more like a Laurel and Hardy short. What do I have t'do to save the dam' thing from ending-up as a Musical charade?"
"Gil, I love your imagination, but don't let it run away with ya." Stephanie putting on her Kind Aunt persona. "Especially as things are coming along so well at the moment. We're well in'ta the thing as we all sit here; shooting's gon'na begin shortly, and the script's coming along smoothly enough. Just a few details to iron out and we'll be there—end of the road, thank God!"
"I hope so; this dam' script's almost taking on the strength of a mental aberration in some ways." Gil looking less than happy at this prospect. "Another re-write, or maybe two, and I'll definitely start having nightmares about it."
Kelly, having sat quietly listening to this dialogue, took command of the topic with an authoritarian, indeed callous, purposefulness.
"Gil, this ain't a personal thing; the movie isn't about you, it's about fictional characters. The fact you're the writer, the author, doesn't make it a reflection of anything in your own life: it's fiction, don't let it become anything stronger. Because it sounds to me as if you're on the road to letting the script, the fiction, infiltrate your private life. I thought writers, authors, script-writers, were above that childish aspect of literary construction?"
Deliberately aimed in this cold harsh manner at the script-writer Kelly was looking for a sharp dramatic response, which is what she received.
"You're telling me I'm goin' mad? Ha!" He slumping back on his chair, looking miserable. "Just about what I expected; doesn't anyone here have any confidence in me? No-one? I've been working on this dam' script for three months now, an' I hate the dam' thing!"
"Which is what many authors of note have said about their own methods of writing." Stephanie in her turn taking no prisoners. "A lot of well-known authors, today and in days gone by, have written about their writing methods, and a substantial number allow it's a long-haul, not an easy stroll. That Frenchman, Flaubert, for instance; he took years over each novel, nit-picking every sentence many times over till he found what he thought was the perfect aphorism or description. He wouldn't have made a good script-writer; he'd have refused to send in a finished script at all, saying he had to work on the thing indefinitely with an infinite emphasis. So be glad of small mercies."
In response to this helpful observation Gilbert sat mournfully silent, his glass clearly half empty.
"Only one more re-write, Gil." Kelly attempting, somewhat simplistically, to calm the stormy waters. "I promise you. Just one more; a few inconsistencies, a number of mere details, a little juggling with character traits, a bit of work on the action scenes, ditto the romance scenes: Hell, one more re-write and we'll have the finished product—a winner—a brilliant movie!"
"Oh, is that all ya want?" Gilbert not impressed in any meaningful way. "So much to do, with so little time remaining? What d'ya all want—I should die tryin', or what? Is Kel here gon'na have t'prise the last script from my cold dead fingers? 'cause it looks mighty like that's the way things is heading, from my perspective."
"Wrrph, come on," Stephanie determined to instill some backbone into recalcitrant workers. "What's your problem? It's only words, after all! A simple story; what, ya can't manage it? Shall we pension your sorry ass off, an' get in someone who can write? Only askin'."
Gilbert, pricked beyond endurance, stood up, script copy in hand, glaring round like a deposed ruler at his trial.
"I started out with this script thinkin' I was in on a classic drama; then it waned in'ta a dime novel conversion; now it's a mere kids' cartoon; an' still ya want re-writes—t'bring it just that iota nearer t'what ya think is perfection—but what I know is castration! G-d'd-m hoi-polloi!"
With which closing remark he stormed from the boardroom in a huff; only this time being so irritated he forgot to throw his script across the room, thereby losing a substantial quantity of his exit strategy's dramatic effect.
A long comprehensive sigh of relief echoed through the long room immediately after; the remaining participants only happy they had corporeally survived yet another script conference.
"Should we bring our tin hats from the trenches for the next meeting?" Kelly injecting some much needed facetiousness into the situation. "Only, seems a reasonable idea."
"I still got mine at home." Jamieson nodding in agreement. "Haven't felt this threatened since Vimy Ridge."
A fortnight later production began on the new movie with the first day of shooting the finished script. Kelly and Stephanie were on set to watch the primary takes, both happy that everything had come to a successful conclusion and that all preparations had come off effectively.
"Looks like it's going to be a great movie."
"Yeah," Stephanie agreeing wholeheartedly with her paramour. "Great sets, great actors, great script; what's not t'like about it?"
"Pity Gilbert couldn't be here to oversee his first script scenes; but probably for the best, he'd only have gotten under the Director's heels."
"Iimph, sorry about his migraine, but there ya are." Stephanie actually less worried than she let on. "Great script, like I said; think this movie's gon'na make an impact, y'know—and mostly because of Gil's script; great writer, Gilbert."
"No doubts there, lover." Kelly taking her partner's hand as they walked away towards the stage door. "Needs a trifle of prodding, to get him on the right track, but a fine writer, all the same. You taking him on for our next movie—'Challenge at Midnight'?"
"Sure as hell I am, doll." Stephanie knowing full well where her golden eggs came from. "Best writer we have on the Lot, can't do without him; but, for God's sake, don't ever let him hear ya say so—we'd never hear the end of it."
"Ha!" Kelly fully in accord with the woman she loved over all. "I'll give him the news later this evening, see what he thinks and says about it."
"Something snarky, no doubt; but that's Gil for ya." Stephanie happy as a lark as they crossed the open Lot to their sedan. "Great writer, though, that's certain. It's gon'na be a great film."
The interior of Gilbert Montrose's apartment was furnished and styled in the prevailing Moderne manner; somewhat bare for old-fashioned tastes, but Gil liked it. Not that the large living-room was being over-used at the present moment; nor the ancillary kitchen or study. What was in use was the bedroom, which contained only one inhabitant as we take a quiet peek into its interior—Gilbert, in green and yellow pyjamas, in a bed with lilac coverlet, in the throes of a migraine attack.
"Oooh! Aaah! Uurrh! G-d'd-m scripts; I give up writing for all eternity t'come."
"Aaagh! Who's that phoning at this time of night?"
The next 'Redoubtable Films' story will be along shortly.