Scene Seven, Take Thirteen and . . . Action!
“Cut!” I slapped a hand against my forehead with a bit more force than necessary simply to stop myself from throwing something. Stress sweat prickled in my armpits and at the backs of my knees. I was a woman director fresh off a hit indie film, helming my first tentpole movie for a major studio with a budget containing more zeros in it than the GDP of most European countries. Needless to say, I was a huge bundle of exposed nerves wrapped over a giant sweat duct.
Though we were still on budget and on schedule, I was struggling with every department to keep things moving that way. It didn’t help that the screenwriters (yup, that’s plural, and a couple of the people associated with the job seemed to change week by week) kept rewriting the script according to yet another producer’s whims. My editor and I were going to have a field day trying to piece together a coherent story from some of the scenes I was forced to shoot.
And then there were my lead actors. A sigh slipped out as I called a fifteen minute break to the crew, knowing one of those lead actors had already taken it upon himself to walk off to his trailer as soon as the clapboard snapped shut. Both male and female stars were simply hired for their name recognition and good looks; sadly, neither one could act their way out of a paper bag. But try telling any of that to the studio heads or one of the numerous production company meddlers who came all-too-frequently to the film shoot.
It wasn’t as though I hadn’t tried. At the beginning of the process, during casting, when I was still flush with my previous film’s success and my head still rang with the praise heaped upon me by everyone I met, praise I naively believed they meant, I pushed for the hiring of the actors I worked with before. Though they didn’t have the name recognition of my current leads, they were up-and-coming, not to mention talented as hell. But their faces didn’t translate into profit. So I tried to get others with slightly more famous faces who still had the ability to translate the words from page to screen with some semblance of acting talent. Again, no go.
Which meant I was now stuck trying to corral two of Hollywood’s ego-maniacs. Each one on their own I could handle (if only with temper held just barely in check), but we were currently shooting one of the few dramatic scenes of the film, an intimate moment full of pathos and a nascent romance as the two leads come together to discuss their feelings. It’s one of about half a dozen such scenes inserted into the film to suggest it isn’t just another soulless experiment in green-screen mechanics and computer-generated technology. And it does so nearly as well as I just made it sound.
“But why would I want to be with Mike Morrow when I’ve already declared my love for Mystery Master? What’s my motivation?” This was the third time Sylvianne Warren had whined those exact questions in my ear, her faux-leather-bound script clutched tightly in her claw-like hands as swarms of assistants fluttered around her, retouching her makeup, making adjustments to her costume, resetting her hair, and basically annoying both of us. Waving them away without a backwards glance, in the fashion of one who knows she wields power and expects nothing less than complete compliance, Sylvianne tottered over to the chair next to me, her five-inch stilettos click-clacking on the studio’s concrete floor. She folded her skinny frame into the fabric of the seat, hooking her heels over the bottom rung in order to prop her pointed elbows on her knees, and looking for all the world like an overly-tanned, “I’m a natural blonde, if you ignore my dark roots” praying mantis. Her large hazel eyes, slightly protruding and staring at me intensely, gave even more life to the impression and I had to work hard to stifle my laughter, turning it into a cough at the last minute.
Flipping open her script, Sylvianne presented me with a page covered with her bubbly handwriting. “I mean, I’m Silk Phantasm, right? Why wouldn’t I know Mike Morrow is Mystery Master? We’ve worked together before and, c’mon, that disguise of his of wearing colored contact lenses and pasting on a fake beard wouldn’t fool a two year-old! Yet Darla Abbot, the Silk Phantasm, has no clue? It doesn’t make any sense!”
I pinched the bridge of my nose to stifle the tension headache pressing at my forehead. Those scribblings on her script? They were notes from when I’d gone over this scene, this very conversation, with her nearly a dozen times before. See a pattern forming here with Miss Sylvianne? “Sylvie,” I said, as patiently as possible, “this is an origin film, the first of what the studio hopes to be a long line of films. Which means we have to follow certain rules set up by the source material, and in that source material, though Darla Abbot, aka the Silk Phantasm, has worked with Mystery Master in the past, it was under duress as the two are actually enemies. When she declares her love for him, it’s because of a love spell placed on Darla by her enemy, Lady Aquarius.” Lord, do you know how much of a dink I felt saying all this crap with a straight face?
“It’s called suspension of disbelief, Sylvie. Right now, in this scene, you’re just Mike and Darla, getting to know each other as a man and woman in a very romantic situation. Okay? Now,” I yelled out, turning away, “let’s get this stupid, romantic scene reset so we can get the damn thing in the can and move on!
“Maxy, light this arch so it looks more like something you’d find in Paris! Could somebody do something with that Cupid statue in the background? It looks like it’s smirking! Archie, get Sylvianne over to her mark and make sure she understands where she needs to be with the lighting! And before she yells about her hair and the fake rain, get her her damn umbrella, and make sure it looks good! And will somebody please drag Stone from his trailer and tell him we’re going to try that acting thing again!”
After a brief flurry of activity, the scene was once again set and I was comfortably ensconced behind the playback screen set-up, where I could once more breathe easily. Vicki, my AD, came to the fore:
“Picture’s up, quiet everybody! Roll sound! Roll camera!” Holding up the clapboard, as the LED began flashing, she called out, “Marker, scene seven, take fourteen,” and snapped the board shut. Immediately, a hush fell on the entire area as everyone waited for me to speak the next word:
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