Thursday, Mar. 13, 2003
Michael called me out. And out I came.
Some unseen guardian whispered into my mind that video image of myself walking down the church aisle at Ben'n'Angela's wedding. I was slouched, shoulders rolled forward as I swayed back and forth with each step. Had I less hair, I would have mistaken myself for my grandfather. With another step to go before I was in front of two hundred shouting, screaming, cheering, booing strangers, I forced out one long last breath of nerves before I hit the floor in full stride. Stand up straight, dammit!
The noise was as deafening as the lights were blinding. The blare of the studio band blasted me from the right as that oceanic roar of the crowd rushed the stage and crested on top of me. Say hi to everyone. Wave! No, don't point. Just wave. I don't know why I did that. I couldn't see a goddamn thing. It just seemed like something everyone did in front of a television crowd. Be nice. I stood in the middle of the stage waving to the lights.
That blond lady with the overbite and the headset said Michael would shake hands on the performance area, then we'd walk to the desk. Oh, yeah. Uh...where's Mike? The desk and chairs to my left were empty. Then I felt a gentle palm press the middle of my shoulder blades.
"Are you going to sing us a song?"
I looked at that enormous shit-eating grin. The hair was huge. His hand was hovering out in front of me - I don't know for how long - and I planted mine in it. He leaned in and shouted past my ear, "How you feeling you alright ready to do this do you need a minute?" All I could do was bobble my head.
I don't recall making the journey from that spot to the desk. When the crowd finally receded, I had the most terrifying urge to check my fly. My carreer will be over before I leave the building.
"How you doin'? Good to see you." Michael has been a used car salesman since he was twelve. Now he was selling recycled Leno jokes to the networks.
Am I allowed to tell you I'm exhausted? Geezuz! Did I just say that, or did I just think it? No! You're not allowed to say that!
"I'm doing well, Michael. Thanks for having me," I said.
"Well, we're glad you could make it. You know, for a second out there, you looked like you were about to break out into a song."
"Yeah. No," I said. "I wouldn't do that to you, Michael. It's just that I never get used to the experience of a crowd like this without getting hit by flying objects."
"Oh really?" he chortled a bit of genuine laughter. Just a bit before, "I guess that means they must like you."
"Well, that's good," I said looking out across the theater, trying to avert my eyes from the glare of the lights. "But I don't think I've met a single one of them yet."
Somewhere in that abstract void I found the red light on top of the camera. I stood up, focusing as best as I could on that red light and waved.
"Hi. I'm Dan. Pleased to meet you."
Someone in the void of the theater made the obligatory yow like a chimp sticking it's finger in a light socket. The crowd took the cue and saved me with hearty applause.
"Well, there's proof," said Michael.
I sat back down, trying to recall what had just happened. Adreneline had set my mouth on autopilot.
"I guess so," I said. "I just wanted to make sure you didn't have Paul Newman lurking around back there somewhere."
"No. No. So...let's talk about this film of yours."
I reached for the complementary bevarege in the brand new Tonight Show with Michael Essany mug on the edge of the desk.
"Wait a minute." He was stammering. "I'm sorry..."
Michael laid a patronizing hand on my arm. "Didn't you know...?"
Isn't this my complimentary bevarege?
"Paul Newman has been dead for quite a few years, now."
Oh, well, shit! I forgot real life applies here more than ransom Late Night humor. I drew the mug in and held it for a moment.
"Has he?" I feigned ignorance. "Well, then he must be lurking back there somewhere. Tell him I loved him in Nobody's Fool."
As I bowed my head toward the mug I muttered, "Reminded me so much of my own dad." I wondered for a moment if it would have been funnier to do a spit take. I hadn't thought of that. The audience laughed. I raised my eyes over the lip of the mug. Michael laughed. I looked at him. Then I turned around in the chair and searched the scale model set of New York City. The steal and glass World Trade memorial was lit from above with a spot light as if God were actually blessing America.
"I assure you he's not back there," Michael laughed. "Now, how about this new film of yours? Tell us a little bit about it. How did you come about to making this film? How did all of this happen?"
"Boy, I tell you," I said. "I have no idea how this happened. I was just minding my own business one day at the cable access station. The next thing I know, Hollywood wants to sleep with me. It's crazy how this game works."
"Oh, man. You're tellin' me." Michael mugged one of those fucking grins at the camera. I could see his face in close up on the monitor.
"Well, you busted your ass for twelve years. I was just picking mine."
"Oh, really?" he said, looking slightly superior. "Is that how's it's done nowadays."
He was suddenly serious, back on script. "So, now, what's the name of this film?"
"I donno. I don't have a title for it yet."
"You don't...you don't have a name for your movie?"
I couldn't tell if his suprise was a new act or if I was saying all the wrong things.
"Film," I corrected.
"No, I don't have a name for it yet. Like I said, I was just minding my own business when this all happened."
"So a team of executive agents broke down the door. Yeah," said Michael. "That happens alot. What's it about?"
"Well I don't know really, but let me give you some background. When I was growing up, even while I was a young adult, American movies were always about these larger than life characters, which were always mildly entertaining, but never very interesting."
"Mmm, hmm." That big furry melon of his was propped up on two fingers. "So you decided to make your own movie? Film."
"Sure, why not?" I said. "I think people are the most facinating invention. Because there's so many different kinds of people, but we're all still basically the same. What's more entertaining than putting different people in the same situation and watching what comes out? It's much more interesting than watching one guy do everything. What? Ben Afleck is going to save the world? Again? Thanks, anyway, Ben. But for my sixteen bucks I'm going to the theater pub, and watching an old five-dollar print of Beyond the Valley of the Dolls or Soylent Green or even Purple Rain - with a pitcher of micro-brewed beer. And I don't mean no paper cup. I'm talking about - say it with me - a pitcher of beer."
"What do you mean, beer at the movies?" He seemed interested. "Do the characters drink beer at the movies."
"No, this is Portland I'm talking about, where I grew up. I'm sure a few other cities have them too. They're a fantastic alternative to the plastic bubble gum cineplexes, especially if you don't want to see a movie with kids."
"You could always see a movie or a film rated for the more mature audiences, couldn't you?" He was trying to protect his parent company.
"Whether they're teens or twenty-somethings, they're all kids to me. Besides, unless it's free, there's nothing at the cineplex I want to see. And because theater pubs are often operated like a small business they can show the movies I like to watch, with the certain consessions I like."
"Beer and pizza prompted you to make your own film?"
"Well, in a very direct way, yeah, I suppose it was the beer that got me into the mess. Let that be a lesson to you. If you're having doubts about what you really want to do with your life, drink a pitcher of Fat Tire, then go out and do it. Once I'd opened my big drunken mouth, I didn't want to end up as one of those people who do nothing but talk. I hate talk and I hate empty promises, and I hate people fluffing their feathers about what kind of filmmaker they are since they've just purchased a five-thousand dollar video camera. Or because they've just finished a rough draft on a screenplay.
"A friend of mine from those days was one of those guys. He was fond of refferring to his screenplays as films. He'd say, 'This film is about trust' or 'I love this film I wrote because it works on so many levels'. Then he went around telling everybody he was making a film. Three different summers he did this and nothing more than a busted Bolex ever came of it. He did have a pretty good screenplay after four or five years of jerking off with it. I don't know if that's a proper writing technique, but eventually his script became very existential, which turned me on.
"But he had such an aversion to taking responsibility. Making a decision was like licking a rash. But he was my friend, and I stuck it out with him every time he got the bug up his ass. Except the last time he was talking about doing his screenplay, he wouldn't schedule his time, wouldn't organize a crew, wouldn't get on the phone to lock down locations. He needed someone to do the work for him, but he wanted everyone to know it was his film. I suggested to him that he might want to knock off most of his other time-consuming hobbies while he was trying to get his film made. His favorite response was, 'We'll see how it goes'. After hearing that line over and over, 'we'll see how it goes', I decided I'd seen enough. I was going to show him how it goes."
Questions? Comments? Suggestions? Requests? Beuler? Respond to this entry...