Dark Visions

Part 1: What Price Glory?

Robin Hill

Talking Pictures alias talkingpix.co.uk






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This describes a rather harrowing moment when I had to crush a man's dream, a pretty much true story from my time in Hollywood. I have excluded the real names and excised any details of The Project as it is still being actively developed over there...

Last week I told a man his life was a dream that I would soon be trampling. He looked forlorn, forty-something manchild, broke into deep sighs, heavy breaths to hold the tears at bay. I could see the phantom suicide gunshot blast winking on and off in a red halo at the back of his head. In the mirror, my face was smiling with demonic destructive glee. 

The backstory: the manchild and his pal were the original developers of The Project, one as a writer and the other as producer. It was their lettuce leaf limp and limping gutshot dog of a script that attracted me to the material in the first place. Subsequently they sold all of their rights for peanuts to my sleazy Italian boss Carlo. They are now desperately attempting to maintain some kind of eleventh hour control over the project. The writer has been on the project for ten years, begging the question 'why is it rubbish?'. Finally he has come to America to see what is happening, only to find my mammouthly superior draft waiting for him. I hear he threw it across the room on sight. I scheduled two midday meetings with them on consecutive days. 

We met the first day at Carlo's house rather than the office in order to make it absolutely obvious that this was not their territory. I should tell you something about Carlo. He is the most rutless man I ever met. He had probably promised these guys the earth when he took their rights away from them. Whatever, he told me immediately before the first meeting that I should humour these guys as he will ultimately get them off the project and has no intention of honouring any kind of promise to them. Therefore I had been agreeing in principle to being a 'script editor' on their next draft while qualifying and telling them that it is not strictly up to me. 

The writer was incredibly hostile to me at first, ignoring every point I made and seemingly denying the very existence of my script. Occasionally, his voice would raise an octave, his weepy voice strangling in his throat and he would make some sneering derisive point about my 'script notes'. Carlo left the room and the guy leans across to me and says, 'I don't know what to do or say. I don't want to sit here and just call you a c**t. Listen, please listen, I've been working this project for ten years. It's my passion, it's all I've got inside me. The rest of my life is making adverts and corporates. This is my one chance, the one good thing I've got in me.' Carlo walks past in the background and winks at me. 

The following day, their tone completely changed. Suddenly, they were crumbling back and attempting to wrestle authorial control by pretending that they were going to write exactly what I have already written. 'Oh yes, of course we were going to do that in the very next draft'. Moreover, no matter what you say the script needs, the guy is able to say, 'yes, of course that is already there in the scene on the lake when Lucy says to Dennis.....', (going on to quote chapter and verse from his script). It was a terrible day. I became angry a number of times, making the same point over and over until finally they conceded the point and subtly made it sound as though they had been agreeing with me all along. 

Finally, Carlo stopped pretending he was busy and sauntered into the office. The writer, summoning uncharacteristic courage manages to say, 'okay, Carlo, tell us straight. Who is going to write the next draft?'. Carlo, afraid as ever of direct confrontation, says, 'oh, you guys should work it out between you', effectively and very blatantly leaving the decision up to me. I am in a f**king jam here, I think. I think fast and say, 'you know, I can't make that decision yet. Not until Roger makes his play.' They don't know who Roger is, and neither do I. Fortunately, it is enough to silence them. 

I am being the politician as Carlo slinks away back to his office. These guys then launch in on me. They say they welcome me to the project. They look scared, knowing I can take over now, knowing that the final decision is mine. They are virtually begging me to let them have a shot at it. I say, 'guys, let me be honest. I am a writer, not a f**king script editor'. I am beating the pheasants out of the brush. Their hands fly up as little startled flapping fists. The guy starts talking about his wife and kids and his passion again, about the ten years he spent on the project. He has got nothing in his hand. His hand is open. I have all the aces. He is now bleating woefully, challenging me to execute him. 'I don't want this to be my slow death', he says sadly. 'We can do this. We can make this work as a team', he offers. 

'Guys', I say, 'at the end of the day, I don't mind, but if you start sending stuff over and I don't like it, then I'm not gonna stay on as a story editor. I'm gonna start rewriting'. There is nothing more than that to say without destroying them. These guys are both hovering nervously around forty. I am twenty five. The one guy says, 'you are young and ambitious. You can get what you want more easily than we can. We welcome you to the project but please tell us we can make it happen for everybody'. I think my silence told them everything they will ever need to know. 

I go drinking with these guys in the evening, try to tell them about how things work. It turns out the writer is completely delusional, thinks he is actually going to get a shot at directing the film, this hundred million dollar epic having done nothing but British TV adverts. I tell him this is not likely. He is completely crestfallen. He looks about twelve years old. The idea that this guy has been harbouring about getting to direct the project is nothing but lunacy. Sitting on the balcony of their West Hollywood hotel, glutted on their top-end tequila, I heard him say, 'But it's alright to have a dream, isn't it?'. I sucked on a piece of lime to get my response sounding extra sour, 'yeah, as long as you're willing to get it trampled all over'.

That night, at Carlo's invitation, we meet up at Crazy Girls, a Sunset Blvd strip club. They were going to see Hollywood alright, Hollywood selling them a golden dream that turns to lead when you get it back to England. They were going to laugh nervous laughter tonight and throw me nervous glances across semi-naked women. My heart is a glass fist tonight, clenched for a punch-up but ready to shatter at any moment. I stare into the mirror and see the corners of my mouth turn up with glee, my brow furrowing over animal experiment eyes, lights flickering, candle dying in my lost soul. 

The evening was a slippery disgrace of broken-hearted men and sideways glances. I got shattered to pieces drunk, drinking beer after beer, watching Carlo glutting on vodka tonics and throwing money onto the writhing women who rolled across the stage. The little tragic, brokedown manchild writer half-sobbed into his Rolling Rock, saying, 'it just makes me realise how much I love my wife and kids'. Ugly world turning beneath my feet. I am not laughing about this I can tell you. I rather resent the position I had been placed in. I then had to babysit these guys until they left, smiling and shaking their hands as I plotted their downfall, stabbed them in the backs, through their bleeding hearts. 

It is a dog eat dog world for sure, but I don't see any need to put the dogs face to face at any point. Sweet-eyed family men like these get f***ked out for the good of the project. They had their shot and their draft was dreadful in the extreme. They have to go because, from here on, they are only getting in the way. I feel bad about it, but the last thing I need is to see their weepy little faces popping up in my nightmares, hear their weepy strangled voices like Jacob Marley, 'It's all I've got inside meeeee......'

What can I say? That trampling dreams is a life lesson that money can't buy? That I've got no humanity because I'm hungry for money and glory? That I'm beholden to the project more than to my sympathy for some busted-out dreamer? That there was a part of me that enjoyed watching this fella fall to bits? What Price Glory? 

See Dark Visions Part 2.

Also see David Fitzgerald's:

Rejection Letters

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