Dark Visions

Part 2: The Tiny Glass World

Robin Hill

Talking Pictures alias talkingpix.co.uk






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Also see David Fitzgerald's:

Rejection Letters

During my time working as Head of Development, I was sharing a house in Central Los Angeles with the director of one of the company's upcoming films. This second part of Dark Visions describes the weekend the film came out in the UK, and we waited with baited breath to see what the takings were. 

Regrettably, the names have been changed and 'the film' has not been named. 

'The blessing of God upon the grass is in shades of green'. - Christopher Stuart. 
What is the moral presented here? It could mean that God blesses each of us in the most appropriate manner, but I take this rather to mean that the work of God can only be seen with the right kind of patient observation. If 'God is in the details', then we might only become aware of his work by paying attention to the details. With this paradigm in mind, I would like to take a few moments to share with you my recent discovery. 

H. B. Reese Candy Co. are a division of Hershey Foods Corporation. This company has the license from Switzerland's Nestle company for the exclusive rights to manufacture and retail KitKat chocolate bars in the United States of America. It has recently come to my attention that American KitKats are wholly inferior to their European counterparts. The chocolate has none of that creamy European elegance. Instead it is powdery and slightly bitter. In short, Reese have failed to adequately reproduce the same standards of excellence set by Nestle. Although the nature of Transatlantic franchising allows the products to assume the aura of authenticity (identical packaging et al), in fact the replicated Reese product itself is nothing but a pale shadow of the Nestle original. 

I think it is therefore fair to draw from this example the conclusion that America is a limp sack of shit while Europe is a buttercup in a gentle breeze. God has simply not done his work over here. The details are wrong, yes wrong, all and utterly f***king wrong. 

Additionally, here is a little tale that can either be enjoyed as an anecdote (as in, a funny little story that happened the other day) or can alternately be viewed in terms of its possible allegorical significance. Whichever interpretation you personally favour, I think you will agree that this is some seriously f**ked up shit. 

The Film was herded onto cinema screens throughout the British Isles last weekend. This was the first ‘platform’ for the film, the plan being to garner good press and good money in the United Kingdom before widening the release and selling to America. You see, even though the investment and production companies are LA-based, the director Bob Clemons and the cast are all English. Needless to report then, there was a fair degree of eager anticipation in the offices of The Company regarding the box office results for the first weekend of its release on its ‘home turf’. The film’s producer Carlo in particular was very excited by the prospects of getting 'the number' at the end of each day. I had no particular idea what 'the number' might suggest or what it might portend for the future of the film. Carlo filled me in. This information I shall now paraphrase and share with you. 

Each film's success or failure is ultimately determined at the box-office. Where the layman may suppose that money may be the standard unit of success regarding a film's release, the American industry in fact considers a film's performance in terms of the number of 'admissions'. This, of course, pertains to the actual number of tickets sold, a more accurate indication of the popularity of a film than the simple financial gross figure which may be misleading due to fluctuating and wildly divergent ticket prices from cinema to cinema and territory to territory. 

The figure produced during the opening weekend can, according to conventional wisdom, be tripled to find the approximate total gross of any given feature. Exceptions to this rule can be roughly divided into two categories: those films that make most of their money in the opening weekend and then 'drop off' radically as word of mouth spreads and kills it dead. These are the 'smash and grab' blockbusters that hide behind the huge advertising campaigns of every summer. Alternately, a film may grow and develop a larger audience as word of mouth pulls in the crowds. These are commonly termed 'sleeper' hits. 

With this central conceit in mind, Carlo informed me that given that The Film was playing on eighty screens around the United Kingdom, a hopeful number might be forty thousand for the weekend. I had no idea regarding the relativity of this figure in regards to other theatrical releases so I therefore took it as gospel that this might be a reasonable number to aim for. Certainly, we were all very concerned for The Film’s success in light of the intense critical mauling it had received from the British press. Indeed, I cannot precisely remember a more hostile response from the critics, and certainly I have never seen one for an indigenous production. Time Out reviled every element of the film's production and execution while The Daily Telegraph pulled no punches in calling The Film, 'one of the worst film's ever made'. Meanwhile The Times reviewer suggested that The Film had him ‘just praying for the credits’ while The Observer wryly noted that the film looked as though it had been 'made by a teenager'. In light of this extraordinary savaging, we were pleasantly surprised when the figure eight thousand came back for the opening Friday. 

Saturday, The Film’s director, Bob Clemons and I were summoned to Carlo's mansion in the Hollywood Hills. The long drive up Coldwater Canyon was filled with hope and anticipation, although even at this point I was beginning to feel a certain dread. We arrived at three and because Saturday's have a late show, it transpired that the results would not be in until 2:30 am London time. This translates as 6:30 pm Hollywood time. Needless to say, this did nothing to stop the excitable Carlo from ringing the British ticket-counting office several times before the proscribed deadline. 

The tension grew. Bob and I kicked a football around the expansive garden as Carlo speculated excitedly about the numbers. Anything above ten thousand would be acceptable. Anything above twelve would be good. Anything above fifteen thousand and we were doing well. I began to feel that all of this were faintly absurd. There is a fundamentally abstract quality which numbers possess which precludes me forming any kind of emotional attachment to them. The idea that twelve thousand was good and nine thousand bad was anathema to me and I began wondering at the wisdom of placing such hope in a single number. 
Finally, Carlo called in and the tired telephone jockey in the London ticketing office gave him the number. Carlo came away from the telephone smiling, 'Twelve and a half thousand, guys! With last night's number, we're already over twenty thousand. With tomorrow, we'll go to thirty-five and that puts us close to my hope of forty. We are not dead. The critics can all go to hell!'. 

This sentiment quickly consumed Bob and I and there followed from this a great round of beer-openings, back-pattings and general relief. And yet I was perturbed. I could not help attempt to make real that abstract number. Twelve thousand. Twelve thousand people standing in line in the rain, money in hand stepping up to the box offices of England and saying, "Two for ‘The Film’ please, mate". I couldn't help but visualise each of their faces, those twelve thousand sitting in the loving darkness with their medium popcorn and their regular drink... 

Sunday passed uneventfully, with much of the burden lifted by the good news of Saturday's 'number'. Bob and I managed to have a little fun playing computer games. In the evening we went to the cinema and laughed much of the way home. 

Monday morning, I wake up late, my memory filled up with whiskey and my mouth deep purple from too much red wine. I dimly remember having online sex with some twenty year old sex doll with a penchant for biting. I ring the office. Carlo comes on, distraught. He tells me that we have 'a major disaster' on our hands. I ask him what is wrong. He says that the ticketing agency were giving their numbers in pounds sterling, not in numbers of admissions.....The news takes a while to travel from the receiver to my ear, from my ear to my brain. The calculation takes forever. That means the film has made a fifth of what we had previously considered just acceptable. The sky has fallen. I see clearly the grim absurdity of numbers. Twelve thousand pounds. Twelve thousand. 

And that was that. The distributor in London said that The Film had had one of the worst opening weekends on record, that it could be viewed as nothing but an unmitigated disaster. The audience had stayed away in droves and averaged 2.8 viewers per screening, making it one of the least seen films in living memory. The whole office dug in for the winter, a chill wind made all the more biting by the promise of a long summer. 

Bob is distraught, rejected outright by his own people, his own country. He is now sailing a handkerchief ship on choppy waters. Raising the money for his next film is going to be difficult in the extreme. Everybody knows you do not go back to an unexploded firework. And that is the dreadful truth. My trench-buddy just got blown to a shower of beef mince and smoke blackened rags hanging on the barbed wire fence. His heart is Bikini atoll, vaporised in a day for reasons unknown. The critics prowl off to next week's releases while he moves in a daydream without breath or blood pumping, stares at his guts flapping like grounded fish between his feet. It is a holocaust of one, a private apocalypse, a near-death experience. I see jet black glossy chrome rimmed clouds forming superfast in the endless blue sky, heads turning in perfect sequence in comic Busby Berkeley fast tracking shot along a chorus line of tutting critics and disgruntled audience members. The line ends with Bob, a rubber balloon burst with tears and endless needling. Fuzzled to limp gutshot nada in a broken moment of old clock parts, doomed to walk between the winds. 

Two years of work suddenly turned inside out in a critical and commercial shitstorm. The Film lays curled up foetal at the bottom edge of the silver screen, exhausted with foes and now anxious to keep a low profile till the sun burns out. That film sank the world. 

What is God telling us? Answers on a postcard, please. Set them alight and send them up the chimney. 

Return to Dark Visions Part 1.

Also see David Fitzgerald's:

Rejection Letters

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