Friday, July 11, 2014

The dream factory

         We decided to write a script to win grant money to make a short film. We decided on a rolling appointment every Friday late in the morning. He wanted to direct. I wanted to write.
         I sat on his computer chair and he lay on his bed with an acoustic guitar and I asked him what he wanted the film to be about and he strummed chords and told me his idea and I wrote down his notes in a notepad.
         The film was going to be about the majesty and greatness of living and was going to celebrate life and be a positive, ruminating piece on the central character’s life from birth to death. His twist: every scene was going to be a second long and feature one action or line of dialogue or exchange of a couple of lines of dialogue between characters and these scenes would be in great counterpoint and propel forward the narrative brilliantly. I told him that sounded interesting.
         “Have you ever been in love?” he asked.
         “Yeah,” I said with no hesitation.
         “I have never been in love.”
         I showed him the portrait I'd drawn of him: a massive ejaculating penis playing a guitar, lamenting, "Variety is the spice of life!"
         He wasn't that impressed and I went home with my notes and the day before we were due to meet I brainstormed ideas for his film. I didn't come up with much.
         On the Friday I had to wait at the front door because he was still asleep due to attending a party late the night before.         
         It didn’t matter that I didn’t really have anything to show him: he hadn’t written anything.
         Anyway, he had a new idea. We were now writing a black comedy. He explained the idea as he played along to Jeff Beck and widdled away at Beck’s guitar solos on his three thousand dollar white guitar with real gold pickups connected to a 15-watt amp.   
         “It’s not common knowledge but, for three months in late 1978, Beck’s incendiary guitar fusion was solely responsible for powering the United States energy supply requirements.”
         He liked the joke. The new story was to be a sardonic commentary on relationships and careerism and life.
         On top of his computer desk there was a framed picture of his girlfriend in a bikini on a yacht, goofing for the camera with her friends. The photo was a black and white laser jet printout and was faded and blurred and grey.
         "There she is, posing again!"
         The next Friday we drove to an industrial complex in Welshpool to pick up his computer. We went in his car. The advertisement for the Cheesecake Shop blared on the car radio.
         “That was written by Kevin Mitchell from Jebediah,” he told me. “It’s so simple! ‘Munching on a cheesecake at the cheesecake shop!’ Writing jingles is a good way to make money.”
         The computer shop was in a row of shops next to the complex. The people at the shop knew him and laughed heartily at his jokes. We were there for a while. He had an idea for a game show. The central premise: all the questions were about music and the contestants would never guess a correct answer.
         He showed me his porno on the computer. The DivX and QuickTime files ran from ten to fifteen seconds long.
           "I've missed these girls."
         The meeting wasn’t that bad. We researched the big grants currently offered by the Australian funding bodies and found out about what Screenwest and Film Australia had available for the year and when submissions were due and now we had a deadline.
         The third meeting he received a couple of phone calls. He answered them both. The phone rang and he spoke on the line and replied “Oh really?” and burst out laughing. He said, “I’ll see you tonight,” and hung up the call.
         “I was talking to John, my stand-up comedy writing partner, and he just told me he’s broken up with his girlfriend: Anna.”
         “And I asked, ‘Oh yeah, what’s she like?’ and he said, ‘She likes soft jazz, holding hands, walks on the beach, and anal sex.’ Ha ha!”
         It was a pretty decent joke.
         The other call was right after and he answered and listened and shouted out:
         “Oh my god! Was that today? I forgot! I am so sorry! I’ll be there right now. How can I make this up to you? I’m SO SORRY! How can I make this work? OK, I’ll be right there. Where are we today?”
         Then he hung up the call and left to go to his road crew job for a radio station, handing out energy drinks to passer-bys in the street and promoting NOVA FM or whatever and that was the end of the pre-production meeting for the day.
         The next time I arrived he had a new iMac in a box and he spent two hours unplugging the old broken computer and setting up the iMac and registering the machine and copying over his porno and documents. We wrote a song. He played a crazy guitar solo and provided high-pitched backing vocals–“I really have a talent for hitting a high note” –and I wrote the lyrics about worker bees taking over the hive and everyone losing control and I sung the monotone lead and we recorded the effort in garage band. I think he still has a copy of the file somewhere.
         By now our film script was about a ‘selfish man (Mark Aristo–he chose the surname) with a soul crushing, bureaucratic job, in a loveless relationship he doesn’t enjoy [who is] diagnosed with cancer and has only two months to live. [Mark] decides to turn his life around and make his lasting impression on the world with his time left.’   
         For some reason there was a cat and a beggar with strays who is killed by Mark and the comedy was the cat has stock options and the cat represents the futility of existence and Mark embezzles the cat in his stockbroker partner job. I titled the script ‘Means to end’ in a sly reference to Joy Division but I’m sure that even then that made no sense to me, let alone anyone else.
         The week before the deadline I wrote out half a dozen scenes of what we had brainstormed about the stockbroker and cat idea. He came over to my house for the first time in the project and we spent all day on the day of the deadline finishing the submission.
I can recall him saying when he read the first scene description of the piece, “Wow, you’re a good writer,” which stuck with me, because it was the first time he’d read anything I’d written or even acknowledged what I’d done.
         At first I’d type on the laptop with him dictating over my shoulder and when I was tired of that and thought we hadn’t enough time left he took over and wrote the final pages. He annotated the pages of the script with block capitals addressing the person in charge of vetting submissions–sample lines: FROM NOW ON THE TREATMENT WILL BE FAR LESS DETAILED AND MORE LIKE A SYNOPSIS AS TO GIVE YOU THE BEST IDEA OF WHAT WE ARE TRYING TO ACHIEVE WITH THIS SCRIPT. WE HAVE HAD LIMITED TIME TO PREPARE THIS FOR YOU AND WE WILL BE WORKING TO COMPLETE THE IDEA OVER THE NEXT WEEK and FROM HERE IT IS EVEN LESS DETAILED, HOWEVER YOU WILL GET A GOOD IDEA OF THE ENDING WE WANT TO ACHIEVE!and he signed the script with his name first.
         Which annoyed me because even though I knew it was a shit script I wasn’t that amenable to bending over and making changes wholesale just to get some money for him to direct the project.
         During a break we ate steak rolls and watched Roger Federer lose to the mercurial Marat Safin in the unbelievable semi-final of the 2004 Australian Open.
         We shook hands and agreed we had a great story and that we would see this project through to completion even if we didn’t get the grant funding.
         Later when I saw him or maybe we spoke over the phone he said, “My girlfriend read the script and she works as a production assistant and she said it's just about the cat getting some friends to play with at the end and the story isn’t that strong.”
         And that was the last time we had contact.