I’m sitting in the ninth floor conference room looking out the huge glass window at the bumper-to-bumper L.A. traffic. The busy freeways look like a squirming mess of worms at the bottom of a bait can. Reflected in the glass window are nine people sitting at a long oval table.
Eight producers and me, the writer-for-hire.
I’d been hired to write a TV movie of the week. They wanted me to write an entire 120 page screenplay in eight acts in just one month.
I did. I churned out a complete woman-in-jeopardy plot with a lead protagonist that Meredith Baxter-Birney or Valerie Bertinelli would be chomping at the bit to play.
Now the producers want to rip it apart and tell me how to rewrite it.
I’d bitch about it except they pay me way too much to bitch. Besides, I don’t have the heart to bitch anymore. I left my heart somewhere along the second or third TV movie I wrote for hire.
I hold my breath and watch the traffic worms squirm.
There are eight cooks stirring this pot and we’re only on page 18 of the script and we’ve been here talkingbitchingtalking about it for over two hours already.
102 pages left to go.
I cannot listen anymore. I want a cigarette. I want a drink. I want these producers to write their own damn screenplay.
I want to write plays again. I want to write what I want to write, not what somebody else tells me to write. I’ve sold my soul to this eight-headed devil sitting around the table. I took the devil’s blood money, bought an expensive house in the hills and now I have a mortgage-monkey on my back.
“Layce? Are you listening?” one of them asks.
“Yes,” I lie, swiveling my ‘interested face’ back to the sixteen eyes staring at me.
She must sense my lie because she recaps the current problem with the script. “When she walks into the hospital and asks where the volunteers are meeting, on page 18, that’s too… too…” she searches for the right word.
I give her what she’s looking for. “Too O.T.N.?”
O.T.N. is Hollywood short-hand for On The Nose. It’s what every friggin’ producer says when they don’t like a line but they don’t know why.
“Yes! Too O.T.N.,” she says and seven other heads bob up and down in agreement.
I feel something jar loose inside my chest and poke its head up my throat.
“We, meaning the audience viewer, has to find out she’s a volunteer at the hospital without her out-and-out telling us she’s a volunteer,” she says, tapping her index finger on the tip of her nose like that somehow makes perfect fucking sense.
The dark little creature scampers higher up my throat and I try to swallow it back down.
All eight of them overlap with their own sentiments about this one line. They’re talking so loud, I can’t hear a word they’re saying.
I watch the clock. Five minutes go by. Ten. Fifteen.
The animal claws at the back of my throat. I grit my teeth.
I slam both my fists on the table and the beast jerks its eight heads toward me. I open my mouth and the little animal with sharp claws jumps out. “This is fucking ridiculous!”
I stand. Suck in a deep breath. Stride to the glass window. I feel like Joan Crawford leading a meeting at Pepsi, willing these people to do my bidding by the sheer force of my charisma. I point through the glass at the outside world and throw my words like they’re a bucket of ice water, “Out there… Out there people are living. They’re living and breathing and being born and dying and having sex and dancing and crying. A few of them are watching TV. A couple of the ones watching TV are watching a TV movie. Not many, mind you, but a few. And out of those few, half of them have gotten up to fix a sandwich or go to the bathroom. That means half of a half of a half of a half percent of the TV viewing audience is watching a damn TV movie. And not a single one of those people give a flying fuck about just one line in that movie. THIS IS NOT REAL LIFE. THAT out there is real life! So…” I say, turning to them with my hands hanging off my hips, “just give the actress a fucking T-shirt with big red letters across the front that say Volunteer.”
I grab my briefcase and stalk out of the room. I exit the building and take a deep breath of the L.A. smog.
I wait all night for my agent to call and tell me I’m fired and that’s the end of my career and she’s dropping me because she can’t even get me a lunch date anymore. I make a list of potential nom de plumes so maybe I can get work under another name.
My phone never rings.
The next morning, Fed-Ex throws a box onto my porch. I open it and pull out a white T-shirt. It has big, red letters emblazoned across the front that spell out Volunteer. The enclosed note reads: Thanks. We needed that.
P.S. The fucking movie never got made anyway.