Look, all you need to know about me is that when I was 40 years old, I got in my car in Portland, threw in a couple trash bags full of clothes, plugged in my phone through a cassette tape adapter, and drove to Los Angeles. I spent the last 24 years working as a barista—sometimes waitress—fucking men I didn’t like and watching movies like a fiend..sometimes three a day. Ever since I watched Indiana Jones as a kid, I wanted to be a director. Then my dad died. He had massive brain tumors. He left me $974,400. We hadn’t spoken since I was 18. I decided to take that money to LA and make my movie. That’s all you need to know about me.
I didn’t know what movie I wanted to make. I didn’t consider myself an artist. I just knew that there was something itching in me that wasn’t going to be fixed in Portland, and I used a sort of spiritual dowsing stick to lead me to my new home, which I always knew would be LA. I should have moved there when I was 16—I should have never waited for the excuse of that inheritance.
But, some people’s stories start earlier in life, some people’s start later—mine started later.
I’d recommend starting as soon as possible simply because you never know when yours will end.
Not to get deep on ya.
But I wanted to be a director because I like telling people what to do—and I rarely got a chance to do that. Mostly it was other people telling me what to do, and the only person who listened to me was Mr. Bunny—even the men I fucked didn’t seem to take instructions.
Sometimes I wondered if I was gay. But cunt disgusts me.
So—living proof, right here—you can be turned off by women and men. Fuck ’em all. Sex was never my thing.
I mean I do it all the time—I’m just not a connoisseur like some people.
But movies, yeah. I liked Lolita (not the Kubrick version) and Japanese movies where a whole bunch of schoolgirls get raped and kill themselves.
I like white and red together—like white panties and red blood. Period fascination? Maybe, in a backwards sort of way. I just like the mixture of innocence and death—who doesn’t?
I’m of the Tarantino school that film is magically paired with violence—that there’s some secret tryst between the two. And it probably is the cut—that seminal element of film wherein an entire field of vision representing one image is [violently?] replaced with a new field of vision representing a new image. That’s pretty violent.
I drove to LA eating Arby’s and smelling my own farts.
I wore the same clothes the whole time.
When I got to The City of Broken Dreams, as some rightly call it, I was horrified. Thirty miles of outlying city with nothing but gas stations and rail yards and Mexicans driving Escalades, screaming at me unknowables in Spanish that I can only assume had something to do with wanting to fuck me. And by the way, there’s a lot of cities in this world called The City of Broken Dreams. It’s not just LA that’ll take ya and break ya—it’s everywhere.
I figured fuck it—if I get raped and killed by a bunch of cholos, it won’t be so bad. I mean everybody’s got to die some way.
I refrained from giving them the finger, though.
I wish I had to this day.
If a guy actually looked at my pussy, rape would be the last thing on their mind. I’m on my period, so there’s blood encrusted in my public hair with snarls of dried uterine clots. Plus, I have a problem where I can’t control when I pee, so I wear adult diapers. They don’t really make them like diapers anymore—they’re like thick panties, and they come in different prints like white angels on a pink background..but you can tell when you look at them that they’re not normal panties and that they indicate that something is wrong with me. So rape that, cholo.
Anyway the sun came up over LA and I couldn’t even see the buildings.
I was too afraid to find a hotel so I pulled into a neighborhood street in Hollywood and slept in the back covered by my bags of clothes, hoping to death that no one would see me.
The plastic was making me sweat and that’s what woke me up at 12:12pm, in front of this fantastic 1920s building called the Fontenoy. When I got out of my Honda, this maintenance man watched me adjust my crotch through my jeans.
I smiled back.
If you only knew these were adult diapers, I thought.
Then a man comes through the front doors holding a chihuahua.
“Are you my ten o’clock because you’re awfully late.”
“I’m not your ten o’clock.”
I pet his dog.
“Oh, she like you. She don’t like just anybody. Do you have a dog?”
“Not anymore. I—”
“Well, everybody here has chihuahuas. You can get you one.”
“I’m not looking for an apartment.”
“So you’re just planning on sleeping in front of my building in your broken-down Honda? Girl, this is LA. White girl like you..get you a Porsche or something.”
“A Porsche isn’t really my style.”
“Oooh, she like you. I think you will fit very well in this building.”
“You wanna hear my rape joke?” I say.
“Girrrrl..do I wanna hear your rape joke??”
“If you don’t hate me after I tell it then I’ll look at your building.”
He purses his lips and covers the dog’s ears.
“My girlfriend was gang raped by a troupe of mime artists.”
He looks at me, waiting.
“They performed unspeakable acts on her.”
“Girrrrrl, I see that Oregon license plate. You gonna have to get some sharper material if you want to survive these comedy clubs down here. Let me show you your new home.”
Air. Windows. Big.
I don’t know how to describe it.
This room in the Fontenoy was on the eighth floor, faced straight at the smog-hidden buildings of downtown, had one big room, an open kitchen, and a bathroom.
“Everyone in the building has a dog.”
“Right. You mentioned that.”
“Just as so you know we’re dog friendly. Not many buildings in Hollywood are as dog friendly as this building.”
“I don’t need a dog.”
“You gonna stay up here all alone? You need to get you a dog. Or is you one of them playgirls have a new man up in yo’ shit every night?”
I pull down my jeans a little bit. The pink-and-white pattern peeks out.
“See these? These are granny panties.”
“Oh you got an incontinence problem, too? Don’t worry about it, girl—get your freak on. This a freaky town. There somebody for everybody. You like girls or boys?”
“Not really..either. But I fuck guys.”
“Why you fuck ’em if you don’t like ’em? Mix your own pot, honey! So you gonna become my neighbor?”
He tells me the cost of the apartment. It’s three times what I paid for a room in Portland.
“But the view is amazing,” he says.
I scratch his dog behind the ears.
“What’s your name?”
“Mike. But people call me Big Mike. What’s your name?”
“Lauren, you wanna see our pool? We got a pool.”
“No, I don’t think so.”
“Awww..” says Mike.
And I’m leaning against the windows. Those windows. And it strikes me, I’ve got $970,000 in the bank. I can fuck this up for a year and still be more than ok.
I turn around and look at the man.
“I see your eyes,” he says. “I knew you would like our little castle. Let’s go to the office and get you an application.”
And walking up the stairs to my apartment—instead of taking the elevator—I saw the peeling paint of the Fontenoy as the refractions of a crystal chandelier, even though there was none. I saw every new resident with their dog or dogs as royalty getting ready for a promenade stroll on the decks of their yachts and beachside hotels—even though we were nowhere near the beach. I wasn’t sure if I was a princess or a queen. Maybe somewhere in between, as every woman is to be for life.
When I unlocked my new door for the first time without anyone watching me, I was more like the latter: maven of my castle, I had lucked into probably one of the best views of LA in the city. I stripped naked, stood against the window, then laid on the carpet and masturbated.
Then I went to the bath. And I planned my attack.
I tried to write a script.
I soon discovered this was impossible for me.
One-hundred and twenty pages of slush was possible for me; that same amount of structured, sensible, audience-pleasing joy was not. I needed help.
And I remembered something my dad said to me when I was a little girl—that fucking bastard. It was one of those pieces of advice like always use tools for the purpose for which they were intended or before bedtime isn’t the time to work out hard problems and this piece of advice was simply ask for help when you need it.
So I decided to ask for help.
I posted online.
I interviewed at the Border’s coffeehouse.
It was mostly homeless people and students looking for a place to sit and free WiFi.
But I set up motherfucking shop. Found a table and set out a sign that said, “LTP Productions.” I didn’t care how dorky it looked. I needed help and I was gonna get it.
The first guy corrected my sign.
“You can’t have that. Two Ps. P..Productions. It doesn’t work.”
“Thank you,” I said.
“You’re welcome,” this kid said.
“No you don’t understand. The interview is over.”
“I’m just trying to help out, man. If you don’t want to listen—”
The next applicant asked what “LTP” stood for.
“It stands for Lauren Teacup Pritchett.”
“Is that supposed to be your name or something?”
“It is my name.”
“You should change it. This is Hollywood. Everyone changes their name.”
“No: thank you. The interview is over.”
Would you believe it was only the third person who sat at my table who turned out to be my future assistant, friend, advisor, helper, kin?
A woman half my age in a knitted pants suit sits down with a tall mug.
“Did you knit that suit?”
We look each other over.
“Is there alcohol in that mug?”
“It’s a bottle of wine. Is the interview over?”
“No. What’s your name?”
“Why do you want this job, Kristi?”
“I need the money.”
“What do you understand the job entails?”
“Uh..I don’t know. I skimmed the post. Is that bad?”
“This job entails 24-hour ideation and mental support. I need to be able to bounce ideas off you at three in the morning, if necessary. And, yes, there will be coffee runs. Many, many coffee runs.”
“Do I have to do your laundry?”
“That’s pretty standard for assistant jobs out here.”
“Everyone has to get ahead.”
“Well I do my own fucking laundry, thank you. I don’t prefer to subject people to my bodily fluids. Want to hear a rape joke?”
Kristi takes a swig off her wine.
I lean back in my chair.
“A man walks up to a woman in a bar and says, ‘You’re going to get laid tonight.’ Surprised, the woman asks, ‘Really? How do you know? Are you psychic?’ The man says, ‘No, I’m just stronger than you.’ ”
I guess my rape jokes are a test. I never like people who aren’t comfortable laughing at themselves to be anywhere near me. And not just laughing at themselves, but laughing at the absurdity of the entirety of everything.
Kristi passed the test.
We laughed and laughed and I told her rape joke after rape joke and tears came out of our eyes and we offended a whole Border’s coffeehouse full of hipsters and homeless people. The homeless people would groan and lament my lost ladyhood and say the world had gone to hell when women were telling rape jokes on themselves.
Finally we got around to the subject of pay.
“How much do you want to be paid? I’ll pay you twice what you’re making now.”
“I’m making zero now.”
“How can you pay your rent?”
“How do you buy wine?”
“Sell food stamps for cash?”
“Well,” I touch her hand, “we’ll take care of that.”
“Don’t you want to see my qualifications?”
“I already have.”
“I have a résumé.”
“No no no I don’t do résumés. I like you. That’s your qualification. I don’t like many people.”
“Ok,” Kristi says.
She puts her résumé back in a manilla folder.
“Why didn’t you just send that to me online?”
Kristi looks down.
“Don’t have internet.”
“I’m gonna take care of that, ok?”
I lean back. My world is coming together.
“What exactly is our project?”
“Well, let me tell you.”
I turn my tablet around so she can see my screenplay—if you could even call that cat snarl a screenplay.
“First I need you to go through this and make a story out of it. I’ll help you. But I mean..can you type? Because usually I’m a one-finger girl and for this I managed to up it to two but any more than that I’m afraid I’ll overheat.”
Kristi takes the tablet and scrolls through.
“What is it about?” she asks.
“It’s about power. Who has it. Who doesn’t. Who wants it. Who gets it. And what’s man’s ultimate power? What’s woman’s?”
“I don’t know,” Kristi says.
“Sex. The ultimate coin. A type of roleplaying as a greater organism. What if two were one? That is the question. To merge. To become one with the greater universe. To swap roles. To touch so intimately that it’s impossible to know where one begins and the other ends. For me to touch you such that your body becomes mine. And it’s about violence. Violence against men, women..violence against us all, committed by us all. Except there’s no bad guys. Everyone has their reasons. Everyone has their upbringing. That is where you learn to want—that’s where all those needs are built. And then, somewhere, we become monsters—the evil Gremlins born of their harmless counterparts, you know?”
Kristi is looking at me motionless.
“And it’s a movie about red and white. Ok? Red blood. White panties. Got it? It’s about the fetishization of violence. And if you’re not ready to work on a movie like that..a movie that goes all the way..then it’s been nice talking to you, Kristi, and if you take the red pill, we’re going all the way down Alice’s rabbit hole, and until this movie’s on that screen across the street—the largest screen—you and I will work insanely until we get this shit done. Because that’s why I came to LA and that’s what I’m going to do.”
I give her the look: that look when partners enter ride together, die together status.
“Take a sip of your wine. Take your time. I could use another espresso.”
“You’re trying to prevent me from getting my espresso?”
“No wait. You’ve got me. You’re the kind of person the Oracle of Hollywood told me about. I’m in. I’ll work for you. And since I’m your assistant now, I’ll get you that espresso.”
Kristi stands up.
“Who’s the Oracle of Hollywood?” I say.
“I’ll take you to see her,” Kristi says, and she goes to get my espresso.
After that bitch bought me an espresso, I bought her a cell phone, a network tablet, and asked her what the fuck was up with this Oracle of Hollywood.
“Do I ask her my fates or something?”
“No. You just rent a PO box and she’ll tell you.”
“Why do I need a PO box?”
“No one gets their mail at their address in Hollywood.”
After we got her shit activated and she had my contact info..
“..So you can answer calls from me 24/7.”
“This is a 24-hour job.”
“So let’s see about this oracle.”
We go to a FedEx store on Cahuenga.
I see a Latina woman behind the counter.
“Um, ya, I’d like to rent a box.”
“You just came to Hollywood.”
I look over at Kristi.
“Your name is Lauren.”
“How did you know my name is Lauren?”
“She’s the Oracle of Hollywood, dude.”
Kristi pushes me closer.
The Oracle of Hollywood takes my hand. She feels the back side.
“You come for advice, huh?”
“No I was just here to rent a box.”
The Oracle of Hollywood flips my hand over and presses it to the glass counter. She examines its veins. Then she throws my hand down and says, “What do you want?”
“I heard you could tell the fates—”
“I think you know your fates, child!”
Kristen looks at me. I look at the Oracle.
“You still want to rent that box?”
Out on the sidewalk, Kristen jumps up and down.
“I’ve never seen her do that!!”
“Well do you think..that’s..a good thing?”
“Well it means you’re special mettle, for sure,” K says, and she grabs my arm and we go south on Cahuenga.
“What did she tell you..when you went?”
“She told me I would find the one.”
“You’re shitting me.”
“Yeah I’m shitting you. She wasn’t very favorable in my case, as I remember. But I don’t believe in Oracles—do you?”
“Then why did you take me to see one?”
“Because it shows in your reaction,” K says.
“I get it. Did I react well to your oracle shunning me?”
“Oh very well.”
“You want to get some dinner? I’m buying..Jack in the Box. That’s our budget at the moment.”
“Whatever you say, boss,” Kristen said into the 2-way mode of our phones. It came through loud and clear in my pocket.
And eating double cheeseburgers with this woman, I had no doubt, no doubt whatsoever, that my guerilla-style interview session at the Border’s coffeehouse had turned up as good an assistant as there was in Hollywood. She was smart and sexy—but not so sexy that her sexy would get in the way of our business. I couldn’t have her buying me a coffee and unable to do so because she was so damn attractive that some spud kicker couldn’t give the bitch an espresso.
No, K meant business.
She had something about her that had given up trying to be the lead actress in a film, and she was hard and realistic, and I loved the little cunt.
She ate a burger like a troll.
“Be careful, you missed some on your chin.”
She licks it up.
“If I was a lesbian I’d eat your pussy so hard.”
She looks at me.
“You would, wouldn’t you?”
“If I was a lesbian.”
“Too bad,” she says.
“What are you?” I say.
She says: “I take what I can get.”
A true Hollywood scavenger.
“So what can you get me? You know stars? You know agents?”
“All I can promise you,” Kristi says, “is I’ll make whatever phone calls you want.” She chews. “But if you want agents all you need is IMDB Pro.”
“Yeah it’s like über cheap for you. You get everyone’s agent contact info and you can send like scripts and shit.”
“See that’s good, Kristi. I didn’t know that.”
“Hollywood common knowledge.”
“And what’s your dream?” I say.
“You want to know what my dream is?”
“Yes I do.”
I set down my cheeseburger.
“Genuinely, you do?”
“Genuinely, I do.”
“Alright, Lauren, I want to write screen. I’ll write your picture but I got pictures of my own I want to make, and..and..I don’t believe I can die before I make them.”
“I know exactly what you mean,” I say—quoting Morpheus.
“Why do you think I’m in Hollywood?”
“To buy a Porsche?—I don’t know.”
“I’m here because before I die, I’m going to make a movie—that’s the movie you’re going to help me with.”
“And after that?” Kristen says.
“Don’t worry about after that..just help me with this one.”
“What do you want me to do?”
We sit at the ArcLight, drinking gin at the bar.
“I’m gonna share this document with you.”
“Your first job—”
“Kristi, you’re interrupting me.”
“Just be quiet and no more gin for her.”
“Just copy the address and open the document.”
“Shouldn’t I ask you your credentials?”
“Yeah my credentials are that I want to make a movie but I can’t do everything myself so would you please open the document and make my piece of shit scrap work Final Draft idiocy into a real movie? That’s what I’m paying you for, not to drink gin, by the way.”
“Are we on the clock?”
“We’re always on the clock. The minute I met you, the clock started. From now on I pay you 24 hours a day, and I need you to be available to me on that same schedule. Understood?”
“For realz, girl. I’m going to be calling you at 3am with script changes.”
“No I mean for realz you’re going to pay me 24 hours a day?”
“Yeah, I mean that.”
Kristi tries to flag down the bartender for more gin.
I wave him on.
“That’s like a three-dollar raise!”
“A three-times raise, yes—”
“That’s what I meant—”
“But you were styling it.”
“Of course I was.”
“How old are you, Kristi?”
“Twenty,” she says, as if it were a death sentence.
“God damn,” I say. “I’m twice your age. It seems like yesterday.”
“Well I’m kind of past it here,” she says.
“A place on Earth,” I say, “where a 20 year old feels past it because of her age of two decades. Don’t you listen to a thing, Kristi—if you can manage to stay alive, life has more to offer you past 20. Swear to my motherfucking god, you haven’t even met men who can rock your pussy yet.”
“I’m serious. Teenage sex is ok—ok it’s great. But you won’t even meet the man who can make you cum till you cry until you’re 30. Don’t give up, yet, you know James Carville was over 40 before he ever went to Washington.”
“Who’s James Carville?”
“Well, that’s the difference between me and you. You probably don’t know who David Mamet is, either—do you?”
Kristi sadly shakes her head.
“Your first assignment is to read Sexual Perversity in a public place. The stacks at Borders. The coffeehouse. Try to read that shit without laughing like you were six years old.”
“Is that seriously my assignment?”
“Don’t make me repeat myself, girl!”
“I have to get home.”
“Stay at my place,” I say.
“This isn’t some kind of lesbian thing?”
“I’m not trying to fuck you, I’m trying to save you getting raped on some cross-town LA bus—”
“Ok I will.”
“Good. Plus. I want you to get used to my work style.”
“Which is what?”
“Well,” I say, throwing away my fast food trash, “it usually involves weed, alcohol, lots of weed, lots of alcohol, more weed and more alcohol—”
“And somehow we write a script,” K says.
And I say, “Right.”
So we slept over, like a couple of girls from elementary school.
I got to see Kristi in her panties, and I made drinks.
And I made that girl use her tablet.
“Do you have installed Final Draft?”
“Let me give you my account info. Download anything you need, ok, it’s on me.”
“Yeah,” Kristi, said, in her panties on my kitchen counter. “You’re sure this is nothing lesbo?”
“Nothing of the sort. Your pussy is safe from me. I hate the stuff.”
“You hate pussy?”
“Look I hate pussy, is that ok with you? I just want to write a script. Help yourself to ice cream in the fridge.”
“This is like the best job ever.”
“A job where you can sit on your boss’s counter in your undies eating Klondike bars, it better be the best job ever.”
“Well open your Final Draft application. Open my mess of a script and let’s get started.”
“I don’t think your script is such a mess.”
“I don’t have time for lies, young one, just help me fix it.”
“Well I think you have a lack of action in scene one.”
“Well fix it, Hollywood; fix it.”
“You’ve got pussy girl, dick man, but why..why are they thrown together..you might want to have something like that.”
“Well add it.”
“You want me to just edit your script?”
“I’m paying you 24 hours a day, the least you can do is edit my script.”
“Alright I’m adding a slug line here.”
“What’s a slug line?”
“That’s like DAYTIME, REMOTE CABIN etc.”
“DAYTIME, REMOTE CABIN?”
“You’re ok with DAYTIME, REMOTE CABIN?”
“Look, I’m writing a polemical comedy, I don’t care if it’s DAYTIME, REMOTE CABIN or NIGHTTIME, EIFFEL TOWER. Ok? As long as the characters meet and hook up.”
“They’re going to hood up.”
“But with you I have no idea if they’re going to meet in a freeway underpass or what.”
“Would you let me do my job?”
“Certainly, young maestro, would you like a drink to help?”
I look at my fine catch: a female sitting on my futon working on my script.
“Look, leave the fetishistic female-on-female violence in there, ok? I kinda worked for years on that.”
“I can tell.”
This girl tapped away at the tablet violently.
“I get your violence. Would never dream of disturbing it.”
I drink some more gin.
“I’m going to check out now,” I say. “But you keep working on that script. I’ll be available for consultation. But only of a philosophical nature.”
“You’re silly,” this young girl says.
And I’m lying in bed next to her, and she’s typing, and she asks me if I can provide her more detail on the chauvinistic qualities of the writing, and I say:
“It’s not a true chauvinism. That’s where you—and everyone—will make their mistake. If it was written by a chauvinistic male..then..maybe..it would be true chauvinism. But how can I write true chauvinism? I’m a woman. Would anything I ever write be true chauvinism? I can only imitate chauvinism. What are you about?”
And I look at this little girl—for she was a little girl to me—and I watched her squirm at this most difficult of questions and she said:
“I have designs on this city, I do—you want to know what they are?”
“Yes”—and I think I’m photographing her.
“My designs on this city are bigger than actress—”
“They’re bigger than production assistant!”
“What are you, like a female Anthony Robbins and shit?”
“No, I’m not a female Anthony Robbins and shit.”
“Well it seems like it!”
“I’m just trying to encourage a girl like myself, that’s all.”
“You think we’re so much like each other,” says Kristi, picking her crotch.
I sit beside her.
“What are you picking at??”
“Thank you for being so specific.”
“Are you making fun of me?”
“No, not at all. What’s going on with your labia?”
“They itch. Since this last guy I fucked.”
“You don’t look like you have much hair under there.”
“I don’t. Wanna see?”
And before I have time to answer, she shows me her labia, her pussy.
“That’s just razor burns.”
“I don’t have an STD?”
“Doesn’t look like it, girl.”
“You’re not gonna make me fuck you, are you?”
“I’m not sure what that would even mean between us but no.”
“Can I just go to sleep?”
“But script work in the morning.”
“Good, I’ll get coffee.”
“Good, I’ll relish that. Not having to leave my house to get coffee.”
“You’ll never have to leave your house again.”
“That’s nice of you, Kristi.”
“No, you’re paying for it! I’ll get you coffee 24/7 and this is a good neighborhood for coffee.”
“You’re good, Kristi; you don’t mind spending the night here with me in your panties?”
“Not really—unless you’re going hunting for my clitoris at 3am!”
“Not exactly—no offense to your clitoris—”
“None taken. I mean I’ll do your script and—”
“That’s all I’m asking for, K, Kristi.”
I laid on my back in the bed with my new assistant beside me. I knew my mound and my lips were visible but the little girl did just what I expected: she curled up against me as a child to its mother.
I said, “Goodnight, baby that I never had.”
And she said—no shit—”Goodnight, mother that I never had.”
And she curled into my armpit.
I mate for life.
Some little Hollywood girl named Kristi.
That was good enough for me.
In the morning she was kneeling over me.
“What do you want me to do for you?”
“Kristi, I’m only interested in your professional skills.”
She slunk down.
“You’re disappointed in me.”
“No, no, baby. I just don’t require you for a sexual nature.”
“Yes I’m sorry if that goes against local custom but I think you have a mind and I wish you to rent it to me.”
Kristi held my face in her hands while she cried.
“No one’s ever said that to me before.”
“Well get used to a little bit of praise and a little bit of love. Your worth isn’t all in your vagina. Though I’m sure it’s lovely.”
“You want to see?”
“I’m twice your age, girl! Me seeing that nubile little thing cannot have positive consequences on our professional relationship! So keep your vagina to yourself. Run around in your panties I don’t care but don’t show me the shit! I’m 40 years old. Can’t you imagine me getting jealous of your soft little 20-year-old puss?? Fuck, girl.”
“I’m sorry..I didn’t mean to tease you with my..20-year-old puss. I didn’t realize it was such a commodity!!”
“Well it is!”
“Do you want to work on the script now?!”
“I was born to work on the script, sir—uh—”
“That’s ok. Sir is fine..from you. For now. Sir is fine.”
And this nubile little girl sits up, in her undies, wrapped in my down comforter, and says, “Yes, sir.”
And now, I shouldn’t have let this girl enter my heart, but that’s that way I am—I let people into my heart—and I couldn’t but with this Kristi—20-year-old Hollywood girl—let her into there as well.
As the girl enacted my parts—my crazy, unformed characters—she arched her thighs and showed me tendons as tight as any steel wire, and obviously you know this by now but I loved the girl as more than my assistant. My scruples, though, would never let her know that.
I’ll tell you watching that girl got some of my girl juices going, from when I was that age. My pussy got so wet I had to put on shorts.
But I mean this kid could have been my daughter—what am I going to do. Give the whore a job and some decent employment? What else were you going to do with Kristi, dancing around my room in her Bambi panties reciting lines from my script on her tablet.
“This doesn’t really work, does it?” she says, towering above me, hip bones making me want to eat her.
“What part?” I say.
“This part with when he would do? Don’t you think the negative would do? You need a dialogue coach.”
“Get me one.”
Kristen lowers her tablet.
“As soon as possible. You’re my assistant. You’re supposed to assist with things.”
“Ok,” she says, and she makes some calls. “He’ll be here in half an hour.”
“Aren’t you forgetting something?”
“How much is this going to cost me?”
“Oh, Ruiz will work for free.”
“Why would Ruiz do that?”
I point at my mistress.
“No—oh! I didn’t do anything with Ruiz. But Ruiz is trying to meet up-and-coming directors so he does pro bono work like this from time to time?”
“I’m a charity case?”
“You’re not a charity case. You’re a commodity. Do you know what a director is worth in this town? When a successful director comes along, she makes millionaires all over the city. You’re hope. This town is built on hope.”
This is a 20 year old in Bambi panties telling me this.
“I’m a 40-year-old waitress from Portland. I doubt I’m a commodity.”
“You are,” Kristi says, kneeling over me. “You still have hope. You brought hope to Hollywood.”
“It might be hope. It might be stupidity.”
“Of course it’s stupidity,” Kristi says, throwing aside her tablet. “Of course it is! What do you think the dreamers are? Do you think Hollywood is built from the inside? That’s what makes this shit different from all that east-coast bullshit!! People come from Canada, Australia, India..and do you think they’d have a chance? Of course they do! And you!! You’re the spark on which this town is built.”
“Ok, ok, either you’re drinking whisky that I didn’t notice or you’re waaay too positive for me this am. How ’bout you put some fucking clothes on and we get ourselves a breakfast?”
“As long as it includes coffee,” Kristi says, peeing in my toilet with the door open.
“Yeah I always include coffee,” I say.
“And no corn syrup, wheat, or refined sugars,” Kristi says, wiping.
“Wouldn’t dream of it,” I say. “When is Miguel the dialogue coach going to meet us?”
“Ruiz. He’ll meet us at the restaurant.”
“How does he know what restaurant? I didn’t even tell you the restaurant.”
“Let me worry about ok, if I truly am your assistant. I mean there’s no reason getting me if you don’t let me take care of things sometimes.”
“Truer words were never spoken. Now let me jill off in the bathroom and we’ll get coffee. Ok?”
And I did, I took a bath while waiting for Kristi to wait for me and I jilled my pussy off real good thinking of that little girl outside my bathroom. I had to treat her professionally, of course, but what I did in the privacy of my own bathroom or own mind was ok—wasn’t it?
I didn’t feel bad about jerking off to her when we went down the elevator with tenants flush with dogs, and headed toward our coffee restaurant, to meet Ruiz, the drama coach. I had already survived the Oracle of Hollywood—what else could be left? Well—it turned out—a lot, a whole lot.
Luis..Ruiz..Luis..Ruiz..he was an expert. He barely drank his coffee and he edited my script on Kristi’s tablet while I watched the changes on mine. I’m sorry if I can’t remember his name was Luis or Ruiz..we don’t have Mexicans in Portland.
“Ruiz is an expert.”
“No he worked on Ransom 2 and Evil Chainsaw 3.
“It’s Ransom 2 and Evil Chainsaw 2.”
“Oh, are they working on an Evil Chainsaw 3?” Kristi asked her friend.
“Not that I’m aware of,” Ruiz said over the top of his glasses.
“Ruiz is an expert.”
“So what do you think? Ruiz.”
“Well you have some fairly ridiculous dialogue here. And you’re not following the three-line rule?”
“What’s the three-line rule?”
“You never have descriptive paragraphs—action—in more than three-line chunks.”
“Ok, but why not?”
“What about them?”
Ruiz is tapping on K’s tablet, rapidly changing my script into something unrecognizable.
“What about who?”
“What about producers. And the three-line rule.”
“Producers can’t read,” Ruiz says.
Kristi puts her arm on Ruiz’s shoulder and nods.
“Can you be more specific?”
“Well, producers can’t read a paragraph that’s longer than three lines.”
“That can’t be true.”
Kristi and Ruiz look at me like I’m crazy.
“You mean this literally?” I say.
Kristi and Ruiz nod.
Ruiz keeps typing.
“This is a good script. Just needs some polishing.”
“Kristi and I hadn’t discussed your payment.”
“Oh, this is a deed?”
“Film people work for free for each other from time to time. It’s part of the business. This is a deed?”
“I want to meet you, Lauren..Teacup. Meeting a new director is sometimes worth more than the cost of a single job. It’s about the relationship.”
“I get it. Well I appreciate what you’re doing. We really need your help. I’d like to offer you a lifetime supply of Starbucks coffee for your help.”
“Haaaaaa missy! Hollywood people get free coffee in Hollywood anyway.” He laughs. “But thaaaaaaank you!!!!”
“Did I offend him?” I ask Kristi.
“I don’t think so. He’s working.”
And when he was done working, Ruiz—whatever his last name was—tossed the tablet across our table.
“What you have here is a newly Americanized fully beat-oriented standard-style recent-ized you know typical Hollywood standard screenplay of the age. I recommend you re-periodize some of the obvious references you have to the new Lolita and others. But, trust me, the more common constructions I have put in for you in the vast majority of cases will not only get this script produced but will attract actors and such.”
“Don’t we owe you more than a cup of coffee?”
“Let me tell you something,” Ruiz says. “Hollywood scripts are made in Starbucks. Mostly same with Hollywood films as well. I can tell you something the Oracle of Hollywood didn’t tell you.”
Ruiz looks at his pet, Kristi.
“This is a great script. You are a great artist. Now no Oracle of Hollywood and no producer is going to tell you this, because they don’t know what a great artist is. But I’ve read 10,000 scripts and I ain’t read one like that in three or four years. You give me chills, Lauren Teacup. Where did you come from? The midwest? We need more people like you in this vacant town, Miss Teacup. So anytime you need a script polish, you call Kristi and have her call me and we’ll make quick work of the motherfucker.”
“Thank you, Ruiz.”
“Isn’t he great?”
“Yeah, I wish he would wax my bush.”
Kristi and Ruiz look at me.
“Must be that midwest sense of humor coming in.”
“Thank you for giving me the honor of working on your work.”
He bows a little.
“No, stay! Stay and we’ll have a white girl pajama party like you wouldn’t believe.”
“I have a pajama party already like I wouldn’t believe..I have six daughters!!”
“Jesus,” Kristi says.
And I think what it would be like to have a life with a husband like Ruiz and six daughters.
When you have an idea, you’re like a tree that needs to bear fruit. An apple tree needs to make apples. If it doesn’t, it’s not much of an apple, tree, is it?
That’s how I was with my movie.
They say men have more of a need to create because they can’t make babies. Women have this intrinsic way they can make something of value. Men need to make symphonies—and do make more of them than women—because the fuckers can’t get pregnant.
That’s one theory and I think it’s basically horse shit, but making something is like having a baby.
Maybe you think that metaphor is bullshit.
But one thing that’s the same is that once you get started..or once you get past a certain point..you are going to have that baby. There’s an irreversibility to the act of creation. A need.
I had that need and every night Kristi and I worked on our screenplay it got worse. I don’t mean it got more intense. It got worse, like a sickness. I had a movie pimple..and that pimple wasn’t going away till I popped it.
“People don’t really say, ‘dope,’ anymore,” Kristi says, with the tablet in her lap.
We each fist a Keystone Ice.
“Why don’t they say dope?”
“Well..they just don’t.”
“Can we have ’em say ‘phat?’ ”
Kristen swigs her Keystone Ice and looks at me like I’m a dinosaur.
“No. Besides. You have it spelled with an h.”
I look at her.
“What’s wrong with the h??”
“That’s an east-coast spelling!!” she shouts.
“Well how do I know it if I’m from Portland?”
“I don’t know. You’re probably not even from Portland. You’re a Columbian spy!”
“I’ll show you my license, bitch.”
“Better get a California one. They’ll arrest you for that.”
“They’ll arrest me for my Oregon license?”
“Arrest you for jaywalking,” Kristi says.
Half the time we didn’t even talk about the movie. We talked about our lives and Kristi would say grand, mechanical things like:
“Tell me your story.”
Kristi also introduced me to a small silver cylinder she kept on her keychain which contained that white powdered substance which is so common in LA—or La La Land as I grew fond of calling it. In New York they offer you a bottle of water. In the midwest you smoke a bowl. In LA you do a line. Everywhere I went—when I met with Warner execs, when I went to restaurants..even sitting next to people in movie theaters—people were laying out lines and inviting me to the bathroom and again laying out lines of the white substance which I had done before but never in such volume and with such frequency. I didn’t have any problem with it.
“When’s the last time you had sex?” Kristi asks.
“What does that mean?”
“I know you’re not dumb enough to not know what this word means so it must mean you live in a world where everyone has sex all the time and you’ve never had to know what the word celibate means.”
“You don’t have sex?”
“Yeah. I’m celibate.”
“It’s just nature’s way of making us reproduce and it’s vapid. It’s factory work, it’s meaningless.”
“Did you have a bad experience?”
“No but I do fewer things better. At least I’m trying to.”
Kristi writes that down in her personal notebook. Then she snaps it closed and walks over to my bed. She stands at the edge of my futon and takes off her pants—some red clubbing pants with cargo pockets. She lies down and takes off white panties printed with icons of raspberries and spreads her gorgeous legs.
She points to her pussy.
“The love goes here,” she says, using her hands in a narrowing diamond shape, making an arrow pointing at her cunt.
“No, Kristi. Put your pants back on.”
She pulls her legs up against her chest.
“I’m sorry. I know you’re very strict.”
“How am I very strict?”
“You have a strict moral code.”
“I have no moral objection to fucking your brains out, I just don’t want to do it because I think it would complicate our relationship. I like you as you are, my little Kristi. Things are simple between us: I tell you to do things, you do them. If I was relying on you for my next orgasm you might not be as willing to follow my orders, to handle my every whim. I love you, Kristi, but let’s just keep it like it is.”
I turn my back and look out the window to give her some dignity while she puts her clothes back on. Eventually I turn around and she’s sitting on the bed crying.
She wipes her face.
“Well, tell me your story, then,” says my assistant.
I motion to her to come to me and I put my arm around her.
We look over LA.
“My story begins in the 80s, when I was five. I saw Raiders of the Lost Arc on VHS and though I could barely read, I could read the credits of that movie and I read that it was directed by Steven Spielberg. I loved that movie with all my heart and I didn’t even know what directing was, but if Steven Spielberg had directed Raiders of the Lost Arc, I knew, at five years old, that that’s what I wanted to do.
“Back then directors were men—but that didn’t bother me. If I had to have a penis to become a director, then I was gonna get one.”
And she lets me talk. If that girl wasn’t my concubine, she was my therapist.
I told her my whole theory of paying attention to process while making things, how I had come to see the world as an artist does in the 11th grade on a chance I took to not take a science class but instead to take a photo class—
“—partially because it had the boy I liked in it and it wouldn’t count toward my GPA because it was an art class. And I was like: I can do anything I want in this class because it won’t affect my GPA so I decided not to complete any assignments, not to try to make photos that would please my teacher or classmates..not even to try to make photos that would please me..but to work on the process. When to press the shutter. How to frame a scene. I walked around with these little rectangles cut out of matte board—each made to its own proportion—and I looked at the world through them.”
“You made your own director’s viewfinder.”
“Same thing but a lens that costs about $800. Directors wear ’em to look cool.”
“Well I used ’em to learn composition. Spend all day looking through cardboard rectangles, you learn how to compose a shot.”
I told her the whole philosophy, how there are three levels of making things: one is to please others, to entertain them or make them happy. A very good reason to make things. Then better, making things to please yourself. An exponentially better reason for making things, since you’re always with yourself and whatnot, since you have an obligation to yourself that you don’t have to others, artistically. And finally: process. You forget about pleasing others. You even forget about pleasing yourself. You do things because you have a process you follow. Then art isn’t about satiation or entertainment, it’s work like any other. You don’t think Stephen King writes books while he’s standing in the vegetable garden, do you? No. He writes them sitting in his motherfucking chair.
Eventually things got back to sex.
“Have you had a lot of girlfriends, boyfriends?” Kristi asked.
“By your standards, probably no, but I’ve had about 20?” I say.
“Yeah I’ve had about twice that,” Kristi says. Then this little girl says, “Why do you think they want to fuck you?”
“Well obviously it’s not because I’m Paris Hilton!”
Kristi is looking at me, waiting for me to really respond.
“A lot of them just wanted to fuck me ’cause they thought I was a genius. They wait till afterward to tell you this.”
“So is it worth it to them, to fuck a genius?”
“Oh yes, they’re very satisfied. Like standing next to a Picasso. And geniuses are often crazy. And crazy people are great fucks.”
We finished the script. Or: as finished as any script will ever be. It expressed my vision of violence in sexual situations, between men and women, women and women, men and men. It was filled with nudity and weapons and mostly that killer instinct in which lovemaking and sex and rape among humans parallels killing in primitive animals. A lion biting the neck of a gazelle was as much sex to me as a man biting a woman’s neck while penetrating her vagina.
The only problem is I didn’t know what do with it. Once you have a script—even a good one—how do you know what to do with it?
“You need to break into parties,” Kristi said.
She said this wearing a t-shirt and panties. We had both taken to working this way.
Kristi turned to me with her back to my giant windows.
“I need to what?”
“Crash parties. It’s the only way to make a movie in this town.”
“How do you know?”
“Trust me,” she said, “I know.”
She ashed on my window sill. We had taken to drinking whiskey while we worked as well. When you drink while smoking, you go through phases: first you always go outside to smoke. Then you smoke inside using beer cans and coffee mugs as ash trays. Then you get so drunk that you just ash on tables, window sills, the sink. I had a maid.
“How do I crash parties?”
“First you need a dress.”
“And then after the dress..how do I find parties to crash. And how do I make sure I go to parties with the right people. Kristi, I don’t even know who the right people are.”
“That’s why you hired me,” Kristi says, and she gets busy on her phone. “You get the dress. I’ll get the party.”
I look skeptical.
“Don’t worry,” she says. “This is standard operating procedure.”
Next thing you know I had a dress which probably should have been black but in actuality was bright red.
And Kristi, that little vix, had a date and an address.
“How do I get there?”
“Rent a limo.”
“And just walk right in through the front door.”
“Look I don’t know. You’re going to have to figure out some of this yourself,” she snaps. “I’m making this up as I go along.”
“Ok,” I say. “Thanks girl.”
And I leave.
I get to this party. Plain building. Red carpet. Tiny black rope. No signs. No indicator of what this building is.
This is where Hollywood happens.
Tomorrow this building will be nothing.
Yesterday it was nothing.
Tonight it’s the place to be.
I get out of the car, trying not to look like a country girl from Portland. I even did my hair, nails—totally out of character for me.
I was like Ethan Hunt without a mission. Your mission, if you choose to accept it..is to try to meet someone at this party with twenty million dollars to plop down on a movie that no one will want to see..that will offend every bumpkin in middle America..that will likely be banned.
I go straight up to the guy with the rope.
“Who are you?” he says.
“I’m Lauren Teacup Pritchett,” I say, like it’s a fact he should already know.
“I don’t think so.”
He shakes his head.
And I slunk away—looking stunning if I might say—and I creep around the side of the building, lean against the stuccoed wall, and light a cigarette.
Soon I’m surrounded by busboys—smoking too.
They’re saying things like: “Did you see that bitch? She threw up in the bathroom.”
“I heard she threw up on Madonna’s couch.”
“I heard Miley Cyrus told her to get her act together.”
They all laugh.
I walk up to them.
“They pay you well in here?”
“Pay us as much as if we were working at Denny’s!!” one guy says. “Who are you?”
“Oh, I’m nobody, apparently.”
“We’re nobody, apparently, too!” he says.
“Look, I’m gonna cut to the chase,” I say. “Whose dick do I have to suck to get into that party?”
They all laugh.
Some of them put their arms around me.
“Hey, lady, you don’t got to suck nobody’s dick. As nobody ourselves, we specialize in getting nobodies into parties full of somebodies who ought to be nobodies themselves. Bum me one of those Kamels?”
“All you want is a Kamel and you’ll get me in there?”
“No, I’m getting you in there anyway. I just want one of those high-class cigarettes.”
I give each of them one. We all smoke together, and I know that these will be the nicest people I meet tonight—the most real. After my experiences in Hollywood, I’ll take busboys over movie execs any days. In fact almost all movie people (the money ones). Especially producers.
When we’re done they all start to file in the side door.
I’m left standing alone.
“Well come on, sister. I have a feeling this party isn’t going to get started without you.”
I toss my cigarette and follow the last busboy into the side entrance of the building.
They lead me between industrial trash cans, a fabulous kitchen which made me want to befriend all the chefs and smoke with them and get free samples and just hang out in the kitchen all night.
But I had a mission, and my favorite busboy led me to the swinging double doors that separated the masters from the slaves, and while I always identify myself as one of the ones on the bottom half of this fucked-up world, that night I straightened my dress and winked at Javier and I walked through those double doors—which Javier held open—and I walked into the room containing the so-called masters of the Hollywood universe.
It was opulence.
Let me assure you, as a writer, that I would not normally use that word.
But what I saw before me can be described by no other.
Seafood, on ice—I mean piles and piles of crabs that no one was even eating. Everyone wearing black except me—heads turned when I came out of the kitchen—I was made as soon as I came into the room. And then all heads turned back to their previous conversations. If there’s one thing I learned in the land of movies it’s that big-time artists and the businesspeople who support them only have one subject that interests them: themselves. If you’re not interested in their bullshit project, they don’t have time for you! The only point of every conversation is for one guy to get what he wants from the other guy. But this isn’t specific to Hollywood: it’s true in every bar, boardroom, and bedroom in this gigantic country.
A man in a tux came up to me and offered champagne.
He gave me a special look.
I took the champagne, drank it.
I did this three times.
“That’s a nice dress,” he said.
“I’m not exactly supposed to be here,” I said to this waiter.
“I know,” he smiled.
“I guess everybody knows.”
“Well,” he said, “in this town that’s not necessarily a problem. All that’s important is that you’re here for something and listen, sister, you better get it tonight because you won’t get back into this party again.”
I look at him and I can feel my face has gone white.
“So what are you here to do?” he says.
“I’m here to get it,” I say, and I walk into the center of that goddamn party.
As I leave the waiter, I hear one of the kindest voices I’ve ever heard say, “You better, girl.”
So I scope out Mr. X—aka Shelly Kind—who is the reason I bought this red dress. Kristi has provided me 100 or so pictures of him to study to make him easy to find as well as a dossier of Shelly Kind’s exploits—in and out of film. This with the aim of making him possible—not easy—but possible—for me to talk to at this party.
So like I said I scope out this fat motherfucker and strike my most confident walk right up in his direction, surrounded by hangers on. Might as well go straight for the source, right?
And you know what happens?
This studio god sets down his drink and leaves his crowd and goes right across the room and down a little hallway and into the men’s restroom.
So you know what I do?
I follow that fat fuck right into the men’s room.
He doesn’t see me. He goes into the shitter.
I pace around the otherwise-empty bathroom and wonder what in the hell I am doing in the men’s restroom at my crashed party and a sinking feeling comes into my stomach and womb and I know that everything I have done up to now has been a waste.
I will fail.
I will never make my movie.
I should have stayed in Portland.
But then, you know, that thing in all of us that says I will not be lost rises up in me and I lock myself in the stall next to Mr. Kind.
He sees my shoes, my legs, the rip of red fabric.
“Sweetie, this is the boys’ room if you haven’t noticed.”
“I had noticed and I’d appreciate you not calling me sweetie.”
“No offense intended. Are you trans?”
“I’m 100% pure pussy-wielding woman if you must know but I expect you not to hold it against me.”
“In what circumstance would I hold that against you?”
“The circumstance wherein someone gives you a pitch while you’re sitting on the toilet.”
“Baby, I’ve received pitches on toilets before.”
“Well you wanna hear one now?”
“I’m kinda stuck, aren’t I?”
“I’ll make it quick.”
“Good. I get a kinky feeling talking to a woman in the bathroom.”
“Are you jerking off?”
“I’m not jerking off. I said I get a kinky feeling. Any actual description of what I’m doing would surely offend your feminine sensibilities.”
“You might want to re-evaluate that statement after you hear my pitch.”
“So pitch,” he says.
And I pitch. I give him my best three-minute representation of my movie, my story, my vision. I give it all. By the time I’m done, both our heads are low toward the bottom opening in the divider between us.
I can hear his breathing.
My pitch is so scary, beyond edgy, that it would scandalize your grandmother, aunt, sister, cousin, and niece all in the first twenty seconds. They would plug their ears. It’s like Lolita on crystal meth. I don’t know if you know this but most erotic films are directed by women. I assume Shelly Kind does know this.
My mission, for three minutes, is to tell this man who has heard tens of thousands of stories in his life, a story that will make his balls shrink back up into his body and give him sights that he’ll replay as he fucks his wife that night. That’s my goal: I want to sneak into this man’s brain so far that when he’s fucking a Portia de Rossi lookalike he won’t be able to think about her grand little pussy because he’ll be thinking about my story. That’s my mission.
Everything I ever learned in Glengarry Glen Ross springs to mind. Alec Baldwin telling me to sell them.
Every guy I ever sold a load of bullshit to—you know, telling him I’m 27 when really I’m 37. He knows it’s not true, but it’s the fantasy you’re playing out together. Me and Shelly Kind were playing out that kind of fantasy. I wasn’t supposed to be there. He wasn’t supposed to listen to me. But together we put a few sticks and someone blew a spark and it became real. That’s how it happens with seduction and that’s what was happening between me and Shelly Kind in the mens’ room at this ridiculous Hollywood party. I could feel him getting hard—not necessarily between his legs, but—in his mind. My voice became epic; I was using tones I had never used before. I let myself believe it—just like I let myself believe I was 27 when I was telling those boys I was 27. If I didn’t believe it, how would they? If I didn’t believe that this would be the next movie Shelly Kind would make, how would he?
So I spread it on thick—I spread it like jam. I showed Shelly images of female dignity skewered on cock—at times literally—and I spun him such a story of violence and manipulation and horror that I knew was unfilmable, unmarketable, unpalatable, unacceptable, and un- just about everything you can think of.
But I knew a little something about movies from my years of watching them. Basically: You can’t edit Pulp Fiction. At some point you just have to say: We’re going to make this monster. We’re going to roll the dice and make Apocalypse Now. Life is the big game. Movies are the same. No one gets ahead without boldness. Have you ever heard of Miguel de Cervantes? He wrote Don Quixote, which is considered one of the greatest novels ever written. He wasn’t playing the small game. You know what he said? In order to attain the impossible, one must attempt the absurd. That’s not your neighborhood yoga teacher saying that—it’s the man who wrote one of the first novels considered a novel. A great achiever. And that’s how he dreamed. I think you’ll find, if you canvass this world, that the most serious people are also the most unhinged, the most imaginative, and the most absurd.
I channeled the fuck out of Cervantes in that bathroom stall.
And you know what else I thought of? I thought of that piece of dialogue from Walk the Line, where Johnny Cash is playing shitty music and the DJ knows it’s shitty and he says, If you was hit by a truck and you was lying out there in that gutter dying, and you had time to sing one song..one song that people would remember before you’re dirt. One song that would let God know how you felt about your time here on Earth. One song that would sum you up. You tellin’ me that’s the song you’d sing? And then he goes further. He says: Or..would you sing somethin’ different. Somethin’ real. Somethin’ you felt. Cause I’m telling you right now, that’s the kind of song people want to hear. That’s the kind of song that truly saves people. And then this DJ tells the great artist, It ain’t got nothin to do with believin’ in God, Mr. Cash. It has to do with believin’ in yourself.
And there were a great many other pieces of wisdom I bolstered myself with, as I told that man my story—from Star Wars, The Matrix..Obi-Wan and Morpheus were right under my tongue as I pitched Shelly Kind.
And when I was done there was a long silence between us.
And my heart fluttered like it was my first kiss.
Then Shelly flushed the toilet and as he was wiping his ass he said, “I’ll see you in my office Monday at 8am. I assume you can find it.”
“I found you here,” I say.
Kristi and I smoked and drank and laughed all night over that one. Shelly kind accepting a pitch meeting with an unknown from Portland while wiping his ass in a tuxedo.
“You have some solid brass neuticles,” Kristi says.
“What do you mean?”
“You followed him into the mens’ room??!!”
“You told me to do whatever it takes!!”
Kristi sips her Keystone Ice.
“Still,” she says.
I look at her and giggle like I haven’t since I was sixteen.
“You’re not done yet,” she says, sitting on the floor cross-legged with the tablet in her lap. “I’ve prepared a history of Mr. Kind and my advice to you is to slow down on that beer and study this shit before you end up in a room with that motherfucker because he’s seen a lot of things and had experiences that you can only imagine and I think you would be wise to read some of the materials I’ve put together for you—”
“Ok,” I say. “Two mods, though.”
“One. I don’t slow down on the beer.”
Kristi laughs. “Ok.”
“Two. You read me the research. I can’t read while I’m drinking beer.”
“Ok but pay attention. This is important. This is a one-shot business.”
“I’m doing alright on that front,” I say.
“Don’t get cocky,” says this 20 year old sitting on my carpet in her panties.
“Ok,” I say, sitting across from her.
I delude myself that I can concentrate myself into sobering up.
“One thing you’ve got to know,” Kristi says. “Is that you’re dealing with an eccentric motherfucker. Some of these assholes have never left Los Angeles. This guy has hiked Machu Picchu. He sold paintings as a 30 something. Like sold paintings with Mary Boone in New York City. So he knows art. And he knows life. And he knows how to get inside the pants of waitresses from Portland.”
“I doubt that. How many people has he slept with?”
“Sixty. Maybe seventy. I can’t get an exact count. So watch out for that bastard. He might just take your screenplay for a penny and your tight little twitch for free.”
Eight am. Warner Bros studios. A guard escorts me from the parking lot to the office of Shelly Kind.
I wore matching sweats, an orange Brooklyn cap and purple sneaks you can only get in LA, the brand is so specific. My aim was to look like Jay-Z.
“You’re a woman of many fashions,” Shelly Kind says.
“It’s my day off,” I say.
“Well thanks for visiting me on your day off.”
“No problem,” I say, looking around his office.
Awards, plaques, stuffed animals. Photos from TV shows everyone in the country has seen—the cast posing between takes, that sort of thing.
“How many people have you pitched this story to?”
“Because me and my assistant ran your profile—along with a number of other producers and execs—through an artificial intelligence program we bought from MIT and you were the most likely to buy it.”
“I didn’t know people were doing it like that these days.”
“So why me?”
“From you or your assistant?”
“My assistant. She’s a genius. And no you can’t have her name.”
“Fair enough. You know what my mentor taught me, when I came here 20 years ago?”
“He said look at the producer Harry O Blackman. So I look at Harry O Blackman and he’s produced like 60 films. Most people produce one, maybe five, maybe 10 if they’re lucky. And my mentor says guess how many of those films made money. And I say, ‘Seventy-five percent.’ He says, ‘Zero.’ Harry Blackman is still making movies. They never make money—he’s never made a picture that made money. That’s producing. To get people to drop money on your film when your last 60 films were flops. So you might think that everyone in Hollywood is scum, that we’re all in it for the money, that all we care about is ticket sales and profits and making Transformers 7. Now that is true about some people—people get caught in that trap. Money is seductive. But some of us—in fact most of us—came here because we love movies..and we stay here because we love movies, and like Harry O Blackman we’re basically involved in the business of cheating the money people out of their hopes and dreams of profit so that we can satisfy our hopes and dreams of making audiences laugh, and cry, and come home from the theater changed people.”
Shelly Kind opens a fridge and pulls out a Red Bull: The Orange Edition and hands it to me. He pops one open for himself.
“We’re going to make your movie. And by that I mean you and me are going to make your movie. Warner Bros would never make this movie. But we’re going to do it anyway. We’re going to steal it from them. Your movie will lose money. But it needs to be made. What’s your background?”
“Well you’ve come to the right place.”
He cheers me with his tangerine Red Bull.
“Because this is the city where waitresses become directors and dishwashers win Oscars. Your pitch made the hairs on my arms stand up.”
“Are you sure that wasn’t just because you were taking an epic shit?”
“I could’t even shit while you were telling me that story. You’ve got it, girl—just do me a favor.”
“Anything. Except suck your dick.”
“I can get my dick sucked anytime I want. What I want you to do is stick to your vision like Christ on the cross. You understand me? You direct the movie that you told me under that bathroom stall—keep that image in your mind—and you will make a movie that no one—I mean no one in the history of the world—will ever forget.”
“I’m serious. Everyone will work against you. I will match you with a producer. Listen to me: the job of the producer and the job of the director are exactly opposite. Your job is to make the movie. The producer’s job, in a way, is to stop you from making the movie that you want to make. You’ll want to spend money; he’ll want to stop you from spending that money. Are you god?”
“I don’t know.”
“Well figure it out. You’re the director. You’re god. Demand everything you want. The stitching on the inside of the hats in Glory were made to be exactly like the stitching from that time period even though no one ever saw the inside of the hats in the movie! You get what I’m saying?”
“You get the stitching right, ok?”
“Here’s your five-second lesson in directing. Be a chess player. What does a chess player do? Go read Bobby Fischer games. He does whatever he has to do to make you do what he wants. You can’t control the actors. You control yourself. Don’t tell anyone what to do. Tell them something that will make them do what you want them to do. Make them take your queen—you have a bigger plan in place. You understand?”
“I think so.”
“When you leave here go to Borders and read famous Bobby Fischer games. You’ll know exactly what I mean. Now we do have one little problem.”
“What is that?” I say, adjusting my BK hat.
“Getting you to be our director. I can get this movie made. Getting this movie made is doable. But getting it made with a first-time waitress as its director could be tough.”
“This is my movie. No one can make it but me.”
“Believe me, I know that,” says Shelly Kind.
“I have $900,000 I can put up.”
“That just might do it,” he says.
“He bought it.”
“He bought it!!”
“That’s a miracle.”
“No. I mean. That’s a Hollywood miracle. Things like this don’t happen. You must be blessed. Can I touch your shoe?”
I let her touch my shoe.
“May you have many happy days.”
“No, I’m serious missy, this is not how fortunes run in this town. You must have seriously brought gods with you from Portland.”
“Um..Kristi..when you meet my gods you will be very, very scared.”
“And why is that?”
“Because they like to kill people.”
“You’re not a mass murderer or anything.”
“You don’t watch murder porn.”
“What in the fuck is murder porn?”
“Investigation Discovery channel.”
“Well your gods must also have an interest in the movie business because shit. Like. This. Does. Not. Happen.”
“Can we stop talking in terms of gods as I’m pretty sure neither of us believes in them except as metaphor?”
“Whatever you want, boss.”
“We’ve got a lot of work to do.”
“Tell me what to do, boss.”
“I’m gonna need you attached to my hip for the next..about..year.”
“I’m there boss.”
“Kristi you’re killing me.”
“What with the boss thing?”
“No, you can’t be walking around my apartment in your underwear..though they are cute..I like the bow..”
“Putting it on, boss,” she says, and she puts her fucking pants on.
“Better. Now get me Diego.”
“Ruiz. We have a payroll person now. Nancy..Brigman. Get her number from Shelly Kind.”
“You have Shelly Kind’s number in your cell phone?”
“Yes and he promised to behead me if it got out so if it gets out, that ax will chop your neck first. Call Shelly. Get Brigman. Get Ruiz. Pay Ruiz. Ruiz is our script supervisor—”
“Right, naturally..I figured that out. I do this for a living you know.”
“I didn’t mean to insult you, Kristi.”
“You didn’t. I’m just messin’ with you. I don’t believe you made this deal. Can I give you a kiss?”
“A small one. On the cheek.”
She does it.
“Next we’re going to casting.”
“What do you mean, today?”
“I mean get your shoes on we’re going to meet with a bunch of casting people right now.”
Kristi jumps up.
“Can I hug you?”
“No. You can put your fucking shoes on and help me cast my movie.”
From that point on we worked.
And when I say we worked, I mean we worked every hour of every day for a year and we worked until we couldn’t keep our eyes open and then we worked some more.
Kristi and I became one person. Like in the Army, we no longer said thank you and you’re welcome—waste of time. I told her what to do, she did it. She didn’t even say ok or yes..her action became an extension of my word.
I abused her—anyone who has an assistant does. It was with love, and I like to think that makes it ok, but it doesn’t. So if you’re reading this, Kristi..well..we’ve said our words.
“We could get Burt Buke.”
“I don’t want Burt Buke.”
The casting agent looks at me and says, “You’re not going to get better than Burt for..this type..of picture.”
Kristi looks at the casting agent. “We don’t want Burt Buke. We’ll see the next option now.”
This is the kind of service Kristi performed. And it wasn’t for me—it was for the casting agent. Because I’m the type of person that when I get in my creative mode if you ask me to say the same thing twice I will jump across your desk and murder you.
Kristi saved people from getting murdered by me.
Lots of people: production designers, boom operators, sound mixers, camera assistants..all these people would be murdered if it weren’t for Kristi. Keeping people from getting murdered is a little-known feature of directors’ assistants. Because directors are crazy. And through the process of making my movie, I discovered I was definitely a director.
Directors are savages. They are. They’re not normal people. There’s a psychological profile. Tragedy in youth that almost kills you—seriously, most directors have that. It makes you fearless. And directing—making a movie in general—is one of those few tasks on Earth that always seems impossible until it’s actually done. Every day, when making a movie, you are presented with something that seems to be a show stopper..something that seems it will bring the whole thing to a catastrophic halt. This scares the shit out of most people but it doesn’t scare a director. A director is irrationally not scared of catastrophic tragedy. They—or we I guess—actually get calmer as the level of chaos increases. We’re like an animal whose blood is cooled by imminent failure.
“So this is what Shelly Kind told me.”
“What,” Kristi says, as we get into my Honda.
“That guy is kind of a guru, you know.”
“Yeah I mean he’s not just some jackass executive.”
“So what did he say?”
“He said, Lauren, I’m going to give you a three-second course in directing film.”
“Was it good?”
“Yeah, it was. He said, The only thing a director needs to know before they make their movie is this: How do I want my audience to feel at the end. That’s it. According to Shelly Kind, Warner Bros exec, master and commander of hundreds of movies, all I need to know—”
“—is how you want your audience to feel at the end of your movie. That’s brilliant.”
“I told you he’s kind of a guru. Kristi.”
“I have a headache.”
“No. But I’m gonna need to drop you off and lie down for a while.”
Kristi looks at me sideways and I know I’m worrying her.
She calls six hours later to check on me.
I’m lying on my futon, on my chest, with a down comforter on me and the air conditioning turned all the way up.
I can hardly hear my own thoughts.
I ask her what she said again.
“I said, do you want me to come over?”
“No, this is something I have to go through by myself.”
She calls back a few hours later.
“I’m thinking of calling a doctor,” is what I think she says.
“I already have a doctor.”
“You’re not making any sense, Lauren.”
I hang up.
Then it’s a show of lights, the windows turning into up-contrast rectangles and somewhere a light on my stove or microwave is calling to me in orange, and all this comes with pain that makes me want to jump out my window.
The next time Kristi calls, I tell her to come over.
“Whoah, what is this, missy?” she asks, turning up the temperature.
“Just don’t touch me!”
“Touching makes it worse.”
“I think you need to go to the hospital.”
“Oh ha ha ha,” I say. “I’m a regular, don’t worry.”
“What’s wrong with you?”
“Problem with my head.”
“Well, I brought over the only cure I know..for anything.”
I see she has a bottle of Jameson.
“That’ll work,” I say, and I spin the cap off with my thumb and swig on it horizontally. I spill on the bed.
Kristi takes the bottle and gets in bed with me.
“Jesus fuck! Take a bath!!”
“Do I stink?”
“You’re burning up!”
“Yeah I have this thermal deregulation problem.”
“You mean dysregulation. Lauren. Get out of the bed. Get into the bathtub now.”
And I did.
And she took care of me like a mother does a child.
This is part of what directors’ assistants do.
Four months later we were in production.
On our first day, when everyone was gathered together, I had this to say:
“There are only two settings: shit, and brilliance.”
Everyone was gathered in a circle: lighting people, actors, producers, all holding hands at my request.
“And,” I continued, “if something is 99% brilliance, 1% shit..?”
“Then it’s shit?” someone yells out.
“That’s right. We’re in the brilliance business, people. This movie will be the greatest achievement in your professional career. Mamet says a door doesn’t have to be a house—it has to be a door. If your job here is to make a door I want the finest door you’ve made in your natural life. That is the level of performance I want from you every minute, every day. How many of you have ever taken a Myers-Briggs test in an interview for a movie? No one. Yeah. That is the kind of work I have put into selecting you for this film. Actors, I used psychological profilers to ensure that you will have the highest likelihood of interactional symmetry possible. One thing you should know about me: I’m like a five-year-old finger painter crossed with a 50-year-old brain surgeon. Art and science.
“Now, we’ve been over some of the rules. No one talks to the actors but me. No sleeping on set. We have these rules because sometimes to create a safe environment in which to play—to create—you need limitation to free you up. There’s a famous psychological experiment. Children on a playground. Playground is surrounded by streets. Cars on the streets. Case one: no fence separating the kids from the cars. The kids all play in the middle of the playground, in a huddle. They stay away from the edges. Case two: the playground is separated from the street on all sides. Nice tall fence. Guess what? The kids go all the way up to the fence. They’re not scared, and they play across the whole playground. That’s what we’re doing here: creating a safe environment in which to play. Only through true play will we reach the level of brilliance which I desire.
“And when I say brilliance, I am not joking. I am not exaggerating. You all will go on to make other movies—every one of you. If this movie sucks, Marcus—our cinematographer—as long as the film looks good, you’ll get another job. Same with all of you except for me. If my movie sucks it’ll be my last. I don’t know how many movies I’ll get to make. So I’m going for broke on this one.
“Let me tell you something. The truest path and the hardest path and the most rewarding path..are always the same thing. You know that thing about the candle that burns twice as bright burns half as long? Think about that as we go through this process. Shelly Kind has agreed to make a movie that has that potential—to be the movie that burns twice as bright. Help me make it so.
“You’ve read the script. It may frighten you. It may challenge your values. It’s a myth about women directors that we don’t like erotic elements. In fact most erotic films are directed by women. This isn’t erotica, but it has a dense array of erotic elements. I think you’ll agree it makes Lolita look like Sesame Street. This is what I want. Since I was eight, I always wanted to make films about white panties, violence, and blood. If you want to know why, or what impact I hope this will have on the world, see me during lunch break.
“Why do I have you holding hands? Because this isn’t a film crew. It’s a single organism, like a super-genius octopus. We treat each other well on my set. If you break the rule you’re off the set. We’re one machine, like something out of the Army. And what else did I want to say? Oh, yes, one more thing before we film:
“On boldness: boldness isn’t brilliance..but it’ll get you halfway there. I have said we’re here to make a brilliant film. Maybe you don’t feel brilliant. Maybe you don’t know what brilliance is. Start with boldness. Ok? Let’s go. Scene 17. I want to shoot in 20 minutes, not a fucking second later.”
Kristi—bless that little kid—says, “Are you scared?”
And in front of everyone—but directly to Kristi—I say, “The only things to be scared of”—I touch my heart—”are in here. Every journey, my friend, is a journey within.”
I bow to her.
She bows back.
I have everyone’s silence and I speak quietly:
“If you bow to a child, they will bow back—a child who has never bowed before. If you say hi to a child, they will say hi back. But some adults, if you say hi, won’t say anything. I contend that is what is flawed about our world.”
Everyone breaks hands.
As we’re setting up, Marcus Howell, acclaimed cinematographer, is looking at the monitor with me.
“Still, he says, it is a minority of women filling the directorial role.”
“Wanna hear a joke, Marcus?”
“Guy rapes a girl. Asks her how she feels. She says she hurts. He says you should feel special. She says why. He says because..I risked 20 years in jail just to fuck you.”
Marcus says, “That’s disgusting.”
“You ever expect a woman to tell you that joke?”
Marcus looks away from the monitor—at me.
“Good. We’ll get along a lot better if you don’t anticipate me.”
When I said it inside my head there was a motherfucker tacked on the end there.
The first shot, I had butterflies in my stomach.
It went perfectly.
I pretended my team-building speech had something to do with it.
After that I spent less and less time in my chair and more and more time on the floor, talking with actors and pointing at lights and moving them magically with my hands. I felt more like a conductor than a director.
At lunch one of our supporting kids, this 16 year old named Anna Hanna (no shit) comes to me while I’m trying to construct a decent salad at the craft services table.
She has her script in hand and doesn’t say anything..just stands next to me hoping to get my attention.
“I see you Anna.”
“Um, hi, Lauren.”
“Well. I’m here with Tuesday Walker and Amanda Haines and..”
“I’m wondering what I’m doing here. All I’ve done is a commercial.”
“I know. I saw it.”
“But it was just a Golden Corral commercial.”
“I know, Anna..I saw it!”
“But it was just a Golden Corral commercial!”
“I know. And look who they featured..you! You were the cutest one in your stage family and they showed you in the two main shots! You’re it, girl. The director of that commercial knew it and I knew it when I saw the commercial.”
“Just from one commercial?”
“This is like tapestry or collage, Anna Hanna. You’re one piece of string that I’m weaving into a whole, and all you’ve got to focus on is your part. I’ll do the weaving, ok? You actually have an easy job because all you have to do is be yourself.”
“Right. I picked you because of who you are so if you be yourself it’ll be a job well done. Relax and have a salad, if you can manage to put one together. Can I have some olives?”
Kristi is by my side.
“Green or black.”
“Black,” I say, like that’s the only possible answer.
“Anna Hanna, let me ask you something.”
“Anything,” she says, exhaling.
“Is that your real name?”
“My real name or my given name?” she says.
“What did you do before you acted in Golden Corral commercials..and films?”
“Worked at Starbucks.”
She takes a plate and looks up at me.
“What did you do?”
“I thought you were from Portland.”
“What are you doing in LA directing movies?”
“Let me tell you something, Anna Hanna. A waitress in Portland knows as much about directing movies as a movie director does in LA. That’s how cool Portland is.”
“I’ve heard people say it’s cool.”
“It’s not really that cool,” I say. “It just rains a lot so there’s nothing to do but watch movies and work.”
“If I had to guess what you did before you came here I would have guessed..community college professor.”
“That is such an insult,” I say, adding some banana peppers to my salad. “If you’re gonna guess, guess college professor—which I was not. I’m a 40-year-old woman who waitressed at Denny’s for 20 years.”
“Then how’d you learn all this stuff?”
“You haven’t spent much time working third shift, have you? Kid, a waitress picks up more wisdom from drag queens and homeless chess masters than any college professor in the world.”
“I thought you said you were a barista.”
“I was, Anna. Two jobs. Two jobs.”
Our key producer, Shelly Kind, spent way too much time on set even though I told him specifically he was not to be on set. But—he’s the money guy—what am I gonna do?
“Shelly, you’re here.”
“Gotta keep an eye on my investment. What scene is this? What page are we on?”
“You’re making the actors nervous.”
“They don’t know who I am.”
“Shelly, everyone knows who you are. You’re making my crew nervous. The money guy shows up, they assume there’re problems, it gets under their creative fingernails.”
“Exactly where I like to be.”
“Well let me guarantee to you that you aren’t under mine. I love you, Shelly. I love the deal we’ve made. You’re going to love the movie we make. But you’ve made a critical mistake with me.”
“What is that?”
“To assume that I’m afraid.”
I was always leaving set and having my 1st AD call action just to annoy Shelly and show him how organized we were—we were so organized, we worked as such a team, that we didn’t even need the director on set to shoot a scene. And that’s my first assistant director—different than my director’s assistant. Everyone important has an assistant. The more assistants you have, the more important you are.
I’m walking off set and watching Shelly squirm.
My star, Tuesday Walker, is squirming too.
“But what do we do for lines?”
“Make some up.”
“Look, Tuesday, why did I hire you? Because you’re the best actor in the business. Marcus, why did I hire you? Because you’re the best cinematographer in the biz. I don’t have to be present for every little thing we do here. This is a we thing, not a me thing. You’re professionals. So do some pro shit.”
“Will you at least look at it when you come back?”
“No. When I come back we’re moving onto the next shot. If you need someone called a director sitting in that chair to do this shot by this time in our professional relationship, that means I already fucked up my job. We prepare so that when the time comes, we don’t have to think. We can just do. Now do your jobs. I’ve got a tampon stuck in my cooch and I’ve got to get it out of there before it dries in place forever and becomes part of my fossilized body. Marcy runs things while I’m gone. Action in 15 seconds—got it?”
“I’ll be back in five. Then we’re moving on to shot seventeen-oh-five in your binder. Be ready ’cause if not I’m gonna throw my dried fucking bloody tampon all over your made-up little faces. Are we clear?”
Sometimes I left the set just to create confusion.
Sometimes I worked on my actors with toothpicks—literally. Fixing the eyelash makeup of Amanda Haines to my perfect specifications. I mean I was hands on. If Tuesday Walker’s underwear were out of place I would reach up her skirt and adjust them.
Every shot we shot was perfect. You know why? Little trick I learned from some Sidney Lumet book. A director doesn’t really have much power, but one power they do have is the ability to say “action.” Until the director says action, the shot doesn’t happen. So don’t ever say action until everything is perfect (according to you) and essentially you won’t shoot shit. Wait. Don’t say action until it’s perfect. Everyone is waiting on you to say that one little word and you don’t have to say it until you’re good and ready.
I compromised, though.
I had a scene that required Tuesday Walker to smoke.
Do you believe that diva? She says:
“I won’t smoke on screen. It’s a conscience thing. Bad role model for kids.”
“You know what, Tuesday—good call. We’ll go your way on this one.”
“That’s it. Done deal.”
I shake her hand.
“No argument?” she says.
And I say, “Do I seem like a person who likes to argue?”
But after that, Tuesday does everything I say, including let me take panty shots of her struggling with the police and strip naked in front of our entire crew for a shower scene..you win people’s allegiance that way: show ’em you respect ’em and after that, they’ll follow you over a cliff.
When Shelly Kind saw that move, he got his fat ass up and left my set. He could see I had paid attention to his five-minute lesson in directing and that he and I were on the same page on the nature of control. Didn’t see him around much after that.
Tuesday Walker was my slave. It was beautiful.
I had actors doing things that would break a career—or make one.
No one was sure if we were shooting a porno or the next Eyes Wide Shut. I wasn’t sure myself.
But I believed in me.
And those poor fuckers, they believed in me, too.
I threw things. This is a confession. I threw chairs when I got mad. I didn’t throw them at anyone.
Then the entire set would be on pause while I hid in the lighting grid with Kristen perched beside me.
Marcy—the 1st AD—insisted we wear climbing harnesses. The 1st AD is responsible for safety on set.
I’m crying and telling Kristen stories from my childhood.
“My dad says, ‘What’re you doing?’ And I say, ‘Thinking.’ And he says, ‘I hate it when you say that. Thinking. ‘Cause what that means is, I’m thinking about things so complex or esoteric that there’s no reason for me to even tell you what I’m thinking about. So you just say, Thinking. But I know what you mean. By the fact that you just say, Thinking. I know what you mean.’ ”
“Damn. Then what’d you say?”
” ‘Cause he’s right. It’s an insult, it’s a chasm, it’s whatever it is but he’s right. I can’t tell him what I’m thinking ’cause he wouldn’t understand. Also, he wouldn’t be interested. That’s just an assumption on my part. I’ve never been able to talk to my family.”
Kristen rubs my shoulder.
“I’m getting a headache.”
“Like the bad kind.”
“Yeah. Will you tell those motherfuckers down there that this movie is over and they can see payroll for their final checks but at the rate we’re going we’d be better off doing mass suicide than finishing this piece of shit okie film?”
“I’m driving you home.”
“Yes you are. Have Eldon get you down from here. Don’t climb down by yourself.”
“How are you getting down?”
“I’m taking the lift.”
Kristen goes down and talks with Marcy.
Then Marcy yells: “Ok, everyone! That’s it for today! Leave everything where it is except for camera and walk away. Just walk away. Get rest and I’ll see you at 6am tomorrow. Six am call. It’s all on your sheet. We’re shooting the not-funny rape scene on page 17—scene eight. Show up rested; it’s a hard scene. Have a good night off. I want this stage cleared in 30 minutes!”
Marcy yelled this.
First ADs have to be good at yelling.
Directors never yell. We sit in catwalks wondering what in the fuck we have gotten ourselves into.
I can tell you everything you need to know about a movie from watching the first five minutes.
I can tell the mood on the set where it was filmed.
I can tell you what the director said to an actor right before a take.
I’m serious. All that stuff matters. If the actors on a serious film are joking around before they shoot, that crap bleeds through into the film and I can smell it like period blood.
Someone on my set asked me: “Are you wild?”
I said: “Of course I’m wild. I’m bipolar. I’m as wild as they get.”
I can tell you the gender of the director just by watching his film. Same with the screenwriter. I know every actor by voice alone. Every movie ever made and who was in it and who worked on it and what studio made it and what it grossed. Can tell the star rating by the length of the opening credits.
“How do you know this is a one-star rating?” Kristi asked.
“Because the credits run too long. A five-star director would have fixed it.”
I suggested Kristi and I try the same thing with strangers’ virginities so we played that with the staff and customers at Mel’s.
Kristi wanted to know why I had bondage photos all over my apartment.
“You want to know in a polemical sense or a colloquial sense?”
“Uh..I guess colloquial.”
“I get off on seeing women and men tied up and unable to move.”
“You jerk off to these?”
“Of course I do.”
I could feel Kristi’s look and it was a look of admiration—good: expand her censored little world.
“I admire you for breaking into a historically male profession,” she says.
“What, you mean rape?”
“I mean directing.”
“That’s what I mean. Wanna see my albums?”
So I show her my photo albums.
Girls in mirrors.
Girls putting on makeup.
Girls in bandages, slings, and on crutches.
“Do you go to therapy?” Kristi says.
“Gotta. Gotta. Do you?”
“I never have.”
“You’re a virgin!”
I nuggie her head.
“Gotta go to therapy, girl, it’s like sex but with someone who’s only interested in you.”
“But I thought sex—” she starts.
“No,” I say. “Sex is for people who want to demonstrate their hate for each other by confusing pleasure and general despise in the least intimate way possible. Don’t listen to me. I’m jaded. I’m 40. You’re..20 or something. Have great sex while you’re young and pretend it’s because it’s because you love the person. Later you’ll learn that sex is an act of war between the equivalent of cold war adversaries who will never get along..no matter what. Don’t listen to me. Look at my bondage pictures. Does bondage get you off? Wanna hear a rape joke?”
Kristi is looking at me like her boss is crazy.
“Yeah,” she says. “Tell me a rape joke.”
“Ok. How do you make an eight year old cry twice?”
“After you pull it out, wipe it on her teddy bear.”
“Why don’t you have kids?”
I roll my eyes.
“A dog, even?”
“I don’t want to have pets for the same reason I don’t want to have children: I don’t want to spend time taking care of them. Consider my math on this one, ok, Kristi? For most people, there’s pretty much an equal chance that their kid will be a dud as there is that he’ll be Mozart. But with me—and I suspect with you—there’s not much chance that I’m going to have a kid who contributes more to the world than me. I bet having a kid is one of the most rewarding things an intelligent being can do. But then again..so is making a movie.”
“Wanna get fucked up?” Kristi says.
This is what we did in the wee hours between wrap and call—did weird drugs that Kristi brought over to my apartment. She thought these would somehow help my headaches. And they did, in the sense that they distracted me from them. But every morning at six, whether we had slept or not, a teamster dropped us off at Stage 12 at Warner Bros and we shot our movie. I told Kristi I wanted to drive myself and the headaches weren’t an issue but she explained it to me:
“A teamster has to drive you.”
“But I’m perfectly capable to drive.”
“But what if I want to drive myself.”
“It’s off limits.”
“What if you were Lindsay Lohan?”
“I’m not Lindsay Lohan. They don’t know we’re high.”
“Yes they do.”
“How do they know that?”
“Everyone in this town is high!”
I look at her sideways.
“Is everyone on my set high?”
“The grips on my set are high.”
“Can we stop that?”
“We can’t stop the grips from getting high?”
“Where are they getting high?”
“The craft services trucks.”
“The craft services trucks what?”
“They serve more than burrito wraps.”
“Well fuck, why did no one tell me?”
Kristi puts her hand on my shoulder.
“I’m telling you now.”
I look at the ceiling with just my eyes. Then the teamster gets there at 5:30 etc etc.
As we drive to the set, in pure darkness, stopping at the Starbucks drive thru, Kristi talks incessantly.
“I’m actually trying to work on my plan for today’s scenes.”
“I just want to know more about you,” Kristi says, way too perky for six in the morning.
How do you say no?
She would tell me a story about her mom, then ask me about mine.
“I don’t really know her that well.”
“How can you not know your mom.”
“She was pretty hands off.”
“What does that mean?”
“I just remember saying, ‘I love you very much’ to my mom, and she didn’t say anything back—she ignored me. She wouldn’t respond to anything nice I said. If I said, ‘Fuck your mother,’ she’d have some calm reply—totally respectful. But if she did something nice for me and I said, ‘Thank you’—nothing. She was specifically ignoring everything nice I said, as if to prove—to someone, I guess me—that I was of no value to her. She was the caregiver—I had nothing to offer. And she would never hug, not even as a child. The only way she would touch me was with a high five—and usually an air high five. The only way she would let me touch her was on her shoulder—and she didn’t even like that. I could feel her cringe every time she did it.”
I looked at the teamster.
“Jesus, I’m sorry, I should be telling this to my therapist.”
“No, it’s ok. We’re bonding.”
And Kristi sipped her latte.
I looked out the window and just thought and thought. Some union employee with no discernible skills was listening to me tell my life story to a 20 year old with perky tits who probably knew more about directing a movie than I did. The only difference between me and her is that she didn’t know it. She didn’t know her power. And I realized, watching homeless people sleep on benches made of indestructible recycled plastic, that that was a big part of growing up: when you’re young, you have power, you just don’t know how much you have. And the older you get, if you do it right, you realize you’re the most powerful being in the world.
On set, between takes:
“Most people in this life are just fucking around—”
“And that’s ok.”
“No. It would be ok if their fucking around didn’t get in other people’s way. I want to yell at people sometimes, shake them by the fucking head and say: I’M TRYING TO DO SOMETHING HERE. CAN’T YOU SEE THAT? Like, I’m making movies—I’m directing films. I’m not sitting in the back room like my mom watching Fox News 24 hours a day while she’s eighty-five. I guess if that’s what you want to do with the last few years of your life, get mad at stuff you have no control over—”
“Stuff that’s not even true.”
“Right! Faux News, you’re right—it isn’t even true. What did they find, that like 80% of what they said was straight-out lies?”
“Yeah, something like that.”
“Ugh. But she’s not hurting anyone. Except for passing along the hate. And you know what?—That counts. That counts as getting in other people’s way. I mean you and me, we’re making a fucking movie. This is hard work. Who else do you know who dedicates years of their life to a single project? People do it, but not many. And the ones that do, you’ve heard their names. Then you get a guy like Shelly Kind—he’s a fucking producer—what is that? I know you’ve seen these previews where it’s like, ‘From the Producer of Paranormal Activity 10.‘ And I see that shit and I know it works. I imagine all these people all over America and all over the world and they’re like, shit, I loved the fuck out of Paranormal Activity (even though they’re film idiots and they don’t even know what it means to be scared in a movie theater—they’ve never seen Alien, you know what I’m saying?) and they’re like, ‘Wow, this new movie is from the producer of some other movie I liked..I’m guaranteed to like all movies produced by this same asshole who has about as much to do with the quality of ‘his’ movies as I do with making sure the astronauts on Mir have enough oxygen!”
“Are they doing a Paranormal Activity 11?”
“They’ll do a fuckin’ Paranormal Activity 100 as long as people keep raising teenagers who don’t know what a fucking scary movie is. Seriously, I don’t know—I have no inside information on that franchise. Anyway my point is—”
“Also there is no more Mir.”
“Anyway, my point is..there’s no more Mir? As of when?”
“As of like fifteen or twenty years ago. They de-orbited it.”
“What the fuck does that mean, they de-orbited it? It doesn’t matter. My point is that you and I are trying to make something. And on set sometimes I just want to scream, ‘You motherfuckers. If you’re not here because you love this script then get the fuck out of my face because that’s what it takes. Love. Not a thing less.’ Nothing less than love will get you from the farm in Oklahoma to Hollywood and then from your shitty student films to real films. Unless of course you’re Dorothy, then all you need is a hurricane and some ruby slippers.”
“It’s a tornado, but I know what you mean.”
“What did I say? They don’t have hurricanes in Kansas?”
“Ahh, fuck. Thanks for listening, Kristi.”
“Call me boss one more time and you’ll be looking for a new one.”
“Ok, Miss Lauren.”
“We’re friendly, ok, because you have half a brain. I have half a brain too—that wasn’t an insult. But you’re not just my assistant.”
“But I am your assistant.”
“But you’re not just my assistant. You’re gonna move up. I’m gonna see to that, ok? This is the last film you’re gonna be my assistant for, then you’re getting a promotion. I’m serious. Think about what you want to do and, together, we’re gonna make that happen.”
“You fucking animal. You animal. You know what I need?”
“A fucking mocha.”
“Ok, I’ll be right back boss.”
“Haha. Glad you’re enjoying yourself. We only have 7,000 more mochas to go before this motherfucker wraps.”
“Producers, cinematographers, sound people, production designers..those people can go to film school if they want to and they can afford it! But for a director? For a writer? They should turn them away at the door, refund their tuition, and tell them to take a road trip.”
“I’m serious. Film school is of absolutely no use to a writer or a director. Only life can teach you those things—only living life and observing it. Yours and others. That’s the only way you’ll ever have anything to say!”
Kristi pours me another whiskey and we look out my windows at LA and she says:
“I heard the head of the Los Angeles Film School say, If you watch enough movies you don’t have to go to film school.”
“I didn’t know you went to LAFS!”
“I didn’t. I was working there as a receptionist and after work was over I would sneak down into the theater and listen to the night classes.”
“Kristi, you amaze me. I will be sad to lose you.”
“You’re not going to be my assistant forever.”
“Well, currently I don’t have another job, so.”
“So I have to pay my rent.”
“Don’t worry about your rent. I’m serious. Reorder your thoughts. Think about the highest, most beautiful thing you can and keep that in your mind at every moment.”
She sips her whiskey.
“Say, I promise you.”
“I promise you.”
“That I will keep the highest most beautiful thing in mind at all times.”
Kristi shoots her rocks glass of Evan Williams and winces.
“At all times,” I say.
“At all times.”
“I have a certain love for you, Kristi.”
“I know,” she says, wiping her mouth.
“Does it bother you?”
“Well it isn’t sexual if that scares you—”
“What do you think he meant?” Kristi says.
“Who is Joe Byron?” I ask.
“He’s the head of the Los Angeles Film School.”
“Oh, right. If you watch enough movies you don’t have to go to film school. Is that actually what he said?”
“That’s pretty progressive, don’t you think—for the head of a film school to tell you, once you’ve paid your zillion-dollar tuition and you’re captive in his auditorium, that you never had to come here if you just watched enough films?”
“Yeah, that’s pretty fucked up of Joe Byron. Must be kind of a subversive guy,” I say.
“I don’t know. I want to know what you think about his comment.”
Kristi sits on my bed, cross-legged, in her underwear, pouring another neat Evan Williams in one of my thrift shop rocks glasses.
I turn to her.
“I don’t know why you think I have the corner on everything, just because I spout my mouth off at roughly the speed my brain runs, but if you really give a shit what a middle-aged woman thinks of that gem of a statement by the head of a film school—”
“You’re not middle aged,” Kristi says.
“I’m 40 years old. Based on life expectancy that’s middle aged.”
“Ok fuck I’m not gonna argue with you.”
She tops off her rocks glass—so full she can hardly pick it up.
“Are you mad?” I say.
“Thank you for the compliment. And yes, I suppose in the common sense of the words I’m not middle aged so points to you on that one. Watching a lot of films will teach you everything technical you need to know about making a film, yes—so in that sense if you watch enough films you don’t need to go to film school. I mean most of the things you learn are trial and error, wouldn’t you agree?”
“Well take a lighting person for example. If they place the light here, and the shot doesn’t look right, then everyone gets together and they place the light there. Eventually the light gets put in the right place and next time you get to perfect a little quicker from everything you’ve learned in the past. So if you’ve seen enough films to know what looks good, then figuring out where to put the lights is easy. Ditto everything else technical about a film.
“Editing? Editing is an emotional exercise. The software is nothing—anyone can use it. But to be a good editor, you have to be able to look at a cut and feel what that cut makes you feel, so that you can make cuts that make the audience feel what the director wants the audience to feel.
“A production designer is more like a painter. A costume person—fuck, if you think I know shit about clothes..you see how I dress! I don’t know shit about costume designers I just hire ’em and tell ’em to do their thing. But—fuck—can you hand me a cigarette? I’m out. Thanks. But where Joe Byron’s statement falls apart is that it’s incestual.”
Kristi shakes her head.
“Incestuous? Am I using the wrong word?”
“I have no idea.”
“Incestuous. It’s incestuous. If all you ever do is watch Hollywood movies and you grew up in Hollywood with Hollywood people doing Hollywood drugs and having Hollywood discussions driving Hollywood cars drinking at Hollywood bars and learning that the world everywhere is like the world you live in: rich parents, house in the hills, every other car is a Porsche—but a cheap-ass Porsche, the cheapest Porsche you can buy, just so you can have a Porsche—a Porsche in Hollywood is like a Subaru in the rest of the country, you know what I’m saying? A Porsche is nothing in this town—you might as well drive a Honda. In this town, a Porsche is a car for fags.”
“We don’t say fags anymore.”
“Thank you Kristen. A Porsche..in this town..is a car for every wannabe faggot producer fuckstick shit-eating Peter Jackson motherfuckin’ green screen faggoty-ass fatherfucking ass-eating David Yates effects fest hack fest fuck. Did I say faggot?”
“Did it offend you?”
“Honestly, deep in my heart, it didn’t offend me at all.”
“Sweet. Where was I? I’m lost in some sort of bipolar drone flyby but it might be just flies or possibly fireflies I’m not sure.”
“Yeah but where was I?”
“Haha. Very funny. Incestuous Hollywood makes incestuous Hollywood movies. These are kids who grow up watching the same old shit and so when they derive what they think matters and what they think is true about—not movies, but—life, they make movies with the emotional content of a Bret Easton Ellis novel.”
“You don’t like Ellis?”
“I love Ellis. Some Ellis. But people out here have no fucking emotion. Kids from Ohio move here to get famous. The boys want to direct and the girls want to act and what happens is the boys end up waiting tables and the girls end up tending bar and the really pretty girls go to clubs and flag down guys driving Ferraris and Lamborghinis and Maseratis—”
“What’s a Maserati?” Kristi says.
“It’s a sports car.”
“So the really pretty girls, they go home with guys who drive the real cars and they get opportunities—they’ll never be a movie star—but they’ll get to sing in a girl band or be in a couple episodes of CSI. They’ll sit by the pool and become a glorified sex slave for the guy with the Maserati—sucking his dick cheese is the price she pays to sit by that pool, do endless amounts of coke, and live in the Hollywood hills.”
“So what are you saying?”
“All I’m saying is that motherfuckers who grow up in Los Angeles metaphorically sucking each other’s cultural dicks, learn filmmaking by watching films by P.T. Anderson—”
“You don’t like P.T. Anderson?”
“I love P.T. Anderson. All I’m saying is these kids are trying to be P.T. Anderson. They wanna be the next Spike Jonze or—I don’t even want to say this name but Danny Boyle. They don’t have their own style because you don’t learn your own style by watching someone else’s style. So these inbred, incest, faggot motherfuckers make hack films and throw hack parties and have hack sex with their girlfriends. They don’t even know how to eat cunt.”
I look Kristen in the eye and use my beer to emphasize this point.
“They don’t even know how to properly eat cunt. A real filmmaker—this is a true story—Terrence Malick’s producer calls him and he’s like: Terrence, we’re in the production office where are you? Terrence is like: I’m walking across the US, following the migration of the such-and-such finch—or some kind of bird, I don’t know what it was, but this motherfucker was walking across the southern states of the US following some kind of bird he was interested in. That’s what a real filmmaker does. Have you seen The New World? That’s a fine film. He started writing it in the seventies, it came out in two-thousand and five. Shot it in 65 millimeter—except for the visual effect shots, of course. Same thing happened with Coppola and Apocalypse Now—he tried to get that film made for 20 years before he could get a yes. Francis Ford Coppola couldn’t get a yes. But he waited for that yes. And he got it. And now we’re blessed with what I suspect will always be the greatest war movie of all time.”
“Where did Coppola grow up?”
“No clue. Might have been LA. But real films aren’t about other films—they’re about life. Real life. Like Hotel Rwanda.”
“Or Schindler’s List?” Kristi says.
I look at her deadly serious.
“Don’t ever mention Steven Spielberg again or I’ll shoot you in the head.”
“You mean you’ll fire me?”
“Did you hear what I said? I said I’ll shoot you in the head!”
“You don’t even own a gun.”
“Yes I fucking do. It’s in my purse.”
She shakes her head.
“You don’t own a purse.”
“If you take one thing from this conversation, you little inbred Hollywood bitch, take this: no great movie was made without a great script. Story is everything. Special effects are nothing. You can’t write without a soul. You can’t grow a soul if you grow up snorting coke poolside talking to yourself in the third person sucking dick cheese being a subpar singer in a mid-level girl band—that girl is never gonna grow a soul. She’s never gonna write a screenplay—not one that makes you feel anything. I’m not even sure it’s possible to grow a soul in California. Maybe northern California. Don’t look at me like that. Maybe it’s possible in your case. Give me another cigarette and let’s go over the shot list for tomorrow.”
When I felt better and had an afternoon off, I went to Dr. Lee ensconced within the sterile confines of Kaiser Permanente hospital on the border of Hollywood and LA.
“You were supposed to meet with us as soon as you left Karen Fitzpatrick in Portland. Dr. Fitzpatrick sent me your chart and we did a formal transfer—the only thing I’ve been waiting for is you.”
“Been doing an art project.”
“Well I have your latest fMRI here.”
“Can you just not tell me?”
“I think it’s good for you to know.”
“Then tell me.”
“Fitzpatrick is right. You seem to have inherited factors that are similar to those that led to your father’s tumors. You have highly advanced tumors—as you know—and as you know, those tumors are inoperable, like his. Right now they’re taking up one quarter to one third of your brain mass. I don’t see how you’re walking around functioning, myself. And soon you won’t be. And, Lauren, I wasn’t privy to your conversations with Dr. Fitzpatrick so I don’t know how clear she was with you about this, but I feel I owe it to you to use exceptionally clear language here: these tumors will kill you very, very soon. I recommend you quit your art project and come stay with us for everyone’s safety. Are you driving?”
“How long until it kills me?”
“Six months, maybe nine. You will not live another year.”
I smile at Dr. Lee.
“That should be enough,” I say, and I jump down off the examination table.
It was as soon as I left the hospital that Shelly Kind called me.
“Hey,” I said.
“We got problems,” he said.
“What kind of problems.”
“Budget,” he said.
I stared at the sky.
“Well, look, I’m gonna need some more detail because I’m not a mind reader and ‘budget’ doesn’t mean much to me.”
“Money. You’re out of it.”
“I thought you were the money guy and I was the creative girl and we were each gonna take care of our ends.”
“You’re spending faster than planned.”
“I gave you nine-hundred thousand dollars.”
“And that’s appreciated. The studio looks positively on that. But you’ve already burned through that 900K and a whole lot more. At this rate your production will be bankrupt by Wednesday, next week.”
“This isn’t how I thought this was supposed to work.”
“I’m sorry, Lauren, but your project is spending money faster than designed.”
“What am I supposed to do, un-hire people?”
“Maybe you shouldn’t have hired them in the first place.”
“Look, why don’t you send someone over who knows what they’re doing. This is my first time directing, remember?”
“Your directing isn’t the problem.”
“Well what is the problem.”
“Your burning through cash.”
“Well send over someone to help. You told me to make the best film possible. That’s what I’m fucking doing. I don’t know what else to tell you, Shelly—can’t you forward us another million or whatever it’s gonna take to get to the end of this thing? I’m under extreme personal pressure, you might know, and this project is my life.”
“That is good and that is bad,” Shelly says.
“Tell me about it,” I say.
“I’m going to keep your film going. But I’m going to need something from you.”
“Like a blowjob?”
“No, something more substantial.”
“You wanna fuck my ass, Shelly, that’s fine—I just gotta make my film.”
“I don’t want to fuck your ass.”
“Why not? What’s wrong with my ass?”
“What I’m talking about is shares. Points.”
I’m at my car, hand on the door.
“You want my points or I can’t continue.”
“Not all of them.”
“No, I’m going to give you all of them. You ever heard of games with incomplete information? That’s what you’re playing with me. I’ll give you all of my points if you guarantee that my production will complete, money wise. Can you guarantee that? ‘Cause if you can, you can have all the points you want.”
“I’m not taking all your points.”
“Yes you are, Shelly. Yes you are. That’s your business, right—making money off movies?”
“Making movies, yes.”
“But making money off them.”
“I’ll take half your points for an advance.”
“No take all my points for a guarantee.”
“That’s what you want.”
“If you can give it to me.”
“What are you going to do after?”
“After my movie? You don’t want to know.”
“I’m sorry, Lauren—”
“Save it. I’ll be at your office in 30 minutes.”
“So we can draw up a contract. Guaranteeing you’ll fund the rest of my movie no matter what. Which is I thought the agreement we had in the first place.”
“People get nervous.”
“Isn’t that your job—to protect me from such people?”
“There’s only so much I can do.”
“Yeah. Well. Have your lawyers ready. I’m coming over the hill. I’ll be there in 25.”
“Lauren. You don’t have to do this.”
“Only if I want to make my film.”
“Film isn’t everything.”
“You’ve made a thousand films. To you film isn’t everything. I’m making one—to me it is everything.”
Silence from the other end of the line.
“Are you there?”
“Lauren, I’m here.”
“Do you care what I’m saying.”
“Well keep in mind that I’m putting forth my vision.”
“I’m going to put forth my vision regardless of what you do.”
“I believe you.”
“There is nothing I will not do to make my movie.”
“Lauren, I know you—I know what you’re saying is true.”
“I’m not feeling too good about you right now.”
“The director and producer are fundamentally at odds, my friend.”
“You can call me Teacup Pritchett.”
“Ok Miss Teacup Pritchett.”
“My movie is going to be a hit.”
“I don’t doubt it.”
“Well then take my balls out of your vice,” I say, and click off.
In his office I pace.
“You’re taking all of my shares,” I say.
His lawyer is there, a hot brown-haired girl in her twenties with a bob haircut. We’re all signing and shuffling papers.
“Why didn’t you bring an attorney?” Kind says.
“Why not? Because fuck it,” I say. “I’m not nickel-and-diming you. You’re nickel-and-diming me.”
“It’s the business.”
“Well I’m not in the business.” And then quietly I say, “I am the business.”
“Blade Runner,” Shelly Kind says.
“I’m surprised you got the reference.”
“Lauren, I’m as much into movies as you are.”
“Well fucking act like it.”
And I grab my copy of the revised contracts which screw me up the ass and I leave Warner Bros studios at about 90 miles per hour in my Honda. I weave in and out of traffic on the highway and then Sunset Boulevard headed back to my house.
“He did what??” Kristi says.
“He’s a producer. What do you expect?”
“I know. But now,” I say, holding the bottle of Evan, “we enter phase two.”
“What’s phase two?”
“Phase two is where we kick some motherfucking ass. We have a completion guarantee which is what we should have had in the first place so from now we leave blood on the motherfucking sound stage.”
“From now on—”
“Lauren I’ve got good news for you.”
I hand her the bottle.
“We’ve already been leaving blood on the motherfucking sound stage. You’re one of the only people I respect in my entire life.”
“Don’t get weepy on me girl.”
“I’m not getting weepy it’s just—I didn’t know you gave up $900,000 to make this movie.”
“Give up my fucking kidney.”
“I know you would. That’s why I respect you.”
“Cheers me. Fuck it. Cheers me girl. We’re making this film to the motherfucking end.”
“You scare me a little bit.”
“Learn to be scared, girl. Life is scary. If you’re not scared—trust me—you’re not doing it right.”
Kristi cheers me. We do sequential shots.
“So what do you need?”
“What do you mean?”
“How much money do you have left?”
“You can stay at my place. Give up your apartment. You can’t have much cash left.”
“I’m not staying at your apartment, but thanks.”
“Can you afford this place?”
“No, but it’ll take six months for them to evict me. By then we’ll have the movie done.”
“Your end-of-the-world talk frightens me.”
“Wake the fuck up, little girl: it is the end of the world. Six more months there’ll be a nuclear holocaust. Alien invasion. There is no time but now. So if you want to help me, call Marcy. I have some changes to make to the call sheet for tomorrow.”
“Ok,” Kristi says. “Let’s get the call sheet ready for tomorrow.”
I stood above everyone in Warner Bros stage 12 on a utility lift and said:
“You may have heard some rumors that the liquidity of this production is in question. I want to take this opportunity to answer any questions you may have about this. So. Questions. Yes Kristi.”
Kristi was standing right beside me.
She raises her hand.
“Go ahead,” I say.
“Is the production on?”
“Yes,” I say. “And that’s all you need to know. Please get ready to shoot scene 37. We start in one hour. Thank you everyone.”
And Kristi pushes a button and we scroll toward the floor of the stage.
On the way down I said, “I think you’re the coolest motherfucker on the planet. I’m trying to think of someone else but I can’t.”
“Well if you do, I don’t want to know.”
At lunch Anna Hanna sees me paying for craft services with my credit card.
“Shouldn’t the production cover that?”
“We’re playing by house rules now, kiddo.”
And Anna looks at me like I’m crazy, which I fucking am.
Before the shot, Marcus Howell says:
“Prepare for the worst, eh?”
“Everything goes wrong on a film. Always prepare for the worst.”
“Hahaha!” (I laugh my head off.)
“What?” he says.
“Prepare for the worst? That’s the thing. You prepare for the worst..but you don’t know what the worst is.”
“What do you mean?”
“Guy goes running. Trail in the woods. Takes a cell phone, backup battery, first aid kit, Army food rations. What’s the worst thing that could happen—right? He breaks his leg? He gets lost? So he’s running along and fucking bigfoot snatches his ass up, carries him up the mountain, rapes him, eats him.”
“Bigfoot isn’t real.”
“But say he was. The point is you can’t prepare for the worst because you have no idea what the fucking worst is. You’re better off preparing for nothing..because the worst thing you can imagine is nothing compared to the worst thing that’s out there.”
Marcus sets his focus and then, right before we’re about to shoot, he surveys the scene and says in a whisper:
“Isn’t this degrading for women?”
“Marcus. We’ve been shooting for 181 days. Have you seen a woman degraded on this set?”
“I’m not a ma’am I’m a miss.”
“No, Miss Lauren.”
“And this prefix you just used before my name, does it indicate you’re talking to a woman or a man?”
“A woman, of course, Miss Lauren.”
“Well. Mr. Howell, rest assured that all the women in my movie are badasses and they will continue to be badasses until the last frame of digital film where a trigger is pulled by a woman’s finger. I don’t want you to worry about this further, Mr. Howell, so are we clear about women’s roles in my film?”
“Yes, Miss Lauren.”
“Are you going to lose any sleep over this issue tonight?”
“No, Miss Lauren.”
“Any other night?”
“No, not at all, Miss Lauren.”
“You got daughters, Mr. Howell?”
“I have two.”
“Well now you have three tickets to the opening. See what they think and if they’re not satisfied with the portrayal of women I will re-cut the film to their satisfaction.”
“I have a wife, too, Miss Lauren.”
“Is she the same age as you?”
“Yes, Miss Lauren.”
“Then I doubt she would like the film. Bring your daughters. I’ll add your names to the list.”
“Thank you, Miss Lauren.”
“Thank me after you see the film.”
So we shot, and there was no more discussion of production liquidity or any of that producer bullshit. We did what we were trained—or born—to do: make movies. Grips gripped. Painters painted. Actors acted. And I—one of those born, not trained, into this—directed. And it was like a fish had been dumped from a plastic bag into the ocean.
Kristi says, “You’re such a poet..such a lover..why don’t you make a love story?”
“The erotic thriller is the love story of this generation, Kristi.”
“Because..what we call a love story is not believable by the current age. They consider it corny. This is a much more dangerous world than mine of only 10..20 years ago. These people..that sounds awful..the lovely people of your generation are excited by violence much more than people my age. There’s no more cuddly little teddy bear..it’s not something they can place their faith in after so many government lies have worn thin. My parents..they could trust the government..they thought they could trust the guy they were on a date with. They couldn’t..but they thought they could. This generation..they know they can’t. So you can’t sell them a straight love story (that isn’t corny as hell) but you can sell them something that scares the shit out of them and excites them sexually at the same time. That’s as close as they’re gonna get to love. Or that’s the only way you’re going to get them to back into true love. I’m not saying the love story doesn’t exist. Blue is the Warmest Color..that’s a love story. But a story like that comes along once every ten years.”
“I like Blue is the Warmest Color. Most people think it’s boring.”
“It may be boring but it’s a masterpiece. You have to work with what you’re given. You know? As a director you don’t actually make anything. You just work with what you’re given.”
“What do you mean?”
“It’s like David O Russell. He made that one great movie, then he makes that shitty one, then he goes back to something that worked for him.”
“What? Strong female leads?”
“No. Jennifer Lawrence.”
Somewhere in scene 57 a production assistant says (audibly): “Does the concept of a virgin losing her innocence have some kind of special meaning to you?”
“What is this? Do I get—honestly.”
I stand up.
“Since when does a director get morality quizzed by her crew??!! Listen up. I’m 40 years old. The concept of virginity stopped being interesting to me a couple decades ago, plus a couple years. You think I’m making this movie ’cause it excites me? We—you and I—are making this movie ’cause it excites other people. We’re here for them and their sick fantasies, ok? If we wanted to get ourselves off I’d take you in the restroom, sit on your cock, and fuck the shit out of you.”
I walk over to this kid.
I’m a foot taller than him.
I grab his cheek.
“You’d like that wouldn’t you.”
I slap his face to the side.
“Get it straight. We’re here to get other people off—not ourselves. This isn’t a whorehouse—it’s an arthouse. My panties—well, my panties are another story—it’s the panties of every 16-year-old girl who watches this flick that we’re interested in. And we’re gonna have those little bitches squirming in their theater seats and we’re going to show them something—not that’s gonna blow their little pussy lips off—but that’s gonna blow their minds. When they get home and jill off to this shit, their minds are gonna be as big as if alien disclosure just happened, ok? That’s your job. That’s my job. Personally the idea of a virgin doesn’t excite me any more than a Twix wrapper.”
Everyone on set was silent.
“You want to hear about pussy? I’ll tell you about mine. My pussy is getting very, very angry. And boys, you don’t want to be around when a woman’s pussy gets angry. So let me handle the ideology and you handle getting my coffee. There’s not going to be any mutiny on this set and if you think there is, let me remind me how rapidly I can fire your ass—any of your asses—understood?”
After that we had no more of that particular argument.
But we had plenty of others.
I heard it all—and this is from my own crew.
“It’s exploitation of women.”
“Of course it’s exploitation of women. Women’s bodies. That’s half of film and 75% of culture at large. Maybe 80%. You think just ’cause I’m a woman I’m not gonna have this 17 year old strip naked in front of this 45-year-old man? I’m here exploiting the same shit men directors are and as soon as you understand that, you’ll understand that you’re working on a real film, not a film directed by a woman. We’re here to manipulate people and if you don’t think that women can manipulate people as well as or better than men, then you’ve never been in a relationship, a bar, or a boardroom. Anna Hanna, why is our rinky dinky little bitch character stripping for this old man?”
She doesn’t even look up.
“Because it gives her power over him.”
I look at the costume technician who started this little discussion.
“Bingo. Even little Anna Hanna up there knows that and let me let you in on a little secret: she prob’ly knew it since she was 14. Did I ever tell you my theory on dog training?”
“Well let me tell you sometime. It’s real interesting. But here’s the hint: it revolves around who’s training who. Ya get me?
“I thought you would. Now if we’re done philosophizing I’d like to shoot my fucking film.”
Or this argument:
My brilliant script supervisor realizes:
“It’s a detective story.”
“You said you hated detective stories.”
“Yes, detective stories, courtroom dramas..all shit.”
“Is yours shit?”
“No, mine’s good.”
“What’s the difference between a good detective story and a bad one?”
“The degree to which the detective is in danger, naturally.”
Or this argument, from the illustrious Marcus Howell upon the completion of a scene:
“You had to have your cum shot.”
“That’s not a cum shot. This isn’t a porno. There’s no cum shot.”
“What exactly is it that makes that not a cum shot?”
“Well, first of all, because there’s no cum.”
But he was right, of course: I was making the sickest movie possible that could still be shown.
All the while I’m adjusting my boobs, scratching my crotch, flushing bloody tampons down Warner Bros toilets, talking about and thinking about my clit and my vag—when they were horny, when they were dry, when they were angry and happy and cried. I looked like a woman. I had tits and ass and a vj. But I talked like a man—like a sailor—like my father: direct, bossy, judgmental, self-assured, genius.
Two actors are playing a scene, exchanging numbers.
I step in front of the camera.
“Who wrote this?”
“We’re still rolling.”
“Well fucking cut then! Who put this in here? I didn’t write this!”
“I did,” says Ruiz.
“Why. The script is locked.”
“If they don’t exchange numbers it doesn’t make any sense.”
“And how is that?”
“They won’t know how to meet each other.”
“Listen to me. There’s no 555 in my screenplay. Watch old movies. People meet each other all the time, like in churches..like two guys meet in a church and then one says to the other, ‘Let me know if you find anything,’ then the other guy says, ‘Ok.’ Then they both get up and leave. They don’t have each other’s telephone number! They don’t know what hotel each other is staying at! It doesn’t matter!”
“But it’s unrealistic. They wouldn’t be able to get back in touch.”
I look at Ruiz, shocked.
“Will you please tell me the last movie you watched that was realistic? Movies aren’t realistic!! That’s why people love them so much! Because they’re free from the business of deciding when to meet and telling each other their phone numbers! Exchanging contact information is for real life, Ruiz, not for my movie!”
“Ok, Miss Lauren.”
“Also, locked script—do you know what that means? It doesn’t mean the script is perfect, ok? It doesn’t mean that. It means we’ve decided to stop working on it and we’re moving on. Anyone else makes any changes to that script..I’ll..I’m not really sure what I’ll do but whatever it is, it’ll make Hannibal Lecter jealous. Fucking go again.”
They say power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. I admit, the power of directing was like a drug for me.
“Tuesday, you blow the least-stopped up side first.”
She drops her tissue and looks at me.
“It’s the stopped-up side that I’m interested in clearing.”
“It’s an illusion—it’s one of life’s many illusions. If you blow the side that seems least stopped up, you’ll clear more of the obstruction.”
“Do you know everything, Lauren?”
“I’m just a student of the world, Tuesday. Why don’t you pick up your tissue and try again.”
The star Tuesday Walker goes in her purse and makes an issue out of blowing the most-clogged side of her nose.
Everyone on set is completely silent as the dainty little superstar and I have a staring contest and then she walks all the way across the stage to the farthest trash can possible to throw away her Kleenex.
Or there’s me:
“No. We need this shot. They have the boring conversation on the bed, made bearable by the fact that Amanda’s undressing and feeling Tuesday’s cunt, while Haines is exposition, exposition, exposition—a bunch of details the audience isn’t going to remember anyway. Then if you just cut away from the scene, the scene doesn’t have an ending—there’s no button! So we need this shot so that at the end of the scene we can cut to a single view of Walker’s face, in orgasm, shot from above, over Amanda’s back. Boom! That’s the end of the scene. You’re right—it’s not a sex scene. Not a real one anyway. But, literally, it is a sex scene because that’s what the characters are really doing. Do you think, in the world of the characters, Amanda went up to her friend’s apartment to give the audience exposition? No! She went up there to fuck! So even while to us the scene is about exposition and explaining a few details and that is really why the scene is in the movie, to them it’s about a quickie at her apartment and without this quick little shot at the end..they never actually fucked in the scene. It gives it umph, it gives it pump, and you can’t set up her undressing without seeing her cum so we’re gonna do this boring exposition scene but at the end we’re going to give it one and one-half seconds of lasciviousness that jumps the action forward. Do you see how it jumps the action forward? Have you seen Cape Fear, the remake?”
No one answers.
“Fuck it, just set up an overhead shot of that bitch cumming.”
I light a Kamel.
“Since I was 12. Overhead shot. Bitch cumming. Body double of Amanda Haines over top of said bitch. Go.”
And little by little, we etched it out. Some days it really was like water running a canyon and we’d only get one shot—or two. Then things would speed up and we’d shoot 4..5 pages. Shelly Kind hated me. Marcus Howell hated me. Warner Bros and Tuesday Walker and Amanda Haines hated me. About the only person I had on my side was Kristi, but I think on day 100, when everyone who started out on my crew was still on my crew, when the cast was still intact and punching it out—bleeding scenes that surprised me—they were there because they felt something growing on our set, and that was the knowledge that we were making something spectacular.
Then I got reported to The Decency Commission, which is actually a corporation that handles Los Angeles county’s censorship laws—which I thought was a thing from the 1800s..but I was wrong.
“How did I get reported?”
“Excuse me, Miss Teacup..Pritchett?”
“I mean does someone file a report and then a trial just automatically begins?”
“This isn’t a trial, Miss Pritchett, this is a hearing. And here in the Great State of California, we protect our citizens’ privacy. When someone working on a theatrical production such as yours wants to alert the government of possible indecency, we honor their anonymity, for their own protection against employers such as yourself.”
“Like..the employers they’re trying to shut down?”
“Excuse me! Do not interrupt me when I’m speaking to you!”
“Excuse me. If this isn’t a trial, then why is there a judge?”
The judge turns to me.
“Miss Pritchett, just answer his questions as briefly as possible.”
“Judge Kessler—” I start.
But the judge interrupts me.
“We’ll proceed now,” he says.
“Judge Kessler, I am politely and properly asking you if, when this man asks me a question, I am to endure interruptions by him as—if his goal is to get me to answer a question—then it doesn’t make much sense for him to interrupt me while I’m giving him the answer, does it?”
“Just answer with a yes or no.”
“With every respect, Judge Kessler, politely and properly, I swore to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth and a yes or no does not always allow me to do the second. Some questions cannot be answered giving the whole truth with a simple yes or no. Some questions, if answered by either a simple yes or a simple no, will be answered untruthfully, and I aim to keep my oath here today.”
The papers picked up on that one. Oh yeah. That was all over southern California like a fucking orange.
“Also,” I said, “How do you file a complaint against a film that’s not even out yet? Can you file this complaint against a production? What’s the precedent for that?”
I grilled those fuckers like Howard Hughes in Scorcese’s Aviator.
When I return from court, everyone wants me to berate them for leaking the footage that landed me in the hot seat at The Decency Commission, but I don’t. I just stand on the catwalk and say:
“Let’s get to work.”
While shooting a sex scene—which is pretty much half my movie—Kristen catches me reading the warning labels on my pack of Kamels.
“You’re not that into sex, are you?”
“Why would you say that?” I say, and flip over my cigarettes.
She’s waiting for an answer.
“Sex is overrated,” I say. “Guys..have an extra flap of skin between their legs. Women..we basically have an open wound. I like it when I’m doing it but when I think about it too much..the technicalities..it’s just disgusting.”
“That funny to you? Most people spend their entire lives playing out their sex role. What a waste. We’re so much more than that. But people are content with attracting a mate..over and over and over. It’s subhuman, in my opinion.”
“But you do like to fuck, don’t you?”
“I love to fuck. I mean, yeah, I’m a dumb fucking animal like the rest of us. Put a nice fat cock in my puss and I cease to be a philosopher and turn into a panty-dropping freak. Desperate for some guy to make me cum. But some women spend their whole life doing that. Don’t you think there’s something more?”
“Trust me, there’s something more.”
I look back at my cigarettes.
“The body is just a metaphor.”
“I wanna play with your metaphors.”
I roll my eyes.
Kristi leans over and whispers to me.
“I want to eat your pussy.”
“GTFO little girl!!”
I push her away.
But she leans back, in the dark of the studio while we’re still shooting.
“I want to get into all the ins and outs. Take those panties off..”
“They’re adult diapers.”
“I know. I’ve seen them, remember? I want to suck your pee.”
“You’re aware you work for me, right?”
“We don’t even have to fuck,” she says, and licks my ear.
I push her away.
“Ha. Would you please get back to work?”
I put my head in my hand.
” ‘We don’t even have to fuck.’ ”
“I thought that was pretty good!” Kristi says.
“That’s the oldest line in the book, kid.”
When I was interviewing potential assistants in the Borders cafe, I told each potential employee that first thing is to know what’s good. Then I put two objects in front of them and asked which one was good. Most people said “the keys” or “the pen.” When I got to Kristi, she said:
“Well, if I had a pen, I could write on a pig, and keep myself entertained even if I was locked out of the house.”
“Kristi, where are you from?”
“Have you ever seen a pig?”
“Like in person?”
“No,” she says.
That’s why I hired her.
And I did want to have sex with her—but I never let her know. I needed our relationship to be simple, but I wanted to play with her metaphors, too. I had seen the outline of her cunt and I wanted to rub our cunts together, do things like the characters in my movie. If we had sex, though, she would have power over me, and I needed to have all the power with my assistant. Well, most of it. You never really have all the power in a relationship. The other person can always just shut down or leave. Kristi never left me, though, even though I wouldn’t have sex with her. That’s one of the regrets of my life, though—and I have to admit that while writing this—that Kristi and I could never have balance in our relationship.
When my landlord was kicking me out—oh, I forgot to mention I got kicked out of my apartment—I was all:
“Big Mike, wanna buy a couch?”
“I have no need for a couch.”
“Well what about all this furniture? If I sell it to you, can you give me another month?”
“I can give you six days.”
“Six days? For all this furniture? That couch is an antique!”
“I have no need for a couch.”
“Right, I got that.”
“You can sell it at the thrift store. By the AIDS clinic. What happened to all your money, Miss Lauren?”
“I spent it on an art project.”
“Was it a mural?”
“No. It was not a mural.”
I pet Big Mike’s chihuahua.
“We’ll be sorry to see you go, Miss Lauren.”
“But that’s ok. I’m on the way out anyway.”
I didn’t tell anyone. I didn’t tell Kristi, I didn’t call Shelly Kind. I was too proud. I’m a private person. I probably wasn’t thinking straight.
I showered at the 24 Hour Fitness.
I slept in my car at first but it was too dangerous: people would see me and bang on the windows. They were looking for people in cars.
I found places—like behind the Cinerama Dome—where you can sleep in Hollywood without anyone noticing. And in case you’ve never been to Hollywood, forget everything you’ve heard about it on TV. It’s a bad neighborhood. It’s a city. Someone on our crew got stabbed in the neck at Burger King. Not robbed. Just stabbed in the neck for no reason. Now his hand shakes. And it will shake for the rest of his life.
When you’re homeless every day is very, very long.
You never want to leave work.
You stay in diners for hours, playing Words With Friends with old boyfriends from back home, knowing those cocksuckers are using cheat sites.
You lose your pride—like you’re the director of a multimillion-dollar movie and you find yourself offering to help out the costume department with sewing.
You never get enough sleep but you’re never tired, either.
It’s like you’re always on edge, always looking out for something dangerous. Because that’s what you have to do at night—you see the world as risky. New people as creatures that might end your life.
And what if someone raped me and made fun of my granny panties? To be raped and made fun of at the same time..it would be too much.
You might not believe that a director of a film can be homeless. Impossible, right? I mean this is America, right? But you’d be wrong. Homeless people are all over—you might not even know who they are. I know because they used to come into Starbucks in Portland. When people think of homeless people, they think of brown-looking blobs huddled in alleys. But at Starbucks they would come in dressed for office work and they’d be the first people to arrive and they’d only ask for hot water and when they made that request they’d look at you and beg with their eyes not to be pressed for further details. And you wouldn’t, because you cared. And later they’d come in with their workmates and that’s when they’d spend their money—but they’d be the ones ordering tea instead of lattes.
It’s just a fact of life here. A corporation doesn’t care whether its employees have houses, homes, apartments, tents, health care, or a place to live at all. “We take care of our people” is a lie. The people at the top get bigger houses. But yeah, it’s the top of a pyramid.
I was petrified that I might run into others. I learned how to be invisible.
But a man found me.
He didn’t rape me.
He was probably too old to get it up.
I heard him one night, humming the theme from Star Wars, and he surprised me by climbing into the space behind the Dome. He just about climbed on top of me. The guy was wearing a white suit, star-shaped sunglasses, a red top hat, golden shoes. Oh, and he carried a cane. He was like:
“Whoah, young lady! What you doing in my spot?”
He pokes me with his cane.
“I’m just kidding with ya! Ha ha ha. I don’t need to sleep. I slept in my youth. Now I’ll be awake till I die.”
“Is that drug-induced?” I ask.
“Every drug you can think of!” he says. “Alcohol, cigarettes, tobacco, firearms..you ain’t a fed, are you?”
“I’m not a fed.”
“I do everything,” he says.
“Seriously, I’ll get out of your spot.”
“Lady, I ain’t used this spot in six months. If you don’t mind, I’ll just sit right down at your feet and you can tell Ole Jeffy a story.”
“You wanna hear a story?”
I sit up.
He settles in.
“And they call you Ole Jeffy?”
“Yep. What do they call you?”
“Well. They call me Miss Lauren, but I prefer just Lauren.”
“Alright, Just Lauren, tell Ole Jeffy your story.”
“My story you want to hear?”
“Yep. That’s the only story ya got to tell.”
“Let me stop you right there. You want a swig of this?”
Ole Jeffy produces a bottle of gin—it was some generic brand, I don’t remember.
“I’m trying not to drink while I’m homeless.”
“Everybody’s homeless,” he says. “That’s the first thing you’ve got to know. You want some of this?”
He pulls out a crack pipe.
“No thanks, I don’t smoke crack either.”
“Then how do you know what a crack pipe looks like?”
“What’s your line of work, Lauren—you sure you’re not a fed?”
“I’m not a fed. I’m trying to be a director.”
“Have you ever done LSD?”
“You call yourself a director and you’ve never done LSD?”
“I suck, right?”
“I don’t know, I haven’t heard your story.”
So I take a swig of gin, and I tell Ole Jeff my story. My life story, my movie story, breaking into the men’s restroom, renting a dress, meeting Shelly Kind..everything.
Old Jeffy listens.
When I get to the end, he says:
“You know Shelly Kind?”
“He tell you the story about Harry Blackman?”
“You know Shelly Kind?”
“He make you look up Blackman on Wikipedia and tell you how many movies he made?”
“Yeah. Sixty-two, right?”
“Yeah, 62. Fucker’s dead now.”
Ole Jeffy swigs his gin.
“He tell you how many of them made money?”
“Yes he did.”
I take the bottle.
“So don’t you think this business is filled to the brim with producers like your Harry O Blackman? Most of the people who came out here to make movies..to act, direct, write, produce..we came out here why? Why, my favorite Oregon director?”
I pass the bottle back.
“Because we love movies?” I say.
“Of course,” he says. “Because we fucking love movies.”
He scoots closer to me on the concrete.
“We’d be making movies back home in our garages and living rooms if we couldn’t make it to LA. This business is stuffed to the gills with people who love movies..and some people who love movies so much that they keep producing over and over and over even when movie number 62 is the 62nd movie that’s lost money.”
Ole Jeffy laughs.
“Harry O Blackman. That guy’s dead. And he can still get people to invest in making the next one!”
Ole Jeffy slaps me on the knee.
“Now that’s producing!!”
I look over at this gin-smelling homeless guy with the pimp hat and the gold Elvis glasses.
“Who are you?”
“I used to work for Paramount.”
“Bullshit,” I say.
Then he tells me his story.
And I start to realize: this is one of the sages of Hollywood.
The Batman guy on the skateboard. Ole Jeffy. The Oracle—
“You go see the Oracle of Hollywood?”
“Wha’d she say?”
“She told me I know my own fate..or something.”
“What did she say exactly?”
“She wouldn’t say anything! She threw my hand down on the counter and rented me a mailbox!!”
“Oooh. I’ve never seen her do that.”
“That’s what my assistant said! What does it fucking mean??”
“Don’t get worked up, girl. Is it that time of the month?”
“None of your fucking business!!”
Ole Jeffy looks at me cockeye.
He passes me the bottle.
And that’s how I met Ole Jeffy, Pimp Daddy Producer, or any of the names they call him. We talked all night that first night. I realized that I didn’t know if Skateboard Batman was a millionaire or homeless, too—that it was the same for all of us, here, in Lala Land: we came here to chase a dream. A few of us caught it. The rest died trying. But we all died, and we all got life from the chase.
I invited Ole Jeffy to my set.
And one day he came.
I was calling action and I saw light behind me. I was about to yell the fuck out of whoever was doing it but I saw it was Ole Jeffy and he sneaked in and held up his hand sideways at me in an apology for disturbing us and he leaned silently on his cane after that. When I yelled “Cut!” I turned around and Ole Jeffy looked at me through all the people standing around watching the scene and he gave me the thumbs up.
Then he snuck out the door he came in.
And I saw the crack of light close completely.
At some, point, he disappeared. We never said bye.
I don’t know what he did.
I assume he did what we all must do at the end.
That day Kristi asked me where I was sleeping.
“I went by your apartment and saw you’d been evicted.”
“Uh—” I say.
“Don’t tell me any stories. You’re staying with me now.”
“Do not argue. You’re my friend and a friend helps a friend when a friend needs help. Ok? That’s all there is to it. Here’s a key. I’ll text you the address. Couch is yours. Bedroom is mine. Everything else is shared space from now on and I won’t hit on you. Eat what’s in the refrigerator. Don’t say thank you. This is the last time we will speak of this.”
“Old woman, I told you not to say thank you.”
“I won’t say it again.”
“Good or else I’ll kick you back on the street.”
She starts to go, then comes back.
“I don’t believe you didn’t talk to me. Pride..”
She shakes her head.
“..Pride will kill you in this city. You listen to that.”
And she goes back in the studio, leaving me standing in the California sun, holding her key, ready to cry.
At her house she was honest: she didn’t hit on me. We were like girlfriends.
“Nah I don’t go in for jewelry.”
“A guy gives a girl something shiny to look at and she’s supposed to open her legs? Fuck that.”
Kristi laughs. She tops off my champagne.
We’re sitting on the floor in front of her couch watching reruns of 30 Rock.
I clink Kristi’s glass.
“This husband I used to have—” I say.
Kristi’s eyebrows raise.
“Yes, I used to have a husband. No, I’m not bi, if you were wondering. I used to write silly ingredients on the grocery list whiteboard on the refrigerator and he couldn’t handle it. Like I’d write, ‘international zebras,’ or ‘pig carcass with glue.’ He couldn’t take it. Sometimes he’d ask me questions about what I wrote, acting, playing along, like he wanted to prove he could be weird, too. But he hated it—it messed with his sense of order. As soon as I wasn’t looking he’d erase those items, leaving the rest of the grocery list up there. Like he couldn’t stand to have a little nonsense sitting around. He controlled everything at his job and he controlled everything at our house, including the fucking grocery list whiteboard!! It was like I wasn’t allowed to have any ownership to write what I wanted to write, even if it was ‘international zebras.’ I think every house could use some international zebras. He didn’t. So I had to give him a divorce.”
Kristi almost snorts through her nose.
“I feel like a little kid when I’m with you,” she says.
“Everybody feels like they’re still a little kid,” I say. “Don’t you know that? Everybody feels like they’re still a little kid.”
I told her all my stories.
She’d sit on the couch and I’d stand in front of her, demonstrating, like we were playing charades.
“So this guy is fucking me and it was really good so instead of saying the usual Oh..yes..yes that women say so delicately in a man’s ear, I was looking at this guy and scrunching my face and I was like God..fucking..DAMN! and this guy—while we’re still fucking—is like, ‘You fuck like a man,’ and I was like, ‘Is that a good thing?’ and he was like, ‘Yeah!’ ”
Then I put on a valley girl accent and I’m like:
“I heard these two models talking yesterday, ok? They’re talking about how to make the perfect facial expression for a pose—I don’t know, I’m not a model, I don’t know model-speak but that was the gist.”
I put my hand on my hip.
“So the one girl says to the other: ‘Just make your face like you’re looking at a guy right at the moment he sticks it in.’ ”
“Yeah, his dick!! Make a face like you would make right at the moment a guy sticks his dick into you, and if you can show that to the camera, you’ve got the perfect cover photo for a magazine or an album cover or whatever.”
“Oh my fucking god.”
We talked about film:
“So why don’t you use zooms?”
“I had this friend way back in film school—”
“Wait wait wait. They have film school in Portland?”
“Yeah, they do. LA isn’t the only place making films. They have film school in New York.”
“Did you go there?”
“No. I thought about it but I didn’t. Anyway, in my dinky film school in Portland, there was this guy named Michael Sandow. And he was a cinematography student who always used to read Bukowski and one day I said I would never make a movie that had a zoom in it. He was totally offended. He threw out a couple movies with great zooms in them: Barry Lyndon, The Royal Tenenbaums. He said—as a cinematography student at the time—that he considered zooms just one of the tools in the cinematographer’s toolbox and he could never make a statement like I just did: excluding one of the tools without ever knowing what kind of movies he might ultimately make that might require a zoom. And I was like, right, as a cinematographer you can’t make that decision now, but as a director I already know the effect zooms have on the audience and I don’t ever want to create that effect.”
“What effect do they make?”
“They draw attention to the camera.”
“And even when I was..26?..I knew that I would never have a zoom in my films because that’s not the kind of film I want to make. I want neither the comedy of the Royal Tenenbaum zooms nor the subtle drama of the Barry Lyndon zooms..nor do I want the stupidity of the zooms from the nineteen-eighties and before, where they really should have had a push but they didn’t have the equipment or the time or the discipline to do a push, so they just did a zoom instead. And it looks terrible. You can look at every single one of those shots and say, yep, that shoulda been push, or a pull, but they cheaped out and did a zoom. I fucking hate those shots..I hate zooms..and this topic is making me angry so can we please move on?”
“So what did Mike say?”
“My cinematographer friend from film school? He thought I was crazy. But the funny thing is, he writes me an email a few years back and tells me he’s become a writer—all that Bukowski payed off—and he published his first book and he tells me he thinks about punctuation a lot now.”
Kristi rolls back on the couch.
“And he says: Lauren, I understand what you said way back when about zooms, because I found myself thinking the other day: I would never use a semicolon in one of my books.”
Kristi laughs again.
“So he gets it now and he’s explaining how he understands where I was coming from because the type of book he’s writing would never use a semicolon, because it’s outdated and this and that and he goes into all this writer-speak I don’t understand—a three-paragraph lecture on the connotations of a semicolon—but..yeah..it took us half a lifetime but we finally understood each other on the zoom thing.”
“Yeah. And that, my friend, is why I don’t use zooms. I’m more into the cut. That’s old-fashioned in this town. How old am I?”
“I..don’t know?” giggling.
“Well, however old I am, I’m old enough to be one of the only directors in this town who doesn’t shoot everything on a technocrane. So I must be pretty old.”
Kristi goes off one some big speech about the magic of our current film, how she’s seen the magic in the faces of the crew, in the product put on screen, even the magic in the electricity on my set.
“The most collaborative set I’ve ever seen.”
“Well..I suspect there were more collaborative sets in history.”
“I’m trying to give you a compliment.”
“I’m gonna thank you for your compliment. Thank you for your compliment. Now I’m gonna tell you something that I’ve never told anyone. Mostly because no one’s ever asked, and you having the curiosity or the desire to flatter me..that is one of the threads in what’s becoming a high-tensile climbing rope—”
“You told me to stop you if you were getting poetic.”
“When did I tell you that?”
“You say it all the time.”
“Ok, so, basically..there is no magic. I’m sure that’s not what you wanted to hear.”
“I want to hear the truth.”
“Well there’s no magic! You want to know what there is?”
“You really want to know? ‘Cause this’ll shatter your little fifth-grade mind watching The Wonderful World of Disney every Sunday night getting ready to go back to school.”
“Then shatter it.”
“Ok. There’s no magic. There’s only honesty.”
“Ask me to tell you later why I hate sequels.”
“Why do you hate sequels?”
“You said earlier to ask you later why you hate sequels.”
“I hate sequels, prequels, spin-offs, and all other revisitations and derivatives because if you have a story to tell then that story is one thing—one thing. And your book is complete, or your movie is complete, when it does that one thing. That’s the end! If you had something more to say that necessitates a sequel, then you should have said that shit the first time.”
“What about a series, like Harry Potter?”
“Look, don’t ask me about Harry Potter because J. K. Rowling is such a cool motherfucker that I would never say anything bad about her writing.”
“But you hate it.”
“I’ve never read it. I heard a few paragraphs my mom played for me from an audiobook of the original Harry Potter and it was not something that interested me. But J. K. Rowling can do whatever she wants. Did you see her Harvard commencement speech? You should see that. That’s prob’ly better than all her Harry Potter books combined. I mean, come on, the Horcruxes..!!?? Obviously one of them was stuck in Harry Potter’s head—I knew that the minute I saw the scar! What the fuck?? Everyone’s all gaga over this ending and they’re like It’s so surprising! and You’ll never guess!! I had to go out and get more popcorn to keep myself interested.”
“You saw it in the theater, though?” Kristi laughs.
“Actually, no. I lied. I saw it at home and I wasn’t eating popcorn. Martin Scorsese was sitting next to me on the couch and when the big reveal about Harry Potter being one of the Horcruxes came on I was like: ‘Marty, will you eat my pussy because this shit is fucking stupid.’ ”
“You are kidding me.”
“No, I’m not.”
“You and Martin Scorsese watched Harry Potter together.”
“Well, I was watching, imagining he was eating my pussy out, which I just told you in case you forgot.”
“Does imaginary Martin Scorsese eat good pussy?”
“Hell no!! He would eat good pussy if he would stop lecturing a girl on film for a second and lick a motherfucker’s clit!! Fuck!!”
Kristi looks at me so skeptically but I continue.
“The whole time he was eating me out he was espousing the virtues of this—whatever, the eighth?—fucking Harry Potter movie! He was telling me all the things he liked about it and I was using both hands, pushing that motherfucker’s face right onto my clit, right where I wanted it. And I was like: ‘You know this is a shitty movie, right? You know this movie is shit?’ ”
Kristi’s lips are on the verge of laughter, bursting.
“And Marty looks up from his job, with a string of saliva running from his dentures to my cunt, and he says: ‘Lauren, there’s something to be learned from every film.’ ”
I pause dramatically.
“Then he goes back to eating my cunt.”
Kristi finally lets it out.
“Did he make you cum?”
“Look, don’t worry about whether he made me cum. The point is that motherfucker likes every film. One of the greatest directors of all time and if you showed him Shrooms, he’d be like, ‘Actually, this is pretty good photography.’ ”
“Have you really met Martin Scorsese?”
“Fuck no..what do you think.”
“Then how do you know so much about him?”
“I just watch interviews, girl.”
“So what’s your problem with series..not like Harry Potter..but any other series.”
“Come on, you know this: series are just a way to make more money. They’re anti-art. Transformers? I mean I used to respect Michael Bay—now he’s just bought into doing the big money shit for the sake of getting the big money. I’ll still watch The Rock but that’s it.”
I shake my head.
Kristi and I look at each other.
We both sigh.
And it’s one of those dangerous moments, where we could make that move with each other. I look away.
Kristi says mmm.
“But if they ever make a sequel to The Rock..”
I look back at her.
“..I’ll never watch The Rock again.”
That moment lingers, and this time I keep my gaze with her.
Eventually she cocks her head to the side and says:
“Well, Lauren, not everything has to be art.”
But I quip: “Yes it does.”
Then I have one of the worst headaches of my life.
Three days of delayed filming starts. I use Kristi as much as I can but as soon as we get to her place in Echo Park I’m throwing up in her toilet, wiping down its sides with paper towels, then graduating to the intimacy of using her towels and doing wash in her basement late into the night, with Kristi at my side—the occasional hand on the shoulder—and spending the evening in her bathtub with wine and a bottle of aspirin and Kristi watching Friends reruns in the living room.
“I think we need to take you to the hospital.”
Kristi comes to the door. She looks in my eyes but doesn’t scan me.
“Why have you been to the hospital?”
“Didn’t you just say why?”
She says, quieter: “Why have you been to the hospital.”
“Because my headaches are really bad.”
“What causes them.”
I almost cry.
Then I do cry, and I hold the bottle up to my mouth.
I set it on the side of the tub and wipe my lips with the back of my hand.
“If you want a ride to the hospital let me know. Do you even have health insurance?” this 20 year old asks me.
I blink through tears.
Kristi’s arm slides down the door frame and she turns to go.
“Wait. I’m sorry.”
“It’s hard for you not to keep people at a distance,” she says.
I nod, hating having her see me this way.
“You’ve been hurt really bad, haven’t you?”
I don’t need to tell her yes.
“Look, we’re all here for you. Even Shelly Kind. I bet if you walked into his office and explained the situation he’d give you a hundred grand to help you out until you finish your film. Ask for help,” this young girl tells me.
She starts away from the bathroom again.
“Wait. Help me get up. I’m not sure I can stand.”
And Kristi turns sideways to get through the narrow doorway blocked by a tall shelf. And she comes into the bathroom and helps me stand. And she puts her hands around my arm and I push up with the other one and together we stand. Then she dries me non-erotically and lets me do my private parts and we walk into where Friends is playing and she brings me her pajamas and helps me step into them and cover up.
She brings the bottle of wine in and pulls a glass off the mantle and looks at me like We’re gonna do this right while she pours and she hands me the glass and we sit, properly, and watch reruns, and I know my ejection handle is sitting right next to me, two feet away, on a plush red couch the likes of which I’ve never seen.
When I stop crying, Kristi passes me her phone and says Watch this.
I take her giant phone and watch.
I can’t help myself.
“Are you going to favorite it?”
“It’s your phone!”
“But I mean like in a metaphorical sense. Would you fave it?”
“But you’re cracking up.”
“It’s a people video.”
I hand the phone back.
Kristi’s like huh?
“It’s just about the girl. It’s just: here’s a pretty girl, let me put her on camera. You can tell a guy made this.”
“Or a lesbo.”
“I’m sorry. Excuse me for my heterocentric assumptions. I was born a decade before you. I love cock by the way.”
“I can’t tell if you’re kidding.”
“It doesn’t matter, guy or girl, the person who made this video was looking at her cute friend and she said to herself: Self, let me put this sexy little bitch on film. The whole video is about how cute she is. This shouldn’t be a video—this should be a snapshot.”
“So you’re not gonna fave it.”
“Fuck no. If they showed her nipples I’d fave it.”
“Like if she was naked?”
“No! Like if she wasn’t wearing a bra. I want to see some nipple if I’m going to favorite a people vid.”
We go back to watching TV, and I catch Kristi glance at me, proud that she made me laugh.
I’m at the mantle pouring wine and she’s watching me again, getting my wine to just the right place in the glass.
“What are you doing?”
I put the bottle down on the mantle and walk back to the couch.
Kristi’s watching me, waiting for an answer.
“Obsession, obsession! Every little thing to me is a piece of art. A wire isn’t just a wire, it’s a sculpture! When I set my earbuds down, for example, I roll them up in my fingers, then I set them down on top of a surface, then I let go. And when I let go, they become a little sculpture, unique every time—this loop going this way and that loop going that way, and I nudge it and prod it and re-lay the loose ends of the wire until the sculpture pleases me. That’s what I mean by obsession. Some people might call it preoccupation, in the sense that it’s paying attention to things that don’t matter! But they matter to me, every little dot, every strand of hair, every angle, every cut, right down to the fucking frame.”
I’m sitting now. I sip my wine.
“And that’s why you’re a director.”
K is staring at me.
“And that’s why I’m a director.”
She stands up.
“I want you to read something.”
When she comes back, she comes back with a script.
Freak Show, by Kristi Lee.
I flip through the pages. Read a few lines.
Then I settle in and read.
I slump down and hide behind the script.
She has me crying again!
I even stop drinking once I realize it’s good.
I’m there for two hours and I sober up for the duration of the read. I peek at Kristi every once in a while. She’s watching her phone and I’m like Did this girl write this?
Kristi sits quietly with me until I set her script down.
“This is great.”
Kristi asks me if I stopped drinking.
“You mean for good? Fuck no.”
I get up and make myself a gin martini.
“It wasn’t that good. I’m kidding. Kristi. This script is a rock, it’s a wave. Marcus Aurelius would be proud. And if you ask me who Marcus Aurelius is, I’ll fucking punch you in the face.”
Let’s be clear on one thing: a director is nothing without a script. Part of being a director means you have to be able to find, buy, or write a great script. No script, no movie. Although far too many movies are greenlighted without a script—most movies, actually. It’s one of the flaws in our current system: movies get made that never should have got made. Think of it: a shitty movie costs millions of dollars to make, and these head-in-the-sand producers who don’t know the difference between a film script and toilet paper, will greenlight a movie with a director who is so desperate to become a director that she will do anything to become one, even direct a shitty movie. But there’s a difference between making a beginner’s movie and making a shitty movie. Hard Eight is a beginner’s movie—but it’s a great movie and it shows people who matter that this is a director worth rolling the dice on. If you make Hard Eight, the chances are huge that your next movie will be even bigger. Smart people see that. Your two-million dollar horror flick that your shithole film school buddy wrote and that your girlfriend financed and that your own friends can’t even sit through without laughing—that’s going to be the last movie you direct, my friend. It’s like Eminem says, you’ve got one shot. Right? So, a little bit of striving is a good thing in this business. A lot of striving can kill you—but a lot of striving is even better. If you never shoot for the moon, you’ll never hit it.
Without a great script you’ll never have a great movie. Exceptions: Titanic. Great story, horrible dialogue, great acting..equals..maybe not a great movie, but..well..yes..a great movie. Because it pulls your heartstrings. Because it’s enthusiastic. Because it presents optimism and pessimism or really survival and demise in tight juxtaposition to one another. But the casting is spotty..I mean all the main actors are perfect, but then James Cameron casts Bill Paxton?? Bill Paxton is a terrible actor. But a terrible actor, or a mediocre actor, can be great under certain circumstances..typically the circumstance of a great director. Bill Paxton in A Simple Plan. Tom Cruise directed by P.T. Anderson or Stanley Kubrick..see..it’s not so simple as saying someone’s a terrible actor.
You know the best definition I’ve ever heard of intelligence? It has nothing to do with IQ. It’s a person placed in a situation in which their particular skills are useful. Right? My plumber is fucking brilliant when the toilet’s backed up! So don’t think of intelligence as the quality of an individual. It’s a quality of a team, or the marriage of a particular person to a particular project. Was Ernest Hemingway brilliant? When he was writing books he was. With a fifth of vodka in one hand and a shotgun in the other..well..you decide.
I read Kristi’s script a second time.
Then I poke her in the butt with my toe.
“You wanna go to Lauren Pritchett’s film school?”
Kristi lowers her phone.
I jump up.
“The first thing is there will be no grades in this class!”
“Unfortunately,” I say, “when I presented this idea to the unfortunate college you have decided to attend and which I have unfortunately decided to teach at, these geniuses who run this house of education said that you can’t have a class without grades and I said You fucking fools.”
“You fucking fools,” Kristi echoes.
“You fucking morons. I’m pretty sure I quoted something from Mamet whose curse-to-word ratio was maybe a point nine. So this committee of elders who a) do not attend college and b) do not teach college told me—I mean, I’m sorry, forgive the ego—but these motherfuckers told me that I have to give you each a grade.”
Kristi says, “Boo..”
“We discussed this for minutes. Minutes! Minutes I could have spent drinking a venti mocha or having my clitoris licked by Martin Scorsese—god, I wish that man could grow a mustache. What do you think is Scorsese’s greatest film?”
Kristi slides over on the couch to be a different student.
“Fuck you The Departed.”
She slides back.
“The Departed? It’s Raging Bull, no question. Everyone says Goodfellas, and yes, in terms of shot logic, Goodfellas is great—I mean truly great. One of the best camera-movement directors of the Americans. Who is the greatest camera movement director of all time?”
“That’s a great answer. The park shot in Malcolm X—one of the greatest shots in film history. I’ve seen that shot at least a hundred times. You—you think I’m exaggerating? Don’t you do that? Order fucking mad subs and pizza and cartons of Kamel Reds and pop in a bit of the old Orville Redenbacher and just sit in the living room with all your film friends watching a movie shot by shot or watching the same shot a hundred times and everyone shouts out everything they notice about it?”
Kristi says, “You’re fabulous.”
I say, “That’s what you’ve got to do, Padawan learners. Obsession is a good trait in this business. The shot that establishes the club segment of 25th Hour..a steadicam operator on a crane, the crane arcs around the club building and the steadicam operator steps off the crane and the shot continues! That’s a shot. I don’t care how much pot he smokes, Spike Lee will always be a great director.”
“Have you ever met him?”
“How many times?”
“A lot. Come on, who’s the greatest camera-movement director of all time?”
“Who said that.”
Kristi slides over. She raises her hand.
“What’s your name, ‘I did’?”
“Well, Claire, I happen to agree with you. You can learn 90% of what there is to know about camera movement by watching 8½. You learn the other 10% from watching Goodfellas. And you catch a glimpse of what the future holds by watching Enter the Void. Who’s seen it?”
K half-raises her hand, keeping her armpit protected.
“My little overachiever! Anyone else? No? Well give it a look sometime. Enter the Void doesn’t even fit most people’s definition of what a movie is! The acting is horrible—or you can think of it as realistic. Every single shot in that movie is a visual effects shot. Every single shot is technocrane! And Gaspar Noé, the director, the camera operator—it’s like god built Gaspar Noé specifically to operate a technocrane. It’s a view into the future, my friends. It’s not my favorite film by far. But in some ways, there is Enter the Void..and then there is every other film.”
Kristi blurts out: “So how are you going to grade us?”
“Well, since your remedial school would not budge on the antiquated idea that grades are what is required to motivate young people to do anything, I suggested a number of alternatives to them—none of which they liked.”
“Who exactly was on this committee?”
“Ah-ha! Wouldn’t you like to know. You’re John Amp, right, student body president?”
“Well, believe me, I respect your desire to punish those in power for being stupid—I share that desire with you—but if you’ll allow a humbly offered piece of advice..don’t worry about it. I mean, fuck ’em. What’s your major?”
“Then direct. I know you’ve gotta do your political stuff and I will support you in any way I can, in your political goals within this school. But: forget about it. Decide what’s most important to you. If it’s film directing, then stick with me and we’ll direct some films. If it’s fighting the administration on how they approve and disapprove of your behavior in my classroom, or any classroom, then quit film directing and focus on that. Ok?”
Mr. Amp nods.
“Great. So here’s how we’re going to grade you—”
“Is that the royal we?”
“No, smartass. You see that woman sitting over there? Looks too old to be a student, yet too young to be me? That’s Kristi, she’s my assistant.”
“We work on films together and she is my assistant in that context as well as in the context of this class. One of the options I presented to your precious administration is that I teach, and we leave the grading to Kristi. That way I can forget about the absurdity of grading and yet Kristi, who will be present for every class, every exercise, will be in a position to give you a pass/fail grade in a fair and informed manner—”
“This class is pass/fail?”
“Just hold on one second, ok, John-Boy? Is your concern about this possibly being a pass/fail class based on some misguided effort to maximize your GPA and use that meaningless number to catapult yourself into some other, more prestigious, film school?”
“I just wanted to know.”
“Alright. I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt, but I strongly encourage you to listen to what I am about to say. I am not a wise person. I don’t believe in absolutes. But what I’m about to say is one of the wise absolutes that I have come across walking this beach of a life, and among all the syringes and broken glass, somewhere in this metaphorical sand..”
We both roll our eyes.
“..I have discovered that if you work primarily for the approval of others, your life will be unfulfilled and your art will be shit. And I do mean unfulfilled, not unfulfilling..”
Kristi pretends to take notes.
“..because unfulfilling is bad, yes, but that’s just you being unhappy. Unfulfilled, however, indicates what I want to indicate, which is that—not some theological idea about your life having a predetermined purpose—I don’t believe god put you here to do shit. But the fact is that each one of you is capable of doing something, and seeking others’ approval is a losing strategy if your mission is to do the greatest possible thing that you can do in the incredibly short time you will be alive. End of soapbox.”
Kristi wipes her brow.
“So I’m sitting there with the most boring people I have ever encountered on the face of the Earth—your school administrators—and they tell me I have to give grades in order to teach here and you know what I said to those motherfuckers? I said: You asked me to teach this class. I’m not a fucking college professor. I’m a film director and my films make money and therefore, Sherlock, I don’t need to teach this class.”
“Don’t you wish.”
“Here’s hoping. So I’m going to do whatever the fuck I want in the grades department or else I’m walking out this door and you’ll never see my self-righteous ass again. Then your boring school administrators start explaining to me that grades are a requirement of accreditation and if they fail to fulfill the requirements of the accreditation committee—”
“—then they could lose their blah blah blah blah blah. If I had had a shotgun with me I would have blown my head off rather than listen to a bunch of legalistic mumbo jumbo so I stopped them and I said, Ok, I’ll give grades. And they said, Not pass/fail, all worried, like they were going to have to live in a smaller house if I graded this class pass/fail. So I said: No, not pass/fail. Film Directing 421—”
“It’s Film Directing 401.”
“What. Ever. I said: Film Directing 401 will have normal grades. Are you happy? And they said: Yes. So here’s how the grade situation is going to work in here—Kristen, close the door.”
Kristen closes the door to the bathroom.
“Ok,” I say. “You all have A’s.”
There are all kinds of confused and magical looks from around the room—my imaginary students.
“But there’s a catch.”
“The catch is this: if you tell anyone—your Mom, anyone who runs this fucking school, another teacher, your guidance counselor..anyone..guys, if you’re getting your first piece of ass and in the moment of glory you scream out, ‘Professor Pritchett is giving us all A’s!!’..women, if you’re getting that first good dicking or your girlfriend makes you cum for the the first time with her mouth and those two or three fingers rubbing you on the inside..when you fucking cum, if you shout, ‘Professor Pritchett is giving us all A’s!!’ as your fucking brain is going wild with serotonin..if you mention this to anyone..your fucking imaginary friend..if you talk in your sleep and your roommate hears it..then I’m giving you an F.”
Kristi raises her hand.
“I’m not taking any questions on this subject so just pretend that you’re Joe Pesci and I’m the big fat mob boss and if you talk, I’m gonna have Kristen whack you. Now, ‘first things fucking last,‘ to quote a movie you all should have seen, let’s get down to the business of how you make a film.”
“You are like the ultimate bullshitter,” Kristen says.
“Shhhht!!” I say. “What’s today?”
I make a buzzing sound and fake an aneurysm.
I fall to the floor.
I talk to Kristen’s ceiling, to the bottom of my empty wine glass. I use it as a microphone.
“That was the first session of the first class I ever taught in film directing. That semester will probably end up being the only time I ever taught a class—but who knows. I did it because I was bored. Too much space between films. My expectations were low. But by the end of that semester, through the experiences I endured with those students—some exceptional, most not—but I loved those people something like you love the people you work with on a film crew, like I imagine you love the people you fight a war with. You come together for a moment, for a purpose, you take your clothes off, you fuck, and through a process of days and weeks, semesters, campaigns, everyone puts their clothes on, the last class is held, and everyone disperses. We do our own work. Most of never see each other again.”
I’m twisting my head side to side like a sick Muppet.
I look over at K.
She raises an eyebrow.
“Shut your mouth, Kristen. You’re staring.”
“I think I just saw inside the mind of Kristen Teacup Pritchett in a way that few probably have.”
I get up off her floor and pour myself a fat glass of wine. I’m standing at her mantle inhaling it when she says:
“You spend a lot of time in your imagination, don’t you.”
I just nod my head while I’m drinking.
“You are a deep deep bitch,” she says.
“I’m not deep I’m just sick.”
“Respect, respect. You wanna tell me about your headaches?”
I look to the side—just my eyeballs—one of those subconsciously controlled movements that you can’t escape..and that totally give you away.
I look back at her.
“They’re going to kill me.”
She keeps my gaze.
“They’re something I have to deal with on my own.”
I shake my head.
“I’m sorry, babygirl, but I just can’t go there.”
“Do you have someone you can go there with,” this kid asks me.
“Boy,” I say, wiping a tear, “you all are sophisticated down here in CA, huh? No I guess I don’t,” I say.
“It’s alright,” she says, and looks down at her phone. “Why don’t you pick a show.”
That’s how Kristi and I went, night after night, this person half my age outpacing me, noticing my crazy, and in retrospect I guess she found me entertaining or something.
I’m not too good with love.
I mean they say you’ll never recognize it when it comes—not just love but anything—and I think that’s true. It’s certainly true of me—I don’t have any pride about it. But that shit knocks you off guard, you know? You find yourself in some stranger’s hideout, drunk off your ass, knowing she’s keeping her head down ’cause you’re looking at her and she’s giving you time to stare at her. You know like how you leave a room just so people can talk about you? To give them space to do so. That’s what I’m talking about, saying she’s sophisticated. And I guess it had been a long time since I met someone who could play back with me, in the games I play, and I missed it.
As a kid we played games. But those aren’t the kind of games I want to play as an adult. Most of my games I learned from my dad. I’m talking about passive-aggressive shit like slamming doors and punching walls. Like after an argument he would go outside the house and punch the siding while me and Mom huddled in the living room. Like we were under siege. I never saw him hit my mom, but it was the threat of force (like in The Rock—that’s what their mission was based on). He made sure we knew that he might hit us at any moment. Then he’d come inside the house and pace right over us, looming, getting real close and forcing us not to talk just letting us know he controlled the space and if we said anything to him he’d yell back at us incoherently.
I loved my childhood. When I talked to other kids about their parents, I always went back to mine and said they were the best parents I had ever heard of and I was not being sarcastic.
Marcus Howell plugs our camera into a new hard drive.
“You wanna hear a rape joke?”
“How many gay men does it take to rape a girl?”
“Two. One holds her down while the other does her hair.”
“You are truly sick in the head, boss.”
“That’s what people keep telling me. Wanna hear another one.”
“Um. Kinda trying to work here.”
“That’s good, Marcus. I’m just testing you.”
(It’s bad when the director is impeding the work of key personnel on her own set, so I went to hang with the grips while Marcus was lighting and it reminded me of restaurant culture where you have a kitchen manager—I did anyway—who would come to me and say, “You need a safety meeting,” and take me to the walk-in and smoke me out when I was too stressed. On my set I had to call my own safety meetings (for myself) and it mostly looked like me drinking vodka Red Bulls with the grips.)
“Wanna know my favorite sex position?”
“What’s that boss?”
“The JFK. I splatter all over her while she screams and tries to get out of the car. Guess what my name is.”
“Rape. Remember that, you’ll be screaming it later.”
“Oh my god.”
“I bought a rape whistle the other day you wanna know why?”
“It helps mask the screams. I stopped a woman from being raped last night. Wanna know how I did it? I stayed in. I was doing laundry and I held a sock over my daughter’s mouth. Know what I said?”
“Does this smell like chloroform to you? Know what I said to this bitch at the bar the other day? Just say yes now and I won’t have to spike your drink. You know what I say to a little girl who won’t let me rape her?”
One of the grips almost chokes.
“Come on, I’m a friend of your dad.”
Then there’s a long silence and someone says:
“Lauren you are fucked in the head.”
I flick my cigarette.
“Got that right.”
Then I’m back on set.
“Marcus, we ready?”
“How’s it look, boss?”
“Looks good, let’s shoot it.”
“Quiet,” Marcy calls. “And..sound.”
“Action,” I say.
People think a director yells action. In reality, a set is a quiet place. On a professional set no one yells anything.
And there was action.
There was a crane moving.
Circling Tuesday Walker and Amanda Haines.
My crazy lesbian love scene.
Breaking the book, killing the script, doing something that had never been done before. It was like Tarsem meets Noé meets My Fair Lady. Meets a fragrance commercial. Meets Apocalypse Now. Fuck it. I was tearing pages from our plan, reordering them, burning them, chewing them up and shitting them out. Then I was shooting the shit. My crew had learned to trust me implicitly, and if I told them to act the shit, they would act the shit. If I told Marcus Howell to loosen the camera base and let it jog randomly like they used to do in those Pepsi commercials, he would do it..even though he thought it was the worst idea in the world. Because I had developed such a track record with these people of producing beautiful dailies with my odd instructions that they knew whatever I said was going to make them—and make us all—look good. I could tell Tuesday Walker to make mashed potatoes with her feet and eat them and she would do it because she knew it would produce a good picture.
That’s what you have to do, as a leader: create trust. And you will find it is the rare person who lives up to this title of leader, whether political or artistic or in business. Mostly we know our leaders are full of shit, liars, and really they don’t live up to the name.
A real leader can get her followers to risk their lives—or their artistic credibility.
Real leaders are always risk takers. They are never conservative.
They are on the outside of society, like Jesus or the prophets or something. Living in the desert. Eating locusts. Making films that at first everyone walks out on. Then they win Academy Awards. Then people give them a second look. And on that second look they love them.
The stage remains quiet.
I walk to my actors.
I face Tuesday.
“This time I want you to kiss her like you’re a dog. Or a 12 year old, having her first kiss. No saliva control. You don’t know where to plant your lips. You lick her cheek while you should be licking her lips. Amanda. Pretend you’re a virgin and this is the first time you’re being eaten out. Your mouth lips are your vagina lips. Make yourself blush like she’s eating your puss.”
I nod at them.
I put a hand on each one, on their shoulders.
I go back to my chair.
“Let’s go again.”
Marcy calls for quiet. For sound. For camera.
And those girls play my scene so good I piss myself a little. My granny panties catch it and I remember when I first put them on, in my mid-thirties, and there was something sexual about the extra absorbing strip, snug against my cunt, and I felt that sex now, between my legs, as I urinated looking at two of the hottest women I had ever seen, doing exactly what I said, in this black box of a sound stage, and I didn’t know what got me off more, seeing them so close to me, seeing their skin above and below and through their costumes, or seeing them play out roughly what was in my mind, human sculptures moving to every word I said.
Later Shelly Kind wanted to see me in his office.
“We have a problem,” he says.
I light a Kamel, leaning against his giant windows.
“If there’s one thing I’ve learned about producers,” I say, “it’s that you always have some kind of a problem, even when everything on a production is going just fine.”
“We have a money problem.”
“Oh, yeah, and that’s the other thing I’ve learned: all you guys care about is the money. If you want return on investment, why don’t you play the stock market.”
Shelly is quiet.
“What exactly is the problem?”
“You’re out of money.”
“Again? Man, we’re almost done. I need another week and we’re in post.”
“You don’t have money for another week.”
“Holy shit, man, I already popped in every penny I have. I’m living with my assistant. I was homeless a while for this movie. What more do you want?”
“You were homeless?”
“Yeah but it was a learning experience, so no pity, please.”
“You are an amazing woman, Lauren.”
I roll my eyes.
“What are you going to do? Shut us down? After everything this studio has put into my film? That doesn’t seem like a smart move.”
“I need you to put up more capital.”
“You gotta be shitting me, man. What is this, fund your own movie week? I got nothing, man. We’re almost there. Just spot me the remainder and I’ll deliver you the movie of the fucking decade. I’m telling you, we’re frying bacon over there. Bacon in a pan.”
“Lauren, I’m sorry, but we’re too overextended on you.”
“What are my options.”
“You can give up your fee.”
I lower my cigarette.
Shelly doesn’t blink.
“Don’t be offended if I call you a dirtbag. You took my points. I’m making nothing on the back end. Now you want to take my rate. So I end up with nothing. You end up with a damn good movie—and you know it is. Fuck. Fuck fuck fuck.”
I drag my cigarette and put it out in one of the rocks glasses on his bar.
“Is this how it’s done?”
“Sometimes,” Shelly says. “It’s not my fault you’re over budget.”
“You know this fucker is going to make you rich—richer than you are. What if I had kids? What if I wanted to leave them something? Would you treat me different then? You’re just part of the 1%, huh? You told me once you cared as much about movies as I do. Well, directors make movies. Have you ever directed a movie? Do you think you could do that? Don’t you need people like me to make you rich? And doesn’t it make sense to not screw up the ass people who are making you rich? Right? The calf that lays the golden egg or whatever—”
“Whatever. Fuck it. I’m going to show you something. You ever had a director who went homeless putting almost a million dollars into a movie before? I’m doubting it. And you know what?”
“You are not going to stop me. If I have to give blowjobs to the colorist, I’m going to make my movie. Women have been doing it throughout history, and I’m not ashamed to join the fucking ranks of women getting screwed over by assholes like you: stingy, evil motherfuckers who wouldn’t go out on a limb for me while I’m expected to go out on a limb for you. You take zero risk. This is going to destroy my life and you’re going to be untouched, with your picture windows and corner office and you’ll make movie after movie and live happily ever after while I’m going to end up back in Portland working as a barista and this’ll be the only movie I ever make. I hope you’re fucking happy and that’s all I have to say to you. I’m due on set. Know why? ‘Cause I’m a filmmaker. Which is more than I can say for your fat ass.”
I go for his door.
“The work you’re doing is amazing. If I live to be 90 and I’m still doing this job I’ll probably never come across someone like you.”
“Cut the crap, Shelly. If you live to be infinity you’ll never come across anyone like me. Ever. Now shake my hand.”
“Because this is the last time I’ll speak to you. And since you’ll never meet anyone like me again, I’m giving you the chance to shake my hand.”
He reaches out but I pull back.
“Fuck you. Don’t even touch me or I’ll sue you for that being your actual face, and your actual brain, you little package of ass.”
I reach out to him again.
“Shake my fucking hand. Shake it. There. Now that’s goodbye.”
But I had hope, that day, walking to my car in the Warner Bros parking lot. California eternally sunny, a burrito truck parked in the gravel by the street, a friendly wave, and I felt I had shed a part of me that I didn’t need anymore. I drove straight to the dog park and hiked up the hill (basically the hill where the Hollywood sign is) and from the top I saw smog and giant Apple advertisements painted huge on the sides of buildings like wallpaper.
There’s a bench at the top of that hill, and I used to like to sit on that bench and think of how far my movie had come, count off the days done and the days to come, and the smaller that last number got, the more excited I got.
And sit after sit after sit, hike after hike, I worked my calves until the number of days we had shot my film was in the hundreds, and the number of days remaining was in the tens.
And I felt proud. Proud that I had grown—done something I had never done before, even if it wasn’t perfect. And proud that even though I had yelled at people, and even though I had fired some people, that the ratio of relationships I had built to relationships I had trashed was large.
I am embarrassed that I am related to my family—embarrassed to have come from them and to be associated with them, which is perhaps why this book includes so little about them.
They are a family of no accomplishments, a family of secrets and talking about each other behind their backs. They have no skills or interests. They watch Fox News and think they are informed. They do not read. They think War Horse is a great film.
I mostly never see them but occasionally they have a reunion on a cruise ship and after enough years have passed since I saw them last I forget how much I hate their company and I go, and it’s miserable, and when I get home I swear I’ll never see them again and then in five or six years I forget, and I try again, and it always results in failure.
My father is the only one I liked.
My mom and I don’t speak. I don’t know why. Well, I know why I don’t speak to her: it’s because every time I do she makes me feel like shit. But I don’t know why she won’t speak to me.
It may be as simple as she is fragile and I am robust. She wasn’t made to survive—her ego wasn’t. She can’t deal with the past so of course she can’t grow. She will never acknowledge what went wrong between us and I’m not willing to engage with someone who is in denial about the roots of our situation. To try to build a relationship on that is like building a house on the sand—you know, like they say in the fucking Bible—poor foundation and you’re going to have trouble building something stable, something tall. I’m angry at her, if you haven’t figured that out, since you only get one mother in this lifetime. And maybe by this age I should be over it, but I’m not. But I’m getting over it piece by piece, day by day.
It’s like Madonna says, Nothing cures the past like the future. The more I built my future, or my present really, the less I thought about my mom and every other fucking person I’m related to. And now I’m at a point where there’s not much future left, and when that happens to you, it’s really time to shed your baggage because there’s so little time left to waste.
I had a guru once. His name was Singh Modi. Something Singh taught me was the lesson of non-rent-paying tenants, which basically says that when people are taking up space in your mind, but not giving you value in return, that there’s only one thing to do: evict them. My mom used to take up a lot of space in my mind. I felt spurned, disrespected, ignored, unloved. And she wasn’t giving me anything in return. So I did what Singh said: I evicted her. More and more, she’s a neutral force for me because she has become irrelevant. My entire family has.
There are only so many Thanksgiving dinners I can spend asking my uncle about his life while he self-centeredly boasts about his bullshit career destroying the Earth via the oil industry wherein I listen to his life and he never asks me about mine. How can a middle-aged man become so self-centered that when you listen to his life, he never listens to yours. He thinks he’s a master of the universe, when his job involves nothing more than reading government regulations and finding ways for Exxon and BP to bend the rules so they can kill the planet faster.
And the worst thing is these people have kids.
And they pass along their ignorance to their kids.
And their kids grow up to be oil industry consultants who hate their lives because they would have rather been in theatre.
It’s a sin.
It’s a mortal sin to coerce your children to your career path just because you want them to live stress-free lives, never have to struggle, etc. But life is struggle, and the best of us follow our own path—forge it—listening to our own voice, not that of our parents or the government. To a person, I lament my cousins and their parents. I lament my own mom. I reject her and her judgment about being a barista, working as a server for so long—till almost the end of my life. And maybe those jobs didn’t utilize my full potential, or nurse it, or whatever..but at least I wasn’t doing something evil. Those jobs fit with my morals, and I got lucky: not everyone gets to make a movie. I lucked out with Dad’s inheritance—even though of course I would have rather had my dad. But because of him, I got to do something extraordinary (even if the movie turned out bad). I got to self-actualize. And no one self-actualizes taking a big-money job as an oil consultant.
Maybe it’s ego, maybe it’s the entertainer in me, but I feel I deserve to be looked at—not more than others, but not less, either. It’s just that once I wasn’t a kid, me and my family had nothing to talk about. And yeah, I still have resentments. Because I could have had a family in this life, and instead I have none. Not a real one anyway. Just a photograph from a cruise ship, of all of us on a spiral staircase, my uncle holding a beer in his hand, and the memory of how stressful it was every single time I saw them as an adult..and how I hated myself when I saw their patterns of anger and alcoholism surfacing within me as I grew.
Everyone goes limp, sighs, looks at me for direction.
I can see they’re done and I know we have it in the can.
“That’s it. I suppose as you say down here: That’s a wrap. Close it down. Ruiz, we’ll use take two on that last shot.”
Ruiz makes a note in the script.
“Everybody, thank you. You did the thing when the thing needed doing. I’m not going to praise you, ok? You know you did a good job. You know you did. You don’t need me or some critic or any number of audiences or box office totals to tell you that. Go home. Give each other a hug. Go get drinks at The Hungry Cat on Shelly’s dime. Stop by payroll, get paid, get laid, and know I’m prouder of this than anything I’ve done in my life. Thank you.”
Then I stop talking.
Someone from The Hollywood Reporter comes to me from the depths of the set.
My cast, my crew..they laugh and get their checks and wander off the stage.
The Hollywood Reporter presses record on his phone.
“So how’d you get Warner Bros to fund a porno?”
“Kid, did you read the script?”
“I have my copy right here.”
“Well, the reason we give press people scripts—under lock and key—is so you can read them before the interview.”
“I just wonder—”
“No. The interview is over. Don’t go. I said the interview was over. The lecture has just begun. Now. Did you see the scene we just shot?”
“Have you ever seen a woman die like that in a porno?”
“It depends on what you mean by a porno—”
“You were born after the invention of the internet so you’d prob’ly jack off to a monkey tied to a tree but there is actually a genre of film called pornography and it follows its own set of rules just like every other genre of film and I wanna know if you’re gonna look at the scene we just shot and tell your magazine that what we’re shooting here is a porno.”
“I guess we’ll have to invent another word—”
“You don’t have to invent another word. The word is thriller. Erotic thriller if you want to help me sell some tickets. Now get off my stage.”
“You know my father is connected to the mafia?”
“Is that a threat?”
“No, but this is.”
I open my Swiss Army Knife—the one MacGyver inspired me to carry—to the largest blade.
“What? Are you threatening to hurt me with your Swiss Army Knife?!” the kid laughs.
“No. I’m not threatening you. I’m informing you that if you don’t get the fuck off my stage I’m going Contra on your ass with my Swiss Army Knife, yes.”
“Contra? Isn’t that a video game from like the 80s?”
“You don’t even know what a fucking Contra is.”
I lunge at him with the knife.
“What the fuck?! Security!”
“No, this is my stage. I call security. Security! Get this Pee-wee the fuck out of here!”
“I’m going to write about this!!”
“News flash, greenhorn: I know that.”
As security was dragging his ass away, Kristi took his script from him and bopped him on the head with it.
“THEY ALWAYS SAID DIRECTORS WERE CRAZY,” he said.
“No shit,” I said under my breath.
I folded my knife and put it in my front pocket.
“Come back again I’ll kill your ignorant ass.”
“I HEARD THAT!”
“GOOD!! PUT IT IN YOUR BLOG THAT NO ONE READS!!”
“WE HAVE 12 MILLION READERS!!”
“YOU’RE JUST SELLING ME TICKETS!! WHEN YOU TAKE A PISS, YOU’RE SELLING ME TICKETS. AND HAVE FUN JERKING OFF TO THAT MONKEY.”
They pulled him out kicking and screaming and I never saw him again. My security people knew better. If he had ever made it within a hundred yards of me I would have gone Zodiac on that motherfucker. And everyone knew it.
Kristi and I took a week off while our editor worked up a rough cut. We went north to Santa Barbara and sat around reading trashy novels and watching films on our tablets and showing each other our favorite scenes and admiring the beautiful work inherent in even the worst movies. We were both junkies for low-budget horror.
And the beach—one near Santa Clause Lane, which we just called ‘The Santa Clause Beach’—is one of those places not many people alive will ever get to go, but it’s one of the goddamndest beautiful places I have seen in this country. People who don’t get LA think that the smog and the traffic and the politics would make it impossible to live in—a place they would never want to. But people who get California know that living in LA is completely worth it due to the food and the theaters and the beaches. Maybe it takes you two hours to drive from LA to Santa Barbara, but it’s worth it. You pack a bottle for the drive up (which is always sunny and not much traffic once you pass Westlake Village) and you take a bottle for the beach (we always took Jameson) and you smoke a little pot by the train tracks and you watch surfers and make friends with the people on blankets all around you. Everyone is special. They’re either special ’cause they’re rich or special because they’re an actor or special ’cause they’re making a movie—working on one in some capacity. And you don’t have to say a word. You don’t have to say you’re a director. You can just bask in the glow of Jameson and your lucky-ass profession and talk with everyone you meet about the beautiful mundane..the wind and the waves and the sharks below the surface. This is why I love California.
Editing took nine weeks.
We worked in a suite in Burbank packed floor to ceiling with computers. Keyboards and control faces with spherical scrubbing controls (that’s what’s used to rewind and fast forward in a high-end editing environment). I started out in a chair beside the editor. I calibrated the monitors at the beginning of each session because apparently a barista from Portland has a better sense of color than an experienced Hollywood editor—I just have an eye for these things.
They’d make fun of me for my precision but I’m not about to edit when the monitors aren’t even calibrated. You know how ambient light affects how colors look? Well, it goes even deeper than that, and if the colors aren’t calibrated to the room you’re editing in, then when they show them on a movie screen or an HD TV in someone’s living room, it’s not going to look right. Calibrating those monitors was absolutely necessary.
I’d start out in the chair. Pull a bottle of Jack Daniel’s out of my messenger bag with the reflective strip on it, and soon I’d be lying on the floor underneath the editing bay, giving directions based only on the sound of the clips we were cutting together.
Then I’d be incoherent and Kristi would take over. By the end of the day, I’d go out for tacos and bring everyone back food, then Kristi and Kyler would show me what we had cut together that day. I could trust Kristi. Kyler was good technically but he didn’t have the eye, you know, the emotional center required to make a cut. They say the best reason to make a cut is because of the emotional impact it creates. Kristi had that. I had it. We had to tell Kyler every cut to make.
After nine weeks, though, everything was done but the sound. They call that picture lock, which means after that point you won’t make any changes to the shots, the color, the visual editing. Only then does the work on the sound begin.
Sound is little understood, a black art in Hollywood. It is under-appreciated. Only now are there starting to be specialty schools that teach it. The mixer on my set told me that if you’re in a scary movie and you need a break, don’t close your eyes—cover your ears, as it’s the sound which creates the feeling that you’re there, more than the picture.
I’m not going to go into the whole post-production process for my film.
I’m just going to tell you that every day we worked on it, it got better and better, and I got to a point where I was so proud of what I had done at Warner Bros that I didn’t care if we sold a single ticket. It was that good. I know you’re not supposed to brag about your own stuff but it was that good.
What I am going to tell you about is a day Kristi and I spent by her pool. We swam and drank Jameson even though you’re not supposed to mix alcohol and swimming we found they mixed quite well.
There was this one snapshot I remember, of Kristi lying next to me and she was wearing these huge black sunglasses with white rims and she was talking but I couldn’t hear her words, just saw her young lips and thought about the script she had let me read and I also thought how this person was going to have a long life ahead of her possibly making movies and I imagined her skin aging oh so slowly and someday Kristi turning into an old woman. I wished that for her.
And then her volume gradually came up and I heard the words she was saying and what she was saying was:
“..and I had this vision of us at your premier in complimentary—not matching, but complimentary—dresses and you finally got to talk to Marty Scorsese and you were joking with him about eating your pussy and I was cracking up but of course Marty didn’t get it because he hadn’t been privy to the joke’s inception and we’ll have champagne—”
“I hate champagne.”
“Well drink some anyway, sourpuss. You’re just mad ’cause you got ripped off on your first film but let me tell you something, old woman: everyone gets ripped off on their first film. You have to pay your dues.”
“Stop calling me old woman.”
“Ok, 40 years young woman, how’s that?”
“It’s better, but not much. Respect your director.”
“I respect the wisdom and veneration that can only be attained with age—”
“Kristi I’m gonna toss you in that pool. In the shallow end so you scrape your back and need steel pins.”
“Who’s a grumpy director?”
“I’m not a director anymore. Movie’s over. Not a director.”
“No. Movies never go away. Your name’s attached to it forever.”
“That’s what scares me.”
Kristi sits up.
“Your movie is one of the best first movies I’ve ever seen.”
“I don’t even take that as a backhanded compliment.”
“You shouldn’t. Look at anyone’s first movie. You’ll get a real sense of genius, if there’s genius there. And you’ll get rough edges—you’ll get raw—and that’s something that’s very hard not to lose as you make more product. Look at any artist. When they stop making mistakes is when their art is dead. When it gets too flashy, when it gets too perfect. Keep it guttah, keep it grimy—that’s what Busta Rhymes says. You did that, L, you did it big time. Have you ever heard of the mistake doctrine?”
“It says that it’s not possible not to make mistakes. They key is making the right ones.”
“How did you become a philosopher of art so early?”
“I pay attention.”
“Lauren, have another Jameson. This is a pool party, not a bitch session. You did it right. Now relax.”
Toward the end of the bottle, Kris and I were sitting on towels, cross-legged like little girls, facing each other and holding hands.
“K baby, what would have happened if I never found you.”
“No, I found you,” she smiles.
“I don’t think I ever had a girlfriend like you, my whole life growing up.”
“And we went through a war together..I mean we went through a warlike experience and, you know, that bonds us together for life.”
“Right, right. And if one of us dies the other one has to go to the other one’s parents and say nice things about the dead one and reassure her parents that she lived a good life.”
“Don’t say that.”
“Why not? Are you planning on dying?”
“Planning on dying. I guess I’m not planning it.”
“Good, then let me have my death fantasy. It’s part of how I enjoy being here with you now.”
“By fast-forwarding to one of our deaths.”
“Exactly. Keeping death in the side of your mind helps, like, helps us appreciate the present moment. Don’t you find?”
“I don’t find that exactly but I know what you mean.”
“Anyway I’m going to tell your parents that you were brilliant and on a whole different playing field than the rest of your family and they never even had the context to appreciate you—”
“They’ll never listen. And my dad is dead.”
“Well I’ll tie your mom to a chair and make her listen. I’ll show her your movie and when she doesn’t get it I’ll give her a Lauren-style lecture on film history and explain to her where your film fits into the big picture and if she still doesn’t understand it I’ll whip her with a feather.”
“Enough Jameson for you.”
“Lauren, you’re a gem.”
She massages my fingers.
“That feels good.”
“And it’s not a lesbian thing,” K says.
“I never said it was a lesbian thing. It just..feels good.”
“Good, now relax. I’m going to do your back.”
I get on my pool chair and Kristi kneels above me, working my shoulders, my neck. Somewhere around the third vertebrae from the base of my spine, I cry. It’s silent at first, then affects my breathing, and Kristi knows.
“You need a release.”
I feel her hands work my bones and I nod, my face pressed into the plastic straps of the chair. My tears fall through to the concrete. They make a puddle.
Kristen works my back harder.
I let myself sniffle, not hiding from her.
“You’ve got a whole movie worth of stress built up in these bones, old woman. You need to let that shit out, so go ahead and cry—I won’t tell anyone. Most people get sick after their first movie—most directors. I’m amazed you didn’t get sick.”
I laugh through tears.
“Just let it go,” Kristi says. “Let it go.”
And I do: I cry and Kristi works loose the fluids trapped in my muscles and tells me I hold my stress in my back and that some people hold it in their necks or hands but I hold mine in my lower back and she’s going to release it for me.
And I think of animals grooming each other: cats licking each other’s faces clean asking nothing in return. They just do it because they’re of the same species and they have each other’s back. Like if I don’t give Kristi a massage in return, it’s no big deal. She’s just doing this for the common good. Or: because she loves me, which is hard to accept. My own mom doesn’t love me like that, and yet this girl from the OC—who is more adult than I am—does.
Maybe I came to LA to make a movie.
Maybe I came to make a friend.
I doubt I would have survived if I hadn’t made both.
Perhaps that’s too corny for you. But I think I’d like to keep high style in my art and let my life be corny, simple, straight up. Imagine if all of life was like a movie. It wouldn’t be that great. Ole Jeffy asked me why people watch movies. When I said I didn’t know he said it was so they could have a meaningful emotional experience. That life was basically chaos and misshapen forms, while movies were structured and chiseled and made to create a meaningful emotional experience in a two-hour package. I don’t know if I agree with that. I think it’s technically true but you have to know by now that movies are an illusion, that right outside the frame is its own kind of chaos: wires running everywhere, dust, lights so bright you have to say, “Watch your eyes!” before you turn one on. Movies are just the front side of the tapestry. Behind it is a mass of thread that doesn’t look like anything at all.
Life is chaos. That is true. But, looking back, you can add meaning to it. You can take a series of events and weave them together, interpret them, to make a story in your mind. Meaning is ascribed. A thing might have a nature without an observer, but for it to have meaning you need to be there thinking about it and making that meaning up.
The same thing happens in a movie. You cut together pictures that don’t (in some absolute sense) have anything to do with each other. The story exists in your mind—that’s the only place it exists. It’s not in the script, it’s not on a hard drive. It’s only in your mind. If you played a random sequence of images for someone, they would make a story in their mind. We’re basically a species with this special ability for filling in the gaps, for making sense out of a world and a life that, at core, makes no sense at all.
I skipped the red carpet bit at my movie’s opening and snuck in through the fire stairs in the back of the Cinerama Dome. I waited behind the screen until my film started, then slid in through the emergency exit and sat on the floor between the front row of seats and the projection.
I didn’t watch the picture. I listened to the sound and watched the faces of people watching my film and I saw when they laughed, when they jumped, when they squirmed.
I saw a young woman sitting front and center—the true home for movie fanatics. She was 16 or so, in the throes of her sexuality based on her dress and the number of times she rubbed her legs together.
I hardly saw her blink, and I thought: this is the one person my movie was meant for. This is the one person in this auditorium who truly gets me. And she’ll get to know me, but I’ll never get to know her, and it’s ok.
She reminded me of me at that age. Sexually powerful, and mostly wasting it on people who didn’t deserve me. But what choice do you have when no one deserves you?
And watching her watch my erotica, I wondered what was going on between her ears, between her legs, and she shocked me by crying at the pleasure of Tuesday Walker and Amanda Haines as they pretended to make each other cum.
In the end, I didn’t get paid a dime for my movie, but I got my reward..going around to theaters, watching and listening to the reactions of many different audiences. Seeing that 16-year-old version of me openly cry at the key scene, though, that was worth all the money—and security—in the world. That girl was a window that when I looked through it, looked back through me from the inside. Even today, I wonder what that girl’s dreams are and I hope they come true.
We had a little party at Kristi’s apartment for the cast and after it was over it was just me and Kristi sifting through the mess and we had the deepest conversation of our lives punctuated by one of us picking up the remainder of someone’s abandoned glass and drinking that person’s drink as if it was our own.
We laughed at the shapes of leftover food.
Every glass was different: “A beer!” “Champagne!” “A red!”
“Is this Hpnotiq or blue Kool-Aid? Who brought this??”
“I don’t know. Are you going to drink it anyway?”
Kristi drinks it like a shot.
“You know what Ole Jeffy told me? He said there was a turtle or dragon or some animal that bites down and never lets go, even if not letting go means its death. ‘And that,’ he said, ‘is you, heir director, that is you.’ And I said is that brilliant or stupid? And he says, ‘Oh it’s both,’ and he laughs.”
“Ahhh,” Kristi says.
“I have something special to tell you.”
“Ok,” Kristi says. She braces herself.
“You’ll never believe what I’m about to say.”
Kristi says, “You’re going to marry me?”
“Haha. No, silly, I’m going to buy your movie.”
“Yes. Well, Warner Bros is going to buy it from you through an LLC I set up for this purpose. I’ve been working on it since I read your script.”
“Are you serious?”
Kristi hugs me, then pulls back.
I say, “Why, did you want to marry me?”
Later, Kristi read me reviews from her phone.
She stopped when she saw me scowling.
“Talk to me.”
“I guess I just don’t like being treated like an idiot by those who have less pudding than me—as in: The proof is in the pudding. So I’m crazy, yeah, I am. So I’m an alcoholic, yeah, I am. But I can do things.”
I laugh, a bit maniacally.
“I can get shit done in multiple domains and I’ve created enough that to any logical person there is nothing left to prove! And I am a logical person. I am not doing anything I’m doing now to prove something to me or to anyone else. So why now, at this point when I’ve actually accomplished something, are people with less skill than me and less ability than me and less general smarts and knowledge than me, questioning me, disrespecting me, insulting me, putting me down. And don’t say it’s ’cause I’m a woman—that’s only half of it. It’s because—one—(and this will sound egotistical) these people are clueless about the relative pedestals on which we stand and—two—(and this is going to sound accusative) they are trying to take me down because they know that I am greater than them. Like climbing a mountain or throwing rocks at a statue, it’s just because I’m bigger than them and they want to take me down.”
“Are you suicidal?”
“You sound suicidal.”
“Don’t worry, I’m not about to off myself. I have one more thing I have to finish writing and then I’ll kill myself. I made my movie. Now I’m going to write my book. Then I’ll kill myself.”
“You realize how that might not sound rational to people out here.”
“Out here like outside my head? Of course I do. And you realize how it might sound very rational from in here, inside my head, where this world is a horrible place to live, an inhospitable place, a profoundly lonely place, and I feel like I am of no value to my family. Remember? When I say, ‘I love you very much,’ my mother doesn’t say anything back. My dad when he was still alive had no interest in having a relationship with me. How do you have kids and then just stop giving a shit about them when they turn 18? So..I feel like the only value I provide to this world is my film. And maybe a book I can write about making my film. Maybe I can publish that. Then I’m going to kill myself. Because I’ll be done. Do you understand that concept? Everyone understands the concept of nebulously pressing the flesh, spending their lives playing out their sex roles—always, always—as if that was the most important part of the identity of a human being—but very few people understand the concept of being done.”
Kristi and I are sitting on her balcony. She fishes through the mess and finds a half-drunk beer.
She sips it, hands it to me.
I sip it and hand it back to her.
She says, “It’s going to be ok, right?”
I look at her seriously.
She looks at me like I just took away her candy cane.
“Today?” I say. “Maybe. Yeah, it’s going to be ok today. But in general—long term—it’s not going to be ok. I know it. Deep in your heart you know it. This entire culture knows it. You can feel it in every system, every event, every organization. No, K, we are not going to be ok.”
Kristi puts her hand on mine.
I turn my hand over and squeeze her fingers.
“Go in and speak with Mr. Kind on Monday to find a re-writer.”
“Won’t you be there?”
I stand up.
“Kristi, this is goodbye and I need you not to ask me any questions about it, ok?”
She stands up and I can see she’s resisting the urge to hug me.
I touch her head and brush strands of hair out of her eyes.
“This is one of those things you have to do on your own?” she says.
And I close the door to Kristi’s balcony and walk myself to Kaiser Permanente for the last time.