"I'm glad to see you here, Lenny," said Small Steve. "I was getting too much footage of the back of the boss's head. You know this is not the sort of gig where doing re-takes works well, but we had to do three this morning. Where have you been, anyway?"
"You know the three well-dressed gentlemen who came in earlier? I've been their chauffeur."
"Rumor has it the boss started off doing stills, and given the amount of time me and Calm Steve spent shoving him out of the way, I wonder if they are just rumors. Jesus!"
"So, what, he was just ignoring the locations of the video cams? Daaang.... He ought to know better than that," I said, adjusting the straps on the camera he'd been using. He seemed to like having the view-finder pointed at his throat.
Steve quietly asked, "So what are those dudes like, anyway? They look real East Coast to me, with the full suits and all."
"Naw, they live up in the Valley I guess, and they're pretty mellow to get along with. Hell, I helped them find a place to live yesterday. They're in the same complex as Bekka."
"Ready on your marks, people, we're gonna have to blend these shots. Don't worry, Lenny's back, so we won't have the cuts we did before. Go ahead and let it flow natural for about fifteen minutes, then I need Roger, Dale, and Rio in position for a D.P. Watch for my signal. You're ready for it, Rio?"
"No problem, Steve. Do you want a kneel or squat?" asked Rio.
Steve said, "Kneel. Make it easy on yourself, they want a lot of footage of that act. 'Kay people, places.... Sound....And action."
And four people, two couples, began sucking and fucking on the floor and furniture , hamming it up to a good extent, but keeping it believable. I switch between cameras (and lens length) depending on my distance and angle, getting good angles from my knees, backing out of the way of the video cameras as they move, holding the camera way up for aerial views, run through a roll, swap out, mark it, and fire off some more. Hoping I can switch rolls out quick when Steve signals for the double penetration, so I can get both inserts in loving detail. Yep, a whole lotta romance going on in here.
There's a cut right before the money shot, so that the guys can get synched up with each other. One facial, one ass, getting licked clean. The girl working with Rio, who I've never seen before, is getting soaked in this shot.
I get good thee-quarter angles of the new girl, then a near face-on of Rio. To me it felt contrived for the new girl to take a facial, but they weren't my decisions to make.
Steve called "cut," and thanked and congratulated everyone for their work. I took off my vest and cameras and began helping coil cables, shuffling equipment next door. That room had been converted to look, for the next day's filming, like a suburban kitchen. I hoped Bekka had a copy of the script for that one, as I was dying of curiosity.
Small Steve's day wasn't over yet: after lunch, he wanted to do some rough cuts to get rid of Rick's head and back. A thought struck me: we didn't own editing equipment, that I knew of. I asked him about it.
"I picked it up second-hand. We needed it and Rick was being tight about it, so I just sprung for it myself. Maxed out my plastic, but hey, it was a good investment. If I ever leave, it'll come with me, y'know? Heh, the junior college it came from would shit if they knew what it was being used for!"
"Still, you shouldn't be burning your credit cards like that. That sucks."
"But like I said, we needed it. This way I can do rough cuts of the tapes, and the guys up in LA have the time to put a good polish on what will be the final video."
"I'd offer you a ride down to Triplet's, but I have no idea where the guys are gonna want to go after lunch. Sorry.... Say, what time is it?"
"About 1:20. They're late."
I winked and said, "These guys are never late, ever. They're busy. Get it?"
Steve smiled and said, "Gotcha."
"I'll go in and see if I can subtly hurry them up."
I went in and down the hall. No yelling: good. Rick's door was open: even better. Vinny was saying something like, "....But in May, second week, we.... Oh, hey Lenny, what's up?"
"Just thought I'd see if you gentlemen need some drinks or something."
"No, but --- hey, it's lunchtime, isn't it? We'll be out in a few minutes."
"Steve and I will be outside."
I went back out and relayed this to Steve.... And "a few minutes" might mean just that, or half an hour. Trying to hurry them would be unhealthy.
"So are these dudes as Mafia as they look, or what?"
"I think it's just their style. One guy has a bit of a temper, but hey, that could be anyone."
Wrapped in a towel, Rio wandered out for a smoke and told me, "I heard you were never coming back, that you were gonna be the chauffeur for the LA people from now on."
"Naw, just for a couple days while I get them settled in. They're actually getting kind of a kick out of being chauffeured, so they put off picking up their own cars for a couple days! Wild, huh?"
"So how'd you pull that gig?" Rio asked.
"San Diego's my home town, and they trust my driving. Besides, you just saw I'm still running the Nikons."
"Good thing, too. The first half hour of raw footage is gonna be real choppy. We had to re-shoot the damn opening twice because the boss either fell into a camera or spoke. He spoke! Can you believe it?"
"Yeah, well, the big guys are calling the shots, and if they say it's time for me to drive, off I go, and the boss picks up the cameras. And who told you I was a permanent chauffeur, anyway?"
"The boss," she said, and flounced back inside to see if there was a free shower.
"Don't worry," I told Steve, "they already told me they want me doing stills, first and foremost. I'm not going anywhere."
Triplets was a faux Fifties diner that broke the mold by actually having good food to go along with the ambiance. You needed about thirty-seven extra napkins to eat one of their Reuben sandwiches. They gave you a straw with your milkshake just to make fun of you: you could invert your face inside out trying to drink one with a straw. My God, they pre-salted their fries, and if you complained, the waitress would roll her eyes at you, no matter who you were.
Angel said to Steve, "I've gotta ask you. Are you pre-editing the video before it gets picked up? Like a rough cut?"
Steve looked pasty. "Uh, yes sir. It seemed only right that the final editors not have to wade through a bunch of useless garbage before they do their work. I can't speak highly enough of the LA editors, they really sculpt the rough cuts into good-looking video. Do you not want me to do the pre-edit work? I was just trying to help out...."
Angel chuckled and told Steve, "No, what you're doing is great, highly appreciated. I'm happy we've got someone in there who cares about the product to make that extra effort. I'm just a little confused that we never got a receipt for the machine. Where did it come from?"
"Heh, me and Lenny were just talking about it this morning. I picked it up second-hand from a local junior college. The price was good for the brand and quality, and I knew how much having our own editor would help, so I snatched it up."
"What, they were giving it away?"
"Oh heck no! It set me back $1800, maxed my plastic. But the boss said the company couldn't afford it, so I sprung for it on my own."
"And you use it quite a bit?"
"Daily, sir. I'd forgotten how great it was to have an editor at my disposal. Like I said, I can trash the useless stuff, tighten things up, and make the rough cut easier to deal with."
Angel had the glint in his eye, but his voice was calm. "Steve, you'll be getting your $1800 back, sometime tomorrow. Also, you're doing a lot more work than anyone expected from you so I'm gonna see to it you get a raise. $150 a full day sound fair?"
"Wow.... That'd be great! Thank you sir!"
"You're doing good work for us, that should be rewarded. No problem."
We finished our lunches and made small talk, mostly over the perfidy of part-time female performers who believe they're on the way to Hollywood.
"Yeah, half are headed to Hollywood and Vine and picking up a different career," said Vinny.
"Although having performers who can actually perform --- as actresses --- would help a lot," said Angel. "Right now our best people are Bekka and Tawny. They can act, and not just do a good fuck scene. There's a few others too, even a few irregulars, who fit the bill for acting. It's something we ought to seriously consider, doing fewer loops and more features."
Steve said, "I'd love it, knocking out actual films."
"It'd make my job easier," I said, "since all I'd have to do is trail the cameras and ape what shots they're getting."
"If you want my opinion, Bekka is probably our most valuable asset right now," said Angel. She's gorgeous, she's got a fantastic body, she's smart, and she can act. She's.....She's promotable, in that we can put her up on posters and people will have her stuck in their head. She is, in the marketing trade, what is known as 'sticky'. We could really build her up, her and Tawny, and.... Dammit, I can't remember the names of the other two I have in mind. Well, we'll find 'em. Bekka wasn't on today, was she?"
"No sir, she wasn't," said Steve.
Steve and I looked at each other. I said, "As near as I know, she's not on the board for anything this week. I was gonna ask her about it tonight...."
"Didn't you two just get back from a vacation?" asked Frankie.
"Yeah, which makes her wanting time off even weirder," I replied.
Angel said, "If we move the direction we've been talking about, we need her on board, even if it's just hanging around by the pool throwing out ideas. Let's go over there."
I piloted us over to Olivehurst and buzzed us in, putting the Cadillac in Bekka's spare space. She answered the door in sweats and her hair pulled back. Going out was not on her agenda that day.
I said, "Hey, I know you don't like work following you home, and I hate doing this, but we really needed an answer as to why you're taking time off again so soon? We thought you'd be rarin' to go."
"Why I'm taking time off? You gotta ask them," she said, gesturing at the three gentlemen. "Look, let's go inside." We followed her in.
"I get a call this morning telling me that I'm getting overexposed, I'm working too much, and you're asking me? I don't set that fucking schedule. I'm happy to work, but if I'm not wanted, the hell with it. I"ll commute to LA. Hell, I'll move."
Vinny said, "But.... We didn't make any call like that today. Hell, we've been talking about giving you more work, really promoting you, turning you into a star. Who did you talk to?"
"The boss. He called and was talking about how I'm appearing in too many features and how it's time for some new blood, how you guys had discussed it, and ----"
Angel had just put his foot through the kitchen door. Bekka, being Bekka, immediately asked, "Are you okay?" Angel dislodged his foot from the hole looking embarrassed. "Sorry, um, look, I'll pay for that...."
Basically Rick had decided of his own volition to try and scoop his most valuable performer under the rug, with no forewarning or explanation. What was insane was he thought it wouldn't be questioned.... Not by me, or Angel, or Tawny, or Chip and Dale, or Vinny, or anyone. And he knew that Angel was in no mood to be left out of any decisions at this point. So what was he thinking?
What Bekka was thinking was she was being kicked to the curb, that Inana suddenly had no use for her. She was on the cover of enough Inana video boxes that she'd have no problem getting employment, but she didn't like LA in general, so she would not enjoy the shift in locations. She was lifted by hearing that "a mistake had been made," and buoyed upon hearing they wanted to have her in full features, not just loops and definitely the half-hour mini-features we were used to doing. We were talking about ninety-minute features, stuff with dialogue and full sets and location shots and the need for actual performance.
Talking about it got everyone excited. Bekka wanted to act. Small Steve couldn't wait to direct, possibly do some of the production work. I wanted to write. And we were fairly sure most everyone who worked regularly for Inana would love having a full-fledged project to work on, not just shorts of people fucking. Frankie and Angel suggested having a big jar or bowl that people would put one or two-paragraph story/plot ideas into. "Have 'em signed," said Angel," so there's no bitching about who came up with what."
The things you learn: Vinny used to be a high school English teacher when he was right out of college. I fancied myself as a decent creative writer. Between the two of us, we could cobble decent scripts together, me writing the stories, the both of us molding them into full scripts. As a former hardcore drama club geek in both high school and college, Bekka figured she could get genuine performance out of our performers. "I know there's an actress hiding inside Rio, she does too good of fuck scenes for there to not be. Ellen's another, along with Tawny, and Reina, and a couple of the irregulars that have a spark to them."
"Hey Steve, " said Angel, "would you be able to direct sex scenes free-form? Instead of having every move scripted, just coach the performers beforehand what they should do, but give them room to follow the muse, as it were?"
"Except for anal scenes, not a problem. For sanitary reasons, you always have to pre-plan anal."
"Here," said Bekka, bouncing back into the room, "pens and paper, and a good-sized jar for the story ideas. I figure we just set the stuff on the coffee table and tape a sign saying, '$5 Ideas' or something. Then if their idea is developed, lay some more money on 'em."
"Brilliant girl," said, Angel, kissing Bekka on the forehead. "Look, I know Steve has work to do, me and the guys have to have words with Rick ("And how" said Vinny) and Lenny, uh...."
"What the hell, I'll clean the Cadillac. Polish the outside, Windex the glass in and out, I'll stay busy."
"I promise I'll fix that door over the next couple days!" called Angel as we got into the Cadillac. As we drove off, Angel commented, "There's a lot of positive karma flowing around this place. I'm glad it's the one we picked."
"You're right, sir," I replied. "Lunch started off kind of negative, but we ended up getting a lot accomplished once we got to the complex. Bekka is very relieved, too. After nearly six years with the same production company, suddenly being given the impression you're being pushed out would be scary.."
Angel's voice, with a familiar purr, said, "Yeah.... I've gotta ask Rick what was going through his mind... I mean, hear me out here. Producing loops is fast, cheap, and easy. They're a no-brainer start to finish. I can understand why Rick would want to stick with loops: they take no effort and you're printing your own money. So I can see that aspect.
"But at the same time, making a feature is so much more.... Fulfilling, y'know? The end of the week, it goes off to be edited, you feel like you accomplished something, not just something for lonely men to beat off to. You've produced something...."
"Artistic?" I suggested.
"Exactly! Sure, there's a lot of financial risks, but there are in making any film. Our risks are lower than most, if nothing else."
I said, "Personally? That may be what worries Rick the most. Having a 'star' means having to promote a star, and pay it more money, and have a booth at AVN and Consumer Electronics Expo, and paying for rooms for multiple stars, and taking time out of filming to do signings, and on and on. Loops are fast cheap money, features are risky ventures.... And I think that scares him. He'd rather lose Bekka and keep the fast small easy money rolling in, using different nobodies every week.
"You really think so?" asked Angel.
"Hey, this is just a guess. But it's the only rational reason I can come up with off the top of my head. You don't have to pay for any stars if you don't have any, plus you save on that trip to Vegas a couple times a year."
"I swear," said Angel, "Rick is coming up with ways to piss me off on purpose. I'm afraid what the financials are going to look like, like he's delaying them on purpose."
Frankie said, "Walk, don't run, Angel. We got three months to hash this crap out."
"I'm just afraid we'll get here tomorrow and he'll have set the swimming pool on fire, y''know?" Laughter filled the Cadillac.