Pre-production for Temporary Pleasures had kicked in. Small Steve and I filled our office space with rented furniture and office equipment. The rental place we used was the only one that would allow a rental period as short as a month. The other furniture rental places had a three month minimum. While we were selecting pieces, the sales drone was shocked to learn that not only were we making a movie with all that stuff, we were making porn. "Our stuff isn't gonna get, I dunno, damaged somehow, is it?" he asked. I assured him that the office furniture we were renting would be used as office furniture, and nothing else, with the exception of a few desks of various sizes and some chairs, which would be fucked on. And we understood that if we broke it, we bought it.
The girls were given cash and told to go buy some working clothes. The guys padded out their own office-appropriate clothing with rented suits from the costumery. "How come the girls get new clothes and we don't?" came the cry. I explained that I wasn't about to drop $1200 per male performer so they could have a few new suits. The girls could mix and match, and would be shopping primarily at Ross.
The new script was a scream. Eddie had really come through for me. He had taken my outline, structure, and pacing and mixed in some great comedy. Eddie was a funny guy to begin with, and had also held cubicle farm jobs, so he knew what he was writing about.... A distinct advantage he held over me. I'd never worked in an office, didn't understand the culture, and thus was useless when it came to writing office-themed comedy. Other than maybe a dozen lines of dialogue and a lame crack about driving during rush hour, my contribution to the script was the detailed plot structure. Eddie provided the meat of the script, and made it funny as hell. He found humor in things where I would have seen only tedium. So pleased was I with the results that I gave the bastard a thousand dollar tip, on top of what he received for doing the work. The best part was that there were few in-jokes, stuff that would only make sense if you innately understood cubicle culture. Funny and accessible, we had a winner of a script.
While everyone else read through their scripts, I found Eddie in the kitchen. He had a deck of cards in one hand, a book of matches in the other, and a look of fiendish concentration on his face. He didn't seem to realize I was there, even after I said his name. I said it louder and he seemed to snap back to reality.
"Oh hey boss. Pick a card." He fanned out the playing cards one-handed.
I picked a random card and looked at it. Ten of diamonds. Eddie handed me a pen and said, "Sign it. We gotta make sure that this is definitely your card." I wrote "Lenny S." across the card and went to tuck it back in the deck. Eddie blocked me off.
"No, we're done with the deck of cards for now. Lenny, can I borrow your Zippo? It'll work better than these damn matches."
I handed him the Zippo. He took my card, fired the Zippo, then set fire to the card, turning it so it would be completely reduced to a smear of ash. He picked up the deck of cards, laid it flat on the palm of his hand, then waved his other hand over it and made it disappear. It didn't go up a sleeve, there was none. The cards were simply gone. I said, "Well, now we need a new deck of cards, right?"
Eddie smiled and reached in his shirt pocket, extracting the box that the deck of cards had come in. He handed it to me and said, "Take the cards out of the box and set them face down on the table." I did so. "Lift and turn over the top card."
I flipped the top card. It was the ten of diamonds, with "Lenny S." scrawled across it
I said, "I watched you burn it. Shit, the leftover bit of ashes are still on the counter. Brother, you got me fooled. That was awesome. And it segues into what I wanted to talk to you about. Come over here to the sofas."
We sat down and I got right to the point. "Eddie, how'd you like to use your magic in a feature? I'm going to be putting together a test package for making a sequel to 'Bewitched.' You and Bekka would share top billing. Right now I have only the foggiest notion of a plot, but your character would figure strongly. There will definitely be a 'Bewitched II' coming along, I just need to write the damn thing."
"So, I'd be playing a warlock?" asked Eddie. "I do cards and coins, close-up stuff, none of my tricks would translate well to a larger scale."
"No. You'd be playing a nightclub magician, a cynical burned out one. You are contacted by Bekka so that you can help her. I haven't decided yet how well you two will get along. But you'll pretty much be together for the duration of the movie, excluding fuck scenes."
Eddie said, "How about.... Bekka is being held captive by her coven, so she can't cause more trouble. She manages to use her powers to contact me. I go and free her, which will turn out to be a mistake. If you give me a fuck scene with Bekka, could you do me a favor and be out of town that day. I get nervous when you're here and I have to work with her."
I grinned. "Eddie, you worry about nothing. I promise you, the day I wig out won't be over who Bekka had to fuck that day. I'll wig out from being lied to once too often by the wannabe porno queens I have to interview. No ad in the paper, and I still get applicants. And since Becky Page became a household word, I've been getting a rash of underage girls with fake IDs that they made at their local Kinko's. You're a gentleman, you'd never give me reason to come after you. Now that dude Stallion, on the other hand...."
Eddie sneered. "Stallion doesn't like me. He's pissed that he's the one that lifts weights and lives on protein shakes, and I'm still the one with nine inches. And if he refers to me as 'that heeb' one more time I'm gonna borrow your gun."
"Thanks for letting me know. Between the two of you, I know which one is more valuable to me, which one I want to be happy here. It ain't the jock. Hey, how about when Bekka contacts you, all she can communicate is the address where she's at. And it just shows up in bizarre random ways. You eat alphabet soup, 419 Maple Drive shows up in the bowl. You go for a drive to clear your head and end up on Maple Drive. You drop a pack of playing cards, they scatter just so to spell out 419 Maple Drive. That sort of thing. You finally go over there, armed with an ax, and find Bekka chained to a wall. You get her loose with the ax. She is disappointed in you: she believes you're a magician, a real one, like Merlin. You and her have the first of several arguments over the nature of magic. You don't believe it truly exists, you consider yourself a fraud and a liar. Bekka disproves you by using --- what else --- the aphrodisiac spell. The girls at work, who used to consider you a pathetic geek, throw themselves at you. There's one fuck scene. Bekka removes the spell from you using sex. There's a second fuck scene. Bekka returns to her shop and begins toying around with the spell again. At first you think it's great, but then you realize that both Bekka and her ideas are insane. And I've got to decide where to go from there.. This time I want to show the spell actually working, which will mean having unknowns in front of the cameras. Maybe Angel will let me borrow his performers from one of his other studios. They could fill in as the most unusual extras ever."
"How many studios does Angel own?" asked Eddie.
"Six," I replied. "He owns Inana, there's Man-Crush, who you used to jerk off for, and there's Dirty Angel, his fetish and bondage studio. I don't even know the names of the other studios, but I'm pretty sure they're doing basic straight stuff, just loops. All we need is some basic straight performance, that shouldn't be too hard to round up."
We went back out to the living room. People were highlighting their lines in their scripts and chuckling over what Eddie had written. I perched next to Bekka, not interrupting her. Her lips were moving as she read, which meant she was already trying to commit her lines to memory. She was second lead behind Ellen, playing the office manager of the business. Ellen, in her first lead, played a dizzy-brained temp who kept getting promoted despite total incompetence. Chip, with some gray sprayed into his hair, played the CEO of the fictional company. Just about everybody connected to Inana would have some sort of speaking role.
I called for attention and suggested it was time for our first read-through. We immediately ran into a problem: verbalizing the lines made them even funnier. We kept being stymied by our own laughter. Eddie had given a interesting twist to Vince's character: he was addicted to huffing Liquid Paper in his private office. Thus, his behavior was highly unstable. Vince would have to play a character that was half yuppie asshole and half town drunk from an early Irish novel.
"How the hell does anyone get high on Liquid Paper?" complained Vince.
"You pour some into a plastic bag, put the bag over your face like an oxygen mask, and start breathing," I explained. "You'll burn off enough brain cells that you could use your grey matter as a bowling ball. Huffing Liquid Paper doesn't get you high or stoned, it just plain fucks you up. That's why your character is so unstable, his brains are in a permanent state of malfunction."
"Speaking from experience, Lenny?"" asked Elspeth.
"Hey, you're allowed to be that stupid when you're sixteen," I replied.
"Where are we doing blocking?" asked Jackie.
I said, "All the office interior scenes will be blocked at our temporary office space. That includes the fuck scenes. We'll block our exterior shots here at the mansion, down on the sidewalk. We'll be doing a bit of guerilla film-making when we start shooting, since we're going to have a fuck scene happen in the parking garage. Ellen, don't wear anything you like that day, since until you're naked, you'll be rolling around on car hoods and the concrete. We'll probably shoot that one in the evening, so we don't have interruptions or spectators. There's the one interior shot in the bar, but there's no blocking needed, since it's just Ellen and Jackie sitting on stools."
Small Steve said, "The office space is easy to get to, it's right on Sorrento Valley Road. Right now it's real sterile looking. We need your help in changing that. Everybody is getting their own desk, so bring shit in from home and personalize it. This place needs to look lived in. I figure tomorrow after our first read-through we can caravan and car pool down to Sorrento Valley and everyone can take a look at the place. The neighbors know we're filming, but they don't know precisely what. Like Lenny said, we don't need the spectators, so try to keep the fact that we're making a fuck flick a secret. Oh, and the atrium downstairs seems to magnify sound, as me and Lenny learned the hard way while moving furniture. No screaming fits downstairs."
"Also, there ain't shit around this place, just more office buildings. No Safeway, no 7-11, no liquor store. Make sure you have everything you need on the days your work. Have your cigarettes and soda and snacks with you. We don't want twenty-five minute interruptions because people are driving into Mira Mesa to score smokes and Pepsi. Anyway, let's get back to this read-through. We don't get lunch until we've made it all the way through once."
Actually hearing the lines being read expanded the comedy. Eddie had done a good job of skewering white collar office drudgery, making fun of such office traditions as coffee breaks, intramural softball, and secret Santas. Jackie's character suggested that coffee is a pedestrian stimulant, and the coffee break should be replaced with the crack and methamphetamine break. Rio's character bemoaned the terrible luck she had with secret Santa gifts. She'd received over the years expired condoms, thirty loose AA batteries, a Gideon Bible, three chrome lug nuts, Old Spice, and a bag containing roughly two hundred golf tees. Rio's next line: "The worst part was, I would try to find deeper meaning in these gifts, like there was a rationale behind what I was receiving. Secret Santa has turned me into a neurotic."
As part of what was turning into a tradition for the first read-through of a new script, I ordered Chinese food from the place down by Safeway. Scarfing down General Tso's chicken, I checked with Gina to see if there were any messages. Two. One from one of the tape duplicating plants letting me know that they had caught up with our order, and thirty thousand copies of 'Bewitched' would be headed to the packagaing plant to be boxed and inserted. The other was a woman, who didn't leave her name, and simply asked to speak to Lenny. I got the number from Gina and went to my office to use the phone.
I dialed, the phone was answered on the second ring. I said, "Hello, this is Lenny from Inana Productions, returning a call made by someone at this number."
"Hello Lenny, this is Gayla."
I frowned. "Um, I'm drawing a blank on the name. Where would I know you from?"
"I'm the barmaid at Cantina Acapulco. We talked the night you got thrown out for teaching that drunk a lesson. You gave me your card and said to call you if I wanted to appear in porn. Well, I have my husband's blessing and I want to try. My husband figures that if this is Becky Page's studio, things must be okay."
I said, "Your husband has great faith. Look, right now we just committed ourselves to making a new feature. I've got ten thousand details to look after over the next five weeks. I can do your interviews, but they're gonna be spread out over a couple weeks. I wouldn't even be able to check your script proficiency until next Monday. You're not in any great hurry, right? You didn't just quit your job or anything rash like that?"
Gayla chuckled. "No, not at all. With the warnings you and Becky gave me about how hard it is to work for your studio, I wasn't about to throw the baby out with the bathwater. I'm fairly confident I can pass your tests. Although...."
"The video interview doesn't bother me, but the photo interview does. Any off-the-record advice for someone who may feel self conscious getting naked in front of strangers?"
"Yeah," I said. "Start wearing skirts with no underwear or nylons. Psychologically you will feel exposed. This will toughen you up, make you not think about who can see what. Frankly, I'm a bit surprised you're not more nervous about the final interview. Remember, that's full intercourse with all the trimmings, while sober, and with a guy you don't know. Most girls stress more about that than having their picture taken naked."
Gayla said, "It will be a test to see if I'm as good of an actress as I think I am. Doing that interview will be easier for me because I have something to do, namely the guy I've been assigned. By the way, is it alll right if my husband comes along?"
"Not no but hell no," I told her. "Enraged husbands and expensive video cameras are a bad mix. Listen, I'm sure your husband is a great guy, but he will contribute nothing positive if he attends the interviews. Are you sure he's okay with you trying for this?"
"Would you like to talk to him?"
"Would love it," I said. "Put him on."
There was silence, followed by a clunk, then a man's voice boomed at me. "Hello?"
"Hello sir, this is Lenny Schneider, COO for Inana Productions. You are Gayla's husband?"
"Sure am. The name's Mark Goodson."
I said, "Mr. Goodson, I wanted to let you know of a policy of ours at Inana, and that policy is that of closed sets.at our studio. This means no visitors anywhere outside designated areas, no matter their relation to a performer or crew member. I bring this up and explain it to you now because Gayla said you wished to attend her interviews with her. We will not allow that. You can wait in our lounge, but you cannot attend the interviews. Do you have any questions?"
A brief pause, then, "Naw, I'm good. You gotta have your policies in place for a reason. I figure if a righteous lady like Becky Page sticks with you for as long as she has, y'all ain't trying to pull nothin'. Actually, I got a question. You said not even relations are allowed around there? How come?"
"Relations --- or friends, or anyone with business here --- are welcome to show up. They will spend their time in our lounge watching TV and drinking sodas, however. No, the problem is that relations, particularly husbands, do not understand how video is made. They will see insult where there is none. The methods of communication will seem brusque and callous to an outsider, when they are not meant to be. Secondly, the set of a hardcore sex video shoot can be very overwhelming to the uninitiated. Things that we at Inana take for granted are quite shocking to outsiders. Nudity is only one of the factors."
Goodson said, "Gayla will be safe there, right?"
I smiled. "Absolutely safe, sir. You have my word."
"Would she work with Becky Page?"
"We're a fairly small studio, sir. I don't know how she'd avoid it. I take it you're a fan."
Goodson got excited. "Hell yes! Becky Page is one hell of a woman. You could ride the circuit with her, no problem. Hell, I even hear she's married. Married, and still does what she does. Amazing."
I said, "As it happens, I'm the husband. Becky has been performing longer than I've known her. Why should she stop because of me? And Mr. Goodson, remember that your own wife is planning on doing the same things Becky does, if you understand my meaning. We would not be bringing her on to run a kissing booth."
Goodson chuckled. "Hell, she ain't gonna end up working there. This is just a flight of fancy of hers. She wants to prove she's as tough as Becky Page, so she decided she's gonna be a porn star too. She'll get scared and come running back to papa."
"I.... See. Sir, what if, by some chance, Gayla passes all her tests with flying colors and she is offered the chance to work here? Then what?"
Another pause. Then Goodman said, "Well, I guess our income around here will be goin' up."
"A practical way of viewing the situation, sir. May I speak to your wife again? We need to set a date and time for her first interview."
The phone was transferred, and an angry sounding Gayla spoke. "Ignore my husband. He is speaking out of turn."
"He had me a bit concerned. So, your first interview, the script test. Monday at one work for you?"
Gayla said, "That's fine, but I have no idea where you are. Your business card only has a PO box on it."
I said, "Oh, it's real simple. Take I-5 north into Carlsbad. Get off at...."
After we ate, we plunged back into the second read-through. This one went smoother, and faster.. Everybody had now heard all the jokes, and weren't so prone to cracking up, although there was still plenty of laughter. Around three or so the doorbell rang. I went to answer the door.
A punk rock girl stood there, with a safety pin through one cheek. I processed her appearance and remembered her as Feather, a friend of Jane's. She was one of the ones who had been bugging Bekka about how to get on the fast track to porn stardom. Why she was here, now, was anyone's guess. She had four months to go before we could do any business with her.
"Feather, right?" I said. "What can I help you with?"
Feather said, "I got to thinking about it, and realized that what I should do is get my interviews and tests out of the way now. That way I can be here to work as soon as I have my birthday. So how do I get the process started?"
"You don't," I replied. "Two of the three interviews involve nudity, and one of those involves sex. You can't start the process early, you're still seventeen. How did you get here, and how did you know where to come? Did Jane tell you where the studio is? She' knows that's restricted information."
"I got here by borrowing a friend's Vespa, and I knew where to come by checking out the Becky Page BBS on the school computer. It has the address of this place up and available. Your restricted information is now very public, free to anyone with a computer, a modem, and a phone line. To be honest, Jane wouldn't be happy with me if she knew I was here."
I said, "Look, I'm sorry you made a wasted trip, but we can't help you until after your birthday. Right now we're in toe middle of a read-throuh for our newest feature. Sorry you wasted your time."
"Aw, c'mon!" said Feather. "You could at least give me the script test right now. Help me out here, I wanna work for you guys. And you could give me the other two tests if you really wanted to."
I sighed and waved an arm, ushering her in. "Come on, you can wait in my office. And no, I can't give you the other tests. My lawyer isn't that good. I don't think anybody's is. Wait until we finish up with this read-through, I'll grab a couple scripts and we'll find out if you can act. You want a soda while you wait?"
She accepted a Pepsi and sat on the sofa in my office, taking in the Wendy O. Williams poster and the centerfold of Bekka from Penthouse. I headed back to the living room, where the read-through had ground to a halt in my absence. Small Steve asked me, "Who was at the door?"
"A seventeen year old girl who is planning her life," I replied. "I'll be giving her the script interview when we're done here."
Tawny said, "Wait. You've got some kid looking to interview? What, she wants to do a loop with us the day she turns eighteen? You got a screw loose, Lenny?"
"Who is it?" asked Bekka. "One of the kids from the school?"
I said, "No Tawny, my screws are fine. I'm humoring her. And yes Bekka, it is. It's that hardcore girl Feather, trying to get a jump on things so she can start working as soon as possible after her birthday. And I have bad news. Anyone who visits the Becky Page BBS on their computer can find out where this place is. We have lost our privacy. At least no one has acted on the information yet. I'll remind everyone to always make sure that fucking front door is locked. Let's finish this."
We went through the rest of the script, timing and inflection being added as the performers went along. We finished, cigarettes were lit. Bekka sidled up to me and said, "I'll come into the office with you. You know, just to say hi. Well, if nothing else, we know the girl plots a course and sticks with it. I guess now we bet to find out if she can act or not."
"Four months before we find out if she can convincingly fuck in front of a camera," I said. "Let's do this."'
We walked into the offiice. Feather was lounging on the sofa, just letting time roll past while she waited for me. She sat up when she saw Bekka enter the room.
"Hi Becky!" she said. "I'm here trying to get the ball rolling so I can start working here as soon as I legally can."
Bekka said, "You're here a few months early. Did you really think we would give you the photo and video interviews? I told you what they involve. And you just showed up? Everone else makes appointments."
Feather glanced around the room. "Well.... Yeah. I figured that since those interviews would be happening in private, and you guys don't sell those pictures or tapes, the law can't say much, can they? And then I'd be able to work as soon as possible after my birthday."
I said, "It doesn't matter what you do with the media, having someone naked and underage in front of a camera is an instant bust. I won't go to jail for you, just so you can try to start working sooner. You go through the process like everyone else, and you do it legally. Now it's time to see if you can work with a script."
I dug in one of the filing cabinets and pulled out a couple scripts for Rocker Girls. A softball, by my guess. If she was like the other young fans of that movie, she probably had it memorized from watching it over and over. I handed one script to Feather, and the other to Bekka, first leafing through it to find the scene I wanted to use. "Bekka, you mind doing the honors? Start on page eighteen. It's the scene between Bekka and Tawny, in Tawny's office. Bekka, you read Tawny's lines, and Feather, you read Bekka's lines. I'm guessing you already know this movie well."
"No I don't," said Feather. "My dad has it, but he hates it because of the music. I've only seen it once, and half the time it was muted. My dad won't let me borrow it so I can watch it at a friend's house. It looks way rad, too."
"Okay, good. We'll be able to see how you read this without any preconceptions. Top of page eighteen, take it away Feather."
Bekka and Feather ran through the scene while I sat in my big chair being blown away. Feather was good. She was clear, she enunciated, and she brought feeling and life into a script she'd never seen before. I lit a cigarette and eyeballed the hardcore girl on the far side of the desk. Small tits, but given the size of her frame she'd have looked weird if she did have big tits. Bekka and Feather set their scripts down on my desk. I said, "Feather, would you mind waiting out in the hall for a minute? Close the door behind you."
Once she was out, Bekka said, "Jesus Christ. I could only dream of Rio or Jackie putting that sort of energy and skill into a first time read-through."
"Very true. For someone who's made a pain in the ass of herself in her quest to join our happy little family, she seems to be able to back up what she claimed. I have a feeling that the video interview will be the real acid test. If she can't fuck, we can't use her, you know that. But she actually looks promising."
I opened the door and called to Feather. "Congratulations, you passed," I said. "Okay, you knocked out this test. You've still gotta take the other two, and you have to wait until after your birthday to take those. There is no circumventing this. Shortly after your eighteenth birthday, I expect to see you naked with your legs spread in one of our smaller sound stages, while I take pictures of your pussy. Get me? Then you get to take a blood test, which had better come out squeaky clean. After that you will spend a couple hours sucking and fucking with a guy you've never met, who will have a big dick. All this will be immortalized on video tape. When it's all over and you have your clothes back on, we'll either hand you a video cassette or we won't. If we hand you the tape, it means you didn't make the cut. We pay you cash for the day's work and send you on your way. If we're empty-handed, it means you're in. You said you're an anal queen, so we will keep you busy. You have any questions?"
"Yeah," said Feather. "What do you do with the photos you take?
"They either get trashed or are used as promo stills," I lied. Neither one was true. The camera was empty, no film. We just used the camera as a way to have an excuse to put prospective performers through their paces, seeing if they followed direction well and not being self-conscious while naked and spread in front of a room full of guys (well, three of us, anyway).
I said, "Now, go home, take that fucking safety pin out of your cheek, and start letting your hair grow out. If you look hardcore the next time you show up for an interview, I won't even bother with it, I'll send you home. Personal taste notwithstanding, Inana can't use punks in front of the camera. Our stylist will probably make you up to look like the high school girl you are. Youth sells. Hardcore doesn't."
Feather said, "Okay. Thank you. I knew you wouldn't be disappointed. I'll call about a week before my birthday to set up appointments for my other two interviews. Fair enough?"
"That works," Bekka said. "And don't forget, you'll need to schedule your blood test. No test results, no video interview. And if we take you on, no results, no work. You will always have something to do on Fridays."
Feather went out, an assured but excited smile crawling across her face. After she was out the door, Bekka turned to me and asked, "Do you think she'll make the cut?"
"That or die trying," I answered. "That is a young woman who has her plans, and will follow through with them. She wants to make porn. Personally, I'd rather have her do it here than some shit studio up in LA. She'll be eighteen, they'd eat her alive."
"I don't know," said Bekka. "She seems lke a pretty tough cookie."
"Let's just say she has her act down pat. She's still very young. Those sleazy producers in LA would have ehr begging for mercy and crying for mommy in no time flat. We won't even get into what they'd string her out on. I hope she makes the cut, she's safer here."
Bekka leaned against me. "Leonard Schneider, champion of youth."
"Disaffected youth, anyways."