Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Sisters (Part 8)

     So, our series had changed around a bit.  "Pulse of Night" was dropped, and nobody minded.  Viewers didn't care (and didn't buy), the reviews had been flat, performers considered appearing in it (there was no set cast) tedium, and none of us three writers could figure out a way to keep things lively from episode to episode.  Some of the episodes were great....  And the next episode would have totally different characters, no way of continuing the good karma.

     Fortunately, Erica and Mallory had been farting around with scripts for what would become "Temporary Pleasures -- The Series."  Both had a sharp ear for good satire, and understood the culture of working in your standard "cubicle farm" office.  They ret-conned the story line a bit --- at the end of the movie, Madison (Ellen/"Sky Tyler") is being hired away from the temp agency to become the Chief Financial Officer of the company she'd been contracted with.  Madison was a twenty-two year old airhead, a ditz who could barely operate a copier.  Her rise to the top had been brought about by sheer luck and happenstance.  Madison keeps getting moved into positions of more responsibility, despite the protests of her overseer at the office, Ivy (Becky Page).
     Madison's hiring is announced at a company-wide pep rally-style event.  The rest of the board room thinks it's a brilliant move: a twenty-two year old CFO?  And a female one?  How bold and progressive looking.  Madison is called up to the mic so she can say a few words, her now-former boss Ivy stands at the back of the crowd with her face in her hands.  Madison says a few platitudes, then announces, "And as my office manager and chief adviser, I'll be promoting Ivy Xandros to join me!  Ivy, come on up!"
    Ivy walks up onto the stage and reluctantly joins Madison on stage, not amused at all.  The two step to one side, while more pontificating goes on at the mic.  Ivy hisses, "So, throwing a bone to   your old boss?"
     Madison is smiling,  but her face is riddled with panic.  She replies quietly, "Ivy, I need you, like, really bad.  Um....  I don't know what I'm doing!  I don't know how the heck I got here!  I don't even know what 'CFO' stands for!  You gotta help me!"
     "Oh!  Now you need my help!  Why on earth should I help you?  Why shouldn't I just let you dangle in the breeze until you fall?  I'd end up doing your job for you, you fucking dimwit."
     "Look, I know," responds Madison.  "Um, what I thought we could do, to make it more fair, is every payday we'd sign our paychecks over to each other, okay?  You'd get my salary, and I'd get yours."
     "In other words, I'd do all the work and get none of the credit," huffs Ivy.  "Just your salary.  I'm not seeing a plus side to this."
     "Ivy....  Do you know what my yearly salary is gonna be?  Before bonuses?"
     Madison whispers in Ivy's ear.  Ivy's eyes both go very wide and stay that way.  She smiles and says in a friendlier voice, "Then again, there is a certain peace in anonymity.  Dimwit, you've got yourself a puppet master."  They shake hands, then stand side by side....  Each grabbing the other one's butt.  Madison replies, "I know I'm no rocket surgeon, but I'm not stupid."
     "Still debatable, dimwit."
     Madison looks at Ivy, who's looking out at the crowd with a politician's smile, and says in a low voice, "We're gonna have a private office suite.  Betcha that within a week, I can make you come with my mouth in under three minutes."
     Still looking forward, Ivy calmly replies, "I'll keep a stopwatch on my desk."

    Erica and Mallory didn't continue the story from there.  In the series, Madison (still played by Ellen, who we wanted in a lead role) is still a temp worker, only at a different company.  Bekka already had a lead role in our drama, "Co-ed Housing," and they didn't want Ellen's role being diluted with Bekka's presence.  Ellen would continue on as the happy-go-lucky nympho airhead she always had been, cheerfully boffing any co-worker she interacted with, male or female.  The satiric edge the movie had would be preserved, scripts liberally peppered with jabs at the white collar world.
     "Co-ed Housing" was also changing.  It was something of an ensemble cast, revolving around some of the residents of a college dorm: six sets of roommates, three male, three female, all of whom were trying to find love.  Structurally, it was a lot like "Beverley Hills -- 90210," only in college and with no parents or piles of money.  "Co-ed Housing" was being expanded from a half hour to a full hour, allowing more room for episodic plot development and also to get more screen time for the full cast.  Too many cast members were missing a couple production cycles at a time, for the simple reason they had nothing to do.  With a full hour to play with, all the cast members would at least have some screen time every episode, even if they didn't have any hardcore action.
     Our two other comedies, "Duane and Dolly's Place" and "Knock, Then Enter" were humming along nicely.  I was responsible for "Duane and Dolly," Erica handled "Knock, Then Enter," and Mallory took care of "Co-ed Housing"....  or had.  While writing a full hour of content was actually easier --- scenes didn't feel rushed or abbreviated --- Bekka (who was producing) had been throwing in a lot of material, to the point where Mallory told me Bekka deserved a writing credit.  Bekka was also producing "Knock, Then Enter," and "co-producing "Temporary Pleasures" with me.  I produced "Duane and Dolly's Place," being the one most comfortable with how the show should feel.
     "Duane and Dolly's Place" was about your standard eighteen year old suburban stoner dude (Duane, played by new Inana arrival Stuart K.) and his stoner girlfriend (Dolly, played by Susan Black), who lived in the semi-converted garage of Duane's parents' house.  They paid no rent or utilities except for the phone.  Duane's primary source of income was dealing weed (among other things), Dolly held a series of part-time jobs.  She never got fired, every business she worked for would suffer a major calamity and close, leaving her unemployed: the manager would drain the bank account and run away to Mexico, the owners would get caught up in an organized crime sweep, a runaway truck would demolish the building, and on and on.
     The garage was the sort of party pit most suburban stoners want to have.  Friends (and customers) would drop by to "just hang out, you know?"  A wide variety of hard rock and Eighties metal would always be playing on the stereo.  Duane and Dolly were permanently horny for each other.... and anyone else in sight.  The running gag was that they would claim to have split up early in the episode (usually due to their lack of fidelity) but  be back together by the end.  With the fairly constant intake of drugs they both did, they'd forget about splitting until someone reminded them.  They'd shrug and continue in whatever sexual activity they were involved in.
     Other regular characters were "Limp-Dick," (Roach), "Dizzy" (Feather), and Mr. Wilkes (Sean, a.k.a. "Sean Clay").  The first two were punk rockers, the third was Duane's next door neighbor.  Mr. Wilkes was an urbane, swinging, hip, upwardly-mobile black guy around thirty who was a BMW salesman and liked to party.  Mr. Wilkes was always trying to expand Duane's taste in music by playing Miles Davis, Ramsey Lewis, and Herbie Hancock for him....  Duane and Mr. Wilkes both agreed that rap sucked, though.  Mr. Wilkes felt that a "long-term relationship" was one that lasted past the "sell by" date on a carton of milk.
     Limp-Dick was Duane's best friend, and by far the more grounded of the two.  They were the same age, but Limp-Dick had a paternal instinct for Duane, who had the scatter-brained demeanor most people who start their day on the bong do.  Limp-Dick worked at a bowling alley and dealt meth for a living, also keeping Duane and Dolly high.  His girlfriend was Dizzy, a dervish whose ADHD was the stuff of legends.  The only thing she could focus on for longer than ninety seconds was (of course) sex.  She worked at a local theme park, spending her days dressed as a cartoon chipmunk, a role which was actually aided by her hyperactivity.
     Drug humor (and use) was rife in the series, the smoking and snorting of drugs treated as casually as drinking a soda.  All five characters were oversexed (of course).  Limp-Dick and Dizzy had an "open relationship," screwing anyone they came across.  So did Duane and Dolly, but they would constantly insist on their undying loyalty to each other.  Mr. Wilkes never had a girlfriend who showed up more than two episodes in a row, and came in all ethnic backgrounds.  Mr. Wilkes never got together with Dolly, but did with Dizzy a few times.  Each time it happened, Mr. Wilkes would be shown walking into the garage the next morning, looking a bit stunned and shell-shocked.  "That girl ain't human," he would assert.  "My lord, she is not of this earth."  (Limp-Dick would look up from the TV with a smile and say, "Yeah, she has some energy."  "Like a hydrogen bomb has energy," Mr. Wilkes would state.)
     Jane was going to be a semi-regular on the show, as a punk rock girl named "Hole."  Her character was a classic grifter, the concept of earning an honest dollar was repugnant to her.  While she wasn't a thief (you could leave your wallet on the coffee table and not worry about her being around), she preferred cons, hustles, and scams to employment, and had the cool, cynical attitude seen in gun molls from old Warner Bros. noir films.  Of course she's oversexed.
     Mr. Wilkes was an off-and-on target for Hole.  He was successful, and he sold BMWs for a living: she knew there must be some way to exploit him for money.  If Dizzy rattled Mr. Wilkes in bed, Hole terrorized him.  There was a similar running joke with a "morning after" shot of Hole and Mr.Wilkes walking into Duane's garage.  He would stagger in, wearing a torn t-shirt, underwear, and one shoe, slack-jawed, hunched over, incoherent.  Hole would be her usual cocky, confident self, more or less leading Wilkes around by the hand and saying, "So it's okay if I  borrow your car all week, right sweetie?"  (Mr. Wilkes, of course, drove a late-model BMW.)
     Mr. Wilkes: "Uhh.... muhhh...."
     "Thanks, honey.  I already pulled the keys off your ring."
     Duane and Dolly would prop Mr. Wilkes on the sofa, Duane commenting to Hole, "You're gonna kill him at this rate."
     Hole: "Don't be silly.  I haven't purchased any life insurance on him.  Yet."
     There was one more "main" character, who was heard but never seen: Duane's dad.  Duane had reversed the doorknob on the door between the house and the garage, effectively locking his parents out of the garage.  His dad would holler messages through the door at full volume ("Duane!!  Don't forget to take the goddamn trash cans out to the curb tonight!!"  "Duane!!  What are you and your goddamn pervert friends doing in there!?").  This high-volume communication stayed the same, regardless of the message being passed.  ("Duane!!  Your mother thanks you for the Mother's Day flowers, they're goddamn lovely!!")
     "Knock, Then Enter" was a semi-parody of "Three's Company."  If Jack, Janet, and Chrissy had been sexually compulsive libertines, and had dropped the coyness with each other, that's what "Knock, Then Enter" was like.  They screwed each other, plus just about anyone who came in contact with them.  A running joke was that it was hard for them to get pizza delivered, as "Janet" and "Chrissy" would double-team the delivery guy, delaying him for an hour, causing their address to get black-listed by the pizza place.
     While creating the characters and situation structure, we'd made "Jack" bisexual.  Hey, if it was okay for the girls, why wasn't it okay for "Jack"?  Angel and Vinny nixed that idea.  "California, New York, Boston, Miami, we could get away with it.  But too many of our customers are in Flyspeck, Iowa, you know?  We'd just scare the shit out of them."
     The humor in "Duane and Dolly" was subtle, stuff that made you smile and nod, usually.  "Knock" was the source of yuks, and "Pleasures" prompted knowing cackles.  What we were proud of, was we stuck with the tradition I'd started, that of the sex flowing organically through the script.  Despite the copious suck and fuck content, it never felt like the story was coming to a halt so the hardcore could take place.  Obviously, the sex ate up plenty of screen time, and didn't contain lots of expository dialogue, so the amount of actual "writing" needed for any episode was less than that in a regular network sitcom or drama.

     We three writers were also pounding away on features.  January second was scheduled to be the start of pre-production for "Kitten and Mink," a parody of Seventies crime dramas.  "Starsky and Hutch" was the primary influence for our structure, but we also stole from "Mannix," "Barnaby Jones," "Rockford Files," "Cannon," and various Blaxploitation films.  We'd already scored two coups: the location of a red and white 1975 Ford Gran Torino.(like Starsky and Hutch drove), and Antonio "Huggy Bear" Fargas saying he'd love to do a cameo as his most famous character.  We already had the joke laid out: "Buggy Hair" would lay out a long stream of jive talk at another black guy (a dweeb named Herbert), whose reaction was, "... What?"
     "So, are ya homeys wid' dese two honky chicks?  Where yo' crib?"
     Mink (in Herbert's ear): "He asked where you're from, and are you a friend of ours."
     "Oh, gosh!  I'm from Kenosha, Wisconsin, I'm out here attending BIOLA.  These two ladies are helping me find my uncle."
     Buggy Hair: (frowning) "Say what?"
     Kitten: "He from da Rust Belt, he's schoolin' to be a preacher man,   We keepin' our eyes jimmey fo' some fambly of his.  Yeah, we homeys."
     Running jokes would include a few car chases (all of which would end with the same stock footage of a car exploding while driving over a cliff, a la Mannix), the use of a mood ring as a lie detector, a hijacked shipment of Billy Beer, and during sex scenes, the dearth of pubic hair on female performers.  The men they were with (all sporting huge bushy mustaches) would stop and stare in shock, asking, "Did you.... shave?  Did you have chemotherapy?"  (In Seventies porn, vast puffy afros of bush was preferable, women using mousse and a hair dryer to create the look of more volume.)  The song "Afternoon Delight" would come on the radio, and someone would comment, "Man, the Starland Vocal Band is gonna be around forever, they're geniuses...."  The Gran Torino would have special outlets in the dashboard, for the two female leads to plug their curling irons in.  And Pop Rocks would be consumed compulsively.
     In the spring, we'd be getting in gear for our most expensive feature yet, the sequel to "Succubus."  Tentatively named "Lila's Exodus,"  just the logistics would be a nightmare.  "Succubus" had been filmed entirely in the desert of Imperial County. we essentially monopolized two motels for a month.  We'd be back out in Imperial County.... Along with Inyo, Yuba, and Sutter counties.  "Succubus" had under four weeks of live production time, while the sequel was probably going to be over seven weeks.  Communities in Sutter and Yuba counties were guarded about their enthusiasm for our presence.  Small Steve and I had scouted our locations, parlayed with private land owners, and made tentative arrangements with the counties for things like traffic control and security.
     The residents (except the ones who were making money off us) were nonplussed.  They'd heard about what chaos Hollywood could create when filming on location.  Traffic would be a mess, and so would the countryside, after we left.  In nearly any interaction, locals would be treated like trespassers.  They'd pull shit like shut down a main road for six hours to get ninety seconds worth of film.... and that would end up being cut out!  The damn county, they just want the damn fees they'll get for letting those fools film up here.  Trying to kiss Hollywood's ass, and hang around with Becky Page.
     "Wait, what?"
     Yeah.  They're making the sequel to that big Becky Page movie "Succubus."  I guess just about everyone who works for her studio is gonna be in this one, like before.
     "So, uh, Skye Tyler will be in this?  And that girl Feather?  And, uh, Susan Black?  All of 'em?"
     Ought to be.
     "Huh."  A pause.  "Maybe I'll stop by the county administration building this week when I'm in town, find out the shoot schedule.  Never seen a movie being made.  Who knows, maybe they'll need an extra or something, somebody to walk across screen...."
     You damn fool.   All right, which one of 'em is it you're all hot and bothered about?
     "I have no idea what you're talking about."
     Uh huh.  Which one?
     ".... Ella Belle."

     One community seemed annoyed enough to actually write letters to Inana.  They said the same things: I'm a resident of Oregon House, CA, I understand your studio will be filming in the area come springtime, and no sir, I don't like it.  We got sixty letters from Oregon House expressing their displeasure.  They'd tried to get the country to rescind our use permits, and the county (damn fools) wouldn't budge.  The denizens of Oregon House wanted to express their concerns directly to us, apparently for the catharsis of it.
     Only three actually objected to a pornographic movie --- parts of it, anyway --- being filmed locally.  Some concerns seemed really out of left field: how and why would we be affecting water quality in local streams?  How would we disturb animal migration paths?  Mostly though, the concerns were litter, noise, disruption of traffic, and environmental damage.  Everyone suggested we find somewhere else --- anywhere else --- to work.  Nebulous threats were bandied about in regards to making life difficult for us.
     I considered that.  It would be very easy for anyone with a car to totally sabotage our shooting all damn day, if they wanted.  Park as close as possible and lay on the horn every twenty seconds, destroying our audio recording.  One prick in a light plane could also trash the job.  I discussed my concerns with Small Steve, Bekka, and Angel, then made a suggestion: Inana Productions calls a community meeting, and the four of us go to allay fears all evening.  And make it clear that We Are Not Hollywood.  We could humanize Inana, answer any questions, and assure people we weren't going to trash the area and split.
     I got 7.5 minute BLM topographic maps of the areas we'd be working in, had them color-copied and blown up, and did some marking on them.  Small Steve and Bekka researched what migratory animals would be on the move when we were there, and any possible environmental concerns, like endangered local species and flora.  (The spotted owl was listed as a local resident, and also some sort of rare mouse.  Our instructions: "Don't chop down any trees, and don't dig any holes.  Otherwise, you'll be fine.")
     Angel contacted Yuba County and asked about the city government of Oregon House.  There was none.  "How would I go about organizing a community meeting?" he asked.
     "Put flyers up at the post office, and local businesses," was the advice.  Great.
     Several correspondents had included phone numbers in their letters.  It was time to reach out and touch someone.  We re-read the letters with numbers and decided to try a gentleman named Clint Harper, whose letter was erudite and had no misspellings.  "So who calls him?" asked Bekka.
     The three men in the room gave her wide smiles.  She huffed, rolled her eyes, and said, "Fine, whatever."
     "It's damn important fan service, baby," said Angel.
     Bekka dialed and waited a couple moments.  Then, hello, Mr. Harper?  Good afternoon, my name is Bekka Schneider, most people know me by my screen name, Becky Page.  Yes, that's me.  No, it really is me.  You included a phone number in your letter to Inana Productions, which is how I got a hold of you....  What?  Um, I hate to disappoint, but at the moment I'm wearing Levis, a t-shirt, and Doc Marten boots....  Yes, I do have underwear on, and to save you the trouble of asking, I'm also wearing a fucking bra.  Mr. Harper, I'd like to talk about....  No.  No.  Mr. Harper, that is not why I'm calling.....  Goodbye, you asshole.
     Bekka slammed the phone down and said, "Let's try contestant number two.  Hopefully the next one won't think I've taken up live phone sex as a charity project."
     Bill Ballmer answered on the second ring and was far more cooperative.  Bekka explained what we wished to do, but had no idea how to go about it, and was hoping he could be of assistance.  This time, I was listening on an extension.  Ballmer said, "The where will be easy enough.  We got a community hall at the corner of Rices Crossing and Rices Texas Hill Roads.  So, uh, when?"
     "We'd like to be up there on the first Saturday of December.  Would there be any conflict that you know of?"
     "Naw, not this time of year.  Grapes are dormant, crops are in, everybody's hunkering down for winter.  Hold on, lemme look at a number...."  He disappeared briefly, then read off a phone number.  "That's Joan, she runs things over there.  So uh, what else can I help you with?"
     "This will be a bit more of a bother," said Bekka.  "Once we can confirm use of the community hall, would you be willing to make a flyer, copy it off, and post it in the area where residents will see it?  It should tell people that anyone concerned with Inana Productions filming in the area can come to the community hall on such-and-such a date, where they can talk directly with the producers, director, and owner of Inana Productions.  We'll be showing everyone precisely where we'll be working, and approximate dates and times.  We don't want to be a disruption, we'd rather people share their concerns with us directly, so we can address them."
     "No bull?" asked Ballmer.
     "No bull.  We won't be monopolizing any public areas, we will have traffic control around roads we'll be using, and much of our work will be happening on private land...."
    "Whose land?"
     I spoke, since I knew the answer.  "We'll be doing a lot of filming at Mr. John Davies' place.  He has a farmhouse and some outbuildings that will be perfect for what we're doing...."
     Ballmer laughed.  "Shee-it.  John's place is a dump, it ought to be condemned."
     "Which is why it's perfect for our needs.  We wanted what appeared to be a farm that had been abandoned to the elements for fifteen years, and that's what the place looks like."
     "How much are you paying him?"
     "$2500 for three days of usage, plus an extra $600 for three horses," I replied.
     More laughter from Ballmer.  "Well, that ought to keep the old bastard in Jim Beam and Skoal for a while.  Don't put nobody too heavy on those horses, them nags'll break in half.  Where else are you gonna be working?"
     "Um...." I scoured my brain.  "Candlewood Way, Yuba-Nevada Road, and Scott Forbes Road.  Those are the ones we'll need to be putting traffic breaks on while we film.  We want to ensure people they won't see delays longer than twenty minutes...."
Ballmer found this highly amusing too.  "You can delay all you damn please out there, that's the boonies.  Nobody's out there at all, I'll be damned if there's three residences on either Forbes or Yuba-Nevada.  Anybody driving around out there ain't up to no good, so screw 'em.  Just tweakers looking to party somewhere."  He snorted through his nose and said, "See, I think people were worried you was gonna be blocking off Marysville Road, or Rices Crossing, jamming up the through roads.  Shit, I'll start spreading that word tomorrow, that'll make people breathe easier.  Damn county won't tell anyone what the hell is happening, where you'll be working or when."
     "Sounds like bull," said Bekka.  "We're happy to let people know where we'll be, and when, and what we'll be doing.  Our only request is we be left alone, more or less.  We're trying to convey an utterly desolate place, an area that's been abandoned for a long time.  Traffic noise won't help."  She paused.  "Tell you what.  We'll let any autograph hounds know where we'll be after we break every afternoon.  Is there a good bar in Oregon House?"
     "Nope.  You gotta drive all the damn way into Hallwood for a bar, and that place is a sty.  You want a drink, stop by the market and keep the bottle in a bag, like everyone else."
     "All right then.  We'll stop by your local market --- I'm guessing there's only one --- every afternoon around six, when we're headed to our motels.  We're doing some night filming, but we'll still want a break around that time.  Anyone wants to meet us can do so then.  Oh!  Uh, tell me....  Do you know a gentleman named Clint Harper?"
     "I do," came Ballmer's response.  "Why do you ask?"
     In a sweet voice, Bekka asked, "Is Mr. Harper single?"
     "Nope.  Been married forty years, if it's a day.  Why?"
     "In lieu of exchanging information, as you and I have done, Mr. Harper instead expressed great curiosity about what I was wearing, if I had underwear on, and what I was doing with my free hand while we spoke.  I could tell what he was doing with his free hand, at least until I hung up.  He seems to be a very lonely man."
     This bit of news set Ballmer to laughing hard, for two minutes straight.  Ballmer enjoyed a good laugh.

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