Reality Road Kill (work in progress!!!!)

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The room is only 10 feet by 10 feet with grey carpet. The editing system includes two monitors, a computer, two tape decks, a mixing board, a cd player, and an audio interface system, with just enough room for a bookcase, two chairs, a lamp and a denim couch against the back wall. Joel hung posters to make the room feel homey – one of The Beatles and another of a pregnant Arnold Schwarzenegger from the movie Junior.

Paul sits in the edit chair waiting for Joel and Dwight to come in. He first met them in Joel’s office nine weeks ago in Century City, and here he is again, nervously waiting for them to appear. He touches the top of his head and feels the raised ridge of the scar under his hairline. His hair has returned along with his health, but Paul has a sinking feeling that might change again soon.

The door swings open and Joel and Dwight walks in. Dwight grins and offers his hand like an old pal. “Paul, I’m glad to have you back. I hope there are no hard feelings.”

“I have some, but Joel’s paying me enough to get over them. Plus, he finally signed the paperwork so Andy can file an insurance claim on the gear you destroyed.”

Joel and Dwight throw their heads back and laugh too loud, as if he were joking. Dwight pats him on the back. “That’s a good one! I must say, I had my doubts about the audio that you were doing, but it’s a lot better than I expected. Most of the time I can actually edit a scene with your stuff.”

Paul decides to ignore the backhanded compliment and changes the subject. “Have you heard anything from the kids?”

“The tribe split up. Ilima is out of the hospital and moved in with a cousin down in Orange County. She’s fine now. Trent and Jodi are still together, living with some people in a one room apartment in Hollywood. I have no idea where Duncan is. He’s out there somewhere, being Duncan.”

“What about Victor?”

“The mad Russian? He’s shooting that show Face Your Fears for CBS. He climbs into some big pit with a camera and shoots terrified people covered in padding fighting off a pack of wild dogs for money. It’s perfect for him.”

Joel steps in and looks at his watch. “Should we get started? I’ll get the coffee, there’s a Starbucks across the street.”

“No corporate coffee for me,” Dwight says, “around here I only buy coffee from the Arab Market on the corner. Paul smiles and nods that he’ll have one too.

An hour later Paul is in the editor’s seat, with Dwight in the seat next to him, Joel on the couch behind them, while the steam from their three tall paper cups fill the room with the strong smell of coffee and sugar.

Paul peers at the computer and uses the mouse to scroll through Dwight’s work so far, watching the different scenes he and his editor had cut. Dwight points at the screen, indicating which icons to click to play the scenes he likes, moving ever closer, until Dwight hovers over Paul’s shoulder. Paul feels like he is in the front seat of a two-man bobsled team. Dwight even places his hand over Paul’s hand on the mouse, his need to control him is that strong.

“Click on ’Pancake House III, version 2b,’” Dwight says. “You’ll see the nuance I’m talking about.”

Paul clicks on the icon and hits play. A short scene from the pancake house plays out on the monitor. The tribe is suddenly back together in their favorite booth:

Duncan and Trent roll up spit wads, stick them in straws and spit them at each at close range. Trent nails Duncan in the nose with a sticky wad, then Duncan nails Trent in the neck and the forehead with a double barrel shot from two straws. Ilima laughs hysterically while Jodi lights a cigarette and leans back and watches the other three with maternal pride. They are happy.

“Hey, no smoking in here!” yells out a voice. Tom, the owner, strides into frame and grabs the cigarette from Jodi’s mouth. Duncan starts to rise, but Ilima pulls him back down.

“You punks are in here all the time! This isn’t your living room!” He yells at all of them, but he looks straight at Trent. “Don’t you have anyplace else to go?”

“No, we don’t,” Trent says.

“Losers,” Tom says.

The tribe falls silent as Tom leaves frame. All happiness is gone. Trent wipes the spit wads from his face and looks out the window. Jodi rubs his back to comfort him while Duncan and Ilima stare at them, wide-eyed and confused.

The scene ends. “Tell me what you see in that scene,” Dwight says.

Paul knows he’s being set up. No matter what he says, Dwight will find fault with it, but with both the director and the producer present he must answer.

“I think it’s a good scene. The pancake house really was their living room. Trent is clearly the father, trying to provide for his family, and Jodi is the mother hen, making sure everyone is okay. Ilima and Duncan are the two kids just trying to have fun.”

“Pretty good,” Dwight says, “but you missed something. Tom the owner also knows -- consciously or subconsciously -- that Trent is the father of the group, and he’s trying his best to humiliate him in front of his ‘children,’ played by Duncan and Ilima. That’s how strong the family dynamic is. Do you see that now?”

“Yes, now it’s clear to me. Thank you, Dwight.”

“It’s important that you do. This dynamic must be in every scene.”

Joel leans forward, clicking and unclicking his watch clasp. “At the same time, Paul, you must always ask yourself, ‘what’s the story?’”

Paul glances to the left and sees Dwight’s leg bouncing. The ticks are back, and both men are once again talking to each other through him. He looks up at the Junior poster and into the soft sympathetic eyes of Arnold Schwarzenegger, holding his pregnant belly. He seems to recognize Paul’s dilemma, but can do nothing to help.

Dwight taps Paul on the knee to get his attention back.

“The story is our human need to create the family unit no matter what the circumstances are. And it’s so much a part of us that it becomes instinct, even in the worst circumstances. That’s the story. That’s their story.”

“I understand.”

“Good. But understanding it is the easy part. Doing it is much harder. The last editor never really got it, which is why I had to take over in the editing chair. But over the next few days we’ll see how well you work out, okay?”

Joel sighs and addresses Dwight directly for the first time. “I’m actually the one hiring him, Dwight and he’s on for the full run of the project.”

“What if it doesn’t work out? What if he doesn’t get it?”

“Get what? You’re the editor, not him. He’s here to arrange and organize the two thousand tapes in the next room, and find and digitize and arrange the material so you can edit. And no one can find the material faster, because he was there. That’s the job.”

Dwight laughs and keeps talking to Paul. “We’ll give you a two-week grace period and then we’ll talk again.”

“Paul, I’m the producer and I’m hiring you, not Dwight. I expect you to be at work every day for the next six weeks.” Joel stands up. Dwight pushes his chair into the editing position, forcing Paul’s chair to the side. He starts working to avoid Joel.

“Gentlemen, this is not a documentary, it’s a network made-for-TV movie. It must have a plot laid out in eight acts of ten to twelve minutes each. The network wants to see a first cut in three weeks. Those are the facts, and they are not going away,” Joel says.

He hasn’t raised his voice, but Joel’s face is so red and bulging that Paul has a vision of Joel falling to the floor with a massive stroke. Dwight keeps staring at the computer screen, using the mouse to drag and drop items between folders. Joel finally leaves.

As the door clicks shut, Dwight speaks. “Everything I’ve ever done has made it on air. We’ll be fine. Go next door and grab me all the tapes from the third week of August.”

“Yes sir,” Paul answers, and he flips the bird to the back of Dwight’s head before he leaves the room.

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