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

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Paul spends a third of his day working for Dwight, and spends the other two-thirds of his day in the other edit bay Joel is renting on the opposite side of the building. It’s the secret room, the shadow room, full of clandestine creativity, and Paul loves it. It is almost a mirror image of the other room. Even the framed posters on the opposing walls seem appropriate to what Paul is doing. On one wall is The Third Man, with Orson Welles staring out from the shadows of a doorway in Vienna, and on the opposing side is a different Arnold Schwarzenegger poster, this time as the hunted soldier in the sci-fi action film, Predator.

It doesn’t take long for Paul to fall into a rhythm, especially since Dwight doesn’t want him around anyway. He arrives at 6:30 in the morning and quietly sneaks tapes from the storage room down two hallways to the secret bay. He then edits for three solid hours until Dwight shows up at 10 a.m. and puts him to work in the storage room organizing tapes and finding shots. But most of the time Dwight ignores him, which gives Paul most of his regular work day to scan tapes and create and revise a plot on paper for Joel’s made-for-TV movie.

Paul says “goodnight” to Dwight at five p.m. and pretends to leave, then sneaks a few more tapes to the secret room and edits the clandestine version of the show until 10 p.m. at night, trying out the ideas he’d put to paper during the day. He then goes home and returns at 6:30 a.m. the next day to do it all over again.

Creating a story out of the existing material isn’t easy; it’s like putting together a jigsaw puzzle with pieces from a thousand other puzzles all mixed in.

First, he watches most of the tapes in high speed just to jog his memory. He could pop in a tape in and remember pretty much everything that happened that day, and then jump ahead five or six tapes because nothing worthwhile happened in between. He soon reduces all that material down to about two hundred interesting moments, and he writes each one down on a different 3x5 card.

Because he rarely gets a request from Dwight, he spends most of his day shuffling through his two hundred cards again and again, laying them out in different patterns, trying to arrange a compelling story. The truth behind the events and the order in which they happened don’t matter to him. Their lives are just notes on 3x5 cards, tiles for the fictional mosaic he is trying to build.

After five p.m., he sneaks into the secret edit bay and edits the best story from what he laid out on the tabletop that day. Five possible stories emerge, and in each of the five stories, Duncan is the hero.

At first, Paul feels guilty. In real life, Duncan is not a protagonist. He is a lost soul who can’t read or write. He is feral, living on instinct, but he appears heroic on TV. He is a near mute in real life, but on screen he is a strong man of few words. He is sometimes obnoxious, rude and impossible to control, but on screen he is full of youthful rebellion. He is quick to defend the tribe, but he has no sense of restraint and will attack people mindlessly until someone pulls him away, which makes him stupid and dangerous. On screen, he appears loyal and brave. But that’s not who he is.

Duncan can find fresh food while dumpster diving and senses when danger is coming; however, he can’t be trusted with money, making purchases, negotiating with police, or bribing or conning anyone on the street. And the sad truth is that he senses this, but doesn’t know how to change his life. That’s what Dwight is trying to show in the edit bay on the other side of the building, but Joel and the network won’t give him enough time to achieve it, and Joel doesn’t want a sad but true story.

Then Paul questions whether Paul’s pursuit of the truth is even possible. If you hang around and shoot long enough, people do relax and forget the camera is there. That’s what Dwight looks for in his edit bay -- those brief moments when everyone forgets there’s an elephant in the room and people’s behavior seems genuine, and he uses them to build a story.

But Paul could argue there had been no genuine moments at all. Dwight watched everything on a monitor from inside a van, while Paul had been right there in the room, with a boom in his hand. He’d seen every sidelong glance the kids made to one another while Victor was shooting. He’d seen how the kids would wait for the camera to swing around and rest on a close-up before they spoke.

The kids were homeless, they got hungry, fought, got high and passed out. All that was real. But they also knew they were on TV, and they did their best to give the crew what they thought was a good TV show. They acted.

Paul had heard many off-microphone conversations during which Jodi and Trent argued about whether what the tribe was doing was dramatic enough for the camera. An hour later they’d then complain how the camera cramped their style and how they were being used, and that true punk anarchists would have seen how false and exploitative the whole production was and never allowed cameras to tape them in the first place.

Yet Trent and Jodi never pulled the plug. They saw the production as a path to…what? Fame, celebrity, money, security, who knows? They didn’t know either, they just wanted to ride the TV train and see where it went.

At least Jodi and Trent played by the rules and “ignored the camera.” Ilima was always a little too thrilled that the production crew was around. She was like an eight-year-old girl at her own birthday party, waving at the camera when the cake shows up and hamming it up to blow out the candles.

The only person who is oblivious to the camera is Duncan, but not because Duncan is more “real” than the others. Duncan has lived as feral for so long he doesn’t understand basic cause and effect. When he sees a suitcase in the train station bathroom he doesn’t wonder if it belongs to someone -- he just takes it. Ten seconds later when someone attacks him, he doesn’t wonder if that person is perhaps the owner of the suitcase -- he just fights back. If he can’t make the connection between a suitcase and its owner, how can he possibly make the connection between a production crew and a show that is supposed to be on TV months later?

Paul was once an assistant editor on an animal documentary and was amazed at how the production crew and the lions interacted. The production crew would drive straight up next to a pride of lions devouring a zebra and start rolling tape and the lions wouldn’t even glance at them. The safari jeeps had been cruising the Serengeti spying on lions for so many generations that the lions now considered them an inconsequential part of the landscape, like an insect or a bird. Second, the lions didn’t know or care that they were part of a TV show. That’s how Duncan is, and that’s why the camera loves him, Paul realizes. He is all instinct, and it reads on screen as charisma, strength and confidence – so much, in fact, that Duncan must be the hero. That’s what had to happen.

He does wonder how all this will affect the kids, especially Duncan. He does have a strange connection to him; besides both having scars, they liked each other. But Paul hasn’t seen Duncan in weeks and doesn’t know if he’ll ever see him again. Duncan is just a character in a TV show now, and the sooner he can deliver that TV show, the sooner he can pay his bills and pay Maggie, go on vacation, win her back and then find a way to finish his film. Plus, if he helps Joel now, Joel may help him later. Joel did say he liked his movie and promised that good things would happen. He doesn’t think about Dwight at all. So, after all those mental gymnastics, Paul decides to pitch this plot to Joel:

We meet the tribe at the Punk Show out in the Valley, then performing their “skits” on Hollywood Boulevard for money. The audience also sees them in their home downtown in the vats. They are a cohesive family, with Trent as the father/leader and Jodi as his girlfriend/mother, with Ilima as their daughter. Duncan is established as a strong silent outsider who looks out for the group, a streetwise loner who doesn’t completely belong, although he wishes he could. He helps the family by teaching them how to survive, like a hunter in the wild. It’s clear that he loves Ilima, though he doesn’t say it, and Trent and Jodi look upon him as a brave suitor for the hand of their “daughter.”

The tribe struggles to find money for food and clothes. Duncan shows up with a suitcase and, like Santa Claus, hands out clothes, chocolate, and cigarettes. He then entertains them by lighting his hand on fire and parading around the room. The others in the tribe find him delightful. It’s clear that Trent, Jodi and Ilima all hope that this mysterious helpful stranger will stay and permanently join their family.

In another scene, the tribe hunts through recycling bins for aluminum cans and glass hoping to make a few dollars to eat, but an evil homeowner wielding a baseball bat who hates homeless kids attacks them. Luckily, Duncan is there and protects them. He fights the evil homeowner and saves the day.

The tribe then uses the money they earned from selling the recycling to buy pancakes. We see that despite their poverty they can be happy, and we learn they have hopes for the future. They want to save enough money to move out of the vats and find a real place to live, where they won’t be hated and discriminated against because they are homeless. The kind people at the pancake house understand the tribe’s struggle, and they make them feel welcome there.

Back at the vats the tribe does its best to create a sense of family. They clear out heaps of junk and help Ilima create her own bedroom, like every teenage girl should have. They joke and write on the walls, filling the sad empty spaces with colorful artwork. Trent and Jodi and Ilima are happy, but Duncan seems sad and distant and doesn’t participate.

But Duncan is distant because he senses there is problem with Ilima, his true love. She is sick, and getting sicker. Her cough started in Act I, but was barely noticeable. As we approach the first hour break she is now hacking up blood. That’s why Duncan has been watching her with such worry for the last few scenes; she needs to see a doctor and he’s the only one who understands just how ill she really is.

But Trent and Jodi don’t have enough money to take her to a private doctor, and they are afraid of hospitals and social workers. If anyone finds out where they live, they could lose their home.

But Ilima’s health continues to deteriorate and soon she is trapped in bed with a dangerous fever. The tribe must do something or Ilima may die. The first hour ends with Ilima in bed with the rest of the tribe watching from the next room, worried.

At the start of the second hour, the tribe acts. Jodi sells her gold necklaces to raise money to buy medicine for Ilima – but it’s still not enough. Time is running out, so Jodi makes a drastic decision. Without telling anyone else in the tribe, she decides to prostitute herself on the street to raise the rest of the needed money for Ilima. She bathes, dresses in her most alluring clothes, puts on makeup and goes out.

She brings a man back to the vats, a young man named Xander, who attacks her. Trent tries to fight back, but Xander overpowers him. Duncan is quick and lethal and easily defeats the evil Xander and saves Jodi.

But Ilima is still sick, and Jodi and Trent have run out of options. Plus, Xander has seen the vats, and may bring others back to take over their home. It’s their darkest hour, and there seems to be no way out!

Then Duncan disappears and no one knows where he’s gone. Trent and Jodi are scared and worried -- they need Duncan more than ever, and he’s not there to help them.

Then -- Duncan returns with a suitcase that is full of clothes they need, plus – two thousand dollars! “We’re rich!” Jodi yells, holding up the wad of money. He doesn’t explain where or how he got it, but he has more than enough cash to bring Ilima to the hospital, and to help everyone escape the vats.

They don’t want to go, but they know they have no choice. The vats are no longer a secret, and Xander has sworn vengeance and promised to return. Plus, Duncan hints that he stole the money and the police will be looking for him, but he had to do it to help the tribe. Trent knows it’s best to take the money and for the tribe to split up. Trent and Jodi say goodbye to the vats forever, but they swear to Duncan and Ilima that they’ll all be together again someday.

Trent and Jodi go, leaving Duncan alone with Ilima. He gathers the sick girl up in arms and takes her outside and calls 911. The ambulance arrives and the paramedics load Ilima into the ambulance. Duncan takes one last look at the vats and then climbs in with her. The ambulance speeds away.

Paul e-mails the outline to Joel on a Friday night, and Joel phones him in the secret edit room on Saturday morning.

“This is beyond drama, it’s melodrama,” Joel says. “It’s perfect, I love it. When can I get a first cut?”

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