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

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The phone rings Monday morning. It’s Joel with the network notes.

“Are you sitting down?”

“Just give me the notes, Joel,” Paul answers.

“They like the show. They want to air it in two weeks.”

“You’re kidding me.”

“They didn’t pee their pants with excitement, just to be clear. Mostly they’re relieved, especially after watching Dwight’s version of the show for the past month.”

Paul feels torn; part of him hoped they’d be gushing, but it’s also the reaction he expected. They’ll air the show, people will see it, and the next week some other show will slide into its place, and this project will be lost forever in the vast endless media river.

Then Paul gets scared. What he really needs right now is a paycheck for one more week. If they like the show and there are no big changes, he just worked himself out of a job and there will be no money to pay next month’s bills. He’d done an entire budget based on getting one more week of work out of it.

“That’s it? There are no notes?”

“Just one note, and it’s big,” Joel says. “Right now, the show ends with Duncan carrying Ilima outside, he calls 911, the ambulance arrives and he and Ilima ride away together. They want to end the show in the hospital room and show that she’s okay, with all the other three kids surrounding her.”

“We can’t do that.”

“Why not It’s just one note.” He sounds irritated, as if Paul is being difficult.

“Because we don’t have that footage. We didn’t shoot it.”

“You didn’t shoot it? Why didn’t you shoot it? It’s so clear the story needs it!” Joel shouts. “I can’t believe you blew this!”

Paul takes the phone from his ear and stares at it. It’s a surreal joke. Has Joel completely forgotten what kind of show he is producing?

The only reason the current final scene even exists is because Paul directed and shot it himself with a tiny handheld camera. Joel had asked him to “make something happen” and he delivered. The paramedics wouldn’t let him in the ambulance, and he had no way to follow them to the hospital because Dwight had never given him keys to the van, and even if he had found a way to get to the hospital, they wouldn’t have let him in, because you need a permit to shoot in a hospital and Joel never paid for one permit on the entire shoot.

Paul wants to scream into the phone that the whole show is a fake, that Paul had invented this whole story in the edit bay, and that he is the one who rescued the show from documentary oblivion and turned it into a reality movie against all odds. And now Joel is trying to turn it all around and pretend that the one problem with the show is somehow Paul’s fault? As if they were doing an episode of Law and Order and Paul had neglected to shoot the final scene written in the script?

Paul almost yells into the phone, but then he remembers the final paycheck he needs...and the vacation...and the car locked in the garage outside that the repo men still want. He must play this just right.

“Ask Dwight to do it, I’m just the assistant editor on this,” Paul says, and hangs up. Paul pours himself a glass of water and waits. Ten minutes go by and the phone rings. Paul lets the machine pick up. It’s Joel.

“Okay, okay, you proved your point. Please pick up the phone. Hello? Paul? Hello? Can you please pick up the phone?”

Paul picks up. “I’m listening.”

" I need your help, okay? I admit it. Please Paul, we are so close to finishing.”

“What do you mean, ’we?’” Paul asks. “You’re the producer, Dwight’s the director, I’m just the guy behind the curtain working my ass off. And I’ve done the job you hired me to do. There’s nothing else in this for me.”

“Paul, it’s just one note.”

“We didn’t shoot it! It didn’t happen!”

" And I explained that to them, but the network doesn’t care. They don’t care that this is a ′ documentary reality’ show, they’re too to care how this process works, and they don’t care how hard we’ve been working. They just want this show to look like a regular made-for-TV movie. That’s all they care about.”

Paul tries to imagine these network executives. Who were they? Did they all watch it together, and talk about it? No, they probably each watched it alone in their different offices while answering phones and skimming the trade publications. Then they all traded e-mails and moved to the next show in the pile on their desk. Asking Joel to make a change to a TV show is like asking a secretary to change the last paragraph in a multi-page memo. They give the note and expect it to be done.

“We got one note. Trust me, we got off easy.”

Paul searches through his memory, scanning all his mental cubby holes for any shots that might do the trick. He finds nothing.

“Do a write-on. Just fade out and put white letters over black, saying that Ilima was taken to the hospital, got better, and they all lived happily ever after.”

“I tried that. They want one more scene.”

“There’s nothing else!”

“Not if we shot a new ending. You could direct it.”

The words hang in the air. He thinks of Dwight, toiling away in his edit bay, hating both Paul and Joel and insisting on staying true to his work, refusing to submit to the network executives sitting behind their desks piled high with papers and tapes, unaware of this subterfuge. Paul admires his tenacity, even if Dwight is a jerk. Part of Paul’s brain wants to say “no” to Joel, so he doesn’t have to add this final humiliation to Dwight’s work. He wouldn’t want anyone to secretly edit his work and then shoot a new final scene. Then again, Paul knows that Dwight doesn’t care one iota about him, and will gladly screw him over if it serves him.

“Paul?” Joel asks. “Are you still there?”

Paul looks up and sees the calendar on the wall, with a big X on this coming Sunday, his vacation, just a week away. He glances into the bedroom and sees

Maggie’s open suitcase on the bed surrounded by the clothes that she’d been packing and unpacking in different combinations all weekend in excited anticipation. This vacation must happen, no matter what.

“I’ll do it.”

“Good. You’re a smart man.”

“But I need a couple of things.”

“You name it.”

“I don’t want to edit anymore. I don’t want to even walk in that building.”

“No problem. The publicity department wants to start making promos. I’ll get one of their editors to edit the last scene and finish the show.”

“And I want a real production coordinator helping me. We have to find Duncan and Ilima again, I need a real crew, we have to find a hospital --”

“That goes without saying. The network has already approved those overages.”

“And I don’t want any editing credit or directing credit of any kind. I just want the sound mixer credit,” Paul says.

“Are you sure about that?”

“Completely. I don’t want Dwight to come after me with a gun.”

“That’s a bit of an exaggeration, but okay.”

“And we have to shoot this by Friday. I’m going on vacation on Sunday.”

“That’s a little tight. But if you find the kids in time, no problem.”

“And I want five thousand dollars in cash, up front.”

Now it’s Joel’s turn to pause. Paul hangs on the line, listening to him slowly exhale. He waits, wondering if he asked for too much.

“Three thousand. Cash makes it tough.”

“Thirty-five hundred then. And fifteen hundred in a check after it airs.”


“I better get busy. The production coordinator can call me this afternoon,” Paul says, and hangs up. $3500 will pay off his car, lower his Visa bill, and get his film out of the lab, and he’ll come home to another $1500 check, which he can give to Maggie for future rent. That’s more of a future he ever had in his 20s. Life is getting better.

He looks at his watch. It’s eleven a.m. on Monday. The last possible day they can shoot this is Friday, in case something goes wrong, which would push the shoot into Saturday. That gives him three days to somehow find the kids. Duncan will be the hardest.

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