CHAPTER 6 -- SEWING UP THE DEAL
Paul lies face down on an examining table while the nurse shaves his scalp around the wound. She stops to dab his oozing skull with fresh gauze then tosses it in a metal bowl already half full of red cotton. “You should have treated this earlier,” she scolds. “The wound will be much harder to sew up now.”
It turns out that two doctors have offices on the same floor as the ABS Producers Lab -- one is a plastic surgeon named Dr. Chapman and the other is Dr. Rosenfeld, a urologist who specializes in penis enlargements. Joel knows them both. The urologist had ten patients waiting, but the plastic surgeon was done for the day and agreed to do a quick stitch job on Paul for no charge, once Joel asked. Joel must know him well.
The nurse snips more hair then goes back to shaving. “You’re going to have a shaved patch for a while. It’ll grow in funny.”
“How many stitches?”
“Three, maybe four. That’s the trouble with scalp wounds, they’re not that serious but they just keep bleeding...there, I’m done. The doctor will be right in.”
The nurse leaves, the sound of her feet fading away. The room is quiet even with the door open. Life is pleasant on the 34th floor. He turns his head and sees a phone on the wall, a foot away from him. He reaches up, dials 9 and then Maggie’s number and waits for the machine to beep.
“Hey, it’s me. I’m getting sewn up now and I’ll be home soon. I can explain everything and if anything is ruined I’ll replace it.”
He hangs up, glad that he called. She will walk in any minute and find the bloody sheets floating in water in the kitchen sink and want to kill him.
Dr. Chapman, Joel and Dwight walk in, all laughing about some private joke. Paul never even sees the doctor -- he just grabs Paul’s head and turns him face down.
“The anesthetic will hurt at first, then go numb. You’ll feel it twice.”
He holds Paul down by the neck and pokes the needle right into the cut, which stings worse than when he fell in the first place. But then the pain fades away for the first time in eighteen hours.
“How are you feeling?” Joel asks.
“Mostly embarrassed. Thank you.” From the silence, Paul assumes they are all trading glances. He is vaguely aware of the doctor lacing up his skin like a football.
“Paul, we should talk about the project,” Joel says. “We need someone right away.”
Paul hears a watch clasp clicking and a rubber sole squeaking on linoleum. Both men’s tics are back. “I’m listening. I’m a captive audience.”
“Jedidiah Kincaid himself, the president of the network, picked six producers to run the ABS Producers Lab and told us to ‘change television.’ I am one of those producers. I’ve always deeply respected Dwight’s work and I wanted to be the one to pull him out of obscurity and groom him for a huge commercial audience. So, I called him up. And the idea we developed together is nothing short of stunning. Right Dwight?”
Dwight clears his throat. Paul can tell that he didn’t like Joel’s little speech.
“My work is based on a simple idea -- if you watch someone long enough, something interesting will happen,” Dwight says, “and if you have enough interesting moments, you have a film. Or in this case, a television network special, shot on video...”
Joel interrupts. “What blows me away about Dwight’s work is that he finds a subculture: kids on spring break, old folks in a retirement home, losers at the race track -- people about whom we have preconceived notions. Then he shows the audience that they’re people just like us, and he blasts all those notions right out of the water. I knew that simple idea would work for network television, if we find the right subculture...”
Dwight interrupts him right back. “I picked homeless youth.”
“Homeless youth?” Paul asks.
The doctor finishes his stitching. “Done.”
“Hank, thank you so much, especially on such short notice,” Joel says.
“Hey, I love just listening to you guys. What you do is nuts. Use the room as long as you like.” The doctor chuckles and leaves before Paul can thank him. Paul sits up. Joel and Dwight sit in identical chairs six feet apart from one another, staring right at him. Paul touches the stitches and felt them sticking up like barbed wire. Dwight kept talking.
“We found a tribe of homeless kids past downtown on the other side of the L.A.
River, living in an abandoned brewery. We’ve been following them twenty-four hours a day for six weeks now.”
“How old are they?” Paul asks.
“All over eighteen,” interrupts Joel, “so they can all sign their own permission releases. We had to go through a lot of back alleys and weed through some dull losers to find the right four kids. Poverty makes most people boring. But the ones we found are great. Completely watchable. On tape, they pop right out at you...”
Dwight finally explodes. “This culture abandons its youth! It ignores the disenfranchised and criminalizes those forced to live on the fringe!” Dwight shouts at Paul. “Poverty is relentless, grinding away at the spirit, crushing people, who if given the chance, could be brilliant and alive! It’s reprehensible. I want all the couch potatoes in this fucking country to see that!”
Joel shakes his head and laughs. “Sure...but is it entertaining?”
Paul feels odd; both men are looking at him but are talking to one another.
“My goal isn’t to entertain. My goal is to confront -- to create something that when you see it you can’t look away. That’s entertainment, too.”
Dwight stares at Paul with steel eyes. His leg is a vibrating blur.
“But we’ve got a late prime time slot so we need a little sex and violence to spice up the ‘grinding poverty,’” Joel explains to Paul. “The kids have been doing some boffing, but not enough. But I have my hopes.”
“They’re surviving! They’re not interested in boffing!” Dwight shouts at Paul.
“Everybody’s interesting in boffing!” Joel shouts at Paul.
Paul is the tip of a very fragile triangle. He touches his new scar.
“What do you need from me?”
“We need someone who can do audio in the field with our cameraman,” Joel says.
“If we’re following these kids, how do you direct?” Paul asks.
“I rigged a microwave transmitter to the camera that sends a video signal to monitors in a truck parked outside, or to a small portable TV monitor I carry. The cameraman wears a headset so I can direct his shots via walkie-talkie, but you’ll never hear me,” says Dwight. “You’ll be too busy getting the audio with your boom and the radio microphones we strap to the kids. You just take visual cues from the cameraman.”
Joel leans forward. “Enough technical chit-chat. Do you want to do it?”
“How many hours a day of shooting is it?”
“This was an issue for our last audio guy.” Joel warns. “We need someone who’s willing to work.”
“What does that mean? Twelve hours a day?” Paul aims high.
Both Dwight and Joel shift but neither say anything.
“Time and a half after twelve hours? Is that it? That’s standard on low budget features.”
Dwight shakes his head. The edges of his mouth turn down in disappointment.
“What? What did I say?”
“It’s not you. It’s just that my work is my passion, so I never end up thinking about it in terms of hours I must work.”
“I’m just asking what the hours are, how many weeks the job lasts, and how much you pay. That’s not a weird thing to ask when you’re taking a job,” Paul explains.
Paul stands his ground. Joel sighs. The logic of this request finally breaks him.
“The job is for another six weeks. We pay a thousand dollars a week. But the hours change...you could work five hours a day, or twelve. Or eighteen. Even twenty. And we shoot six days a week.”
Paul ponders these two men, crammed together with him in a doctor’s tiny examining room, one madly twisting his wristwatch, the other with a trembling leg, their blank faces barely concealing how much they hate one another. It’s another movie moment, a surreal one that he files away in his mental filing cabinet under “bizarre.”
He has no choice; he must take the job. Paul wonders if he can spend six weeks with them -- or anybody -- 24 hours a day, working in spaces smaller than this one. He just hopes Dwight and his cameraman eat healthy diets -- soon enough he’d be with them so often he’d be able to ID them from their body odor and the smell of their farts.
“It sounds like a lot of work for the money.”
“True, but you won’t have time to spend a lot either,” Joel says. “Plus, we’ll rent your audio rig from you, so you’ll make some more money that way.”
You mean Andy will make more money, Paul thinks. Andy has the best deal -- he’ll be making money in his sleep while Paul works. Paul does some quick calculating. He’d make enough to pay off some credit card debt, some of the car, and pay Maggie for back rent and groceries maybe…
“It sounds like a great project. I’d love it if you’d hire me,” Paul says, and all the men smile with relief and they all shake hands.
But Paul has questions -- like what happened to the other audio guy? It’s never a good sign when you’re replacing someone on a troubled project. An even worse sign is they’re hiring him out of desperation. And is there a decent bathroom in this abandoned brewery across the river? And who are these homeless kids?
“We’ll pull you some tapes and send them over later,” Dwight says.
“Scott has your paperwork in the office,” Joel says.
“When do I start?”
“Tomorrow night.” Dwight says.