By: Oberst Von Berauscht & Henry J. Fromage
I checked my Chanel© one more time before sighing and bending over to roll up my yoga mat. Ever since the gated community mandated injections, I no longer sweat, so changing and reapplying makeup only took a few minutes. I dawdled as much as possible, pausing to check myself out again in the full length mirror (that’s a permanent feature of my office). The gold leaf-edged nametag gleamed slightly in the natural light streaming from my large picture window, accentuating the engraved lettering:
Kymbyrly Greenleaf. Damn straight.
When I entered the conference room, I saw that the test-screening subjects had already found the complementary food and beverage table. They must have sprinted from the screening room, although none of them looked like they were capable of it. I put on my best hundred watt smile, then tried to squeeze out a bit more as they looked up. Let’s call it a hundred and three.
“So, did you enjoy Battleship?” I asked.
The couple in the middle, the Hochsteins, I believe, were already chewing impressive mouthfuls of the catered sushi from Fuji & Filho over on Waverly Drive. They didn’t look like they particularly enjoyed it, but it didn’t stop them from having the next mouthful preloaded. They were using their chopsticks like kebab spears. I told my assistant to make sure there were forks.
The two representatives of the youth demographic, Brooke and G-Flow (that’s what he put down for a name anyway), were staring across the table at each other in silent enmity with obvious undertones of sexual tension. Better make sure not to let them go to the bathroom at the same time.
It was their opposite demographic, Mrs. Watson, who bothered to answer me. “I don’t know, honeybunch. I don’t remember no aliens in that board game, and it was awful loud.”
I explained to them, “Our goal was to take an original approach to a beloved property in order to deliver the most entertainment to as many people as possible.” I had practiced that same sentence a couple times in the mirror beforehand and silently patted myself on the back for how believable it sounded in crunch time.
I handed out questionnaire sheets then made myself a small plate of sushi for show. I wouldn’t be able to eat solid food until my cleanse was over the next week. I paused for a second. What was that smell? I surreptitiously bent closer to the craft table and took another whiff. Everything smelled faintly of McDonalds. How? There hasn’t been a drive-through this side of Ventura since ‘97. When I looked up, both of the Hochsteins were staring at me with identically closely-spaced eyes. They made no movement until the man’s cheek moved once in a chewing motion, like a cow with its cud.
“Okay, everybody done?” I asked.
I noticed G-Flow had drawn a large dick across his opinion survey. “I could make a way better board-game movie,” he stated with the conviction of Tony Montana (but with an accent more culturally-debasing than Charlie Chan or Ken Jeong).
Silently, I reviewed the surveys, reflecting on the career mistakes which surely led me to this moment. Ignoring the icy glare of wanna-be hoods, community-college drop outs, and the Joad family from bumble-fuck, I took note of their recommendations. All of which, as it turns out, were for other movies…
Focus groups are dangerous like this. If they get off topic, you’re in danger of losing them completely. “How do you feel this movie could have been better?” I parried, only to get cut off by the male Hochstein, Russell, I think.
“Let the Chinese boy tell his idea. Hollywood could use more of those.”
G-Flow’s unthreatening Asian features contrasted sharply with the dragon neck tattoo that emerged from his Blake Griffin jersey; I think Russ’s ethnic stab in the dark might have been correct. G-Flow slouched even further in his chair, then spoke up. “Yo, so you have a group of people who all wake up on the top floor of a high rise. They got no idea how they got up there, and they’re all confused and shit, until a tape starts playing. It tells them the building is going to be demolished in 80 minutes. All of the staircases and elevators have already been shut down or blocked up. The movie’s in real time, and the whole time this crazy bastard is setting traps for them and yelling “JENGAaaaa” over the intercom. That’d be some scary shit.”
When he was done, I looked at him with a little more respect. It was derivative, sure, maybe even borderline copyright infringing, but this is Hollywood. Relativity would probably buy it immediately on spec. I looked at him a little more closely. The dragon tattoo looked it was peeling away slightly, and his watch had that particular “Daddy is a medical doctor” appearance. With a little more maturity and some string-pulling in film school, he might have a future in this business.
It’s worked for us before.
The female Hochstein continued before I could try and steer the conversation back to Battleship. “I’ve got a movie idea that I tried to yell at Drew Carey on The Price is Right yesterday. The security guards asked me to leave, but I’m pretty sure Drew smiled at me.”
“It’s called Twister. It’s a romantic comedy starring Julia Roberts or Sandra Bullock with a hint of magic. A gypsy curses her Twister mat at a party so that whenever two people intertwine on it, they fall in love; but when three or more people enter the game… it really gets crazy! I already approached Gary Marshall to direct, and he told me that he’d think about it if I agreed to stop calling him at home… or at all. To be honest, I’m not one hundred percent optimistic.”
That was bad. “Let’s try to get back on track, please,” I requested, but Russell had to throw in his two cents, which at this point in his life had a value closer to two rupees.
“You know who I like, that Eddie Murphy fellah. Man, is he funny. That Million, Hundred Words, whatever, movie sure was funny, even though he didn’t dress up like a fatty. It gave me a movie idea, too.”
“Eddie Murphy, wearing a fat suit, is cursed by a Swami. He can no longer tell people specifically what he wants; instead, he has to hint around it with related words or phrases. If he tells someone exactly what he wants, he dies.”
I tried to not look Russell in the face as he finished in the off-chance that stupidity is contagious. If it was, he appeared to have a particularly virulent strain of it. Instead, I focused on his leg, which was poorly swathed in a pair of Billabong swimming trunks. Somewhere in the hairs on the back of my neck, I could feel the specter of diabetes eyeing it hungrily. I imagined that diabetes personified would look like Slimer from Ghostbusters.
“That Eddie Murphy sure seems like a nice, wholesome young man,” Mrs. Watson interjected. “I sure do like that idea, honeybunch, and I’ve got one of my own. One of those crime stories I like to watch on Friday nights. It’s called Pictionary, and it’ll have that woman from Bones in it.
A police profiler has a near-death experience and dreams up crimes that will happen in the future, but she only gets bits and pieces of each one. She draws them in photorealistic detail in the morning and she has to connect up what they all mean before they happen.”
I had to do something fast to quell this uprising and get back on topic. A sacrifice would have to be made. “Mrs. Watson, that sounds like an excellent idea for a TV pilot. Let me give you the address for CBS Studios, and you can drop by there and tell them your idea. I’ll send it to you right now.”
She looked at the iPhone in my hand suspiciously. “I don’t have none of that email nonsense, honeybunches of oats. You’re going to need to write it out for me.” We had done away with paper entirely at the studio two years ago, and I didn’t even have a pen on me.
“Here ya go,” Russell kindly offered, proffering a Sharpie and a curiously pristine Big Mac wrapper to write on. I had already jotted down the directions and shown Mrs. Watson out the door before I realized what was wrong with that picture. Our security guards were very zealous in enforcing the “No outside food or drink” rule. With food allergies and all of the young interns from the hand sanitizer generation, you could never be too careful. The last thing we needed is the inevitable workplace endangerment lawsuit if one of them caught the sniffles.
Sensing the taint of McDonalds on Mrs. Watson, Kato, the larger of the security guards, garroted her with the help of one of his lieutenants. They shuffled the body into a corner office. My corner office.
“Sigh… not again.”
When I got back to the room, Brooke was facing off against the others in a spirited debate. “You all are what is wrong with the movies today! All you want is action movies and romantic comedies! We watched Citizen Kane and Annie Hall in my Film 101 class, and it opened my eyes! Nobody makes films like that anymore!”
I wondered if she was going to end every sentence she spoke with a verbal exclamation point as I interjected. “Ladies and gentleman, could we please get back on topic? I would like to talk about your test screening review sheets right now, if we could.”
“But they all got to say their ideas!” Brooke cut me off, somehow managing to combine pouting and shouting. “What Hollywood needs is more originality! I bet I could even write an original board game movie if somebody gave me the money!”
“Yo, prove it, beatch,” G-Flow eloquently replied.
“I want to make an indie flick about a coroner who collects the weird objects she finds inside bodies during an autopsy. Starring Ellen Page, natch. And there is a darkly comedic scene where she talks about the one time she started an autopsy on someone who wasn’t dead, waking up on the operating table as she cut his carotid artery… unintentionally murdering him in the process!”
Not everyone has a glowing nose to prevent such things from occurring.
The look of satisfaction on Brooke’s face contrasted beautifully with the Hochsteins’ wide-eyed look of abject terror. However, she’d hardly finished marinating in her own smug juices when G-Flow threw her on the grill. “I can be creative and informative, yo, and still have a shitload of tits and blood.”