I didn’t know if this prompt would be a good one; I feared…sameness. Some of these stories didn’t quite get off the ground, while others soared by taking unlikely paths to fulfill the prompt.
The writers were tasked to write a story about art colliding with commerce.
“I don’t care if it costs the entire budget! This film needs a jazz soundtrack, and if you’re not going to go with Marcel d’Arnaud, you may as well go get… well…” Marcus stammered.
“Greatest Grocery Store Hits, Volume 5?” Reggie offered tiredly.
“I know you’re mocking me, Reginald, but yes. If you’re not going to pay Marcel d’Arnaud to soundtrack this film, you may as well play easy listening muzak over it. We can have Kenny G ooze his filth all over the romance scenes.”
Marcus barked on for some time. Reggie made some concessions, just like always. There would be no “public domain bullshit”, no “Zimmer Zombies” (as if they could afford one). What there would be, and in high quantities, was jazz – Original jazz, Marcus was quick to point out. It would feature jazz made “by someone who knows the goddamned difference between a emotional scene and a triumphant one”.
It was all ridiculous, of course. The movie’s shoestring budget had roughly $13 left over for a soundtrack. Reggie had, after a particularly fruitless day of discussion, suggested “going the Zach Braff route” to Marcus, who had shot him the most withering of glares. He had probably deserved that. This thing was almost certain to lose money, anyway. No reason to pour more capital into it.
This had been going on for over a week now, and Reggie needed the matter settled. He sighed and reached for the phone.
A couple of days later, Marcus slinked back into Reggie’s office, artful scowl firmly cemented in place.
“Did you call him?” he asked, patronizingly.
“And what did Mssr. d’Arnaud say?”
“He said, and I quote,” replied Reggie, pulling a notepad from his drawer, “I would not consider debasing myself with your movie. I will not watch your silly little ninja robot assassin trifle. What made you think that I would do this thing?”
Reggie lowered the notepad and gave Marcus a wry smile.
“On the other hand,” he continued, “my brother’s kid says that she could make us some mean….Synthwave, I think she called it?”
Marcus mumbled something resembling acquiescence and left the office without another word. Reggie sighed, slowly losing his smile to a grimace. He dialed his assistant.
“Could you call up Ms. Gladstone for me?” he sighed.
Time to deal with the casting director.
K: This was remarkably legitimate, considering the fact that none of you work in the business – that I know of (though some have ties). The conversation was real enough, but the stakes never raised as high as I would have liked. The movie wasn’t expected to make money anyway, so what was I cheering for? It was well-written, but it felt like the exposition for a story that never quite started. BRONZE
MN – This isn’t bad, but other than their names and filling the roles given in the prompt, the two characters don’t really stand out from each other. The struggle between them could be more palatable if we got into their uniqueness. I chuckled a few times, and I’d love to know even more about this film and its particular brand of whatever the heck it is.
Byrne hit the stop button on the transport and turned his head. Kennedy leaned back against the wall, drawing deeply from a cigarette.
“What are you staring at?” Kennedy said. “Do another one.”
Byrne shrugged his shoulders and leaned over the board, releasing the mute on the monitor channel.
“Hey, so that sounded great. But we need to do another one.”
O’Shea turned his head up, squinting. He looked straight through the control-room glass.
“What the fuck? What was wrong with that?”
Byrne shook his head, keeping his finger pressed down.
“Yeah, uh, nothing. Nothing wrong with it. We just need another take.”
O’Shea reached down and grabbed a Miller High Life that was sitting next to his stool. He drained the bottle and then stood. Pulling his arm back, he carefully aimed and whipped the bottle across the room.
“Fuck you,” O’Shea said, “And fuck the label.”
O’Shea walked out of the studio.
“Well, there you go” Byrne said, pulling a pack of cigarettes from his shirt pocket. “I’m just. . . I’m going to take a break, okay?”
Kennedy nodded. Byrne slapped the pack of cigarettes against his hand and walked out.
Kennedy walked into the studio and stood next to the guitar. It was a Martin Dreadnought, an absolute one-of-a-kind. He sat down on the stool and carefully set the guitar across his legs.
“Fuckin’ A. . .’ Kennedy whispered to himself, as his ran his fingers across the strings and started to sing:
Oh, what did you see, my blue-eyed son
And what did you see, my darling young one
K: That was brief. With the space you were given, I figured we’d get more; this conflict is solved by one person walking away, which isn’t the strongest way to solve a conflict in writing. That said, the prose is pretty good.
MN – This is pretty cool. I like seeing the twist where the artist is the businessman pushing for something. I was thinking at first his motivation might be pushing the artist to get pissed off so that there is news about the record, or something like that, but this much quieter, personal twist certainly resonated. Again, I find myself wanting more to make the characters distinct from one another other than names. BRONZE
The artist exhaled a billow of cigarette smoke from his wrought iron chair and looked towards the ground. He wiped cigarette ash off his khakis.
“I don’t trust you.”
The man opposite set down his cup of coffee on the glass table and rubbed his forefinger and thumb together. He sat tall in his chair.
“But you must. We’re partners in this, you and I.”
“I do’n’t even know your name.”
“Ah, the silver-haired man countered, “and this is the way it must be.”
The artist rolled his eyes and continued, “This is an insult to the form. It isn’t art.”
“What is art?” the silver-haired man sighed, “Art is something someone sees and likes very much and says, ‘I want that one.’ and ‘How much?’ Then, one gives the artist or the owner of the artwork however much money he or she requires for the art, and then the art is theirs. Art is commerce, just like any other.”
Both were silent.
“Let me ask you,” the silver-haired man chimed in with a dismissive wave, “when did you begin thinking of yourself as an artist. A member of the elite ranks. The Artist,” he swished the air with his finger, “with a capital ‘A’?”
“When I could quit my other job to do this for a living,” the artist sighed.
“Yes!” the silver-haired man smiled, “it is the money that set you free! Art is business, and business art. In both, the men who do it best, are best compensated.”
“It’s not the money,” the artist bit back, “you know it’s not the money.”
“Yes yes, the morality of it. The morality of it did not stop you the first time.”
“That was different,” the artist hissed, clenching his fist, “you know it was different.”
“Perhaps it was, but my partners and I, we know you. We know you are a man of morals and pride. We know you’re also a man of weakness, just like many other men. This weakness led you to us before, to our mutual benefit. Now that initial weakness has led us to you for another mutually beneficial opportunity.”
The artist rose from the table and paced the restaurant’s patio. He stopped for a moment where two sides of the brick rectangle met before turning back and sitting down.
“I don’t trust you.”
“For what reason would we have ill intentions in mind?” the silver-haired man smiled, “We receive nothing from your failure.”
The artist stared at the silver-haired man, who studied him curiously in return. Finally, the artist whispered:
“How would we do it?”
“It has already been taken care of,” the silver-haired man folded his hands and leaned into the table, “we’ve recently acquired a period-specific set of oil paints from a shipwreck in Vanern. The cold freshwater preserved the metal tubes perfectly. All the colors are there. We have also found, cleaned and restored a canvas of the proper size. Our historian friends have confirmed, too, several previously-apocryphal stories of another very similar painting given to a friendly steward in Saint-Remy during his time there. We simply need your brush strokes.”
“And after this—after this you’ll leave me alone?”
“Of course I can make no such promises, my friend,” the man smiled, “after all, this is simply business.”
K: Now this, THIS I dig. The silver-haired man is the most gripping of antagonists: he’s smart, shrewd and absolutely believes himself to be correct. I suppose he could be Satan? Even if there’s nothing THAT sinister here, I think you’ve created a world where we naturally want to cheer for the artist, but the suit has a pretty convincing argument that we almost wish we could ignore. SILVER
MN – Normally I’d be irritated as all get out by the long, vague conversation the two of them are having. But that’s the point of this story, and it really sets out the unique characters (I’m all about this tonight, apparently). The voices are so consistent from each other, and to have the entire thing be a criminal enterprise of such clever proportions is very very fun. I want to follow this whole story, including meeting the inspector who can’t quite catch up in time. See? You made quite a world here, and I can totally picture it. GOLD
To: Krazy Deeragned
From: Deckard Jones
Subject: Feedback on final mix
We just got a copy of the final mix of the new record over at the label, and we have some concerns. We here are fully on board with you guys trying to explore new avenues, but we’re pretty sure the parents of your fan base are not going to be as on board with some of the new material.
– The are mastered way too low. I know you wanted to self-produce this album, but we can call in some favors with Pharrell in exchange for an Executive Producer credit.
– “We May Be Eighteen Now (But We Still Like Them Young)” is not an ideal first single from the record. I think we’ll have to go with “Bought Your Daughter Molly.”
– Finally, the rap cover of “Addicted to Vaginal Skin” by Cannibal Corpse is going to have to go.
Remember, this is the last record on your deal. I know it was signed when you were just 15, when you were still 4U. Everyone on the internet knows that Krazy Deeranged is what you’re going by now, but this is so drastically different I’m not sure we can even go in a Chris Gaines direction. Let’s chat.
To: Deckard Jones, Britt Krazy
From: Nikk Krazy
Subject: RE: Feedback on final mix
oh i see u r all lying again. u said we could do whatever we want. u think ur the organ grinder and we r going 2 just dance 4 u, but we are grown up now. also we talked 2 chris barnes and he was on board with out vaginal cover, so u r just going to have to deal with it.
Sent from my iPad.
To: Nikk Krazy, Britt Krazy
From: Deckard Jones
Subject: RE: RE: Feedback on final mix
Guys, look. You have made the label a lot of money, so we have some leeway here. But it’s pretty hard for us to try to sell you going from our answer to One Direction, into this… new direction. A&R is thinking we should maybe get the old 4U songwriters together, and bang out half a dozen 4U tracks. We can mix it in with some of the more… mature stuff, to ease the public into this. Also, we saw the rights clearance come through for “Vaginal.” It’s just pretty damn difficult for us to get distribution into the box stores with a title like that. Let’s get this sorted out and make some more money together, fellows.
To: Deckard Jones, Nikk Krazy
From: Britt Krazy
Subject: RE: RE: RE: Feedback on final mix
ThEN MAKE IT A HIDDEN TRAC: DECK THIS IS EASY
sorry lol im rollin
Sent from my iPhone.
To: Jonas Ivory
From: Deckard Jones
Subject: FW: RE: RE: RE: Feedback on final mix
Really struggling with the 4U guys. They’ve already spent their recording budget on this Krazy Deeranged album, but what they sent us is borderline unlistenable, and impossible to market. I can’t get through to them. Apparently that first semester at Dartmouth has changed them quite a bit… Can you talk some sense into them for me, please? Let’s just get this record out, so we can end this contract.
To: Deckard Jones
From: Jonas Ivory
Subject: RE: FW: RE: RE: RE: Feedback on final mix
Hi Deckard dictating to my phone while I drive so apologize for any hypos. Not sure I see the issue here. Your label has been making money on M&Ms career. Do we need to include a song about murdering an ex on here? That new Rihanna video was super popular. Deranged is down to do that. We’ll get a mix to you tomorrow. Album should be ready then?
From: Deckard Jones
To: Jonas Ivory
Subject: RE: RE: FW: RE: RE: RE: Feedback on final mix
Got that new song you guys sent over. The A&R guys went nuts over “You Broke My Heart (So I Cut Yours Out).” We think if we can get Pharrell in in the next week we can have this album out by Thanksgiving. Budget allocation for the video for “Molly” is $400,000. Oh, and tell the guys “Vaginal” is a bonus hidden track. We’ll be leaking that one to the music blogs tonight, to try to see if we can expand our potential audience. Let’s grab a brew together before the shoot to figure out that next contract.
K: I adore this. When it opened, I was near certain it was going to be a tired gimmicky piece that quickly went nowhere, but with the cast of characters expanding and the story getting bigger and weirder as it went along, rather than peaking early and running in place, I got the chuckles and they didn’t end until the story was over. Telling a story via email is a ballsy conceit, but this really, really worked for you. GOLD
MN – This develops in a pretty flawless way in the exchange, giving us all the details. The problem for me comes in the fact that the development between “4U” and “Deeranged” really requires a difficult suspension of disbelief. But as a critique of money-making executives pushing filth on the world, this works pretty well, and you maybe could have punched up Ivory’s response a bit. I appreciate the different approach too, and you managed to develop some real character with Deckard despite the format limitations. SILVER
“Jimmy, baby, listen—”
”Jamathy,” Jimmy corrected, “It’s Jamathy now.”
“Jaaaaamatheeee, then,” Louie said while heavily accentuating the name and waving his hands dramatically in the air. “Whatever it is, you’re cold, baby! I can’t get your pieces up on any walls. Well, not unless I put up myself.” Louie scrunched up his brow and vigorously scratched his chin for a moment, eyes grazed over in thought. Then, he simply shrugged, and after glancing around for a few moments to seemingly re-orientate himself with his surroundings, and moved on.
“The last offer we had was from the Met,” Louie continues.
“In New York?” Jimmy asked hopefully.
“Newark. But they wouldn’t even take your stuff once they heard about your recent, uh, works.”
“Which series?” Jimmy asked staring over the top of surprisingly loud reading glasses while shuffling around the loft’s kitchen. “’The Ziti Project’?”
“Uhh, which one was that?” Louie asked.
“Drawing eyes on close-up pictures of zits.”
Louie shook his head, wincing at the reminder. “No, no, the car painting thing.”
“Oh yes, ‘Autopia’! Well, there are so many run down, rusty cars running around Downtown. You know me, darling, I just like to make the ordinary fabulous!” Jimmy exclaimed while shaving black truffles over his beef flavored ramen noodles.
“Not everyone appreciates waking up to a giant vagina painted across their hood.”
“Well, I was inspired by the name of the car! Not my fault that they named their car something so gross.”
Louie pinched the bridge of his nose. “It’s not… jeez, it was a Volvo.”
“Oh, whatever,” Jimmy called back, wiggling his fingers dismissively.
Louie continued clutching his schnoz while shaking his head. “Jimmy. Jamathy, ya gotta work with me here a little. 5 years ago you were edgy, out there on pushing the boundaries. But now, today, it’s like the entire art world has started to wonder, dear god, what did you shove up your cat’s ASS!?”
Jimmy raised an eyebrow.
Louie, who had both eyebrows raised, gestured palpably towards the south end of a meandering Siamese cat.
“Oh, that, that’s just an idea I had the other day,” Jimmy said as went to fetch the cat. He picked the feline and proceeded to dote upon it. “Yes, yes, isn’t that right my little Calliope?” Jimmy yammered on while scratching the apathetic cat.
He then unexpectedly turned the cat and shoved its rear into a suddenly horrified Louie’s face.
“See?” Jimmy asked, beaming and pointing to what looked like a wide flat rhinestone over the cat’s anus. “It’s like necklace, but for Callie’s rear! The chain connects to the pendant here and goes around the tail. That way you can’t see her, well, you know. It makes it look ever so lovely doesn’t it? I call them ‘Buttresses’”
Louie stood mute and bemused. Jimmy continued smiling hopefully.
“Oh, what do you know?”
Louie knew cat’s buttholes were gross, that much was for sure. Louie then raised an eyebrow (just the one this time) and his hand returned to rubbing his jaw. Cat’s buttholes are gross, he thought, and began turning over a pebble his head.
“You know,” Louie started, “I know a couple guys back home. This might be something here. We could whip up some test models, start gauging material costs, look into some advertising. Name’s gotta go, but…”
Jimmy shook out of this revelry between he and his bored cat, and looked up confused.
“What? Oh no no, I just affix them to little kitties I find or hand them out to nice ladies on the subway. I couldn’t charge for that.” He gave Calliope a scratch behind her ear and placed her on the ground.
Louie kind of nodded silently for a few moments (more to himself) and suddenly announced, “Hmm, okay, well, I have to go then, just one last quick thing and yyyyYYYYYAAAHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!”
Louie launched himself at the feline, lunging after its Buttress. Later that evening, he was still surprised you could be arrested for sodomizing a cat. Even if it was an accident! he had cried to his lawyer.
K: This one just stretched and stretched. In order to deliver the jokes, the artist was made to be an idiot to an unbelievable degree, as in the Volvo joke. If this was an artist that had never been taken seriously, that might be one thing, but as it was, the story just didn’t work because it felt desperate to nail punchlines, rather than to tell a story that naturally allowed the humor to come through.
MN – This was moving along quite nicely, and then… it ended. I smiled a couple times, but never quite got the big laugh I was looking for. I adore the word play though, and tightening it up so that there was more of the clever bits, closer together, might have improved the pace and overall effect. And the characters were unique too.
So, I really loved the stories out of Brendan and Zack. I don’t recall a writing season getting to this point where any of the competitors could feasibly win challenges without it being a major upset, but it seems like that’s where we are.
Because he has a slightly higher point total over the course of the season, Brendan Bonham has won Immunity. Vote for anyone but Brendan by tomorrow night at 9pm Central and hopefully I can post from work. Cheers, Survivors.