Note to reader: If you’re looking for a lesson this week, go elsewhere. Because all you’ll discover herein is, at best, amusement and a taste of pie in some other guy’s puss.
It’s that time of year again. Either you pranked or were pranked. By the time this has been posted, I’m sure I’ll have been a part of one or the other. Most likely victimized by one of my kids. But it’s all in good fun, yes?
Speaking of fun, on an aforementioned production rewrite, I’d utterly forgotten the start of the month was upon me. Yet the set was already buzzing about the prank spree that had been pulled by the picture’s production coordinator, a puckish fellow I’ll refer to as Hank. By all accounts, Hank had shown up at the production office at zero dark thirty in order to have time to create his April Fool’s masterpiece. We’re talking the gamut of juvenile tomfoolery. From staplers and coffee mugs glued to desks to condiments in the fridge switched out with all kinds of disgusting and inedible liquids. Everyone’s mail was in someone else’s box, files were shuffled out of order, office light bulbs unscrewed, and tampons in the women’s bathroom replaced with Lord knows what. Not a soul in the production office escaped him. It was, in Hank’s perspective, an April Fool’s massacre.
And to nearly everyone’s expense and aggravation, Hank had himself one helluva giggle.
Maybe it was that Hank couldn’t stop bragging about his grand slam of a joke that led me to conclude that he might deserve some pranking himself. A plot began to form. It would be all about the execution.
It began with a meeting we’d had with the most temperamental of our film’s movie stars. My ploy would be to take advantage of the star’s rep and penchant for wanting spot changes in the script which required the daily presence of a writer on the set. There was this practiced tap dance that would take place. One of the producers and myself would be summoned to the star’s trailer during lunch to discuss upcoming scenes. We’d talk things through, boiling things down to such minutiae that the star would be sated with a few tiny dialogue adjustments. I’d execute said changes in a matter of minutes and deliver a thumb drive with the digital revisions to Hank. As production coordinator, it was his job to enter the official changes into the shooting script and deliver a new set of colored pages to the relevant departments.
After lunch break on that April 1st I schemed with the line producer, a game fellow I’ll call Flip, to invent a bit of conflict between us. As we drew closer to the soundstage, our conversation grew louder and more animated. The argument that ensued soon morphed into a yelling match between us. When it became clear that we were drawing eyeballs from the crew, I pushed Flip onto an empty set. There, out of sight but definitely not out of earshot, we worked our argument into a crescendo of loud yet phony accusations.
“YOU MOTHERFUCKING COWARD!” I screamed. “YOU’RE NOTHIN’ BUT A GODDAMN STUDIO SHILL! WHAT A PUSSY!”
“STUDIO SHILL?” he countered. “RATHER BE THAT THAN A BROWN-NOSING STAR FUCKER WHICH IS EXACTLY WHAT YOU’RE TURNING INTO! SO GO FUCK YOURSELF!”
“BLOW ME!” I barked.
“YOU’RE ON YOUR OWN!” Flip cursed. “THAT’S IT. I WANT NO PART OF THIS BULLSHIT.”
With that, Flip stormed off the set and away from the soundstage. No matter who he passed or what they asked, he refused to talk, hauling ass all the way to the production building where he slammed the door to his office and demanded not to be disturbed.
In the meantime, with all eyeballs following me, I returned to my little corner of the set, fired up my laptop, and began executing changes to the script. I informed an eager production assistant to please warn Hank that I’d be sending along a flash drive with the changes as soon as I was able.
Nobody talked to me. It was as if an invisible force field had been dropped over my chair, requiring every last crew member to keep a minimum distance of twenty feet. Eventually, a second assistant director braved the unwritten restraining order and spoke to me.
“What’s going on?” he quietly asked.
“What do you mean ‘what’s going on?’” I repeated. “We had our little lunch tête-à-tête with you-know-who and now I’m doing what I get paid for.”
“Making more script changes?” he asked.
“I am the writer, you know,” I snapped.
“Right,” said the assistant AD before slinking away.
Soon, the director was in my ear.
“Okay. I see you over here typing for awhile so now I’m getting worried,” said the director.
“Yeah,” I said. “We should talk. But not here.”
With that, we walked across the set and stepped out a side door and into some much needed sunlight. This is when I let him in on the game. How Hank had pranked the entire production office. And that we were just prepping a little bit of deserved payback.
“Don’t worry,” I told him. “Just keep shooting. Act like you don’t wanna know what the fight was about.”
“Gotcha,” said the director with an amused grin. Feigning annoyed indifference wasn’t difficult for him. It was mid-week and he was already a half-day behind schedule.
As I returned to my laptop, I discovered a new production assistant was waiting for me to hand her the flash drive with the script changes.
“Way too early,” I said. “Tell Hank it’s gonna be awhile before I’m finished.”
As the production assistant hustled back to the office, I noticed a text from producer, Flip.
Hank suspicious he’s being punked. Sending out PAs to see if our fight was for real.
Sure enough, as I scanned the set, I saw some more young production assistants from the office fanning out, chatting up various crew and every so often, firing a glance my way. All they received in return were either shrugs or confirmations of our very public screaming match.
The day waned. The movie star was wrapped for the day and limo’d back to Malibu or the Hollywood Hills or wherever movie stars live. Meanwhile, the production trudged ahead whilst I continued to type and Hank was unwittingly forced to wait for the changes.
And here’s what the changes were:
Both Flip and I let it leak that the movie star was in a particularly foul mood and had demanded wholesale changes to the screenplay. From the ridiculous to the substantive. Dialogue. Action. New scenes. And maybe even new locations. And with the shoot only halfway in the can, that could mean a mess of work for everybody on the picture.
But before it would become work for everybody on the picture, not to mention a three-alarm fire at the studio, it would first become work for – you guessed it – Hank the Prankster. So beginning where Hank would have to begin, I started at page one, carefully making the most molecular-sized changes to every scene we had yet to put on film. I would change a Zippo lighter to a disposable. A cowboy hat to a straw hat. Infinitesimal on paper. But requiring new pages to inform the prop team and costumers. Silly changes that added up. Ten. Twenty. Fifty.
With each page, the changes began to grow like destructive weeds. Some affecting plot. Others, resurrecting old locations already struck. I began manipulating the movie star’s dialogue to reflect an ego out of control. Complete with lousy grammar and phrases so cringe-worthy that it would make the most tone-deaf production coordinator quiver.
All along, I imagined Hank reading the horrible revisions as he’d have to retype it into the official shooting script. Gasping with every new page. Sweating bullets as he made lists of who would need pages that very night, who at the studio might need to be informed first, and wondering if the production might even be required to shut down.
As the new draft came to a close, I invented the most preposterous climactic scene complete with a movie star speech that ran a full page and, in the final paragraph, mentioned Hank the production coordinator by name and that if he’d actually gotten that far in retyping the script he’d been thoroughly and properly pranked.
How I kept a straight face I’ll never know. But after the sun had dropped and we were about an hour from shutting down for the day, I unplugged the flash drive from my MacBook and sent a PA running with it back to the production office. Shortly after, Flip reappeared and together we informed the rest of the crew of our deviousness. Slowly and quietly, as we knew Hank was settling in to hammer the litany of faux changes into the shooting script, we let some in the production office in on our game. After which they gave us live updates via text and even over the radio as Hank delved further into the drudgery, cursing every ridiculous revision I’d invented, and later even reading aloud to who’d ever listen how bad the movie they were working on had just become. Time to type resumes, everybody. The good ship Blockbuster was going down.
After about an hour or so of ranting and a bit of studio overtime, Hank reached the end of the script, had himself a begrudging laugh at the mention of his name, then phoned me and pretended that he hadn’t been fooled in the least. That dog, of course, didn’t hunt considering all the firsthand witnesses we had. Hank was had. And it was good.
For a few days at least I was a hero to the production staff. And, when this time of year comes around, it proves to be a rather amusing memory of what was in essence just a harmless workplace prank.
Like I said, peeps. No lesson. No moral. Nothing to go to school on. Just a fond bit of memory.
Until next year…