Rodney Redux had, once again, balked at starring in the follow up to his biggest hit movie. Somehow, sequels didn’t live up to the tiffany image he had of himself. After all, Rodney Redux wasn’t just a movie star. He was an artist. Was it so wrong to expect the motion pictures in which he graced the screen to contain byproduct more valuable than popcorn and torn ticket stubs?
The studio had already developed a number of scripts in order to please the persnickety actor. None of which, in his opinion, were worth his mettle. So frustrated were the moguls with the process, they fired the original producers and brought on a partner with foreign backers and deep pockets. The new plan was to up the actor’s ante with more money and a brand new screenplay. For that they’d need a writer with success in the sequel biz. So guess who got the call?
I was given a mere three days to come up with a snappy new concept for the sequel. A story that was relevant beyond the true and cynical rationale for such an endeavor. With my half-baked idea, I was instructed to show up on a Wednesday morning at ten AM at an unknown address in Van Nuys. I grabbed a coffee-to-go, tossed my notes in a shoulder bag, and headed off to my meeting.
As it turned out, the address was an airplane hangar at Van Nuys Airport. A valet took the keys to my car and directed me to the steps of a private jet. I climbed aboard and was greeted by Rodney Redux’s manager along with the owner of the aircraft, the speech-challenged foreign financier who I’ll call El Franco. Not that his language skills were an impediment. I just wasn’t quite sure English was his second or even third language. But what he lacked in vocabulary, he more than made up in hand gestures, practically karate-chopping the air in punk rock eighth-notes.
“We’re meeting on the plane?” I asked, though I already suspected something otherwise.
“The meeting’s in Aspen,” said The Manager. “Day trip. Promise to have you home by dinner.”
Okay, I said to myself, settling into my own, swiveling captain’s seat. A flirty flight attendant in a short-skirted uniform asked me if I’d like a pre-flight cocktail. Because my brain was still re-tooling the story I’d planned to tell Rodney Redux, I double-downed on my coffee and wondered aloud when we expected to get in the air.
“Since we’re flying up that way,” answered El Franco. “We’re giving ride to some of Rodney’s buddies.”
Sure enough, thirty minutes and four-more non-essential passengers later, we were underway, in the air, and leaving a traceable carbon footprint in our wake.
During the ninety-minute flight, I sat across from The Manager and El Franco while going over the pitch again and again until it was tight, to-the-point, and perfectly tailored to our movie-star audience.
We touched down just after noon, were driven in a black suburban to the actor’s winter retreat, and were greeted at the door by Rodney Redux himself. Thus began the tour of the biggest log cabin Paul Bunyon ever dreamt of. Multiple levels, decorated in the finest Native American art. And just when I was expecting Ralph Lauren to make a designer curtain call, Rodney had a big idea.
“Hey,” said the movie star. “Who wants to go for a hike?”
A chorus of “I do’s” erupted around me, led off by Rodney’s entourage and topped off by both The Manager and El Franco. I limply mouthed “whatever” and quickly wondered how my street clothes and Nike trainers would fare in the sub-freezing weather and piles of Rocky Mountain snow.
No problem, answered Rodney Redux as if reading my thoughts, thusly leading us to a fully stocked locker room full of winter coats and snow boots organized in individual cubbies by the half-size. So we stuffed ourselves into the furnished cold-weather gear and braved the elements.
Now picture this. The famous movie star leading a single file column of hangers on plus his manager, a European finance man who’s idea of an outdoor hike was thirty paces in flip-flops from his Beverly Hills backdoor to the massage table set up in his backyard cabana — and me — muttering under my breath how amusing this all was. We were like Ten Little Indians being led to a slaughter, following our fearless teenage leader-of-the-pack only because he was cooler and way better looking than the rest of us combined.
All the trekking while, Rodney Redux knew precisely what he was doing. As he regaled his lieutenants with tales of his latest snowmobile wrecks, he’d glance back to make certain the rest of the crew was still putting up with the inglorious charade. It was clearly a power game with a strange purpose. As if the famed actor needed to test if his support team would remain behind him no matter how ludicrous the mission.
We eventually returned to the house, were warmed with toasted bagels and hot chocolate, then retired to a living room with a roaring fire. This is where Rodney signaled that it was time to get down to business. As I rose to my feet and cleared my vocal chords, I found myself upstaged by El Franco who somehow felt it was his job to deliver my pitch. In shattered, sing-song English he unwound my tale while slicing the air with his hands for dramatic punctuation. This bad act must’ve gone on for fifteen frightening minutes before The Manager leaned into me.
“He’s lost him,” said The Manager. “Better get in there and save this or this whole trip’s kaput.”
“What (El Franco) has done such an impassioned job of communicating,” I interrupted, steering the star’s spotlight away from the gesticulating euro, “Is that the story we want to tell is about friendship and the true bond that can only exist between men.”
Once the floor was finally mine, I was able to simplify things, back-door my way into the presentation I’d originally planned to lay down, and engage the star in a dialogue about why this particular sequel was relevant and not beneath his priceless name above the title.
“Okay,” said Rodney Redux after a moment of mulling, “Sounds worth a go. I’m in. Glad you made the trip up.”
I accepted winks and nods of approval from everyone from the entourage to the The Manager. Then we hustled for the front door before Rodney Redux had a chance to change his mind. Instead, he trapped us in the foyer and laid on us a sad lament about his latest box office dud.
“Why does my shitty movie tank when (another movie star’s) shitty movie makes a billion?” Rodney asked, his high-beams aimed directly at me when he’d asked the question.
“Didn’t see that movie,” I lied. Yes, I lied. As high of value I put on the truth, I didn’t have it in me to answer honestly only moments after I’d sold him on doing the sequel.
The Manager entered the brief conversation, leveled an excuse tailor-made to salve his client’s wound, and ushered me to the car. Twenty minutes later, we were back in the air, leaving another dandy little carbon trail back to Van Nuys.
The flight back was all high fives and metaphoric champagne in the form of Danish beer and pizza. As I toasted with El Franco, he got very blunt about his expectations.
“You’re agent is fast with the deals, yes?” he asked.
“That depends on how fast your hired gun is,” I answered.
“I ask because I need the script before (Rodney Redux) can change his mind,” he pressed. “Can you have it to me in six weeks?”
“A finished draft?” I gulped.
“Enough so we can start production preparations.”
“Suppose if I lock the door and don’t allow any interruptions…”
“So that’s a yes?”
“Why the hell not?” I answered, still buoyantly over-confident from having saved the pitch from the jaws of frozen defeat. “I can do six weeks.”
By the time we were wheels down in Van Nuys, I had my plan for execution. All I needed was everybody to get out of my way so I could do my job.
I know, I know. So much easier said than done. Who knew the kind of fiery hoops I’d have to jump through in order to make my deadline.
Next week, read the rest of TEN LITTLE INDIANS.
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