Yes, Absolutely, You’re a Genius (A Story About Hollywood)

“I don’t think it’s written very well.”

“What do you mean?” Brian Becker asked. His eyes narrowed as he stared down the twenty-something intern sitting across from him. This intern, Mark or Andrew or Steven, one of the three, was as naive as they came. His shirt, Becker noticed, was not ironed.

“The jokes don’t land, it’s not that original, it’s called The Jungle Bungalo which made me think that this wasn’t a real script but maybe just a joke at first, plus it’s so pompously written — ”

“I’m going to stop you right there.”

“Yeah.”

I wrote this script,” he said, and watched as the color drained from the intern’s face. “What’s your name?”

“Andrew.”

“Get out of this office and never come back.”

“I need this for college credit.”

“Get out.”

Three weeks ago, Becker took an unannounced ten day vacation to write a script. His assistant didn’t know where he was, and payroll stalled for a week. But, that didn’t matter. It was his company. He built it from the ground up decades ago, and started with nothing.

He wrote from his father’s yacht off the coast of Florida.

In his mind, he was imagining what he would say in interviews once the movie was a hit. Oh yes, the office had no idea. The company was a mess, but once I got back and the script was in their hands, they understood why I had to disappear like that. I locked myself in my dingy apartment for days, only coming out for meals, and that’s, you know, just my process. It’s funny, my assistant Ryan was worried sick, he thought I was dead.

Ryan was enjoying full hour-long lunches at the office.

The Jungle Bungalo is a story about a young child who sneaks out from his orphanage, escaping in an ocean-liner, only to end up in the rainforest, where he (a real actor) befriends a bear (computer generated images) to save the jungle from deforestation. Later, he comes back to the orphanage, riding the bear, and uses the money he obtained by saving the forest, given to him from wildlife organizations, to save the orphanage from bankruptcy.

You know, you really have to praise our VFX team, they did a great job on Diago. But, you know, kids are going to see it for a fun summer blockbuster and adults are going to see it for what it is: a coming-of age story in an age of modernity.

He completed the script, punching every word onto the page. He returned, also, with an ill-kept beard.

“Could you believe what this kid was saying?” Becker put down his drink and leaned back in his chair, his body engaged in a vicious war against his tight shirt.

“Well — ”

“You know, I asked them to read it because I thought it would it would give me an honest opinion. I didn’t put my name anywhere on it, the entire company didn’t say a word.” He paused. He lunged back forward. “And it’s because I wanted to prove to these other studios that I still got it, you know? That I wasn’t going to dig up the corpse of a thirty-year old IP and shake it down for money.”

Josh, his longtime friend, remained silent.

“And I thought it would be just like the old days. You remember, right? When we were in our twenties, when we had nothing, absolutely nothing, right? And we wrote from my parents’ lake house in Italy? God. Those were the days. And this script is going to show everyone that — ”

“Do you still want my opinion?” asked Josh.

“Yeah. I thought you gave it already.”

“You asked and then started talking and then never stopped.”

“Oh. What do you think?”

“It’s…” Josh searched for the words. It had been so long since he had given notes on a script, and even longer since Becker had written something. Plus, Becker’s his friend. He, like most writers, is sensitive. His mind searched for words that would acknowledge his friends efforts, while providing a balanced critique. But, while searching, he remembered that Becker was twenty minutes late to the bar, and that he spent thirty minutes talking without even asking him how his day was. And, he didn’t reply to Josh’s emails, but instead only emailed him to ask him to meet up — for this, for emotional support, which was getting so old, god, what an asshole, “…awful.”

“What?”

“It’s just awful.” said Josh. “Are we really supposed to believe that he befriends a bear and that the bear understands english?

“You suspend your disbelief.”

“I don’t. I don’t suspend my disbelief. Why do the foundations give him money? He’s a kid. What, does he have a savings account? And the dialogue, god, the dialogue, it’s just question-exposition-question-exposition from the start to the end and it’s so tiring. It’s all so tiring.”

The two sat in silence for a while.

“Is that what you really think?”

“Yeah.”

“Well, thanks for nothing.”

“You wanted my opinion.”

“And I certainly got it.” Becker got up. And, not waiting to be the person to get walked out on, so did Josh. “You know, how long has it been since you’ve written. Ten years? Twenty?” Becker started to walk to the door.

“I watched all the interviews you did. We were not eating ramen while writing in Glendale. We ate risotto in Italy. Why did you lie?” Josh asked, and never got a response.

That night, Becker got home and sat at his desk. He flipped through every page of The Jungle Bungalo, scrutinizing every page. After a complete read, he firmly held the belief that it was good. Sure, there were plot elements that could be smoothed out, but the script at large, was good. Then, he remembered the intern’s face, the callous, unafraid expression as he spewed out criticisms.

He shook his head.

Well, we certainly had a bumpy road getting here. Everyone in the agency hated it, but I knew it was a great story, one that needed to be told. And once we got on set, you could feel it. We’ve all been a part of so many movies, but you could tell, this one was special —

After the second read-through, Becker decided to start revising. He would start with the child and the bear, because it did need to be explained why they could understand each other — but first he would decide if the plot needed any major changes, and maybe map out a different storyline, and remembered that Josh said something about the dialogue, so that would also be area for improvement —

The moonlight crept in through his blinds, and the light met Becker’s forehead.

He set down the pages and realized, quietly, that his script was awful.

“Ryan.”

“Yes.”

“I need you to be honest with me.”

“Of course.”

“What do you think of my script?”

“It’s brilliant. I love it. When are we starting pre-production?”

“We’re not — Ryan.”

“Yes.”

“There must be some areas for improvement.”

“Sure. What do the producers think?”

“Never mind what the producers think, what do you think?”

“It’s great. It’s a fun summer movie, and the press is going to be great — you’re writing again.”

“Ryan.”

“Yes.”

“Please. There’s nothing you would change? I’ve seen you give notes for other people’s scripts.”

“No, there’s nothing I would change.”

“Alright.”

“Do you want me to set any meetings?”

“No. You’re fired.”

What?

“Get out of my office.” Becker shouted over Ryan and his blank expression. “Maria, could I see you for a second?”

“Are you…serious?” Ryan asked.

“Yes,” said Becker, “get out.”

The doors opened and closed and Becker found himself sitting across from Maria, one of the producers.

“Maria.”

“What’s going on? Is Ryan okay?”

“He’ll be fine. Have you read my script?”

“Yeah.”

“What do you think?” asked Becker, his hand furiously tapping his pen against his desk.

“It’s great. I love it.”

“You love it?”

“Yeah.”

“Maria.”

“Yes?”

“Do you have any notes?”

“No, we’ve already started mapping it out, talking to location scouts — ”

“Okay, so you don’t have notes.”

“No.”

“Get out, you’re fired.”

What?

After a few minutes, Becker was sitting across from the first assistant he could find.

“Have you read it?”

“Your script? Of course.”

“What do you think?”

“I love it.”

“You’re fired.”

Becker slammed the door behind him.

“ALRIGHT. LISTEN UP EVERYONE. Clearly, something has gone very, very wrong here. Someone, anyone, must have notes for my script otherwise I’m about to start firing everyone I see. Hm? Anyone?” Becker looked down from the desk he was standing on at a sea of confused and wide-eyed expressions.

“I don’t know what’s the matter with you. Are you scared? That I can’t handle the criticism? Dear god — Kyle, stop whatever it is you’re doing and print out a giant poster with the word ‘objectivity’ in all caps and drape it over the front desk.” His breathing became heavy, and was still met with silence. “You, what’s your name?”

“Peter.”

“What’s one criticism of the script you have?”

“I work in IT.”

“Alright. Last chance. Does anyone have anything they’d like to say?”

“Um — ” an unrecognized voice began to say. Everyone turned their heads. “Maybe you could try being less of a perfectionist? The script is so polished it could, you know, gain some…character…from that.”

“Great. Thank you. Just great.” His mind felt as if it was a playing card in the spokes of a bicycle, hitting each identical rung over and over again. “Why won’t any of you be honest with me?”

“The script — the script is awful.” Becker let his shoulders drop. He walked down from the desk he was on. “It’s just terrible. Just terrible.” He kept repeating himself, muttering the same words as he left the office.

“Hi, can I speak to Andrew?” Becker held his phone firmly sitting in his car.

“Speaking.”

“This is…the creator of…look, I was too harsh on you, and if you still want to be an intern, you can come back whenever you’d like.”

“No.”

“What do you mean, ‘no’?”

“Fuck you, you old man. You’re a washed up nothing.” Andrew said, and then hung up.

For a few weeks, he considered resigning. Someone else could take over and…no. He deserved it. He worked so hard to get where he was…

He could ignore everyone, and still stand the next morning. Maybe, he was wrong, or maybe, he was right. Maybe he should shut down the entire company.

He thought about this on a flight to the south of France.

Thank you for reading. Please let me know what you thought of it.

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