My childhood-friend-turned-actress (known to me as Giovanna, but changed to Gia for glamorous Hollywood persona) called me up with a proposal. It was summer 2009. Would I be interested in writing a screenplay with her? Flashes of fame and fortune a la Ben Affleck and Matt Damon hit me. Indeed! We settled down to work right away, meeting at a little restaurant in Pasadena toiling on the screenplay and consuming unholy amounts of coffee.
The premise of the film was floated to Gia by another friend. Given my love of the mystery genre this seemed ideal: an odd woman envisions herself normal but, by the end, the audience discovers her true self in an utterly disturbing big reveal. We see an existential, psychotic divide. Maybe a hint of Norman Bates-ish for the finale. I loved the idea of creating a haunting twist.
Actress friend found a director interested in the project, a soft spoken guy she’d met a few years back shooting a music video. At our first (and unbeknownst to me only meeting) she informed him that she would star in the short film. Then pointed to me and said “She can do a small part.” He eyed me dubiously. “Have you any experience?”
“I teach Philosophy,” I responded as though that made perfect sense.
A few weeks later a revised script arrived via email. The director added some ideas. Actress friend forwarded me the messages of her glowing appreciation for his dedication. In the middle of putting together my syllabus for the upcoming semester, I paid little attention to the new script.
My big acting debut part: a store clerk named Claudine. Claudine? The director named my part, and judging by his choice that should have been the first sign of something amiss because one can’t even say Claudine without appearing to have just inhaled a stale fart.
Film day I was all a flutter. The woman in charge of hair and make-up straightened my hair to resemble Jennifer Aniston’s Rachel in the latter years of Friends just after the show jumped the shark. This was nothing short of miraculous; my hair looks like I routinely put my fingers in a light socket for kicks. It suits my Philosophy Professor day job well.
But today I’m an actress!
It’s time for my scene. The director calls “Action.” Within a split second he yells “Cut!” followed by, “Gwendolyn, could you not touch your face?”
Scene begins. Gia enters, delivers line to me.
I give unsure smile at everyone.
“Gwendolyn, could you not look directly into the camera?”
“Oh, of course.”
Filming going fabulously. Feeling like Meryl Streep.
Little girl actress interrupts the scene with: “Mommy, I have to poo!”
Ha! This time it was her fault! I wanted to point and gloat but, ever the classy gal, I refrained from doing so.
“Let’s film you biting your nails.”
Nail biting ensued. This was top notch acting. Truth be told, I love my nails. Even the camera guy found it formidable and I don’t think he was being sarcastic.
Once filming ended I didn’t hear from Gia for a very long time. Not knowing much about the business I assumed this to be par for the course. I finally did touch base and tried nonchalantly to squeeze in questions about the editing between segments of small talk. She said: “The director and I were looking at it.”
“Could I see?”
“No, he wouldn’t want that.”
Mild stomach churning. Something didn’t feel right. I chat with a friend over Starbucks lattes who knew a few writers in L.A. She warned: “What you wrote could look completely different. Don’t get your hopes up.” This seemed too ominous.
I busied myself with my usual work to alleviate the butterflies over the film. Months passed. Then, one day while checking Facebook (you know, the immensly personal means of communication) I noticed Gia’s status update : “I just saw the movie I made and I’m so excited!” An abundant amount of “Likes” and comments followed. Stomach no longer churning but in full revolt.
I called and asked if I could see the movie, supressing my annoyance that I needed to put in such a request. She invited me over for a viewing. In the beginning of the film everything ran smoothly. Yay for us! Then a character entered the scene, who the hell was she? A sister? Oh no! Our psychotic protagonist has family? The sister is crying? Why is the protagonist staring at a box of photos in her living room?
Midway through the film, my dreams of a Norman Bates-ish character wilted. Hand over mouth, I cringed as it dawned on me that this film was nothing more than a big steamy pile of poop. The disturbing script we put together in Pasadena morphed into a wannabe-after-school-special before my very eyes! This was the opposite of creepy. It was extremely un-creepy. Somber music played. Movie done. Gia beamed with pride.
I drove home perplexed and in need of generous helpings of wine. One possible bright side occurred to me; Gia’s love of self allowed me a graceful out. No need to push for credit on this.
Oblivious, Gia fancied I’d be on board for more projects. While at the university, between lectures, I shot off a quick email to her declining any more movie making. “You can keep all of the writing. You’ll do great,” I wrote.
I listened to my messages when I arrived home from work. Gia’s voice shrieked in full disappointed actress mode: “I don’t know what to say to you. Wow! Don’t call me back!” I obliged. Three days later she emailed me: “How could you not call knowing how upset I was?”
Nothing ever came of the film. And, thus, my brief career in the film business came to an uneventful close.