A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum

Three weeks into production, they let you know they need a rewrite. All the scenes in the last two weeks of filming need to be redone. The actress broke her nose and had to have surgery.

“You can’t see the work so there’s no need to re-shoot,” the associate producer informs you. “But you can hear it. Her voice is different.”

You’re about to suggest he call a sound editor when the question drops.

“They need you to re-work the dialogue so it’s less nasal.”

Two quick notes to yourself: one, this is possibly the strangest reason for a rewrite you’ve ever heard, and two, there’s probably a good story in this somewhere.

“Less nasal?”

“Certain words utilize the nasal passage during pronunciation,” the AP replies.

“Did you memorize a Wikipedia article or something?”

“Just the couple of lines.”

You sigh. You’re not certain what nasally words the AP is talking about, but you get the gist of what he means.

“Okay, I think I can do it. How much time have I got?” It doesn’t matter. It’s never enough. But you ask anyway.

“Two days.”

“Two days?”

“Come on. God created the earth in six.”

“The earth needs a lot of work. He should have asked for three more.”

“I can’t get you five days,” the AP tells you. “It was hard enough to get you two. Hard enough to get them to agree to any rewrite actually.”

“What were they going to do? Just let her sound like a duck?”

The AP shrugs. You know this even though you’re on the phone. The AP is a shrugger. “They think they can fix it in post. ADR.”

You laugh. It’s impossible not to laugh. Everyone above the line seems to think everyone below the line can be replaced by a computer program or an intern or a voice actor in a booth.

“Okay,” you relent. You always relent. There are thousands of reasons to relent. “Three thousand.”

The silence on the other end of the line is, as they say in Hollywood, palpable. Even though you’re on the phone. It speaks volumes, this silence. There is nothing golden about it.

“Let me guess,” you begin. “They don’t want to pay.”

“They say you still owe them one rewrite.”

You need a cigarette. And a drink. It’s only 9:30 in the morning. You quit smoking ten years ago, a year after you quit drinking. But there’s nothing like a phone call from an associate producer in the middle of production to enliven the craving for a case of whiskey and a truckload of cigarettes.

“The rewrite schedule specifically applies to pre-production development only. You know that. Don’t they know that?”

“They’re just trying to save some money here,” the AP replies. Words that sound like they came from the mouth of God, aka/the executive producer.

“Even if I agreed to it,” you explain. “The guild would nail me. It’s not like they don’t know we’re in the middle of production.”

“That’s another thing,” the AP explains. “You can just back-date the rewrite draft. We’ll just say we forgot to file it properly.”

“We?”

The AP clears his throat. “I’ll say I forgot.”

“You’re going to put yourself in the hole over this?”

“It’s my responsibility. I’m just doing my job.”

“Did you break her nose?”

“No. Nobody broke her nose. She had to have emergency surgery on her septum.”

“She had a nasal emergency?”

“I don’t know what happened,” the AP admits.

But anyone could guess.

“As far as I know,” you tell the AP. “Your job is to work with me, and your only responsibility is making sure whatever I turn in gets received, stamped, filed, copied, distributed, and otherwise processed according to procedures hammered out long ago by the gnomes who run the guilds and the production companies.”

“That’s what I’m trying to do here.”

“I appreciate your need to save your ass and keep your job,” you tell him. It’s true. You like the AP. It’s not his fault. “But I don’t need to do that. I’ve got a guild that protects me. As long as I play by the rules, that is.”

“The guild will never know,” the AP starts.

“The guild knows everything,” you tell him. “You ever see the Wizard of Oz? Or Lord of the Rings? The president of the guild has one of those big shiny marbles that Sees All. Unless you want a horde of flying monkeys and mutated orcs coming after you, it’s wise to abide by guild rules and procedures.” You really wish you had that cigarette now. It would go great with this dramatic pause. “Last time I broke a rule it took me a month to clean all the monkey shit off my driveway.”

“That’s why it’s on me,” the AP offers. “I’ll take all the heat.”

You laugh. You can’t help it. These associate producers, all of them young and most of them fresh from some crappy business school in the flyover. They all think it’s noble to fall on the sword, that some exec will witness their loyalty and save them from death, raise them up as an example to all. They think that by sacrificing themselves on the altar of the budget they’ll end up with a corner office and greenlight power. They watch too much TV and too many movies.

“On you?” You take a breath. You don’t want to scream. “Who are you? An associate producer. Are you a writer? No. Are you a show runner? No. Do you aspire to be any of these things? No. Does your future depend on not having two Israelis break your fingers? No.”

“You’re being theatrical,” the AP complains.

“Of course I’m being theatrical,” you tell him. “This is the movies.”