Dumbing Down

The restaurant just off Santa Monica that John had chosen for the meeting had all the right credentials; it was right on the apex of its flavour-of-the-month popularity, and as soon as he got there he knew he'd made the right choice. Of course he'd had to bribe the waiter for a decent table, but once he was seated he could see at least 10 A-list stars. Waving at Cameron Diaz as if to say 'hey, let's do lunch sometime', he glanced around the room, hoping to catch someone's eye, but no one important enough looked his way. He could see John Cusack having a meeting with his agent, Ben Affleck eating with some pretty young actress and a few others were dotted around, but the only eye contact he made was with a guy who looked just like Christian Bale, sitting on his own at an awful table right at the back.

Mr Spooling was being fashionably late, and all that John could think about at this point was the packet of cigarettes in his back pocket and how badly he wanted to smoke one. He wouldn't dream of it though, as he could just hear the overemphasised coughing that the woman at the next table would make if he lit up here and he could almost see the waiter patronisingly approaching, leaning obsequiously towards him and explaining their no-smoking policy in words he felt were simple enough for him to understand. John grabbed some chewing gum from his pocket instead, but it didn't help his nerves much, so he went to the bathroom to do a few lines and felt much better afterwards.

A few minutes later, seated back at his table, he looked up to see Larry A. Spooling, the head of 'remakes and sequels' at Paramount Pictures, approaching the table. This is it, thought John, this is the make-or-break meeting that's either going to get my movie green-lighted and into production or have me flipping burgers for another year.

'Mr Spooling, hello, thank you for making time to see me', said John, leaping up and offering his hand.
'Yeah, yeah, lets get this over with,' replied Larry, sitting down and retaining his. As he sat he beckoned for the waiter to approach and outlined the precise items of food that he would like and the exact conditions in which he expected them to arrive. Turning back to John he indicated that now would be a good time for him to start his pitch.
'You got thirty seconds,' he said, in case John hadn't got the point.

'Well, this is a serious movie, a real tear-jerker. It's based on the true story of the plight of the native Americans from the point of view of one family, who start out helping the pilgrims but then get torn apart as their land is taken away from them and they're forced to move. It's going to be a big budget picture, real high production values and real epic photography. It's called Manifest Destiny: No Thanks(giving).'
John had emphasised his title by placing each syllable in the air with his hands; he could already imagine them on the poster.

Larry considered this for a few seconds.
'Ok, I'd consider that, but you're going to have to make a few changes. Would you be comfortable with that?'
John nodded, na´vely believing that it actually mattered whether he wanted the changes or not. 'Right, the American public won't buy this persecution nonsense, you don't want to be telling your movie goer that he's just paid eight bucks to be insulted and told that his ancestors were a bunch of cheats, so that needs changing straight off. Can we blame the British for it instead?' John shrugged.
'And who have you got lined up to star? How about Bruce Willis? I'm thinking 'it's one man against all the odds who overthrows the oppressor and they all lived happily ever after' kind of thing...'
John was just about to suggest that it hadn't really happened like that, but Larry's food had arrived and he signalled that that was the end of the discussion.
'Make the changes and drop the script over to me, and we'll talk again', he said, and that really was that.

*

The next morning Larry was back in his plush office at the department of 'remakes and sequels'. The office was presently a study in populist minimalism. All Swedish furniture, black leather couches, and a large metal desk that didn't contain a single piece of paper, merely adding to the illusion that Larry didn't actually do much of anything. Only currently fashionable items of furniture were allowed in, however, so the office always had a new feel to it because usually most of its contents had been in there for less than two weeks. In the corner there was a shiny black 26" TV on mute. A breaking political scandal was being silently over analysed by CNN.

Noticing this, Larry grabbed the clicker and changed channels, but the same story was also being covered round-the-clock by NBC, Fox, CBS, ABC, C-Span 1 and 2, CNBC, MSNBC, the WB and even ESPN and MTV for some reason, so he clicked the set off in disgust.

He wasn't interested in politics, and this was only some non-story about the upcoming election. The two candidates, the men chosen as the two best skilled to lead the country, Jeffrey H. Moron and Henry Boring, had been asked by some foreign journalist what they knew about the rest of the world. Boring had managed to name five countries, but Moron had only got as far as 'gee, does Canada count?' before falling silent. That wasn't the story, though, as the networks were more interested in the fact that Moron's standing in the polls had risen by 10% right after the interview.

There was a knock at the door and Larry's PA entered the room.
'Talk to me!' he barked, turning the full extent of his wrath towards her.
'Well sir, you've got three meetings today and a number of proposals to OK' she said, before waiting for some form of acknowledgement from him.
'Well, go on, what are they?'
'Er, well, we've got the Mr Smith Goes to Washington remake with Val Kilmer in the lead role'
'Only if they put plenty of sex and violence in the new script...'
'Also there's Cheers: The Movie, When Harry Met Sally... Again, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf II, that's a straightforward horror movie by the way, Speed III: The Tractor Trailer, Police Academy: The Prequel, and It's A Wonderful Life II.'
'Is that it?'
'Oh, and there's a script for Flatliners II for you to read through. There's some male model attached to star in that one', she looked down at her clipboard, 'a Victor... Ward I think.'
'Leave them on my desk and I'll read them through,' replied Larry, although he had no real intention of doing so, as he knew that his part in the selection process didn't really make much difference. As long as he kept up the pretence of being interested all he actually had to do was select a couple of the scripts at random and ok them. The marketing people could do the rest.

The PA deposited the scripts and left the room. Larry turned the TV on again and flicked through the news networks until he finally found a feature that interested him, something on E! about the future of shoulder pads in modern fashion. He devoted all his attention to that for a good couple of hours before he felt like he could face the scripts.

Matt Armstrong