Fiction: The Inner Sanctum
I step onto a plush-carpeted straightaway and head for the small nexus of offices in the distance. When I’m within the bustling half-circle of brightly lit desks manned by good-looking 20-somethings with matching Mac computers, a lean Asian woman in black jeans and a cashmere sweater carrying a bottle of Smart Water introduces herself as Yuko. She takes me round another bend, knocks on a nondescript door, and ushers me into the outer room of Rumer Hawke’s inner sanctum.
Within, a vista of greenery fills the frame of a wall-length picture window. Rumer’s offices are atop a building nestled in the Hollywood foothills. I was wowed on my one prior visit by the impressively parklike view and the sleek Jetsons-style desk that sits before it, but this time I’m distracted by the sound of breaking glass and screams to my left. A huge flat screen dominates this wall, and on it a sexily disheveled Korean woman cowers in the corner of a closet, covering her mouth with a bloodied hand while an unseen monstrous intruder hacks at the door above her with a hatchet.
Three teenage girls sit rapt on a black leather couch before the imminent Technicolor carnage on the screen, pawing at a small vat of popcorn in the middle of a low glass table. To their right, a young man sits in a chair facing me, hands poised over a laptop. His black button-down shirt and Levi’s, close-cropped hair, and requisite phone device covering his left ear say: office assistant.
“Dead meat,” calls one of the girls, indicating the cowering woman on the screen, and the other two giggle. I note the assistant attentively typing in response.
“Joely Hawke,” Yuko murmurs at my ear.
“Ah,” I say, recognizing the teen’s bright mop of orange-streaked hair from magazine photos. Rumer’s daughter, paparazzi bait since she began dating the son of a prominent actor while still in high school, pauses mid–popcorn munch to glance briefly in my direction, then away. “I can’t watch,” she says.
“I’d be peeing,” says the girl beside her. The assistant types again.
“Something we’re looking into as a remake,” says Yuko.
I nod, finding something peculiarly familiar in the tableau of closet-trapped heroine and splintering wood as the assailant grunts and heavy-breathes, closing in.
“It’s like Halloween,” I say.
“It is Halloween,” says Yuko. “Tsuo Jung’s version. He’s very hot.”
Which means the potential project that Rumer is test-screening, with his daughter and her friends as focus group, is to be an American remake of a Korean remake of an American movie.
Yuko straightens suddenly, saying “Okay” with a smile in response to a summons from her earpiece. “Rumer’s ready for you now,” she tells me, and indicates a doorway to an adjoining office. I steel myself for what waits within.
There are two things people who’ve met Rumer Hawke know about the man. One is that he possesses a megawatt charisma of uncanny seductive power. It isn’t just the prematurely silver mane of hair swept back from a prominent forehead, the piercing blue eyes that could qualify him as a movie star. It’s some near-mystical glow that emanates from Rumer when he talks to you. You feel that you, not he, are the most fascinating human being on the planet, and thus the time he is spending in speaking to you is infinitely precious to him.
The other thing about Rumer is that he suffers from Tourette’s. The peculiarity of his particular syndrome is that he doesn’t yell obscenities and bizarre non sequiturs. He releases at unpredictable intervals the strangled squawks, hackings and cries of what sounds like a large winged predator in pain. In town there are two cliques of belief regarding this. Some believe that Tourette’s is God’s way of evening the balance in Rumer, given the unfair advantage of his looks and intelligence. But others believe the disease to be pure fabrication — that Rumer has chosen this feigned handicap as a diabolical means of manipulation. It’s certainly true that no routine yelling or shoe-pounding on desks can match Hawke’s high-pitched, sputtering shrieks in their power to intimidate. One prominent studio president is rumored to have signed off on a deal favoring Rumer because he couldn’t bear to spend another minute in the meeting with him. But no one has ever determined the veracity of Rumer’s affliction, one way or the other.
Armed with this foreknowledge, I’m still nervous when Yuko opens the door for me, knowing that whatever perks and perils might lie in having an audience with the great man, my project’s fate hangs in the balance.
“Jordan,” says Rumer. “How goes it?”
I’m in a blond-wood–paneled conference room, which is empty but for a long table edged with chairs. In the center of that table sits a misshapen oval of metallic-black webbing, resembling an egg laid by a computer, and it is from this object that Rumer’s question has emanated.
“Fine, thanks,” I address the speakerphone, and remain standing, aware of Yuko discreetly withdrawing and shutting the door behind her. “And yourself?”
“Could not be better,” says Rumer, his voice resonating richly from wherever he is. “Jordan, your story.”
“Captivating. We’ve been immersed in it, and if anything, its possibilities only become more and more intriguing.”
I wonder if Rumer is using the royal we, or who, exactly, has been immersed in the work with him, but this warm praise sweeps aside such moot questions. “Well, thanks,” I begin, “I’m glad — ”
“No, Jordan.” Rumer is chuckling. “I’m thanking you. For providing us with such an extraordinary wealth of material. It’s Rabelaisian, really ...”
Have I read any Rabelais? I can’t remember, and have only a vague sense of what this adjective connotes — bewigged lechers and saucy maids with their skirts up?
“There’s enough there to seed a franchise, which is why it’s so important for us to get the thing right from the start.”
Franchise? “Of course,” I say.
“And it’s your vision, Jordan, which is why we’re determined to let you have your way with this. You’re the man.”
I recognize this brand of nonsense, pure hyperbole, from other meetings with other players in the past, but it’s always fun to be so nicely buttered up. “Well ...”
“Most of my colleagues wouldn’t go this route,” Rumer goes on. “They’d bring in Scott Frank or Bill Goldman to doctor the thing, Nathan Colt” — the mention of golden-boy screenwriter Colt sends a brisk swipe of ice down the line of my spine — “but I have faith in your vision. There is a story there, and it is filmic, and you’re the right writer to dig it out for us.”
“I appreciate that.”
“You know this story. You’ve got an innate sense of the structure of it, which is the most important thing.”
“It is,” I agree happily. “And my vision,” I say, lapsing into his movie meeting–speak, but that’s just as well, as it’s a good moment to pitch my new ideas, “what I’ve been thinking lately is, maybe we can go even a little edgier than what I — ”
“Ack!” says Rumer. “Ack-ack-AAAAR-kss-kss-AWK!”
Stunned into silence, I can only stare at the speakerphone, involuntarily taking a few steps back from it, and wait for the shriekings of the wounded pterodactyl to subside.
“Actually,” says Rumer, after a pause, “there’s really only one hurdle. We need a new ending. So we’ve written up some notes.”
Yuko materializes behind me, another woman beside her. Tall and long-faced, wearing a dark-burgundy suit that certifies serious executive status, she holds out a pile of pages that looks phone-book thick. Reeling from the revelation that Rumer wants a new ending (how? what?), I take it from her, realizing it’s my draft, riddled with underlining, highlighting, and scrawlings in the margins, atop another thick sheaf of papers.
“This is Dana Morton,” says Rumer, “the best development person in the West, or as I like to call her, my right hand.”
Dana extends her own right hand, smiling broadly while her clear gray eyes exude shrewd, don’t-fuck-with-me intelligence. I juggle the page stack for a handshake that’s alarmingly firm. “I’m a huge fan,” she says, and nods at the draft. “Fabulous work.”
“Oh. Thanks,” I murmur.
“Dana’s going to be with you, all the way,” Rumer continues. “What do you think of Johnny D’Arc?”
“D’Arc?” I echo, thrown. This director, the Tarantino of the moment, is about as hot a commodity as exists in the business, but what does he —
“Because he’s interested in the project,” says Rumer. “And we have a window, a small one, before Johnny begins his next movie.”
“Wow.” I’ve just said “wow” to Rumer Hawke, a choice I’ll replay as an Idiot Moment for weeks to come, but the surreality of the conversation has unmanned me.
“And that’s why we’d like to proceed with all due haste, Jordan. I know you’re fast,” he adds. “That’s one of the things we like about you.”
I try to come back with some of the breezy playfulness I hear in Rumer’s voice. “We’re not talking the end of next month, right?”
Rumer laughs, a warm, robust, fruity sound. He’s delighted. I’m delighted. Smiling Dana is, too. “Hell, no!” says Rumer. “By the end of next week.”
Yikes. I want to be this fast, wise, visionary writer Rumer sees me as, and I’ll do my best to be him, but even as I say, “No problem,” I’m reeling, trying to reassess now all those bright new ideas I wanted to pitch.
“So,” I continue, “I do have a couple of thoughts — well, more like questions to run by you — ”
“You read over the notes — they’re just a few suggestions for the direction we want to go in. Come up with an ending we’re all happy with, and we’ll talk about the next steps, all right? Good.”
“Right,” I say. “And as for the rest of the draft?”
“AWWWRK! Kack-kack! ARRR-KSS-AWK!”
Yuko, with an eloquent smile that seems to speak for everyone present, is already graciously opening the door for me.
Reprinted from Imagine Me and You, copyright ©2008, by Billy Mernit, published by Shaye Areheart Books, a division of Random House, Inc. In stores April 8, $23. Mernit, author of Writing the Romantic Comedy, is an expatriate New Yorker who currently resides in Venice, California.
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