Sunday, October 25, 2009

The Ordealist - Part II

Read Part I

The only friend Bevin had in the company -- and in life -- was Roche, a technician at WorkplaceUSA, who set up mics and video equipment for executive meetings and presentations. Roche was an aspiring filmmaker in his spare time. A local film festival had sprung up in recent years, and the previous year had held a "48-Hour Film Contest," in which filmmaking teams signed up to write and produce a four-minute short in the space of a single weekend. Last year, Roche teamed up with his brother, Claude, along with Bevin and managed to wrangle third place out of two dozen entries. This year, Claude was out. He and his wife just had a baby, but Claude had also mentioned something in passing to Roche about wanting to strangle Bevin with piano wire. Roche had shrugged. Bevin's storyboarding skills were impeccable.

This year, Roche brought on board a guy named Raif, a writer who also worked the counter at a neighborhood sex shop. And Raif brought along his friend, Kurt, who was an all-around film buff willing to hold mics and help with set-ups.

Roche was the one with the camera, so after picking up the 48-Hour Film Contest package, everyone met at his house.

The four guys sat around in Roche's furnished basement. Roche had a clipboard on his knee. "All right, the prop we were given is a can opener, and the line of dialogue we have to incorporate is 'I think I've made a terrible mistake.'" He looked at the group. "All right, who wants to start the brainstorming?"

"Maybe we have a guy opening a really large can of tuna," Kurt said, "I mean a huge, coffin-sized can and he finds a dead person inside --"

"Can't do it," Bevin said, cutting in. "Where are we going to get such a large can with no budget and on such short notice?"

"Right, well," Kurt said, irritated, "isn't that where the filmmaking comes in? We do a series of shots to make it look like --"

"It's already been done," Bevin said. "Invasion of the Body Snatchers."

"OK," Roche said, moving conversation along. "What else?"

"We could go the absurdist route," Raif said. "And have a guy talking to his psychiatrist or someone, and the guy has the can opener affixed to his head."

"It's been done," Bevin said. "Saturday Night Live has been doing that sort of thing for years."

Looking at the clouding expressions on the faces of Kurt and Raif, Roche turned to Bevin: "How about you, Bev?"

"I was thinking," Bevin said, "about a guy who finds a magic box somewhere -- like a cafe -- that gives him three wishes."

Kurt and Raif looked at each other, and then at Roche. Roche nodded and scribbled something on his clipboard.

"How about locations?" Roche said after a couple of hours of brainstorming a premise -- nothing firm had been decided on that front.

"No problem filming at the store," Raif said. "Actually, we've got a surplus of three dozen inflatable sex dolls that only have one arm. They could be useful"

Roche and Kurt laughed. "That would be cool!" Roche said, writing on his clipboard.

"The movie has to be PG," Bevin said. "So, I don't think we can use the sex dolls."

The brainstorming session went on a few more hours, and the tension in the basement grew more and more rank and dense. Raif and Kurt were just not meshing with Bevin's meticulous nature, but Roche was confident that they'd all get over it as they narrowed in on a premise and began writing the script.

Raif went outside for a smoke at one point, and was joined by Kurt who simply needed some air -- some unBevinated air. "Can we say 'cock-blocker at every turn'?" Raif said. "Holy shit, if I hear one more time that an idea's 'already been done' or is 'cliche,' I'm going to . . ." he trailed off, unable to think of a good threat.

The process, the mood, the atmosphere, the working dynamics among the four aspiring filmmakers didn't improve as time wore on. It seemed they would never settle on a premise.

"How about some amputees sitting around a poker table playing for limbs?" Kurt said.

Against his quivering, shriveling will, Raif glanced at Bevin whose blank expression managed to evoke emotion: all different shades of dour disapproval. Why don't we dump this putz? Raif wondered, feeling the time nearing when he could no longer keep such thoughts locked politely in his head.

"What's funny about making fun of amputees?" Bevin droned.

"Well, maybe they're dead guys," Kurt said.

"It's already been done," Bevin said.

"But I haven't even gotten to my idea," Kurt said.

"Ghost, Sixth Sense," Bevin said. "Ghost Town."

"I give up!" Raif said, rising from his chair. To Roche: "Thanks but no thanks, I didn't sign on for this!" He walked out of the basement. Roche followed.

"Hey man," Roche said, catching Raif at the front door. "Don't be so sensitive. We're just kicking ideas around."

"No, you're buddy is kicking ideas to death," Raif said.

"Look, go home, have a beer, sleep on it, and come back tomorrow. We'll have a premise by then and we'll be all ready to go. What do you say?"

Raif thought about it. "All right," he said, hating himself for caving.

The following day was no better. Raif arrived at Roche's house -- Bevin was already there, and Kurt came twenty minutes later -- actually feeling a bit of optimism. The moment that he stepped into the hotzone of Bevin's contaminated radius, that optimism curdled like the cream in his coffee . . . and the ordeal continued.

No premise had been arrived at the evening before, so the brainstorming continued. By the stroke of noon, when Roche brought out the first beers of the day, Raif had resolved himself to sticking with the contest merely to see for how long and in how many different ways Bevin could cock-block the creative process.

Raif wasn't sure if it was the beer -- which was oddly flat and skunky -- or simple weariness that made him lose focus on the premise-seeking process, but around dinner time, the guys had decided their movie would be about a murderer who hid in the trunks of people's cars and sprang out at his unsuspecting victims.

The premise as Raif understood it didn't make any sense, but he was so punch-drunk from Bevin's unending onslaught of inane questions and his guillotining ideas before they were more than a few words out of someone's mouth, that he went along with the group. Bevin's meticulous storyboards -- which he produced in a short matter of time -- didn't illuminate the convoluted storyline. By then, Raif was beyond caring.

If the premise-seeking process hadn't proven tedious enough, setting up the first shot was surely madness-inducing. Bevin made so many crippling interjections in the conversation about how to begin that Roche -- himself wearying -- turned over directorship to his incessant friend. Then the guys were treated to the most bizarre sight yet: Bevin second-guessing, interrupting and cock-blocking himself as he tried to decide how to set up the first shot.

By then, Raif's brain felt like it was in a vacuum-sealed plastic pouch, groaning and throbbing for oxygen that could not be had. He saw that Kurt had developed a facial tic he hadn't noticed before. Then he paused and realized a series of short-circuiting twitches ran riot around his own face. And still, Bevin continued, speaking in a low, flat, nasal-deadened voice; seeming to talk more to himself than anyone else.

Feeling more and more disconnected from the activity around him, Raif slipped into kamikaze auto-pilot. For instance, when Roche -- who was playing the killer in the film -- finally got into the trunk of his car, and the door shut upon him, Raif turned to Bevin and plucked the camera from his grip.

"What are you doing?" Bevin said. "I'm the director now."

Raif was aware of Bevin talking, but finally a mental callous had developed over his mind which dampened the sound of his voice. He handed the camera to Kurt, who, by the look in his own glassy eyes, seemed to be in the same dissociative mental space.

Raif punched Bevin in the face.

Part of him wished he was not buried so deep behind his defensive, mental callous because he would have really enjoyed the moment of contact. For once, Bevin did as he was supposed to do -- he fell down unconscious. By the time Roche figured there was something wrong, and began knocking on the trunk door to be let out, Raif and Kurt had carried Bevin into the backyard.

In storyboard snatches of consciousness, Raif and Kurt acted as one, as their own, sub-story telneted mentally between them.

They bound Bevin in plastic wrap. He was left to lay like a nightclub mummy on the lawn as Raif went to his car and brought box after box of one-armed inflatable sex dolls into the back yard. Kurt brought tanks of helium from Raif's backseat -- Raif kept such things on hand; one never knew when one might need helium.

They positioned Bevin in one of Roche's lawn chairs and fastened the floating, inflatable sex dolls to the chair with a series of bungee cords, sections of clothesline, various length extension cords found in Roche's house, and the rest of the plastic wrap. By then, Bevin had wakened -- his left eye swelling nicely -- and struggled meekly against his restraints. He moaned behind the gag they'd affixed.

When the sixteenth sex doll had been inflated with helium, Bevin began to hover inches above the ground. When the twenty first doll was fastened to him, he rose into the air. As he slowly cleared Raif and Kurt's height, Bevin's eyes widened with genuine fear. It was the first actual human emotion anyone would have seen in that obsidian gaze.

Kurt stood back with Roche's camera, filming Bevin's lazy ascent. When the counter indicated that he'd come to the three-minute and forty-second mark, he turned the camera on Raif who said, "I think I've made a terrible mistake," and waved a can opener in front of the lens. There was a two second pause, and then he said: "Naahhhhhh."

Bevin's ascent leveled-off when he passed the height of the telephone wires running behind Roche's house. Then he drifted beyond the neighbors' trees and out of sight.

The film, titled C-Blocker, was entered into the 48 Hour Film Contest the following day as a mockumentary. It took First Prize, which greatly eased Roche's anger over the project being high-jacked while he was locked in the trunk of his car (for some reason, the fact that he hadn't seen the safety lever inside the trunk that would have allowed him to open the door himself made him ever more angry at Raif and Kurt). But winning a film contest assuaged that nicely.

The film was also Exhibit A in Bevin's lawsuit against Raif, Kurt and Roche. As Bevin came to no bodily harm as a result of his sex doll flight, and Raif's punch had left no lasting damage -- and after reviewing Roche's notes of the premise brainstorming session preceding the sex doll flight, augmented by Raif and Kurt's descriptions, and further supplemented by Bevin's own interjections -- the judge in the case had no choice but to find Raif, Kurt and Roche guilty and give them a suspended sentence.

He didn't say so in court, but the judge commented that evening to his wife: "I had a defendant today who was completely in the right" referring to Bevin, "but the kid was the damnedest pain the ass I've ever encountered."

After which, the judge's wife noticed with concern a facial tic twitching around her husband's eyes and the corner of his mouth.

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