Screen Test — A Short Story

Screen Test — A Short Story


By Leigh Grissom


“Are we ready?”

“Yessir.” The production assistant lined up the camera angle and gave him a thumbs-up.

“Send him in.”

“Right away.”

The assistant ran for the door and called for the first audition of the day. A young man, dark hair, dark eyes, an “old Hollywood” cut to his jaw, with a ready smile and a deep, pleasing voice.

Perfect. He motioned for the actor to have a seat on the stool across from the camera.

“What’s your name, son?”

That smile again. “Brian, sir. Thank you so much for this opportunity.”

“You’ve got a good look, Brian. I assume you know the script?”

Brian nodded. “Forward and back. I was hoping to read for the part of James Killian?”

He shook his head. “You can, but I think you’d be better for the part of the Senator.” He waved his hand when he saw Brian’s worried look. “It’s all right, Brian. You read Killian’s lines for the test, then we might try some of the Senator’s at the end. Your energy is much too good to be wasted on a part that would force you to hide in a fat suit.”

“Sounds great! I’m ready when you are.”

He signaled to his assistant, who hit the record switch.

“All right, Brian, we’ve got a lot of ground to cover. First, why don’t you introduce yourself?”

The actor straightened his collar and smiled at the camera light. “I’m Brian Cutter. I’m originally from Washington, DC, and I’m an actor.”

“Excellent, Mr. Cutter. Let’s hear your interpretation of James Killian.”

Brian cleared his throat and leaned back, glaring at the camera with cool disdain. “I’m trusting you with this, Blake. Double your usual fee, paid up front. Bring it to me before it remembers what it is.”

He smiled. Nice. “Very sinister, Brian. Now, go forward to the scene where Mr. Killian makes his exit.”

Brian took a few deep breaths. When he looked up, fear clouded his features. “Senator … what is this? What’s going on?” He paused, and mimicked reaching for a gun. “Please, don’t do this…” He checked the invisible weapon, and mimed pointing it under his chin.

He clapped his hands. “Beautiful! Such emotion!” He walked over and grasped Brian’s shoulders. “Now, this part of the screen test moves quickly. I want it all, understand? Whatever emotion I ask for, whatever I need you to say – don’t think, just act. Let me see you think on your feet. Live the part. Got it?”

“Got it.”

He walked back to his director’s chair. “This is where you become a star, Brian Cutter – now let me see how happy you are that you just won the Oscar!”

Brian stood up, his expression a testament to stunned elation. “Oh my gosh … I can’t believe this! I want to thank the Academy, my wife, my co-stars – I … I couldn’t have done this without you!”

“Beautiful! Do it again for the Golden Globe!”

Brian obeyed, altering his acceptance speech slightly.

The director nodded in appreciation. “You’ll look great in Armani – now, laugh for me.”

Brian took him through several rounds of laughter, from a cynical chuckle to a full-on belly-laugh, even to a “drunk giggle.”

“How’s that?” he asked.

“Amazing, Mr. Cutter! Let me see annoyed anger – you were just accused of making a sex tape with a well-known porn star –”

“Which one?”

“An ugly one!”

Brian rolled his eyes. “Oh, come on, turn the camera off – I don’t even know her! She’s lying; that tape is a fake!”

“Perfect! You are attending a movie premiere, Mr. Cutter; get up and give us the red-carpet walk. Be sure and pause to speak with media personalities of your choice.”

“Huh? Okay, sure.” Brian walked back and forth several times, pausing to answer a reporter’s question, pointedly ignoring another.

“Brian! Walk and talk with a reporter who wants to know about your next feature.”

Brian obeyed, moving easily, talking with his hands, telling the invisible reporter all about a movie that didn’t exist yet.

“He’s good.” the assistant whispered.

“You are so right.” He called out to the actor, “All right, you can have a seat.”

Brian sat back down on the stool. He looked a little pale. “How am I doing?”

“You are perfect, Brian. One more – loss. Painful, soul-wrenching loss. A loved one, a beloved pet, your very way of life – you’ve lost it all. Let me see.”

Brian’s tears slipped down his cheeks in seconds. He wept quietly, staring off into nothing.

“Ohhhhhh … the strong, silent hero in pain … you are magnificent. Look at the camera, Mr. Cutter. Give us your best Hollywood look.”

Brian looked back at the camera. Sweat beaded on his forehead, and he shivered. “Hey, uh, I don’t feel well…”

“It’s all right, son, just a few moments more. You will reign in cinema for years to come, Brian Cutter. You’ve got the part. You’ve got lots of parts coming.”

Brian blinked, confusion clouding his features. “I … what’s going on?”

“Just be still, my boy. Be still and look at the camera.”

“I can’t … help…”

“It’s okay, Brian. Just be still. Welcome to Hollywood.” He turned to his assistant. “Did we get it all?”

“Yes, sir, it’s all here.”

“Thank you. How close are we to filming the final zombie fight in Attack of the Brain Eaters?”

“It begins today, sir. Are we adding Mr. Cutter to the credits?”

The director looked lovingly at the pale ghost still sitting on the stool, his eyes vacant, soulless. “Yes. Be sure to say, ‘Introducing Brian Cutter’.” It’ll be a bit part, but we’ll film his death so memorably that his career will last longer than he did.”

His assistant turned up the playback on the video he’d taken. Cutter’s pleas to be set free echoed through the room.

“Do they always scream like that when you bleed them?”

The director nodded. “For a while. Once the body is dead, they realize there’s nowhere left to go, so I’m able to mold them into whatever role I need them to play.”

The assistant handed over the flash drive containing the fire and emotion that was Brian Cutter. “How many souls do you have?”

The director threw his head back and laughed. “Thousands, my boy. Thousands.” He patted his pocket. “Remove Mr. Cutter and send in the next audition. Make it a woman this time. He needs a love interest both on- and off-camera.”

“Right away, sir.”

(c) 2019 by Leigh Grissom

With credit and gratitude to Brian Cutter for the idea 🙂

1 Comment
  • Stefin Bradbury
    Posted at 20:18h, 13 July Reply

    I loved this! I didn’t see tge turn coming. Leigh is such a brilliant writer

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