14 Aug SCREEN TEST FINAL VERSION for really real this time
© 2019 Leigh Grissom
“Are we ready, Stefin?”
“Yessir.” The production assistant made a final adjustment on one of the studio lights and gave him a thumbs-up.
“Send him in.”
Stefin ran for the door and called for the first audition of the day.
“Cutter? Brian Cutter?”
A young man, dark hair, dark eyes, an “old Hollywood” cut to his jaw, with a ready smile and a deep, pleasing voice, walked in.
“Hello!” the Director called.
The actor held out his hand. “I’m Brian Cutter.”
The Director shook his hand and eyed him with appreciation. Perfect, from the well-tailored suit to the shine of his shoes. Even his name would look good in lights. He motioned for Brian to have a seat on the stool across from the camera. He waited for his assistant to line up the shot, and then smiled warmly.
“Tell us your name for the camera, son.”
That smile again, classy, but with a touch of mischief. “Brian Cutter, sir. Thank you so much for this opportunity.”
“Is this your first time reading for an indie film?”
Brian looked a little sheepish and gave the Director a tentative grin. “It shows?”
“It shows you’re ready to take the next leap in your career. You should be proud of that.”
“Thank you, sir.”
The Director looked him over, picturing him on a movie poster. “You’ve got a classic look, Brian. In the day, you could have stolen roles from Gable.”
Brian’s eyes went wide. “You think so? Thank you. That means a lot.”
Stefin signaled he was ready to begin recording.
The Director asked Brian, “What part will you be reading?”
“I was hoping for the part of James Killian?”
The Director shrugged uncertainly. “You can, but I think you’d be better for the part of the Senator.” He waved a reassuring hand when he saw Brian’s worried look. “It’s all right, Brian. You read Killian’s lines for the test, and 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.”
Stefin brought out the slate. “Screen test. Cutter, Brian. Part of James Killian.” The clack echoed around them. He hustled back to the camera and signaled he was ready.
“I’ve never seen a slate at an audition.” Brian said.
“I’m an old man, Brian. It helps me keep track of all of you.” The Director held up a hand and signaled for quiet. “We’ve got a lot of ground to cover. First, why don’t you give us an official introduction? This will all be edited into your reel.”
The actor straightened his collar and smiled at the camera lens. “Hi! I’m Brian Cutter. I’m originally from Washington, DC.”
“How old are you, Brian?”
“Twenty-nine plus shipping and handling.”
The Director laughed out loud. “I may have to write that into a script! Now, tell us why you were drawn to the acting world.”
Brian thoughtfully rubbed the scar on his chin. “I’ve seen … a lot in my life. Acting provides an escape for me. If I play my role to the fullest, I might help someone else escape, too.”
“Excellent, Mr. Cutter. I can tell you have a heart for the silver screen.” The Director sat down in his chair and lit a cigarette. “The part you’re reading for is a difficult one. His time in this movie is limited, but he runs an intense gamut of emotions. He’s an overpaid, over-fed corporate jackass who believes he’s above the law until it all crashes down around him. He’s very intense, and steals every scene he’s involved in, even if it’s just on the phone. If you end up in that fat suit, it’ll be tough to use body language or expression to get your point across, so bring your voice to the forefront. Understood?”
“Perfect. We’ll begin with Killian’s first meeting with Isaiah Blake. Let’s hear your interpretation.”
Brian cleared his throat and leaned back, folding his arms out in front of him as if over a large belly. He glared at the camera with cool disdain. His voice was hoarse, and he sounded slightly out of breath.
“This is all the information on the acquisition I want you to make. Double your fee; paid up front.” Brian scratched his chin nervously. “This is the most important job you’ll do for me, Isaiah. You were chosen for that reason.” He held up a hand. “No questions, Blake. Bring it to me before it remembers what it is.”
The Director smiled. “Impressive! That was very sinister, Brian! Show me the phone call between Killian and Isaiah Blake.”
Brian picked up an invisible phone. “He’s one who would prefer a landline over a cell phone. He’s one of a handful who still has one.”
The Director raised an eyebrow. “Well, well, you have done your homework. That’s exactly what the writer intended to convey. Show us.”
Brian set his jaw and snarled into the invisible receiver. “Blake! Status reports are submitted online and all calls…” He stopped, and his laughter held a tinge of fear. “Oh, my young friend, I’m afraid that isn’t possible. You are the only Tracker for this job. And let’s just say that failing this mission will cut both our careers short.” He paused, and then added, “You’re in this until this end, Blake. It’s the only way we’ll both get out alive. Please trust me on this and bring that little girl in.” He mimicked hanging up the phone.
“Wonderful! 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 against his will. “Please, don’t do this…” He checked the invisible weapon, and mimed pointing it under his chin.
The Director gave him a standing ovation. “Bravo! Such power! Mr. Cutter, if you’re this good as Killian, you’ll be perfect for the Senator. I personally would rather see those good looks on camera. You’ll have a harem of female fans who love the villain.”
“Thank you, sir.” Brian noticed the production assistant rolling out a swath of red carpet about one hundred feet in length. “What is this?”
The Director indicated the carpet. “This is the second part of your screen test. This part moves quickly, and I want it all, understand? Whatever emotion I ask for, whatever I need you to say or do – do it. Don’t over-think it; hell, don’t think at all. Live the part of the most beloved actor in the world. Got it?”
“Got it!” Brian sat on the edge of the stool, poised and ready.
The Director walked back to his chair and sat down heavily. “This is where you become a star, Brian Cutter – now let me see your acceptance speech for the Oscars!”
Brian stood up, his expression a testament to stunned elation. “Oh, my God … I can’t believe this! I want to thank the Academy, my wife, my kids, my co-stars – I … I couldn’t have done this without you!”
“Beautiful! Do it again for the Golden Globes!”
Brian obeyed, altering his acceptance speech slightly to fit the award.
The Director nodded, pleased. “I can see this happening for you, Brian. And you’ll look great in Armani; we should ask about a spokesperson contract. Now, laugh for me.”
Brian ran 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 –”
“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!” He raised a hand as if to block someone from taking his photo.
“Perfect! You are attending a movie premiere, Mr. Cutter; it’s time to give us your 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, side-eyeing and pointedly ignoring another.
“You are perfect, my boy! 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.” Stefin 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 poised to become the next superstar. I need 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 dark eyes watered almost instantly, and tears slipped down his cheeks. 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 head shot.”
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 the cinema for years to come, Brian Cutter. You’ve got the part. You will dominate the silver screen for years.”
Stefin applauded. “Congratulations, Mr. Cutter!”
Brian blinked, confusion clouding his features. “I … what’s going on?”
“Sit up straight, my boy. Look at the camera.”
“I can’t … help…”
“It’s all right, Brian. Just be still. Welcome to Hollywood. May your box office returns be record-breaking.” 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’. We’ll work him in throughout the movie, then film his death so memorably that his career will last longer than he did.”
Stefin turned up the playback on the video he’d recorded. Cutter’s terrified 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 slipped the flash drive into his shirt pocket and patted it thoughtfully. “Modern technology has made my job so much easier. All right, Stefin – 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.”
“Sir, didn’t he say he has a wife and kids?”
“Get on his IMDB and verify that. If he does, call our lawyer and set up that sex tape. He’ll be divorced and looking for love in a matter of months.”
“Right away, sir.” Stefin ran to the door and pointed. “Ma’am? You’re next.”
A brunette, her blue eyes dancing with delight after being chosen, walked to the door.
“What’s your name?” Stefin asked.
“Jenna. Jenna Nelson.”
“Let me introduce you to our Director, Ms. Nelson.” He offered his arm.
“Thank you!” She took his arm, blushing so beautifully the camera turned itself on.
The Director opened his arms in welcome. “You are quite lovely, Ms. Nelson. We’ll begin our screen test in just a moment. Will you be reading for the lead?”
“Yes, sir. I think I can bring her to life, and I’m willing to color my hair.”
“Wonderful! I think you’ll do just … what is it, Ms. Nelson?”
She pointed to the production assistant, leading a very pale, almost catatonic man toward the opposite door.
“Um … is he … okay?”
The Director lightly patted her arm. “He’s fine. This was his first reading for an indie film. I don’t think he was expecting to get the part. Now, why don’t you have a seat?”
This isn’t happening … what the hell is going on?
Brian knew his throat should be raw from shouting, but he felt nothing at all. The darkness around him was impenetrable; he was afraid to move around for fear of running into something, or off something into … more darkness.
“Where am I?”
Soft lights flickered at the edges of his vision. He looked around, not knowing what to expect, and was shocked to see they were illuminating a stone path, like –
He stumbled down the path and fell face-first. It took him a few seconds to realize the pain he expected from hitting his face on the ground never came. He scratched at the stone underneath him.
He couldn’t feel it. He wasn’t sure what wasn’t there; the stone, or his fingers.
“What the hell is this?” Moving carefully, he drew himself upright, then understood why he fell. He had no feeling in his feet, either.
“What did you do to me?” he cried out, but the night only echoed his question back to him.
Focusing on the ground, he walked slowly, only looking up when he would pause to lower his risk of falling again. He could barely make out gnarled trees hidden in fog on either side of the path. There was no sound to indicate anything (or anyone) else was there with him.
Brian stumbled, almost falling again, and stopped, staring at the ground until he regained what balance he had left. Without thinking, he placed his hand on his chest.
“Am I dead?” he shouted, but there was no answer. He walked for what he guessed was almost a quarter of a mile before he saw the shadow of a park bench on the side of the path.
Brian stunned himself by laughing. “What, no pigeons to feed?” He looked around again, not wanting to stray from the stone underneath him, but desperate to figure out where he was, why he couldn’t feel any sensation, and why the hell he wasn’t breathing.
“What is this place?”
Tired, alone, afraid … he sat on the park bench in the middle of Otherwhere, terrified to keep calling out, but too angry to wait in silence.
“Is anyone here? Hello?”
Brian listened. He didn’t hear the sound approaching, but he sensed it somehow. Footsteps? He lowered his head and clasped his hands between his knees. Whatever was coming, he hoped it had answers.
“Hello, handsome. I guess you’re new here.”
Brian looked up, startled, and words left him completely. It can’t be…
Blonde, beautiful, her smile forever frozen in time. The same white dress that billowed so perfectly over the sidewalk grate, catapulting her to worldwide stardom. She looked at him with a deep compassion that brought tears to his eyes.
At least I can still cry, he thought crazily. “I … yes, I’m new. What is this place?”
She laughed. It was a magnificent sound. “You thought of it as Otherwhere. I like that. You’re in Otherwhere, Brian.”
“You know me?”
“Well, you know me.”
He laughed out loud. “Everyone on earth knows you! But…”
She held up a slender, delicate hand. “I know. Come on, the others will be along soon and we need to go with them.”
“Uh-huh. There are thousands of us here. I want to show you how to walk around here without falling before they arrive.”
She took his hands and guided him to his feet. “Your muscle memory isn’t gone, Brian. Just your body. Let your soul do what it’s supposed to do. Don’t think about it.”
It took him a few minutes to realize he was walking with her, no longer worried about watching his feet.
“I don’t understand.” He turned to look at her, still unable to fully grasp he was talking to a screen legend. “Am I dead?”
She laughed again, a musical sound that eased his fear. “Not as long as you’re still selling tickets. Or merchandise. Or both.”
“Oh, my God.” Brian stared at her in wonder. “What he did to me? Did he do that to you?”
She nodded. “About a year before my body died.”
“I’m so sorry.”
“It’s all right.” She rose to her tiptoes and kissed his cheek. He was genuinely pleased to feel the touch of her lips. “My death was too public, so I’m only still here because of merchandise sales. I offered to welcome the new people since my acting days are long gone. It helps the others who can still work.”
He didn’t want to ask it, but he couldn’t stop himself.
“What happens if your merchandise stops selling?”
Her smile was wistful, and very, very sad.
“He’ll burn the film.”
Brian didn’t know what to say. He drew her into his arms and held her, this goddess who’d last graced Hollywood in 1961, wishing he could find a way to get them both out of this Otherwhere. Her body was long dead, and his didn’t have long –
She pulled away and looked up at him with tear-filled eyes.
“I have to go.”
A woman’s terrified screams echoed in the darkness.
“He’s done it again.” She kissed his cheek one more time, and vanished.
But she didn’t. Brian was alone again.
For the others.
ATTACK OF THE BRAIN EATERS A SURPRISE ZOMBIE THRILL-RIDE
by Kingston Nero, Movie Geek
Yes, yes, I know. Most moviegoers have long-since gotten sick to un-death of the Zombie movie. (Don’t scoff at the pun; you bought the newspaper.)
I will be the first to admit I had low expectations. The last thing I wanted to waste my time watching was another cookie-cutter zombie movie or a cinematic rip-off of “The Walking Dead.” I mean, I saw that sparkling vampire flick after so many people told me it was the latest and greatest in vampire/werewolf sagas.
To the people who convinced me that was true – I hate you all.
Back to the task at hand. I was wrong, friends and neighbors. The zombie movie with the idiot title (don’t look at me like that, you know it’s stupid) is a delightful thrill-ride from beginning to end. The dialogue is tight and sharp, and the actors actually talk instead of reading from badly-printed cue cards.
I want more than anything to tell you the huge twist that even your resident movie geek didn’t see coming, but I’m gluten- and spoiler-free. Sorry.
Instead, let’s hit the high points:
Go see “Attack of the Brain Eaters,” kids. I give it five shiny gold stars for Brian Cutter alone. You online ticket buyers can use CUTTER4EVR to receive a coupon for a free large popcorn at any AMC theater! Tell them the Geek sent you!