Opium

by Julio Peralta-Paulino

Day was well past coffee and breakfast — even if at Parthenon the first meal of the day wasn’t much more than some dusty Danish — when Heisenberg’s green line rang.

“Oh, yes the teen vampire project.  I like this draft.  What are we calling it?”

He asked without any expectation of a response.

“The sophomore version.  Yes yes the problem as I see it is that it should either be a vampire film or a werewolf movie, but this mixture it’s simply too either or and I don’t want that and I don’t think that what’s her name wants that.”

There was a pause as if to give the novelist some credit for coming up with the series of words that had made a book and was now being transcribed into a screenplay by a scribbler that knew, in the opinion of Heisenberg and for that matter Parthenon, what it truly meant to write.

That is to say, being oblivious to nearly everything but the all important plot and the not so important sub-plot.

“I’d love to get that Soy Popula on this, but that brat thinks she’s Hollywood royalty.  Next thing you know, we’ll be stuck making the next Norman space sci-fi adventure vehicle set in Paris.  I got enough worries . . . Let me make some calls and see what the schedules are like for Winter season.  I’ll get back to you, in the meanwhile, cut out the dogs, you know the wolves, and make it something more sexy — uhm, maybe he turns into bird — a pretty bird — half vulture and half falcon.  Now, get right on that before I sign the director.”

Heidelberg hadn’t seen it all, but he’d seen enough.  He especially held witness to the continual lack of major worldwide box office at Parthenon.  It was fair to say he was an agitated man in need of something spectacular for his prodco.  Parthenon was one of the old time players.  Old as far as anything could possibly be old in an ever-young city like Los Angeles.  It was rather simply mostly farmland when cinema was taking its early steps.  A dream much like Las Vegas, but a drama that would quickly evolve into one of the world’s most alluring attractions.  When America went to war, Parthenon went to war—with R rated films.  Even so, none of their movies were ever among the top-grossing of all time, they didn’t have the type of weekend openings one might be inclined to associate with a name such as Parthenon Studios.

Every so often H, as Heidelberg was nicknamed by those near enough his acquaintenances not to be threatened with being fired or worse, would say to himself, “Well, Gigantic was massive and they had to split the loot with Teamworks, and after I’ve been here we had Reformers but also in partnership with Twenty Cent Locks; it’s probably one of those movie things.”  Sometimes, when H practiced infidelity and he did so every Thursday and every long weekend available to himself and his revolving convoy of escorts, he’d whisper afterwards:  “The thing I worry about is the Artisan Curse.”  Of course, he wouldn’t explain what that was to his momentary mistress except to add:  “They had a good thing with the Rare Witch Project, but they went for the sequel and it killed them.”  If the fun was outside the ordinary, H would include a concluding thought to his confessional whisper:  “It’s the age of the sequel, but some movies simply cannot be made.”

Months passed, H was never pleased with the photo-play in progress, much as loved the potential.  “It needs something.   It has romance, sure.  I don’t know, maybe a bimbo mobile?”  From his experience, it was clear, when a movie starts to feel like work then it might not be worth producing.  It might just start to feel like a workload to the goer that has to carry it for two hours in a dark room.

The afternoon came early.  One conference call and suddenly his secretary handed him the green line and the words went around the room, “Let the lawyers find a new team for this screenplay.  I already got one with the same title out, it’s been knocking at my distraction for months, and we really need to concentrate on that love story with the three-legged cat.”

When the first Vampire film did well, there was some uneasiness surrounding Parthenon and H.  Still, it was — as many people tend to say — “one of those things.”  They got lucky or they deserved something for having the balls to put Christmas Nicci as a piglet in a stinker. A tolerable folly.  Once in a while, to his wife, in the late evenings, he’d say, “Maybe I should have had some more patience with the werewolf side of the thing.”

Powerful men are not usually prone to remorse or regret.  Tears are rare, although fears might be fruitful.  H was being driven to one of the hideaways just outside L.A. in the Autumn when the sequel to the project he had sent back into negotiations appeared.

The long lines made him think, “Hmmm kids, looks like another winner, this business is insane.  No telling what might strike up the ticket band.”  He took a Tambien, which was a popular medication in those days even if the side effects included self-extermination.  He went to bed, shaking from the text-message realization that it had made seventy million in a few hours showing.  The words echoed like cold leftovers in the gut of his thoughts, “This isn’t even the big weekend.”

That first not even the big weekend the movie grossed 153 milliion domestic.  It was bigger than many of the big movies and cost a fraction of what they had been budgeted.  It was big news.  Excellent news, in fact, for the industry.  It simply wasn’t news that Parthenon, and especially H could relish.

After only two weeks the world-wide total was estimated at four hundred and seventy million dollars.  All of it within an international recession, possible flu-epidemic, and the talk of global warming looming over the earthly population.

One might have expected a place like Parthenon to demote or even deliver Heidelberg his walking papers.  “Didn’t the guy from the mailroom look a lot like H?  If you can’t get me on screen anymore then I don’t have half an hour to make your pasta al dente.”

Of course, often something as dramatic as the sequel’s triumph turns heads so entirely that nothing is said and things go on as they had before the rights were let go to some other contender.

Day was well past teas and biscuits—even if at Parthenon the first meal of the day wasn’t much more than some hasty fruit—when Heisenberg’s private line rang.

“Oh yes.  That reminds me, I need something stronger than my current prescription.  Would Morphine be too difficult?” He asked, entirely expecting the Rx Fedexed before the pome disappeared from its decomposing position alongside the oversized Rolodex.

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