Hollywood head on…or, another glimpse behind the scenes with Vickie Lester, #amwriting #HollywoodFiction

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by vickie lester

Billie was in pre-pre-production for months, which is otherwise known as “development.” It’s mostly an accounting trick, cinema semantics, as some impressive dollar deals are tied to certain points in the film schedule, like the huge fees that are handed out the first day of principal photography.

In the meantime she and Jake and Dave moved into their new home. A major domo/baby sitter was hired from an employment agent that specialized in impeccable credentials and resumes that included service to British aristocrats. Mr. Booker had traveled the world, mostly in a capacity he wouldn’t discuss during WWII. He tut-tutted when Billie swore in Italian and when he put Jake to bed at night he often called the child habibi. She liked his mysterious aura and cracked herself up thinking Mr. Booker might once have been covert ops. If that had been the case, there was not a whit of daredevil left to him at the age of sixty-two. The hire appealed to Dave’s sense of importance and since the major domo was approaching retirement and embodied the hauteur her movie star husband thought was a befitting reflection on him and the grandfatherly aspect (indeed, Mr. Booker reminded Billie of an elderly, much more verbal, version of her father) that was required for Jake, things were looking rosy.

Never, would Dave be spied rubbing sun tan lotion on Mr. Booker’s back, nor would he be tempted to play tonsil hockey with Mr. Booker in darkened restaurants. Mr. Booker wore black horn rimmed glasses that looked like they had been placed on his face in the early nineteen sixties. Mr. Booker insisted on cultivating a proper kitchen garden. Mr. Booker was in the process of reading Jake “Moby Dick” unabridged, as a bedtime story. When Billie questioned his choice Mr. Booker said, “Young men are like puppies. It matters little what I say, it’s the tone in which I say it. And, in my experience, early exposure to literary prose will only serve to elevate Jake’s intellect.” No doubt Joseph Conrad would be next on their reading list but Mr. Booker made Billie feel safe.

The same couldn’t be said of the company Billie was keeping as development transitioned into pre-production and pre-production turned into the last few weeks before photography on Cooper Daniels’ film.

On a location scout in the magical red rocks of New Mexico (for which she had chartered a Lear Jet on the company account) Billie endeavored not to judge. She, Cooper Daniels, the cinematographer, the location scout, and Patience and Peace ventured out from the airport in January in an old Cadillac with bench seats to drive the twisting roads not far from Sedona. The car had great suspension, which is why Cooper had specified the make. At some point in their journey Patience and Peace wordlessly produced plastic bags of dark ominously desiccated mushrooms from their slouchy handbags and handed them each to both Cooper and the director of photography.

The location scout pulled the car over. Cooper and the director of photography, using their fingers like tongs, gathered up about a tablespoon of the gnarled vegetation and ate the mushrooms. Roughly twenty minutes were spent suppressing the urge to vomit up something that tasted like bitter fermented dirt, but worse. For twenty minutes they dry heaved and then sipped on beers until they finally wiped their grinning faces with the back of their hands and climbed up on the hood of the Cadillac and placing their stomachs on steel and their faces over the grill they instructed the location scout to tie them in place and drive — drive very slowly — while they became the camera. Seriously, that’s exactly what they did.

Billie remembered something about the Harmonic Convergence in 1987 during which people had flocked to Sedona, a place that was said to be riddled with vortexes and not the kind you find spinning in the Atlantic Ocean or down the drain. These were more theoretical in nature; complete figments of the imagination, and Cooper and the director of photography were spotting every one. They chattered gleefully about comet trails and starbursts and waves and atoms and divinity and wings and totems and roots and membranes and paths and arteries and the meaning beneath the meaning. The words; dappled, sparkling, dripping, and glowing were repeated often and sometimes they just giggled and sometimes they just oh and ah-ed and had they not been tied down they probably would have rolled together and embraced at the sheer beauty and oneness of the universe.

Can one really say Billie tried not to judge? Well. She failed. The drive was excruciatingly slow and lasted as long as the hallucinogenic effects of the mushrooms, four hours. Four hours with a pair of blondes who spoke in monosyllables, correction: one blonde who spoke in monosyllables and one blonde, Peace, who never spoke at all, and a location scout white knuckled and fearful of dashing the brains of his director and top cameraman all over the pavement…

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© Vickie Lester and Beguiling Hollywood, 2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Vickie Lester and Beguiling Hollywood with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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