Tuesday, February 27, 2018
Check out another snippet from The Golden Boy
Ten minutes --and two sore toes from kicking a trash can-- later, I walked into the St. Mary’s Academy Digital Media Program or, as we liked to call it, Film Club.
Back in September, Mr. Walters showed us an independent studio’s version of The Odyssey. Now we, as a club, were tasked with making our own thirty minute short inspired by the film. I was elected cinematographer. It was an ideal job for me since I brought my camera everywhere. But of course, like every other person in this industry, what I really wanted to do was direct.
I shuffled into the classroom --half in pain, half in annoyance-- and was immediately greeted by Mr. Walter’s irked gaze. Though his eyes moved, his body did not. He remained reclined at his desk, script in hand, feet stretched out in front of him as if he were in a poolside lounge chair drinking a tequila mojito instead of supervising a classroom.
“Ms. Kotopuli, thanks for fitting us into your busy schedule. We’re honored to be counted worthy of your very precious time.”
I rolled my eyes. “Sorry. I was dealing with a snake problem.”
Mr. Walters rolled his eyes the same way I did, giving my sass right back at me. It was one of the reasons why I liked him so much.
“Well, let’s hope you took a picture of it, Madame Cinematographer. Did you do your assignment?”
“Great. Let’s see it.”
My Clay inspired irritation disappeared and I smiled and held up my camera.
Mr. Walters was one of those cool teachers who would definitely fit into my friend group if he were forty years younger. He was funny and witty and just a little bit out there. I could tell that he was a former theater geek. It was written all over his thin body and Errol Flynn mustache. But the dead giveaway was his ever-present ascots.
Mr. Walters sat up as I angled my camera and showed him the sites I’d picked out last weekend for our film. As the cinematographer, one of my jobs was to scout out possible shooting locations. I showed him a couple of shoreline shots that looked slightly like coastal Greece, as well as houses that had the Grecian vibe we were looking for. When he came to the last picture, he sat back and rubbed his chin.
“I don’t know. Those coasts are too rocky. Nothing Grecian about them. And the houses all have such a modern feel. We need something that looks more… I don’t know… ancient. Something with a wide, open living area and Grecian columns, I think.”
“I know. I’m still looking for the perfect spot, but it’s hard to find anything locally. There’s a spot in Rhode Island that I really liked, but it’s not in our travel budget.”
For what? Even if he liked it, we couldn’t afford to go.
I sighed and pulled my phone from my pocket. I scrolled through my saved pictures before finding the right one and showing it to him. Mohegan Bluffs. It’s grassy coast, blue sea, and rolling green hills were perfect for our shoot.
And entirely out of our five-hundred-dollar budget.
“How much do you think a trip like that would cost?” He asked.
I blew out a breath. “I called a bus company. It’ll be three thousand dollars minimum. That’s for a bus rental, a tip for the driver. Plus, we’d have to pay for the ferry from New London to the island and back, and meals.”
Mr. Walters leaned closer to me as if sharing a secret. “I’ll present it to Mr. Mann, see if I can get him to up the funds. In the meantime, have the kids spread the word to their parents that our film program is underfunded. I’m sure I can get three times that just in donations alone by the end of the week. And, if that doesn’t work, I’m sure your dad can cover it.”
I laughed too. It was a laugh I didn’t mean. My dad struggled to pay my tuition. Surely, he couldn’t afford to pony up three grand for my film club.
“Don’t worry about the money,” Mr. Walters said. “You kid’s shoe budget cost more than this bus trip. We’ll discuss it with the director. Once we come to an agreement, we’ll get the permission slips signed and we’ll be playing the slots before noon.”
He cleared his throat. “Not you kids, of course. I, myself, however…” He smiled nervously as if he’d crossed the line. “Don’t tell anyone though. There’ll be a mojito in it for you.”
My eyes lit up. “Really?”
“Virgin, of course.”
And there went that.
Mr. Walters laughed. “I’m a good teacher, not an idiot.”
And then he shooed me away and restarted his read through of Nancy’s script.
Mr. Walters was my favorite teacher. Not because he taught me much -I didn’t have him for a class outside of film club- but because he made me feel like a person instead of an inept child like most teachers did. I felt like I could be myself around him, and he wouldn’t judge me. He was the only teacher I would even consider coming to with my problems.
If I had to leave St. Mary’s, would I like my new teachers? Would I find ever find another Mr. Walters?
I walked past the popcorn machine, bean bags, and scattered book bags to the back of the classroom where a group of students were rehearsing while standing on top of desks. The director, Madeline Brawny, sat below them in a plastic blue chair.
She clapped loudly, shaking her head so vigorously I was surprised it didn’t fly off.
“No. No. No. It’s all wrong!”
She stood up, pointing long fingers at the two students on the makeshift stage. Our recent recruit from swim club, Sophia Johnson, and the bane of my existence-slash-ex-boyfriend, Homer Gibson. Sophia was playing the part of Penelope, while Homer played the part of Eurymachus or Mike in our contemporary retelling.
“Mike is charismatic, not a circus clown!” she screamed. For some reason, she was talking in a French accent today. Odd, seeing that Madeline wasn’t French.
Homer ground his teeth.
“It’s my interpretation of the character,” he growled.
“Yes, well you are interpreting him like a circus clown. Mike is smooth, and pompous, with a layer of deceit.”
“I know that.”
Madeline snorted. “Well, from your performance, I couldn’t tell.”
Home glared at Madeline, while Sophia put her hand over her mouth to keep in her laughter.
I didn’t bother with such courtesies. I laughed long and hard and entirely too much for one of Madeline’s quips. I probably looked insane, but I didn’t care. I wanted to embarrass Homer. I wanted him to feel like a fool. Just like I’d felt when he dumped me for that plastic, blonde cheerleader.
Yes. That was months ago.
Yes. I was still bitter about it and I wasn’t opposed to publicly shaming him whatever I got the chance.
I was petty like that.
Madeline turned to look at me, and I instantly quieted myself.
She placed her hands on her hips. Madeline Brawny was the sort of person who took herself way too seriously. She wore a French beret and a long, itchy looking, navy blue scarf. She looked more like a caricature of a film director than an actual one. Her father, Jack Brawny, was an actual director. A good one too. He didn’t do many indie movies, but his regular movies had substance and texture and meaty stories. None of that fluffy stuff that overran movie theaters nowadays. Madeline may have tried, but she was far from the master that her father was.
“Megera, dear. Though I appreciate your… uh… verbal support, perhaps your talents would best be used to scout out locations for Odysseus’ home and the Greek terrain. Why don’t you take your little camera and run along?”
I gave her a tight smile.
She returned the gesture and turned back to her actors.
Yup. Madeline was going overboard. Again. Meanwhile, Sophia was still muffling her laughter behind her hand, and Homer was too busy glaring at Madeline to pay attention to me.
I walked to the side of the classroom, past where Jonathan Freeman, our resident Odysseus, was practicing his lines and stopped next to the few people I actually got along with. And by got along, I meant that I wasn’t openly hostile to them.
Sarah Whittier and Caleb Connors ran the lighting crew and Poppy Pritchett was my assistant cinematographer. They all sat in bean bags with their laptops on their laps, posting reviews on HSFilmClubs.Org, the organization that sponsored our club.
In exchange for HSFilmClubs’ financial support, we had to post reviews of their family-friendly independent films. Ninety-nine percent of these movies were total snooze-fests but one or two of them were actually pretty good.
“Hey guys,” I said with a wave. I dropped down into a bean bag and fiddled with my camera settings.
“I’m watching a movie about a woman who thinks God lives in her cereal bowl,” Poppy said, pulling her chocolate brown hair into a messy bun atop her head. “Every morning she wakes up, pours herself alphabet cereal, and tries to figure out what God's saying to her. It’s demented and weird and oddly fascinating.” The bun didn’t hold, and the dark strands fell like rained over her shoulders again.
Caleb gave her a half smile.
“I’ll bet he says oh and ah a lot,” Caleb replied, his fingers flying across the keyboard. He was the type of kid who wore turtlenecks and Hawaiian shirts at all times of the year. That’s right. Turtlenecks in the summer, fall, winter, and spring. Needless to say, Caleb was frequently prey for bullies.
“Shouldn’t God live in kale and egg white omelets?” Sarah asked. “Cereal is so high carb.” She chuckled at her joke. No one else did. Embarrassment for her warmed my cheeks.
“We’ve told you a million times, Sarah,” Poppy said. “Your. Jokes. Aren’t. Funny.”
Sarah pouted. “Well, that was harsh. I’ve been planning that joke for like a week. It was the perfect opportunity to use it and-”
“Please clear all jokes with us in writing first,” Caleb said, not looking up from his screen.
I waved them away, smiled at Sarah and gave her the laugh that she’d been craving.
“It was a very funny joke,” I said, placing a hand on her knee.
Sarah wasn’t funny. In fact, she was the unfunniest person that I’d ever met. But, she tried to be funny and I was behind anyone who knew they were terrible at something and tried to improve themselves.
Sarah smiled at me gratefully.
“Do you mean it?” she asked.
“Of course, I do.” It was a lie, but the way that Sarah beamed at me made it all worth it. Sarah may not have been funny, but she was good to talk to, patient, and kind. I’d actually thought about calling her a few times, just to talk. Maybe one day, I would.
Poppy spoke up again. “The lady just asked God if she’d have a happy life, and the cereal just spelled out ‘perception’.”
“I call bull crap on that,” I said. “What if she’s reading the letters wrong? Like she thought it said perception, but it really says reception and the p’s all wonky. Like God’s saying, don’t go into areas with bad reception.”
Poppy and Conner both looked at me with questions in their eyes.
“So, God doesn’t want her to connect to bad Wi-Fi networks?” Poppy asked. Her chocolate hair had fallen in her face, and she pushed back over her shoulder.
I was being facetious. They didn’t get it.
My cheeks heated again.
Sarah was bad at jokes.
And, apparently, so I was.
“It was a joke,” I said.
Conner and Poppy shared a look, then returned their eyes to the screens. The two of them were best friends, along with another girl named Christina who was apparently too cool for the film club.
Imagine that. Three best friends.
I didn’t even have one.
Sarah gave me a half smile.
“I got your joke,” she said. “It was funny.”
She was lying of course. I knew this because I’d just lied to her the same way.
I gave her back the same pitiful yet grateful smile she gave me. It’s amazing how shared trauma can bring people together. Both Sarah and I were just mortally embarrassed and now I felt closer than ever to her. I resolved to call her as soon as I could. After all, us weirdos had to stick together. Especially against tough crowds like Caleb and Poppy.
I sat back in my beanbag, or more so leaned back awkwardly, and allowed the sights and sounds of my favorite place in the world to wash over me.
Sophia delivering her lines in perfect rhythm, while Homer botched his.
Madeline yelling at someone for missing their cue.
The clicks of fingers typing on keyboards.
The smell of costumes.
The sound of someone playing music samples for Mr. Walters.
The camera in my hand cemented the feeling of warmth that went through me.
Even though I didn't get along with everyone here, this club still felt like home to me. We were all different -some of us more than others- but we shared a common bond. Film. No matter if we were directors, or actors, or composers, or cinematographers we all came together to create something mind-blowing.
It wasn’t perfect but that was the beauty of it.
I loved this club. It was my life.
Clay’s offer floated back into my mind.
Would I do anything to stay?
Even tell a lie?