Movie in Ten Scenes
I go on in to the flat, size things up. His wife’s not around, but then I know that because I spent a careful two minutes ringing the doorbell, then another five peering through windows. God knows I’ll be mortified if I get caught like this. Orson wasn’t even sure if there was a wife, but a glance through the window into the lounge was confirmation enough. Even the wall lights have frills, for chrissakes.
The key fits smoothly, and for some reason I’m surprised when the door opens and I walk in. It’s an uncanny feeling walking into Somebody Else’s Place, like walking around naked. Burglars must get to enjoy it. Perhaps elderly burglars become flashers. Not a thought to dwell on. I take my shoes off at the door, have a quick look inside, peer out through the windows,
I signal Ron the all clear and he gets out of the car. The street’s empty. I put my shoes back on to go give him a hand with the body, which is freaking heavy. I have no idea who Ron is, except that Orson knows him. He’s reliable, says Orson, very discreet.
He holds Alan beneath his arms, and hauls him from the back seat. I grab the legs. He’s wearing shoes polished like beetles. Trousers a fraction too short, not a fashionable man. We carry him inside, where we have a choice of set-ups. In the arm-chair, newspaper across his chest, TV playing? Collapsed by an open fridge door, milk carton spilling out around him? Ron points out we don’t know if he even drinks milk.
He could have been putting it away, I say. Maybe they have a cat. I point out the cat-flap, a murky u-shape low in the back door. Here kitty kitty.
No point in speculating, he says. Armchair’s a safer bet. Less grief.
You have to be sensitive about these things, after all. We put the TV on in the background. Grandstand plays, which seems right, Saturday afternoon a long eternity to die in. We put Alan in the chair, still in costume, as though he’d just got home and sat down. Looks convincing to me. I try and straighten up his head and it lolls back to the side. He’s not rigorous yet. There’s a chance we bruised him in lugging him around, but I can’t bring myself to check, and then what would I do about it anyway?
Keys, says Ron. In his left pocket.
I was about to walk out with them and lock the door behind me. Ron’s professionalism is beginning to disturb. Anyone would think he might have done this kind of thing before. He’s just a little
proficient. His confidence is contagious, mind, and even I begin to think that we’ve gotten away with it Scott
So Ron and I go to the pub. Where we undertake a serious and sustained steadying of nerves.
But maybe I should tell you what happened
A few months back I bump into Orson in a pub. I’ve known him since art school, where I roomed with his brother. Orson was at college then, but dropped out to become a businessman, realizing money came easily to people like him. People trust him, which is unnerving, given his reliable unreliability.
The place I see him in is a swamp of carpet, crimson and blue, a morass which spreads up the front of the bar and halfway up the walls. Anything dropped into it – loose change, pint glasses, mobile phone – immediately disappears. No point or pleasure in looking. It’s afternoon, and I’ve just come in for an early couple of drinks before I go out later. Orson’s leaning against the bar with a glass of white wine, on the lookout for someone. I don’t expect it to be me, and so I don’t make an effort to hide. He sees me and waves me over, and I kick myself on the way. There’s no ignoring the man though – he has this persistence which gets affecting after a while. After a while I even start paying attention. He’s telling me he wants to make a film, and that he wants my input. He wants to do some kind of gangland feature, he says.
What the freak, I say, do you know about that?
He shrugs. I’ve been to the movies, he says. Anyway, I’m only going to make the film.
Right, I say. I tell him he should maybe be more original. Gangster movies been done, I say. You need something new.
That seems to make an impression. He goes away to think about this for a while, to come up with some ideas. I don’t expect to hear any more on the subject. Next time I see him he’ll have another project on. This is the way with Orson. ADD, no follow through. All fine as long as he has something on the go. His brother was just the same, until he ran out of ideas. Went back to live with his mother and never came out of his room again. Orson refuses to talk about him, gets quite upset about it, so I always remember to ask.
After a couple of months I bump into him in a pub.
Nah, he says. I want to do a gangland feature. He starts talking about the shots he wants, so naturally I ask about the script. He looks askance, calculating a schedule.
How long will it take you to put one together? he says.
I give him an X-ray stare, trying to make eye contact with a girl two pubs away. He tries it for a minute then folds.
I’ll pay, he says.
Couple weeks, I say. And mine’s a pint. Thanks.
So I go back to my flat where I can’t pay the rent, watch a few videos and bang out a short script. I just steal scenes from old gangster movies and tie them together. It’s a blag, but then so’s Orson. He doesn’t know freak about films. He does have money though, enough for a vanity project like this one, and that money has to go somewhere, so as long as it goes somewhere near me I don’t mind.
months on from that and we’re in production, which is to say a bunch of his mates are working on putting the thing together. We’re standing on a South London back street hanging around until someone tells us what to do.
Two old mates of his – bouncers from some club, I think, are the PAs, that’s Ron and Thor. The DP is some guy with movie experience. He’s told me his name six times now and I still can’t remember it. Miles? Don’t know where he came from, and he doesn’t act like a friend of Orson’s, so I can only assume he’s being paid, which means he’s smart, at least, so I warm to him. Then there’s Dylan, the sound guy, who seems alright, and Orson’s girlfriend Cheryl who’s doing make-up, mostly on herself. Then there’s Kharli, a girl Orson is openly trying to shag. She’s in charge of the vagaries of continuity. By my count we’re short at least a production designer, and probably a few degrees of expertise in other areas too. I’m strictly moral support at this stage, by which I mean I expect things to go badly wrong, and wouldn’t mind seeing the implosion.
We have two cameras – Orson’s own digital camera, an object about the size and appearance of a cigarette lighter, and an old Arriflex. Dylan the sound guy has his own Nagra sound gear.
Alan, our lead, is a nervous bunny. Orson dug him out of some pub, he hasn’t seen the light of day for a while. The camera’s gonna eat him alive. He looks the part, though. An ageing gangster about to keel. Wrinkles like he sucked so hard on his cigarette his whole face collapsed. Even has a scar on his palm, wide and old, running right across, the result, he says, of a paper cut. Alan’s in insurance. But he’s desperate for this. More deluded, even, than Orson. My last chance, he keeps on saying. Keeps talking about Vinnie Jones. If Vinnie can do it, he says. Or: Vinnie’s gone and done it. His voice is freaking fantastic – hoarse and whispered. Brando never smoked forty years just to get a part. He sweats like a sponge whenever he’s about to go camera front, and somewhere among the chasms in his face mascara collects and clogs - there are pores there that haven’t been air-permeable since the seventies. Cheryl the make-up lady is on strike, hands up. She wrings out her mascara brush.
S’alright, says Orson. Seediness, innit?
Alan pushes his matted hair across his forehead. It looks like a frond of brown seaweed – wet and ill.
We get going. Kharli flounces in front of the camera and wields the clapper-board. SCENE 5A, TAKE 1, she yells. The Arriflex whirs, until it starts to grind.
Can’t you stop that BLOODY camera making that BLOODY sound, Orson asks the DP. He shouts when he swears, I think because swearing sounds wrong coming from him and he’s self-conscious about this, so tries to add some emphasis, avoid sounding so bloody silly. It doesn’t work, needless, but it’s a little uncanny.
I could switch it off, suggests the DP, unfazed.
The sound guy shrugs. All I can hear is the camera, he says. They gather round and prod it, but the grinding clank isn’t so malleably fixed.
We go to the pub.
Orson gets on his phone and half an hour later the guy from the camera shop joins us. We caught him just before he went off to do some sky-diving filming. He does mid-air weddings, that kind of thing. Did a nude one, once, and when he mentions that he offers copies of the video for a fiver, seems surprised when there are no takers. The camera’s sitting on a pub table surrounded by a half dozen pint glasses, a wine glass and two spread packets of crisps, salt and vinegar. The DP lets it grind a little.
Film’s not loaded properly, says the camera rental shop guy. He and the DP drag it over to a nearby empty table to sort it out. They sort it out no time.
Everyone packs up to go, downs pints. The camera shop guy comes over to me, chiefly because I’m conspicuously inactive with chores. He looks thoughtful. Do you think they’ll let me pack my parachute here? he asks.
Finding the camera shop guy a place to pack his parachute is the least of our troubles. Permits, say. Impossible to get hold of. We’ve adopted a hit-and-run approach to getting the required locations and there is undeniably something about our film-making which is reminiscent of a car crash. Or extras, for example. Most scenes require a few, and we thought we’d just get whoever was at hand to fill in. No lines to learn, promises of exposure. You’d think people would want to be in a film – even a short. If you read the relevant press you’d think that was all people wanted, spent their entire lives waiting for the day. You’d think that only if you hadn’t spent two hours on the street stopping passers-by and saying, wanna be in a film? Right up until you asked them they probably thought they did. But then they get all coy and self-conscious – I swear one woman giggled. I wasn’t even asking for a date, I was serious.
Do I wanna be in a film? Is that a line? one girl asks.
Uh, maybe? I say.
No, she says.
And fair enough. She agrees to be an extra, though. That’s how it goes. She gets to be a moll, and Cheryl does her hair up a little. Everything progresses remarkably well. After a while we go to the pub for a break, to get our
When we get back we do the scene from Armoured Car Robbery. The scene in the restaurant from Goodfellas, so the DP can reverse zoom like he wants to. We do one or two other scenes from Goodfellas. Because there wasn’t much in the video store when I went we do a whole bunch of scenes from Tarantino, which he certainly nicked from somewhere else anyway. We do scenes from The Killing. We do the gunfight from Grosse Point Blank except we replace the
with a local Co-op. We have to pay for any merchandise we blow up. We smash a couple packets of crisps.
Save the best till last. The key scene is the demise of the elderly gangster, Alan. It’s the scene where he suffers a heart attack. It’s the scene from The Godfather with Brando and an orange, minus the orange. Orson doesn’t know that. As far as he’s concerned it’s All My Own Work, by which I mean he thinks it’s all his own work.
You see, he tells me as we’re setting up. I could have had him shot. Being a gangster, that would be expected. But then he has a heart attack. See? It’s so true.
He waves to Alan. Ready for your big moment, mate, he says.
I wanted Alan to be carrying a bag of groceries, and to drop them so that an orange rolled out and away for the camera to follow, but Orson wasn’t keen. We want the Godfather, he says, not the BLOODY grocer, so maybe he has seen it after all, or just got lucky. I don’t want any BLOODY fruit in the film, he says.
Kharli’s bored, letting Cheryl do her nails. Thor’s been drinking steadily since this morning. Every twenty minutes or so there’s a loud crunch as he folds down the can he’s been drinking from, then a clatter as it lands inside the back of the DP’s van, which by crew consent has become a rubbish bin. He’s no longer standing so much as rolling on the spot, like he’s on a ship in a gale.
Orson wanders off to talk to Kharli about something, and seems to forget we’re ready to go.
Behind his droopy lips Alan’s tight-lipped. He’s in turmoil with the pressure, standing off to one side. I notice he’s wearing a different coat to the one he wore in the previous scene, but that’s Kharli’s job, not mine, so I keep quiet. I feel a real need to go to the pub.
There’s the sound-speed, camera-speed dialogue. Orson finally gets concentration.
And...action. Oh, right, we’re going.
Alan clutches his chest, tries to breathe. Doesn’t fall like we instructed him to or we rehearsed, just bends over like he’s out of breath and kind of folds downwards from there, putting his left hand on the pavement while he clutches his chest, and then rolls over. He plays it for all it’s worth. He’s good. Really very good. Even this high pitched wheeze like air barely squeezing in and out of his lungs. Ron and Thor tweak the reflector boards so the light plays across his face.
Bloody primadonna, mutters the DP half way through.
Blimey, says Orson, when it’s over. Cut.
Nearly gave me a freaking heart attack, I think to say, but I’m a little
The sound guy starts to applaud, but cuts off embarrassed after three claps. Bang bang bang oops. Alan holds his position, milking it, so we ignore him.
Eventually the DP the sound guy and me go over to see if he’s okay. I nudge him with my foot, but he just stays there lying curled up like a puddle. The sound guy leans over and fingers for a pulse.
Oh freak, he says. Alan’s dead.
Now that’s method, says the DP.
I go over to Orson, who’s already looking in his notes for the next shot.
He’s dead, I say.
Yeah, says Orson. Not bad.
He wonders what I’m on about, with a look which says, it was in the script, dumbass, and you wrote the freaking script. Of course he’s freaking dead. Then something like understanding clicks and he looks at me, then over at Alan, still in character. Beyond the call of his unwritten contract. The penny drops. Of course even pennies, from a great enough height, can kill. This one just dents his forehead between the eyes and empties out his middle.
He’s dead? says Orson.
Orson panics. Blah blah blah and I’m shooting a freaking snuff movie? Without insurance? I have a BLOODY schedule to keep to. I have a BLOODY film to finish. The BLOODY BASTARD didn’t tell me about his BLOODY heart, did he?
According to Orson there’s no question of an ambulance or police, or even getting a doctor on set. That would lead to undue and adverse complications. He puts his mind to thinking.
Meantime for something to do we put the dead guy in the car. The seat goes back. If anyone asks, the star is catching some zzzs in his dressing room. Kharli starts crying and Cheryl goes over to comfort her.
He was very old, she says. All that smoking can’t be good for you.
After a few minutes standing around, Orson looks at me and smiles, then at Thor and looks annoyed, then at Ron and smiles again. No problem, says Orson. Everything’s going to be fine. The solution always presents itself. Just breathe deeply and count to ten. It’s gonna be
I can’t help but admire his confidence. I can’t help but feel nervous about the way he looked at me. I get prepared to say no to whatever he suggests I do.
When we meet up at his flat later that night we plug the cigarette lighter into the TV and watch the rushes. Orson’s eyes are gleaming desperately, like a gambler nowhere near the end of a losing streak. He breathes out slow. Authenticity, he whispers.
That, he says, is bloody fantastic. He even forgets to shout.
They’re gonna know, I suggest. When they see the film. Some doctor somewhere is gonna look at this and remember how he died and they’re gonna say wait a freaking minute and they’ll just know it’s for real.
He thinks about this.
Nah, he says. It wasn’t that good.
I steer clear of Orson for a few weeks. Last time I saw him he’s no longer on the film kick. He tells me he went to Alan’s funeral, which I didn’t know. Showing impressive sang-froid. Barefaced tells the widow there that Alan was great on set, that he seemed so healthy when we dropped him home. She tells him that some doctor told her that his acting out of a heart attack may have triggered something in his genetic memory, so that when he got home it happened for real. That’s my Alan, she says, he always was that bit impressionable. Orson sympathizes. He tells me he made a speech at the service about how Alan had just discovered something he was good at, how he could have been great, how he could have been a contender, instead of dead, which is what he is.
I don’t believe a word of it. The man is, after all, a mythomaniac, a living cult of personality. For the sake of making an impressive impression there’s not a single sly lie he wouldn’t tell. I breathe deeply, count to ten. Orson tells me there’s something he wants to talk to me about, some offer I can’t refuse.
He offers to buy me a drink.
We go to the pub.