“You know they were LA guys—‘flash!’” The set-dressing buyer waved her hand dismissively. “They didn’t know what they were doing. Probably someone’s nephew. They had no experience buying.”
Sitting on the couches in Caffe Phoenix, she waved her cigarette and gestured wildly with one hand.
The other held her espresso like it was a lifeline from beyond.
The film business had a few very real constants, Kitty reflected.
Obviously, nepotism can always be depended upon, which was not that different from life in most Southern institutions with which she had grown up observing. Hiring a family member wasn’t frowned upon in the South; it was condoned. It was expected—to the point that if you didn’t hire a family member, people questioned either your judgement or the moral integrity of the person you were clearly shunning.
In the film world, one thing enshrined was the supremacy of film crews from LA. “It’s like the difference between being Italian and being Roman,” the old gaffer once attempted to explain at the craft-service table. “Being from Italy is wonderful—being born in Rome is divine.”
Or like being a New Yorker made you somehow different than being an American, she mused.
There was no doubt, in the film world, people from LA were self-proclaimed royalty—and with it came all the resentment everyone else who was not could heap upon them. It resulted in an eternal struggle between crews from LA and everywhere else. It was complicated but boiled down to the simplest forms:
1. All LA film people believe they are superior at the craft to any provincial film people from anywhere outside of LA because anyone who was any good would be in LA, right?
2. Film crews outside of LA are naturally suspicious of film crews from LA because:
a. LA crew members probably want to sabotage the filming so it moves back to LA instead of out here in the sticks.
b. LA crew members probably have a buddy they would rather hire than the hicks from the location they are stuck with.
So when Liza dismissed the LA guys as “flash” it wasn’t surprising.
“Flash” as in over-dressed, over-confident and impossible to take seriously seemed to sum up most of the local crews’ attitude toward the LA guys. It was as if they collectively were saying, “Oh? You’ve made a couple of made-for-TV movies out in La La Land? How nice. We cut our teeth with David Lean, David Lynch, and David Cronenberg working on location.”
Flash? Yes an apt description and not a surprising one. What was surprising was what she said next.
“Do you know they bought the entire contents of a real pawn shop for the pawn shop scene?” she hissed and shook her head.
So, like, real guns, real boxes of bullets. Live ammunition on the set! I mean, that is so dangerous.
You just don’t do that! Then the guys—the props and effects guys—were using bullets to empty and make their own blanks with!”
She knocked back the second half of her espresso and signaled to the waitress she wanted to switch to a cocktail. “Remember: This is off the record,” she directed at Kitty.
“Yes, yes, just background,” Kitty assured her.
Kitty managed to get Liza, the newly hired buyer for set-dressing during the reshoots for “Blackbird” to meet her at the Phoenix. Obviously, props and set-dressing departments had undergone some modification during intervening months after Jeffrey Chen had been shot while filming. Though production had resumed, using new computer imaging to place Jeffrey’s face on body doubles, not all of the out-of-town crew had been asked to return. The mishandling of the prop gun and safety concerns raised about the set caused a bit of a shakeup.
Finally, the local crews in the area were filling slots that had been given to LA people initially. The newly vindicated local crew responded with the complex attitude film people have mastered:
They’re so burdened with all that is expected of them to produce something wonderful in substandard conditions, but they are clearly the only people capable of doing it. Kitty reflected how she had heard less griping in the newsroom—an area notorious for bad attitudes and oppressive working conditions.
“Can I just make sure I heard you correctly: Are you saying on the pawn shop set, boxes of ammunition were real ammunition? Not empty boxes?” Kitty clarified.
“That is exactly what I am saying,” Liza spat. “I am also saying all the bullets that got spilled and knocked around the set in the pawn-shop robbery were not empty but live ammunition, on a set that had a gun fight and would get blown up shortly.”
Liza shook her head again in anger, frustration and downright fury. “But that’s what you get when you hire ‘flash’ amateurs instead of experienced professionals.”
“Are you saying that’s why Jeffrey is dead—because of who they hired?”
Liza caught her breath and measured out her next words surprisingly carefully. “I am saying an inexperienced director worked with a crew that included several people in key positions who were not qualified to do the jobs they were hired to do and did not stand up to authority—either because they didn’t know to or didn’t have the balls to. They didn’t insist proper procedure be followed. Yes. That is what I am saying. Would Jeffrey still be alive? I don’t know. But that pawn shop set is an example of gross negligence that endangered everyone—the actors, the crew, everyone.”
She took a deep breath. “I am not saying I am perfect, but if they had hired me in the first place, I wouldn’t have done that. I’ve been in the business 15 years, I worked my way up and I know what I’m doing.”
She paused, breathing heavily, then looked Kitty full in the face. “I’m not saying Jeffrey would still be alive, but I am saying there is a higher chance and probability.”
Kitty stared at her dumbfounded. No one had come close to saying anything this damning yet. It was refreshing, it was scary, it was … exactly what she had been terrified and hoping to hear.
“I wish you had been hired that first time,” Kitty whispered. Silent tears wet her cheeks. “I wish you had.”
Gwenyfar Rohler is encore’s fact-or-fiction writer for 2018. Her serial story, “Singing in the Dead of Night,” follows the death of a young movie star and the emotional aftermath that follows, as local media try to uncover the events leading up to the high-profile “murder,” which takes place while filming in Wilmington, NC. Catch up on previous chapters at encorepub.com.