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SINGING IN THE DEAD OF NIGHT: Chapter 10, Why don’t we stop fooling ourselves?

Gwenyfar Rohler continues here Fact or Fiction series “Singing in the Dead of Night” with Chapter 10.

Fact or Fiction

Kitty signaled the bartender for another round. She looked around The Barbary Coast, then downed her shot of tequila and chased it with a PBR.

The old gaffer nodded approvingly. This was honest, down-to-earth behavior in his book. He liked a woman who could drink like that. He clinked his shot against her PBR and did the same.

“The thing with the movie studio … the thing about the studio is … is it was built in a terrible location for a movie studio,” he tried to explain.

“How so?” Kitty asked.

“It is at the end of the goddamned airport runway!” The gaffer shook his head. “You have the airport on one side and the police firing range on the other. It is a fucking nightmare for a sound take. Do you have any idea how much time we lose because of noise?”

“How much?” Kitty asked.

“As soon as you finally get the actors to the set, and they’ve done all their touchy-feely preparations and are actually ready to act—you know what they are paid to do? By the time you get there, all of sudden, a damn plane takes off … or gunshots!”

“Yeah, gunshots,” Kitty said quietly.

“Gunshots.” The gaffer shook his head.

He signaled for another shot.

“But the thing is Giovanni was not a man who built things to last.”

The gaffer wiped his mouth on the back of his hand.

“He built it fast, cheap and with every intention of taking advantage of the local yokels, who wouldn’t know any better. I mean you have to understand when Giovanni arrived in 1984 we didn’t have I-40 yet. Port City was basically off the map and impossible to get to. It took me two days to drive here. When I first made a plane reservation in Toronto, they couldn’t find the damn airport here! Aside from Corning opening, a plant just outside city limits and a tiny college surrounded by corn fields, there really wasn’t much here—just faded genteel glory that never really recovered from the loss of the railroad.”

“Or the Civil War,” Kitty interjected.

The gaffer looked at her appraisingly and sipped his beer.

“I mean you have a lot of Old Southern families with land but very little cash who would say their fortunes turned after the war with Reconstruction and the land grab by Yankee Carpet Baggers,” she added.

The gaffer looked at her. He sipped his beer. He ordered them both another shot. He held her eyes while they each killed their shots.

“Being Canadian, I can see how that sentiment is still felt here,” he finally conceded. “Giovanni played that part to the hilt. To the god damn hilt.”

He shook his head recalling his first few weeks in the area, when he was part of Giovanni’s entourage setting up the studio and loading in at filming locations. The short, fat Italian understood how to dress to impress with hand-stitched shoes and suits that were thousands of dollars a piece. Of course, the suits were hidden carefully in the costuming budget of different movies. The toys were all props and set pieces on paper, and the personal chef was part of the catering budget for the studio.

“In to this sleepy Southern hamlet, I mean,  I half expected to see people with horses hitched up to carts when we got her. Here comes Giovanni—walks a fast-talking, charming Italian filmmaker whose résumé tripped off his lips, in the ultimate Hollywood name-dropping. I mean, he had them all: Fellini, Bergman, Redford, Pacino, Schwarzenegger, Walken, Hepburn, you can just imagine how he dazzled the sweet old Southern Gentry desperate to rent their ‘ancestral properties’ as filming locations,” he chuckled. “You know Giovanni was slick enough to know not to mention Jane Fonda, even though he had worked with her.”

“Yeah, she would have gone over like the Hindenburg down here then—still.” Kitty nodded.

“Yep the ol’ razzle dazzle of Hollywood: He would be in and gone before they knew what hit them.

That’s what he did in Canada, and that was certainly what he had planned here. From 1984 until I guess it was late 1988, he spun his web.”

“I remember it felt like the Port City had become the most exciting place in the world,” Kitty nodded. Celebrities walked the streets, ate with us in our restaurants. I remember the night we sat next to Dennis Hopper at Caffe Pheonix. My mother kept reminding my father to stop staring.”

“Yes, that’s the exciting part. But the important part of film is: Money flowed like water.” The gaffer leaned into her. “Your Mr. Regan talked about ‘trickle down economics,’ well let me tell you, film is gushing-down economics—it is hard and fast and you see it and you feel it. Money spent…”

He held up his fingers to count off his points.

“Buying props, set dressing, renting locations, hiring crew, hiring extras. Dreamseekers flocked here just like early Hollywood when mecca was still just sand in the middle of nowhere. It was incredible.”

The gaffer shook his head and thought about the transformation he just witnessed and was part and parcel of.

“Then he was gone. He declared bankruptcy. We learned later it wasn’t real bankruptcy; it was Hollywood bankruptcy, where he still got to keep his beach house and big toys and fly around the world and make more movies—just not here. The studio was dark. He left us here. You know, by then we had bought houses, the kids were in school. But he just disappeared, and here we all were, with bills to pay, wondering, ‘What had happened to our magic?’”

It was a slip—admitting the magic was what still lured him to the film world. Because hardened film crews griped and complained and were terribly put upon—and they all made sure everyone knew they weren’t in love with the magic, just the paycheck.

“More than that—what happened to our jobs?” The gaffer corrected himself.

“You weren’t the only one asking,” Kitty answered. “I remember the panic.”

The graveyard had been a favorite filming location; she spent many nights with arc lights destroying any hope of sleep for those in the caretaker’s lodge. But her father reminded her the rent paid to use the graveyard was part of what paid his salary and put breakfast on the table.

“Then the duo of …  Pan … Pan … Panamanian Vision Studios!”

He got it right on the third try.

“I just call them PVS in print,” Kitty offered.

“PVS,” the gaffer nodded. “That’s about what they sound like, isn’t it? They buy the property—and they own the franchise for the Schwarzenegger movies. And we were flying again! Woohoo! Money from the sky! We’re all going to live! And the money is flowing and jobs are back, and people are moving here from all over the country, and even though the walls are thin and uninsulated at the studio, and the sound recording is always a bitch, and the PVS guys clearly don’t care about anyone’s safety or future, our fairy tale was saved,and we had our happily ever after!” The gaffer held aloft his beer and smiled at it.

“Or so we thought,”  Kitty added morosely.

“So I thought.” The gaffer sighed. ”Now, it’s all going to end again.”

“What? Why? Why do you say it’s going to end?” Drunken panic gripped Kitty.

“Who is going to want to make a movie here now? We always had to fight with LA crews who always want it made in LA. Now they really have the trump card: The star got killed here. No one is going to want to come here again. Poof!” He held up an open palm. “It’s all gone.”

“But it can’t be!” Kitty wailed. “Someone has to be held responsible and when that person is—then they will come back!”

“I don’t think so…” The gaffer shook his head. “I don’t think so.”

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.

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