by Todd Mercer
The new-but-not-young Production Assistant the agency sent us asks me, ‘How high?’ and jumps before I even say that jumping is the effort we’re looking for.
He loves the movies, is thrilled to be here contributing to new productions.
I don’t have free time to spend being everybody’s buddy on-set or at the office, but man, this guy’s a conversationalist. Not many days in I overhear him telling the Grips that he closed down a thriving and lucrative dental practice at age forty-something, amid his earning prime, to shlep coffee for me and the team’s other Producers. To maybe sketch a storyboard.
Do we even pay P.A.s? Not going to say I understand that decision.
We’re thirty million over budget. My boss will send me packing if we can’t wrap this shoot soon and move it into Post-Production. This week I can see myself working a job at an agency placing former dentists. I’d be more than okay with a career in Dentistry or Maxillofacial whatever. But no, I make movies.
Caroline is on Line 2 with updates on our wedding preparations. I’ve put off as long as I can on telling her we need to postpone it until after I think of a new and better way to convince Julie to sign off on the divorce agreement that I meant to file but have not filed yet.
This P.A., Curtis (I think) cleans my desk with Windex after he appears bearing eclairs at the start of business. He volunteers to stand under the hot set lights as a blocking double when the D.P. works out ways to shoot a scene. I tend not to waste time examining the personal dynamics of each P.A. as they interact with their fellow P.A.s, but I still get the sense that the rest find Curtis insufferable.
They eat the bakery goods he brings though. So do I.
There is such a thing as over-enthusiasm. I’m looking at it. Being up for the program is part of the job, but Curtis is downright ideological in his commitment to it. Initially it seemed like he was kidding, but no.
None of this would matter, except Curtis fell off a catwalk where he’d climbed to distribute pizza to the Riggers and Electricians up there who were trying to make the paddles on a riverboat rotate backward for an upcoming scene. Turns out he bought that pizza with his own money, just a nice guy being so relentlessly nice that I can’t take it anymore. And I know this because it came out when Tom-BoxOfficeGold-Hanks broke Curtis’s fall with his body by being below that catwalk, acting, at the wrong moment.
It knocked Hanks out cold.
I began making a mental list of what from my office to pack into that sad cardboard box when they fire me, so Curtis’s foot facing backwards didn’t immediately register. Still, I saw it before he knew how bad it was. He was still explaining about the pizza and what toppings were available when Hanks came to and forgave Curtis on the spot.
Hanks pointed to the injury and said, ‘Say, buddy. You’d better get that seen to.’
The studio has liability insurance out the ass. They have to. We’re always improvising here and learning from the results. We take turns falling off sets.
Curtis has one foot pointed toward the future while the other one is fundamentally confused. He says I shouldn’t worry because he can take care of this inconvenience and be back here on the clock in two shakes.
And after he says that Hanks can’t get enough of him.
Hanks is like, ‘Jeez folks—this guy!’ They’re instant best friends now. I can’t take it.
We end up promoting Curtis. We give him a huge raise and nothing in particular to do. None of the higher-ups involved are insane enough to block it once Hanks suggests it.
This time last year the guy was cementing brackets on to the teeth of pre-teens in Peoria or Skokie or another nowhere. He was drilling out cavities. This time next year he could be my boss. It doesn’t make sense, but that’s how Hollywood works. I may end up bringing him lattes.
Later that same day, Curtis comes back in on crutches, carrying Hanks’s dry-cleaned clothes, even though Hanks didn’t ask him to take care of them. He has my favorite sandwich for me, which makes it impossible to criticize the man. It’s a Monte Cristo.
It’s a challenge to hate him as much as I feel like I should. I tell Curtis, ‘Good on ya, fella. But we’re not supposed to be here to make friends.’
‘No sir,’ he answers, smiling. ‘We’re here to make magic.’ Then he crutches off to delight other people or whatnot.
I used to think that I loved movies. This guy would marry a movie if he could. It’s unnerving.
The Midwest has a practically unlimited supply of these go-getters. The pipeline is full of them.
Todd Mercer writes from Grand Rapids, Michigan. His collection of pre-owned Italian ties purchased for $2 each is arguably the most bad-ass pre-owned Italian tie collection outside of Italy. Not that that matters. Recent work appears in Blink Ink, Eunoia Review and Literary Yard.