Hollywood Fantasies

30 Oct

“This is a town of nothing but imagination and lies,” frowned the head of studio writers at Utopia Films, Johnny Crick. “We who think up the scenarios for the movies have to dwell with endless fictional dreams, both at our work and our private lives outside the studio properties.”

The listener whom he was lecturing was a novice just starting out in film writing, young-looking Bret Newly. The ambitious apprentice appeared eager to absorb every single word spoken by the middle-aged veteran of tinsel-town.

“Don’t take anything or anyone at face value,” continued Johnny. “The producers, directors, and company executives we have to satisfy are untamed animals, like those in the zoos. They all wear masks, even when they don’t consciously realize that they do. A writer can never tell what exactly is going to satisfy them.” The large, balding chief of the writers’ office instantly smiled. “So, you must learn to stroke and capture the imaginations of a bunch of uncivilized players in a game of wild savages.”

Short, blue-eyed, with crew-cut blond hair, Bret fit perfectly into his generation’s model of the late 1940’s. “My dream is that I get a chance to show some real originality in the work I get assigned to do,” revealed Bret with a philosophical sigh. “But I doubt that there is much room for that at the beginning here, is there?”

Johnny grinned slyly. “Not even at my late stage in this industry, my boy.”

Producer Milton Tocher, with over a decade of managerial work for Utopia Films, realized the movies he had made served to categorize him as one with experience with horror and thriller movies. Few in Hollywood escaped the pigeon-holes that the industry’s community placed them in.

As soon as Milton received orders from the head of the studio that assigned him to the celebrated but difficult director named Karl Klein, he called the chief writer, Johnny Crick, to his magnificently furnished office. They had to confer and consult together about working with the domineering, authoritarian film-maker from pre-war Berlin. There was trouble ahead, the producer was sure.

Obese, dark-eyed Milton shook hands vigorously with the skinny Crick, then asked him to sit down across from him at his impressive desk.

“What do you say to this, Johnny: you are to create a scary script for a psychological shocker that the great Karl Klein is ready to direct? He thinks that he will determine the plot and characters, while you and your writers put down the dialogue and scene action. Isn’t that wonderful?

“The renowned Karl feels that it is time to provide the public a film about a fortune-teller who has psychic abilities that enable him to foretell what will happen in the future. But things go wrong for him and he has to rescue himself out of his unforeseen, unnatural troubles.

“Our writers are expected to work out the details of conversation that the cast will pronounce. Isn’t that wonderful, Johnny? I can hardly wait to start. But remember: every word and sentence has to be satisfactory to Director Klein. He will have complete authority over what goes into his movie.”

Milton Tocher gave the head writer an angry, indignant look. “I am going to arrange for you a meeting with magnificent Karl Klein, so he can reveal exactly what it is he expects as a working script.

“He says that you are to meet him tonight at his apartment in the Hollywood Hills. Be sure to be there on time at eight, Johnny. We don’t want this director to have to wait before he has a chance to tell you his plans.”

Johnny began to fear the problems he knew lay ahead for his writing crew.

Karl Klein, a surprisingly small man with chestnut brown hair and a pointed goatee, had never made a picture with Utopia Films before. Two Hollywood studios had already fired him, burned by his high costs of production and dictatorial methods of operating with a cast and a crew.

Johnny drove to the director’s apartment that evening with much trepidation.

He was surprised to have the man welcome him with hearty cheer. “Come right in, Mr. Crick. I am quite familiar with your career and your writing credits and believe we are going to have great success working together on my next filming.”

When the two of them were seated, Klein continued talking about his past and his present plans.

“I learned the making of feature films working for Ufa in Berlin in the late 1920’s. Some great names helped me learn my craft, and I rose to become an assistant director before coming to Hollywood in the early 1930’s. That was well before the Nazi regime of Hitler, but I had a kind of premonition about a future catastrophe in Europe and Germany. Was I psychic somehow?” the director slyly grinned.

“The American studios gave me assisting jobs on horror films as my English become better and better. Yes, I was writing scripts for low-budget monster movies, one after another. Because of my knowledge and experience with Berlin Expressionism, I evolved finally into full director of serious features.

“I am known for my craft with lighting and darkness, the complications of good cinematography. My work utilizes fluid camera movement and unusual angles. I am an acknowledged master of frightening the viewing public with foreboding darkness. Thank God, I have never had to use color in my films!” said the little director with a self-satisfied laugh.

“Those who value real art know your reputation, sir,” smiled Johnny.

Klein focused his coffee eyes on the writer, a sharp, serious expression on his face.

“What I want to make for Utopia, I have told the studio executives, is a dark, threatening film about a clairvoyant who can tell the future. Nothing like that has been done recently in Hollywood. The male lead will be a psychic, a kind of seer or oracle with genuine power to see ahead of time what is coming.

“I think that I know how to make viewers believe in the reality of such almost supernatural capability, my friend. The basic ideas of the plot are very clear to me already. My protagonist is a serious medium who has never been a simple fortune teller. He is a male who gives public exhibitions on the stage, a kind of artist who all his life has carried the heavy burden of his special sight into time to come.

“The finale of his story will be a catastrophic end to his own life, which he can foresee with fear and dread. I have the techniques that will scare the American public out there into believing and accepting the terrible fate of this doomed character. He must be portrayed with sympathy, as predestined to being destroyed by his eerie psychic talent. Yearn as he might for his freedom, this unique gift of his turns into his doom a prison for his mind.

“Is it clear what is needed from you? Do not worry, I plan to oversee how the script is put together, correcting and improving it with my own ideas.

“We shall be working together closely on the story of the doomed clairvoyant, my dear Johnny. I plan to come to your writers’ office tomorrow morning to provide some guidance and supervision.”

Within a minute, the director ushered his visitor out of the apartment.

Johnny decided to bring his young novice into the project assigned him by the famed German film-maker. “We have to provide this fellow exactly what he demands from us,” he told him in his office. “So, we have to get to work at once. No time to lose. Their were specific requirements that Klein set down that we have to satisfy.”

“What are they?” said Bret with blazing curiosity.

Johnny gave a sigh. “For him, both the plot line and the photography are metaphors for a central theme that he alone has selected. His idea is that the protagonist is condemned into a hopeless trap by his inherited gift as a clairvoyant who reads the future. The surroundings are going to be claustrophobic and frightening for the entire cast. Karl Klein insists that there be scenes with fog and rain, stark contrasts of light and darkness. The emotions of the characters are to be internal and severely repressed, made visible in the visuals reflecting the dangers of nighttime.

“This is going to be an awfully difficult story to write up for filming. Every word, every gesture has to have some subconscious meaning. Do you understand what I’m talking about, Bret?”

The latter’s face glowed with excitement. “It sounds like something that I have for a long time wanted to work on. When are we going to start?”

“Today. I will right up a description of certain scenes that I think Klein will want to have in it. Then, you work on them at home tonight and bring them in to me tomorrow morning.

“Remember, our hero is doomed by his inherited psychic capability. This is a tragedy with no happy ending for the poor guy, none at all. But he will at least succeed in saving the life of our heroine,” said Johnny with a grimace close to a sneer.

The following day, soon after noon, Bret delivered his manuscript of the first several scenes of the script for “Night Visions” to Johnny at the writers’ main office. The chief gave it a quick read as the new man watched him. When he looked up from his perusal, Johnny had a wide smile on his face.

“I think your stuff is quite good, Bret. It surprises me with the amount of foreboding you put into these nighttime scenes out in the forest and the open countryside. Mr. Klein is going to like what you did. I like how you brought together the medium, who comes to the small town in a stage show, and the older woman who is mother to the young heroine. There is plenty of opportunity for our director to inject his photographic tricks as much as he wants.

“Let me next extend the scenario on my own, putting in some of my own ideas and things that I’ve learned over the years in this trade. It looks to me as if we are going to give old Karl exactly the kind of story he can fill up with eerie shadows all he wants.”

“Where do I go from here?” asked Bret, encouraged by the evaluation of his work on the introductory portion of the script.

“I want you to develop the build-up to the attempted suicide of our heroine, with the medium saving her life in the nick of time through his gift as a clairvoyant. We have to keep that psychic theme of the supernatural always coming back with its echoes. Remember, I myself am going to create the scenes of his prediction of the mother’s death and the hysterical reaction to it of the emotionally frightened and terrified daughter.

“We are going to make this a very scary story, my boy. I want you to use the surroundings to reflect how the heroine is cracking up and being attracted to death by her own hands.

“I want to present a finished script to Klein by the end of this week, Bret.”

It was late Friday afternoon that the director received the finished film script, allowing him a whole weekend to read and evaluate it.

Monday morning, Karl Klein made a surprise appearance at the writers’ main office, surprising Johnny. Bret was not expected to come in till sometime later in the day.

“How did you like the completed manuscript, sir?” asked Johnny with anticipation. “Remember, changes are possible at any time, should you want corrections or re-writing done. Nothing has been put down in stone,” he said with a forced smile.

The director, with a cold, stiff expression on his face, set the script down on the top of the head writer’s old oak desk.

“Some scenes I consider brilliant, exactly arranged the way I want. But certain parts are off the main narrative line the way that I outlined in a general manner to you.

“I have set down notations, marking which scenes have to be rewritten and how I wish them to be changed. Most of the mistakes I found lack the atmosphere of doom and foreboding that I want to cast over the entire story-line. How can I advance to story-boards if the dialogue is so out of step with the unconscious patterns that the cinematography must create?

“This script is not a harmonious, unified whole. The parts are not consistent with each other or the central themes I gave you.

“I want the echoes of doom and inevitable destiny to be stronger and present in every action and sentence spoken. Can you do this for me, and quickly?”

Johnny gulped before replying. “Of course, I will see that it is done as you conceive it.”

There was a shock to the chief writer as he went over the notations made on the manuscript by Karl Klein.

The sections marked as needing reworking were his, all of them.

And the scenes noted as well-written were those put there by the assistant writer, Bret Newly.

The novice was clearly in step with the aesthetics of this director, that was clearly evident and beyond argument.

By the time Bret arrived at the office, his boss had reached a decision.

“Klein was here and revealed to me what parts he wants redone. Take our script home with you and shape a new one, redrawing the scenes that he marked as needing complete reshaping. I’ll give you two days to complete the job.”

Bret picked up the returned manuscript and made his way out of the office.

The inspired young writer read over the script several times in succession, each time discovering more of the differences between his own themes and interpretations and those of Johnny. His own words in the voice of the medium who was protagonist possessed shades of harrowing desolation and hopelessness not present in the lines done by his supervising chief. Bret went to work rewording what had originated in the too-experienced brain of the other.

In explaining the death of her mother to the despairing, mourning heroine, the psychic main character now speaks in eerie, paranoid phrases and terms.

“Life is a nightmare from which her death rescued your mother, my dear. She is free of the horrors of this corrupt swamp in which we are condemned to drag out our empty lives. Her end is sad, but the pain of more time here in hell is over for her.”

Further on, with the accidental death of the heroine’s fiancé, the psychic medium provides her with warnings concerning the unseen forces of evil that lurk about in hidden shadows of the night.

“Do not be surprised at these attacks from out of the darkness that enfolds us. We are, all of us, on limited time that can be ended at any moment. It is futile to oppose our tragic fate. This has always been the prison engulfing human beings, and it will continue into eternity, or until a total, destructive death falls on everyone and everything.”

Bret rewrote all of the scenes and passages written by Johnny, including the final encounter between the medium and heroine, in which the clairvoyant one predicts his own approaching death, dropping tiny hints that it might turn out to be self-imposed escape through suicide.

“It is unimportant when or how our story comes to its end. The premonition that arises could turn out to be a false warning for most persons. But I am one who has been an accurate predictor when it came to the lives of others, and I am completely certain when it is my own finish that is concerned. No escape, there can be no escape, my dear.”

Exhausted in both body and mind, the young writer threw himself onto his bed and fell asleep still clothed in day clothes. He had never before felt such satisfying inner emptiness in his life. His work on the script had succeeded, he was certain.

Milton Tocher had the reputation of being a producer who took a very active part in the making of his B films. He was the master of low-budget money-makers at Utopia. His advice was influential in production design. Milton had a small group of favorite directors whom he advanced and worked closely with.

It was unusual for him to be assigned to a project with someone with the reputation for originality and creativity of Karl Klein.

The producer realized from the beginning that he would have to leave an unusual number of important decisions to this European expressionist who was an expert cinematographer.

It was a surprise when the producer’s secretary informed her boss than Klein wanted to see him about the newly written script for “Night Visions”.

“Please go right in, sir,” said the young woman with a friendly smile.

Milton asked his visitor to take a seat and inquired how the script for the movie was coming along.

Karl leaned his head forward and spoke as candidly as he could.

“I have a kind of personal problem that is standing in my way. Let me explain what it is.

“The chief of the writers’ division, Mr. Johnny Crick, is not in step with what I am aiming to accomplish in this film. The writing that he himself has offered to me has proven inadequate and not satisfactory. This man does not have the emotional qualities needed for such a subtle, subconscious type of story.

“But I have discovered that his assistant writer, Bret Newly, can turn out exactly what I need. His creative powers are considerable and he understands how to handle the symbols central to a psychological thriller.

“I need this young man’s talents. He must become my main, my only writer on this. He is able to provide what I need, things beyond the gifts of Mr. Johnny Crick.

“So, I am requesting that Johnny be taken off the project and that Mr. Newly become the sole writer, with full final credits.”

His coffee brown eyes focused sharply on Milton Tocher’s round face.

“Very well,” said the producer with a sad smile. “That is the way it will be. Anything else?”

“Not right now,” replied Karl, rising out of his chair.

He planned to carry this news at once to his new main writer.

Bret was surprised to see the short director from Germany at his door late that afternoon. “Can I come in? I have something important to tell you.”

The astonished writer led him into his apartment living room and the two sat down near a glass door overlooking a patio.

Klein went directly to the change in personnel.

“I saw Milton Tocher and he agreed to a change I want to make.

“Johnny will no longer be in charge of writing the script for “Night Visions”. You will be taking that role. Most of what I already have in hand comes from you. It is the only good part of the story line.

“You are going to have sole credit for the final film script, my boy.”

Bret felt his head swim, his mind whirl. “Thank you,” he mumbled. “Thank you very much, sir.”

The director was silent for a short time, then looked away a bit as he made a startling revelation to the writer.

“I learned, long ago in Berlin, that there are individuals with psychic, clairvoyant gifts that they are unaware and unconscious of. They can pick up mental signals at a distance without realizing that they can. It is unseen and unknown even to themselves. But this capability is a most valuable potential for someone in the arts to have.

“I myself have exploited my own mental powers, and they have been the foundation of any success I have attained in making films.” He paused for a moment. “You possess such special powers, my friend. Do not let them go to waste. I intend to have you become my single script-writer on this story and on my films to come. You are psychically sensitive, able to pick up and make use of invisible vibrations that came out of my own mind.

“You are a writer that few film directors ever find, and you will rise to the top of your craft, I predict.

“Will you write more of my scripts in the years to come, the stories for future films?”

“Of course I will,” Bret managed to promise.

“You shall become the creative partner I have long looked for,” announced the happy director. “We will win triumphs here in Hollywood.”

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