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Dan Felsted, the director, was jogging back and forth between the set-a soggy card table and a couple of folding chairs arranged at the end of a rainy, wind-whipped pier in front of a swiveling camera and a floodlight mounted on a cherry picker-and the monitor tent, where Meredith Moore had been living like a gypsy in her caravan for the better part of the past three weeks.
Felsted was wearing a blue oilskin coat from Australia (for the Outback wild-man look) and a baseball cap (for the Spielberg-at-work look), and chomping on an unlit cigar-an affectation he had taken to since quitting smoking six months ago. To Meredith he looked absurd, but only in the way that half the people on movie sets look absurd.
The lighting technician looked on, slack-faced, as Felsted pointed at imaginary objects in the sky and on the ground. Beside him, the sound operator stood screwing the handle of his boom together like an assassin assembling his gun.
"Okay? Guys?" Felsted shouted to no one particular in his folksiest Little League-coach voice. He clapped his hands. "This is going to be wicked. It's going to be awesome. Best scene in the whole thing, I'm telling you. This is going to look better than anything we've done so far. You'll love it. They'll love it. Everyone will love it!"
He said something to the first assistant, then walked over, crunched his forehead against Meredith's Gore-Tex hood and whispered inside it. "We're going to do this all in one take, just to make it nice and easy for you."
"Continuity girls need their beauty sleep."
"Yup. And you know what actresses need?"
Meredith's blood redirected its flow toward the middle of her face, into the area beauticians call the "T-zone." Without moving her head, she shifted her gaze toward Helene, the twenty-two-year-old Québecois model-turned-TV-star. Helene was wrapped in a blanket, shivering and blue-lipped after having jumped off the pier seventeen times that evening. Beneath her mackintosh, Meredith felt the first pinpricks of sweat.
"What do actresses need?"
"To be controlled. But that's not what you thought I was going to say, was it."
Meredith looked down at her binder and noted the act, scene, shot and take number in a strict horizontal line. "For scene six you wanted to print takes four and eleven."
"Right you are. As always." Dan smiled his vulgar, handsome smile.
He was such an unapologetic and total bastard, you couldn't help but love him. At least Meredith couldn't. She'd had sex with him once, in the storage locker of a producer's condo during a wrap party. That was over two years ago.
Everybody said Meredith was the perfect continuity girl. She wasn't just good at her job, she looked the part. From the crown of her glossy brown bob to her six pairs of identical flats, Meredith Moore was as eerily tidy and well composed as an Edward Hopper painting. It was her job to sit in front of the monitor during shooting and watch every single take of every single scene to make sure every last detail was consistent with that in the take before. She was the error-catcher. The needle-in-the-haystack finder.
While Meredith's coworkers were busy worrying about halfway-creative things like lenses and lights and line delivery, she watched for the tiny narrative aberrations everyone else was either too technically skilled or famous to worry about. It was her role to fret and nag the director like a dissatisfied wife. Her days were spent snapping and comparing a thousand Polaroids, smoothing the narrative and perspective into fictional consistency. A cigarette in the left hand when it should be in the right, a prematurely melted ice cube in a half-empty glass of Scotch, a stray lock of an actor's hair-these were the details by which Meredith measured her working life.
After a full day and night of shooting a publicly funded, narratively troubled TV movie of the week, Dan, the darling auteur who had been given creative carte blanche by a public broadcaster known mainly for funding historical dramas set in drizzly mining towns, decided what he needed was a surrealist poker game, at the end of the city pier, in the rain, between the main character (a cynical rogue much like the director himself and played by the director himself) and the father of the main character, a retired postal worker played by a septuagenarian summer-stock theater veteran with a prostate condition that had him shuffling to the Porta Potti on the quarter hour. This incomprehensible fantasy sequence was not in the script, but had occurred to Felsted while they were shooting the suicide scene in which the protagonist fails to prevent his heartbroken mistress (Helene) from throwing herself off the pier into the frigid black waters of the city harbor.
Felsted was generally pleased with himself, but he was especially proud of his half-cocked late-night flights of postmodernist fancy. Like that of some bloody-minded First World War general, his own exhilaration for the job at hand grew in inverse proportion to the enthusiasm of the people around him. He sucked energy from his crew like a desert fugitive wringing out a dishrag over cracked lips. He was forty-two and had recently taken a Korean bride on the recommendation of his film school mentor.
The idea for the poker scene had emerged a couple of hours ago. "It'll be like Banquo's ghost storming the set of Vertigo," he'd shouted, emerging from his trailer mussy-capped after taking Helene up on her shyly lisped offer of an "East Indian head massage" during the dinner break.
The props mistress waddled out of her trailer and produced a deck of cards and a whisky bottle filled with flat, watered-down Coca-Cola. She divested Dan of his director props-the raincoat, ball cap and cigar-and replaced them with his character props-a different ball cap (this one New York Yankees instead of Boston Red Sox), a wine-colored oilskin jacket (this one from Scotland) and an unlit cigarillo to allow better enunciation. Several floodlights combusted to life. The actors were powdered. Reels began to roll.
Meredith scrutinized the action. Not the actual action, but the eight-by-eight-inch video feed before her face. She was beyond tired. It was as if her right eyeball were winding itself up in its socket and untwisting in a brain-gouging whirl. She watched the pint-size Dan Felsted through the monitor, acting up a hurricane, improvising every second line, slapping down the playing cards, dealing hands with the arrogance (if not dexterity) of a Vegas shark. Meanwhile, Glen, the theater veteran playing his dead father, did everything in his power to react to Dan's impassioned tour de force without making use of the adult diaper lurking below his blue mailman's uniform. When Dan laid down his hand (a full house) and scooped the pot against his chest, he waited a triumphant beat before shouting his second favorite word in the English language: "Cut!"
"Unfuckingbelievable, was that not?" He stuck his head under the tarpaulin and beamed at Meredith. "Now, on second thought, maybe we could use a few close-ups after all."
An hour and a half later, when the first assistant director barked things a wrap, half the crew was silently crying while the other functioned in a waking coma. Dan, in a moment of touchdown glory, ran up to the camera and pretended to hump the lens.
From where she sat in front of the monitor, Meredith saw something bad.
"Yeah, baby, yeah!"
"Seriously, Dan. Could you please come over here now. Please?"
The crew was already packing up, coiling wires and disassembling metal rods into black trunks. In their minds they were already on the highway and halfway home to the warm bums of their sleeping girlfriends, boyfriends, husbands and wives.
Dan's disembodied head poked around the edge of the tarp.
He made a sooky-baby face. "You don't like my pants? I got them at Banana Republic. I mean, maybe they're not the most stylish thing in the world, but really, Meredith, I think you're being a bit harsh-"
"No, Dan. Before, you were wearing cords. Now you're in khakis. They're not the same pants you were wearing in the earlier scenes, the ones we shot before dinner, which means- You know what it means. Nothing will match. We have to reshoot."
Dan looked down at his drizzle-splattered khakis, and when he slowly lifted his face he was the other him-the bully.
"Are you admitting to the fact that you personally wasted three hours of triple time? Do you have any idea how many tax dollars you just pissed away, sweetheart?"
"Me?" Meredith sputtered. Unfortunately, she was a sputterer. "But, but-you."
"No, honey-you. You did this on purpose."
Without taking his reptile eyes off her, Dan Felsted called out for the crew to halt packing. The set froze in tableau. "Fucked-up sabotaging bitch," he hissed.
"You think I let you screw up for fun?"
Felsted rolled his eyes theatrically. "Not think. Know. I know you did."
"Fuck you," Meredith said quietly.
"Actually, doll, I wish I never had." He turned to stride back to his trailer. "Let's do it again!"
For the first time in weeks a cold tide rose over Meredith. She swiveled her indented bottom around on the milk crate that functioned as her desk chair and began gathering the things she could reach from under the tarpaulin: two empty notebooks, one swollen paperback collection of Mavis Gallant short stories, a woolly hairbrush, half a bag of organic baby carrots. She gathered the meager detritus of her life as a continuity girl and dumped it in her bag. Then Meredith walked off the set and down the pier toward the deserted taxi stand. Behind her, the wind off the lake distorted Dan Felsted's shouts. He was, she knew, threatening the worst thing he could imagine, which was to fire her. She would never have lunch in this town again, blah, blah, blah. Which was fine with her. She could stand to lose a couple of pounds anyway.
Excerpted from The Continuity Girl by Leah McLaren Copyright © 2006 by Leah McLaren. Excerpted by permission.
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Posted May 31, 2007
This book was recommended by a girl who is on a weekday show called the Daily Buzz. She herself had read the book and felt that it would be good for other people to read. I got the book and at first I couldn't get into it. I was contemplating putting it down and starting a new book instead. I decided to give it a chance and to keep reading. It is actually kind of entertaining. There is some humor in the story. So for anyone who is thinking about reading this book, give yourself time in the beginning to get into it. Don't put it down because you might just miss out on a few laughs!
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