Tuesday, April 15, 2008

All's Unfair When Film Means War

Photo by Puja Parakh

Someone very famous once said that in the future, everyone will be famous for fifteen minutes. I feel as though today I've been gipped since I only get to stand up here for about thirty seconds.

That phrase, ladies and gentlemen, was the perfectly sculpted sentence that kept running through my head as though on a treadmill. As soon as I entered the less-than-adequate Duncan Theatre, the backdrop for our harrowing tale, it occurred to me that in case of emergency I had to have something extraordinary to say.

That was all that came to me.

I kept running it through my head, working out every noun, verb, and preposition. I switched it up, changed it around, made sure that it was phenomenal. Perfect. Quotable, at best.

According to an e-mail by the Palm Beach County film & television commission, I would need something quotable for when I stood up, hopped on stage, and accepted my part of a $2,000 check for the Palm Beach Film Festival's Audience Award.

I never needed it.

We arrived at the Duncan Theatre around 9:45, ten minutes before the ceremony was scheduled to start. Instead, we stood in the blistering South Florida heat for just under and hour. A glorified red carpet was rolled out, partially just to make the event seem more official and partially because organizers believed this event really was official. It descended the theatre stairs with a majestic grace, slowly fluttering off into concrete and cement towards the end. That tail piece of velvet glory, perfectly trimmed and hemmed, was protected by velvet ropes and official-looking guards. A woman with a blue-tooth headset and a clipboard patrolled avidly, occasionally muttering something to herself and checking The List. It was the first time I had ever seen such a thing, a red ribbon of hope, promise and fame, and I suddenly felt filled with such an overpowering love of my industry. Film, it seemed, had regained its glory. It wasn't just child's play anymore as my major had made it seem, but instead it was something sparkling. Glistening. Crystalized and bubbly. Film was a perfected art, pioneered by artisans and 16mm cowboys. It was more than just a camera, a story-board, and an apathetic gaggle of kids. It was art again.

I stumbled towards the velvet ropes, noting the folks crowded around it. A local arts and culture newspaper columnist scratched down notes on a flip-pad. A band of media junkies waved around cameras and recorded the procession. I felt like a kid in a candy store, finally being recognized for my blood, sweat and tears. Finally getting more gratification that a pat on the back and an entry into the school's all too disappointing showcase could never give me. This, I realized, was the big leagues. Even though it wasn't. This was glory in miniature, and it was heavenly sweet. I imagined huge screens and flashing lights. I pictured cotton candy pink dresses and camera flashes so bright and loud that they sizzled like champagne. I pictured the American Dream. The Hollywood, the Tribeca, the Cannes. I saw in my mind the magic of film, the joy of viewing a labor of love in tux and gown. The thrill of standing ovations.

I clutched the thick velvet ropes and waved over the clipboard-carrying mumbler. She did not look amused.
"Excuse me," I said in hushed, eloquent tones, "Are the nominees on The List as well or only announced winners?" I tried my hardest to sound polite, official. Like I wasn't wearing jeans and Converse below my button-up.

She looked at me as though I had an absorbed twin protruding from my skull.

"Hold on," She snapped, taking a step back and pushing the Bluetooth further into her ear. She took a step forward again in a semi-professional tango, as though I could now speak.
"Now what did you say?"
I stared in awe, if only for a second, then repeated myself.
"What's your name?"
I told her my name. She ran a finger down The List, tapping impatiently on the bottom.
"You're not on it."
"Are you sure? It may be under my director's name."
"Your director?"
"I'm the editor."
"The editor?"
"Yes, you smarmy bitch." Was what I wanted to say. Instead, I said
"Yes." And I gave my director's name. Another impatient run down The List. Another fit of morse code practice, this time louder.
"She's not on here either." I said thank you and walked away.

I watched in horror as the sorriest excuses for human beings propelled themselves past the Gate Keeper and down the red carpet.

One kid was known for bumming a mentally unstable vocal major in the back of a movie theatre.
Flash, down he went.
One had a festering heroin problem, still left unchecked.
Flash, down she went.
One had her head completely shaved after being baker acted by her parents.
Flash, down she went.

That local columnist? She snatched almost all of them up, engaging in polite yet too distant to hear conversation, making occasional notes on that notorious notepad. The news crew filmed the entire event, personally interviewing most of the teenaged bloodsuckers sashaying towards the theatre. They were ushered up the stairs and past a pair of shimmering glass doors, shaded from the horrible Florida sun.

Meanwhile, I sat on the curb. And I waited.

Forty five minutes later we were allowed in, pushed into straight lines as though we were animals to the slaughter, which some of us were, and then quickly shoved into seats. The show started semi-promply, engaging the audience with local out-of-work actors and semi-important commissioners we had never heard of. They all emphasized the same point: As film students and enthusiasts, it was our responsibility to go out into the world and make the best movies we could. About Florida.

"You have to make a name for us!" One yelped, holding up the television and motion picture handbook for the state of Florida. "You must go to college and make a name for yourself, and then one day you must return and give back. It is your responsibility to give back to this state."

After shenanigans and hijinks alike, the time finally came for my category. The Audience Award. Fourteen films were picked, a mere number considering the two hundred entries, and it was up to the public to decide who deserved the honor.

Upon hearing that my terrible little picture, that awful and embarrassing movie that I had the pleasure of editing for two months thanks to hundreds and hundreds of "I don't like that"'s from my director, upon hearing that it was selected as one of the fourteen, I had to pose the question "Are you sure?"

But they were. And so I did everything in my power to make it happen. I put up signs around school proclaiming "Vote for Stairway to Heaven!", only to have them later vandalized with a blatant "Vote for Satori!" (A competitor) scribbled across them all. I spread the word both around town and online. I worked harder promoting the damn thing than I actually did working on it, I think. I even skipped class and ran around campus to get my absent crew excused absences for this sparkling event. And it all came down to this.

I sat next to my director, hands clenched tight, feet tapping nervously. The announcers stood on stage, prattling on about this and that, while I sat in the back row shivering in my seat. The excitement was jolting me down to my bones. This was it.

I don't think I would have been nearly as excited if I hadn't have received an e-mail the previous Thursday proclaiming that we were in the lead and scheduled for a win. Nevertheless, my boyfriend ad I corralled in a slew of additional votes. Just to be safe.

I clenched the arm-rests.

Someone very famous once said that in the future, everyone will be famous for fifteen minutes. I feel as though today I've been gipped since I only get to stand up here for about thirty seconds.

"And the winner is..."

I couldn't help but stop for a minute. Before the winner was even announced, I knew that something simply was not right.


Yes, ladies and gentlemen. The douchebags that vandalized all of my signs had cheated the system! Those sixth-placers had duped the online form to double their votes, thereby crowning them reigning champions! They paraded onstage, accepted their trophy and subsequent prize-money, and cheerily thanked all those who voted for them.

I had the sudden urge to run on stage and deck all four of them like Whack-a-Moles.

But I remained in my seat. I calmly ushered myself outside with the rest of the crowd when the ceremony was over. I got back on the bus. And I went back to school.

This, I realized, was the real glitz and glamor. This was what it was all about. It wasn't about talent. It wasn't about stardom. It was never about champagne and starlight, and it certainly wasn't about a heart-racing bone-shaking love for what you're doing. It wasn't about being fair. It was about being ingenuitive.

So, ladies and gentlemen, give them a round of applause and a check for two grand.

Hats off to Satori.


Jesse said...

I'm sorry. I really am.

It's like the Oscars in miniature...

But really, you deserved to win. Satori was, in my opinion, not even close to most of the other entries.

People who cheat the system to win and feel good about winning absolutely perplex me.

I did find the state-patriotism quite amusing, though.

Man. I'd like to bend a few noses down there.

Chez said...

I'm sorry. I really am. I have no doubt you got robbed.

For the record though, the next time one of those dingbats tells you to make a movie about Florida -- that it's your responsibility -- tell them you hope to be the next Larry Clark and make Bully II.

Jayne said...

oh sweetie, I know that sucks. But the part about making films about and in Florida just kills me.

make 'em proud, darlin'!

Jennifer Sulkin said...

poor kiddo. i've been through situations similar to that myself, and i wish i could tell you it gets better, but unfortunately, it doesn't. you'll be ranting about that in bars when you're 25, your voice rising above the jukebox going, "And do you know the OTHER THING?!?!?!?!?"

hopefully i can at least elicit a chuckle from you with the first joke that popped into my head, 'See? This is what you get for thinking you can get a fair election in Florida. Al Gore didn't do much better, and he's since won a Nobel Prize.'

Rachael said...

My utmost sympathies. Remember that karma has an amazing way of leveling the score. Keep up the writing and editing, no doubt you will go far!