Too Late For Sundance

Apr 05  |  Mashaw McGuinnis

From inside the video bay I heard footsteps. His production bag thumped against the glass entrance. When I didn’t spin my chair around, he belched to make his presence known. I recognized the familiar scent of sweat, cigarettes, and pessimism.

The video tape slowed to a stop, and I turned to face Harold Kowalski. He leaned against my doorway in his polyester bell bottoms and stained shirt, furiously cleaning his ear with his key.

Most of my clients held artistic vision; unfortunately they arrived here over schedule and over budget. Harold made ridiculously low-budget films like Zombie Biker Babes and Rabid Chihuahuas from Hell.

Grooming be damned, I admired him. At twenty, he’d driven to L.A. alone in an old Chevy pickup, with a headful of dreams and a suitcase full of screenplays. Too broke to afford film school, he toiled on set solely for experience. By thirty, he’d opened a production company. But Harold failed to carve out a niche in Hollywood — a heartless town.

Whenever operating budgets fell short, Harold rented outdated equipment, used actors as editors, and shot in abandoned buildings to save money. The results were bad lighting, bumpy camera work, and dialogue drowned out by passing airplanes.

Now, he barked his usual. “What took so long for yesterday’s footage?”

This was not a new conversation.

“The film ran out of sync with the audio.”

“Impossible!” he shouted.

Harold scratched his head. I avoided watching the flaking skin.

“No one synced the audio to the picture,” I shrugged.

“My sound guy has been in this business for fifty years. He worked on the friggen’ Godfather.”

I didn’t ask him why someone who’d once worked under someone like Frances Ford Coppella now worked on films like Harold’s masterpiece, Revenge of the Ninja Nurse.

“Not your sound guy,” I assured him. “It’s the slate operator’s job.”

“Christ on a crutch! He only had to close the damn slate, and he got that wrong? I knew he wasn’t serious when I hired him. He’s busy thinking about launching the meat missile with the lead actress.”

From his canvas bag he pulled a writing pad, and flipped it open. So, we’d arrived at the moment when he’d argue that we’d overcharged him.

“So ah… this bill seems kinda’ inflated…” he began.

“You know how it goes.” I pointed to a red triangle sign painted with one word on each corner:

FAST. CHEAP. RIGHT.
CHOOSE TWO.
SACRIFICE THE THIRD.

Harold scowled, having seen this many times. He had to at least try to whittle me down. It was his job.

The clients who made the most mistakes had the highest expectations, and were the first to complain about cost. And everyone wanted it yesterday. Harold and I had long ago reached an unspoken understanding. By now I shouldn’t need to explain why twenty minutes of film took hours to finish.

“Guess I’ll miss the deadline to Sundance,” His sighed. Not one of Harold’s productions had been accepted into the famous festival. I didn’t mention that. It was more palatable for Harold to think our company made him miss a deadline than to admit his films weren’t Sundance quality.

I gathered the paperwork, scribbled some numbers on a clipboard, and smiled encouragingly.

“You know Harold, even though you won’t make Sundance, from the footage I’ve seen…well, this is your best work to date.”

I handed him his bill, watching him blush like a schoolboy.

“Gee, thanks,” he said.

He ambled out my door, pacified. When he reached the end of the hallway and turned, I sprayed the room with Glade air freshener.

One Comment
  1. Mari Sloan2 weeks ago

    Loved this! I’m still grinning at the names of his films. 🙂

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