As writers go, Darryl Madsen had been very fortunate. While still in college, he had been recruited to write stories for one of his professors, whcih led to a moderately well-paying position as a fiction editor at a small press. But that was not enough for Darryl.
“I want more,” he said to his friend and long-time editor Amber Weaver. “I want to touch hearts and minds, you know? Grip them!”
“Of course you do,” said Amber. “But I still don’t think you should be moving to LA. You know why.”
If he moved to LA, he’d be throwing away the perfectly good job he had for the infinitessimal chance of maybe getting some gigs writing movies. “Not TV,” he specified. “I mean, I know it’s a good place to start, but I don’t really want to be writing other people’s stories.”
“You would rather hand your story over to a director who’ll butcher it and take all the credit?”
Darryl Madsen didn’t quite understand how Hollywood works.
But he went anyway, armed with nothing but the three screenplays he’d written, several years of editing experience and a modicum of credits as a performed (if not quite published) playwright.
“And heart!” he was quick to add. “Don’t forget heart! I’ve got that, too!”
He was so annoyingly clichéd about it that people were genuinely pissed off when he got a break almost immediately.
“You went to UNC-T?” said Kimberly Han, the young woman interviewing him as a prospective roommate. “I grew up in Trinity’s Field!” Turned out, not only did they have at least ten solid acquaintances in common, but she was on her way to being a bright and successful young up-and-coming film director.
“You’re actually coming here at a pretty good time,” she told him later, “There aren’t a lot of really good writers out there right now.”
“What are you talking about?” he asked. “This is LA, everybody has a screenplay! Even just statistically, there’s gotta be—“
She interrupted him: “Everybody has the same screenplay.”
She showed him ten of them, randomly selected. Different writers with different backgrounds. It took him three to realize what she meant, but she was right. They were all the same movie.
“This is not what I signed up for,” said Kimberly Han. “I wanted to tell stories that were different. People keep saying ‘You need to write what you know,’ well I know this, these, are all crap!”
“So why don’t you write your own?”
“You think I haven’t? No one will read them! Hollywood talks a good game about wanting Fresh New Talent, but when you bring them something inspiring that’s actually original, they buy it and rewrite it into this!”
He read it. “The Truth Is a Fire.” First writer: Kimberly Han.
Second writer: Sidonie Quince. The Butcher.
“Guess which one of us is running a studio right now.”
Turned out, Sidonie still owed Kimberly a favor—and was still taking her calls. “It’s very simple,” she said in her meeting with Darryl. “There are lots of good ways to make a movie, sure. But only one of those ways is the best. We know now that this pattern you’ve noticed in these scripts is the best, most effective way of affecting an audience.”
Darryl had the impression that if he’d pointed out that fewer and fewer people were actually going to see big-screen movies, he would not have gotten a second meeting.
“It is a good pattern,” he had to admit, “It’s just… too much of a good thing, maybe?”
“And the worst part is, they’ve been telling themselves and the public that nothing else works so much that the audience is starting to believe it! You ask someone coming out of the movies if they liked it, first thing out their mouth is whether they understood the protagonist and their motivation!”
“Not every story has a single, clearly defined protagonist,” he said.
That was when she kissed him.
They both kind of freaked out about it afterwards. “Do I like you because I like you,” Kimberly wondered, “or do I like you because I’ve been trained to think of my life as a romantic comedy?”
Darryl hesitated before pointing out: “Couples in romantic comedies are always supposed to fight right after they’ve hooked up.”
There was something insidious going on. Something nefarious.
“Hollywood has been brainwashing the American people—“
“Not just America! Movies are one of our most important crops for export.”
“It’s diabolical—but what are we going to do?”
The answer was obvious. A writer. A director with connections. They were going to make a movie.
It was a spectacular success. They spent their last dime making it and then some, but the returns were phenomenal: Sundance, Cannes, five Oscar nominations, one win, and four Golden Globes. Most importantly, though, their profits were more than 2000%.
“No, that’s not the most important,” Kimberly protested on a talk show. “I don’t just want people to pay to see my movie, I want it to have an impact on them. I want them to feel it.”
“Well,” Sidonie Quince replied when Darryl finally returned her call, “they can feel it all right. You know, I underestimated you—her, too, but I think you were the brains of the operation, am I right?” She offered him two million dollars. “I’d like to pick your brain,” she said. “What you’re doing obviously works. I’d like you to do more of it.”
She wanted him to make movies, wanted to pay him to write. To write his way, not hers. But to what end? Just to make more money? He knew what she was trying to do. She wanted to usurp his abilities, appropriate his technique and bend it to her own will. He had started a revolution and she wanted to televise it to sell disposable dish-towels, whatever those are.
No matter what the message of the films he made for her, they would always be twisted, they would always be wrong, it would always be a lullaby, even if covered in blood, to soothe and lull the populus into submission. To make them good consumers.
Was it even possible? The kind of revolution he wanted? Was it possible to uphold his ideals—more than that, was it possible, could it be possible, to create real change? Or would his stories always blend into the background in the end?