An Unlikely Tale-Part One
(* Author's note: This is fiction. Any similarity to real events and/or persons is purely coincidental and unintentional. However…sure would have been nice…)
The clock was counting down. Inexorably ticking away. Soon it would be Eleven Days to Zero, as my friends called my upcoming visit to a Hollywood studio. Might as well live in a City Beneath the Sea for all I knew about the workings behind the scenes of TV. I found to my chagrin that The Fear Makers and The Mist of Silence in my brain had overshadowed me. I was an awkward nobody. How would they treat me, an intruder into their hushed up domain?
If the studio was willing to pay The Price of Doom contest people for allowing me, the winner of a mere essay contest, onto their back lot, I wanted to make a good impression. And so,days later, face scrubbed and hair combed I was escorted past the normally forbidden doors. Few people noticed me as I brushed elbows past the various dream factories and wondered what wonderful worlds of imagination they were pumping out behind the warning red lights on the doors while filming was in progress.
"Hey!" I yelped suddenly and passed out….
" The Sky is Falling?" I asked as I came to. Apparently pieces of Styrofoam blue and white had suddenly hit me on the head as I walked through what was supposed to be a deserted soundstage.
"Sorry about that, "my escort grimaced. "This here is one of the new shows; Must have come loose, some of the sky. Cheap glue. Gotta admit, it's nice on film."
"Well, I didn't suppose I was in Kansas anymore, "I pulled some of the styrofoam flakes out of my hair,"but they should have put up a warning." But it was a nice set, and indeed, I thought, it was going to look great on film. I was rather interested in meeting the cast and crew. It was supposed to be an Action-Adventure series set some 10 to 20 years in the future. About a submarine. I was nervous about that. Would I actually have to get into the massive prop?
"You won't have to Turn Back The Clock with this model,"a nice man held up a toy submarine and allowed me to examine it. "Nobody will be able to mistake our submarine for a old rustbucket. And don't worry,"he told me,"it'll look real on film."
Before long I was ushered into a small conference room and met some of the cast and crew. When they found out I had written minor stories for some fanclub years before, they were most open to any ideas or plots they might field to their writers for their show.
"Well," I pondered, "say your submarine is moored by The Village of Guilt, hidden away, everyone there unaware of life as you know it, and The Hot Line you depend on for assistance is down and…"
"No, no, no!" the studio censor took me aside, "think Monsters! Think Fanfiction! Or it 'll be a Submarine Sunk Here! kind of show."
"Well," the prop coordinator said, "The Magnus Beam has to rescue the cast next week from a watery and lingering limbo of scattered atoms. Ain't that exciting enough for TV? "
'There's just No Way Out of this predicament,"the producer complained, after screening preliminary takes of the day. "It's just too realistic. Nobody's going to want to watch that. I need fantasy stories to lure my audience."
"I got an idea," HK said, "it hit me when I was knee deep in the artificial snow and.."
"That's it! That's brilliant!" I just couldn’t help myself from interrupting," The Blizzard Makers capture The Ghost of Moby Dick ! Why paranormal phenomenon is more and more popular now and if you had an encounter with a ghost whale and..uh…why are you both looking at me like that?"
"Long Live the King!" cheered the cast on the set next door, while "Hail to the Chief!" played on another, effectively drowning out The Last Battle in one of the sequences we were filming. There was almost a Mutiny when the director decided to do a retake after we all got back from lunch.
"Doomsday", one of The Invaders from the set next to us smirked at lunch; "You'll never last the season. A submarine with glass windows. Bahh humbug!"
"They're not glass!" I retorted. I'd been briefed. We didn't actually know what they were, but they weren't glass, we knew that much. Or the sub would have broken long ago in the film version. And I'd actually been hired. My fairy tale Hollywood job was simply to observe and offer suggestions and ideas, to anyone at anytime, about anything. This was a progressive show.
"The Indestructible Man?" the blond asked, "is actually a Buccaneer who turns Crane into The Human Computer and while he thinks he's a computer he's actually The Saboteur who steels some of Nelson's experiments from a Cradle of the Deep?"
"Cradle?" asked the skinny dark actor as he joined us, "we're going to have a baby on the set?"
"No, " BD replied. "but it's going to be neat seeing you say nothing but 'bleep- bleep- bleep'."
"No," I replied, "you'll think you're a computer but you'll still be able to speak."
"Pity," smiled blue-eyes. "I would have enjoyed watching the challenge."
"If you'd like a challenge DH," I replied," you can flash your gills as one of The Amphibians that The Exile captures and turns into his slave. Then BD here rescues Crane-The Creature, but you're still one of The Enemies to Seaview, so Nelson has to discover The Secret of the Loch, or he'll never find the serum to turn you back into a normal person and you'd be one of The Condemned people who believe they're computers for the rest of your life and there's a Traitor too and …are you ill DH? BD?"
An Unlikely Tale-Part Two
"But," I stressed later to the production staff, "Jonah and the Whale really happened!"
"Stuff and nonsense," I was told bluntly, "you write that and you'll have a ticking Time Bomb on your hands."
"Yeah, well, the producer likes it!" I replied, my emotions overriding my sense. It wouldn't help things to get myself fired. I liked rubbing elbows with the Hollywood elite.
"And Five of Us are Left", I told the stars of the show of our writing compliment. Any ideas gentlemen? " Of course, the director did have to call them to the set just then. I retired to my cubbyhole of imagination while I tried to drown out the banging on the bucket for the submarine's rock & roll scene.
If only The Cyborg could help. After his Escape from Venice, the ultra modern sophisticated ex-top secret military experimental robot the studio had purchased under- the-counter from The Left Handed Man had been dishing out computer generated ideas which another studio had been quick to steal, uh, borrow. Ratings are the Deadliest Game in Hollywood, and can make even the smallest cardboard set a Leviathan of popularity..
"So, The Peacemaker steals the gold bullion," the red-haired star offered during a break, "but he's sabotaged by Silent Saboteurs."
"Why are they silent?" BD asked.
"Well, they have to be, to save on paying them for lines. You should know that."
"Uh, gentlemen," I asked, "any other ideas?"
"Yeah," DH said, "have the writers give us some stories with girls in them!"
"Is that all you think about?" the director interupted, "good grief, one more suggestion about girls and…"
What the director was going to say was never completed as he was called away by some minor crisis on the set.
"How about a story called The X Factor, sounds sci-fi more than a kid's show, doesn't it?" RB offered.
"Sounds like a makeup company," the blond retorted.
"Aghhhhhggg!" screams suddenly came from the studio office as the staff fled the building, "the machines, the machines are broken! From the payroll computer to the final drafts of next week's script in the copier! All that work down the tubes!"
"That's it!" I rose, excited, "The Machines Strike Back! Brilliant idea, if I say so myself, see ya!" I ran to my cubbyhole and began typing on the antiquated Navy computer that the studio had gotten cheap. But it made a good typewriter if you didn't mind the irritating pinging and the circley thing going round and round and saying 'this is a drill, repeat, this is a drill' and other such things. IA had insisted on getting his writers into the mood...even a mere suggestion maker like me.
"Uh, did they say payroll?" RB asked. His powerboat needed a new engine so this was bad news.
'No, no, no!!!" the censor shouted, the next day. "The Monster from Outer Space can not be a bikini clad buxom beauty! Make it a horrible, squishy thing, like a blob or something. You can't have it pretty! We'd be laughed off the air, and you know we can't show belly buttons, unless it's Crane's when he's putting on his wetsuit but that doesn't count."
"But think of it," I demanded," the drama, the intrigue, a beautiful woman who lures the crew to the Terror of Dinosaur Island, actually it's her spaceship that killed off the dinosaurs in a time warp and she takes the crew of the sub captive and back to her planet and…"
"Are you sure you're on the right set? This isn't a space drama! This is a Submarine show! We have underwater stuff, monsters, aliens, but no pretty space-girls, understand?"
"I don't care, belly buttons and cleavage is out, capiche?"
"Oh the pain!" the censor glared at me and walked off muttering about artists and writers and showbiz in general.
"Uh, I have an idea," TB said, a bit nervously, "How about a ghosty thing, it takes over the chief and…"
"Brilliant!" I exclaimed and began to expand, "yes, yes, let's see, aha! The Phantom! Yes, now what kind of ghost….submarine stuff, okay, he's a submarine Captain! Gotta make him eerie….eerie…World War Two, no ,make it World War One. I got it, how about a U-Boat? We can go heavy on the Captain's German accent. Now, let's see, he takes over the chief…no,no, that won't do, not enough empathy from the audience, has to be one of the stars, sorry TB, great idea, but it 'll be better if the spectre takes over the Captain."
"But he always gets the best stuff!"
"They'll make it up to you in another episode when the chief gets to save the world, okay?"
"Okay, you win, but…"
"Look, TB, I gotta write this down while I'm on a roll, got any other ideas, jot em down and we'll work on them later, okay, gotta run, bye!" I raced to my plot book.
"The Sky's on Fire?" asked RB "Again? I'm getting very tired of stories with nothing but stock footage from the film and other tidbits from musty old vaults. Can't you writers come up with anything more original?"
"If we don’t give the producer something, "I replied, " it's gonna be a Graveyard of Fear around here. We have a deadline!" But I promised to see what I could do.
The next day was raining and I sat down next to RB in the commissary. The creamed corn on his plate looked like The Shape of Doom to me, but then I'm no gourmet. It wasn't difficult to imagine what the next monster to attack the submarine might look like.
"Well, "he asked, "what happened?They told me at the gate you spoke to the producer."
"He said nobody would notice,"I sighed, "this is television. The audience will only get to see the show again in one repeat and even that's chancy what with some of the pre-emptions we've been getting lately."
"Uh, I have another idea," TB approached our table sheepishly, "It's about some Dead Men's Doubloons that the chief finds in his poker winnings and.."
"Poker? Hey that's great!" I exclaimed, "the chief has a winning streak, all due to …I know, a lucky charm, no, a lucky shirt…gaudy, silly….Hey, I know! How about a Hawaiian touristy type shirt, and he…hey, yeah, he conjures up The Death Ship and it attacks the boat and the pirate ghost takes over Crane and…what's the matter? RB? TB? are you ill?"
"The Monster's Web?" DH asked, as he sat down the script, "You've got to be kidding! A giant underwater spider! Oh the pain!"
What was it about the next set over that had this entire cast and crew using their lines?
"The spider eats The Menfish but The Mechanical Man saves the day and Nelson starts making androids to crew the sub and you all get to go on vacation in Tibet and… are you ill?"
DH just shook his head and groaned.
"Anyway, you get taken over by a ghost. The Return of the Phantom, I think they'll be calling it; you can play the full range of emotions from terror to evil and speak with a funny accent, there's also a girl, how about that!?" Actors loved to play with accents and girls. Some of the writers were really getting good!
An Unlikely Tale-Part Three
"So, gentlemen," I briefed the actors, "The Monster From The Inferno is…" I let them wait for it, the writing staff had worked long and hard on this, "a Werewolf!"
The men looked at me with silence and vacated the small conference room, looking as if it were The Day the World Ended. I would have thought they'd be pleased. Actors were supposed to enjoy challenging parts. Oh well.
Later I was to find that evening somewhat of a Night of Terror. Someone had forgotten to pick up after the school children who'd toured the set earlier in the day and The Terrible Toys made me trip and twist my ankle. It gave me an idea though. All about a Day of Evil and how Deadly Waters had hid the little Things From Inner Space and from Nelson's crew too, while he played with the toys; little realizing that he was being hypnotized by the them to become a member of The Death Watch, as a Deadly Invasion took place aboard The Haunted Submarine! Was I on a roll or what! What was so intriguing was that it all made sense!
"The Plant Man?" BD asked, incredulous.
"Yes," I replied, making it up as I spoke. We hadn't finished the script yet, but BD was a nice guy, and never any trouble, so we tried to please him, even though the few lines we did manage for him were soon gobbled up by production overrides. "You have to defuse The Lost Bomb he invented, but The Brand of the Beast on The Creature that he grew from the petri dish glows hot with radiation and you face a horrible Death From The Past as they forgot to bring anti time warp serum aboard. You get to die or turn into The Heat Monster, whichever the censor approves and…you okay?" I asked as he excused himself from my presence.Was it my imagination or was there always a bug on this set?
TB approached and grinned.
"Oh, Hi, got a new idea?" I asked cheerfully.
"Actually, no, but I did want to show you my pet rock."
"Pet rock?" I asked. I was aware of the craze. My own pet rock had a derby hat and a mustache, but this one was rather unusual.
"Yeah, it's got a fossil in it. Millions of years old.."
"Wow, hey I got an idea! How about, oh boy you're gonna love this, The Fossilmen kidnap The Mermaid who's torn between dating The Mummy, and the Shadowman, and a kind of mixup happens and Cranés alter ego is zapped into them both and…what is it TB, are you ill? Man, I have got to notify the health authorities."
"There's just No Escape From Death for me, is there?" the extra moaned. I certainly couldn't count how many times he was killed off on the show. Odd that the viewers didn't catch on that this crewman showed up so many different times as different character. Oh well.
"Well, at least you'll be back. Maybe on the Doomsday Island populated by The Wax Men ? Some of the writers visited the wax museum when we were on hiatus and got some great ideas about living wax dummies and…you're not ill too, are you?" I promised myself I'd make sure to update my shots as soon as I had a chance.
"Well," the producer approached, "how are you doing, I have to say great work so far, now I need something a bit more dramatic."
"Hmm," I thought as some lightening and thunder boomed and crackled in the sky, "well, how about a Deadly Cloud that's really a life form out to Destroy Seaview…"
An Unlikely Tale-Part Four
"Care for the Fires of Death?" RB offered me a cup of coffee in the afternoon sunshine. The coffee was so strong it was rumored to have turned some of the stuntmen into The Deadly Dolls they use to test cars out with.
"No thanks," I replied, "I already took that Journey with Fear."
"Sealed Orders," a studio page plopped a huge manila envelope into my hands. "They want your opinions about these synopsis's, ASAP."
"Well," I spoke my good-byes to this Man of Many Faces, one of the more experienced actors of the studio, and could only wonder what new gems of imagination the writers had dreamed up for him.
"The Fatal Cargo idea is okay," I told the producer." Spoiled ice cream making everybody sick, so they're late to the Army Navy game, but it needs a little something…. How about about a Time Lock that traps Nelson and Crane and the chief has to Rescue them before it's A Time to Die…"
"Blow Up the sub?" BD asked, incredulous, "You can't do that. Without the sub, we're nothing."
"Ahh, but the return of the Deadly Amphibians trying to take over the world give Nelson the funds by Washington to build a newer, improved boat, and she saves the world. But then The Return of Blackbeard throws a wrench in the victory party and it's up to Sharkey to defeat the pirate and The Terrible Leprechaun who's joined him and…? What's wrong.. are you ill again? This set has got to have sick building syndrome. Hmm. Hey that's an idea for a story…the submariners of the world are coming down with…uh…anyone?"
The set was suddenly deserted. Oh well, they probably all went home to bed.
"So did the Captain get some melted butter?"I laughed as the guest star shed The Lobster Man costume, glaring at me all the while. Chee whiz, actors! I thought that was funny. "Oh, hi TB, great day isn't it." I said as he approached.
"Yeah, I have some friends up north and it's been snowin' hard and the kids have been building a snowman and …"
"Brilliant! I see it now, the snowman comes to life, but it's it's not a nice snowman, why, that’s it! It's The Abominable Snowman and…TB? TB? What are you doing with that straight jacket?
"Yes," the Doctor said, "I'm afraid it's happened again. Visitors just can't take the pressure. She's ranting and raving that Crane is some sort of 'Man Beast' that needs an injection to be cured before he explores the' Savage Jungle' where the 'Flaming Ice' lives, intent on an 'Attack' on all mankind. I have her secluded for her and your protection.…fanficitis is very contagious."
"Well, "I sighed, and dressed my Chip doll with a new khaki uniform, his older one having been singed when he fought the fire in the control room; "it's The Edge of Doom for my visiting any other studios, but I have an idea about The Death Clock….Crane and Nelson are cast adrift and …what is it, why are you looking at me like that…"
"Hey," RB asked the producer," whatever happened to that essay contest winner that visited the set last year?"
"Oh, I have her in a padded cell with all the others.Even without a concussion,there's 'No Way Back' for her. She'll be a Voyage fanfic writer for the rest of her life, even if the show's been canceled. But don't feel too badly. I have an idea for a new movie and I'll let her work on it occassionally when I see her on visitors day. It's based on an alien's visit to the set and it starts to believe it's a writer for television. I'm going to call it, 'It Happened on the Back Lot'…."