Principal Photography

Standing in the doorway, the actor squints as the oppressive light evaporates his features. The gaffer instructs the technician to adjust one of the floor lamps, and the softer light presents to the camera the handsome features of the young man: thick head of combed black hair, soft-but-not-weak jaw, curious green eyes, compliant nose. He likes to be called Sasha—in Russia it’s short for his real name, Alexander. His great-grandfather was from Saint Petersburg, and had been involved in the October Revolution. Apparently, he’d shaken Trotsky’s hand. Sasha can speak a few words of Russian, although he’s never visited the country. He told the gaffer, James, all of this as they were setting up the scene.

   Tess has been standing by idly, listening to the small talk between Sasha and James. They’re waiting for the director and director of photography to get on with things so they can commence filming the first scene in the hallway of the 18th-century Georgian house.

   The mansion is surrounded by rolling hills and meandering country roads that remind Tess of old British sitcoms she used to watch with her father. She spent approximately seven minutes applying make-up to Sasha’s face, during which he sniffed more than an old age pensioner on a cold morning during winter. Had she been naive and new to the industry she might have thought that this indicated a creeping flu.

   She’s used to standing around, doing very little. It’s a big part of the job. When in conversation at parties and asked what she does for a living, she often jokes: I stand. Standing or not, this isn’t where Tess imagined she would be at this point in her life. But when she’s alone (a frequent occurrence) and considering where she thought she would be, she can’t honestly say that she has a definitive answer; there have always been multiple possible scenarios.

   A cool breeze enters the hallway as James—a grizzly bear of a man—shuffles through the open door of the drawing room, approaching the DP and the director who are both standing in front of an imposing Victorian bookshelf, richly populated and freshly varnished. The three of them talk quietly.

   Back in the hallway, Tess notices that the wind doesn’t appear to bother Sasha, who stares intensely at the floor. Tess has stood waiting in many different locations, applying make-up to many beautiful faces, faces that would mostly be forgotten like trains passing by the London Underground she braves daily. But not Sasha’s—he does have something about him. Alarmingly beautiful, is how the director, Linda, referred to the twenty-two year-old while Tess drank with her the previous evening at the plush hotel bar in Soho. They’d talked fluidly on a number of subjects, from literature to love, music to medication, horticulture to home (they both hail from New York). Tess’s tongue had been loosened by bourbon and beer and upon reflection she was happy to have swam with the current of intoxication; it was a good conversation. She’d worked with Linda once before on a TV commercial in L.A., a few years back. The last time they’d shared drinks they’d wound up sharing a bed. This, Tess had promised herself, wasn’t going to happen again. Although were she to be put in front of a judge and forced to place her hand on The Book, she would say with absolute honesty that seeing Linda’s broad smile, her bubbly cheeks, her chocolate-brown skin, her shoulder-length, curly-black hair, hearing her idiosyncratic hiccup laugh, holding her warm, soft hand—all of this she would admit she was grateful for.

   A soundless breath escapes her mouth; she was about to break the silence by asking Sasha a question, but the actor appears distant as he stands in the doorway, like he’s envisioning the upcoming scene in his head. Tess doesn’t want to be that person who winds up on the internet having been on the receiving end of a vitriolic tirade issued by a young, egotistical thespian. She knows that by imaging this scenario she’s exaggerating, that Sasha has come across as nothing other than amiable, if a little impatient. But still, she stops herself.

   She thinks about that time in L.A. with Linda. It hadn’t been her first experience with a woman, but it was the one that made her question her sexuality the most. Straight, gay, bi . . . she couldn’t fall into a single category with a great deal of confidence. This threw—had for years thrown—her definition of herself into disarray. If only she could land on one, then things would be much easier, she’d regularly think.

   Linda approaches Sasha and takes him by the arm. She quietly speaks into his ear, her hand gripping his slender wrist. Sasha produces a sarcastic smile at the corner of his mouth. He looks over at Tess. Then, Tess hears him say: “I’m desirous of her, and . . . and that’s driving the scene, of course . . . but . . . there’s vengeance within me . . . that’s got to be coupled with the desire . . . it’s . . . it’s almost the same, the vengeance and the desire . . . would you say that’s so, Linda?”

   He’s going to be world famous, Tess thinks as she looks at the two of them. She also knows and thinks about what’s under Linda’s blouse and jeans, and she considers that for a moment. She imagines the three of them together in bed back at the hotel later that night. She thinks about the private demeaning and exploitation of individuals in people’s minds. She wonders if she should feel guilt overindulging in such fantasies. She ponders the current absence of religion in her life—would that have prevented such reveries? Should such reveries be prevented? Religious thinking tends to lead her to thoughts about her mother; the final time they spoke, the tubes, the gaunt expression, the laboured breaths, the rosary beads, the prayers, the priest, that last awful noise. She considers how her standing around so much has left her too much time alone with her thoughts; The Devil makes work, yada, yada . . .

   Linda lets go of Sasha’s wrist and returns to her conversation with the DP.

   This shoot is unusual because the writer, Emile Barnes, is also on set. He’s barely spoken a word to any of the crew members all morning, sitting by himself in the drawing room with a copy of his screenplay resting on his lap, authoritative pencil flicking against the page. Tess had looked over at the writer a number of times the previous night as he sat hunched in the chesterfield chair dressed in professorial jacket and pants, cupping a tumbler filled with whiskey, reading a collection of W.S. Maugham short stories: A sitting cliché—not unlike his screenplay, Tess had thought. She’d passed him earlier this morning while she explored the property, noting his harsh eyes, his angular nose, his stiff chin, his fixed grimace: His face was a caustic literary review, she’d thought. As she’d continued exploring, lazily wandering from extravagant room to extravagant room, opening drawers and picking up ornaments, she’d wondered if royalty had once lived here. She’d admired the elaborate, baroque architecture, the religious themes permeating each room; the mournful iconography; the last breath of Christ. She‘d gestured the sign of the cross as a private joke.

   Linda has now disappeared. This has happened on a number of occasions this morning, perhaps to find the producer, a young, energetic man named David, who’s been coming and going all morning. Or probably to speak to Barnes and mull over certain details pertaining to the script.

   James—fuzzy-haired, round-cheeked, brawny—shuffles back into the hallway and towards the director’s chair behind the camera. He smiles at Tess, placing his mighty hands in the pockets of his hoodie as he flumps onto the deceptively sturdy chair.

   “You look bored,” he says.

   “I do?”

   James nods, smiles.

   “How can anyone be bored when there’s over a hundred billion neurons in our brains? There’s far too much activity going on up there to be bored,” Tess says in—she thinks—a lame attempt at an original reply.

   “My dad used to say only idiots can get bored.”

   “Maybe I’m an idiot,” says Tess.

   “So . . . you are bored . . .”

   Tess shrugs her shoulders and produces a goofy, affected smile as Sasha now begins to mumble lines to himself. His 19th-century attire—military uniform—only enhances his attractiveness. Behind him the sprawling, lush acreage and overcast weather makes Tess suddenly feel lonely, or perhaps to become aware of her present feeling. She learnt early in her teenage years that nature tended to have that effect on her. You can take the girl out of the city, yada, yada . . .

   “You write short stories, right?” says James incongruously.

   This perturbs Tess more than she would like to admit. Sensing this, James attempts to put her at ease.

   “I google the shit out of the cast and crew I’m scheduled to work with . . . Linda . . . I know that she trained under Scorsese at the New York Film Academy. I know that she’s an ardent intersectional feminist judging by a recent interview she gave to Variety. Sasha . . . he’s from Quebec, where he’s pretty well known for the movies he’s made with a prodigious young filmmaker. There’s rumours that they’re a couple, but apparently Sasha doesn’t want to talk about his sexuality in case it limits his opportunities outside of Québécois cinema. Also: nascent drug problem . . .”

   Tess raises her eyebrows as James raises a meaty arm, pointing a finger at the scrawny, freckled technician he’d been giving orders to a few minutes ago, who’s sitting against the wall thumbing the screen of his phone.

   “Danny there . . . Danny was on America’s Got Talent a few years ago. He even made it to the live shows. He’s a big supporter of the Steelers. Oh, and he’s vegan and a champion of animal rights.”

   James leans closer to Tess and lowers his voice.

   “And Emile Barnes . . . fuckin’ darling of New York theatre. Not that I know much about the theatre scene . . . But they love him, apparently. He socked an audience member who laughed during one of his plays . . . So how could you not like the guy, right?”

   “Wow . . . You’ve done your homework.”

   “Research is important,” says James. “Gotta know what I’m getting myself into.”

   “You’re a regular Perez Hilton.”

   “Hey, I’m not spreading the gossip; it’s just for me.”

   His eyes are warm, and kind. Tess experiences a sudden urge to cuddle him. She wants to feel small in his arms. She’s added a few pounds over the past few months since moving to the UK, thanks mostly to the fish and chips she finds difficult to resist.

   He senses the nature of her stare.

   “And you . . . You’re thirty-two, from New York, and you have your own website . . . where you post short stories, along with biographical information, like your age.”

   Tess’s response is a delayed train; she opens her mouth but the words never arrive. Then: “Why aren’t we shooting the scene yet?”

   James turns his head and looks over at Linda, who’s returned and is talking with the scraggly, grey-haired DP. They’re standing by the impressive bookcase again. “Roger isn’t happy.”

   “Doesn’t his reputation precede him?” says Tess.

   “He has a history of conflict. But he’s super talented—otherwise the studio wouldn’t hire him, right?”

   Tess nods her head. She’s seen some of Roger’s work. He’s an Oscar-nominee, she reminds herself. She studies James—hirsute and husky—sitting in the director’s chair. Behind him is the curved wooden staircase, with its red-tongue carpet forming an alluring path. Her earlier exploration had taken Tess up the winding stairs, climbing each step slowly, passing by baroque paintings housed in gilded frames with twisted corners, following the carpet which led to an open landing offering a selection of rooms. As she stood at the top of the stairs she found herself looking at the doors on either side, from left to right. She imagined people entering and exiting each room, anachronistically dressed, without technological appendages distracting them. She saw a simpler time, but then wondered if she could be certain that those times were really any simpler. After a couple of minutes she’d taken a deep breath, turned, and returned downstairs.

   James yawns, scratches the back of his fuzzy-haired head, which reminds Tess of an untended hanging basket. As he scratches she notices for the first time the ring on his finger. She decides immediately that she doesn’t care for it.

   James frowns, looks beyond Tess, says, “Yikes.”

   Sasha is crying, silently, still standing in position in front of the camera. Linda, Roger, and certainly Barnes are oblivious to this turn of events. Tess looks at Danny who’s now wearing headphones and is immersed in a video playing on his phone. Tess hasn’t seen the first A.D., Arnold, since he drunkenly argued with Roger the previous night. She concludes that she must be the one to handle this situation.

   It’s something to do, after all.

   James nods his head in encouragement, before Tess turns and approaches the actor.

   “Sasha?”

   He stands still, wide- and teary-eyed.

   “I don’t know what I’m doing,” he says quietly, shaking his head.

   Tess places a hand on his shoulder.

   “Why don’t you come out to the trailer with me?”

   He nods his head silently.

   Tess looks back at James before leaving; the latter smiles and offers her a supportive thumbs up.

 

The trailer is small, cold, and cramped. It’s an indicator of the recent budget constraints. A rumour has spread throughout the significantly reduced crew that a battle scene shot a few months earlier in France had cost $6m alone.

   Sasha sits with his arms wrapped around his legs, chin resting on one knee. His face is red, his expression sour.

   Enfant terrible, Tess thinks.

   “How long have you been shooting?” asks Tess.

   “I don’t know . . . Too long. France, Poland, Germany. Now London. I hate London. Rain, rain, rain. I wish we were wrapping today.”

   Tess stands against a tall wardrobe. She rarely feels awkward, and now is not an exception.

   “Why are you upset?”

   Sasha wipes the corner of his eye with his boyish wrist. He shakes his head softly.

   “I don’t know . . . I don’t know why I’m crying. I’m just upset . . . Maybe it’s fatigue.” He laughs nasally. “Maybe it’s just the comedown.”

   Tess takes this opportunity to light a cigarette while keeping her eyes on the young actor. She thinks that if she were Sasha she would be happier, but then she’s thought that about many people.

   “I used to cry pretty regularly, actually,” she says monotonously as she exhales smoke and begins to wander around the trailer, picking up things here and there, opening drawers, running taps.

   After a long interlude Sasha looks up, prompting Tess to notice his long eyelashes. He says, “You used to . . . Not anymore?”

   Tess stands still, before saying, ‘No.”

   Sasha sniffs again. This time Tess is certain that it isn’t a result of drug use.

   “That’s sad,” he says, as Tess opens another drawer revealing a small, transparent bag filled with white powder.

   “It’s sad that I don’t cry?” she says as she closes the drawer.

   “No . . . The way you said it.” He sniffles, looking at her with red eyes. “That’s what’s sad.”

   Tess pulls on the cigarette, staring at Sasha with squinted eyes.

   “Let’s get your make-up back in good shape,” she says.

 

9th grade, English class, Tammy Byron. Tess used to nickname her “Lord”, but no one in the class apart from Tammy and their teacher, Mr. Hughes, got the joke. On Tuesdays, English was the last class of the day, and the two girls would stay back and read poetry and short stories together. Sometimes they’d take turns reading a poem aloud. Winter had set in and the dipping sunlight through the window would often capture wild strands of Tammy’s blonde hair as she read. Sometimes Tess wouldn’t hear Tammy’s voice; all identifiable sound would drift out of the open window, to be replaced not by silence, but a calm stillness, as Tess watched the upper lip, crowned with scattered freckles; the olive skin that always smelled of something sweet; the grey-green eyes which suggested they were searching for something. Tess would regularly find her stomach aching on those afternoons—a not unpleasant ache which eighteen years later was as elusive as a rare gemstone.

   She remembers well the conversation she’d had with her mother at the kitchen table that winter. The smell of homemade bread drifted through the house, teasing nostrils and rumbling bellies. The snow-piercing sun peering through the wooden slats on the window exposed dust that her mother would usually expunge, and cast a glaring light on the crucifix on the wall. Her mother with her rigid posture, her cardigan buttoned to her neck as always, her expression calm, like nothing was ever the matter, sat next to Tess. She’d said, quietly, placing her hand on Tess’s, “These are years that confuse all of us when we’re your age, sweetie. It’s not what you think. You’ll be okay.” Her words would convince a jury, Tess had thought at the time. “We’ll be okay,” her mother had said, and so Tess nodded her head in agreement, even though she knew that it was a lie.

 

The hotel bar is dimly lit. A low mumble of conversations hovers in the air like reassuring susurrations. Tess, freshly showered and dressed in a burgundy batwing top and tight black pants, sits next to James at the bar, which is an island in the middle of the room. They’re both enjoying a beer after the long day of shooting. Two smartly dressed young men man the station. Two other hotel residents—a match-stick, moustached elderly man and a glamorous old woman whom Tess is certain is a faded Hollywood star—also sit at the bar. Across from them in the lounge sit Linda, Roger and Barnes. No sign of producer David. The three of them wear thoughtful expressions. Tess gathers that they’re discussing the script.

   “Isn’t it funny?” she says.

   “It being?” says James, broad shouldered, elbows resting on the unusual blush red, concrete countertop, holding the stein glass which Tess thinks doesn’t seem so big in his hands (she tells herself she’ll write a story about those hands). He’s watching a soccer game on the screen above the bar.

   “It being how seriously people take their work. Specifically people in the arts,” Tess says.

   James gulps the last of his beer and places the glass on the coaster in front of him. One of the young barmen, starved of chores, immediately reaches for it. James nods his head, ordering another.

   “We have to, right? It’s called being professional.” He quells a burp before raising a hefty arm and pointing a finger at the screen. “Who watches this shit?”

   “Not us. Not you and me,” says Tess.

   “I know, because it isn’t real football, right?”

   “I mean not us . . . taking our work so seriously. We’re the small, negligible parts that supports the functioning whole. We’re auxiliary.” She gestures at the three filmmakers as James raises his eyebrows, producing a speak-for-yourself expression. “They’re the creators. And how seriously they take their roles. How earnest they are. How much they believe in what they’re doing.”

   James frowns. A fresh stein is placed in front of him.

   “Maybe if you took your job more seriously you wouldn’t be so bored,” he says, wrapping his fingers around the glass handle.

   Tess sips from her glass; not a stein. She thinks about the gassy, fizzy liquid travelling down her oesophagus and arriving to nest for the night in her stomach. Already she feels bloated and she’s only two drinks in.

   She places an arm subconsciously across her tumid tummy and swivels her chair towards James.

   “I never said I was bored.”

   James turns to her, smiles broadly.

   “You are bored. It’s obvious.”

   Tess doesn’t respond. Instead, she places a hand on James’s lap.

   He looks down at the gesture, then into Tess’s eyes.

   Tess had looked at herself in the mirror an hour earlier in her hotel room and was satisfied that she was still attractive, embracing the extra few pounds she’d added recently. Her button nose still cute, her brown eyes still mischievous, her prettiness still intact, now accompanied by an additional line or two mapping out life’s obligatory traumas. She could even be sexy with the right combination of charm and eye movement, two things she hadn’t enacted in this moment.

   “You’ve seen the ring, right?” says James, his expression suddenly stern. “What are you doing?”

   Her hand remains on his thigh. She continues to stare at him; now a hint of mischief makes itself known.

   It’s enough.

 

Tess wonders if she should have kept her shirt on during the act. She’d been on top. As they’d gripped hands and sheets she had imagined how he saw her from below. He had made her feel small—that, at least, was good.

   She wants to light a cigarette, but it’s a non-smoking room. It’s been a few minutes since she’d climbed off him; a sluggish movement which she’d thought at the time was nothing if not undignified. Head on silk white pillow, she turns towards James, who hasn’t moved since it ended; his log of an arm resting over his face. She guesses that his thoughts are meandering—thoughts about his wife, this hasty betrayal, visions of himself in the gamut of a conjugal breakdown. Don’t worry, Tess thinks, she’ll never find out if you don’t want her to.

   A chorus of giddy voices emerges and fades as a few people pass by out in the hallway. The partially open window sends the curtains into a flurried dance. A car honks its horn, accompanying the amalgamation of sounds emanating from the Soho streets outside. Tess hadn’t noticed any of these noises while she had enacted her own flurried dance with James.

   “I’m sorry,” she says.

   Despite the supporting sounds, these words are like a reading in an empty air hanger; projected, they then proceed to hang uncomfortably, alone. After a moment James turns to her and, as if suddenly the charming lover, rests his head on his hand, elbow to pillow.

   “For?”

   Tess watches the animated curtains.

   “You’re married . . . I planned to seduce you the moment I met you.”

   “We’re . . . I’m going through a strange period.”

   Tess hisses a laugh, “Story of my life.”

   “Look, it takes two to tango . . . You don’t have to apologize.”

   “I have zero qualms about pre-meditatively fucking a married man and potentially ruining his life.”

   This, James understands immediately, is a comment that’s extraneous to his and Tess’s tête-à-tête.

   “I’m a horrible person.”

   James sits up, places a hand on Tess’s head.

   “You’re human.”

   His hand almost reaches from one of Tess’s ears to the other.

   “Let’s go downstairs,” she says.

   He keeps his hand on her forehead, before saying, “Sure.”

 

Match-stick Man and Glamorous Woman are still seated at the bar when Tess and James return. Glamorous Woman gives Tess a knowing look. James orders a beer from one of the young barmen, and as Tess takes her seat she looks over at Linda, Roger, and Barnes who are still in the depths of a discussion.

   “Do you want a beer?” says James.

   Then, Danny, the young technician, approaches the table, pointing towards the lobby. Linda and Roger immediately stand up. Barnes remains seated, shakes his head disapprovingly before picking up his tumbler glass and sipping.

   Tess places a hand on James’s arm as Danny, Linda, and Roger move hurriedly towards the lobby.

   “Something’s wrong,” she says.

   “Maybe they’ve finally agreed to shut down the production.”

   “No,” she says, slapping his arm gently. “Come on.”

   Tess stands, James sighs as he rises and follows. Glamorous Woman watches them as they leave.

 

They have to hurry to keep up with Danny, Linda, and Roger. The spacious, luxurious lobby is sparsely populated: a few people checking in, a few checking out. From the lobby they all enter the elevator and Danny presses the button for the third floor.

   “What’s going on?” asks Tess.

   “Where were you two?” asks Linda.

   “It’s Sasha,” says Danny.

   “Is he weeping again?” says James as the elevator beeps and the doors open. Tess nudges him reproachfully.

   They exit into the hallway of the third floor. Danny leads the way at a steady pace. As they approach a door they’re all greeted by the sight of a good-looking, vest-wearing, scrawny Hispanic kid, who’s visibly upset.

   The young man says to Danny, in a quivering voice, “Can I call an ambulance now?”

   Danny doesn’t respond. He motions with his hands for everyone to enter the room.

   Tess hears Linda murmur something and sounds of distress before she sees Sasha spread out on the modern four-poster bed, still in his 19th-century military uniform, sans boots, a trail of vomit beginning at his mouth and paving the silk sheets, his cherubic face somewhat turgid, fresh tears populating his cheeks.

   “Why haven’t you called an ambulance?” says Linda to Danny. “Call a god-damn ambulance, for chrissakes!”

   “I-I-I thought. . .” stammers Danny. “Publicity, bad press . . . don’t you consult someone first? Like Ledger?”

   “Jesus Christ, Danny,” bellows Linda. “Call the fucking ambulance.”

   “I’m calling,” says the skinny Hispanic kid who still stands in the hallway, distressed, pacing back and forth.

   Roger approaches the bed.

   “Don’t touch him, Roger,” says Linda.

   Roger raises his hands.

   “The pillock might be choking on his bloody vomit,” he says as sits on the bed and lifts Sasha’s head onto his lap, encouraging more vomit to exit the mouth and gather on the sheets. Roger checks his pulse. He looks at Linda worriedly.

   “Oh for Chrissakes,” says Linda as she raises her hand to her mouth.

   Tess stands still. She feels something within. She sees the bag of white powder on the bedside locker. The spoon. The needle. She looks at Sasha’s face: Despite the mess—the puke, the partial swelling, the pallid expression, the tears—he’s still beautiful, she thinks.

   But all she wants to do now is fix his make-up.

 

Tess had volunteered to ride with Sasha in the ambulance. Before she left she grabbed her handbag. On the way to the hospital she felt as if she were now an actor in the film—she and Sasha were now fellow thespians in the middle of an intense, high-octane scene; now transported from the idyllic countryside of the 19th century to the grimy 21st-century streets in an unexpected and highly questionable plot twist.

   Sasha’s performance, she thought, would land him multiple awards. The EMTs kept talking to him, although Tess couldn’t see much activity. A glimmer of hope would arrive every now and then with the fluttering of eyelids, but to Tess this seemed to communicate distress—a calamitous episode—rather than potential recovery.

   She’d placed her hand on his smooth bare foot and kept it there until they’d reached the hospital, thumbing his sole maternally. As the ambulance zipped through London traffic, Tess pictured the religious iconography from the Georgian house in which they’d been shooting earlier that day. She saw Christ, and she saw Sasha, and after a while she couldn’t tell one from the other.

 

The first thing Tess notices upon taking her seat in the surprisingly quiet and dreary waiting area is the cross on the wall. She remembers the one that had rested above her bed when she was a child, “watching over her”, as her mother would say. In this waiting room, as the nurses work on Sasha, for reasons she both does and doesn’t understand, she’s comforted by the presence of this sorrowful looking man nailed to two planks of wood. How, she wonders, can someone’s suffering in that very moment be such a comfort to so many?

   A dream follows—she hadn’t felt herself dosing, but there she was, slipping away unawares. In the dream is her mother. A conversation. They’re sitting opposite one another in the kitchen. Tess is no longer a child, but this is the same moment in which she’d had the conversation with her mother after a Tuesday afternoon spent in school with Tammy Byron; the smell of the homemade bread, her mother’s attire, the penetrating sun—it’s all the same. Only this time her mother tells Tess that she should never apologise for who she is, she tells her to be brave. Then a nudge, and Tess is awake, a young Asian nurse standing over her.

   “He’s awake,” she says, then leans close and speaks quietly: “This is unprofessional . . . but I’m a big fan of his. I’m kind of a cinephile . . ‘ she laughs giddily. “Especially French and Québécois cinema . . .”

   Tess stands up.

   “Are you his girlfriend?” the nurse asks quietly.

   Tess shakes her head ‘no’, picks up her handbag. They both begin to walk.

   “I didn’t think so,” the nurse says. “You’re much older . . . no offence . . . that’s just an observation . . . He’s my age . . .”

   “Thank you for the confidence boost,’ says Tess.

   As they approach the room the young nurse stops Tess.

   “Do you think,” she asks. “I could get a photo with him after you guys talk? You’ve no idea what that would do for my Instagram account.”

 

Sasha sits up in the bed. He’s in a private room. Privilege permeates the air. He immediately smirks as he sees Tess. It’s an embarrassed gesture, she can tell that much. She notices how pale he is, his eyes dark, his lips lacking verdure. His body is being fed liquids through a drip. His 19th-century military uniform is in a bundle on a chair under the large blind-covered window.

   Tess pulls one of the ugly, orange-cushioned chairs next to the bed.

   “Why are you here?” Sasha asks, almost laughing.

   “Well,” Tess begins as she falls back into the chair and rests her feet on the edge of the bed. “Linda thought it would be best if we bring as little attention to this little drama as possible. David . . .”

   Tess notices the lack of registration on Sasha’s face.

   “The producer . . . He’s been away most of the day; Linda had asked to keep the crew to a bare minimum for this scene. And he wasn’t at the hotel when you decided to go all River Phoenix on us . . . If word gets out that the lead actor in this already over-budget mess almost killed himself there’s genuine concern—not unjustified, might I add—that the production will be shut down. So, the lowly make-up artist is the point of contact. And for now you’re Alexander, not Sasha.”

   “I could get used to being Alexander again.”

   “Don’t be so dramatic . . . What are you, an actor?”

   Tess looks up and sees another cross above the bed.

   “Even in private rooms,” she says aloud.

   “What?”

   “The crucifix . . . even in private rooms.”

   “A gentle reminder,” smiles Sasha.

   “Of?”

   “Death?”

   Tess continues to stare at the cross.

   “No . . . I think it’s a reminder to not be afraid, even if you don’t believe. No matter who you are.”

   She lowers her feet, rummages in her handbag.

   “You look like death,” she says.

   “That’s to be expected, no?”

   “Heroin? Really?”

   “All the greats . . .” says Sasha, but he doesn’t finish the sentence, as if he knows the words he’ll speak will sound contrived.

   Tess reveals from her handbag a small make-up case and a brush.

   “Come on,” she says as she leans forward. “Let’s give some life back to those cheeks.”

   Sasha closes his eyes, once again teary-eyed.

   “I’m such a fool.”

   “Yes, you are.”

   “I saw him,” he says after a long pause.

   “Who?” asks Tess as she holds the brush in her hand, sitting back and resting her feet against the bed once again.

   “Mon amour,” Sasha smirks, shakes his head. “La folie d’Amour . . .”

   Tess rests her chin on her hand, looking at Sasha. She sits forward again and summons him with the brush. He leans towards her, and she lightly powders his cheeks.

   “When you said earlier . . . That it was sad, how I’d said I used to cry . . . The way I’d said it . . .”

   “It was,” says Sasha.

   “Yes. Well, when I saw you like that, on the bed, looking deathly . . . so . . . tragic . . . I felt something I haven’t felt—that I haven’t been able to feel for a long time.”

   Sasha stares at Tess. He places his palms against his eyes, stretching the skin in a slow movement, wiping away residual tears.

   “Um. . . You’re welcome?” he smirks.

   Sitting forward, Tess wags the brush again.

   “Anyway, let’s get you looking at least partially alive before I call Linda.”

   “I don’t wear make-up off set, you know . . .”

   “I know, but like I said, you look like absolute shit.”

   Gradually, Tess returns some colour to Sasha’s face.

   “Oh,” she says after she’s finished. “You’ve got a fan . . .  The nurse. She asked if I was your girlfriend.”

   At this, Sasha laughs heartily.

 

Shooting for the following day was cancelled. Linda asked David for time to restructure the scene, to discuss with Barnes the intricacies of the exchange between the two characters—the doomed lovers. The actress who’d been acting opposite Sasha was due to fly in that evening. She was a well-known model who was making the often ill-fated transition to acting, and whose busy schedule had meant she was unavailable for the first two days of shooting in London. Sasha had said he was happy that she was arriving, as it would be better than him acting opposite a stand-in, or a sweeping brush.

   At least he’d hoped it would be.

 

Tess sits at the island bar once again. This time she’s alone. She hasn’t seen James since the night before, and thinks that this is for the best. Sasha had stopped by her room earlier and presented to her a bouquet of flowers, then proposed that the two of them watch Titanic together. Tess had agreed and they both enjoyed the movie along with plenty of room service.

   Sitting at the bar again is Match-stick Man and Glamorous Woman. Tess is tempted to speak to the woman, to ask if indeed she is a former Hollywood star, but she doesn’t want to be that person.

   She orders a beer and one of the two young barmen serves her a glass of fizzy golden liquid. Looking around, she sees Barnes at the same table at which he was seated the previous evening. He’s reading his screenplay, legs crossed, his foot shaking communicating anxiety or frustration, Tess thinks.

   “Wanna ask him why he’s such an obstinate sonuvabitch?”

   Linda sits in the chair next to Tess. She orders a drink.

   “I get the feeling that he wouldn’t tell me,” Tess says.

   “He’s the most difficult man . . . and I’ve dealt with some of the most difficult men . . . and women.”

   The other young barman places a G&T in front of Linda.

   “Tab,” she says. “The ongoing tab.”

   The barman smiles, nods, retreats.

   “You see that gorgeous woman?” Tess says quietly.

   “Who? Grandma?”

   “The older woman, yes,” Tess says.

   “Yes, I do. Why? Are you planning on asking her out?”

   “Isn’t she famous? I mean, wasn’t she? She looks so familiar.”

   “That, my dear Tessa, is Angie Leonard,” says Linda before taking a sip of her drink. She flicks her curly black hair in a habitual manner. “Angie Leonard played some major roles back in the 50s opposite the likes of Gable, Hudson, and John Wayne . . . She even starred opposite James Dean in a lost film about a drifter who disrupts a quote, unquote perfect marriage. Her career took a bit of a dive when it was made public that she had . . . sapphic tendencies.”

   “No. . .”

   “Come on, even Dean couldn’t say it straight up. He knew the risks. Hudson, too. And so did Angie, but it was tougher for women to keep that kind of thing under wraps in those days. They weren’t worth as much to the studios, so the studios would sell the secrets of their lesser stars to protect their major players, like Hudson.”

   “The poor woman. All because . . .”

   “All because she was born at the wrong time. Hell, I’ve slept with more women than my man Hefner did and still I’m one of the biggest directors in Hollywood. And you think I’m not aware of the push for more female directors right now? I’m a beneficiary of the time we live in, believe that.”

   “Linda?”

   “Yes, Tessy, baby?”

   “Did you give me this job in the hope that we’d get together again?”

   That hiccup laugh, followed by a shake of the head.

   “As much as I would be open to such an occurrence, no, that’s not why I got you the job, baby.”

   “Was it because my mother died?”

   Linda places a hand on Tess’s.

   “It was because I care about you, and because I don’t know what the hell you’re doing in London. Although I think I have an idea.”

   Match-stick Man erupts abruptly, producing a cacophony of coughs and throat-clearing. Angie Leonard pats him on the back.

   “I can’t stop being angry at her,” Tess says, turning to Linda. “I don’t know how to purge myself of it . . . She could’ve made things so much easier . . . I could’ve been so much happier . . . ”

   Linda, in a similar manner to Leonard, places her hand on Tess’s back. Tess sniffles, tries to compose herself, to avoid attention and scene-causing.

   “I even prayed . . .” She laughs a bewildered laugh. “I prayed.”

   Linda squeezes Tess’s shoulder, and attention is drawn to the table. A short time later, after Tess gathers herself, they order more drinks, and again the conversation flows, and again they laugh regularly.

   At Tess’s insistence they share a bed that night.

 

The next morning, Tess stands by as James barks orders at Danny, who fiddles with one of the floor lamps. The light illuminates Sasha’s features. He smirks as Tess approaches him.

   “Just a touch-up,” she says.

   “My hero,” he says sardonically, or perhaps not.

 David, the producer—balding, bearded, bad-tempered—has been present on set since 7am. Linda and David have had a number of discussions, but now, as they prepare to shoot the scene, the producer has disappeared into the other room where he’s sat silently next to Barnes.

   Linda and Roger exchange a few words, before Linda approaches the camera.

   Tess steps away from Sasha, squeezing his hand before she exits the shot. He smiles warmly at her. Tess takes her place in the darkened corner, looking on as the cast and crew get ready for the next take. The model/actress stands in place. Beyond her and Sasha is the sprawling countryside, the wave-like hills.

   James and Tess catch each other’s eye, before Tess takes a deep breath and looks at Linda who’s standing next to the camera. The sound of the word “Action!” causes Tess to become aware of a sensation she’s currently experiencing. She feels in her stomach something not entirely unpleasant; something, she realises, that is no longer elusive.

 

 

Header Image by Kyle Head on Unsplash

The Tank and the Lady in the Painting

 

It was Raymond’s suggestion. I’ve never really understood art, so I was rarely inclined to visit art galleries. I can appreciate the colours, the skill; the talent involved. I understand that there’s talent. Well, most of the time—as Bob Dylan said. Other times . . . Well, I just don’t know.

   But it sounded like it would be a nice thing to do; I don’t see my brother often enough and if I’m to be completely honest I don’t get out often enough. Not since John became ill. And when I do get out it’s usually to visit him at the nursing home. Once a month at the home there’s a support group for the spouses of the residents of the home. One of the women there—Julie—she calls it the “Sad Bastard Get-Together” (SBGT). I laugh at that, even though I shouldn’t. I like Julie; she sees the humour in the sad side of life. She said there’s always a sad side (and don’t I know it), so why not try paint over it with humour? Like an artist painting over a lifeless canvas, you could say.

   At the support group they encourage you to be more active; become involved in different activities; join clubs; be more sociable. Now that’s all well and good, but I don’t drive, and with the miserable weather we get here most of the year I don’t want to go out half the time. And as for being more sociable; well, that’s all well and good, but any time I go out it’s always with couples, because almost all of my friends are married and have been for over thirty years. And I know that’s the way it is, because that’s the way it is. But it can be a little hard. It’s hard being around couples all the time when you remember what you had; when you instinctively reach for that hand.

   Anyway, that’s neither here nor there. That’s not important. At the SBGT they encourage us to avoid indulging in negative thoughts; not to spend too much time swimming around in the past. So, I shouldn’t do that, I guess. And in any case, I’m not a very strong swimmer—never have been. But sometimes I forget that I shouldn’t linger on those thoughts; maybe it’s just because I’m getting older.

   But the trip to the gallery . . .

   It was a Saturday and as usual it was raining. I had taken the bus from the shopping centre to town, which left me only a few minutes’ walk from the gallery. Once I’d rambled up the cobblestone street, I found Raymond standing at the entrance in his rain jacket. He’d always wear the same rain jacket, even if it was a sunny day. He has a gloomy disposition; always has and always will. John used to call him “Smile Awhile”. John always liked to joke and tease, but not in a mean way.

   Raymond and I have similar faces. We both share a petit, stubby nose and a big mouth, as if one was compensating for the other. But while Raymond has always had cheeks decorated with freckles, my skin has always been clear and soft, thank you very much. That’s one thing I’ll hold on to, please. Raymond’s black hair—like mine—is greying in places. He has these narrow eyes which have become narrower with time. You see, his eyelids droop, like curtains, and so there’s not much of an opening for his vision, but he never looks like he’s squinting—just gloomy, like I said. Me, I’ve got my mother’s eyes: big and blue and full of surprise, although there isn’t much that surprises me anymore.

   We kissed each other on the cheek and Raymond smiled in his usual way: as if it took a tremendous amount of effort. He paid the admission, and I thanked him, and we began to wander around the gallery. See, Raymond’s the cultured one in our family; he’s the smart one, the educated one. The one who went to college. Of course, I couldn’t go to college because I was running the family home from the age of fifteen; my mother needed all the help she could get because she was ill, and my father was out working most days. We were a poor family; me, Raymond, and our sisters Debbie and Cassandra, all shared the same room growing up just outside the city centre. The three of us sisters would pile ourselves into the same bed—which was good for keeping warm during the night, and for those moments when we’d hear a noise and become scared—and Raymond had his bed to himself. Considering our financial constraints, the fact that Raymond got to go to college is a miracle in my book. But he did, and he’s reaped the benefits of an education. And I don’t begrudge him that one bit. He teaches now, at a college outside the city.

   The gallery was quiet for a Saturday, or so I guessed; I don’t know what’s busy for that gallery. Raymond would comment on paintings every now and then; saying things like “isn’t the use of vibrant colours here marvellous,” and “the despair’s in the work; isn’t it obvious? This captures a moment in the artist’s life—a moment of despair. It all over it, isn’t it?”. He would look at the works in different ways; every now and then he’d place an elbow on a wrist and a hand under his chin, and would tap his lips with his index finger as he studied a painting. He’d seem displeased in many instances. I just looked at them and liked the ones I liked and didn’t think much about the ones I disliked. When we came to a painting, “A convent garden, Brittany”, by a man named William John Leech, I asked Raymond what he thought of it. In it a very pretty woman holding a book is looking up at something, maybe the tree, maybe the heavens—I don’t know. Behind her there are a number of women looking away so you can’t see their faces. There are branches and leaves and flowers in the foreground.

   “You like it?” he asked.

   “Do you?” I asked.

   “I do. I’m a great admirer of Leech; I share his love of sunlight.”

   “Then why do you live in this kip?”

   Raymond smiled and placed a finger over his lips as he looked at the painting.

   “Do you like it?” he asked again.

   “I do,” I said as my eyes lingered on it. “It’s like life, in a way, isn’t it?” I said tentatively.

   Raymond turned his head to me; I didn’t normally talk about art.

   “How do you mean?”

   “Well,” I began, and hesitated before continuing. “We can see her face. She’s very beautiful. You want to look at her. It’s like we’re the ones looking at her through the leaves and flowers there at the front, isn’t it? But the other women; they’re just there. We can’t see their faces.”

   “Go on.”

   “I don’t know. I think it’s like life; only a few will be seen and the rest will live in their shadow.”

   Raymond nodded. I don’t know if that’s what the painting meant. I don’t think it did: I don’t know very much about art.

   “It’s his wife, actually.”

   “Oh.”

“It’s oil on canvas. Beautiful execution.”

   I nodded as once again Raymond tapped his finger against his lips.

   It wasn’t long afterwards that we came across the tank. It wasn’t a very pleasant sight—not to my eyes. There were a number of people around it. It was hanging from the ceiling and was a few feet above the floor. There was a big fish in it, surrounded by blue liquid. The big fish’s mouth was open and its razor-like teeth were on display. It must have been around 6 ft long. It was a horrible-looking thing. We got closer and a few of the patrons moved along. There was a sign in front of it that told us the name of the piece:

                        In the Eyes of the Beholder—Death or Life

   Raymond nodded.

   “This is the piece everyone’s talking about,” he said excitedly.

   “It’s a fish,” I said.

   Raymond nodded again.

   “It’s a lancetfish,” he said. “That liquid is a formaldehyde solution. It slows the decomposition process.”

   I took a step back, walked around the tank. The fish was skinny, and its fin was tall. It’s dead, I kept saying to myself.

   “It’s like it’s alive, but it’s not,” I said to Raymond.

   “So it seems.”

   “Why put a dead fish in a tank?”

   “Why not?” he said.

   “Is it art?” I asked Raymond.

   “It’s in the gallery,” he replied, with a wry smile.

   We stood in silence for a few minutes, staring into the eyes, the mouth, the soul of this dead lancetfish. I felt sorry for the thing; it shouldn’t be there on display like this, I thought.

   While we were standing, looking at the fish and the tank, my phone rang.

   Raymond looked at me with disapproval in his eyes. I hunched my shoulders apologetically. It was the nursing home calling; I couldn’t let it ring out. I’d missed the last SBGT, maybe there was something they wanted to update me on. I walked away into a corner, where there was no one else, and I quietly answered the call.

   “Hello?” I whispered.

   “Mrs. Callaghan?” came the voice of a young woman.

   “Yes—Mary. Mrs. Callaghan makes me feel ancient—call me Mary. Is everything all right?”

   “It’s fine, yes, nothing to worry about, Mary. John’s just been worried and has been asking us to contact you.”

   “What’s wrong? There’s nothing wrong, is there?”

   “No, no. Not at all. John just wanted to tell you to remember to bring his cigarettes when you’re coming up next.”

   In the background I could hear John.

   “I’ve only five left,” he was saying.

   “Yes, I have some there for him. I’ll be up in the morning.”

   “Okay,” said the young woman. “John just wanted us to call to make sure.”

   “Okay,” I said. “That’s okay.”

   The rain had stopped when we left the gallery. Raymond waited with me until my bus arrived. I hugged him and we said we’d do it again soon. He trundled off in his raincoat as I waited in line to get on the bus.

   On the way to visit John, as the bus travelled along the river, as the traffic crawled tediously, I thought about that poor fish. Then I thought about the beautiful woman in the oil painting. I imagined her there on that day, in the heat of the sunshine, surrounded by the leaves and flowers, and all that beauty. Then, after all the hours her husband had spent on the work, he would reveal it to her.

   When I got to John’s room, I opened the door a little before stopping. I imagined the artist’s wife as she approached the door to the room where she would see the painting for the first time. She’d see herself on that canvas. I imagined the excitement, or the apprehension, as she prepared to enter and see the work her husband had made for her; how she’d be seen for years to come. Still I stood outside the door.

   And I waited.

What’s Within

I just jotted this down with the master Leonard Cohen’s voice in my head. Certainly has a gospel quality. Perhaps a tad trite, but sure what of it…

What’s Within

She said “Have you got a light?”
I said “I’ve got a light within me.”
When the days, they turn to night
I’ve got a light within me
When I lay down to sleep
When I bow my head to weep
When the hill, it seems too steep
I’ve got a light within me

She said “Have you got any fight?”
I said “I’ve got a fight within me.”
When the cold wind of time takes flight
I’ve got a fight within me
When I start to lose my grip
When my papier-mâché mask begins to slip
When Mother Nature cracks her whip
I’ve got a fight within me

See I’m twisting like the trees
Got thick mud up to my knees
The Blues engulfed me like a breeze
But there’s a spark
And there’s a surge
And there’s a sphere upon my crown

She said “Have you got a light?”
I said “I’ve got a light within me.”
She said “Have you got any fight?”
I said “I’ve got some fight left in me.”
I’ve got some fight left in me.
I’ve got some fight left in me.

Photo by Simon Matzinger, Unsplash

Contra – New Trailer

 

Check out the full trailer for my new short film ‘Contra’ — coming to a film festival near you!

 

 

 

The Contra Crew:

Darragh O’Toole (Role: Contra)

DoT Headshot 2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Darragh is known to audiences at home and abroad for playing Conor Tyrell in the TV series Red Rock from 2015 to 2018. He played the leading role in the feature film South, and made appearances in the sitcom Moone Boy and the award-winning film A Date for Mad Mary. He’s also starred in a number of short films and music videos, including Sinead O’Connor’s 4th and Vine.

 

Patrick Molloy (Role: Thomas)

PM 1

 

Patrick has worked in television, film, and stage. He had his first performance in 1990 with a Theatre company and performed with them for two years. He then went on to perform in Dublin’s Abbey Theatre. He joined the Gaiety School of acting and completed the advanced performance year focusing on the Stanislavski method. Patrick trained with the Irish Film Actors Studio and from there decided to focus his career in Film and Television, appearing in a number of television series and films including the award-winning short, Skunky Dog.

 

Kyle Hixon (Role: Cathal)

Kyle Shot 1

 

Kyle is a recent graduate of The Lir Academy, Trinity College Dublin. He’s appeared in a number of plays, including Blackout (Lyric, Belfast), Borstal Boy (Gaiety Theatre), and In Arabia We’d All Be Kings (Some Yanks Theatre Company). Some of his theatre credits at The Lir include The Caucasian Chalk Circle, The Seagull, The Winter’s Tale, and The Ash Fire. He‘s also appeared in film, taking on roles in Bus To Dublin, Ghost Gaff, Blue Dawn, and Monged, amongst others.

 

Daragh Murphy (Director)

Daragh Murphy pic

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Daragh studied at the prestigious New York Film Academy before returning to Ireland and setting up his production company, November Seven Films. He has directed award-winning music videos and commercials, working with the likes of U2, HBO, Google, Facebook, and the IRFU. He’s manned projects in the U.S., India, and all over Europe.

 

Shane Coules (Writer)

SJCoules 4

Shane’s penned a number of short films and the feature film A Day Like Today, which has been called “a touching picture” (Dublin Inquirer), with a “thoughtfully paced, sensitive script” (Film Ireland). He’s also a published short story writer, has many other feature scripts he’s currently shopping, and is reaching out to agents with his debut novel Leaving Sadie.

 

Character Quotes #1 – ‘Leaving Sadie’

 

A little taste of my debut novel ‘Leaving Sadie’ with quotes from some of the characters…

 

 

“You become a slave to the life you carve out for yourself… and then you spend your time trying to escape it.”

– Miller Moore

 

“Only writers know the sheer torture of reading an exquisite piece of literature.”

– Ezra Cooper

 

“Had I known parenting was so important, I would have taken it more seriously.”

– Helena Cohen

 

“The little things. It’s . . . It’s what we do on most days. That’s the crux of any relationship.”

– Rachael Wilson

 

“We’re heroes to thousands; hundreds of thousands… Reverence. Heroism. And for what? There’s nothing heroic about what we do. There’s nothing heroic in spending time on your own doing what you love to do. What’s so heroic about that?.”

– Miller Moore

 

 

Read more about my debut novel ‘Leaving Sadie’ here. I’m currently submitting to literary agents (it’s a long way to the top if you wanna rock ‘n’ roll), with a long, long list to get through. Self-publication is still a possibility, but not until I feel I’ve exhausted the submissions process.

I would love to know if the above quotes whet your appetite for the novel, or at least pique your interest. Drop a comment below if you have any thoughts!

 

Visualising Screenplays

 

Below you’ll find brief outlines and mood boards for some of my screenplays that are currently being shopped.

 

Feature screenplays

 

“Bunny Rabbits”

A tense psychological drama set in Dublin, Ireland, but which could be updated for a North American setting.

‘A young offender must attend mandatory anger management classes following his release from prison. These sessions are led by a charismatic American psychologist who, it turns out, shares a history with the troubled young man, the dark nature of which is slowly revealed as the story unfolds.

Meanwhile, our protagonist finds himself drifting towards criminal activity, unable to escape the lure of a quick deal; his path to a new start. But a fresh beginning may already be on the cards when he meets a hard-headed bar worker. The question is: can he get on top of his demons and give himself a chance to get his life back on track?’

Mood board:

 

“On the Count of Three”

A script that harks back to the detective crime capers of old, with a stylistic, charming touch; I like to think of it as Raymond Chandler meets The Coen Brothers meets Wes Anderson.

‘A lovable but morally questionable private investigator who’s struggling to make ends meet is tasked with tracking down a failed writer, leading him into a world of danger, drama, dogs, and Edith Piaf covers.’

Mood board:

 

“Let’s Talk About Sex”

A romantic comedy in the Woody Allen mould; this playful script is a study on relationships, romance, and eccentric individuals.

‘A couple who’ve found their relationship in a crisis turn to a sex therapist’s program in a bid to rescue their marriage. The husband, a well-established editor of books, is dealing with his latest client’s novel – and her capricious character. The wife, a successful fashion designer, has developed a crush on a young model. Add to this their troubles in the bedroom and you’re left with a recipe for drama, debates, and sex jokes.’

Mood board:

 

“Visitors for Grace”

‘A well-off family convenes on a lush estate for the imminent death of matriarch, Grace; a gathering which leads to the inevitable: plenty of family friction. Add to that a reckless enfant terrible, a failing marriage, a dysthymic wife, a frustrated doctor, and a family secret, and you’ve got a melodrama only a killjoy would want you to miss.’

Mood board:

 

“Like Father / Like Son” 

‘Bobby Adams arrived in Los Angeles at the age of twenty-one with big dreams of becoming an actor. Four years later—the present—he finds himself working as a barista and taking whatever odd acting jobs his irascible agent Jack Robertson can land him. When on the verge of giving up on the dream and moving home, Bobby is called by Jack who informs him of an audition for an unusual role: to play the part of the deceased son of the wealthy business-magnate Richard Watts. Only the part is to be played in real life, not in a movie. The gig pays very well, and desperate for money, Bobby decides to attend the audition. While at the audition he meets fellow-actor Wynona Wesley, who he immediately develops a crush on. Bobby lands the part, and the tumultuous weeks that follow serve to give Rob a new perspective on life, love, and Hollywood.’

Mood board:

Short Scripts

 

“A Significant Nothing”

A short script about human behaviour and relationships in the age of social media and increasingly invasive, ever-absorbing, frequently distracting technology.

‘An introverted doctor who lives a life removed from the hustle and bustle of the city in which he works has found it difficult to make genuine connections with people for most of his adult life. Despite being romantic at heart, he has become disconnected, resigning himself to a life on his own. But when he treats an odd, overly anxious patient, he gets that inexplicable feeling in the pit of his stomach, and he’s hopeful for the first time in a long time that he has found someone with whom he can connect.

The question is — has he found hope in a hopeless person?’

 

“Sea Soul”

A short version of an idea I had for a feature screenplay. Will likely be developed into a 90-minute script.

‘A disgraced former banker seeks redemption in a missing person’s case, only those closest to him plead with him to stop, not least because of his theory of what happened to the lost boy, and where he could be found… in the sea’.

 

The Funny Thing About Research

 

Ahhhh, research…

Arguably it’s the most important part of the writing process. How can you write about something if you know nothing about it? That old writing tip “write what you know” is always apt — you don’t want to look stupid, do you?!

But how about other ways you might look in the age of the internet and having access-all-areas? If I were to go through the things I’ve looked up in the name of research it could paint a pretty messed-up picture…

For one short story I had to research the job of an embalmer, how a cadaver appears and feels, how the process of embalming works, etc. For my work-in-progress novel American. Porn Star. President. (about a porn-addicted journalist), I’ve looked up almost every genre there is on major porn sites, and what the world of the porn industry is like, from on-set slang to bloody company rivalries. (Think that’s commitment? Some writers have acted in adult film for their stories — now that’s dedication!) For a short story about a disgruntled employee of a corporate giant, I delved into self-immolation, and came across some deeply harrowing images, and incredibly tragic cases. For my screenplay Let’s Talk About Sex, I researched the most comic and weird sex-related injuries (thinking about it still makes me wince).

JG 1

One, like Jake Gyllenhaal above, could look at this and reach the conclusion that I’m a sex-addicted, cadaver-infatuated nutjob who’s about to set myself on fire in a protest against my exploitative employer (must… crush… capitalism…).

So, is all this research essential when it comes to whatever project it is that you’re working on?

Well, yes… It’s like the method actor approach, although how far an actor — or a writer — would go is another thing. If I’m writing about a murderer I’m hardly going to go out and hack someone to death. But I would likely go to our all-knowing, omnipotent friend (or, arguably, foe) the Internet, and read about individual cases and the perpetrators… What was their mindset? How did they rationalise doing something so abhorrent? Did they even rationalise it? What was their background? How were they raised? What did their day-to-day look like?

I think it’s a part of us, though — this curiosity, this need to know… We’re voyeuristic… Or, as David Fincher said: people are perverts. We’re forever curious about the private (or not-so-private) lives of others. We obsess over individuals like Charles Manson and Ted Bundy. We make celebrities out of some of the craziest people who’ve set foot on this planet. We create sensations around porn stars (Jenna Jameson, Linda Lovelace, Ron Jeremy, John Holmes, James Deen, to name a few). Not that I’m saying porn stars are monsters like Manson and Bundy, of course. To be clear, that’s not what I’m saying at all! I admire adult performers for having the balls to do what they do… pun possibly intended.

But what do they have in common? Well, they’re the outliers, right? And we’re always interested in the people who go against the grain of “normal” society, be it by doing something awful (Manson and Bundy) or something unusual/outrageous (adult performers). We’re forever fascinated by the ones who don’t do the “normal” thing, because, for the most part, we’re surrounded by normalcy; the mundanity of everyday life.

CK1

But coming back to research and writing, what does it all mean for the writer? The one who opens the doors to the often excessive, regularly fucked-up realities of this crazy world? Speaking from personal experience, my research has led me to having some odd, some adventurous, and some deeply disturbing dreams (including being pulled across the bed by a demonic spirit flashing before my eyes. And yes, I do have night terrors… I scream in my sleep sometimes. It’s ridiculous, and a little embarrassing, but it has scared my girlfriend in the middle of the night, and that’s definitely a consolation. It’s okay, she thinks it’s funny)…

Anyway, the great F. Scott Fitzgerald said this of the writer:

Writers aren’t people exactly. Or, if they’re any good, they’re a whole lot of people trying so hard to be one person.

For me, that’s a perfect — and profound — way to describe a writer. The first time I read it, it simply made sense. I’ve definitely found myself feeling not-like-myself after writing a certain scene or a specific character, and that’s sometimes difficult to shake off immediately. Haruki Murakami has made reference to this in an interview with The New Yorker:

When I’m writing a novel, I wake up around four in the morning and go to my desk and start working. That happens in a realistic world. I drink real coffee. But, once I start writing, I go somewhere else. I open the door, enter that place, and see what’s happening there. I don’t know — or I don’t care — if it’s a realistic world or an unrealistic one. I go deeper and deeper, as I concentrate on writing, into a kind of underground. While I’m there, I encounter strange things. But while I’m seeing them, to my eyes, they look natural. And if there is a darkness in there, that darkness comes to me, and maybe it has some message, you know? I’m trying to grasp the message. So I look around that world and I describe what I see, and then I come back. Coming back is important. If you cannot come back, it’s scary. But I’m a professional, so I can come back.

HM1

Coming back, even if it’s from the “real” world, is imperative. And, as Murakami alludes, it takes skill: he’s a professional, he can come back. He’s trained himself to come back. As made evident by my dreams, clearly I’m still in training.

But to end with Fitzgerald’s above quote in mind, maybe being good has been made easier today with the existence of the Internet, which allows us to do more research without having to leave the house or office. We’re not restricted to our first-hand experiences and our sometimes limited imaginations or book collections; we can delve into these worlds and mindsets instantly using the collective consciousness that is the Internet.

We can write what we know, although we might have preferred life when we didn’t know it.

 

Anyway, I hear the call for last orders again.

Until next time, I will be in the bar, with my head on the bar . . .

Header image by Becca Tapert on Unsplash

Contra Teaser Trailer

 

Trailers: a little taste of what’s to come. This is a nice little teaser for my new short film ‘Contra’, directed by Daragh Murphy and starring Darragh O’Toole, Patrick Molloy, and Kyle Hixon.

From here we’ll be submitting to a number of festivals, and fingers crossed there’ll be a screening or three for us to attend soon enough!

Check out the teaser here:

 

Six Morrissey B-sides

 

Football. If you had to choose only one sport to represent the working class, surely it would be the beautiful game.

I played myself. I was pretty good – not good enough to go pro, but decent enough to win a top-goalscorer award and play at the top level as a kid. A striker, I banged in plenty of goals in two seasons playing for Irish team Shamrock Rovers, and I went on to play for Home Farm F.C. before returning to Rovers again, where I spent a couple of seasons before hanging up my muck-covered boots.

How does this relate to Morrissey and B-sides, you may be wondering?

Well, most Morrissey fans will know that he was born in Manchester to a working-class Irish migrant family. Working-class life permeates Moz’s oeuvre. He was (and probably still is – I don’t happen to track his TV-watching habits) a big fan of the soap opera Coronation Street, which focuses on the daily lives of working-class Mancunians. You’ll also find many references to working-class life on the covers of Morrissey singles, such as a photograph of two boys used for the single Roy’s Keen (see below), taken by Roger Mayne, a photographer famed for his documentation of people on London’s Southam Street.

As for the football connection – there’s something about B-sides that reminds one of substitutes: back up, a suggestion of not being good enough for the starting line-up. But what about the substitute who pops up with a last-minute winner having only been on the pitch fifteen minutes? Substitutes complete the team and have an invaluable role to play. Plus, some players who regularly feature on the bench are often exceptional, even better than some in the starting eleven (think of super-subs like Manchester United’s Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Chelsea’s Tore Andre Flo).

The same can be said for B-sides. You’ll find some gems accompanying singles, some that are arguably better than the A-side.

With that in mind, here are six Morrissey B-sides from over the years.

 

1. Have-a-Go Merchant

Moz Boxers

Have a go when the pubs all close, and have a go when they open. So begins this boisterous B-side to Boxers – Morrissey’s ode to pugilists everywhere, released in 1995. Have-a-Go Merchant would also show up on the compilation album World of Morrissey, released the same year. It’s been claimed that this song was written about Natalie Merchant of 10,000 Maniacs, in response to her cover of Everyday Is Like Sunday, which Moz utterly despised. There once existed a very charming fan-made video for this, featuring handheld footage of families from years gone by. Alas, I can’t find it, but you can still listen to the track by hitting the link below.

A-Side: Boxers (16 January 1995)
Listen to ‘Have-a-Go Merchant’ here.

 

2. Get Off the Stage

Moz PP

This biting B-side takes aim at aging rockers whose time, in Mozzer’s opinion, has come and gone: move on, ye old rockers, and make way for the youth of today. Many have opined that the song was originally aimed at The Rolling Stones, who, for better or worse, are still rocking some 29 years after this track accompanied the Piccadilly Palare single release. Of course, this very song could be aimed at Morrissey today, something he surely knew would happen someday. It wouldn’t surprise me at all if it appeared as a self-deprecating inclusion on the setlist for his next tour.

A-Side: Piccadilly Palare (8 October 1990)
Listen to ‘Get Off the Stage’ here.

 

3. The Edges Are No Longer Parallel

Moz Roy's Keen

My only mistake is I’m hoping, laments Morrissey in this guitar- and strings-driven ballad. Making its appearance on the single Roy’s Keen, the track features familiar themes of hopelessness and loneliness, before launching into a snare-pounding, upbeat outro that contradicts the lyrical content. Surprisingly, this excellent B-side has never even made it onto a compilation album. It did, however, show up on the 2009 remastered version of studio album number six, Maladjusted. In a word: magnifique!

A-Side: Roy’s Keen (6 October 1997)
Listen to ‘The Edges Are No Longer Parallel’ here.

 

4. A Swallow on My Neck

Moz Sunny

A Swallow on My Neck was the B-side of the single Sunny, released in 1995. It went on to feature on the compilation album My Early Burglary Years. For me, this track is stronger than the song to which it played second fiddle. It’s rumoured to have been written for Jake Walters, a long-time friend of Morrissey’s, and features the wonderful opening lyrics I have been smashed again with the men from the Old Valhalla Road Crematorium, and You have been telling me that I’ve been acting childish . . . foolish, ghoulish, and childish. But I don’t mind, I don’t mind. When the result is a song like this, we don’t mind either, Moz.

A-Side: Sunny (11 December 1995)
Listen to ‘A Swallow on My Neck’ here.

 

5. Munich Air Disaster 1958

Moz IB,EH

Returning to the football theme, Munich Air Disaster 1958 is a tribute to those who lost their lives on British Airways Flight 609 – including members of the Manchester United football team, nicknamed the Busby Babes. This gem was a B-side on the single Irish Blood, English Heart, before showing up on the albums Live at Earls Court and Swords. The mournful lyrics speak of keeping the memory of those players alive: We miss them, every night we kiss them. Their faces fixed in our heads. A beautiful tribute song that’s been embraced by United and City fans alike.

A-Side: Irish Blood, English Heart (4 May 2004)
Listen to ‘Munich Air Disaster 1958’ here.

 

6. Good Looking Man About Town

Moz YHKM

A B-side with a brilliant bassline, Good Looking Man About Town showed up as a support act for You Have Killed Me – the first single from Morrissey’s eighth studio album Ringleader of the Tormentors, released in 2006. This one reminds me of some of David Bowie’s jazz- and drum-and-bass-infused efforts like Little Wonder, and ‘Tis a Pity She Was a Whore, but that could just be this writer. Anyway, go forth and listen – it’s a treat that’s best served with a healthy dose of narcissism.

A-Side: You Have Killed Me (27 March 2006)
Listen to ‘Good Looking Man About Town’ here.

 

There we are – six Morrissey B-sides. Share some of your favourite Moz B-sides in the comments below if you’re bothered.

Until next time . . . I will be in the bar, with my head on the bar.