Audience of One

Audience of One

It’s the best day of my life; it’s the worst day of my life.

I haven’t decided which yet. Its fate would eventually be determined by the seventy-nine year old man sitting beyond this window right now. Sir Hugh Wright.

There he sits, his brows knotted in a frown, his hands resting on his cane, leaning towards to the big screen before him.

It’s always been my dream to meet my favorite author. I grew up loving Wright’s stories, following every new novel he wrote, purchasing each new one as soon as it came out. His sci-fi and space adventures were the in-thing back when we were kids in the Star Wars/Star Trek generation, with an added bit of quirky humor and deep values. I became a filmmaker so that I could make stories like his. Forty years of my life have been invested in this journey, working for the big studios just to get a tiny place on previous space operas like this one. Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Akpos in Space…

That last one, a comedic piece about an African ‘Mr. Bean-type’ character on a space adventure, had been a financial risk, but it had surprisingly done well at the box office, even garnering a Golden Globe nomination for Best Independent Picture. I had loved the script as soon as I read it, and had taken it to a couple of studios, but I was initially turned down. Some of my filmmaking friends and I put some money together to make this into the best of movies possible. My work on that last one finally gave me a voice in Hollywood, and it was then I heard about the studio that had purchased the rights to Wright’s novels.

Did I submit a script? You bet I did! My tenth submission was accepted, after some modifications by the studio. Some changes to the setting were necessary, especially in adapting a novel from the ‘70s for a 21st century audience.

It was a dream come true. The first of the best-selling Space Junkies series was finally headed for the big screen. And I would be producing it. No one could understand all that I was feeling in those moments. From the casting, through preproduction, filming, and post-production, my dream was taking shape.

It has all been headed toward this very moment, as Wright himself accepted our invitation for a special screening of the movie. There he is now, watching it alone. Per his preferences, the room is dark and the only lighting comes from off the screen. He’s got a glass of water beside him, and he just sits there with his fingers crossed under his chin. The movie has been over for minutes now, but he just sits there staring at the rolling credits.

I wonder what must be going through his mind.

What does he think about the changes we made?

Oh, man … he hates it. He really hates it.

He has not spoken to us in the last two hours. His eyes are fixed on the screen.

Behind me, the door opens. It’s Ryan, my intern. “You OK, Boss?”

I rub my eyes. “Well … you know how it is … Kid.” Actually, he doesn’t, but what can I say? Ryan is as close to me as any friend I’ve ever had, despite the generational gap between us. He never quits making me feel my age, and I never stop making him feel younger than his.

He pulls up a chair and seats beside me. “So, this must be like Christmas for you. You taken a selfie with him yet?”

I chuckle. “You kids and your selfies. I’ll never get what freaks you out about those.”

“Selfies are cool.”

“Yeah, and they’ll die a natural death with time, just like bell-bottoms, muttonchops and disco.”

“C’mon, think of the fans. You can even tweet it, they’ll love it. Lets ‘em know you got the author’s approval. They’ll accept the changes we made in the story better. Least, it’s not as if you pulled a Tauriel or anything.”

I stare out at the man. “Right now, the only approval I care for is the approval of that man over there.”

Ryan arcs a brow. “What’s he still doing in there? The movie’s long been over.”

“I knew he’d hate it.”

Ryan stares at me. “Dude, what’s your deal? You’re a star! Kids come to Comic-Con every year just to get your autograph. Those Akpos guys are still grateful ‘cause you brought their idea to the big-screen. And you’re here, fidgeting, expecting this guy to trash your work?”

I shake my head. “It’s different. I never gave a hoot what anyone cared about my work before. Now, it’s different. You won’t get it.”

I can see him smile in my peripheral vision. He pats my lap. “Hey, you’ll be fine. You put your best foot out there with this. He’s gotta appreciate that.”

“I hope so, kid.”

“I know so.” Ryan pats my shoulder and stares out at Wright past the window. “Sir Hugh Wright. Hey, If I get to meet him, I’d go, ‘Sir Hugh Wright, you write … right?’“

Ryan is not as funny as he thinks he is. “What he’d probably say to that is—“

“Samuel,” a gravelly voice comes in over the speakers. “Can I have a moment with you, please?”

It takes me a moment to gather my thoughts, savouring that old British accent. Hugh Wright has just called my name! “Ah, yes. Yes, of course. I’ll be there in a moment … Sir.”

Ryan gives me a fistbump. “Break a leg. Hey, Francis called. He’s waiting out back to take you both to lunch once you’re done. You tell him that when you get in there.”

“And you pick now to tell me that?” I put on my jacket and adjust my cufflinks. “How do I look?”

“Dude, I’m a guy! What, you expect me to say you look hot?”

I just stare at him. “You’re fired.”

“Yeah, like I haven’t heard that a billion times already.” I keep a straight face as I open the door to the screening room. “Wait, you were joking, right? Sir?”

It’s like I’ve entered into another world in the second it takes me to enter and shut the door. The darkness reverberates with a still buzz that fills my ears. The stillness is eerie and foreboding, with the man still seated ahead, facing the screen.

He hates it, man.

With quivering steps, I approach his seat, never taking my eyes off the bald spot on his head. Now I get to speak with him. Not through a studio rep or anything, but to Hugh Wright himself!

He turns to stare at me, his eyes hidden in the shadow of his brows. “Please, take a seat.” There is only one couch and he is seated on one end. He expects me to sit beside him.

I am Frodo going to meet Gandalf. I am a Pevensie walking up to Aslan. I take a seat beside him.

I should ask him what he thinks. I should ask him if he’s comfortable. I should take control of the conversation. But when I open my mouth to speak, nothing comes out.

Proposing to my wife had not been this difficult.

He inhales loudly. “I take it you wrote the script?”

Does he expect me to respond? Oh, he does! “Yes. Yes I did, sir. Well, not really. Not the final product. It was actually a group effort. I mean, I laid the groundwork, and a couple of other screenwriters pitched in, the studio made some modifications—“

“But you wrote it?” Staring into those ancient eyeballs, I can be nothing but honest.

I nod.

He turns back to the screen for a second. And another second. The seconds that follow are driving me nuts.

He takes off his glasses, wiping his eyes. When he turns to me I finally see that they are moist. “Samuel … there is something I need to tell you.”

No conversation that starts that way could possibly end well.

“Have you ever wondered why it took decades before I finally sold the motion picture rights to my books?”

A thousand responses whizz by in my mind. Because of budgetary constraints? Insufficient CGI? Bizarre hairstyles? But he does not let me respond before he continues. I actually prefer it that way.

“When I started writing, all those years ago, I took my work from a place deep inside. My experiences, my childhood, my agonies, the questions I grew up with, and the future that I desired. My faith. My heart. There was just too much heart in there. They were all like a part of me. I hold my stories in such high esteem, like my own children.” He pauses. “Not that I love them more than my real children. Far from it. Though, on occasion, I did forget my late wife’s birthday.”

I chuckle at his attempt at … self-deprecating British humour? Is that what it’s called?

“I did not want that to be lost—the heart in the story, I mean. I know the procedures that occur in the journey from book to screen … and I just could not afford to let it … go. Apparently, not all books were meant for the cinematic world. I’m sure you would agree.”

I try to read between the lines. He is telling me that this sucked big time, isn’t he?

He expects an answer. “I … agree.”

“I could not afford to let my stories lose that heart in the cutting room. It would be tantamount to suicide.” He turns to the screen. “And I was right to fear.”

Adrenaline runs down my spine. I feel as if I’ve been doused with ice cold water. I have failed…

“Thank you for not letting that happen, Samuel.”

I’m confused. “Sir?”

“Past the special effects and necessary changes to the subject, I could see the hand of someone fighting, trying to save the elements of what made my story … my story.” He smiles, and no smile has ever been so reassuring. “That was you, wasn’t it? You knew what was important and you made sure it was apparent in the picture. And for this I am very grateful.”

I’ll be honest: I was not expecting this. Not at all. I nod, smiling. “We loved your story, sir. It had to be told.”

“You just had to comment and ruin the moment, didn’t you?”

“What? I’m so sorry, I—“

He laughs, patting my back. “You’re a good lad, Samuel.” I haven’t been called ‘lad’ in decades. “What do you say we go get that lunch we were promised?”

“I was just about to tell you, the driver’s here. He’s ready for us. Whenever you’re ready, that is. And it appears you are.”

“Come,” he stands, leaning on his cane. “I feel we’ll have much to discuss, Samuel. Much indeed.”

But, in this moment, I feel on top of the world. It doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks. He thinks it is awesome, and that’s what matters to me.

I could leap through the roof.

As soon as I open the door, I see that Ryan has been listening. He pretends to have been working on something over the phone. He stands awkwardly. “I … I wasn’t listening,” he says. “Scout’s honour.”

I’m not sure if I should be embarrassed or not.

But Wright saves the moment again. “You never were a boy scout, were you?”

 

Six months later…

“Of course, the movie was a total failure,” I say as I turn to Lisa. She lies beside me, staring at me with those magical eyes. “The studio called it a ‘hit-and-miss’ and refused to make sequels. My generation had mostly moved on from the series, and it just didn’t resonate with the new generation. You know how it went. But all that didn’t matter to me. Once Wright loved my take on his work, it was all that mattered to me.” I stare up at the ceiling. “I just wish the whole world saw it that way.”

“No, you don’t. You know that’s never going to happen.” That’s my Lisa. Always blunt to a fault. An adorable fault.

“I guess you’re right. But it would be nice if everyone saw it that way.”

“So he said he liked it all?”

“No, he said all that just to be nice. Over lunch he explained the changes he didn’t enjoy. But, in his own words, it’s not as if he was the one acting it out onscreen. Changes were bound to be a problem.”

For a moment all is quiet. I’m thankful she takes the time to listen to a story she knows already. Perhaps I just needed to talk about it again, because no matter how much I say about how it doesn’t matter, the truth is that it really does matter to me. I still feel hurt that the movie did not perform well out there. It was just one major blip in my career that was better left forgotten. Not to mention all that time and money wasted that was wasted.

“You know what this all makes me think of, though?”

I turn to her. “Hm?”

She inhales and stares at the ceiling as well. “It’s just like how the rest of our lives are. Everyone’s going to have their own opinion of what we do and how we do it. But they didn’t write the scripts we live by. God did. It’s His opinion that counts.”

I smirk at her metaphor. “God wrote our scripts?”

“Uh-huh. He made us, didn’t He? He knows how we should live. Just like Wright knew how the story should be.”

“Hm…”

“The Scriptures are like … well, God’s script for us. A guide to live by. We’re all actors on this stage, but there’s a standard. God’s script.”

“So we’re like movies acting out this script. But not so well, apparently…” I smile as the picture forms in my mind. “You know you’re quite right. You’re very right. I never saw it that way before.”

“Quite smart, aren’t I?”

“No, you’re Lisa.”

“What?!”

“And you know the best part? He doesn’t leave us to try to please Him on our own, or to try to figure out how to act His script well enough. He’s right here with us, in us through His Holy Spirit, helping us live lives that are pleasing to Him. Through Jesus, He’s given us a heart that wants to please Him, and that can actually please Him.”

“So when we do our best, and no one else is pleased…”

“It doesn’t matter, as long as God is pleased. That’s what really matters.”

“Exactly.”

I nod, knowing she really understands how I feel as she holds my hand. “Thanks, Lisa. I’ll never forget. You are smart.”

“I thought I was ‘Lisa’.”

“You’re smart, and you’re Lisa. In fact, you’re the smartest wife I’ve ever had.”

“Right. I’m the only wife you’ve ever had.”

“I know.”

“I should write a book.”

I laugh. “I’d read it.”

“Would you make it into a movie?”

“Well … it depends. Let’s finish this next project with PureFlix, and we’ll see how it goes…”

 

END

 

 

Thanks for reading. Before you go, I’d like to share the lyrics of one of my favorite songs. Its themes are similar to those of the story above.

OPEN BOOK

In the evening, when I start to pray

I think about this day

Another page is turned forever

Another yesterday.

And as the story of my life unfolds

I know You’ve read it all.

Another line to be continued

Will I stand or fall?

Open Book, to You I am an Open Book

You know every page by heart

From the ending to the start.

Open Book, my life is like an open book

As I read between the lines

It’s Your Love that truly binds this Open Book

When the cover of this book is closed

The final chapter read

I hope You find it worth the reading

I hope ‘well done’ is said

Open Book, to You I am an Open Book

You know every page by heart

From the ending to the start.

Open Book, my life is like an open book

As I read between the lines

It’s Your Love that truly binds this Open Book

Cover to cover, Lord, You know me

And what I want to be.

As You read the pages of my life

Please tell me what You see.

(By Petra; Album: On Fire! [1988]; Words and Music by Bob Hartman)

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