Reading Between the Lines

By on Sep 13, 2011 in Humor

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Reading Between the Lines graphic

I was mentally and physically exhausted at the end of that day’s shooting and fell asleep over the script when I should have been planning the next day’s shooting.

My mobile went off. It was Snuffy, the editor. “You’ve got to come and see the rough cut.”

“What? Why?”

“Come and see it.”

His flat tone of voice was portentous, and I soon saw why. Snuffy said, “I’ve never seen anything that bad. What happened?”

“God knows,” I replied.

“Everything else is good, excellent. The colour matching, continuity, weather and the other actors. It’s just Ziggy.”

“I can see that. He’s a totally different actor in the close ups to the long shots of the same scene. He’s lost all the former vitality. He’s lethargic, sleepwalking. He’s mumbling.”

“What happened?”

“Lunch. That’s all I can think of. These close ups were done after lunch.”

We called in the director. “I know. We’ll have to reshoot.”

“What happened?”

“There was no getting through to him. I talked, suggested, encouraged but nothing worked. He seemed to be playing a different character, working from a different script to the rest of us. I even acted the bloody part for him.”

The next day we did all the shots with Ziggy as close together as possible. The crew were mad. It was so time wasting. We couldn’t do all the coverage, the various camera angles in one go. We had to go back and forth from setup to setup. I stayed around to keep the peace, hiding my fear that, at this rate, we would soon run out of money and the crew would move on to other jobs.

I took Ziggy away for a walk and talk and asked what was wrong. “I told you when we first talked that I need my publicist on set.”

“But Ziggy, this is a low-budget feature. Financed by our credit cards. We don’t do entourages.”

“Just him. That’s all I need.”

“Is it the script? Do you need to change the dialogue? What is it?”

“I’ve told you. Do you need another take, another reading of my line? I told you already.”

“Shall I hire a publicist from one of the big London agencies?”

He walked away shaking his head and muttering, “Oh, man; oh, man.”

While we waited for his publicist to get in from LA, we did something new. We used the time to rehearse. The disgruntlement of a few of the actors and crew was ameliorated when I promised that it would speed up the filming and allow us to complete on time. There would be no more rehearsing on camera. It will be one or two takes from then on I promised but doubted.

The publicist arrived, and he and Ziggy were inseparable, conjoined twins. And the whole enterprise changed. Ziggy put in a perfect performance each time, mostly on the first take. It affected the whole cast and crew. Egos disappeared, especially when energised Ziggy helped hand out coffee and sandwiches and even carried equipment up to the mountain ridge.

 That evening in the pub, we were talking at the bar together. I noticed his nearly empty pint and attracted the barmaid’s attention. “Two pints please.”

Ziggy looked at me and said, “Okay. I’ll have two pints, as well.” He entertained everyone with his gossip about his life in L.A., his career lows and highs and more Brando stories. One director refused to let Brando read off idiot boards so Brando got the soundman to feed him his lines though an earpiece. It explained the amazingly surreal quality of that particular performance.

Picking up my copy of the script, I left them all to it and went back to the hotel to work out the logistics of next day’s shooting.

Flipping through to find tomorrows’ scenes, I discovered it wasn’t my script. This one had annotations that were not mine. “Dots’”was written next to the dialogue. Was the actor trying to change the dialogue by including an ellipsis? Or maybe it was their way of indicating a pause in the speech. Although technically it should be written as beat or double beat. There were also some letters, such as “K,” which I couldn’t understand.

I was startled to come across frequent use of the word “shit” next to the dialogue. How dare they, whoever they were? It was an excellently written script and dialogue was the writer’s forte. One of many.

I phoned the editor. “Don’t worry,” he said. “The technical term for a screenplay in Hollywood is ‘a piece of shit’ or, more often ‘a pieceofshit’.”

I couldn’t fully believe that was the explanation, especially when I saw they had written “Charlie” and “Jack” next to some of the scenes. They were introducing new characters into the film. But then I noticed the names were adjacent to Ziggy’s dialogue. There was no way he would give his lines away to anyone else. Then I realized it must be his script, because all the annotations were in his scenes and next to his dialogue. I decided to sleep on it.

Next morning I grabbed the publicist. “Excuse me… sorry I don’t know your name. It’s unforgivable.”

“That’s the deal. I’m here for Ziggy. I’m not important.”

“Oh. Well, I picked up the wrong script last night. This is probably Ziggy’s. He must have mine. Can you find it for me? I need it urgently, because it’s got all of my notes.” I handed him the script.

 The publicist flipped through it. ‘Thank God. We’ve been searching everywhere for it.”

“I noticed he hates some of the dialogue.”

“Why do you say that?”

I pointed out the places “shit” was written.

The publicist laughed. “Don’t you know?”

“Know what?”

“Shit is street slang for heroin; ‘dots’ LSD; ‘K’ ketamine. That’s how we kept the consistency of his performances, by keeping notes of which drugs he was on for each scene. How else do you think he acted the same in close-ups and two shots and long shots when they were filmed at different times?”

I tried to recover some dignity, regain some control. “But that doesn’t explain him writing new characters into the script.”


I showed him. He laughed even more uncontrollably.

“’Jack’ is Jack Daniels. Tennessee whiskey.” He waved the script in front of my face. “Of course, no one must ever know about this. It would be the end of Ziggy’s long career and finish yours before it’s even started.”

I walked away. I later Googled “Charlie” and found out for myself. The lines Ziggy was so intent on were not just lines of dialogue but lines of Columbian marching powder.

I was beginning to understand Hollywood. Lala land. California. Why shouldn’t the crazies have their own state? Why shouldn’t actors become state governor or even president?  It was the land of equal opportunity, and I was going to make it.

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Richard Paul Skinner lives in Bath, England, and has been a full-time writer for twenty years. He has published a novel, The Bathonians, on, has published twenty-six short stories and articles in literary magazines, and has written sixteen screenplays, three radio plays and a sitcom pilot. He is also a filmmaker: richardskinner309 on and Richard Paul Skinner on