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The $10,000 Movie Prop
Sean was counting the minutes until the end of his shift at the record store. Rock stars shouldn’t have to live like this. After all, he deserved to be famous, dammit!
Despite downing aspirin all day, his bruised face still hurt like Hell from his ill-advised sparring session with the Hot Young Star. But maybe there was a song in that somewhere? Something about battling vampires? It would need a goth feel to it. He could hear it: slow, churning guitars — chug chug chug chug chug chug chug chug — and big church organ synths — Ahhhhhhh Ohhhhhhh Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!
And oh yes, he would sing it two octaves lower than he usually sang — Vampiiiiiiiires from Heeeeeeeeeeeeell… It would be great.
Or maybe not.
Sean gave up on the goth vampire song and was just contemplating going home and dunking his entire face in ice water when a man who appeared to be in his late-sixties entered the store and walked up to the counter. The man had white hair and a white beard; he was skinny, scruffy and rough-looking, giving the appearance of someone who had lived a hard life.
“Hi Mike,” said Sean, “Come to check out some classics? Led Zeppelin’s half off today.”
“Screw the classics, I came to see if you wanted to go get a drink. And good God son, what happened to your face?”
Sean said, “Ya know, a drink sounds great. I’ll fill you in at the bar. First let me slip out of here before I have to listen to Jose recite the rules of Fight Club again.”
“So, it was a fight, was it?”
“I’ll tell you at the bar. Let’s get out of here.” Sean grabbed his guitar and as he walked toward the door he shouted over his shoulder, “Jose, I’m out of here!”
Jose popped out of the back room, “Hold on, where do you think you’re… Oh, I see: it’s the Produced Screenwriter. You’re leaving early so you can, what?, go discuss some big movie project in a bar somewhere?”
It was Mike who responded with, “Actually, we’re going to a bar to get drunk. That’s what bars are for. It’s not a networking session, it’s a ‘drink till you can’t feel your face anymore’ session.”
“Sean, you know if you keep slacking off, Art’s gonna fire your ass.”
“If you get fired who’s gonna cover for me on Friday?”
As they walked out the door Mike asked, “What was that about Friday?”
“Oh, Jose’s a waiter. You know, weddings and Bar Mitzvahs and stuff. And he’s got some gig on Friday, some party in the Hollywood Hills. Forget him. Let’s go.”
Several hours and several beers later, Sean and Mike stumbled out the bar door and toward Mike’s beaten-up van. Mike said, “Great thing about a van, if you’ve had too many to drive then you don’t have to. Hell, if you’ve got a van you’ve always got a home.”
Mike opened the side door of the van and the two men poured themselves inside. They each grabbed one of the tattered blankets and lay down in the back of the van. Sean grabbed his Squire Strat and began strumming the guitar. In the darkened van, the strummed chords of the amplifier-less guitar leant an almost spooky feel. Sean mumbled, “Okay, so the little androgynous vampire boy probably wasn’t my way into the business.”
Mike laughed, “Well, considering that he smashed your face, I’d say that he’s not likely to put effort into advancing your career, no.”
“He got lucky. I’ll kick his ass next time we spar.”
“And that’ll really make him want to help your career.”
“Okay, you’re right. Probably not. He’s probably not the contact I need. But sooner or later I will meet that someone who will be my way into the business. I have to. That’s the way it works. It’s all in who you know. Right?”
Mike laughed again, “And so far, you know… me.”
Sean replied, “Yeah, and that’s a good step. You’ve written actual movies. You’ve done something, you know… real.”
“But I’m not the one who can get you into the Business. I have nothing to do with the Business any more. And I don’t want anything to do with the Business any more.”
Sean said, “And that’s cool for you. But I do. And it’s all about meeting that one person who can get you in. I thought maybe I’d met him, until he punched me in the face a bunch of times.”
“Hey, at least you got a hundred bucks out of it.”
Sean raised an imaginary glass and said, “At least I got a hundred bucks out of it… And I’m still gonna kick his pale little ass at some point.”
Sean looked up at the ceiling of the van and sighed, “Someday though… someday I’ve got to make it. I know I do… Or do I just sound crazy for wanting it?”
“Crazy?” said Mike as he pulled himself up to a seated position and pointed forward, “You see that little plastic statue glued to my dashboard?”
Sean sat up and looked toward the front of the van where was glued a 3-inch tall plastic statue of a comical-looking fat guy. “Yeah,” said Sean.
“I bought that at a thrift store in 1972 for 50 cents. One night, about a year later, I got really high and I thought — I could have sworn actually — that the damn thing was talking to me. The 70s, right? Anyway, it was really wild. So I went to my typewriter and over the next couple of days I banged out this script about a little thrift store statue that possesses people.”
Sean said, “Cool. Inspiration wherever you find it, right?”
“That’s not the point. I’m getting to the point,” said Mike, “So the movie gets made and we used that actual little guy there as the prop for the film.”
“Well that’s cool,” said Sean.
“Still not the point. After the movie was done I glued that little statue to the dashboard of my van. When that van wore out I pried that little guy off of the dash and then stuck it to the dash of another van. And when that van wore out I glued the little bastard to this van. So basically, it’s this little 50-cent piece of crap and I’ve had it for a long time.”
“And that’s the point?” Sean asked.
“That’s not the point. You asked me if I thought that what you wanted was crazy. Now, there are these people who are real fans of those kind of 1970s low-budget movies that I used to write. There’s this one guy who found out that I had that little prop from that little movie — that 50-cent piece of crap with decades of glue on his little feet — and this guy offered me $10,000 for it. Now that is what I consider crazy.”
Sean thought about this, “Yeah… okay… yes, that’s friggin’ nuts.
“Damn straight it is.”
Sean thought for a moment, then said, “So why do you still have the thing?”
“Why do you still have it? Why didn’t you sell it to him?”
“I don’t know. Conscience. I guess. I just couldn’t bring myself to sell a 50-cent statue for… well hell, 10 grand would’ve been a big chunk of the budget of the movie it was in. And I’m gonna take that much money for that ugly little bastard? Something about that just seemed wrong. That’s the kind of behavior they send you to Hell for.”
Sean looked at Mike in amazement, “Dude, now who’s crazy? Turn down a profit of $9,999.50? I don’t know a whole lotta people who would do that. I don’t think even that Dolly Buddhist dude would do that.”
“The Dalai Lama?”
“Right. Him. He’d take the 10,000 bucks. I’m sure of it.”
“Aw, what would I do with 10 grand anyway? Making money was what ruined things for me… ruined films for me. When I was just scraping by in the low-budget world, that’s when I was happy. That’s when I actually liked my life. But then came Hollywood… Money and Hollywood killed it for me.”
“They paid you a lot in Hollywood?”
“They paid me a boatload. And here’s the thing: During my Hollywood time I wrote six scripts for four different producers. You know how many of those scripts were turned into movies? Not one. And yet I still got paid. Got paid a lot. And that’s how Hollywood works. I couldn’t take it. It drove me to the edge.”
Sean shook his head and said, “Maybe you should stop talking now Mike because the more you talk the more insane you sound. You couldn’t handle people paying you lots of money for nothing? And $10,000 for that little plastic guy? What else? Did you win the lottery and give the money to a family of poodles? You’re nuts my friend.”
“Well,” said Mike, “Maybe so. Maybe so.” Mike lay back down and looked at the ceiling. After a few moments of silence he dropped off to sleep.
Sean, on the other hand, was wide awake. His mind was whirling, as it often did, with thoughts of what was to be, what was, and what might be.
Maybe the thing with the Hot Young Star at the kickboxing studio wasn’t as bad as it seemed. True, the trainer had pulled the two of them apart. True, after Sean had removed his boxing gloves he had pulled the Hot Young Star’s hair. True, the trainer had then grabbed Sean by the shoulders, shoved him out the door and told him that his gym contract was canceled and that Sean had better never show his face there again.
Sean took a deep breath and closed his eyes. He didn’t think that sleep would be coming any time soon. Besides, he suddenly realized that he really needed to use the restroom. So he set the guitar aside, got out of the van and stumbled back toward the bar.
The bar door was locked.
“Oh. Right,” he said to no one as he remembered that he and Mike had been shuttled out the door at closing time. But, oh, he really needed to go.
He stumbled into the alley behind the bar and proceeded to relieve himself against the wall. As he did so, Sean looked up and realized two things. 1.) He actually was not in an alley, rather he had rounded the wrong corner of the building and was, in fact, on the sidewalk of a street which saw plenty of traffic even at this late hour. 2.) He was standing right next to a police car in which two officers who had been sipping coffee were now staring directly at him.
The thought momentarily crossed his mind to run but he realized two more things. 3.) He was right in the middle of a process which didn’t like to be disrupted. 4.) He was far too drunk to be able to outrun two sober police officers.
The two policemen got out of the car. The officer nearest Sean said, “You do realize that there’s a law against public urination?”
“Um, well,” said Sean, “Actually I didn’t realize that. Not that I’m trying to be a smart ass or anything. I’m cooperating, dude. And I’m just answering your question ‘cause no, I did not know that that was a crime. Course now that I think about it… yeah, I could see that. But, then again, it ain’t hurting anybody and maybe things that don’t hurt anybody shouldn’t be illegal. But… yeah… okay, it’s a crime.”
The officer asked, “Have you been drinking, sir?”
“Plead the Fifth! Plead the Fifth!” Sean said with a laugh.
The officers did not laugh along.
“Oh,” said Sean, “Tough crowd. Tough crowd. Um, yes, officer I have been drinking. Right here, as a matter of fact, but I have not — I repeat, not — been driving. I came out of this, um, establishment and came out to my car, well, actually a friend’s car, to sleep it off. I have not driven. But then nature called and, um, well, here we are.”
The officer said, “And did you realize that there is also a law against public intoxication?”
“Okay, that one,” said Sean, “Yeah, that one I kind of did know. But, like I said, I’m not driving. So I just kind of think that, you know, the not driving thing kind of cancels out the other things. Don’t you? I’ll just go back to bed with my friend… I mean, not, you know, ‘to bed’ with my friend. I mean just to sleep. To sleep it off. Over in my friend’s car. Van, actually.”
“Well,” said the officer as he pulled the handcuffs off of his belt, “It so happens that we also have a place where you can sleep it off.”
And without further ado, they showed Sean exactly where that place was.
Movie props from 1970s movies found on van dashboards
Low budget movies have their good points. Even if it is just in the form of movie props.
The 70s movies saw not only the rise of American auteurs and uncompromising directorial vision, the decade was also a heyday for the world of low budget movies.
It was at this time that some producers realized that spreading budgets out over several different films could be way more profitable than risking it all on one film. And movies from the 1970s were often on full-tilt low budget mode.
And here we are introduced to a friend of our character Sean who is a retired screenwriter of some of those B movie classics of the decade. Living basically a hermit's life in the hills of Encino, he finds himself recounting some of the highlights of his career. And reveals that he has a whole stash of movie props from that decade.
Movie props which at the time were cheap trash, but have now turned into valuable collectors items. $10,000 for a little dime store figurine, simply because it was used in one of these low budget movies from the 1970s? Insane, but true.
And that little bit of insanity plants a seed which could grow into a much larger idea for this particular former screenwriter.