"All right, hand it over. But first, write across the front page, in big, clear letters, 'Director's Very First Draft.'"
My hands slapped ineffectually at the table as I scrambled for a pen. Lauren, one of the producers, came to my rescue, handing me a black and orange ballpoint left over from some Halloween-themed promotion for Cronenberg or Carpenter's latest blood offering. I scrawled the mandated words as neatly as my trembling fingers would allow across my screenplay's title page, then handed over the loosely-bound sheaf of paper to the director, an old industry mainstay who resembled a more grizzled and grumpier Billy Joel.
"Thank you," he said, putting the emphasis on the 'you' and holding the screenplay aloft like a torch before he rose from his chair, spun on his heels and left the tiny meeting room. I was left with my two producers, both attractive women of middle age, their youth preserved by good genes and high income.
I smiled thinly to cover my dread. I'd done my part; Escapade Part III was out of my hands. Whether the picture would actually be made was an open question. Whether or not my name would still be attached to the screenplay once filming began was an even more remote possibility.
Renata, the other producer, wrapped both her hands around one of my own, offering me a look of almost sincere sympathy. "Now you can go home to your wife. We'll call," she said.
A couple of months later I was back in Hollywood, holding another copy of the first draft in my hands, this time with Lauren's notes attached. I was astounded; the screenplay was now twice its original thickness, all because of those copious notes. At first I was apprehensive, but as I leafed through Lauren's added pages I understood the full scope of her brilliance; these weren't just notes, but a detailed analysis of the themes, tropes, symbolism and most importantly purpose of the story. I turned to her with a huge grin I couldn't suppress.
"This is amazing!" I said. "I'll get right to work on the second draft."
But Renata's voice through the speakerphone was full of regret. "Earl, you know that's not possible. Your deal was for the first draft only, now the screenplay goes to Robert."
My stomach was a hollow pit of roiling anxiety. "Can't I at least clean up the typos and some of the stupidest dialogue...I mean...he wrote Chinatown," I whined.
But it was no use. The next time I saw the screenplay it was professionally bound in gorgeous red leather, festooned with a bunch of Lauren's yellow sticky notes; to the last and beyond, she couldn't help herself from offering improvements. Now simply titled Escapade, the sole credit on the cover went to Robert Towne. Well, the "Part III" was a silly conceit anyway, I conceded, and Renata and Lauren were doubtless correct that my attempt at cleverness would confuse audiences and slash receipts in half, if we were lucky.
"Can I have one of these?" I asked, holding another copy of the final screenplay aloft, one that had been half-buried under memos and invoices. Lauren waved a hand over her shoulder at me, muttering into her cell phone as she fiddled with the straps of her gown. I tucked the screenplay under my arm, looked around the waiting room and left with a small sigh, emerging into the main hall to take Sylvia by the arm, guiding her down to our seats. I was sweating and uncomfortable, tugging at my collar with my free hand as we navigated our way through the milling crowd, everyone dressed to the nines and professionally made up. Sylvia looked gorgeous, but I couldn't wait to change into a t-shirt and shorts.
An hour into the ceremony Kate Beckinsdale and Jack Black came onstage to present the award for best original screenplay. Sylvia squeezed my hand, but I really had no dog in this hunt; we were here as a professional courtesy, nothing more. But I was stunned and near tears nonetheless when Beckinsdale said "...Robert Towne for Escapade!" and the great man launched himself down the aisle to collect his statue.
Towne offered a mercifully short and witty acceptance speech. There was one more surprise: Jim Carrey picked up the award for Best Supporting Actor for Escapade, and he was as flabbergasted as anyone in the room. Half an hour later the ceremonies wound down to the inevitably anticlimactic finale, and Sylvia and I marched to the exit. As we waited for a cab on the curb outside, I flipped open the screenplay's elegant cover and noted with some surprised that I'd received a credit after all: "Story by Earl J. Woods," in small but authoritative type.
Sylvia must have noticed my sudden indrawn breath. She peered at the open screenplay, caught the name.
"So is it enough?" she asked.
I let my breath shudder free. Behind us, Jim Carrey had corralled a bunch of the A-listers into a circle and had them doing some kind of one-footed hopping dance. The cacophony couldn't drown out my near-whispered answer:
"Oh yeah," I said. "It's enough."
* * *
This short, bewildering narrative came to me in a vivid dream about an hour ago. It's a nice fantasy.