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Unnatural Acts (Stone Barrington Novels)by Stuart Woods
Rick Barron took one last look through the viewfinder, then he turned to the assistant director. "Conversation," he said.
The AD held up a megaphone and shouted, "Conversation!"
At once, a hundred and fifty extras, packed into a set that was a replica of Sardi's, the famous theater-district restaurant in New York, began to talk.
"Acton," Rick said quietly.
"Speed," the camera operator replied.
Waiters began to move among the tables.
"Cue the entrance," Rick said.
"Entrance," the AD said into a microphone hanging around his neck. He signaled the dolly man, and the camera began to roll smoothly down the restaurant's main aisle toward the entrance of the restaurant.
The front door opened, and his leading lady, Glenna Gleason, wearing a gorgeous evening gown and followed by another actress and two actors, all in evening dress, walked in and were greeted by a Vincent Sardi look-alike. As they walked past the small bar and entered the dining room, the camera backtracked, and, on cue, all the diners stood and applauded.
Glenna managed to look shocked, then delighted as she followed "Sardi" to their table along the wall. The camera stopped and moved in closer as a microphone boom was lowered over the false wall to pick up their dialogue.
"My God," Glenna said, "I didn't know it would be like this."
The actor on her left turned to her. "Katherine," he said, "it's going to be like this from now on."
On Rick's signal, the camera began to dolly slowly away from the table and, keeping Glenna's party in the center of the frame, rose to a height of twelve feet and stopped.
"Keep the conversation going," Rick said from his chair on the boom next to the camera. He sat and watched the stopwatch in his hand for ninety seconds, which was what they needed to roll under the closing titles. "Cut!" he yelled, finally. "Print it! That's a wrap!" It was the fourth take, and it was perfect. They had shot the three scenes at Sardi's all on the same day, and now it was done: Rick had made his first feature film as a director. He sagged with relief as the camera operator pounded him on the back.
Then, to his astonishment, every actor on the set rose from his seat and gave the director a standing ovation. Rick stood up, holding on to the camera for support, then turned and faced the bulk of the crowd, "Cut!" he yelled again. "Start the party!"
A part of the rear wall of the set was rolled away, revealing a huge buffet table and a bar serving real booze instead of the tea in the prop glasses on the table. The crowd of extras surged toward the food and drink, and Rick signaled the boom operator to lower the camera to the floor. He hopped off and slid into a banquette beside his wife, giving her a big kiss. "Glenna, my darling, that was great. It's going to be wonderful, the whole thing."
Two of the actors got up from the table and made way for Eddie Harris, the chairman of Centurion Studios, and Sidney Brooks, the famous New York playwright, who had written the script for Times Square Dance.
"Rick," Eddie said, "congratulations."
Champagne appeared and was poured.
"I thought the last scene went beautifully," Brooks said to everybody.
"Sid, we're going to do your script proud," Rick said. "Just give me a couple of days, and I'll show you a rough cut."
"I can't wait," Brooks replied.
"I have to go pee," Glenna said, and Rick let her out of the banquette. The actor playing her husband got up, too, leaving Rick, Eddie Harris and Sidney Brooks at the table.
"Fellas," Brooks said, "I have to tell you something."
Rick looked at the man across the table. For the first time since he had met the playwright, the man looked less than happy.
"What's up, Sid?" Eddie asked.
"I wanted to tell you before it hits the papers tomorrow," Brooks said.
"Tell us what?" Rick asked.
"I've been subpoenaed by the House of Un-American Activities Committee, along with eighteen other people, mostly writers but a few actors and one director."
"Oh, shit," Eddie said. "Well, don't worry about it; get a good lawyer."
"I'm sorry, Sid," Rick said, "But Eddie is right about the lawyer."
"There's a meeting tomorrow," Brooks replied. "I want to tell you fellows…"
"You don't need to tell us anything," Eddie said.
"You mean, you'd rather not know, don't you Eddie?"
"The first thing your lawyer is going to tell you is to shut up," Eddie said. "I'm just giving you a head start; don't say anything to anybody, unless your lawyer approves it first."
"I'm not looking to drag anybody into this," Brooks said. "I just want to be honest with you. This picture has been the best experience I've had since I came out here four years ago; it's the first picture that's given me the same sort of satisfaction that writing a play used to."
"Look, Sid," Rick said, "these people are going to hold their hearings, grill some movie stars, and then it'll be over. Six months from now you'll have put it behind you."
Brooks set his briefcase on the table, opened it and pulled out a thick manila envelope. "I've been working on this for two years," he said. "I've never told anybody about it, but it's the best thing I've ever written for either the stage or film, and after the wonderful experience I've had with the production of Times Square Dance, I want you fellows to produce it, and, Rick, I'd be delighted if you'd direct again."
"Thank you, Sid," Rick said, and he meant it. "I'll read it tonight."
"Tell your agent to call Rick in the morning," Eddie said, "We'll have a deal before lunchtime."
"But you haven't even read it, Eddie," Brooks said, laughing.
"I don't need to. I'll buy it sight unseen."
Rick knew that wasn't quite true, but he knew that Eddie expected to like the script; he would want Rick's opinion first, though.
"It's a western," Brooks said.
"What?" Rick exclaimed. "The theater's urban genius has written a western?"
"The grittiest, down-and-dirtiest western you ever saw," Brooks said. "I love westerns, and I've always wanted to write one; to tell you the truth, it's the principal reason I came out here, just to get the opportunity. I've had the idea for a long time, but it wouldn't work on the stage, and I didn't want it produced without the level of participation you fellows have given me."
"Thank you, Sid," Rick said.
Glenna returned from the ladies' room and sat down. "I called home," she said. "The girls are fine, and I told Rosie to give them dinner and put them to bed. I take it we'll be here for a while."
"I think we will," Rick said. "I think I'd better circulate and thank everybody." He handed Brooks' script to her. "Guard this with your life," he said. "It's the next Sidney Brooks film."
"Oh, is there a part for me?" she asked excitedly.
"I haven't read it yet, sweetheart; I'll let you know tomorrow." Rick got up and began making his way around the Sardi's set, shaking hands, hugging and kissing and enduring many claps on the back.
A moment later, Eddie Harris caught up with him. "Listen, kid," he said, leaning into Rick's ear, "If that script is any good we need to get into production fast."
"I'm supposed to personally produce the new war film," Rick said. "We could do it right after that."
"I got a bad feeling about these HUAC hearings," Eddie said. "I'd rather have Sid's film in the can, even if we have to postpone production on the war movie."
"Okay. I'll call you when I've read it," Rick said. Eddie fell away, and Rick continued his rounds, but his euphoria at finishing shooting had been pricked by Eddie Harris, and air was leaking out.
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