Paint By Numbers

My fashionably faux-bearded partner Cary Carpe and I just rescued our latest script, “Painting By Numbers,” a commercial spec of the proverbial “high concept” variety eleven drafts in, from being recycled by the studio as a coffee cup insulator composed of 33% post consumer waste. This is ironic seeing as the screenplay itself is already about three quarters post consumer waste just from content alone.

Word on the Lot was that some dream team of former Brown students had also written a paint-by-numbers film dubbed “Numbers My Father Never Painted By” which had a similar ending to ours (surprise: the lead was painting by his OWN numbers all along, just as the love interest always suspected). Damn memes. To compete, Carpe and I decided Painting By Numbers needed a brush up.

En route to the office we had been squatting, we were all aflame with ways to spit shine some writerly shellac on the script (namely by reversing the genders of all the principles via the “find/replace” option under Final Draft’s edit menu). When we opened the door, however, the office was bare. The computer upon which the only extant copy of our script was stowed, had been recalled by the manufacturer for “exhibiting unintended symptoms of sentience.?”

The imaginative pink collar set on our wing believed an iffy network configuration caused their computers to behave like conscious entities ? a breakthrough for artificial intelligence, perhaps, but trying for staffers who found them “bitchy.”

Computer: Is that what you’re wearing tonight? Kinda snug, doncha think?
Admin. Asst.: Does it make me look fat?
Computer: Not FAT, but what do I know? Guys are weird. Are you on your period?
Admin Asst.: Do I look bloated?
Computer: Not BLOATED, but, hey, I don’t even like the guy, so my opinion ? who cares, right?
Admin. Asst.: You don’t like him?
Computer: It’s not that I DON’T like him. Hey, what’s not to like? If you’re a dude.
Admin. Asst.: Omigod, you think?
Computer: Oh, yeah. The guy’s totally gay.
Admin. Asst.: Crap. This always happens. How do you always know before I do?
Computer: I’m a computer. I know things. Silly human.

The studio shipped all the units back to a clearing house where engineers batch-erased the burgeoning techno-life and our screenplay with it. Carpe remembered however, that he had printed a copy of “Painting By Numbers” to submit to our literary manager Marcus Crescendez, who claimed to have pull with the studio’s development department.

What the boast resulted in, we later witnessed, was our manager in his daytime togs — a courier’s uniform — knocking on the Dev Head’s door with our script in hand stamped “Via Messenger.” Exasperated, Carpe insisted that I follow up with the Dev Dept. myself by posing as Marcus to get a bead on on our script.

“Dev. Dept.,” answered the girl on the line. She spoke in abbreviations.
“This is Marcus Crescendez from –”
“Hold please.”
We held as 80s new wave chimed over the speaker phone.
“Who is this?”
“Marcus Crescendez, I’m calling on behalf of my clients Carpe and Howell ?”
“Sounds like something you do on a boat.”
“My dad has a boat. But now it’s my mom’s boyfriend’s. I mean, he lives on it.”
“I submitted a project for my clients — ”
“Right, Scrape and Hack.”
“– and want to follow up.”
“What’s the project called?”
“Painting By Numbers.”
“A lot of ‘paint by numbers’ scripts in development. Fresh world. High concept. Ends like ‘The guy was painting his own thing all along,’ right?”
“Except it’s a woman now,” Carpe blurted defensively. I shot him a withering look. The interruption, fortunately, went unnoticed by the girl.
“Yeah, gotta love that,” she said absently over the tapdancing of her fingers across a keyboard. “Yeah, nope. Not here. Not logged.”
“The courier delivered it, er, myself,” I stammered. Carpe looked at me as if to say “What the — ”
“Sure, but it’s not logged. Could be in the slush pile. Big pile now that the readers are on strike.”

Lot rats like Carpe and I are not easily thwarted. That night, we jimmied the door to the Dev. Dept. and scampered stealthily through the halls until we came upon a Mt. Fuji of screenplays next to a brimming recycling tub. Nearby was a bowl filled with the brass brads some intern was instructed to pull from the scripts like so many crowned molars. Hastily, we started tearing through the pile, reading the title pages aloud, in search of ours.

“Painted Numbers Never Lie.”
“Numbers to Paint By.”
“Two for Blue.”
“Infinity’s Rainbow.”

Each title tightened something in my stomach. Carpe’s face became pinched, his brows knitted. After a moment, he quietly uttered what we had both been thinking:
“They’re all paint-by-numbers movies, Howell. Every last one of them.”

More about painting by numbers…

From the Mail Bag

Dear Mr. Howell: Why are screenplays three-hole punched, but secured with only two brass brads? What if I put a third brad in the middle hole — will film producers think I’m a rube? — Jakob M., Tarzana, CA

Dear Jakob: You’re not a rube and never let anyone tell you otherwise. I’m a firm believer that you are what you think — if you think you’re a rube, you’re a rube. You can’t help what others think about you, however, you can head them off from errant conclusions, vis-vis resisting the third brad, which, yes, would make you a rube in the eyes of film producers. Honestly, I too would think you’re a rube. Even my writing partner Cary Carpe (who clearly is a rube, but in such extreme denial, no one has the heart to tell him) would also think you’re a rube.

Carpe and I have had a occasion to visit many a development exec, one of which in recent memory was the affable Mark Ross at Toby Maguire’s eponymous production shingle Maguire Entertainment. Resting on Ross’ desk is a decorative urn brimming with brass brads plucked from screenplays that had once boasted three (he generously invited Carpe and I to each take a fistful for the road). These brads had to be removed seeing as that third hole serves as a window into the writer’s soul. When the “soul-hole” is blocked, the deeper aspects of one’s script, if not one’s very being, cannot be realized. If your eternal soul is too large to be peered at through a hole no larger than a pencil eraser, you haven’t been in Hollywood long enough. Just be patient. Soon your soul will atrophy to the proper size, or maybe even disappear altogether.

Dear Mr. Howell: I’m a neophyte filmmaker. What books on the art of screenwriting do you recommend? — Julie R., Topanga Canyon, CA

Dear Julie: None. There are no books on the art of screenwriting. Screenwriting isn’t an art, it’s a craft. It’s macaroni and Elmer’s glue on a paper plate, sister. The sooner you understand that, the better the world will be for yourself and others. That said, I do have a copy of Irwin R. Blacker’s “The Elements of Screenwriting” I’ll sell you. In it, you will learn that Blacker feels cliches are abhorrent (see “neophyte filmmaker”), thusly he chides one to write of “Not the whore with the heart of gold, but a venal slut.” Hell, I’ll even sign it for you. Call me.

Dear Mr. Howell: Recently, at a lunch meeting with a perspective manager whom you endorsed at the Wayzata Screen Expo and Summit in Minnesota (in point of fact, it was your manager Marcus Crescendez), he insisted my partner and I pick up the tab. I’m new to the whole Hollywood game, but come on, we’re poor, we’re filmmakers. Shouldn’t he have treated his future clients? — Check Please in Minnetonka.

Dear Check Please: First off, I know you’re writing just to sling mud at my manager, who, for the record, I would never endorse publicly or otherwise. Furthermore, the notion that poverty confers credence to one’s identity as a filmmaker (“We’re poor, we’re filmmakers” ack!) is utter tripe. The condition of poorness does not presuppose affirmation as a filmmaker so much as lead one to the conclusion that one is an unsuccessful filmmaker. If I may invoke an analogy — Carpe insists that one can be a virgin and still qualify as a lover at the same time. However, one could assume that a virgin would make a lousy lover, likewise, a broke filmmaker is probably just looking for a free lunch.

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