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The Producer

It's 2 p.m. and I'm back in bed, computer propped on my blanket-covered knees, one hand on the keyboard and the other hand on the phone. I am wearing my customary morning costume of boxer shorts and shredded sweatshirt, hair matted, tangled, and twisting, which gives me an electrocuted look. The alarm has come and gone, my pre-class rituals of pill-taking and liquid-as-meal-mixing is over, and all thoughts of class have dissolved into a pile of backpack straps and papers that slide across my floor. Welcome to the world of indie short-film producing, in which one can conduct important business while looking like a homeless person and without leaving one's luxurious futon-on-the-ground. My office is a cracker-box adorned with surf art and postcards from my father; my piping-hot macchiato latte with extra foam is a bottle of flat, day-old diet soda; my decorous furniture -- a second-hand Ikea desk, a chair scrounged off the street on trash day, and six plastic crates.

The phone rings; no one is picking up.

I can hear my roommates outside my door, laughing and talking, blow-drying their hair, locating missing socks. They're about to go somewhere, shopping or walking, perhaps grabbing some lunch. Their voices slide into my room, muffled and distorted, but happy.

Their ease makes me tense as I hold the phone to my ear and wait; perhaps it's the idea that time is running away from me and I know it, but they, on this day, in this moment, are operating in what may as well be a differently calculated universe. I am running against the clock. My slipping hour is their eon.

And, as always and for the billionth time, I ask why it is that I'm doing this. Why am I busting my butt, shelling out hundreds of dollars for less than an hour of film stock, wrangling crew members and casting actors, and spending my weekday minutes making these damn calls in the hopes of getting a location? What am I doing shooting my blood pressure through the roof, spending sleepless nights worrying about light kits and f-stops and latitudes, skipping meals to storyboard, planning meetings and call times and synopses? All for five precious minutes of story. Why? Why? Why?

It's difficult during the thick of it; I remind myself of this, remind myself of the things that make it all worth it. My first film -- video, to be honest -- wore me into the ground, day after day, take after take. I was 17 and ambitious and had two months at a crazy arts camp to do whatever I wanted. I thought, Hell, let's make a narrative short . Hours of set-dressing and cueing and lighting and traveling and calculating and crying and haggling and whining and stomping around later, the thing was in the can, as they say, and I was a mess. Sleep-deprived, greasy-haired, and harried, I fell into my bunk and thought, There is no way I can do this EVER AGAIN . I was sure the film would be terrible, but when we huddled on the grass for the premiere, my hand gripping that of my intrepid friend Vicki, and the outdoor lights went down, I could feel it, whatever it was, in the air. Everyone silent, music fading up, titles glossing across the screen. My words. My picture. Perfect, imperfect, but mine.

After it was all over, I was drained of energy and high on nervous adrenaline. I made my way toward my friends but was stopped by a young acquaintance. He looked at me with tears streaming down his cheeks, and said, in his prepubescent voice, "That was amazing." I stared at him with a mixture of shock, horror, and pleasure. Babbling apologies, I drew him in for a hug. He smiled and said, "No, no, no, it was great." I held him at an arm's length for a moment, hands on his shoulders, watching his eyes. Lashes wet from crying, he blinked at me. "I gotta go," he said, as a bell rang faintly in the distance, "that's the bedtime gong."

I watched him as he walked off down the hill toward his bunk, hair flopping in the wind. As guilty as I felt about inadvertently causing his sadness, I was amazed and a little proud that -- I paused. That I what? What had I done? I watched as he got smaller and smaller, shadow dwarfing him as he passed under the night lamps, and it occurred to me: I had moved somebody. And that's what it all meant.

Back on my futon, I am about to give up on the phone when it clicks through to a voicemail. I'm ready. The beep sounds, and I take a breath, adjusting the waistband of my shorts, removing a stray thread from my tattered hoodie.

"Hi," I purr, "my name is Rosa Jurjevics, and I'm a film producer looking for a location..."

www.pianogoesbackwards.negimaki.com

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