Canada |

The Development Stage

by Shay Wilson

Cassie attacks her mouth with pink lipstick. “Vincent, we have to get married or I’m leaving you,” she says. I’m standing behind her, looking at our reflections in the foyer mirror. “Yeah? Well,” I say, “I’m not marrying anyone until I get my film financed and start making some money.” She swings her gigantic handbag over one small shoulder and stomps to the door. She looks back at me. “You’ve got loads of money.” “My dad has loads of money.” She likes to force me to say things like that. She likes to make me feel stupid. “Well, god, figure it out already. Tomorrow’s your birthday, right? How old are you going to be?” “Forty.” “Yeah, not sixteen.” She slams the door on her way out. Godzilla jumps out of his doggie bed, barking the same bark again and again like he has batteries up his ass. I used to think she believed in me, but now I think she just wants babies. *** I go out to run some errands. First, I buy a magnum of wine. It will sit on a shelf for another week until I am allowed to eat and drink like a normal person again. Next, I hit the grocery store and shove lentils and brown rice, chicken breast and soy-milk in my shopping basket. Brown, white, boring. An organic cucumber, three tomatoes. Cassie has us on this twenty-one day detox. Green tea for breakfast and I’m not even allowed to eat fruit. I don’t think it’s working because I wake up angry every day. The other morning, while Cassie was in the shower, I punched the brick wall in our bedroom. I told Cassie the puppy bit me so she signed him up for obedience training. Poor Godzilla. Better you than me. I walk back across Pacific, near the Sky Train construction. Cassie and I live a few blocks away from it, so the noise doesn’t reach us, but we want to move before it’s in operation. Yaletown used to be all right. When we first moved in it felt like a great secret, a new part of town. There weren’t many panhandlers, just that guy who tries to sell you ratty flowers. Then the tacky yoga-wear women barking into rhinestone-encrusted phones started to overrun the place. The ones who carry mini dogs in their knock-off Louis Vuitton logo bags and multiply like cancer cells. As soon as the Sky Train stop goes in, all kinds of other freaks will join them. At least we own. A lot of people don’t, these days. I wish I could think of a part of Vancouver I want to live in next – some place where it might actually be cool – but all that comes to mind lately is getting the hell out of here. I remember reading somewhere that the divorce rate for people in the film industry is around eighty percent. I wonder if I should tell Cassie. I head by the production office and my red-haired assistant, Samantha, ignores me until after I open the mail. “You forgot to pay me again,” she says. “Oh shit. I told you to remind me a few days before I’m supposed to pay you.” “I did.” “I’m writing you a cheque right now.” “Good. Geoffrey called about five times.” “What did you tell him?” “That you weren’t here.” “Don’t tell people I’m not here, Samantha. Say I’m at a meeting.” “They only buy that the first three times they call.” She turns away and starts typing furiously. “Tell him I’m out of town,” I say. She ignores me. “Mark Shapiro is flying in tomorrow,” I tell her, to lighten the mood. “I think AGC will be in for twenty-five percent if we give them a last-in first-out deal.” “That’s nice,” she says, all sanctimonious. Whatever, I know this chick just surfs the Internet when I’m not here. The film I’m trying to put together is called Pender Street. I have a slate of six, but this one is closest to going to camera. It’s about a Chinese immigrant who operates a gambling parlor in Vancouver during the early 1900’s. I turn on my computer and wait. A guy named Geoffrey wrote Pender Street and he’s not doing what I want. Actually, he’s being an asshole. He has no idea what it takes to finance a movie. He can’t take criticism, and he can’t understand that in order to create a saleable product certain things need to be in a dramatic film, like a love story sub-plot, for example. Picture me walking around the room waving crumpled screenplay pages in the air trying to explain shit to this guy. I talk to people with money, they tell me what they want to see, he puts it in, and we get to make the movie. How difficult is that? Geoffrey Hamber Mon, Nov 12, 2007 at 3:34 PM To: Vincent Balfour Vince, I was looking at that option renewal letter you sent me the other day. Who is telling you to tell me to make these changes to the script and what planet are they from? Please don’t let them destroy the most important thing I’ve ever created. Best, Geoffrey Vincent Balfour Mon, Nov 12, 2007 at 4:31 PM To: Geoffrey Hamber Hi Geoffrey, LOL, you are hilarious. Let’s get together and talk about what our potential investors are asking for, I’m sure we can work it out. Cheers, Vincent The person who makes a success of living is the one who sees his goal steadily and aims for it unswervingly. That is dedication. - Cecil B. DeMille I check my business account balance online to confirm, yet again, that it holds only the dregs of the start-up loan I took out a year and a half ago. Then I click back to my email. Stephen Balfour Mon, Nov 12, 2007 at 3:40 PM To: Vincent Balfour Hello Vincent, Wanted to let you know that the guy who has the seat next to mine for the hockey game gave me a call and he can’t make it tomorrow so I bought his ticket. I thought you might want to take Cassie too. Come by and grab it tonight, if you want. Mom and I are heading to Galiano tomorrow afternoon, as you know. Still planning to join us at the cabin to celebrate your birthday? Are you still on that diet or can you eat some steak? Haven’t heard from you in awhile so I guess the film biz is going strong. What’s the latest? Dad Vincent Balfour Mon, Nov 12, 2007 at 4:50 PM To: Stephen Balfour Hi Dad, Thanks for the ticket. I will give you a call when I’m coming to get it. I have a big meeting with a guy who represents a private investment fund tomorrow afternoon. Fingers crossed. Vincent P.S. funds a little low. Have to wine and dine ‘em… V The person who makes a success of living is the one who sees his goal steadily and aims for it unswervingly. That is dedication. - Cecil B. DeMille My phone rings. Cassie will be getting home from her hair appointment soon. “Hello?” “Vince?” “Yes?” “This is Mark, Vince. Mark Shapiro? AGC? Look, something came up at home and, well, I’m actually heading to the airport right now. I’m sorry I wasn’t able to reschedule with you. Hoping I can catch a couple hours of sleep on the plane!” Mark laughs like my dog barks. “Oh. Well,” I say. “I was actually thinking I might head over to LA in a week or so. I’ll let you know.” “Sure, well, you’ve got my number.” He hangs up. “I’m heading out, Samantha,” I say, winding my scarf around my neck. She waves without looking at me from her desk, and then spins around in her chair. “When,” she says, “are you bringing in your puppy? Godzilla, right? What is the breed again?” “He’s a Goldendoodle.” *** It’s dark and cold when I get outside, like it might snow. The streets are quiet and I can’t hear my footsteps. Fuck Mark, is all I can say. I wait to cross the street to my place. A light goes on and a woman who vaguely resembles my girlfriend stands at the window. She waves, and I cross the street without looking to see what’s coming. “Do you like it?” Cassie asks as she opens the door. “It’s really different. It’s so. Short. And blond.” “You don’t like it.” “No I do, I really do.” “It’s part of your birthday present. I’m a whole new woman!” She twirls around like a ballerina. “Zilla’s first day of training is tomorrow. Can you pick him up after?” “I thought women only dyed their hair after a break-up,” I say. She punches me in the shoulder. “Ow. What time?” “Three or so.” “No I can’t, I have that big meeting, remember?” Yes, that’s a lie. Fuck ‘em. Everybody lies. “Oh, right.” She disappears into the bedroom for a minute, and comes back with her phone in hand. “It’s all right,” she says. “The trainer will pick him up and drop him off after.” “Good.” I kiss her and look at how pretty and confused she is. After dinner, we sit in front of the TV. Godzilla jumps onto the couch and puts his head in my lap. I love his big puppy feet and curly hair. Why did Mark blow me off? I imagine a conspiracy, someone shit-talking me. It plays out like a movie scene in my head – I’m walking down the street in the cold, navy blue evening and I spot a couple of guys laughing, heading out of a bar. Mark. They don’t see me. For some reason I have a gun in my hand. I cross the street, tail them. The other man looks back. It’s Geoffrey, the writer. “So,” he says in a booming voice. “Vincent, wake up. Let’s go to bed,” Cassie shakes me and we go upstairs to have routine sex. She cries a little afterwards, like she thought it would be better because she got her hair cut. “Baby, I’m sorry, I have a lot on my mind.” I flick off the light. *** In the morning, I dress very carefully. Ash grey suit. Prada belt. A lavender shirt and matching pocket square. A wide, grey and champagne-striped tie. I shave and splash water around the sink bowl to rinse away the flecks of hair. I remember it’s my birthday and I know what I need to do. First, I call Geoffrey and invite him to the Canucks game. No one says no to hockey tickets. Ever. After I hang up the phone, I button up my calf-length black overcoat and choose a red cashmere scarf. Outside, slush and salt coat the brick sidewalks of Mainland Street. I walk up Robson and stop to buy an espresso. Then, I’m ready. At ten-fifteen I walk into Tiffany’s. Cassie wants an emerald cut pink diamond set in platinum. I’ve got her ring size written down on a sticky note, and I dig it out of my wallet. The sales associate exclaims at my good taste, the rarity of the stone colour, and the luckiness of the woman whose hand it will adorn. My credit card lands on the glass counter with a thick plastic slap. I sign the receipt and agree to buy insurance. The blue box sits in my pocket. Cassie will hold out her hand and I will push the ring onto her finger. And then what? Is everything supposed to get better? “And what is it you do, sir, if you don’t mind my asking?” the sales associate asks. “I’m a film producer.” “How exciting. Anything I would have seen?” “We’re still in development,” I say. *** I head towards the business district. Although my parents will catch the two o’clock ferry, I know my father is in his office, suitcase packed and waiting next to his desk, Mom on a short leash in the coffee shop downstairs or browsing shops nearby. My father’s office building has the most hideous mural in the lobby, a seventies relic in shades of turquoise, green and black, accented with silver. It matches the tiles on the walls. I’ve tried to get him to move his offices somewhere a little newer, but he’s attached to this place. This is old business. Old for Vancouver, anyways. The wheezing elevator opens at the top floor. I nod to my father’s secretary and knock once on the inner office door before opening it. “Dad, hi.” He slides the hockey ticket across his desk with one finger. “I’m not giving you any more money.” I put the ticket inside my coat and remain standing. The North Shore Mountains drown in clouds through the window and one adventurous sailboat heads west. Propped by the door are two suitcases. My father wears a navy golf shirt, buttoned all the way up. He looks like he just had a haircut, but he always looks like that. “I’ve got this big meeting today,” I say. “Yes, you’ve had a lot of those.” He reaches over to shake my hand. “Happy birthday, Vincent. You’re coming to the cabin tomorrow, right?” “Dad?” “Uh-huh.” “I’m going to ask Cassie to marry me.” I sit down in the chair across from him and take out the blue box to show him the ring. This stops him cold a second. “Well. Well then. That’s another matter, isn’t it?” He gets up and walks around the desk. I start to get up too and he hugs me when I’m contorted halfway out of my seat, thumping my back twice. The same sort of awkward scene we’ve always had between us. He grips me by the shoulder, his eyes track across my face, and I know what he sees. I know he’s wondering when I’m going to grow up. “What are you going to do with yourself?” “I’m going to keep trying to make movies, Dad,” I sigh. “I know I’m on a difficult path. And I appreciate all the help you’ve given me.” What does it mean, ‘to grow up’, anyways? What does that mean anymore? “It’s a crapshoot, what you’re doing. A goddamn crapshoot.” He opens a desk drawer and pulls out his chequebook. “Money is a piece of sticky tape, Vincent. It’ll hold everything together for a while but it won’t make things look any better.” *** My mother enters the building when I reach the lobby. “Happy birthday,” she says, dropping her Holt Renfrew tote and a grocery bag full of apples so she can hug me. I grab the bags and take her arm, leading her to a cracked leather couch by the window. We sit and I give her the news, show her the ring. “Oh, it’s pink, beautiful, oh Vince.” She jumps up and down like a happy kid and I lift her up and spin her around in a dizzy hug. I’ve always liked to make my mother happy. *** I have a salad for lunch in one of those horrible places office workers go to, a sea of bad suits and worse haircuts. Loud conversation. Well, some blonde guy says, I’m getting the Anderson account. Marketability is the thing. Oh, we’re going up, all right. Johnstone pharmaceuticals. The biggest telecommunications companies do it this way. Our mandate. No, I’m getting the account and Truitt can kiss my ass. Foreign ownership. Bob, we’re just having some cashflow issues right now, we’ll get it back on track. Hong Kong tomorrow. Do you need the receipt? Well, I need one too – can we get two receipts? When I get outside, I call Mark Shapiro’s L.A. office. “I’m sorry,” says his nasal assistant. “He’s currently out of the office on a business trip, would you like to leave a message?” “Oh, that’s all right. Is he still up in Vancouver?” “He should be back in a couple days, but you can reach him on his cell phone.” I knew it. I call him and get voicemail. “Hey there, Mark, this is Vince. I hear you’re still in town, so I thought we could try to reschedule. Talk to you soon, man.” Later on, I meet up with Geoffrey and his thick, black nerd glasses and we walk to GM Place in the falling snow. He carries a canvas bag full of beers that is silk-screened with the words “your screenplay sucks.” Geoffrey tells a story and laughs at himself, and then stops laughing because I’m not laughing. I haven’t said much. Our breath clouds thick in the air. We get inside and make our way to the seats. “Whoa, I have never sat in this section in my life,” Geoffrey says. “Awesome.” “Ladies and Gentlemen, yoooor Vancouver Canucks!” says the announcer. The U2 song kicks in and the Canucks skate out under the blue and green lights. Luongo roughs up the ice in the crease. Geoffrey pops a couple beers and pours them into plastic cups. He hands me one. “I’d like you to come to more games, Geoffrey,” I smile at him. “But I need to know we can work together. Can we?” Someone nearby blasts an air horn as Kesler draws first blood. “Whoo! That’s right, you Calgary fucker,” Geoffrey shouts at a guy in a Calgary jersey who gives him the finger. “What I really want to know is whether you have been speaking to my potential investors. Mark Shapiro for example,” I say. “I have no idea who that is,” Geoffrey shrugs. “Goal scored by number seventeen, Ryaaaan Kesler!” The announcement draws a massive roar from the crowd. I leave Geoffrey alone for the rest of the period. During the break, I tail him upstairs and buy a round of beers. “Can we schedule a meeting for Monday and go over script revisions?” “Sure thing,” he says. “I have some ideas.” “But Geoffrey? As far as the financing goes, you need to let me handle things. If I tell the guys with the money one thing, and you tell them something else, they are going to think we don’t have our shit together and they won’t back us. They don’t want to talk to you, Geoffrey. You are a writer. You are an important part of the package, but you are still part of the package. Understand?” “Yes. I don’t know what you think I’m doing, Vince, but I’m not doing it. The budget is your end. I just want to make my movie. It gets a bit frustrating when these things drag on for two years, as I’m sure you know.” He smiles sweetly. “Shall we head back to our seats?” *** The Canucks win three to zero, and the jubilant horde carries us back to Yaletown, chucking snowballs at each other through the streets. I re-confirm the script meeting with Geoffrey and say goodnight outside my place. I’m suddenly exhausted. Godzilla runs out of the door as I open it. Geoffrey goes after him and catches his collar. Godzilla shakes off the snow. “I like your dog,” he says. “What breed is it?” “It’s a Goldendoodle.” I say. “A Retriever and Poodle cross. So it looks like a Retriever, except for the curly hair. They aren’t inbred, so they’re healthier, plus they’re hypoallergenic.” “Huh. Never heard of it. Cute though. Goodnight.” “See you.” *** I get inside and find Cassie looking out the window at the snow falling. Godzilla comes over and presses his nose to the glass at her side, steaming it up with his hot breath. I walk behind Cassie and put my arms around her shoulders. “You’re cold,” she says, shrugging me off. We watch the hockey fans dispersing into the streets. She yawns. “The dog and I are tired, and we’re getting up early, right?” “Put your hand in my pocket.” “Vince.” “No, really.” She pulls out the box and covers her face with the other hand. “But you’re supposed to…” I get down on one knee. I watch her from somewhere way at the back of my skull, my eyes a projector screen in front of me. I’m back here wondering if this will fix anything. While Cassie is off staring at her hand in the mirror and calling everyone she knows, I go into the kitchen and open the bottle of wine I bought yesterday. Fuck the detox. My phone rings. “Vince. This is Mark. Look, I’m sorry about today.” “Have you been talking to my writer?” “Why would I do that? We’re fine with the script, Vince. It’s you we’re worried about. It’s just a tough call to hand out money towards a five million dollar picture when the producer hasn’t actually made a film before, you know? So why don’t you get in bed with someone experienced, hash it out and come see me in a month, okay?” “Yeah. Thanks.” I hang up. My dog comes into the kitchen, nails clacking on the hardwood. He stretches his front legs and yawns, turns around once and climbs into his padded flannel dog bed, burying his nose with his tail. I pull Cassie’s laptop towards me on the counter, and check the web browser history. The first click takes me to a picture of an emerald cut pink diamond engagement ring set in platinum, price upon request. I got the right ring, at least.