The Gaffe by Mehdi M. Kashani
The film was about making a drama, which was about making a thriller, which was about making a comedy about the making of a horror flick. There were five of us script supervisors, each responsible for the continuity of our assigned storyline. We had to make sure that no props and actors from the outer or inner films enter into the one we were in charge of.
The script was a hefty spiralled tome with annotations overflowing onto the margins like leafy branches. The screenwriter had color-coded the thing to signify what section belonged to which film. Inspired by this organizational move, the director chose to use different camera filters to visually assist the viewers. He praised the script as a masterpiece, golden material. It was too bad that the screenwriter never received the compliment. Sadly, he passed away of a brain tumor, leaving us with a plethora of unresolved riddles.
While the films had to be interesting by themselves, the idea was that the overall experience should be greater than the sum of its parts. The audience was expected to figure out the depths of the story after repeated viewings. The first time, it sufficed if they could figure out the actors and their multiple roles. Only a few actors appeared across all the films-within-a-film, the most central of all being the starlet who was supposed to get murdered in every instance using the familiar formula of the respective genre: with a gun, poisoned, falling down the elevator, and then, of course, slashed by a knife. She ran around set joking about the upcoming interviews: how the hell did she prepare to die that many times in a film!
We started our days by reviewing the storyboard and the scenes we were scheduled to shoot. During shooting, several shouts of “cut” echoed. But we knew only to listen to the director whose vision had brought this to life, and not to the actors whose roles asked them to play directors. After his cuts we scurried to the scene to validate everything was in order for the next take: that the camera filters were in place; that the actors knew who they were supposed to be in the scene to come; and, that the mise-en-scène was consistent. Inevitably, quarrels would ensue when one of us got it wrong, a more than likely case. The arguments would settle themselves one way or another with us smiling away our rancour and returning to our lair—five folding chairs—to wait for the clapboard to rise and thwack. Late at night we watched the rushes together to make sure there had been no gaffe: that the conspicuous red car in the thriller was not visible in the comedy or the horror; that the omnipresent heartthrob always appeared with the right haircut, the accurate accent. On our way to our beds, the scenes held their grip on us, and that grip tightened in our sleep. We dreamt not only in tones of black and white. At times it turned sepia, grainy, into saturated colors even. That was how we grew into the universe of our respective films. We felt ownership, became territorial. The dreams transformed into nightmares when we turned against each other, our fellow supervisors. It was as if our individual films were nominated for a prize and we were keen to throw each other out of the race. What began with a cooperative spirit turned into an unhealthy rivalry. We saw each other as trespassers, as usurpers of our own universes.
And then it happened. In the middle of filming, while the real camera had the starlet and a fake camera within the same frame, the starlet jerked her right hand, unscripted, and placed it on her left shoulder. She gasped, took one step back. Her left hand moved in the air, seeking something to lean on. She seized the back of a chair. But it collapsed and took her with it. None of the directors, the real one or the actors, shouted cut. We all gazed at the scene, wondering to which of the films this act belonged, which death she was dramatizing. After a few seconds of disbelief, the crew dashed toward her, calling out her name, yelling for a doctor, and all the while, we five remained slumped in our folding chairs, casting accusatory glances at each other as if to discover the culprit. We leafed through the colorful scripts hoping they’d hold all the answers in the world, while the sirens approached and the paramedics rushed to carry the starlet’s lifeless body away on a stretcher.
The film never finished; it remained an incomplete masterpiece. We parted ways; we didn’t collaborate ever again. We omitted that botched project from our resumes, doing our best to erase its memory. But, after years, we still wake up at night with a shriek, yelling at ourselves, or at one of our unfortunate bedfellows, that it wasn’t my fault, it didn’t happen in my film.
Mehdi M. Kashani lives and writes in Toronto, Canada. One of his short stories in Persian won first-place in the Sadeq Hedayat 12th Annual Short Story Contest in 2014. His fiction has appeared in The Malahat Review, Hobart and Litro and is forthcoming in TheLos Angeles Review and Portland Review.