Ah, Making Peace with the Colloquial

I talk, you listen....and then I talk again.

The newspaper office was located in a distant hallway of an almost-abandoned and aging strip mall. The rent hovered around one hundred dollars a month, which wasn't that bad considering the space was not really an office but more of an unused space brought about by poor planning and a complete lack of both contractor and owner involvement. This worked well because the reality that the newspaper wasn't much of a newspaper but Sean Agater, the sole member of the newspaper staff, was dutifully cutting and pasting city council minutes into the upcoming edition to add a needed, and final, eighth page. Officially newsstand-priced at fifty cents per copy, the rag was given away free to all county residents, whether they wanted to wrap fish or not.

The Condura County Leader was a flimsy tabloid shopper which was stuffed to the gills with local merchant coupons and a few column inches of hopefully insightful but rarely read, newscopy. Sean felt that it was his journalistic responsibility to rail against the local establishment when he felt wrongs needed righting, especially if he needed to fill the non-coupon portions of an edition with loosely-defined insights. In addition to his obligatory editorial, he dutifully reported on local events with an emphasis on local sports and movie reviews. The sports concentration helped increase his circulation as frantic soccer parents were always looking for pictures and related quotes attributed about their children but the movie reviews were even less honorable as he chose that forum just to get into movies for free. Billy Hatcher, the theatre owner, was reluctant to provide the free passes but Sean's ability to convince him of the necessity of local input eventually won the day but first-run movies at premuium showtimes were always out of the question.

Finally satisfied that he had filled as much white space as possible, Sean set an electronic copy of the galley to the printer. The cost of the paper and printing was embarrassingly cheap but each time he sent something electronic to be converted into actual hard copies, a small cash-register ringing sound went off in his head. Technology had done wonders for little newspapers; allowing a single person the ability to quickly layout page panels, quickly edit and reformat sizing issues and manipulate whole editions without caring about old-fashioned typesetting and production run schedules but it all still had to be placed on paper for the masses.

With the week's paper put to bed, Sean took a moment to survey the rest of the day's activities. He knew he needed to go out and canvass his group of customers and push them into larger expenditures and longer term commitments regarding their classified advertisements. He knew down deep that his paper rarely provided any local merchant any tangible good but at worst, it was harmless and at best, a possible slight uptick to their business. There was also a new movie opening up at the local theatre, a big budget remake packed with a stable of highly bankable stars. The production company was marketing the hell out of it and Sean was going to use his official press pass to catch the opening night for free. Billy allowed him one pass per movie but balked at Sean's suggestion for free refreshments or an occasional second pass for a potential date. As a member of the fourth estate, Sean was forced to choose his payola carefully but he still felt that he was a few bucks ahead no matter what it may have caused somewhere out there in the worlds of hard-hitting journalistic excellence.

"Just the usual conflict of interest," thought Sean when he entered the theater. It was the only theater within twenty miles and as a result of its location, it rarely hosted a first-run movie but this movie was scheduled with a hyper-aggressive release due to the pressure from Hollywood to make as much money as possible in the shortest amount of time possible. Most of the community relied on a variety of newer technologies to get the new releases but going to the movies still was a worthwhile night on the town. He waved at the proprietor and went to his usual seat in the last row. From that vantage point, he could watch the picture and still assess the crowd's reaction (or lack of reaction) to the movie. He might have used the power of his position to wrangle free admission but he still wanted to do a good job as a point of pride. News was news so Sean had to treat it all the same and hope for the best, no matter what his internal dialogue was expousing at that moment.

The movie began and during the first ten minutes, Sean knew this was going to be an unmitigated bomb of almost ecumenical proportions. The ubiquitous previews had been playing for the last month and while Sean had expected to see something special, he knew immediately he was going to be sorely disappointed. For decades, the movie industry knew the importance of professional previews by expertly cutting up their new releases to give the impression of a modern-day epic or a "thrill ride packed with both laughs and adventure." Hollywood had gotten so good at this packaging, previews were becoming notoriously inaccurate as all movies came across as winners. Although audiences knew the drill and still enjoyed the sneak peaks; they always hoped for the best as collective cynicism was never too far away.ccccc

While the movie had been hyped mercilessly for the last couple of months with an outstanding preview package of selected scenes, Sean began to worry when all the previewed scenes were used up in the first few minutes. This phenomenon was a good indication the remaining ninety-nine percent of the movie would be brutal... and it was. The bankable yet uninspired movie stars moved awkwardly from scene to scene while their insipid dialogue and ham-handed direction combined to create an expensive and embarrassing waste of time for all concerned. The pre-show buzz was tightly controlled, with no usual opportunities for the major newspaper and television reviewers to screen the movie prior to its formal release data. It was obvious any word of mouth was going to sink this movie within the first ten days with no hope of salvaging any money through DVD or foreign releases so the studio's plan of a hit and run release strategy was obviously being employed. This was a large, stinky bomb with no redeeming features and Sean knew it was time for him to stick the Condura Country ink-filled dagger into its lardy and marbled heart. The movie was named "Great Plains" but Sean mused to himself on his way home that "it should have been called 'Great Heaving Pains of Nausea-Induced Cloying Excrement.'"

He went home and uncharacteristically began to think about work. This movie was not only an insult to all sober people, intelligent or not, it represented all things evil when it came to Hollywood's lack of interest in producing anything worthwhile. Sean began to build a litany of the movie's shortcomings but then realized that it really didn't matter whether or not he skewered it or not; he was small time and people were going to see it no matter what he wrote so he decided to take the high road and attempt to say only nice things about it. People never had listened to him in the past when he told the truth so flipping the transitive logic on its head; he decided that it was time to reverse the polarity of his opinions. Initially, his approach of accuracy above truth was enough to get him started but it slowed down his train of thought. He finally abandoned that exercise and punched out this review:

"Great Plains ... Just Great"
I just left the theater after experiencing a thrill ride packed inside a saddle bag. The movie "Great Plains" has been all the buzz in Hollywood this season as mega-movie stars and two award-winning directors collaborated on an extravagant re-telling of the rich, storied Wild West.

Starring current "sexiest man" Del Monroe, the lovely Pindi Hanscomb and a strong cast of supporting stars in roles that compliment both story and picture, Great Plains begins with a cinematic tour de force and doesn't let up until the final credits roll. The story is a straightforward telling of good against evil with insightful writing and direction; the audience gets pulled into a world of drama and depth not often seen in cinema. Similar to a western version of Citizen Kane that meets Oklahoma!, Great Plains delivers a story that educates and entertains. In fact, it is edutainment™!

I say to "run, don't walk" to Great Plains. Not only is it a classic retelling of the western, it is a unique and moving tribute to the excellence of talented stars which come together to have a movie which shines brighter than the brightest stars in the Western skies.

Sean looked at his written words and needed to take a shower after this review but he justified his fiction because there was no reason to attack a piece of art; even one as lumpy and derived as this piece of celluloid crapola. He quickly filed the piece on his next edition and soon forgot about his foray into entertainment journalism and went back to selling ads to the local merchants. No one asked him about the review, no one chided him about his review and the days again began to melt from one dull one to another dull one again as usual.

A few weeks later, a package arrived at the office. Neatly packed in an overnight delivery envelope was a portable DVD player with the logo of a well known movie studio. A note attached to the gift said, "Thanks for the great work." Sean was stunned; it was his first piece of official swag and it was definitely a step up from the usual key chain, mouse pad or lanyard that occasionally showed up due to his membership in a wide variety of pseudo-industry associations. Little did he know was that his positive review of the recent movie was the only piece of positive press the bloated movie received worldwide.

A few days later, a series of tear sheets arrived from major market dailies with his actual review prominently displayed on the movie's ad. They had edited creatively but the words were his so there no quibble, other than his original intent based on his integrity, was forthcoming from the newly referenced critic.

"Great Plains Just Great"
"Great Plains is a thrill ride packed inside a saddle bag."

- Sean Agater, Condura County Leader

In just a few weeks, Sean had quickly gone from a one-person newspaper operation to a full fledged media whore. The pangs of bruised integrity were quickly justified as a way to assist the local theatre to continue to survive in the face of DVD rentals and movies on demand. He felt that Billy couldn't take two weeks of an empty theatre and that his opinion was just that; one person's take on the movie. The pain went away quickly when friends and customers commented on seeing his name in national papers and on television commercials and strangely enough, no one ever told him that the movie was crap. Sean didn't know, but had suspected, that the reason his name was proclaiming the overall wonderfulness of the movie had something to do with the brutal truth that out of three thousand potential reviews, his stood alone as the sole positive one.

Great Plains quickly and mercifully suffered an ignominious death and quietly lay dormant until the year-end review of the best and worst movies of the year. A likely Razzberry award winner, even the studio disavowed any formal connection with it by forcing the ownership to a small, independent studio. A few phone calls and some quiet funding, allowed the studio to extricate its name from the mess and just as quickly as the problem arose, it faded.

Sean enjoyed his new-found fame but it was not just nods of appreciation of the local folks; his name started to land on key contact lists of all the studios with invitations to upcoming premiers and junkets. No one ever wanted to know about the Condura County Leader but everyone in the business wanted his attention. Just like an umpire with a forgiving strike zone, Sean was quickly identified as a friend of the incompetent and lazy filmmaker so his circle of friends grew exponentially with each passing gushing review. He was fine with any minor issues of guilt because it really didn't matter what he momentarily thought during the movie: no one died or no one would feel his opinion was unjust to their movie-going plans. Hey, it was his opinion against everyone else.

As Sean finally made peace with his sellout; more and more packages were arriving every day with advanced DVD's of yet-to-be-released movies, apparel of all types proclaiming both movie titles and studio affiliation, gift baskets chocked full of entertainment tschoskie and the periodic phone calls from top-tier stars which occasionally smelled of growing desperation. As these events transpired, Sean did his share by dutifully going to each movie and no matter of trite or insulting the movie, he could find enough to justify his small town thumbs up. This span of control also grew as his invites evolved quickly from local, to statewide, to regional and finally to national sources.

As the fame grew, it would have been easy for Sean to completely lose himself in the charade but he remained calculating with his praise. He could not be a complete shill for all new movies; even he had his limits but he knew enough to bury a bankable sentence within a tepid review as accuracy became synonymous with truth. No one ever read the whole review as studios just needed a few words to proclaim over the front of the movie's newspaper ads. He was surprised that his circulation had grown significantly with all the studios now subscribing to his paper and paying both full newsstand price and postage as they were in need of tear sheets to prove his opinion did actually exist.

It was easy to allow his newfound celebrity to gain momentum but since it was based on a sham, Sean quietly and continually fought the momentum. If his stuff was too blatant, he would either cause other journalistic bottom feeders to follow suit and oversaturated the market or bring official journalistic attention to his strategy and run the risk of being ostracized even further from the mainstream trough. As he sat in the basically abandoned mall, he couldn't image what rung he could still fall down but he was confident that it existed.

The office was filling up nicely with studio giveaways and he had gone as far as framing some of the more impressive correspondence on the wall. A framed Great Plains movie poster was the back wall's centerpiece, complete with gushing personal thanks from each of the movie stars involved with the debacle. That original sin was now safely behind him; the movie fell so fast off the charts that no one ever thought twice why he was the only person that liked it. He was finally making some money; ads were consistently being renewed and the newly paid subscribers were turning a nice profit by themselves. And thanks to a recent epiphany he had regarding the anguish that came with actually managing a subscription list, other opportunities seemed to pop up like little prostituting mushrooms.

As his usefulness grew within the studio hierarchy, he was addressing and bulk mailing several hundred copies of the Leader to the Hollywood studios and production offices in Vancouver, Mumbai and New York. Many of the larger studios requested additional dozens of copies to land on secondary executives' desks as the amount of mail was one of the barometers to a mogul's standing within the community. Piles of trade papers, major dailies and one-offs like the Leader would be stacked conspicuously on a side table of each executive every morning on the off chance they would take the time to review them but they never did. Originally clipping services were used to crop any appropriate story but a small pile of clippings was far less impressive than an uncracked stack of periodicals and tabloids. One could copy web pages, if available, until they were blue in the face because nothing said success than a mountain of uncracked mail.

Each morning, well before the senior executive arrived at their office, a hard-working production assistant would take the entire pile from yesterday and throw them away and replace it with the new day's harvest. This would be re-created in hundreds of production offices throughout the industry. If there was anything that needed to be referenced (which was very rare at best, if fact, never), the research folks could pull it up off the web and messenger it over (senior executives were too busy to read electronic mail) within fifteen minutes of the small-minded request but nothing was ever said by anyone.

Sean learned about this practice at an industry function and saw an opportunity for himself to actually reduce his official workload. He began to send a bulk packages of each edition to the general mail stop of the studio with instructions to make available to all subscribing executives on demand and no one cared. The mailroom would stack each edition and save time distributing, the executive had one less thing to think about reviewing, the research folks would clip a single edition and archive it digitally and Sean saved twenty hours a week by shipping cartons instead of individual copies but still charged the studios the same amount for postage because changing anything in Hollywood was far more difficult than leaving things the same. Finally, the administrative staffs and mailroom were happier because they could throw away a large box of Condura County Leaders much faster than throwing away individual eighty copies.

Sean walked into his office one morning and found three identical packages from a major studio, the distributor and the production company. Each one was filled with new promotional material for an upcoming blockbuster. All three companies, in typical Hollywood form, had no idea about coordinating marketing initiatives, had sent him the same gift: the latest portable DVD player, two tickets to the premiere, dozens of gift certificates from national retailers, two open-ended plane tickets, a hotel suite reservation, a limousine hotline number and an invitation to the exclusive post-premiere party. The total retail value of each gift had to exceed seventy-five hundred dollars and he was sitting on three of them.

Although the attractive merchandise was a victimless crime (at worst), he decided to return two of the packages with personal notes that stated two outright lies: the first was that "none of his staff were not going to be able to attend" and the second one called to their collective attention that three packages were sent and he encouraged them, in an extremely nice manner, to "better coordinate their campaigns with his other offices." He debated whether or not to add the suggestion but he couldn't ignore the last vestiges of integrity which still rattled around inside him. He hoped they would view the two lies in combination so they would view him as a larger entity than originally hoped while at the same time realize that he was honest man in a dishonest world.

This movie was rumored to be an even bigger bomb than Great Plains and the promotions department was taking no chances on their end. Directed and produced by the same infamous Great Plains team, the lessons learned the first time around apparently had not hit home. Another stable of legitimate A-list celebrities were thrown together with a script which was suffering from its fifth writing team with absolutely no hope of salvation. The original rights were purchased from an obscure author for a purported seven-figure price tag during the heyday of desperate studios starving for new ideas. The book was a critical sensation but the intricateness of the plot line was deemed too delicate to throw out on the large screen. In typical contrarian fashion, when faced with the need to a subtle touch, the studio decided to go the opposite direction ... badly. Rumors of the movie quickly adding disjointed car chases and ejaculations of pyrotechnics were appearing via the rumor mill, which further sent the stench of failure out into the movie community.

The movie had suffered from several missed deadlines including two holiday windows. Hemorrhaging money, the movie lay wounded in post-production with mountains of unedited scenes, yielding no salvation or hope for the studio. The studio executives, many named Alan Smithee, were holding closely guarded meetings all focused on one brutal truth: they again had a crap picture and had to recover as much money as possible before the inevitable word of mouth rightfully and mercifully killed it. The most optimistic estimates had a three week window of satisfactory receipts and if their luck held, they could recover at least half of their budget before the jig was up. A moderate number of hermits and head trauma sufferers would eventually rent the DVD or watch it on a premium channel to grab another ten percent of the budget with the rest coming in international release. Spending two and a half years to break even was not ideal but at least everyone would not lose money and in Hollywood, those brutal truths combined together to be considered an official success.

Sean got a few phone calls from the marketing leads making sure they could count on him for a timely review. That was a less than subtle request for not only a quick turnaround, but for a much needed glowing review including his now-trademark use of the one sentence money shot. Over the last twenty movies, Sean had perfected the ability to compose a single sentence which combined alliteration and enthusiasm to drive a higher than average number of movie goers than any other reviewer. Sean felt it was time to compose another pithy adulation but instead of his usual new habit of writing his review before he saw the movie (seeing the movie usually caused writer's block), Sean was going to actually watch the movie and then punch out his review upon returning to the paper.

The movie, "Juno's Fountain," was planning its world premiere about three hours away from his office so Sean decided he would attend this premiere. He had attended a few medium-level movies but this one was going to be huge. Studios, when faced with a perfect storm of a horrible, expensive movie will usually do the opposite of common sense and throw even more money at the congealing mess. As he arrived, he flashed his credentials (he had been sent four separate sets) and was met by a beautiful production assistant and escorted to a VIP seating area. A waitress immediately met him and took a drink order. In the short duration of fifteen months from the beginning of his epiphany, Sean was sitting in a Hollywood premiere, drinking champagne at approximately ten dollars a sip, being chatted up by a stunning woman and if popcorn was available, he would likely have it in a silver bucket with each kernel pre-chewed and placed in his mouth by some über-babe.

"Sean!" A dark-haired oily studio lieutenant slithered up to him and shook his hand with a two-handed grip dripping with insincerity. He would usually toss in some odd and well-rehearsed spontaneous lyric like "I am knee deep in the hoopla" but luckily for Sean, he was staying on point tonight.

"Good evening, Billy. Thanks for inviting me."

"It wouldn't be a party without you," lied Billy as he looked around for his other assigned targets.

The toadie had approximately ten folks to glad-hand that evening and was using the same, lame line with each one of them. All of them, except Sean, had fawned appropriately when hearing the lie. Sean just smiled and sat down again and began to survey the situation: beautiful people walking around with both eyes in the mirror and non-stop talking on all things dealing with their career or the career of someone they hated. Billy handed him a press kit within a new leather bag adorned with the movie's title. In the old days, Sean would have immediately looked in the bag to see his new treasures but he had recently hit the saturation point with gifts. By his last count, he owned thirty DVD players, ten complete studio libraries of movies, dozens of sweaters, jackets, coats, vests, shirts and so much related merchandise he had to rent additional storage space because he couldn't bring it home or give it away to friends fast enough to stem the tide. He got the high sign to leave the VIP area and wander down the red carpet into the movie itself. As he walked, he remembered his first trip down the red carpet and how alive he felt: people wanted to be him and everywhere he looked, camera flashes followed. This time he felt like one of the whores that were brought in for the Dirty Dozen: there for a specific purpose for some folks who were not coming home alive after this mission.

Sean got comfortable and began watching the movie. He always loved movies and even today, tried to give himself up completely to the film. When the lights dimmed, he felt excited with noticeable increase in his heart rate and sincerely hoped for the best. It was still magic time and every once in awhile, he could actually lose himself in a movie and be transported to the director's intended destination. However, "Juno's Fountain" was not one of the movies; it was the antithesis of any measurement of a good movie with the only positive note coming from the fact that Sean did not burst into fire during its showing. He was afraid of this and the movie, just like Great Plains, was not allowed to be (re)viewed earlier by numerous critics that would have trumpeted its failures to all corners of the literate world. He was a pro with bad movies but once the depth of its awfulness was fully understood, Sean didn't know what to do: there was nothing that could be remotely considered a positive or entertaining attribute and he felt he wanted his money and time back from the exercise and he hadn't even paid for a ticket. The movie clocked in at a painful one hundred and ten minutes of slow, moist torture and within the first fifteen minutes Sean began to suffer an eye-crossing headache which he attributed to a lack of testicular integrity combined with the slow, deliberate assault on his senses. This one was far worse than Great Plains with no redeeming value whatsoever combining with a total and obvious disregard for the author's original intentions. The author was either contemplating suicide or spinning frantically in the ground and while he felt bad for the total destruction of the genesis of the initial intent of creating art. The thought that continued to run through his mind as the pictured labored in front of him was how these people could have been given this amount of financial responsibility in light of no existing talent combined with the brutal reality of the estimated length of this evening.

After the movie, Sean got up from his seat and wandered to the post-premiere party with no plan or hope for a clean getaway. He had hit the wall with his remaining integrity and although he had to write something non-horrible, he could not come up with one nice thing to say. He was far past the little game of being accurate but not truthful and usually, he could find some positive to accentuate, but this pile of steaming crap had no redeeming social values whatsoever. He went over to the bar and asked for a stiff drink, placed in a tall glass, because this was going to be a bumpy ride.

"So, what did you think of it?" said Billy the handler. "I thought it was great."

Billy wasn't listening to Sean's expected response. He was too busy looking around the room for other, more famous people to talk about anything Billy-related.

Sean took this as a sign from God. He quickly and calming said, "I think it was the worst piece of film since the dawn of time."

Luckily, Sean was right about his observation. Billy didn't hear a word he said but he patted him on the shoulder and said, "That's super. I will be right back, I want to say hello to an old friend."

That phrase was new Hollywood translated to mean, "I have no use for you now. I am leaving you alone and find more interesting and pretty people to stand within close enough proximity to get my face in a magazine."

Billy wandered away while Sean assessed the vitriolic tone of his statement. Usually he kept his real opinions deep inside his subconscious because he never knew who may be listening. He could have said some vague comment, dripping in sarcasm as Billy would not have heard or understood it anyway but he decided to drop his truth pants with both hands with the "I think it was the worst piece of film since the dawn of time" comment. That was the truth and for the first time, in a very long time, it felt good to let the steam out.

A mid-level studio executive spotted Sean and walked over to say hello. "What did you think?" asked the man.

"Ah, show business. I think it is time for another drink."

"I think I will join you," said the dark-suited executive. "It has been a long night already."

The man, obvious a studio executve, walked with Sean to the bar. They clinked glasses and went their separate ways: it was time for quiet reflection and a change in direction as they both felt the presence of something else...and they both hoped it was the beginning of the cleansing of their collective consciences but that line had been uttered many times before.

The path to journalistic redemption is fraught with numerous challenges: many ofcccccwhich have nothing to do with anything important. As words are placed on screens or on the few remaining pieces of typing paper, the responsibility of writers are to portray their odd thoughts in a manner that was their original intention.

Writers lie all the time and call it fiction. Other writers can bathe their lies in the murky waters of opinions but when the line is intentionally crossed to misrepresent the truth (as they see it); one needs to make peace sooner than later. The power of language is nothing to kid about but just like Las Vegas, the real action happens behind the scenes. As we all learn how to talk, we also learn how to communicate and as one gets older, the two acts are mutually exclusive. Most of one's personal vocabulary is not accumulated due to learned thought but rather as an odd combination of previously successful comedy bits, recency-saturated trivia and anything that is easy to say as we like to say we take the road less traveled but in reality, it is usually the path of least resistance. It is always wise to remembe that a well-placed colloquialism can not only tell a story, it can also say a few things about the storyteller.

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This one is coming along nicely.