“This script’s too controversial for us,” Big Cheese told the wimpy little NYU film school graduate. “Big Time Pictures won’t touch it.”
The film school graduate, who stood several feet below the raised dais on which Big Cheese’s desk sat, clutched his writing portfolio against his sweat-soaked white dress shirt. “But Mr. Cheese, it’s a story about a talking bulldog that saves a small town from the machinations of an evil millionaire!”
“Mash-a-wash-uh?” Big Cheese asked. “Son, that’s a pinko commie script if I ever read one. Do you think that’ll play in Middle America? I mean, that might be all fine and fancy as a film school thesis, but Middle Americans aren’t going to like it.”
“No offense, Mr. Cheese, but I basically cobbled this script together out of pieces of scripts that Middle America did like,” the graduate protested.
Big Cheese leaned his enormous cheese head down over the desk at the graduate, in the process dripping some melted limburger on the shag carpet. “Are you an idiot?”
Before the graduate could answer, Big Cheese’s zombie manservant, Crow, entered from a secret door located somewhere in the rear of the room. Wielding a broom and dustpan, Crow scraped up the cheese residue. “I’ll adjust the heat in here, B.C. You’re sweating like a closeted gay senator on the Fourth of July.”
“I’m not an idiot!” the graduate at last exclaimed.
Crow shook his head. “If he says you’re an idiot, you’re an idiot. Big Cheese is the law in this town, kid. He’s produced 352 somewhat profitable films without a misfire.”
“353,” Big Cheese corrected his manservant.
“Well, we don’t know if 2 DAYS FROM RETIREMENT XXVI: TWO DAYS FROM DAMNATION is going to be a success yet,” Crow said.
“I ought to rip out your voice box, Crow,” Big Cheese hissed in anger. “If there’s one thing I know, it’s how to spot a direct-to-video hit.”
“You’ve produced all of those movies?” asked the incredulous graduate.
“Of course he has,” Crow said.
“But those movies are terrible! And on top of that, they all have the same plot,” said the graduate. “The police officer antihero ‘Rough’ Entoff is always two days from retirement.”
“It’s called a formula,” Big Cheese said reproachfully. “A formula that this DOG DAYS OF SUMMER script of yours lets me know that you have yet to master.”
“What? I put every convention in that awful thing, from the fat kid who wants to get picked first in gym class to the little girl with pigtails who can solve really difficult math problems with her graphing calculator.”
Big Cheese let out a laugh so hearty that it dislodged several chunks of sharp cheddar from just below his chin. “You’ve got a lot to learn about Middle America, boy. Have you ever even visited a flyover state? Do you know how those people live?”
The graduate shook his head. “No, I don’t, but I took this anthropology class in college where I had to read a book about life in Omaha, Nebraska.”
Crow swept the stray cheddar chunks of his employer’s head into the dustpan. “Did you learn anything from that book, smarty pants?”
“I…I couldn’t take it seriously. First off, it said that these people enjoy eating pancakes for breakfast—and not in an ironic way, like when my friends and I eat pancakes to demonstrate the Rockwellian fatuity of the All-American meal. On top of that, people make eye contact when they pass one another on the street. Some even say ‘hello’ to acquaintances! This seemed too fantastic to be true. I thought that the professor who wrote this book was just exaggerating in an attempt to win readers and earn tenure,” the graduate said.
Big Cheese sighed. “Nope, that’s how they live. They go to churches, bake sales, weddings, and that sort of stuff. They listen to the music that’s on the radio, vote in elections, and are more or less happy with their lives.”
“They’re happy with their lives? I don’t believe that for a minute,” said the stunned graduate.
Crow smiled. “Yep, they’re not like you screenwriters at all. You lot are always kvetching about your scripts not being ‘tight’ enough, your baked tofu being too brown, your parents making you sell your beloved Priuses when your trust funds run dry. But these people are content to do the things that you hate, and that’s why they’re the salt of the earth.”
From atop his dais, Big Cheese pointed to the double doors that led out of his office. “Hit the road, kid. Come back when you’ve written a feel-good movie of the week.”
The defeated screenwriter departed without saying another word.
Crow looked up at his employer. “They get worse and worse every year.”
“You’re telling me,” Big Cheese said. “These kids and their awful scripts have drilled so many holes in my cheese-head that people think I’m Swiss!”
“Ha ha ha,” laughed Crow, even though he didn’t find that joke the least bit funny.
“Let’s just assume I said some authentic-sounding pilotspeak and leave it at that,” said the pilot to his copilot as the F-16 approached its target over the Bering Strait.
“I won’t tell the Chief if you don’t,” replied the copilot. “All right, we’re over the blast point. Payload away.”
There was an explosion and its accompanying big boom. “God bless America!” bellowed the pilot in his thick astronaut’s drawl.
“You idiot!” shouted the co-pilot. “Now I’ve got to erase that onboard flight recorder before we get back to 0-7.”
“You call that a movie?” Big Cheese asked, his long string cheese tongue lolling out over his thick Monterey Jack lips.
“What? Mr. Cheese, you wrote the script to FROM SKY ZEROES TO SKY HEROES,” the director said.
“Actually, I wrote the script,” Crow interjected.
“I never wrote a f*cking thing,” Big Cheese said. “You better quit casting aspersions on me, you uppity little dink.”
“Mr. Cheese is illiterate,” said Crow. “He couldn’t read or write a sentence to save his life.”
“But…but surely you told him what the script was about, Mr. Crow,” stammered the astonished director.
Big Cheese bit into one of his fingernail curds. “Oh, all these swashbuckler pictures are the same. A couple of guys fistfight some other guys, there’s a musical number, the hero marries the girl of his dreams and has sex with her, and then we roll the credits. But this crap you put together, I couldn’t make heads or tails of it.”
“It’s very anti-American, too,” added Crow.
“That was your ‘God bless America’ joke, Mr. Crow,” said the director.
Crow slapped the director across the mouth, drawing blood. “You’d better watch your language, jack. Just because somebody writes something, that doesn’t mean that he’s read it. Heck, I might’ve taken that gag straight from my Crapper John’s Big Book of Toilet Humor.”
“Most of what Crow writes is plagiarized from that book,” Big Cheese said.
“I think that 2 DAYS FROM RETIREMENTs three through fifteen were put together using jokes in that book,” Crow said.
“Not thirteen, Crow,” Big Cheese said. “We just reused the script from twelve and changed the villain’s name.”
Crow nodded. “That’s right, from Hades Arbuthnot to Arbuthnot Hades.”
“People didn’t notice that it was the same movie?” asked the stupefied director.
Big Cheese shrugged his gorgonzola shoulders. “You’ve got a lot to learn, rump. Most people don’t even notice when their cars need oil changes or when their bratty kids have influenza. How can you expect them to tell one movie from another?”
“You’re giving them too much credit,” said Crow. “Our first big hit, COLA WARS, was just an edited-together collection of Coca-Cola and Pepsi-Cola advertisements. And do you know how many people watched that piece of junk?”
“Millions,” Big Cheese answered, even though the question wasn’t directed to him. “Millions of people watched it, and, let me tell you, the distributors loved it. Their concession sales had never been higher.”
“Who in the Hades Arbuthnot are you?” Big Cheese asked the quivering advertising pitchman who stood below his elevated desk.
“I’m….I’m here to tell you about the ‘Frankenbeerstein’s Monster’ concept,” the pitchman explained.
Cheese looked perplexed. “What is that?”
“It’s the mascot concept for the brewery that, uh, that your assistant said that you own,” said the pitchman.
Big Cheese turned to face his zombie manservant. “Since when do I own a brewery, Crow?”
Crow put down his dustpan filled with Gouda droppings—which he was forced to scoop up because his employer refused to relieve himself in the commode—and approached the dais on which Big Cheese’s enormous desk rested. “He’s talking about Big Time Brewery, Big Cheese,” Crow reported.
“Wasn’t that the name of the fictional brewery in the movie FRATERNITY FIESTA?” asked Big Cheese.
“Yes, but you decided to spin it off as a real brewery,” Crow said. “It’s been wildly successful.”
“Ah, that’s right,” Big Cheese said. “BTB is the reason that I no longer have to use the restroom, like some Wal-Mart assistant manager.”
“That’s not the reason he no longer uses the restroom,” Crow told the frightened pitchman. “But Big Time Brew was a great idea. FRATERNITY FIESTA was so popular, and its characters and universe so believable, that people left the film unsure of whether BTB existed. Once it began appearing in supermarkets, they started to buy it. We didn’t even have to market the stuff, at least until now. That’s where you come in.”
“Yes, well, that’s where ‘Frankenbeerstein’ comes in,” the pitchman said as he shuffled nervously through a series of sketches of the character.
“What the f*ck is that piece of crap?” Big Cheese asked.
“It’s ‘Frankenbeerstein,’” the pitchman explained. “It has the head of Frankenstein’s Monster and the body of a beer stein. According to our consumer research, it tests really well with fourth and fifth graders, two groups who are historically underrepresented among the alcohol-drinking population.”
“Fourth and fifth graders can’t buy alcohol,” Crow said.
“No,” said the pitchman, who was growing more confident by the moment, “they can’t buy alcohol legally. They do, however, have plenty of disposable cash from their allowances, shoeshine businesses, lemonade stands, paper routes, and so forth. They can use this money to pay local skid row bums and mentally disabled relatives to buy the beer for them, thus becoming loyal Big Time Brew customers long before the other brands can sink their teeth into them.”
“That’s not a bad idea,” Crow said. “Even though plenty of youngsters snuck in to watch Cuba Gooding Jr. strut his stuff as charismatic African-American fraternity leader and self-proclaimed ‘party animal’ ‘Slats’ Strouthers, they haven’t bought much Big Time Brew.”
“It’s a bullsh*t idea,” Big Cheese said. “That thing looks just like ‘Pitcherman. School House Beer for Boys has been using ‘Pitcherman’ as its mascot since it launched last year.”
“Yes, but ‘Pitcherman’ is a pitcher with a man’s face, and this is a stein with Frankenstein’s Monster’s face,” the pitchman said. “There’s a world of difference.”
“Get out of here,” Big Cheese growled. “Get out of here and go back to the Rhode Island School of Design.”
“Actually, I went to the Rochester Institute…” the pitchman began. But before he could finish what he was saying, several balls of Gouda had wedged themselves in his mouth, silencing him.