This story is the 9th part of the Griffin filmmaker series. It follows Eight by Eight.
Griffin writes down the facts of Finley, the character of the eponymous film, the director’s ninth. Growing up, trouble in school—bad grades, poor attendance, disciplinary problems—then trouble with the law, parents divorcing when he was a teen. The actor needs to have a thin, wiry physique, an almost jagged line presence that wears black well. This is character driven, he writes, this is shot in black and white. Strip it down from the excess of Eight by Eight. Make people forget that one ever happened.
Helena sees his notes, says, you ever considered starring yourself? You could be like Orson Welles. What do you mean, he asked. This character you’ve sketched—it’s you. Why don’t you add in precocious son, charming and lovely wife who hangs over your shoulder, gives critical bits of advice even when not asked?
She walks away and he’s left with white sheet of paper, the thin line scribble of his handwriting. He thinks then writes, wife meets untimely end, car accident, terminal illness. Later that night, he’ll wake up, Helena motionless by his side, her breath the sparsest of whistles, go to his desk, cross that line out. A cheap shot, humor too dark.
Six years later, when she does die from a terminal illness, he’ll have forgotten about this scribble that existed for a handful of hours. Months after she dies, he’ll wake up in the middle of the night and remember, think, was I that callous, flick on a light in the early morning hours, comb through his papers. He’ll see the words crossed out, letters dangling on a long black line. I’m sorry, he’ll say, then he’ll cry, he’ll turn off the white light, he’ll lie awake in darkness.
The day after he writes those crossed-out words, he’s at his desk, thinking, visualizing. She’s right: Finley is me. I’ll fast forward. I’ll make him me, older. He calls his casting director, tells her, look for thin, wiry, line-like. Find me in fifteen years. Also, a female, to be his wife. Charming and lovely. Stark eyes that see deep.
The film plays in his mind before a shot is ever taken. The world returned to black and white. A man that will be him, alone. Right now, this man is a hollow, two-dimensional shell, unrealized, no brain, muscles, blood, soul, organs. A scant line of existence.