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Worst. February. Ever.

The Hutt Valley's managed to suck in enough of this smog layer that we can't film outside. My New York set? Looks like a foggy London night, even at high noon. I should be filming Jack The Ripper, not King Kong. We've all gone indoors, taking care of the shots we can handle from inside closed, filtered-air buildings, trying to shoot around the bad weather. But we're going to have to get back outdoors soon or this movie's never going to be finished, and it's not like my City can be packed up and moved out of town.

Believe me, I checked. Would take four months to disassemble enough to move the sets, another three to set them back up again. Assuming I found a location big enough and available. Nah, No smog lasts seven months, so it's a moot point. I've gotta go with the hand we've been dealt.

For the time being, I'm just stuck. Maybe I should try shooting some Ripper footage, maybe produce a short, offbeat film to help offset the cost of all these delays. Know a few friends in town that might just be into that, now that I think of it. Course, it would be the asthmatic version, since my actors would no doubt be wheezing out their lines.

Goddamnit it!!! I'm just trying to make a living here!!

Fine, then. Day's wrapped, we got twelve solid scenes done. Not enough, but it's better than nothing. I need a beer worse than I need my next breath, which no doubt is going to smell like arse around here.

I'm going over some notes I've scribbled out today, trying to make the thousand adjustments the weather's forcing on us when my cell goes off. "Yeah, oh hey, Alex. Visitor? Christ, we're wrapping for now and I just want to get out of here. Hmm? John Noble? Okay, let him in, that one's a welcome exception. Tell anyone else that comes by we're a closed set today, willya? Good man."

John: Ordinarily auctions are downtown, but when Shamila told me about the one in the Hutt Valley and asked if I could drop her off, I jumped at the chance. It's close to Pete's set, and I figured it'd be fun to surprise him. I remembered how excited he was when he showed Sam and me all around his miniature city. He'd wave his hand over the whole waist-high skyline, looking so much like the master of all he surveyed. It's good to see Pete in his element – standing behind the cameraman, watching everybody's actions, completely in control.

But as I get near the set and see him bustling around, his shoulders hunched over as he barks out orders to the crew, I wonder if this was such a good idea.

But I'm here now, and I can't pick up Shamila for at least two hours. So I take a deep breath and walk up, waiting until Pete finishes assaulting the gaffer before forcing a wary smile and braving the fury. "Having a rough day, I see."

Pete: Darian finally gets the point, and goes off to shut down the steam generators. I mutter a few choice oaths under my breath and stuff my notes in my jacket pocket. And there's John, looking like he's wondering if I'll bite his head off. "Hey, John. Bit rough, yeah. Come here, let me show you something."

I lead him over to stand in the middle of one of my 'streets', and stamp my foot on a manhole cover. "See this? It's functional. We built trenches under these streets, laid pipe, got a full working system just for the purpose of spewing steam through the grates and manholes so it really looks like New York." I shake my head, and look up. "Maybe I should've just funneled some of our good clean Wellington air down the vents. Really give it that sewer alligator's breath effect." I'm so frustrated I could scream, but you don't need that and it's not aimed at you. "I'm stuck with this set and I can't film on it daytimes!! We're down to night shoots and indoor shots. I need my city, in daylight. I can't get it. John, I'm right screwed."

John: Playing the armchair meteorologist, I peer up at the dark clouds above; they don't look like they'll be lifting any time soon. Which I really didn't need to look up to be able to tell. It's been this way for weeks now. What the news reported as a "freak weather occurrence" that was expected to blow over in a day or two has now become a permanent fixture in the city. Everyone who can has escaped to the clean air in the hills; everyone left just grits their teeth and trudges along in the twilight gloom.

But with fully functional sewers, it doesn't look like you can just pack up and move somewhere else. "Couldn't you bring in more lights?" You just shake your head and scowl, at no one in particular. "Too bad it's not as easy as getting rid of a blizzard." We'd laughed at your resolve to control the weather back then, and Andy complained of frostbite for days afterwards, but secretly I know we were all impressed to see what your determination could do.

I notice the crew's scurrying to put away the movable props. "Looks like you're done here for the day. And looks like you could use a beer, mate. Let's get you away from this mess. Maybe tomorrow'll be better." I know the chance of that is slim, but it's the best any of us can hope for.

Pete: "Yeah, sounds like a great idea. A few pitchers of beer and a cab ride home. I should try to catch up on some sleep later, I'm going to switch us over to outdoor night shoots for the next week." I laugh without much humor in my voice, as we walk towards the gates. "New Yorkers can't see the stars at night from the city anyway, so I guess they won't be missed here, either. You mind driving? There's a bar close by that's turned into the crew's second home. Everyone seems to find it funny that it's on Jackson Street."

You're being great - listening, nodding and smiling in all the right places. It's good to get a chance to talk to someone that's not going to argue with my schedule changes or bring me more in the endless stream of bad news. It's a short drive to the Fireman's Arms, and I have to admit it's a nice feeling to see the smiles and waves of the local regulars who've been very gracious about letting us take over their neighborhood hangout. There's a table full of Kong electricians in the back corner, and I patently avoid it in favor of a table on the other side of the room. The way they duck their heads, it's not like they want to get into it with me right now, anyway.

"Food here's decent, if you're hungry, the Backdraft sandwich is good. And there's games, lots of games." I grin as three kids scoot by our table headed for the video machines. "They don't taunt me anymore. I've shown those rugrats some old-school skills, they cower in my presence now." A wadded up napkin bounces off my head and I glare at the young culprit. "No respect at all. John, this place right here is my sanity lately. Used to be I felt my happiest on the set. Now... I can't wait to get away from it. Everything's backwards. I've never been so frustrated in my work as I've been this month!"

John: I try to hide my skepticism as Pete directs me to the Fireman's Arms, part of me dying to ask when he started frequenting gay bars. But despite the name, it turns out to be a homey little local with a pretty decent choice of taps. "I had lunch already, but a beer sounds perfect." On cue, the waitress appears, and a moment later returns with a pitcher of bitter and some crisps. I pour out our mugs, noting how you tuck into yours greedily. You do look like you need it.

"You wouldn't think that smog would keep you from shooting a scene in New York. Didn't they invent smog?" Now your glare is turned on me. "Sorry, mate. Here, have some crisps" I push the basket towards you, hoping to distract you with fresh game. It seems to work.

I want to sympathize with your plight, but it's hard for me to feel anything but, well, happy these days. And even the dark skies haven't been able to dampen that. And it's all because of Shamila. Well, Shamila and Denethor. Or rather, not-Denethor. Which reminds me, "So Pete, aside from the shoot, how are things going?" I lower my voice and speak quietly over my beer. "I mean, have you seen much of Tolkien lately? Or whoever it was that wrote King Kong?"

Pete: "Aside from the shoot? Oh, going just grand. The Weta warehouse has shiny new locks and a shiny new security guard since the previous one didn't take kindly to being bound and gagged while the props were being looted. I don't blame him for quitting, or moving out of town. Beginning to think we all should."

I take a deep breath, and try to shake myself out of cynical mode, cause you're asking some pretty leading questions. And if I'm not mistaken, you don't seem very upset about the state of things lately. Funny you should ask about Tolkien, though... hmmm. "Actually, no, he's been pretty reclusive. I even baited him with fresh pencils and scripts, just testing him out, but no nibbles. Which is pretty damned odd." I'm wondering why you ask, and give you a long, questioning look. "No sign of Merian Cooper either. He wrote King Kong. Hell of a pilot too, I'll have you know. Why on earth would you ask about him, though? Come on, spill. What're you getting at?"

John: I smile to myself, wishing that Hugo could see you and know that I'm not the only one who didn't notice right away the shifts were gone. I lean in closer, my smile growing wider. "Pete, Denethor hasn't come out all month. I didn't notice at first, since he usually just shoves me aside when he comes through. I guess I'd kind of gotten used to losing time. But he's been gone for weeks now." I sit back and have another sip of my beer. Good beer. Seems I'm enjoying everything more these days. "It's been incredible, Pete. I don't believe I ever felt this much freedom. I don't have to worry about Sam anymore." I lower my voice a little more, though I don't really know why, it's not something I need to keep secret, but still, it seems strange to admit it out loud. "And I even started seeing someone. And so far, things have been working out really well." I nod at your surprised look. I hope it's there because of what I told you about the shifts, and not at the fact that I'm dating. I'd hope that wouldn't be such a farfetched idea.

Pete: I wait a few beats, just in case this is some sort of practical joke. But the smile on your face is genuine, and you really do look happy. "Have to say, you do look on cloud nine. Good to hear you're getting back into a social life, too. I know the breakup was hard, but you're a good man and just... well, that's great!" Okay, that was awkward, I've never been very adept at talking about the wacky world of romance, or dealing with it, for that matter. Even so, I'm thrilled for you, really glad to see your life taking an upbeat turn. "Anyone I know? Rather hope not, I only know lunatics and industry folk." Then there's that other bit of extremely interesting news. "And as for the other development. Is it just us, John? You and me? How'd we get out from under this?"

John: I beam with a mix of embarrassment and, well, happiness as you stumble through your congratulations. "I doubt you know her, no. She owns a rather nice gallery downtown. That's why I'm out here today -- I dropped her off at an auction. Not that I didn't want to see you, you know." I refill my glass; I shouldn't have much more after this if I want to drive back into town. Besides, for once talking about shifts doesn't make me want to drink copious amounts of mind-numbing alcohol.

"Its not just us, mate. Bernard hasn't seen hide nor hair of Theoden either, and Karl's been missing his horseboy for a few weeks too. And Hugo's the one clued me in on all this. Strangely enough, he's the only one who doesn't seem entirely happy about this recent development." I shrug. "You'd think he'd be happy to be rid of his host of shifts. He had some pretty wacky versions there, I wouldn't imagine he'd miss them too much."

Pete: "She sounds interesting, John! A nice, normal woman for the newly normal you. I'd love to meet her sometime if you're willing to admit to knowing me."

I pour the last of the pitcher into my glass and wave for another. I've already decided to cab it home, and I know after you take off I'm going to be alone with my own frustrations again. A little more brew to cut that edge is way too tempting. "Now, really, mate. Hugo's unhappy, and this is a new development.... how? But, no shit? Others are shaking off the shifts, too? Are you saying it's all ending, finally?" I run my finger around the rim of my glass, wishing I could be happier about this, but life's still got it's hassles. "Nice timing, though. We should be partying. But we're living in a crime zone under dark skies, so it's hard for me to get real thrilled about it today. 'msorry, John."

John: I wave off your apology. "You've got reason to be unhappy, the weather's not cooperating." And I don't even want to think about the recent turn of events in the city. It's bad enough that stupid reporter is blaming it on disgruntled Tolkien fanatics, getting people worked up with his posturing as if he were a real journalist for a legitimate paper, not a gossip rag like the Dirt. There can't be any connection to all the horrible things that have been happening lately. "I'm sure this is all just coincidence. The bad weather's just making people all edgy. As soon as it blows over things will be back to normal. And you'll finish your film." I lift my beer glass to yours. "And we'll both be able to put Middle Earth behind us forever." There. Toasting it will make it so.

I drain my glass, and shake my head as you motion towards the pitcher. "Sorry, mate. You're on your own here. I need to be sober enough to pick up Shamila. And I'd love to introduce you to her. Could I bring her by the set sometime? You promise you won't bite her head off?"

Pete: I raise my glass, and the toast seals your words, let's hope they ring true, and soon. "Ah, so her name's Shamila. Very pretty. Course you can bring her by! I can be a gentleman now and then, honestly." I wink and top off my glass, I'm feeling more relaxed just spending time talking with you, but I'm nowhere near done with my drinking day. "I'd like to meet her, and if she'd like to poke around the set, you and I can give her the grand tour."

I appreciate you trying to offer some soothing words about the weather situation, but it's hard to be as optimistic as you are. "Course it's coincidence. It's interesting karma for me, though. Tell you the truth, if I had to stuff Tolkien back in my cranium, to get clear skies again, I'd take Tolkien back. I know the rest of you'd probably choose differently, but really, he's not given me much grief, and he did help out Viggo back when he needed a fast re-write to get him out of a jam. It's been a hell of a few years for everyone, I know. But not so much for me, most of the time." I take a chip, and stare at it thoughtfully. "Almost feels like the weather was sent just for me so I could get a good dose of grief to keep up with everyone else."

John: I stare at you in disbelief, after a moment forcing my jaw back into place from where it had gaped open. Oh, boy. Maybe I do need another drink. "Pete, I don't know how to say this politely, so I'll just say it ... I think that's about the most self-centered thing I've ever heard anyone say." I remember the endless mental debates I had before looking in that bowl, and how the decision came down to the greater good. Had it been just Hugo who'd disappeared, then I wouldn't have done it. But when I saw it touched not just me, not just the actors, I knew what I had to do. And now you're sitting here saying you'd trade our misery so you could get a clear shoot?

I clear my throat. "Tolkien and Denethor have both helped out at times. But then, we wouldn't have been in any kind of jams in the first place if there hadn't been any shifts. This isn't just about you, Pete, this weather, the shifts, none of it. It's too bad the weather's not cooperating. But if you're willing to trade your friends' happiness for clear skies, then ..." I shake my head. "Well, that just doesn't seem like you, Pete."

Pete: I practically snap out my reply. "Did I say I wanted you to take on Denethor again? I was talking about myself and what I'd be willing to trade. I said I knew no one else would choose that. And I sure don't wish that asshole back on you!" Oh, this is great. We're all free, now we just have to save ourselves from each other. "You've had a fucked time of it. But don't take it out on me. My point was that I've cruised through with only minor annoyances from my shift, and I could have easily kept living my life with him tagging along."

You're staring at me, your jaw set, anger still showing in your eyes. Great, just great. Now I've got you as wired up as I'm feeling. "Look, I'm sorry. I shouldn't have said that out loud. I'm sure everyone's thrilled as hell to get out from under all this, and I'm really happy you managed it. I'm tired and I'm pissed and I'm at all sorts of loose ends. I've got hundreds of people depending on me to get this film done. I've got some major stars ready to walk off the project in favor of finding something else. Tolkien and his damned pencil nubs would be a walk in the park in comparison. But it's all for one and one for all, right? I wouldn't wish it back for the rest of you lot." I sigh, and drop the chip back on the plate.

John: I try to smooth down my ruffled feathers -- that's all they are, I know, just feathers, it'll all blow over, just like this weather -- as you apologize. "I know you've got a lot at stake here, Pete. It's a tough spot to be in." I debate whether to mention that you'd probably have a lot less stress if you didn't think this weather was sent just as your own personal dose of grief, but decide that nothing good will come of that. A row really isn't what either of us need right now. Instead I smile wanly. "I'm just edgy too, I guess. No harm done."

I glance at my watch, feeling guiltily grateful that it's almost time for me to meet Shamila. "Listen, I've got to go now. But I'll give you a ring and see when might be a good time to show off your set." I'll hope for a sunny day. "You'll be able to get a ride home okay from here?"

Pete: I manage a sheepish smile. "Yeah, I'll be fine. Sorry 'bout all that, John. Let me back up a few paces and tell you it was great to have you surprise me on the set. You're always a welcome sight." I manage a wry laugh. "Though I think you'd look even better with a pretty woman by your side. I'm looking forward to meeting Shamila. Let's talk about that visit later, absolutely."

I hear a whoop from the direction of the video games, and give you a wicked look. "I think a bit of game therapy might be in order here before I go for another pitcher. You go enjoy the rest of your afternoon. And thanks, John. For the news about the shifts. Really, don't mind me, I can be a bastard at times. It's fantastic news!" And I know you're right. The sky will clear, I'll get the film finished, hell, I had worse challenges back in the early days. Bit of perspective, Pete. Eh, and a bit more beer. I'm still tense, but you've given me some reasons to cheer up. I'll get there, I guess.

December 2006

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