Steve Schiff 70530,3063 IMP work in progress. THE ONLY GOOD ACTOR IS A DEAD ACTOR by Steve
Steve Schiff 70530,3063 IMP work in progress.
THE ONLY GOOD ACTOR IS A DEAD ACTOR
by Steven L. Schiff
Bradley Marks, the 48 year old president and CEO of Marks
Media-Vision, snapped off his wall monitor in disgust. "Well,
I've got to hand it to you, Pete." he said, turning to Peter
Cromwell, one of his production company's most respected young
executives. "You have succeeded in developing the worst movie
I've seen in a month of Sundays." Bradley paused for effect, then
looked his young protege straight in the eye. "We expected more
from you. Nine months in production with a thirty one million
dollar budget and this is what we get? This is the best you can
"C'mon Brad," whined the exec. "It isn't that bad."
"Then I'd hate to see what you'd call bad."
"Brad, the original version of 'Night Action' grossed over
$235 million back in the 90s."
"The original version was a damn good film."
"Well, this version has all the same elements. The script is
virtually identical; we just updated it a bit for the modern
audience. And this one's directed by Henry Chase; he's only the
hottest director around right now."
"Chase is overrated."
"Brad, believe me, this film has box office appeal. Just look
at the star power we've got. Susan Windemere in the lead
"Susan Windemere is a no-talent airhead who just happens to
look great in a string bikini."
"What about John Hawkins as the love interest?"
"He's a wooden piece of beef-cake."
Cromwell continued on, hoping to lose his boss' anger in a
string of big names. "How 'bout the great supported actors we
hired? Jim Jenkins, Sally Flamba, Steve Hankey, Larry Flynn and
Charlie O'Leary as the old man?"
"Sally Flamba's a pretty good actress; that I'll grant you.
But I wouldn't give you two cents for any of the others. You see,
that's the root of the problem, Pete. None of the actors
available today can act their way out of a paper bag." Brad lit
a cigarette, his first in weeks, and inhaled a relaxing puff of
thick, carcinogenic smoke. "Look what you've got me doing! I
promised my doctor I'd quit."
"Brad, what am I supposed to do? The movie's in the can. You
want me to trash it?"
"No, release it. We've got little choice in the matter. But
the next time you show me a film this bad, you'll be looking for
a new job. Find me some actors with charisma, like they had in
the old days. Find me the next John Stanford; the next Judy
Boyle. Now they had talent. When I was a kid, I was crazy about
Judy Boyle. Her love scenes with Stanford were incredible. You
want to talk hot? Look at their early films." Bradley's eyes took
on a far away look. "Compared to Judy Boyle, Susan Windemere has
as much sex appeal as a sack of potatoes."
"Great." thought Peter Cromwell. "He wants Judy Boyle. It's a
shame the woman's 98 years old. What am I supposed to do? Take a
film crew to the nursing home?" But Peter knew he had to do
something. He knew Bradley was right. Today's actor's couldn't
act. In fact, good acting was pretty much a lost art, except for
the oldsters who did voice-overs for their cartoon features. And
not a one of them was under 65 years of age. "I'll make you
happy, boss. The next film you see from me will be a knock-out. A
"It had better be." Brad said simply. "For your sake."
Peter didn't know what to do. He had script approval and a
respected director for the company's next film, but he had no
idea who to cast. He'd reviewed all the available names. None had
the range for the part of Madeline, an 1940s heroine who'd lost
her husband in the Second World War. And the prospects for
finding the right 'General Jeremy Weathers' seemed slim at best.
"Get me new talent." he yelled. "Unknowns."
"You want to cast unknown actors in the lead roles?" asked
Bill Newman, his chief casting director. "That's a recipe for
"And I suppose you have a better idea?" Peter asked.
"Maybe I do."
"Well, tell me." Peter demanded. "Tell me something I want to
"Give me a week, Pete. Let me talk to a few people."
"Take a week. Take two weeks if you have to. Just find me some
decent actors. Please."
Three days later, Bill Newman was back in Peter's office with
Laura Steward, senior animator at Media-Toons, one of their
"What's she doing here, Bill?" Peter asked. "Don't tell me you
want to do the movie as a cartoon."
"Mr. Cromwell, take a look at this VHS." said the outspoken
animator, waving a tape in Peter's face. "I think you'll be
"It'd better not be Benny Bunny as Rhett Butler."
"Just watch the tape, Mr. Cromwell." Laura said as she turned
on Peter's VCR. So, hoping for a miracle, Peter watched the
"What do I think? I think you've lost your mind, Peter." said
Bradley. "You've been working too hard."
"You told me that the actors around today couldn't compare to
Judy Boyle and John Stanford. Right?"
"Yes, Peter. Unfortunately Stanford's dead. And Boyle is an
old woman, not far behind him."
Rather than answering his boss, Peter turned on the tape
machine and watched Brad's eyes light up as Judy Boyle and John
Stanford acted out a passionate love scene from the prospective
"Where'd you get this? 'The War Widow' is a brand new script.
Are these people look-alikes? If so, it's a mighty good
"You're looking at animation, Brad. Brand new, state-of-the-
art, computer generated photo-animation." Peter announced. "The
process was developed by Laura Steward over at Media-Toons.
Photos and recordings of Boyle and Stanford were imputed into the
computer. Then, we had some of our better voice-over actors film
the scene. The computer substituted the image and voices of Boyle
and Stanford for the voice-over people to create this final
"Incredible. Absolutely incredible!"
"The whole film can be done this way." said Peter. "All for a
lot less money then it would cost to hire and film big-name
actors like Susan Windemere."
Peter could almost see the cogs working in Bradley's mind.
"Peter, I'm really impressed. This could be a real gold mine;
we'll make a fortune! We'll keep the whole thing under wraps
until the premier and then--Whammo." Bradley smacked his fist
into his hand so hard, it made Peter wince. "We'll set the
industry on its ear!"
"That's what I thought." said Peter as Bradley began to pace
back and forth in his huge office.
"Of course, you'll need to discuss this with our legal
department. We need to have an agreements in place with Boyle and
the estate of John Stanford."
"I'm already having contracts drawn up." said Peter. "For the
use of the images and voices. Steve Ithor over at legal says the
rights should be available for about $150 thousand a piece. I
told him to draw up contracts paying $300 thousand a piece. I
figured that ought to prevent Boyle and Stanford's people from
poking their noses too closely into our business."
"Great. Let them think we're using old movie clips or
something." said Bradley. "And don't you dare let anyone breathe
a word of the truth. I mean it, Peter!"
"Even Ithor doesn't know what we're doing, Brad. He thinks I'm
crazy for offering the $300 thou."
"Good. Let's keep it that way."
'The War Widow' was a smash hit. Lines at the premier
stretched for two city blocks. Newsweek called it
'revolutionary.' Time magazine said it was a 'technological
breakthrough, as impressive as the advent of sound in motion
pictures.' And even after the initial fervor died away, the movie
continued to draw in the crowds, as much for the inherent quality
of the film as for the technical gimmickry.
"Boyle hasn't lost it." said Bradley. "She's still making men
"I guess you could say 'the only good actor is a dead actor.'
Right Brad?" asked Peter.
"Pete, I've been saying that for years. It's about time
someone listened to me. Still, it's a shame poor Judy Boyle had
to die before the premier. The old woman would have enjoyed this
new-found fame." Bradley wiped away a tear as he thought of his
film heroine...his first real love. Then he pulled out the
corporate books and looked at his most recent profit and loss
statement. A smile replaced his tears with alacrity.
Some months later, Peter Cromwell found himself face to face
with a nasty looking lawyer in a nicely tailored suit.
"Mr. Cromwell, my name is John Stevenson." said the lawyer. "I
represent David Boyle, the grandson and sole heir of Judy Boyle."
"What can I do for you?"
"Frankly, Mr. Cromwell, my client believes your company
cheated his grandmother. The fee you paid her for 'The War Widow'
is well below the industry standard for actors of her caliber."
"Mr. Stevenson, you and I both know that Judy Boyle did not
actually act in 'The War Widow.' And we have a signed contract
from Ms. Boyle for the use of her voice and image in the
"That contract was fraudulently obtained, Mr. Cromwell. You
didn't inform Miss Boyle of your full intentions."
"We told Ms. Boyle everything we legally had to tell her."
"That may be true, Mr. Cromwell. But if you don't offer
substantial restitution to my client, we're going to have to let
a judge decide on the legitimacy of his claims."
"Is that a threat, Mr. Stevenson?" Peter asked.
"We don't take kindly to threats. So maybe we will be seeing
you in court."
"Mr. Boyle will be speaking to the media about this matter,
later in the week, Mr. Cromwell."
"He can do whatever he likes." said Peter. "It won't affect
"Are you sure you can afford the bad publicity, Mr. Cromwell?"
Peter thought about it for a moment.
"Let me discuss the matter with Bradley Marks."
"I think that would be advisable, sir." the lawyer responded.
"Offer them an additional half a million." Bradley suggested. But
Stevenson was looking for more like $15 million. "That's out of
the question." said Bradley. "Absolutely out of the question."
David Boyle pleaded his case on national television the following
"Mr. Boyle. What is the basis for your claims against Marks
Media-Vision?" asked the pert young newswoman.
"They robbed my grandma. It's that simple." said Boyle.
"Wouldn't you be mad if somebody robbed your grandma?"
"You are referring, of course, to the use of your
grandmother's image..." She turned from her interviewee to
deliver the next few words directly into the camera. "the
likeness and voice of the famous Judy Boyle in the blockbuster
hit, 'The War Widow.'"
"That's right!" said Boyle, emphatically. "We were robbed
"But it has been reported that your grandmother signed a
contract for the use of her image before she died. And she was
paid on that contract."
"The woman was close to 100 years old. She was going senile
and didn't know what she was signing. We didn't get our fair
share." Boyle batted large brown eyes at the camera. He gave one
the impression of a basset hound that had been beaten by a cruel
Peter Cromwell felt sick to his stomach as he watched the
proceedings on his office monitor. Bradley was going to hit the
ceiling. No, Bradley was going to go through the roof. Because
Boyle appeared sympathetic and that meant Marks Media-Vision was
going to have to pay, pay, pay.
Peter's secretary buzzed on the office intercom at that
moment. "Mr. Cromwell." she said. "Mr. Marks is on line two for
Bradley Marks paced back and forth behind his solid mahogany desk
as he spoke to John Stevenson.
"You don't quite see the full picture, Mr. Stevenson." he
"I'm just trying to ensure that my client gets what he
"We are not going to pay David Boyle $15 million dollars, or
anything remotely close to that figure."
"Considering the profits you made on 'The War Widow,' I don't
think we're being unreasonable." said Stevenson.
"I'm sorry. We can't afford to set a bad precedent for future
pictures. We have plans to do a sequel of 'The Wizard of Oz' with
Judy Garland. We'd like to star Garbo in an updated version of
'Ninotcka' set in a Third World country. And, of course, we want
to capitalize on Judy Boyle's new-found popularity. If we pay
your client what he asks, we'd be escalating fees across the
board, for all personalities featured in our photo-animation
"That's your problem, Mr. Marks. Not ours."
"Mr. Stevenson, maybe we can come to some kind of arrangement,
here. Something that would benefit both of us. You and me."
David Boyle appeared on national television for a second time,
in an announcement broadcast from what appeared to be the
headquarters of Marks Media-Vision. A smiling Bradley Marks stood
next to him, hand around his shoulder.
"I am officially dropping all claims against Mr. Marks and his
company." said Boyle. "In return, Mr. Marks has named me as their
spokesperson for all future photo-animation films."
"Mr. Boyle will be appearing in short clips prior to each
film. He'll highlight the careers of the featured actors, give
viewers a backstage view of the photo-animation process and
provide commentary for the films. As the grandson of Judy Boyle,
we feel he is uniquely qualified to fill this role." The camera
zoomed in for a closeup of Boyle as a smile appeared across the
man's hound-like face.
Peter Cromwell was out of the loop, and he wasn't happy about
it. Sure, Bradley allowed him to oversee production of the new
films, but he was denied involvement in the David Boyle
commentaries. It seemed that only Bradley, Laura Steward,
Stevenson and Boyle himself were involved in the production of
"David Boyle is a difficult personality, Peter. I want to
handle him myself. You have plenty of other things to do."
"But he's commenting on my films, Bradley. And I should have a
say in what goes in those commentaries."
"First of all, they're not your films, Peter. They're Marks
Media-Vision productions. And the commentaries are trivial. We
just don't need your input."
David Boyle performed rather well over the next several
months. Bradley released two new films for public consumption,
one staring Judy Boyle and one featuring Fred Astaire.
Film critics praised Boyle's clips for the historical
perspective they gave to the features. And everyone enjoyed
Boyle's frame by frame dissection of the new technology.
But Boyle himself had become a recluse. He seemed to spend all
his time, locked behind the steel gates of Judy Boyle's 20th
"David Boyle, won't you come out to play?" chanted the
national entertainment critic. "You're one of the country's most
eligible bachelors. So come out of that mansion and greet your
The fire at the Boyle mansion started at approximately 3 am on
a warm July evening. Hilda Sandusky, an elderly neighbor of
Boyle, saw the flames almost immediately and called the local
fire department. The firefighters had no trouble containing the
blaze, which caused only minor damage to David Boyle's expensive
"We're lucky you called us so quickly, Mrs. Sandusky." said
"I couldn't sleep, so I was sitting on my patio, looking at
the stars. That's when I saw the flames."
"If we'd gotten here a half hour later," said the fireman,
"the whole place would probably have burnt to the ground."
Firefighters found David Boyle's body while inspecting the
interior of the mansion. A short time later, Detective Paul
Bradford of the local police examined the badly decomposed
"He looks like he's been dead for more than six months." said
Bradford. "The coroner will tell us for sure."
"But how is this possible?" asked his partner. "Boyle's been
highly visible over the last few months. I saw one of his
commentaries last night."
"What you saw," said the detective, "was just another
excellent example of photo-animation."
E-Mail Fredric L. Rice / The Skeptic Tank