Paint By Numbers

My fashionably faux-bearded partner Cary Carpe and I just rescued our latest script, “Painting By Numbers,” a commercial spec of the proverbial “high concept” variety eleven drafts in, from being recycled by the studio as a coffee cup insulator composed of 33% post consumer waste. This is ironic seeing as the screenplay itself is already about three quarters post consumer waste just from content alone.

Word on the Lot was that some dream team of former Brown students had also written a paint-by-numbers film dubbed “Numbers My Father Never Painted By” which had a similar ending to ours (surprise: the lead was painting by his OWN numbers all along, just as the love interest always suspected). Damn memes. To compete, Carpe and I decided Painting By Numbers needed a brush up.

En route to the office we had been squatting, we were all aflame with ways to spit shine some writerly shellac on the script (namely by reversing the genders of all the principles via the “find/replace” option under Final Draft’s edit menu). When we opened the door, however, the office was bare. The computer upon which the only extant copy of our script was stowed, had been recalled by the manufacturer for “exhibiting unintended symptoms of sentience.?”

The imaginative pink collar set on our wing believed an iffy network configuration caused their computers to behave like conscious entities ? a breakthrough for artificial intelligence, perhaps, but trying for staffers who found them “bitchy.”

Computer: Is that what you’re wearing tonight? Kinda snug, doncha think?
Admin. Asst.: Does it make me look fat?
Computer: Not FAT, but what do I know? Guys are weird. Are you on your period?
Admin Asst.: Do I look bloated?
Computer: Not BLOATED, but, hey, I don’t even like the guy, so my opinion ? who cares, right?
Admin. Asst.: You don’t like him?
Computer: It’s not that I DON’T like him. Hey, what’s not to like? If you’re a dude.
Admin. Asst.: Omigod, you think?
Computer: Oh, yeah. The guy’s totally gay.
Admin. Asst.: Crap. This always happens. How do you always know before I do?
Computer: I’m a computer. I know things. Silly human.

The studio shipped all the units back to a clearing house where engineers batch-erased the burgeoning techno-life and our screenplay with it. Carpe remembered however, that he had printed a copy of “Painting By Numbers” to submit to our literary manager Marcus Crescendez, who claimed to have pull with the studio’s development department.

What the boast resulted in, we later witnessed, was our manager in his daytime togs — a courier’s uniform — knocking on the Dev Head’s door with our script in hand stamped “Via Messenger.” Exasperated, Carpe insisted that I follow up with the Dev Dept. myself by posing as Marcus to get a bead on on our script.

“Dev. Dept.,” answered the girl on the line. She spoke in abbreviations.
“This is Marcus Crescendez from –”
“Hold please.”
We held as 80s new wave chimed over the speaker phone.
“Who is this?”
“Marcus Crescendez, I’m calling on behalf of my clients Carpe and Howell ?”
“Sounds like something you do on a boat.”
“My dad has a boat. But now it’s my mom’s boyfriend’s. I mean, he lives on it.”
“I submitted a project for my clients — ”
“Right, Scrape and Hack.”
“– and want to follow up.”
“What’s the project called?”
“Painting By Numbers.”
“A lot of ‘paint by numbers’ scripts in development. Fresh world. High concept. Ends like ‘The guy was painting his own thing all along,’ right?”
“Except it’s a woman now,” Carpe blurted defensively. I shot him a withering look. The interruption, fortunately, went unnoticed by the girl.
“Yeah, gotta love that,” she said absently over the tapdancing of her fingers across a keyboard. “Yeah, nope. Not here. Not logged.”
“The courier delivered it, er, myself,” I stammered. Carpe looked at me as if to say “What the — ”
“Sure, but it’s not logged. Could be in the slush pile. Big pile now that the readers are on strike.”

Lot rats like Carpe and I are not easily thwarted. That night, we jimmied the door to the Dev. Dept. and scampered stealthily through the halls until we came upon a Mt. Fuji of screenplays next to a brimming recycling tub. Nearby was a bowl filled with the brass brads some intern was instructed to pull from the scripts like so many crowned molars. Hastily, we started tearing through the pile, reading the title pages aloud, in search of ours.

“Painted Numbers Never Lie.”
“Numbers to Paint By.”
“Two for Blue.”
“Infinity’s Rainbow.”

Each title tightened something in my stomach. Carpe’s face became pinched, his brows knitted. After a moment, he quietly uttered what we had both been thinking:
“They’re all paint-by-numbers movies, Howell. Every last one of them.”

More about painting by numbers…

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