Below the Line

Below the Line

240 pages

Fiction

Purchase

About the book

A funny and fascinating behind-the-scenes look at the movie business, this novel is set in Toronto, where the Americans come to shoot movies and TV series. But these are the stories of about the “below the line” crew, the Canadians who work on the runaway American productions.

About the authors

McFetridge, John

John McFetridge is the co-author of the CBC radio drama, Champions, the story of Jackie Robinson breaking baseball¹s colour line with the Montreal Royals and the screenplay The Shrew in the Park. He and his wife live in Toronto with their two young sons.

Albert, Scott

Scott Albert recently graduated from the Canadian Film Centre's Prime Time TV Writing Program and wrote the feature film screenplay Lab Rats. He lives in Toronto, and is looking forward to never working in that town again.

Excerpt

It was freezing cold for April. Not winter cold, but the smell of it was still in the air. The driveway started in stonework gates, and took its time through the artificial mounds of landscaped nature before circling a baroque fountain and ending where the rented truck idled in front of the house. Five years ago, David had done a spot on this house for one of those house and garden shows. The voice-over echoed the real estate listings. "…this lovely palatial estate…" Since then it had changed hands so many times its current owners were hidden in bankruptcy filings and corporate holdings. It was on the market again; news like that produces a measurable rise in Toronto’s productivity index and draws location scouts like an underage fashion model draws married producers at an open bar industry party. The only thing that ruined the magazine layout perfection was the cube van blackening the driveway with exhaust fumes, the Heritage Ford logos covered with graffiti tags – illegible street names and turf claims.

Nothing moved for twenty minutes.

David opened his eyes as a white Ford Escort wagon raced through the trees and hugged the inside, coming to an unreasonably solid stop beside the van. Andy carefully put the roach in his pill box. "Here’s the boss."

A mass of red curls exploded from the Escort, and the rest of Cathy followed. "Next time you give me directions, David, it would help if you knew what you were talking about."

The guys hopped out of the van, and rolled up the cargo door.

David shrugged. "I got here fine."

"Yeah." Andy slapped him on the back. "After I reminded you that the 401 is north of Bloor."

Cathy sat on the tailgate of the van, her legs dangling and ankles hooked together. "I got some news," she said, short fingernails trying to untangle her hair.

David nodded. "Lenny called me."

Andy smiled and slipped on his tattered gloves. "You worry too much, boss. Tonight I’ll make some calls, see who wants the work."

Cathy pulled a pack of cigarettes from her purse. Empty. It seemed to make sense to her. "Markie’s already called in her own guys. A favour to her." Cathy’s thin lips tightened around that word – favour. "They’re going to do her a favour, all right."

Andy tossed his cigarettes to Cathy, and grinned. "I bet they’ll be great guys."

David’s jaw waggled from side to side before he turned on Andy. "Have you even been on the same show as the rest of us? Markie kept Lenny and Bruce at the warehouse all night redressing that set. So they quit."

Cathy lit her cigarette and stuffed the pack deep into her purse. She stood up, and stepped deeper into the van. "Oh for fuck’s sake, guys!" she stomped her foot, and her eyes rolled up at the dome light. "I told you guys, don’t smoke up in the fucking van. It gets in the upholstery. People can smell it, and I get in shit."

"Sorry, boss," David said, but he was smiling. Andy snickered.

Cathy spun around. She eyed them silently from under her heavy curls, and then groaned and laughed along with them. "Okay. New rule. We’re not going to do anything that’s going to help get Cathy fired. Okay?" Cathy turned and reached for the paintings piled up in their cases against the other furnishings filling the truck. She handed them down to the guys, and reached for the straps holding the pool table upright.

"Whoa!" David yelled.

Cathy jumped back from the pool table and threw her arms up over her head. When nothing fell on her, she looked up. "What?"

Andy peered up at her. "We’re not going to load in the pool table ourselves. It took four guys just to get it on the truck."

Cathy shook her head, and for a moment her hair was a red cloud hovering above her. "We have to get this set in tonight."

"It doesn’t play for a couple of days." Andy protested.

David pulled out his shooting schedule. "Tomorrow’s that new picnic scene."

"Don’t you guys read the call sheets?" Cathy demanded. "This set is the snow cover."

"SNOW?" Andy and David laughed together. Cathy waited for them to stop.

"Come on, Cathy," Andy said. "We’re not going to hand bomb a full-sized mahogany pool table up to the third floor!"

Slowly, deliberately, Cathy nodded at him.

David eased into the discussion. "When are Markie’s guys coming?"

"Not for an hour," Cathy told him.

"Okay. We wait for the pool table until they get here." David got a nod from Andy. Sounds reasonable.

Cathy’s hair went flying again. "There’s no way I’m going to let those guys tell Markie that I couldn’t handle a simple load-in. We’re bringing up the pool table. And we’re doing it before they get here."

Andy looked from Cathy to David. "Why?" When no one answered him, he raised his hands in surrender and climbed up into the van. "Tell me again why I didn’t become a mover?"

"Because you have aspirations," David gently reminded him.

Cathy steadied the table while Andy pulled the straps.

"I do?" Andy asked. "Are you sure?" And the pool table came loose. They maneuvered it onto the tongue dolly, and eased it onto the rolling ramp. Andy leapt out of the truck as the pool table picked up speed.

"Slow it, slow it!" David called out. Cathy dug her feet in as the pool table hit the smooth cement driveway, heading for the fountain. Andy and David got in front of it and eased it to a stop.

"Are you sure you want to do this?" David asked.

"Are you sure you want a job tomorrow?" Cathy shot back.

"Not completely," David muttered to Andy. They caught their breath and wheeled over to the mountainous front doors.

Cathy cursed until her purse spat out the keys. The dolly slid smoothly over the threshold and into the empty, echoing front hall. A majestic sweeping staircase rose from their left, and ascended twenty-nine steps to the second floor.

"Twenty-nine hand-carved oak steps," David repeated to them.

"Shut up." Cathy squeezed out from the other side of the pool table. "Nobody cares that you did some five-dollar cable TV EFP here ten years ago."

"Here’s something," Andy said as the top-heavy load wobbled over the tile flooring, "I’m just a buyer on this show. I go out. I buy things. Table lamps. Coat trees. How come I’m doing heavy lifting?"

"Because," David grunted, "every dollar we save—" They pivoted the pool table and positioned it at the first of the twenty-nine oak stairs. "—goes straight into Judy and Reneé’s pockets."

They paused, breathing. They looked up. The staircase spiraled its way above them to the seemingly unreachable heights of the second floor. Cathy pushed her hair back from her face.

"You know what, Andy? You knew what the job was when you took it."

They all got into position. Andy on the dolly in front and above, Cathy and David each to a corner behind and below. David gritted his teeth, "When I took the job I didn’t know it was politics and lifting pool tables by myself."

Andy’s voice drifted around the thick table to him. "I’m here."

Cathy locked eyes with David. "Now you know. You don’t like it, you can quit too."

"On three," Andy called.

A standard joke, they all yelled, "THREE!"

Their grunts flooded the hallway, and the pool table lifted four inches off the ground. Each stair was six inches high.

"Down!" choked Andy. "For the love of cheap booze, down!"

It took almost as much effort not to drop it.

"We just need to get a rhythm," Cathy told them.

"Tell me again…"

"Shut the fuck up, Andy," Cathy growled. "On three."

"THREE!"

"Mother of fuck!" someone shouted. Muscles jerked. Tendons strained. The dolly rolled up and over. They made the first step. Twenty-eight to go.

"Keep going," Cathy squeaked.

"One," David counted.

"UHG!" echoed around the marble hall, and they were on the second step.

"Two. Say," David panted, "what exactly went wrong last night?"

Cathy grunted out, "Nobody told us… UHG! … the scene had changed." Three.

Andy snorted. "Big fucking surprise on… UHG!… on this fucking show." Four.

"Isn’t that your job… UHG! Five. Isn’t that your job, Cathy?" David asked, as he shifted his feet on the narrow side of the steps.

"UHG!" Six. They were getting their rhythm. Cathy locked her jaws. "Nice, David. I didn’t get the damned… UHG!"

Seven. "Damned rewrites until this morning."

Andy spoke from around back of the pool table. "You guys even… UHG!" Eight. "Even read the script?"

"What’s the point when… UHG! Nine," David counted. "When they change it every… UHG! Ten."

"Near as I can figure," Cathy gasped between breaths. "UHG!" Eleven. "These crooked cops run a brothel and Frankie, the one cop’s… UHG!" Twelve. "The mafia doesn’t want her there because… UHG!" Thirteen. "She saw the cops kill someone and… WHOA, GOD!" The pool table tipped dangerously overhead. Cathy could think of nothing but the new guys – Markie’s guys – finding them broken and bloody at the bottom of the stairs.

"I got it." David’s gloved hands wrestled the pool table back under control. "My foot slipped on the… I’m on the inside, for fuck’s sake."

"Take it up with your union," Cathy told him.

"You think I won’t?"

"Let’s go!" Andy called. And the pool table resumed its ascent. "UHG!"

"Fourteen," David said.

"Way I read it," Andy said, "UHG!" Fifteen. "Wasn’t the girl, but her sister… UHG!" Sixteen.

"There’s a… UHG!" Seventeen. Cathy choked out the rest. "There’s a sister?"

"There’s no fucking sister," David told them firmly. "UHG! That’s eighteen."

"There’s a sister," Andy said. "That’s what… UHG!" Nineteen. "The whole first scene is about. UHG!"

"Twenty. The first scene in the hotel? UHG! Twenty-one."

"The first scene on the strip board is in the car… UHG!" Cathy sounded quite sure as David counted "Twenty-two."

"The first scene in the… UHG!" Twenty-two. Andy kept going, "The first scene in the fucking alley… UHG!" Twenty-three. "With the sister! UHG!"

"There’s no sister. UHG! Twenty-four."

"I skipped that one… UHG!" Cathy said. Twenty-five.

"You… UHG! Twenty-six," David said. "You skipped it? You’re the lead dresser."

"So?" Cathy said. "I’m not the… UHG!" Twenty-seven. "I’m not the fucking decorator. I don’t need to… UHG!"

"Twenty-eight," David said. "You’ve got to know the… UHG! Twenty-nine. You’re got to show the… UHG!"

"Stop!" Andy screamed. "Stop fucking stop. We made it! We’re here!"

"Thank god," Cathy and David said, and let go of the pool table.

The sudden full weight of the pool table pushed Andy backwards; his hundred dollar, steel-toed, thick-soled workboots useless on the marble tiles. Oxygen deprived, Cathy and David watched as the pool table rolled away from them.

"Whoa! Whoa! WHOA!" The pool table yelled, and thudded heavily into the wall. It rocked back on the dolly tongue, and tipped to one side. Not quite balanced on one corner, it continued to tip…

Cathy and David rushed over to the table, and hoisted it upright.

"Andy?" Cathy called. "Are you all right?"

"Fine, Mom," Andy said as he slipped out from behind the table. "Just resting."

David fingered the fresh chip in the marble window ledge. He shook his head, and helped pull the table away from the wall. They eyed it suspiciously. It took them a moment to convince each other that it wasn’t going to tip again. Andy massaged his elbow.

"If that’s the worst thing to happen today, we’ll be lucky." Cathy nodded at David. Andy scowled at them while he massaged his ankle.

"Oh yeah? You take the dolly this time, Dave."

"I’ll take it." Cathy stepped forward, but Andy shook his head.

"Too heavy."

Cathy shoved a hand on her hip, and glared at him under her hair. "Screw you. I’ll take it."

"Look, Cathy," Andy held his hands up. "This isn’t a man-woman thing."

"It is so a man-woman thing!" Cathy fumed at him.

"It’s really heavy, boss," Andy said. "Really heavy."

Cathy took a deep breath, her face turning red like her hair.

But David cut in. "Can’t we just do this?"

Cathy turned on him. "I don’t want to be shoved aside because of the chick thing."

David buried his face in his gloves. "Cathy… Markie’s guys’ll be here in half an hour."

Cathy nodded. "Fine. You men do it. I might break a nail."

"That’s the spirit!" David clapped her on the back, and moved around to grab the dolly. Andy took one corner, and Cathy the other. This part was easy. They rode the pool table on the over-exerted dolly’s low-riding wheels and headed for the back stairs to the third floor.

There they stopped. They looked from the pool table. They looked at the narrow staircase, and the tight landing.

"No way," Andy said.

"Shit!" Cathy beat her fists against her legs. "It won’t fit."

"Goddamn locations," David sank to the floor, and Andy dropped beside him. "Goddamned Mo fucking Gib. No one scouted these locations? No one carries a tape measure?"

Cathy stalked around the pool table, eyeballing the stairs. "It’ll fit up sideways."

"What?" David asked.

"We’ll…" Cathy made a point of not looking at them. "What we’ll do is we’ll carry it."

"It’s not a long staircase," Andy allowed.

"There’s no way, Cathy." David pointed at the sharp landing. It would do a basement proud.

"You guys think they build a 20-million dollar house and don’t make a staircase big enough to move furniture?" Cathy measured the clearance with her arms.

"What are we doing this for, Cathy?" David wanted to know.

"I told you," she shot back. "Rain cover. Snow cover. Whatever. Because it’s our job."

"Technically, it’s not…"

"Shut up, Andy." Cathy cut him off. "It’s our job now. Because if we don’t do it, the company’ll have nothing to shoot tomorrow."

This got to David. He nodded at Andy, and they got to their feet. The three of them gingerly eased the felt-covered giant onto its side. David grabbed one of the legs. Andy went on the outside. Cathy at the back leg. They looked at each other over the pool table. Breathing. Looking at each other over the pool table. And no one wanting to be there.

"On three," Cathy said, and they all got their grips.

"THREE!"

Backs and legs strained. Wood creaked. With an effort more mental, even spiritual, than physical, the pool table rose into the air.

"Okay," David grunted. "Okay, okay. Up the stairs."

The pool table lurched forward, its weight giving each step a momentum of its own. The first step was under David’s foot. "Let’s go, let’s go…"

And they were up it. The second one went by. Andy braced himself against the wall, and felt a wave of exhausted euphoria lift him. The pool table, almost on its own, moved.

"The landing," Cathy said. "Andy, get under it."

Andy got under it. Hoisting it high over his head. David got under the leg, twisting it around the corner. It was going fast now. The sweat was pouring, and limbs were shaking under the strain. But they were set dressers, goddamn it, and nothing was going to stop them from dressing their set.

Until something slipped. It might’ve been Andy’s ankle, or David’s glove, or Cathy’s back, but something slipped. They could all feel it at the same time. That loss of control over something much more powerful then you are. With three screams of terror, the pool table fell.

On Andy.

Reviews

Mesmerized as we are by the presence of Jennifer Lopez and Richard Gere working right here in Winnipeg, the novel Below the Line arrives as a timely reality check about the real business of making movies. Better still, it is… >>

— Randall King Winnipeg Free Press

Working in the film industry has always held a certain cachet among those who don't. Regardless of how many times they hear about the long hours, the hard work, the egos and the back-biting, your Everyday Joe can't get enough… >>

— Pamela Klaffke The Calgary Herald

Our citizens are finding work on the film sets in the city this summer and they have their tales to tell of Hollywood, brushes with celebrity, and the movie business For those not involved, there's Below the Line, a new… >>

— Quentin Mills-Fenn Uptown

Below the Line is set in Toronto, where big-budget American productions are filmed on the cheap with Canadian creews. The action centres around the shooting of a B-grade film entitled Life and Death in Little Italy. This fictional production is… >>

— John R. Wallace ffwd

Screenwriters Scott Albert and John McFetridge found out the difference between the movie industry and book publishing with their just-released novel, Below the Line, about the unseen, unsung denizens of film sets. “In the ‘about the author’ section, we… >>

— Edward Keenan Eye Weekly


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