by Aaron Dries
The pitching office is like a mausoleum, a place where living things came to die, to be preserved in embalming fluid and good intentions. Two executives sit at a desk in front of the young director, a jug of water on the polished mahogany between them. The director doesn’t dare drink it for fear it will make him appear weak, even though he’s thirsty. The water mocks him.
He knows this is a test.
“Thanks for joining us, ______,” says the woman. “We’re excited about bringing Jaws back to the big screen. We loved your last film and think you’re a perfect fit for the remake.”
“Are you a fan of the original material?” asks the man.
“The book, you mean?”
The man smiles. His eyes are like coffee stains on a starched shirt. “Jaws was a book? I meant the film.” This is a man who does not sleep. He is caffeine incarnate.
“I love all of Spielberg’s stuff. Especially Jaws. It’s a masterpiece.”
The woman leans forward. “Great to hear. We want to capture lightning in a bottle again. Help us make this happen, ______. Give us your ideas. Pitch us.”
Here we go, he thinks. “Well. It boils down to this. I think that if something’s not broken we shouldn’t rush out to fix it—”
MAN: “Loves it. Loves it!”
“We should stick as close to the original as possible.”
MAN: “Great! I knew bringing this kid in was a good idea. I’m a genius!”
“Great. Well, we open on a beach in Amity—”
WOMAN: “Ah, let me stop you there. Amity, yeah, it’s nice and all, but what if the setting was somewhere a bit more upmarket. The Hamptons, maybe.”
WOMAN: “Glamour. I think Jaws needs glamour.”
MAN: “Definitely. The original has this unappealing grit to it. It really feels like it’s set in a small beach town. Who likes sand, really?”
He squirms in his seat, leather squeaking. It sounds like a fart. He hopes they didn’t hear it, yet suspects they did. Keep going! “So the film opens with a shark attack on this beach…in the Hamptons.”
MAN: “Loves it! Open with a bang. The original lacked that punch.”
“But the first film did open with a shark attack.”
WOMAN: “Really, I don’t remember that… Anyhow, keep going.”
“Well, the attack is brutal and shocking. But we don’t see the shark yet.”
MAN: “Ugh, let me stop you there. We don’t need the artsy-fartsy subtle approach. We want that shark front and center. I want it leaping right up out of that water.”
“You don’t think that to build suspense and anticipation it might help to hold off on the reveal for a bit?”
WOMAN: “We’d like to move the story along. Up the pace. Keep it going, ______.”
“So maybe we do see the shark. That could work. But I think we need to go animatronic on this. Old school, nuts and bolts, the most impressive and realistic movie magic machine in cinema history.”
WOMAN: “What do you mean? For the shark?”
MAN: “No. Can’t have that. Audiences don’t want machines. They’ll think it looks fake. We need CGI. We’ve got the team behind Jurassic World ready to go.”
“But it’s the tangibility of the shark in the original film that makes an impression. CGI doesn’t look real, not even good CGI. If anything, it’s getting worse.”
WOMAN: “Hey, look. We’re an open-minded department. We can compromise on some things, just not on this. Keep going with your pitch, though. You’re doing great!”
He bites his tongue and continues. “After this opening scene we shift to Brody, the town sheriff, and his family—”
MAN: “I’ll stop you there. We don’t want Brody to be sheriff anymore. And we don’t want him to be a family man, either. That old house in the original? Bah. It could be Anywhere, USA. For the new film, we thought he might be the owner of the local Hilton. Jaws needs glamour, remember! We don’t want this to be Universal—it needs to be somewhere.”
“But at its core, the story is about a man going up against a town that doesn’t believe him. It’s David and Goliath. And he has to be a father. Remember that scene in the original where Brody has all this responsibility resting on his shoulders and he’s sitting at the kitchen table with his boy, pulling faces at one another as his wife watches from the doorway. It’s moving. It’s a perfect scene. It’s so perfect it’s almost unfair to the rest of cinema.”
MAN: “Agh, let’s cut it and move on. Nobody wants character development anymore. We’ll drop it in somewhere, sure. Moving on! We want some teenagers in this picture. Let’s get to the teenagers.”
WOMAN: “Great idea! A group of Hampton teens. Excellent potential for product placement there. Oh, they can all be going sailing and the shark attacks! The CGI shark.”
MAN: “Loves it, loves it!”
“So essentially you want to remake Jaws 2?”
WOMAN: “I think that’s easier to market in today’s cinematic climate. Sequels sell. We’ve also got a cross-deal with Marvel in place. Great, huh? How do you feel about the inclusion of a superhero?”
MAN: “Not like Spiderman or The Hulk or anything. That’d just be ridiculous, right? Ha-ha! No, I mean someone normal looking, right?”
WOMAN: “Exactly! Bruce Wayne, maybe.”
MAN: “Loves it.”
WOMAN: “Bruce is taking a crime-fighting sabbatical and goes sailing with these kids. And he’s the one who eventually saves the day!”
“So it’s Batman Vs. Superman, but with a CGI shark. In the Hamptons. With kids.”
MAN: “Great idea! I love this guy. We knew you were perfect for this.”
WOMAN: “The shark chews its way though the kids until there’s just Bruce left. And then—oh, yes!—he remembers that in the hull of the boat, which is sinking, he’s got his costume!”
MAN: “Loves it, loves it!”
WOMAN: “He puts it on and jumps right in the water and attacks the shark.”
MAN: “Batman punches it to death. Bam! Kapow! Gold, kid. Gold!”
The boat isn’t the only thing that’s sinking in this scenario. It’s the young director’s passion, too. A passion that was sparked when he was a little boy sitting on the sofa with his mother as she showed him Jaws for the first time on their old television set, the one with the crooked wire bunny ears. The magic of cinema seen through a scrim of static. His eyes were wide with fear throughout, his childish thirst for adventure building from scene to scene. And then, by the end, he was standing on that couch, cheering when the shark exploded, spraying the ocean in torrents of guts and blood, swearing to his mother that yes, yes—I DID see the dead dog falling out of the sky!
This was a long time ago.
The man that child grew into reaches forward and drinks from the jug of water on the table. With this act, the conversation ends, and the faces of the executives turn towards him, cold and stern, as though carved from the same granite as the room in which they sit.
MAN: “What’s the matter, kid?”
WOMAN (gasping): “Are you okay?”
He puts down the glass. The water has no taste. “I don’t think I can do this.”
WOMAN: “What do you mean? This is the opportunity of a lifetime. We’re going to change the cinematic landscape with this.”
“Change it for better or worse?”
MAN: “Why you ungrateful—”
WOMAN: “Maybe this was a mistake.”
“I’m sorry to have wasted your time. I should leave.”
MAN: “You smug, Gen Y, know-it-all! Look at you. You look like someone just took a dump in your Cheerios. This is the last time we invite someone like you in to pitch.”
WOMAN: “Not a ‘maybe’ mistake. A ‘definite’ mistake.”
MAN: “Look at you sitting there, all blank-faced. Where’s the gratitude? Get out of here, kid. You’re making me sick. Ungrateful!”
WOMAN: “You’ll have to pay for that water, just so you know. It’s not for drinking.”
MAN: “Where’s the gratitude?”
WOMAN: “That’ll be $47.50.”
The young director wants to get up and leave this room forever, but he can’t. He’s spent. Stunned and shocked by the shark bite in the lilo of his universe.
MAN: “For heaven’s sake, kid. Do something. Say something. Smile, you son-of-a-bitch.”
But the young director does not smile. He does not show off his teeth.
He has ground them down to nothing.
Avid traveler, former pizza boy, retail clerk, kitchen hand, aged care worker, video director and artist Aaron Dries was born and raised in New South Wales, Australia. When asked why he writes horror, his standard reply is that when it comes to scaring people, writing pays slightly better than jumping out from behind doors. He is the author of the award-winning House of Sighs, and his subsequent novels, The Fallen Boys and A Place for Sinners are just as—if not more—twisted than his debut.