mise-en-scène: the physical setting of an motion picture
Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters, settings, etc. are the property of their respective owners. The original characters and plot are the property of the author. The author is in no way associated with the owners, creators, or producers of any media franchise. No copyright infringement is intended.
Tallulah woke up to her 5 o’clock alarm on her cell and a shitty headache after crying into the early morning. She only had three hours of sleep under her belt, which would do her no good on her first day on set. Her eyes were puffy, her body ached, and her heart had a bleeding hole in it. She was curled into a ball, bed sheets swallowing her whole. She blindly reached for her phone to hit the big red button that would end all the noise before she retreated back underneath the shelter of her sheets. Her fingers traced a name into the bottom sheet repeatedly as if she’d forget if she stopped.
Veronica, Tallulah’s sole inspiration for becoming an actress.
Once upon a time, Veronica Keaton was a promising star in 80s Hollywood. She was a regular cast member as the eldest daughter, Kitty, in a quirky family sitcom, The Good Family. It was a popular show in the beginning, but lasted three seasons as the ratings tanked. Her eighteen-year-old mother was only there for one season.
With fame came familiar vices: drugs, alcohol, and sex. The first of such lead her mother to crossing paths with a drug dealer to the stars, Thibault Edmond. Her addiction and her father were to blame for her downward spiral. A highly publicized scandal was the final nail in the coffin to her wholesome image. Her character was cleverly written off the show as by running off with her rich boyfriend to backpack through Europe. The running gag that stretched through the remaining two seasons were the Good family receiving mailed postcards with bizarre stories from Kitty’s globetrotting adventures at the most inopportune times.
Meanwhile in real life, instead of being a star, as the companion of a prominent drug dealer, she partied with the stars. Using her industry connections to widen her boyfriend’s reach. When Tallulah was born, Veronica struggled with her addiction and tried to do right by her daughter and tried to leave him, but the manipulative bastard used coke to chain her to him. It was a vicious cycle that went on and on for ten years until Tallulah, alongside her father and his buddies, witnessed Veronica overdose at one of his infamous parties.
The vivid memory of her mother’s limp body and vacant eyes in a bathtub awaited her as she closed her stinging eyes. She remembered being the one that found her that way and yelled for help while everyone downstairs snorted coke with rolled dollar bills, drank their fill, and kissed on carefree women. She remembered how Thibault turned on the shower water and patted at an unresponsive Veronica’s cheek, shouting at her to stop being such a drama queen. She remembered how one of the scantily clad women had the sense to usher her out of the bathroom to save what innocence she had left, but the damage was done.
She didn’t have much love for her bastard father before that night, but after it, any love disintegrated and blew away like ashes. It took her years before she had the courage to love another and it killed her knowing that her father somehow played a hand in ruining it.
Tallulah picked up her phone to note the time, she groaned as she realized that she needed to get up and she needed to do it now. It took all her strength to drag herself into the bathroom to get ready for the day. She emerged from her bedroom no more than thirty minutes later freshly showered and dressed in plain clothes.
She ventured from her wing, up the stairs, and quietly opened her son’s door. She crept up to his bed and laid down beside him carefully. A manicured finger stroked the bridge of his nose as a gentle method of waking him up. His nose crinkled and he stirred, his eyelids peeling back tiredly.
Tallulah smiled at him softly. “Morning, sleepyhead. How was your first night in your new room?”
“The bestest ever,” Milo said then posed, “Are you sick? You don’t sound too good, Mom.”
She chuckled gently, shaking her head. “No, baby. I’m not sick. I didn’t get a lot of sleep last night.”
He frowned up at her and asked hesitantly, “Are you still mad at Dad…from last night?”
Tallulah blinked at the question, cocking her head. “And what do you know about last night exactly, Milo Lachlan? You should have been very much asleep.”
“I might…have snuck out of bed to play Minecraft and heard you screaming at Dad,” he admitted then paused, worry carved a home onto his young face. “Mom, if you’re mad at Dad, should I be mad at him too?”
“No, you shouldn’t, Milo,” she assured. “Don’t worry about me and your dad. What you should be worried about is how you’re going to play all those video games over there in my lifetime?”
She then tickled his tummy and Milo giggled, squirming under her fingers.
“Now, you know today is my first day on set, so I’m not going to be back until way past your bedtime,” she informed after stopping her assault. “Your dad’s assistant, Aishwarya, will be in charge. So, do everything she says. Alright?”
Milo nodded. “Yes, ma’am.”
She kissed his forehead before she got off his bed. “You get some more rest. You’ve got a few more hours of shuteye before it’s time to get ready for school.”
Upon leaving the room, her footsteps froze as she saw Nick move into the hallway. Dark circles haunted the underside of his reddened eyes. He looked like he hadn’t slept a sink last night.
Good, she thought bitterly, clenching her jaw.
He rubbed the back of his neck as he approached her. “You sleep well in your new room?”
“Like a champ,” she lied coolly as she sidestepped him, walking briskly toward the spiraling glass stairwell. She trotted down the steps, halting at the second to the last step as he said her name. Tallulah closed her eyes and took a deep breath before she turned halfway to confront him as he descended.
“The limo should be here any minute. Ride with me,” he offered.
“Actually, I was just going to take one of your cars. Plus, it would definitely give everyone the wrong impression if we shared a limo,” she rejected and took the last two steps, tossing over her shoulder, “Thanks for the offer though.”
Nick heaved a sigh. “Desiree.”
Tallulah swirled and held up a finger, snarling, “I don’t want to be anywhere near you more than absolutely necessary for the sake of our child and our jobs, Nicholas. But know that there’s nothing you can do to fix this. Accept that now.”
An impeccably dressed Aishwarya sauntered through the front door with a set of jiggling keys and a to-go cup of coffee, her Louboutin heels clicking against white marble floors.
“See you at work,” Tallulah then said and stalked away toward the nine-car garage.
After suffering through morning congestion on the infamous Los Angeles roadways and being granted access through the Artistically Extraordinary Film’s security gates, Tallulah parked the silvery Land Rover and took a shuttle van to the film location. The call sheet the Assistant Director sent out a few days ago said two particular scenes would be filmed today. Her character would have a scene with Ryland’s mother, Francine and a nighttime scene with Ryland and his love interest, Livvie.
The film location was in a Pacoima neighborhood. The entire block was blocked off on both ends. Trailers, semi-trucks, production crew members, and equipment clogged the street.
After stepping out the van and checking in with the other assistant director, some of us got in line at the catering truck. She settled for a breakfast burrito and hot coffee to give her the energy she needed to survive the day. A production assistant came up to her and ran through the day’s overall schedule and the list of scenes as she was led to the wardrobe department’s trailer. Her costume wasn’t anything impressive. Camille liked to express herself by wearing quirky scrubs and outrageous lipstick shades. So, for her first scene of the day, she was to wear Winne the Pooh scrubs and orthopedic shoes.
Then she was shooed off to the hair and makeup trailers to spend the next two hours there. Her hair was combed, brushed, blow-dried, flat-ironed, and sculpted into a beehive bun. During that time, a makeup artist worked on her face. Eugene Aaron wanted her to look raw, so there was no excessive amount of makeup. In fact, dark makeup was applied under her eyes to deepen her dark circles. Glittering honey lipstick coated her lips to apparently compliment her Winne the Pooh uniform. Sharp red push-on nails adorned her fingertips.
She gazed into the lit vanity mirror to scrutinize the final results, concealing her disappointment.
She had no clue playing a raw character meant looking like Hollywood’s opinion of what a hood chick looked like. The only thing she was missing was a gold tooth.
Finally, the production assistant escorted her to the set, which was inside an ordinary house. The film studio was coughing up 3-grand a day to use the house for 4 days. The homeowner was posted up at a four-star hotel at the heart of Downtown LA with no complaints.
It was a cozy home fit for a mother even though camera and lighting equipment and burly men took up half of the living space. The scene was to take place in the kitchen. Sarah, the production assistant, then handed her the script just as Oscar winner, two-time Tony recipient, and the director’s second but not last ex-wife Diane Gary, the actress to play Francine, entered the house with her makeup artist practically attached to her hip, dusting a makeup brush on the hollow of her cheek.
Even though Tallulah briefly interacted with the experienced actress during table reads, she couldn’t help but be absolutely starstruck by the woman’s presence.
It was Diane fucking Gary. An actress with over fifty films under her belt, an assload of accolades, and 44 years of experience in the acting game. She was brilliantly extraordinary in The Woman-King and acted her ass off in The Bankrobber’s Widow.
The two women stood at their marks, rehearsing their lines in correlation with Eugene’s guidance as he instructed all parties on how he wanted the scene to be blocked. Then they were set away to their own trailers while the stand-in actors were used as guinea pigs for the purpose of camera movement, perfecting the lighting, and sound.
During that time, Tallulah paced back and forth, running through the lines with her heart pounding violently in her throat. She would never forget herself if she fucked up in front of the likes of two icons such as Eugene Aaron and Diane Gary.
Do it for Veronica, Milo, and most importantly, yourself, Tallulah encouraged within the depths of her mind.
When the two actresses were called back to the shot and Eugene went over his performance notes before makeup artists did touch-ups on them, plucking toilet paper from their collars and running lint rollers over their costumes. Tallulah handed off her script to another production assistant who promptly scurried off set before she and Diane took place at their marks.
It took five hours to get to finally get to shooting her very first scene as a movie actress. A sense of exhilaration coursed through her bloodstream.
“Roll sound,” the assistant director shouted to the sound mixer and boom operators.
“Rolling,” echoed they echoed.
“Sound speeds,” yelled the sound guy.
The assistant cameras declared their readiness.
“Set,” announced the cinematographer.
Eugene leaned back in his director’s chair, bridging his fingers. “Action!”
Diane shuffled in her house slippers up to the kitchen window over the sink, pushing back the short floral curtains to peek outside.
“Mrs. Bridgeman,” Tallulah sighed as she walked up to the woman, gently placing a hand on the woman’s back. “You should be in bed.”
“I’m looking for someone,” Diane cooed softly.
“And who exactly are you looking for?”
Diane looked over her shoulder, her brow furrowing at the question. A ripple of emotions swept across her aging face. First, surprise then confusion then quiet sort of horror.
“I don’t…know,” she admitted, her focus growing distant. “I don’t remember. There’s just something inside me that keeps telling me that there’s someone missing.”
Tallulah guided the woman toward the kitchen table and encouraged her to sit down. “I think the person you’re looking for is Ryland.”
Diane cocked her head. “Ryland?”
“Yes,” she nodded. “Your son.”
Diane’s trembling hand went to her collarbone. “My son? I don—”
The older woman stopped herself short before she lowered her widening gaze. “Oh, yes. Ryland. My baby boy. I haven’t seen him in so long.”
“He was here yesterday, Mrs. B,” Tallulah said as she walked to a cabinet, retrieving a glass cup and moving to the sink, filling it with tap water. She approached her co-star with a sharp roll of her eyes, pursing her lips at the thought of Ryland. She offered Diane the glass and reached into her pants pocket for a button of sugar pills a props crew member handed to her, unscrewing the white cap and shaking out two pills. Extremely careful not to pop off one of her press-on nails.
The cylindrical boom mic shifted slightly over her head, but she didn’t play it any mind.
Diane crinkled her nose at the sight of the pills and took them. “Must I?”
“Doctor’s orders,” Tallulah said.
“More like your orders,” Diane grumbled before she tossed the sugar pills into her mouth and downed it with a gulp of water and a grimace.
She shrugged her shoulders and rounded the table, sitting down on the other side. “It’s my job to take care of you, Mrs. B.”
Diane frowned. “I’m worried about who will take care of my son.”
“Ryland can take care of himself,” Tallulah assured, propping her elbow on the table and her chin on a balled first. “He always does.”
Her gaze trailed off as if she were lost in thought—as if she worried about Ryland too. Suddenly, she cleared her throat and rose up from her seat, wanting to change the subject. “How about a game of Old Maid?”
“Is that your way of telling me I’m ancient?” Diane shot her soured look.
They re-shot several more times at length and to capture the characters’ interactions at different close-ups. There was still one more scheduled scene to be done and she dreaded what was to come.
As the house was being setup for the nighttime scene, Tallulah went to her trailer for some peace and quiet. It wasn’t very big like Nick’s, Diane’s, or Naomi’s, but she was extremely grateful to have one. However, it was another hour-and-half until she was due for wardrobe again and there was no need to practice her lines in the meanwhile. She knew them for this particular scene like the back of her hand. She attempted to use the opportunity to rest her eyes, but the moment she laid down on the trailer’s long couch, there was knocks on the door.
It was most likely an overworked PA sent to deliver a message or a command.
She groaned in frustration as she got off the couch and went to the door, opening it.
“Ye—” The words died in her throat as Nick stood on her trailer’s steps. In the background, crew members scurried about with their tasks. All viable witnesses if she dared to tell the Nick Bryant to rot in hell and slam the door in his face.
She clenched her jaw and arched an eyebrow. “Yes?”
“You mind if I come in?”
“Do I mind? Yes. Do I have a choice? No,” she said for his ears only, stepping to the side. He came in.
She pursed her lips. “To what do I owe the pleasure?”
“I heard your first takes were very impressive,” he informed.
“And who told you that?”
Her eyebrows shot up. “Seriously?”
They spoke very little in between takes. She didn’t want to make a rookie mistake by trying to initiate silly small talk with one of the industry’s greats.
“She likes you. An impressive feat in itself considering Diane Gary doesn’t like very many people,” he stated.
“That’s a confidence booster,” she confessed, a rush of relief washing over her.
“Like I told you last night at the arcade, Desiree. When you act, you outshine everyone.”
She narrowed her eyes. “Let’s be real, Nicholas. That’s not the only thing you told me last night.”
“Yes,” he agreed, “and there’s still a lot more to be discussed between us. Things you need to know.”
“If it’s to tell me your compelling drug-muling saga, I think I’ll pass. Now, if you excuse me, I was in the middle of preparing for the next scene,” she said as she jerked back the trailer’s door handle to open the door, gesturing for him to get the fuck out. “See you on set.”
He went to her, towering over her. His intense blue eyes reflected the words his mouth wouldn’t say. This is far from over. She gulped, but stood her ground. He strode down her trailer’s steps, casting her a final look that rose goosebumps. She sealed herself inside her trailer once more, pressing her back against the door.
After switching into her next costume at wardrobe, she was escorted to hair and makeup by a production assistant. Her red press-on nails were plucked off and replaced with black ones. Her beehive was freshened up and her makeup was touched up. She stiffened in the salon chair as the one and only Naomi Barrett sauntered into the trailer with a stone-faced male personal assistant and a little army of production assistants to do her bidding.
Almost immediately, the head hairdresser and head makeup artist delegated the finishing touches to their assistants before they scuttled over her.
The gorgeous redhead plopped down into her salon and whined dramatically, “Where’s my fucking chia tea?”
“Here, Ms. Barrett,” a PA responded with a quiver, offering her a to-go cup.
Naomi took it and took a ginger sip before she spat it out. “Oh my god! This shit’s terrible. It’s lukewarm and too way sweet.”
She shoved the cup back into that PA’s hands. “Go get me another now.”
The PA fumbled with the cup and nodded, beelining out of the trailer to fulfill the actress’s demand.
“How hard is it to get a tea order right? It’s not rocket science,” she huffed. Her audience voiced their agreements, shaking their heads at the PA’s blunder. Naomi flicked her wrist at them dismissively and told them to go away. The only one who stayed behind was her own assistant who scribbled down her commands.
“Tell Alejandro that I need him to hurry the fuck up with my couture dress. Call Harry Winston to send over some loaners that I can pick from. Confirm the reservation at Lush and send over what I want on the menu. Be sure to remind them that I want the entire rooftop dining area. Everything has to be perfect.”
“Leave it to me, Ms. Barrett,” her personal assistant guaranteed.
The hairdresser and makeup artists swarmed the redhead, working on her.
The hairdresser asked teasingly, “Celebrating something else?”
“Yes, a reunion,” Naomi admitted with a brilliant smile.
“This doesn’t have to do with a certain sexy co-star, does it?”
Naomi laughed, blushing. “Is it that obvious?”
The makeup artist gasped loudly. “You and Nick are back together?”
Before she could stop herself, Tallulah jerked her attention to the redhead. The makeup assistant turned her chin to where it needed to be.
“We will be. He just doesn’t know it yet,” she said, ruffling her luscious tresses as she examined herself in the vanity mirror. “He can never resist my charms.”
“He’d be a fool not to,” the hairdresser commented.
Naomi shrugged. “We’re just addicted to each other, you know? I know it’s unhealthy, but loving Nick Bryant is like snorting coke. You can’t get enough of him.”
Tallulah clenched her jaw at the comparison.
“All done,” the makeup assistant told Tallulah.
Naomi’s blue eyes looked upon her, placing a hand on her chest as if she were ashamed. “Oh, I didn’t see you there, Tabby. You were as quiet as a mouse! I hope we didn’t bother you with all this silly gossip.”
Tallulah smiled warmly even though Naomi still couldn’t remember her damn stage name. “No, not at all. In fact, I just couldn’t help but overhear your conversation. I wish you the best of luck on your date. Reunions aren't always easy, but I don't think you have anything to worry about.”
“Aw, that’s so sweet of you say.”
Then she excused herself and escaped the trailer, stepping into the night air. The PA responsible for Naomi’s tea hurried by, shot out an ‘excuse me’ as she rushed past Tallulah and made her way inside with a mouthful of frantic apologies.
Naomi snarled, “Where the fuck have you been?”
Your little girlfriend is a match made in heaven for you, Nicholas, Tallulah thought bitterly as she marched away.
But why she want to raise hell about it?
Researching about actors and film production was so much fun! I learned a lot when writing this chapter. Adding pictures for some of the cast so far in the link below.
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