Howard the Filmmaker

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So this guy came up to me as I was leaving work and he said, My name is Howard Blah Blah Blah and I’m a filmmaker and I’d like you to be in my new film, and I said, Do I look like I was born yesterday? Granted it probably wasn’t the best response I could have come up with considering I was twenty-four and I probably did look like I was born a lot more recently than that guy, anyway. I don’t know if he thought I was from Iowa or what, my parents were born there, it’s not a total stretch, but I’m a New Yorker, and creepy guys have been coming up to me on the street since I was about eight, and I’ll tell you right now I would probably have said the same thing then. Ha.


    So where was I. The filmmaker went on to tell me that he was in fact totally legitimate (his word) and handed me a piece of paper with his number and said he guaranteed that the video store I just walked out of would have half a dozen of his films. Already I knew by the way he kept using the word film about every nine seconds that he somehow thought that being a filmmaker entitled him to also be a pervert.
    So anyway, I took his number, and he kept talking, and I was standing there like, uh huh, not saying much but trying to give him a look that said, “You don’t really think I’m that stupid,” while simultaneously, you know, not walking away. I wasn’t an actress. Well, I had thought about it briefly during a rough spot in college. And I do impressions of people, but not for a career. Actually, I was working in the video store. The filmmaker kept talking and inbetween elaborating on his legitimacy as a filmmaker he made a point of nodding at my limited responses with his eyelids open really wide undoubtedly to convey his sensitive listening skills but which really only made him look like he just put in eyedrops. So he got in a cab and I went back into the store and looked him up on the computer and it turned out that although he was not a porn director, which is frankly what he looked like to me, not that I’d ever seen a porn director, but if I were to come up with my best guess about what a porn director looked like, it could easily be a fat bald guy with a big scar on one eyelid that makes him look like he’s perpetually leering, which I’m going to guess was fitting in his case, anyway, I looked him up and there were a whole bunch of movies listed there, not in the porn section, none of which I’d ever seen although I did remember hearing of a couple of them.

"And what did you think of the part where he’s rubbing his penis against her ass crack?"

    So I took home Wolf Diaries and The Addict and as it turned out I have to amend my comment about him not being a porn director because frankly, there were sex scenes in both those films that were so vile I thought about telling my boss to put them in the back of the store. And both of them featured this Howard guy which trust me is not something you should ever have to pay money to see. It became pretty clear, watching these films, that Howard the filmmaker was both the wolf and the addict, and that he should also make a movie called Denial because the wolf and the addict are both played by the same very handsome quirky actor who in no way resembled Howard the filmmaker. There are also sex scenes aplenty featuring the handsome quirky actor which aren’t any more palatable just because the actors are better-looking. There’s not an awful lot of dialogue, and I haven’t seen a lot of porn but it seemed like only the most marginal step up. These people were talking about their feelings and that sort of thing, as opposed to describing their boners or whatever, but really it still seemed like filler between the sex scenes. But both the movies are cut in such a way as to give the appearance of making some artistic statement, and you just know Howard the filmmaker was simultaneously going to people, Hey, look at me, look what I did with the lighting, while thinking to himself, That actress looks really hot with my dick up her ass. Which, trust me, she really doesn’t.
    Nevertheless I was possessed to call him for reasons I can’t entirely explain, although when he asked, I couldn’t really bring myself to make any comment about his work that wouldn’t be completely rude, and he told me to meet him at the Pierre for lunch. I don’t know what I was thinking, really. At that point, I was pretty much thinking “lunch.” I don’t really eat at places like the Pierre on a regular basis. I tried to find something in my closet that someone would wear to the Pierre for lunch, which ended up being the itchy skirt from a wool suit that my mother had bought me for interviews that I never went on and a pink and gray sweater that had a lot of pills at that point and I ended up looking like, I don’t know what, someone who was neither me nor someone who goes to the Pierre for lunch. I got there and he waved me over while he was talking on a telephone someone had obviously brought over (which I gathered from the inane conversation was solely for the purpose of indicating to me that supposedly important filmmakers take calls on phones that people bring over) and he was seriously saying to the person, And what did you think of the part where he’s rubbing his penis against her ass crack? Those were his actual words, he said ass crack like that right in front of me. Did you find that believable? he went on, Did you find that to be arousing? And disturbing, good, good…, and then he covered the phone and said to me, I’ll be done in a second, and then finished up his conversation about whoever’s penis and ass crack as though he was talking about some cereal he had for breakfast or something. Then he told me to order whatever I wanted so I ordered filet mignon and then he took another penis call and finally got off the phone for a full two minutes so he could tell me this long involved story about the wild life he’d led back in the seventies living with some quarterback and having big druggy sex parties all the time which I gathered anyone present was invited to participate in and I was sitting there nodding not enjoying my filet mignon as much as I could thinking of him in an orgy while also trying to act as unshocked as possible because it seemed obvious to me that that’s what he was looking for. Either that or you know, Whoop de do, let’s go get a room. So then he took another phone call and this time he got up from the table and carried the phone away with him while he was talking like he had something more private to say than ass crack and didn’t come back until I was almost finished with this very tall chocolate raspberry dessert and he said, So what did you think of that story I told you? To which I said, You know, I’m not an actress, and therefore I am not interested in having sex with you. Just like that, I said that, I really did. And he said, Oh, no, that’s cool, sometimes it happens, sometimes it doesn’t, I’m just really looking for someone who understands the work, someone who… you just strike me as having the intelligence that this character needs.

It’s a very nice fantasy coming from a sex addict.

And then he told me that the same quirky actor I happened to love would be my co-star. So then he’s mind-fucking me, right, both because who wouldn’t want to co-star with that guy and also because he must have perceived, somehow, that this was my weak spot, people thinking I’m stupid. Which I’m not. I didn’t go to Harvard like Howard the filmmaker, who at age like, fifty or whatever he is, managed to remind me about six times that he went to Harvard while I was just thinking, man, you were in the class of ’47 or something, give it a fucking rest. I work in a video store. Someone says he wants to put me in a movie who actually makes movies, even if they are bad, you know, fine, put me in a movie. Anything would have been better than alphabetizing gay porn. So he gave me a script and told me he wanted me to read for the part of Angeline but if I was more compelled by another character he’d love to see what I did with that too.
    So I went home and the script was seriously about this good-looking young filmmaker, it was actually called Henry The Filmmaker, just in case old Howard hadn’t said that word enough times, who’s kind of hypersexed but of course really wants true love, and he goes around trying to seduce all these women he sees on the street, while at the same time also pursuing the elusive one he really cares about, who of course does have sex with him but that detached kind of sex where she’s not emotionally involved with him at all which in my opinion was the real fantasy of Howard the filmmaker. And of course there’s the obligatory cameo in which old Howard, something of a mentor to his younger alter ego, has sex with a young novice in a church basement while Henry looks on taking notes or jerking off or something. What that has to do with filmmaking I’m not sure. The only thing that’s even a little bit believable about this movie is that the young filmmaker is considerably more handsome than Howard the old fat bald filmmaker and therefore you could see where maybe one or two random women might ever want to have sex with him who only just met him on the street. Otherwise it veers off into some weird netherworld where the woman has this compulsive gambling problem even though by day she’s a prim schoolteacher and she gets deeper and deeper into the debt of the gambling problem until eventually the young filmmaker is the only person who can possibly help her or relate to her because he obviously has this compulsion of his own, but then it’s still kind of a thing where in the end even though she’s shed a very dramatic tear out of her left eye she’s still kind of detached which allows Henry the filmmaker to be left kind of perpetually pursuing her which again is a very nice fantasy coming from a sex addict. He kind of gets to have it both ways.
    Anyway there were all these small parts, and the one he wanted me to read for, Angeline, is this novice who the old wise filmmaker has some really nasty sex with, to which I said one more time, I’m not an actress. I didn’t need to do shit like that for my art. I had no art. So I called him up and told him so, and I was thinking I could write a better script than that in my sleep, but since the last thing I’d written was a fuck-off letter to my last boyfriend a year before, I said, I’ll read for the part of Marie, this woman on a bus in a fur coat who tells the young filmmaker to go fuck himself after he asks if he can stick his fingers inside her fur. So he said, That’s fine, meet me in the lobby of the Pierre at 11:00. At night.

“I’m not an actress, I’m not going to sleep with you for a something I truly don’t care about.”

     I have no explanation for why I went except I wasn’t the least bit worried that I couldn’t kick his own ass crack if I needed to. But then I got there and he said, Come up to my room, and I was like, one more time, I’m not an actress, I’m not going to sleep with you for something I truly don’t care about. Which I realize now might have given him the impression that I would have fucked him if he’d had something to offer that I did care about. I didn’t say it right, but thankfully he didn’t come up with a counter offer, he just said, That’s fine, I really think you have an interesting quality that would translate well on film, and I was just like, alright already, let’s get this over with, and we went up to this huge suite and he read the part of the young filmmaker and said his icky line which truly wasn’t even necessary at that point in order for me to find the motivation to tell him to fuck off, and he took a meaningful deep breath, trying to show me how impressed he was with my natural acting talent. He said, That was really powerful. And I just thought, oh please. Even though I know I was kind of convincing, he would have said that no matter what I did. So anyway then he said some stuff about financing and locations and dropped some names and said they were just in the early stages but he’d get in touch with me when they were ready to go into production even though he hadn’t taken my number and I didn’t really want to give it to him anyway. I figured he knew where I worked and he could find me if he wanted to.
     So then a year went by and I didn’t hear from him which was no big surprise although I did see him in front of the OTB a couple of times looking at racing forms but I always crossed the street before he saw me. Then one day he came into the video store with a bunch of people and I said hi like he was just another customer and he looked at me like he knew me and was wondering if he’d had sex with me but he wasn’t exactly sure and so finally I said, I read for the woman in the fur coat, and he said Right, right, well we’re just scouting locations for a different film now, that project you read is in turnaround but I definitely still want you and in the meantime this new film is a documentary I’m sure you’d be fantastic in. At that point I was just thinking, don’t say turnaround to me, and he still didn’t take my number but about a week later I saw him in front of the OTB and it was too late to cross the street and he said, Come up to my apartment right now I want to show you some of the footage we’ve got on the documentary, and I said, That’s okay, and he said, I live right around the corner, I really want your opinion, and I was just like, Why? and he said he could tell that I saw things that everyone didn’t see and I just wanted to go, So then you know that I see that you’re full of shit, right? but apparently I was worried about offending him, so I said, I have to be somewhere in a half hour (which I really didn’t), and he said, That’s fine, and I realized from the bizarre half-formed grin on his face that he probably wanted to say he could do it six times in a half hour but for some reason decided to restrain himself. So I went up to his apartment and thankfully there was a housekeeper there and he put a tape in the VCR and it was basically just him interviewing all different kinds of people about sex, pretty much anything they felt like saying about sex or if they happened to feel like engaging in sex with him while the camera continued to roll. I watched a segment in which he asks this one woman if she shaves her pubic hair and she says that she does and he asks her why she does that and she says she thinks it’s erotic or something and he says to her casually but all Mr. Intellectual Feminist Prick, So you don’t find that to be an insult to your womanhood, like it’s this important opinion he heard someone say but you could tell he couldn’t give a shit one way or another and sure enough in the next second he tells her exactly what he wants to do to her clean-shaven pussy and when it looks like she’s about to let him I was just like, okay, Gotta go, and he said,

"Carmela didn’t think so when she was masturbating me in my bed last night."

Did that make you uncomfortable? and I said, If you mean by uncomfortable did it make me feel like I might throw up, then yes, and he said, So if I told you right here, right now what I wanted to do to you would that make you uncomfortable? and as his fat hand came toward my face as though there was any chance that he perceived some kind of agreement on my part which wasn’t there, I pushed it away from me and I said, I am not interested in you, and he said, Not even a little? You came up here, and I said, Get away from me, you’re hideous, which he is, and he said, Well Carmela didn’t think so when she was masturbating me in my bed last night, isn’t that right, Carmela? he said in the direction of the housekeeper who nodded but who obviously didn’t speak enough English to dispute his claim and who couldn’t possibly have been doing anything the night before other than praying to the Lord Jesus to save her fat-assed fucking perverted boss from the depths of hell. Then I slammed the door behind me without saying goodbye.
    I’m not an actress, I already said that. It was naïve of me to think that this guy would give me a part based on my having an intelligent quality and probably he wouldn’t have given me a part even if I did have sex with him. But I’m a little bit older now, and I really don’t want to work in a video store for the rest of my life as you can well imagine, who would, and my friends all seem to agree that my impressions are totally right on. So I think I’m going to go spend a little time in Hollywood and see what happens. Howard the filmmaker said I could use his name. 

To buy Elizabeth Crane’s story collection,
When the Messenger Is Hot

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©2003 Elizabeth Crane and

Elizabeth Crane‘s work has been featured in publications including The Sycamore Review, Washington Square, New York Stories, Book and the Chicago Reader. She is the winner of the Chicago Public Library’s 21st Century Award. Her debut story collection, When the Messenger Is Hot, was published by Little, Brown in January 2003. Her second collection is due in 2005. A New York City native, she now lives in Chicago.