“Mr. Stanley, our scriptwriter has come down with writer’s block.”
George Stanley scratched at the wry white and silver hairs that stuck out on the back of his head. “But it’s a computer. Shouldn’t you get a programmer?”
Across from him, the film executive hunched forward. George used to have a gift for reading people, back when he was a full time screen-writer, but nowadays he spent all his time reading the classics for the fifth or tenth time and devoting all his creative energy to imagined internal monologues, leaving the executive’s bleary eyed stare a mystery to George.
The executive said, “We’ve tried the best programmers. They say the code is all working fine. Not a single bug.”
“But it just won’t write?”
The executive sighed. “Let me show you.” He swiveled in his chair and clicked on the wall screen. “First thing we do, is generate concepts. The program can generate ten million story concepts per minute. We have those posted to twitter and people can like the ones that appeal the most. Basically the masses up-vote what we’re going to make.”
“Yeah, yeah. I know all this. It was hot stuff thirty years ago. You guys pick a concept and the computer writes ten drafts a minute.” George crossed his arms. He knew about as much as anyone on the outside knew about the amazing script-writing computer—it had put him out of a job after all.
“There are a few options we can set, leading man and tone, etc, but basically yes.” The executive clicked through some drop down boxes and selected the cast for the film that would be generated. When the executive turned back, George looked closer at the man and saw his eyes were bloodshot and his cheeks a little puffy under the eyes.
“Well, every time we hit generate, the computer stalls out somewhere in the script.” The executive hit a button. The script finished at one hundred and fifteen pages. The last three lines on the script page were:
It’s been stuck in my head, this one
question…what are we doing here?
“Every script ends the same way. Sometimes on page six. Sometimes on page three hundred.” The executive threw his hands wide in exasperation.
“Always the same character?” George asked.
“Yes. Always this Cid figure. Sometimes Cid is a man, sometimes a woman, sometimes old, sometimes young, but the name is always the same.”
George rubbed his thumb and forefinger along his smooth shaved jaw and regretted having shaved for this meeting. The feel of stubble under his fingertips had always helped him solve complex story problems. He had only shaved because it was his first invitation to a Hollywood studio in thirty years.
“Well, it sounds like he’s asking a non-formulaic question.” George shrugged.
“What’s that mean?”
“Your films. They’re all formulaic right? Some everyman—or everywoman—has a unique trait that the climax of the film hinges on. Along the way they pick up a group of buddies who help them out. Your problem is the character is asking a universal question.”
“Uh…” The executive didn’t appear to be following.
“Everyone wants to know the meaning of life. So your computer can’t solve the problem.” George leaned back in his chair and crossed his arms feeling suddenly very smug.
“The meaning of life? Are you shitting me?”
“You said every script ends the same way. I think you computer is trying to work through something. But you guys already figured that out. That’s why you called me in.”
The executive squinted.
“I’m the last living human to win an Oscar for best screenplay and you think I can write the next line and get the computer working again.”
The executive steepled his fingers. “Can you?”
“How many people have tried to write the next line so far?”
The executive drummed his steepled fingertips. “I’ve lost count. The computer rejects them all. We tried obvious answers from the script like save the princess, or kill the robot. Meta stuff: people need entertainment, to make money, yada, yada. We had philosophers come in and put in answers. Religious leaders. Heck, we even tried a shrink. Nothing works. The computer just sits there waiting.”
“I’m a little hurt it took so long to call me.” George snugged his crossed arms tighter to his chest.
“Can you do it?”
“I want residuals.”
“What?” The executive’s steepled fingers collapsed to an interlocking grip.
“A tenth of a point.”
“No way. One-fiftieth of a point.”
“Fine. In writing.”
The executive grumbled and had legal draw up the documents. After they were thumbprint verified, George took the wireless keyboard from the executive and typed in one line of dialog:
Writing. To prove we exist.
“A little formulaic, don’t you think?” the executive asked.
George shrugged as the computer screen changed to display several completed script treatments.
K.R. Horton is hard at work on a couple of action packed SF/Fantasy novels.