“Where’s the old one?”
“He died last week.”
“Died? He can’t die! He’s been the talking head for these commercials for years!”
The goon shrugged and jerked a thumb at the cage of elves behind him. “I’m paid to take ‘em from the factory, bus them to this stupid tree, and take them back when you’re done shooting your commercial. If the one you wanted is dead, it’s no skin off my nose.”
The producer glared up at the goon, who looked disinterestedly back down at him. Then, “Gladys!” he yelled, “bring me a latte. Let’s see what we can do with what we’ve got.”
“Gladys, take a note. Gladys!” The producer looked around angrily. “Gladys!” The harassed woman, a foot taller than him due to both natural height and spike heels, tottered up.
“Your latte, Mr. Ashkenazy.”
“Right. Take a note, and hurry. We’ve got to roll in thirty minutes.” Simon Ashkenazy squinted into the cage where the short figures in grey fatigues drooped, asleep or staring blankly before them. “Okay, the fat one has scars all over his face. He’s no use. That thin one’s missing teeth. Make sure he doesn’t open his mouth. The one with the missing ear needs a hood, not a hat.” He glared at the elves. “Can any of you little shits talk?”
None of them responded. He kicked the cage. It didn’t help.
“Okay, it will have to be a panning shot across the factory tree. Get some of the boys to track them out of frame with electric caddle prods. Tell Buddy the standard green uniforms, plus that one hood. The rest of them have at least one good side.” He took a sip of the latte and spat it out. “What is this? Cow piss?”
“It’s the latte from the set cantine, Mr. Ashkenazy.”
“I don’t drink that stuff. I never drink that stuff! I’ve got my own machine in my trailer outside. Use that. No, scratch that, I don’t want you in my trailer. Now, come on. The director will have our balls if we don’t get the elves on set on schedule.” He hurried off. Gladys spared a glance at the elves before following. Poor things, she thought, but I have my own problems right now.
Julien Dubois had labored his whole life under the misfortune a French sounding name paired with jet black skin and a Bronx accent. His morning had begun with a meeting with the head of the marketing department. “Get the photage to the editing suite today, Dubois. The bosses want this new campaign ready for the Thanksgiving buildup.” Then sitting back in his chair, the odious man had added, “Must be kind of fun for you working with the little buggers, huh? Like being on the right side of the whip for a change?” Dubois did not bother to inform the man again that his family had never been slaves, had joined the British Navy, been captured and pressed by the French, lived in Paris, emigrated to New York, and had never been anything but free men.
However, by the time he arrived on set at the old factory tree, his mood was shot. The little devils always looked miserable, but so was he.
“Alright, Simon,” he said as the producer approached him. “Are we ready?”
“Yeah, though they’re getting worse all the time. Half of them needed serious makeup to make them presentable, and the other half you can’t take a reliable face shot of.”
“They really do look terrible,” the woman in heels behind Ashkenazy added.
Both men stared at her until she looked down in embarassment.
“Do you think you could get one of them to smile into the camera?”
“Dunno. Maybe with enough perkiset. I’ve got a stash, so why don’t you do any long shots you want, and I’ll try dosing one of them in the back.” At Dubois’s nod, he turned and shouted, “Okay, bring on the elves.”
They stumbled onto the set, arrayed in little jackets and trousers, bonnets perched on their heads, except for the one with the big scars on his face, who was wearing a hastily sewn hood. Dubois winced at the sight of it. “Make a note for the editing studio to airbrush that hood,” he said to Ashkenazy.
“Alright, you lot, onto the assembly line, and look cheerful. We’ll pan down their back along the length of the factory. And get one of them to carry some cookie boxes that way,” Dubois called, gesturing. The elves were prodded into place by their handlers. The fake conveyers of the assembly line were turned on, and the elves desultorily prodded at the boxes that trundled past them.
In the past, their drooping posture, their lack of enthusiasm, had been a problem. The costumes department had managed to hide that with the cut of the coats, so now they looked like a bunch of industrious, cheerily dressed elves. Except…
“Cut!” Dubois shouted. “Makeup! That one’s got scars showing. Come on, people, hustle, or we’ll be here all day.” The makeup artist rushed to the elf, and splotched paint on its cheek while its handler held the struggling creature’s head still.
“All done? Okay, everyone, places.” They ran the shot again, this time without trouble. “Just think,” Dubois said to his aide. “These guys used to actually make cookies in this tree. Mind you, as soon as they were bought out, it was all moved to a modern factory. Cut!” He needn’t have bothered. Everything had ceased as one of the elves collapsed across the conveyer. Its handler stepped in and dragged it off to the side.
“Aren’t they going to do something for it?” Gladys whispered to Simon Ashkenazy as the elf was unceremoniously dumped in the corner of the set.
“Oh, the other elves will see to it when they get back to the factory. We’ve got work to do here, honey.” The pair had reentered the set just in time to see the collapse. “I’ve got the smiler for you!” he called.
“Put him in at the end. I want a long pan, then zooming in as he turns and smiles at the camera.” Dubois took a look at the grinning, pale thing Ashkenazy was carrying. “Makeup, rouge that elf.”
The elf was duly rouged and shoved into place. One of the handlers was detailed to turn it, and the timing practiced once. Then they rolled again. Another elf collapsed, but Dubois didn’t call cut. “That might have been off screen by then,” he muttered to his aide. The cameraman zoomed. The handler smoothly turned the drugged elf, who smiled placidly all the while. “Cut!” he called. “Mary, was that collapse off screen?”
“Yes,” the camerawoman called back.
“Okay, we’re good. Get those elves off set and we’ll get on with the rest of the film.”
The handlers shoved their charges back to their cage. The collapsed elf was unceremoniously tossed in with them. The fat one began to sniffle. The goon slammed the door to the cage and wheeled them out. Ashkenazy heaved a sigh of relief.
“The little shits always give me the creeps,” he told Gladys. “I mean, why do they have to look so put upon? They should be grateful they’ve got a stable job.”
“Simon, do we still have the stock shots of the exterior from last time?” Dubois bellowed. “This has to be to the editing studio by tonight.”