Avery: So, Mr. Jenkins, you said you had a horror movie pitch for me?
Jenkins: Yes Mr. Avery. I’ve been working on it for some time. Three years, actually.
Avery: And you do realize that you’re not going to get a large budget for this film if we make it?
Jenkins: Oh, I very much understand Mr. Avery. I’ve structured the story so you won’t have any large set pieces.
Avery: Splendid, splendid. Let’s have it.
Jenkins: Okay. So, we’re in a room. There’s a man in there. And he’s in a chair. There’s a half-drunk bottle of whiskey in his hand. No cup. Maybe have some ominous music. Then there’s a scratching sound. It’s very clearly coming from above him. We cut to his eyes, looking up. Now an overhead shot looking down on him as he’s looking up.
Jenkins: Here’s the best part. The camera goes up above the ceiling into the attic, and we see a chipmunk running around, chewing on acorns it’s collected.
Jenkins: Then we cut back to the man sitting in the chair. He takes a drink of his whiskey, and we hear a voiceover: “She’s dead. I killed her.”
Avery: (nodding). I’m with you now. Keep going.
Jenkins: He gets up from his chair and walks over to the window. It’s a bright and sunny day out. Maybe a few clouds shaped like farm animals. I’m torn between cows and pregnant goats. I can work it out in a focus group. But anyway, we cut to his face, and we gradually see his face become a mask of terror. He brings his hands to his head like he has a terrible headache. The bottle of whiskey falls to the ground and shatters. We cut to his wife getting out of the car, holding bags of fast food.
Avery: So it’s a ghost story?
Jenkins: (confused) No. It’s his real wife coming home with fast food.
Avery: And this scares him because…
Jenkins: Come on Mr. Avery. Everyone knows fast food is bad for you. He’s afraid that if he keeps eating a steady diet of this, he’s going to have a heart attack in several years.
Avery: Yes, um, but the thing about horror is that you tend to want it to happen in the movie itself. Are you going to cut to several years in the future to when he has the heart attack?
Jenkins: Of course not! We want to end the movie way before that. We want the audience wondering if he’s going to have a heart attack. We want the audience to be scared well after the movie is over.
Avery: And fast food is your ace in the hole? That’s the horror story?
Jenkins: Nope! There’s a bait and switch. We’re going to find out that there’s a lot more going on.
Avery: Let’s have it.
Jenkins: We’ll have a slow motion shot of his wife handing him the fast food when he comes downstairs to the kitchen. Lots of scary music, like The Shining if you can buy the rights. Or Death Wish 4. Whichever’s cheaper. It’s a hamburger, with extra cheese. So he’s really scared at this point. His wife is smiling like this is nothing. We cut to his hands shaking as he picks up the burger. He takes it to his mouth. Bites it, and there’s that moment of intense agony when we cut to his eyes as he begins to chew. It seems like everything is fine, but then he starts choking. He spits out the burger, and we see it’s a bunch of chewed up acorns.
Jenkins: I know, right? But his wife will act like she hasn’t noticed. There will be little bits of brown fur mixed in with the acorns too.
Avery: I’m not sure I’m following you.
Jenkins: The whole movie, he’s going to be seeing acorns and brown fur. It’ll be a like a visual motif or something. I read about that in this book once. Good movies always have motifs. Like Saving Private Ryan has the motif of people getting shot a lot.
Avery: But acorns and fur…
Jenkins: That’s the brilliant part. Remember at the beginning when he looks up and we see the chipmunk running around in his attic?
Jenkins: Well, he’s going to go outside toward the end of the movie, and he’ll see this chipmunk. And this will trigger a flashback. He’s driving to work, and we cut to a slow motion shot of a chipmunk on the side of the road, deciding if it wants to cross or not. Close up of the chipmunk’s eyes as it decides to make a dash. It runs into the road, all slow motion of course. Lots of Sam Peckinpah-style slow motion. We cut to the man’s face, and he’s texting while driving. He looks up, and he swerves to miss the chipmunk. Close up of the terrified chipmunk. Slow motion shot of the chipmunk getting flattened by the car. Maybe throw in that scary noise Spielberg used after the shark blows up in Jaws.
Avery: So he’s haunted by a ghost chipmunk.
Jenkins: Exactly. So you thought the movie was about him dying of a heart attack. Which still might happen after the movie’s over. But is it because of fast food, or because of the chipmunk that haunts him? You gotta leave the audience with that in their heads. I read that combining two ideas always leads to a great story.
Avery: What are you calling this movie of yours?
Jenkins: Nutty. Alfred Hitchcock said that one-word titles stick better with people. But it’s a pun, you see? Like the acorns are nuts, but then the main character is going nuts. Word play indicates high brain functioning. I read that once.
Avery: And that’s the whole story?
Jenkins: Yeah. I really wanted to subvert expectations. No one will expect a horror movie about fast food and chipmunk hauntings. There are literally no other movies that do that. It’s a guaranteed hit. And you’re always saying how we don’t have any original movies.
Avery: I didn’t become head of this studio by greenlighting mindless trash concocted by equally mindless idiots. I was having a mediocre day up until now, hoping it wouldn’t get worse. Then you came in with this horror story…My God, it’s brilliant. I’ll give you fifty million dollars to make it. You know what? Get some ideas for a sequel. Maybe involve a ghost mole or something like that. A blind mole ghost that haunts a guy who ran it over with his lawnmower. There are so many ghost hauntings we could use. Tell you what Jenkins, you’re promoted. We’ve got a franchise on our hands.
Jenkins: Thank you sir. I had this other idea of an old guy that gets stuck in his recliner for two hours. And—
Avery: One brilliance at a time, Jenkins. Thank God we have intelligent people like me greenlighting movies. Who knows what kind of crap would get made otherwise?