First Cut by Sandra Alex

Chapter 1

Darrell

“Asshole.” I seethe as I unceremoniously engage the metal lock on the front door. It gives with ease, causing a pleasing clunk that matches the sound I’d like to hear if I ever punched that idiot in the face. The idiot is Max, the lead singer for the band ‘Swivel’ that was just here, slamming me for the video editing job I did on their latest work. They give me shit footage I give them shit output. That’s all there is to it. The videography was well done, but the premise of the video was so goddamn dry and flat, no amount of editing could fix it.

It’s sad, because the song is great, and thank God for that, because the video absolutely sucks. Nothing but Max and his narcissistic smile, pretentious and overly revealing clothing, wagging all but his cock on the screen while the rest of the band members play in the background, with downturned faces, as if avoiding watching the charade. This isn’t the first video I’ve edited for ‘Swivel’, but it will certainly be the last. Not to mention, Max is rude, insincere, and he tried to cop a feel of my ass when I bent down to adjust the phone cord while taking a call.

These MTV jerks will take the video for what it is, insult my technical and artistic abilities, and post the video, warts and all, just because it’ll get them screen time and ratings. Sure, female fans will love it, but none of the real fans will. They’ll see it as selling out. The song ‘Baby’ is about true love and Hemmy, the guitarist, who’s sadly only given co-writing credit for this tune, did a damn good job, but it’s ruined by the shallow and inappropriate video. So much more could have been accomplished with this, and I’ve seen it done with less powerful ballads.

Max demanded that I have the video edited in record time, and he showed up personally, to review it with me and the band, forcing me to work serious overtime and even skip head-to-pillow time last night to finish it. Plus, he called me in the middle of the night, ordering me to have the video ready before the goddamn sun rose this morning, so he and the band could look at it after an all-nighter of performing and partying. The Los Angeles area where my office is…is shady. I’m not a fan of being here alone late at night, or early in the morning, but that doesn’t matter to a rock star who has round-the-clock security.

…I have a can of mace….and a double set of bolt locks on the front door.

I spent the last two hours going through this damn thing with him, while the rest of them either napped on the couches in the waiting room, or snorted coke out back, trying to stay awake while they waited for Max to tear me a new one. As I draw in a deep breath, trying to cleanse the unpleasant experience from myself, I look at the round-faced clock nailed to the wall behind the main desk, and realize that the sun is up, and the other band that I booked this morning, should be here any minute.

Their manager called me a few weeks ago to set up this meeting. I’ve never met this band before, but I’ve heard that their first single is climbing the charts. ‘Brave Face’ is an up-and-coming band, and I hope that the industry hasn’t clouded their egos yet, but it’s a futile hope. The footage that was couriered to me is well put together and clean, so it was relatively easy to do demos for them. With my newly designed digital equipment, I can all but recreate scenes in the footage, as long as the raw material isn’t half-assed or poorly directed.

Eyes burning from exhaustion, I walk over to the desk and begin setting up to present the demos to the band, and I see the message I left for myself last night, to call my boss this morning. You want to talk about assholes? Brian Banff, the owner of this production company, he’s a class act. He’s off in Mexico, on yet another vacation, and he expects me to keep him abreast of all the bands we sign on while he basks in the South American sunlight. Worst of it all, is that he makes me lie and tell clients that he’s expected in shortly, so they’re none the wiser. The call can wait. Better to have everything set up when a band arrives, in case they’re either strung out, pissed off and short-tempered, or so beat from performing that they can’t put a sentence together without effort.

The tap at the front door interrupts me turning the overhead televisions on. I place the remote on the desk and trot over to the front door, where four solemn faces appear, like lost puppies in a pound. As I turn the lock, one of the band members is watching me from the corner of his eye, almost as if trying to figure out what I’m doing. I open the door and step back. “Morning. Sorry, guys…shady neighborhood…and I’m here alone.”

“No problem.” the guy who was watching me says.

“I’m Darrell.” I say by way of introduction.

“We were told that we had to ask for Brian Banff?” Same guy says, holding his hand out for me to shake. “I’m Randy, the guitarist.” He points at his other band members. “This is Wade, our lead singer, Corey, our drummer, and Gordon, our bassist.”

I shake everyone’s hands, offering perfunctory smiles. They mirror my expression, almost seeming shy, and then I address Randy’s question. “Err…Brian will be here later. He’s just running late…traffic.” I lie.

“That’s cool.” Randy nods. “Does he have the video?”

“No, I’ve got some demos to show you, actually.”

“Did Brian do them?” Corey asks.

“No, I did.” I say, refusing to tell a second lie.

Corey cranes his neck slightly. “So, what does this Brian guy do then?”

I sigh, walking towards the television monitor. “That’s a really great question.”

“You want me to lock the door?” Wade asks.

“Sure, yes. Unless you guys brought a bodyguard.”

“Our manager is on his way.” Wade supplies.

“Yeah, I’ve heard that before.” I chuckle. “This your first video?”

Randy bites his lip, as if embarrassed. “Yeah. And I’m hoping it isn’t yours.”

I smile, pinching my lips together. “Fortunately, no. I’ve been producing videos since MTV was born, so, you’re in luck.”

Gordon makes himself comfortable on the couch. “You mind if I chill here for a while?”

“Make yourself at home. You guys want coffee?”

“Nah, we all have to sleep after this. Rehearsal is tonight.” Randy states.

“You guys have a performance?” I ask, cueing up the first video demo.

“No, we’re rehearsing to cut our second single.”

“So, why were you up all night then?” I ask conversationally.

Randy explains with a shrug. “Rehearsing.”

“Ah.” I nod.

“We have to rehearse at the recording studio.” Wade adds. “As if it makes such a big difference.”

Gordon cuts him a look from the couch. “Man, not this shit again. It’s a different sound, man. We went through the same shit with the first single. You know the drill.”

Randy slides a hand through his long, feathered hair, sighing. The glint from his wedding ring reflects off the fluorescent lights above his head. “Will you guys fucking cut it out?” he raises a hand to me. “Sorry for the language.”

I wave, giving him a look. “Please.”

Wade joins Gordon, on the couch on the other side, climbing on with a bounce. “So, you don’t mind if we say things like shit, fuck, damn and cocksucker?”

I laugh. “No, not at all. I’m used to it. I’d actually be shocked if no expletives got fired today.”

“Take it easy.” Randy says to Wade, with a ‘v’ forming between his eyes.

I look at him, and his face is apologetic. I smile. “It’s okay, really. Believe me, when I’m at home, I swear a lot.”

“Let her rip here, then, too.” Wade adds.

“I can’t. I work here.” I explain as the video pops up on the screen. The room is set up so that we have two monitors hung on either side, the way television sets are set up in a bar, and I have another one at the computer in front, so I can make changes as the artists request them, while we’re doing run-throughs of demos.

Randy sits in a chair by the computer and folds his arms over his chest. “So, what’s your story? How long have you been working here?”

“About ten years.”

He frowns, impressed. “And you run the show while boss man is out screwing around?”

“You said it. Not me.”

“But you’re not refuting.” He points out.

I pinch my lips into a smile again.

He starts fussing with buttons on the computer. Luckily, the screen is locked, so he can’t do any damage. “Where’d you learn to do all this stuff?”

“School. I took graphic design and video editing, and I majored in Communications in University.” I shrug noncommittally.

“Wow, so you’ve got brains, huh.”

I look at him, confused. “And you’ve got talent, so I guess we’re even.”

He smiles at me. He has honest eyes. Round like dinner plates. His irises change color; going from pale blue to green-blue depending on the light. His hair is a soft brown, and he keeps it longer, so the waves frame his face, but it feathers on top. Perfect hair. It’s the kind of hair that even girls would envy.With straight shoulders and good biceps, he’s an obvious guitarist, and his shirt sits flat on his stomach, mirroring the expected flat tone to his belly; another guitarist trademark.

“Hey, do we need to come over there to see this shit?” Corey asks.

“It’s not shit, man, take it easy.” Randy rebukes.

“It’s okay, I’m assuming he means ‘shit’ as in ‘stuff’.” I say, rescuing Corey. Why, I don’t know, but this band seems relatively benign compared to some of the ones I’ve done business with.

“Yeah.” Corey agrees, smiling sweetly at me. “I wasn’t giving you a hard time.”

“And by the way, the monitors are all set up, so you don’t have to move.” I clarify.

Corey gives me a thumbs up. “Aces.”

The screen comes to life, and I press ‘pause’ on the remote. “I’ve created three demos, all based on the first thirty seconds of video, just to give you a feel for what I had in mind for the material. You choose what you like, we’ll remove what you don’t like, and I’ll show you what the rest of the video could potentially look like.” I explain. “Are you ready?”

I have their undivided attention, which is nice, considering that I didn’t have to work for it. Corey and Gordon sit up, and Wade stands next to Randy, who is still seated next to me. Pressing the play button, I turn the volume up, and play the first version of the video. The video shows on all three screens, but for some reason, Randy chooses to watch on the bigger monitor, even though he’s sitting directly in front of the computer.

My strategy is to show them the shittier one first. The one that took the least work, and the one that is the rawest. This way I can wow them as we go along, until we get to the third video, which is normally the one that artists end up selecting. We watch the snippet of the video, and I observe Randy’s face from the corner of my eye. He’s impassive until we get to a part where the camera catches him strumming his hand up the guitar. The angle is beautiful, and it captures him in a certain light, which I highlighted, making the light actually sparkle with a subtle flicker, and Randy smiles.

“That’s cool.” He says, impressed.

“Yeah, hey, can you do that to me when I sing that high part?” Wade asks.

I grin at him. “Just…watch.”

He nods with a warm smile, half watching me and half watching the video. We get through to a part where they go into a harmony, and where I filtered out the background light, and highlighted the overhead lighting, plus zeroed in on their faces more, angling the shot slightly better, and as I observe their expressions, they’re all mesmerized. As the demo finishes, I hit the pause button.

“That shit is awesome.” Randy says. “I really like that. It’s…natural, but you accentuated the good stuff.”

“Yeah. I like that.” Corey agrees.

“I added some elements to the second demo if you’d like to see that next.” I explain.

“Sure.” Randy nods, sitting up more, as if really getting into this.

I smile, relieved, and hit ‘play’ to air the second demo.

They watch, as I added color and zeroed in on other spots in the footage, giving a slightly different feel. On the third demo, I added an effect, making some of the spots appear softer, while others appear more rugged, with filters and elements, plus moving footage or cutting out things to make the frame sharper. When we’re finished, I pause the tape, and lean on the counter, under the monitor.

“Well? Tell me what you liked or what you didn’t like, whatever is easiest.” I say, getting ready for the shredding, as I’m used to. In fact, this is the part that I like, because sometimes feedback is very helpful in teaching me to hone my editing skills. There have been some very useful hints some artists have offered me, just sometimes the delivery isn’t so kind.

“I love it. All of it.” Randy says. “I can’t even make up my mind which one I like better.”

Another problem, rare, but this can hold up polishing, too. “Well, what parts do you like best?”

“I really like that part where you zoomed in on Randy’s playing there.” Gordon states. “I’d like to see you do that when he does his solo.”

“Would you like me to do that on your part, too?” I ask.

“Sure. Yeah. This all looks great.” Gordon frowns.

“I like it how you gave each of us a spotlight. That was cool.” Corey adds.

A unanimous ‘yeah’ comes from all four boys.

I nod and look at Randy. “I can do some changes to the raw footage now if you like, so you can see it.”

“Sure.” Randy says encouragingly.

I smile at him. “Do you mind if I sit in the hot seat?”

He looks down at the chair. “Oh, shit, am I sitting in your spot? Sorry.”

“That’s okay.”

He moves to let me sit, giving me a gallant gesture with his hand, and moving the chair out more for me, being polite. I’m deeply impressed. Usually artists just say. “Oh, fuck.” And grunt as they rise, mostly irritated.

“Why, thank you, kind sir.”

“My lady.” He says in a low, British accent, playing along. He even rolls his hand for emphasis, and I chuckle.

Cueing up my editing screen, I pull up demo one, and mirror the edits in the same spot, panning over to both Gordon and Corey’s parts, and I take a guess, and add edits to more of the footage, placing the same features in that they showed interest for, giving the video a more uniform look. Randy watches me in awe, saying nothing, and I’m guessing it’s so he won’t break my concentration. The boys have surrounded me, observing my quick work, and I even hear one of them murmur ‘wow’ under their breath.

As I pull the semi-finished video up on the screens, we run it through, and I make notes on a piece of scrap paper next to me, which frames need adjusting. When it’s finished, I look at Randy, who is staring at the monitor. “Any other feedback? What do you like and what don’t you like?”

They share some thoughts, and we work on more edits, until we’re at a point where I can polish it on my own. The phone rings. “Shoot, sorry. I have to get that.” I say. “Perks of working alone. Feel free to play them over again if you like. Just hit the play button.

“No trouble, sweetheart.” Randy says, shifting aside so I can rise without effort.

“Thanks.” I trot over to the phone and pick it up, cradling the receiver between my shoulder and ear, as I scramble to grab the pen and note pad I keep close to the phone. “Lightning Video Editing. Darrell speaking.” I answer in my phone voice, which sounds like I’m more singing than talking. It’s a band’s PR person, looking for info on what we do. I take down the number and explain that I’m with a client, and that I’ll call back later, and although impatient, the person on the other end tells me what hours he is keeping, and I agree to call back ASAP.

“Sorry about that.” I say as I rejoin the boys. They’ve been looking at the screens, reviewing the footage again, like I suggested.

“That’s okay.” Corey says. “You could have finished the convo, man. You didn’t have to flake on our account.”

“Yeah, it’s cool.” Randy agrees, frowning.

“No, those are house rules. I never leave a client hanging, especially when they’re here to review a demo, it’s our policy.

“Well, thanks, but it’s cool.” Randy says, patting my chair for me to sit down again.

“Did you guys come up with anything more?”

“Err…yeah. We like the idea of panning out at the end, so we can see the fireworks coming off the back of the stage, instead of in the first demo, where it’s just us finishing our song together up close.”

“What venue was this where you performed? I love it. The stage is phenomenal.” I comment and guess where they were.

“Yeah, they finished upgrading that place.” Randy explains. “It looks really good. We’re there twice a week still.”

“I didn’t even know they upgraded it. You can’t even recognize it now. It looks great.” I add.

“You should come to the show tomorrow night.” Randy suggests. “I’ll put you on the V.I.P. list if you want.”

“Really?” I smile. No artist has ever offered for me to come and see them perform before. Then I remember that these guys haven’t even gone on tour yet.

“Of course.” Randy says with a ‘v’ between his brows, as if it’s ridiculous that I’d question the opportunity.

“Sure, thanks. I’d love to come see you guys. When do you go out on tour?”

“As soon as the record’s cut.” Randy answers. “A couple of months max.”

“Oh yeah? Are you guys nervous?”

“I shit my pants every day thinking about it.” Corey scoffs, laying back down on the couch.

“But you’re used to performing, no?”

“For like five hundred people, yeah.” Randy says. “But not a whole concert theatre. We’re opening for ‘Swivel’, and I’ve heard that they’re tough as nails.”

My eyes widen. “Oh yeah. Tough doesn’t cover it. He just left, actually, before you showed up.”

“Fuck…me.” Gordon says, scraping a hand down his face. “We’re going to get eaten alive.”

Suddenly, clear from my vantage point, a large black man comes to the door, wearing a black trench coat, holding a gun in his hand. He bangs on the door aggressively while pointing his firearm straight at Corey, who raises his hands in the air.

….and I scream.