One of the joys of writing for television is creating new characters and watching talented actors bring them to life. It’s even more fun when those characters aren’t human.
Well, it’s more fun for the writer. For the actor, however…
The emails that follow are… entirely made up. Nevertheless, the story they tell is True.
To: Mom & Dad
Date: Monday, December 3, 4:08pm
Subject: GREAT NEWS!!!
My agent got me an audition for a guest role on the sci-fi TV show Space Slayers! They’re looking for someone “athletic, preferably with dance experience.” (Finally all those workouts and dancing lessons pay off—fingers crossed!)
Date: Tuesday, December 4, 3:32pm
Subject: Back from the audition!
The role I’m up for is an alien creature named Pron’xa (all sci-fi names have apostrophes, I dunno why). She’s still being designed, but she’ll be a full-body “skin” with a prosthetic face and head. Pron’xa’s supposed to have an “alien sexiness, grace, and fluidity of movement”—that’s why they want an athlete/dancer. Pron’xa’s gonna look fearsome, but she’s intelligent—and has lots of great dialog to prove it! It’s a terrific part.
Too bad I won’t get it. Jane Doe-eyed is up for it as well. (She’s the [deleted] who got chosen over me for that ballerina gig in the toilet-paper commercial.) Jane’s got more dance experience than I do and a much longer résumé, so I’m sure they’ll pick her. Yeah, I know, nobody ever said Hollywood was fair…
Date: Thursday, December 6, 7:27pm
Subject: I GOT IT!
I got the part! Just spent all morning in the Space Slayers Critter Creator Lab! Gail, the artist/technician designing Pron’xa, took molds of my entire body. Then I had to breathe through a straw for an hour while my head was covered in some rubbery goo. I felt like I was suffocating, but I stayed centered and got through it fine.
Now the Critter Creators are using those molds to make a life-size cast of my face and body, and they’ll use that to design the form-fitting alien prosthetics. Weird to think there’s now a perfect mannequin of me. Maybe I can keep it afterward and make it my silent twin. Then when I get famous, I can loan it out to the Hollywood Wax Museum. Or I can put it in the passenger seat of my car so I can use the freeway carpool lanes.
I asked for a script so I could learn my role, but they told me I should wait for the next draft—it’s now getting a “polish.” (They’d better hurry; shooting starts in four days.)
I snuck a peek at Gail’s copy of the current draft anyway. I can’t imagine what they’ll change; it’s wonderful as it is… and not just because Pron’xa has the best role! She runs around and kills people (though it’s really self-defense), and then has a fantastic death scene with a big emotional speech before she expires. How lucky can an actor get?
Date: Friday, December 7, 5:42pm
Subject: I'm SO EXCITED!
Space Slayers sent me to an optometrist today for a contact lens fitting. Pron’xa’s gonna have bright yellow-red eyes. Cool!
We start shooting Monday. I still don’t have a script. The production office said they’re gonna messenger me the new draft on Sunday morning. Talk about cutting it close.
Date: Tuesday, December 11, 11:42am
Subject: First day of filming
Sorry I didn’t write yesterday. I know you’re dying to hear how my first day of shooting went. Well…
I didn’t get a script Sunday morning. All I got—at nine o’clock Sunday night—was six rewritten pages for Monday’s shooting. Gail told me it’s not uncommon for the writing staff to rewrite a script from top to bottom, even as they’re shooting it.
I don’t get it. I loved the script as it was, but Gail said the network hated it. Too much talk, not enough action, bla bla bla. Well, I can’t believe a last-minute overhaul will “improve” anything. They screwed up my scene—and I’m not saying that just because they took out most of my dialog.
Anyway, my call was for 4:30 Monday morning (yikes). I spent three and a half hours in the Critter Creator Lab. What a process. Plates of plastic glued all over my skin. A skullcap over my hair and layers of latex on my head and face. Then they hand-painted textures on my new alien “skin.” I had to sit still forever.
And I have to say I wasn’t impressed with the results. Pron’xa’s supposed to look both sexy and horrific, like a walking lobster with a great body (they, um, augmented my natural shape a bit) and six-inch razor claws. But I looked like a girl in a silly rubber suit. Gail reassured me it’ll photograph better than it looked. I wasn’t so sure…
So I went to the set, and waited. And waited. Delays and more delays. One actor was late, so they had to work around him. The spaceship set was supposed to be under attack, but the pyrotechnics wouldn’t work right. One of the cameras broke down and they had to wait for a replacement. The director got into a nasty argument with the actress playing Angela, who was furious about getting massive script revisions on the night before shooting. (I don’t blame her.)
The day dragged on. The creature suit was hot. Everything itched. I had to pee, but the Critter Creators would’ve spent half an hour undoing and redoing my suit, so everybody said it’d sure help if I could just hold it, because they were “just about” to get to my scene.
But they never got to my scene. They wrapped at 7:30 p.m. I was there for fifteen hours and didn’t do one thing. And it took them another hour to get my makeup and prosthetics off… so I didn’t get home until 10 p.m.
Then at 11 p.m., they messengered over more script revisions. Big ones. The story’s getting totally dumbed-down. They’re turning Pron’xa into a mindless monster and ruining the character.
Oh. The cameraman told me the producers did pick Jane Doe-eyed to play Pron’xa—but Jane freaked out when they were molding her head. Major claustrophobic panic attack. Only reason I got the job was because they had to replace her fast. I hate this business.
Date: Saturday, December 22, 2:21pm
Subject: Filming's all done...
…and I’m depressed. Basically all I did was run around, snarl, attack people, and get shot. The rewrites left me a bit of dialog for my big death scene—but at the last minute, the idiot director decided Pron’xa should have fangs like Dracula, so the Critter Creators whipped some up. It’s impossible to speak intelligibly with fangs. I sounded ridiculous.
The director must’ve thought I looked ridiculous too. He shot me in the background or in shadow or even not at all. For half the episode, we won’t even see Pron’xa, we’ll just see her Monster POV. How clichéd can you get?
I’m sure it’ll be the worst Space Slayers episode ever. Thank goodness nobody will recognize me. I’m never going to play an alien again.
Date: Wednesday, February 6, 11:28pm
Subject: My Space Slayers episode
I just got home from the cast-and-crew screening of the finished episode.
The good news: It’s excellent! They totally saved it in the editing. The monster-POV stuff actually works great. Pron’xa’s terrifying because we hardly ever see her. (The director was right: it’s scarier to let the audience use their imagination.) And they edited it so the story’s mostly told from Pron’xa’s point of view—and they wrote a ton of voice-over narration so you hear Pron’xa’s confused thoughts and emotions, which really gets you into Pron’xa’s head and makes her death scene tragic.
The bad news: Because of those silly fangs I had to wear, they had to “loop” (re-record) all of Pron’xa’s dialog… and because of all the new narration, the producers decided to pick someone else with more acting experience to do the looping. So guess who they chose for the New Voice of Pron’xa? That’s right: Jane Doe-eyed. I hate this business.
Date: July 20, 10:32am
Subject: Mom, Dad—Guess what?
Space Slayers wants me to come back and play a brand-new alien creature for their big season-ending two-parter!
They’re in a huge time crunch (as usual), and Gail suggested that because she already had my body molds, they could start right in on the creature design instead of auditioning people and making all new molds and such.
Better yet, this new alien character is an interstellar diplomat who doesn’t kill anybody or get killed—and the producers are already saying that she might just come back next season as a regular cast member.
The script’s on its way. I can’t wait. I love this business.
(A version of this post originally appeared in Dreamwatch magazine (now Total Sci-Fi Online), accompanied by a phenomenal illustration (shown above) by the amazing Barry Spiers; visit his website Barry Spiers Illustration for even more excellent artwork.)