At a coffee shop outside St. Luke’s Hospital, Ranimel sinks into a single-seater sofa. He leans his head at the back and stares above the ceiling. He doesn’t care about the baristas going around and the customers pursing lips and shaking heads over what they think they see is indecorum. The truth is, Ranimel is exhausted. He works at night and, on days, he tends to his sick father, Chuck, confined in the hospital.
The coaster pager on the table whirrs. Ranimel comes to his senses. With heaviness, he reaches for the coaster pager, rises to his feet, and drags himself over to the dispatch counter. He gives the coaster pager to the barista for the cappuccino in a medium paper cup.
“Sugar?” asks the barista.
“Two sachets,” says Ranimel.
The barista gives him the sugar and Ranimel heads back to his table.
As he opens the cup and pours the sugar into it, a guy in a black suit appears at the door. He looks around, trying to find someone who may wait for him. His eyes lock on Ranimel, who doesn’t notice him approaching.
Ranimel gets surprised when the guy pulls the single-seater sofa across Ranimel. “Do you mind if I sit?” asks him.
Ranimel sees there are some vacant tables around. But it will be disrespectful of him if he will say ‘no’. He nods. After all, he will just stay there for a minute or two. He can leave him alone at the table he has paid through his order.
The guy sits down. Ranimel keeps silent as he stirs the coffee.
“I’ve heard about the car accident of a famous film director,” the guy says as if he knows Ranimel.
A figment of enthusiasm pops into Ranimel’s being. He doesn’t want to respond but, for the sake of his father, he needs to. This guy possibly knows he’s the son of that film director. “Yes, that’s true,” he says. “Are you a fan of my father?”
“Sort of,” the guy says. He looks to either side and then leans forward to Ranimel. “Your father has a pending film to make. If they will wait for his recovery before they start the shoot, they will lose time, money, and the movie industry trend.”
“Yeah, I know that,” Ranimel says.
“It means they will replace him. The execs want the film premiered on the scheduled date.”
“I don’t care about it. I only care for my father’s recovery.”
“Your father will lose everything. You like that to happen?” The guy looks at the counter and captures the barista, stealing glances at them.
“I don’t know. Who are you, by the way? And why are you telling me all of this?” Ranimel asks in haste.
“I’m the one you need right now,” says the guy.
Ranimel takes the coffee and stands up. He hurries outside.
The guy follows him. “Hey,” he calls him. “Let me help you, Ranimel.”
Ranimel stops and turns back. “How do you know my name?”
The guy doesn’t answer his question. “Let me help you. Let me talk to your father. I know you need an enormous amount of money to pay for his hospitalization and continuous medication. Let me help you with that.”
Ranimel thinks about taking a risk. It’s only him and his father now. Nobody will help them. Their relatives and his father’s friends and colleagues in the film industry are only there when they celebrate success but not when the two of them are in trouble. “Okay,” Ranimel says.
They get in the hospital, take the elevator, and go inside his father’s room. The medication has made Ranimel’s father sleep like a top.
“Have a seat.” Ranimel offers the guy a seat. “Can you wait until he wakes up?” he asks.
“Sure. No problem.” The guy sits down. “Thank you for allowing me here,” he says.
“No,” Ranimel snaps. “You said you’ll help us.”
“Yeah, I will.”
“Who are you?” Ranimel puts down his coffee on the table beside the bed.
“I’m a fan of your father. From a different time.”
“What do you mean ‘from a different time’?”
“In the past. Your father made films in the past. They were really great.”
“But his films recently were not that good. Just started when Mother left us.”
The guy looks down. “It’s unfortunate, your mother is gone without a trace.”
“How do you know that?” Ranimel takes a sip of the coffee.
“Many fans know what your father has gone through. And, I’m one of them.”
Chuck grunts. He opens his eyes and sees his son standing by the bedside. “You’ll leave now?” asks Chuck.
Ranimel raises his watch across the eyes. “No, dad, I’m already late for work. I’ll stay here today.”
Chuck notices the guys in front of his bed. “And, who are you?”
“He’s a fan of yours. I met him outside. He’d like to talk to you.”
“What’s your name?” asks Chuck.
The guy hauls the chair, puts it down beside the bed, reaches for his hand to shake him. “I’m Dennis,” says the guy. “I’m here to help you with your new film.”
Chuck grins. “Really? How will you help a man who cannot stand?”
The guy sits down. “You will be able to make a film in your comfort. You will not stand. You will stay in the bed as you make your masterpiece.”
“How will he do that?” Ranimel chimes in.
“This will be the first time that some film director will do it. I’m sure we will succeed.”
“You’re funny,” says Chuck, chuckling.
“I have invented a machine that will record a film that you create in your mind. You may not believe me right now, but I can prove that it worked for me. It’s just that I’m not a film director and I don’t have the talents and skills to create a perfect film like you.”
Ranimel’s eyes get bigger in awe. Chuck frowns in doubt.
“You have nothing to risk,” the guy says. “You will create a film in your mind while the machine records it. Your mind can decide who your casts are, where the film takes place, what the plot is, and everything about the film. Sky’s the limit. It’s up to you. Say yes and I will come back here with the machine and so we can start filming.”
Chuck has nothing to lose. He accepts Dennis’s offer.
The next day, Dennis arrives at Chuck’s room carrying a briefcase. He knocks on the door.
“Come in,” says Chuck.
“Your son, not here?” Dennis sets the briefcase on the table.
“Yeah. He’s doing some errands.”
“We need to do this in secret,” says Dennis. “What time the nurse or doctor usually comes in?”
“Noontime. We can do it now. I’m ready.”
Dennis sets up the recording machine attached inside the briefcase. The machine looks like a laptop; there is a screen and a keyboard. He gets a white headgear made from silicon. It has tiny holes attached to wires in various colors. The wires are connected to the recording machine. He places the headgear on Chuck’s head and tightens it up. He dribbles his hands on the keyboard and animation of Chuck’s head appears on the screen.
“Put this on.” Dennis tosses an eye mask. “You also need to close your eyes so you can focus on the scenes, dialogues, and everything about the film,” tells him. “Don’t worry if your imagination makes a mistake. We can edit it afterward. Just make the film flow like it actually happens. Ready?”
Chuck wears the eye mask and gives him a thumbs up.
Dennis presses the start button, and a timer runs on the lower part of the screen. And Chuck’s imagination appears on the right side of the screen. There Ranimel is running, an enormous alien, like an octopus chasing after him. Dennis thinks Ranimel is the principal actor in this sci-fi film. He wants to ask Chuck, but he dares not to distract the flow of scenes. Along the way, Dennis sees who the casts are; most of them are non-actors and, he reckons, they are Chuck’s friends or relatives who are probably dead. The plot and scenes and dialogues are almost perfect. Dennis is no film critic, but he knows what’s good and what’s bad. He knows it will hit the box office, only if Chuck wants it to show it to the public. Chuck’s imagination ends with Ranimel kissing the lead, who looks like a famous Asian Hollywood actress.
“I’m done,” Chuck says.
Dennis removes the headgear. “I saw it. It’s perfect,” Dennis says, smiling.
“Really? So what’s next?”
“We will run the film a few times for you to decide on changes. And, we will have it edited. You hire a film editor. I know you know a lot about them. Then, it’s up to you if you show it to the public.”
“Yeah, I will show it to the public. I will pitch the film to film production companies. I’m not worried about its legalities. The only cast living is my son, all others are dead, and some I created based on my mind.”
“That’s perfect.” Dennis digs out an iPad in his suit, connects it to the briefcase, swipes the screen, taps an app, and gives the iPad to Chuck. “You can now review your masterpiece.”
Chuck watches his film with a mix of awe and indulgence. He smiles and frowns, laughs and sheds tears, and tries to move his body when the scenes are action-packed. It’s hard to believe that he’s made a film with no money spent other than his own imagination. When the film ends, Chuck’s smile doesn’t fade. “It’s perfect. I don’t think I need an editor.”
“That’s great,” Dennis says, getting the iPad from him. “So, are you going to call now a film production company?”
“I’ve changed my mind. I’ll show it to the public for free.”
“What?” Dennis says, his voice echoed. “You don’t want to get paid?”
“Not for now. We will show it to the public via the internet. I will continue to make films with your help. You will make a patent on your machine and sell it to film directors. In your sales of contract, you include a clause that only the legal buyer, in that case, the director, can use the machine. Your invention will change the film industry. Many artists will lose their job unless the director will virtually hire them. You price it high, that’s my advice. For now, we will show my film to the public to get attention.”
“You have a brilliant idea, Chuck. That’s why I admire you. You will be the first film director to give testimonials on my invention.”
“Yeah. You can film me now with your iPad as I give my testimonials. And then, we will include it in the film credits.”
Dennis cracks a smile from ear to ear.