“Plots are over,” Professor Walton raps his calloused fingers against his teak mid-century desk, “people don’t want plots anymore.”
“You’re being satirical?”
His non-response signals he isn’t.
I write in my worn Moleskine notebook: no plots.
“And we’ve been nominated to compete for a reason,” he stares up at the slanted skylight of his office as though the why might be illuminated in the streaming, granular particles of dust floating down to fill the space between us. “You know that, right?”
“This Mariam Brigham grant isn’t bestowed lightly.”
Not bestowed lightly, I write.
“A student/faculty collaborative project has potential, festival potential.”
He runs a hand through his wildly disheveled hair. Thick with grease, the strands point in each direction as though electricity may have recently caught him off guard. If he hadn’t told me that he is 33, I’d think he’s a man of vague age—caught somewhere between 35-50. He has the look of having filled his years with hard living or hardly having lived—discerning which is difficult. I focus on his action figure collection. There are six figurines on a thick, white shelf running parallel to his desk: Aquaman, Batman, Robin, The Green Lantern, Flash, and Lex Luthor. I see dust has settled on the shelf but not the figurines. Their plastic is impeccably clean.
“I mean,” he presses his hands together, forming an arrow then letting it fall toward me.
“What do you think, Stanley?”
“No plot sounds fine.”
He flips through the script for our short film, written by me—the creative director. He, the producer, tells me I used white space well.
“White space, white space, great white space on every page, Stan. Less is more.”
White space = ✩✩✩✩
“But don’t you feel it’s a little plot-ty?”
I tell him that I can take out plot points, make less happen.
“People want the equivalent of paint drying, but this—make this mean everything.”
“They want the equivalent of spontaneous human combustion: lock stock and barrel from nothing. And how? How did we achieve that? They don’t want to know.”
He repeats that my white space is sublime, though.
“Mumblecore, do you know about mumblecore?”
“No, films. Mumblecore films. They’re in.”
Mumblecore = in
“Do you know what haute couture is, Stan?”
Haute couture = ?
“People want their media to be like haute couture. They’re after aspirational textures. And it doesn’t matter if this texture is a paper bag, bubble wrap, Styrofoam, tin foil, sugar, or silk as long as they’ve never seen anything like it before. They don’t want to understand it. They sure as hell don’t want to be made to feel comfortable by it. They want something they think is better than them, something so opaque, fragmented, subjective, and indiscernible that all they can come up with is ‘this must be smarter than me. This must be avante-garde.’ See, this is how we trick them. This is how we serve something quick and convoluted off as caviar.’”
“Like, if you just looked into this mirror,” Walton rises to stand in front of the mirror adhered to the door of his office closet, “and you stood here and recited all the names of past presidents then stopped before the name of our current president—cut to black, that could make it into an art museum. That could be called art.”
“There would be no real structure, no script,” I shrug. “There would be no: act-one-separation, first threshold, decent, act-two-supreme-ordeal, ascent, third threshold, or act-three-unification.”
“Exactly,” Walton paces in a square around his 10x10 office. He stops in the corner where I’ve propped up my iPhone on a low filing cabinet to record the meeting for reference. He picks up my phone, presses the red circle to stop recording.
“When I was a graduate student, in poetry, before I got into the entertainment industry, I had this professor. He said, ‘Walton, either you see the blue circle and cry or you don’t.’ Deep, huh?”
I look up at amber and scarlet leaves sweeping across the skylight. I have absolutely no idea what he means.
A blue circle=?
He presses play, and our meeting begins again. He tells me the angle is genius, both of us just barely eclipsed by the frame.
“This light . . . the way you’ve captured these illuminated the particles in the air sifting down onto us like angel dust diffused upon the bodies of gods,” he shakes his head back and forth.
He paces with my phone playing in his hand now, pulls at the black tie hanging unevenly from his neck, rips it off, lets it drop to the floor and steps on it, “The light, I can’t believe it! But the sound is poor. This is mumblecore. I insult the audience. This would go over great, you know. People love-hate themselves. The shot doesn’t move. It is like paint drying.”
People love-hate themselves
“But our voices!” he walks faster, letting the video continue to run, speaking over his on-screen self. “This is everything from nothing.”
“Haute couture,” I whisper.
“People want bullshit that no one can digest, that makes little to no sense.”
“I think we’ve got it then.”
“We could really win.”
“What about the grant money we got to make the film?”
“We can split it: one grand for me, one grand for you.”
I stand, and he hands me my phone back. I tell him I’ll upload our submission into the portal for the contest tonight.
“Title?” he raises an eyebrow at me, a bleached expression of near plead washing over his face. He is at a loss, this time.
“White Space,” I tell him.
“White Space,” he smiles, running his fingers through his graying beard, “good work, kid—White Space.” He pulls apart his hands as though unrolling a luminescent sequence of gleaming rarified neon marquee letters between them, “White Space.”