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The Camera Focuses In and Then Out

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            Odds were, sooner or later, Maria Ross was going to write about the Rick Hotspur Trilogy (in depth, I mean- with everything she put to paper about Roy Mustang, it goes without saying that she had already mentioned it).  And whatever I had to say about it would pale in comparison to what she had to say.  This was just the sort of thing to make me mope about the apartment, the office, and the diner, until I was absolutely sure that everyone I knew was tired of me, despite the fact that no one told me so.

            "But you don't write like Maria Ross," my mother encouraged me, "And I don't think you'd be coming at it from the same angle she would...  If you're really so interested in this topic, you should do the research and write about it anyway."

            And because she was right (she was usually right), I told myself to get to work.

            Maria Ross was well acquainted with General Mustang and his subordinates, she'd played a part in foiling the coup herself, and she was an excellent writer.  I wore no such laurels and had no substantial publishing credits to my name (and those few were for fiction), but I worked for Central Studios, putting the contact information of all the relevant internal players within an arm's reach...  Maybe I didn't have anything interesting to say about General Mustang and the impact of film on his political agenda, but I had something.  Hopefully an interesting something.

            Although the first film had started out with "Roy Mustang" as its main character, it hadn't taken long for threatened legal action to lead to a hasty re-dub, leaving the fictional "Rick Hotspur" in his wake.  ...Not that this fooled anyone over the age of ten.  People knew where the inspiration had come from.  Hotspur and Mustang both enjoyed the fruits of this success.  "Hotspur" and associates in two more films; Mustang in the side of politics most closely connected to public opinion.

            I thought about what I would need to do to get the project in motion during the quiet moments in the office.  I started by making a list of all the people I wanted to correspond with, whether or not it was reasonable to think I could speak with them, and after that, I moved on to trying to collect their contact information.  I felt sort of secretive about it; I didn't tell my co-worker at the casting desk anything about it until she caught me in the act of picking some of the numbers I needed out of our boss' files.

            "Coop Calloway?" Magdalena asked, eying the directory card in my hand, "Does Mr. Taza have something for him?  ...Does he even still act these days?"

"Sometimes?" I ventured cautiously.  "He doesn't have an exclusive contract, but I don't think it's that he's officially given up acting."  It would be kind of sad to imagine Coop Calloway having given up film already.  He was forty-five that year and still riding the wave of public goodwill generated by his starring role in the extremely popular trilogy, even if nothing he'd done since was quite as...well, "good" can be somewhat objective, but popularity can be measured through ticket sales and none of his post Rick Hotspur-roles had been quite the same.

 

            "He can afford to be picky now, you mean."

            "Well, ever since Rick Hotspur..."

            "Lefevre is going to be using some downtime around the office to interview folks about that trilogy, Miss Wallace," Leon Taza breezed in and wove him into the conversation as easily as ever.

            "Oh, so you have permission to snoop around like that," Magdalena laughed, fluffing her wavy brown hair.  She was so pretty.  People were always flirting with her over the desk.  It made me kind of jealous.  Sure, the industry needs plain people as well (extras can't be too distracting, for instance), but...  Well, I don't know what I'm trying to say here, but Mr. Taza was not just a good boss, but a good man (and, like many of them, he was taken).  "Have fun and work hard, Lefevre," he'd encouraged me, right from the start.

            "Who do you think you want to interview first?" Leon twined his fingers together and rested his chin on the bridge they made above his desk.

            I wasn't picky.  At this point, I had no idea how many of the people I wanted to speak with would be willing and able to converse with me.  "Whoever's available first, I suppose."

            "Well," the casting director waggled his eyebrows, "There's no rush when it comes to me.  You know I'll always be around."

            Of course, just from being around him nearly every week for the last seven years, I probably knew most of the major points in his story.  How he'd just been assigned to the project, how he'd had no idea what he was getting into, how the agent Andrew Hiralm had been the one to cast all the major roles in the first film anyway...  He'd had a bigger part in the creation of the second and third films, which were even more loosely related to the actual military man who'd been the original focus of the first-

            ...Did I mention I was in the first film?

            Imagine me seven years earlier: shorter haircut...even more awkward...  Other than that, basically the same I guess.  I managed to get myself cast as background.  I wasn't given too many specifications about dress, just "wear casual clothes, and not all white or black," and "the shoot begins at 7:00 AM, be early," so I did as I was instructed and ended up getting lucky.  They didn't have as many people as they wanted playing military extras and my look seemed to fit, so I was bumped up to the un-exalted role of "featured extra."  Maybe it was just because I was the right size to fit into one of the remaining uniforms.  I can't complain- it made my job that day that much more interesting.  I played a second lieutenant.  I got to carry a prop rifle, which was apparently very accurate according to a few former soldiers taking part in the shoot (I still don't know anything about guns).

            I think my "character" is meant to be a loyal Bradley supporter, because roughly five minutes in (counting the title credits) I'm one of the soldiers that's shot by one of the treasonous generals and his men.  The one who's a thinly veiled former Brigadier General Allan Edison.  The man who played this role (in very good makeup) was Len Cunningham.

            I didn't know it at that time on the set, but we would end up becoming friends once my freelance acting began to overlap with a regular job in the office of Leon Taza.  Len was the first person I told about my intent to research and write about the films after my mother.  And, of course, he had a (highly theatrical) opinion about it.

                        "If I were writing it, I'd begin like this," Len Cunningham got up, put one foot on the chair he had just vacated, and launched himself into the role of the ambitious agent Andrew -.

            "Coop Calloway," Len declared, "Do I have the part for you!"

            His green eyes glittered as he leaned down, smiling at me as if I were the famous Coop Calloway.  "This is the part that is going to make your career!" he promised in his telling.  It wasn't quite the smile I imagined Coop Calloway had been wooed with.  Always a character actor, by those days, Len had fallen into a routine of portraying mostly monsters and scoundrels.

            "And why would you start there?" I inquired.

            "Because I was there when it happened," Len admitted, somewhat sheepishly, as he dropped back down onto the floor.

            That was Len's story, probably not Coop Calloway's, Rick Hotspur's, or Roy Mustang's.

            "...You'll mention me in your book, won't you?"

            I agreed that I would.  Really, I couldn't imagine doing any differently.  When I called up some of the relevant Central Studios people and received the runaround, Len did me the favor of calling them back and setting me up with actual appointments.  I don't know how he managed it so easily- was he close with these people?  Did they owe him some favors?  Was he just that convincing or charismatic?

            In any case, I couldn't have collected half as much first hand information as I did without his help.  My hat's off to you, Mr. Cunningham.

            ...Uh, would now be a good time to admit I never ended up writing the book?  Here you are taking the time to sit and listen to my story- the story about the story as it were- and I'm leading you on, making you think, "Oh, I wonder how this is all going to work out," when in actuality it didn't work out the way I had planned at all.  I guess as far as literary aspirations go, you might call it a wash, but to me, it turned out better.  So I'll spare you the pretense of this imaginary book of mine and the duller parts of what I dug up, because what was so interesting ended up focused around my encounters with three prominent individuals.  ...And only one of them was an actor- at least on film.

            It was Len Cunningham who worked things out so I could meet Coop Calloway.  I met up with him on a warm spring afternoon at The Red Apple Café along with his long-time manager, the agent Andrew Hiralm.  I bought their coffee along with mine and a generous slice of coffee cake as well for Coop.  He was as big and square-jawed as he'd been onscreen in the trilogy, though his muscles were not quite what they'd been then.  Andrew took charge over most of the initial pleasantries while Coop sat back and worked at his piece of cake, delicately slicing off each bite with the side of his fork.

            "So," I gazed across the table into Andrew's wide brown eyes and Coop's sparkling blue ones, and asked with the full ironic force of a skeptic, "'Flame on?'"

            Coop chuckled, "You want me to say it for you, Simon?  Are you a fan?"

            I wasn't exactly- not a Coop Calloway fan, that is, but as a lover of movies in general, how could I turn him down?  His sincerity (or impressive act of it) was rather disarming.  "S-sure," I put down my pencil, letting go of as many of my puffed up pre-conceived notions about the man as one could in one casual breath.

            Andrew fixed me with an amused look (he'd seen this coming- maybe it even happened frequently).

            Regarding my line of sight as though it were the camera, Coop turned his face away.  When he looked back, his cocky grin was at full strength.  "Flame on!" he said.  Even after all these years, he did it perfectly.  Which, I wondered, was closer to the real Coop- the ham or the innocent?

            "He has that effect on people," Andrew responded to my honest smile.  Was the catch phrase cool or was it stupid?  At this point I couldn't tell what I thought of it anymore.  Having delivered his line well and on-schedule, Coop focused back on his dessert.  I'd pictured him louder.

            "Who came up with that line?" I recovered sufficiently to return to my originally intended line of inquiry.

            "The writer- Christopher Aldamea," Andrew explained, "He didn't know a damn thing about alchemy- heaven rest his soul- but boy could he whip up a good action-filled script."

            "It wouldn't have been better to make it a political thriller?"

            "I see what you're saying, but Central Studios has always focused on the less cerebral stuff.  If the bigwigs had considered making a film about the attempted coup before Chris showed up and put the script in their hands, I don't know anything about it.  Chris came up with the idea on his own after watching some unused government pro-military footage he'd gotten his hands on.  Apparently it showed General Mustang shooting off fireballs on the target range.  I think it had been discarded from a recruitment short.  "Can we make that?" Chris rushed in and asked the studio's film magicians.  They told him "yes' and he went home and wrote the thing in three days."

            I was lucky that someone knew the story in such detail with Aldamea having died about a month after the third film's release.  "And you two got involved through the studio?"

            "Chris wrote it thinking of this friend of his, Lau Sun, but Pepperdine didn't like that- thought Sun was too Xingese for the part."

            "Lau Sun is half Xingese," I said.

            "Maybe it's the wrong half?" Coop offered weakly.  The name was what he was probably getting at.  Lau Sun was as much Flora Baker's son as Kao Se Sun's, but his foreign eyes had a foreign name to go with them.

            "Anyway, Pepperdine's own choice was our man Coop here."

            "Pepperdine did all the casting?"  If that were true, Mr. Taza was going to have to alter his story about his involvement in the movies a little.

            "He really did discover Tiya Bovary in an ice cream shop," Coop piped up.  "She was there with her baby sister!"

            "Mint chocolate chip is my lucky flavor."  Then it wasn't a myth- it was a true Central Studios wonder (though in the first Hotspur film one had to admit Miss Bovary was little more than eye candy in a military uniform).

            "With your boss, Leon Taza," Andrew answered my actual question.  He seemed annoyed by Coop's interjection, but not surprised.  The third Rick Hotspur film had been filmed five years ago at this point, but Coop, at forty-five, was youthful, like a big kid.

            "So," I addressed the actor, "What did you have in common with General Mustang that suited you for the role?"

            "Black hair?" he laughed, "That's probably it.  I don't think I look like him.  I'm the Prince Gallant or Wonderman newspaper comic strip version of him maybe."

            Simultaneously, I think we pictured a Roy Mustang comic strip.  ...I would read that.  Political cartoons featuring the man just aren't the same as the one I pictured where he went around wearing his jacket like a cape and rescuing beautiful women and foiling nefarious plots.  It wasn't a bad idea, I think, but the whole affair dissolved into awkward laughter.

            It appeared it had been a good-natured production to work on.  Tiny Cara Bovary had come to the set each day with her sister to watch (I think I had seen her), the so-called 'film magicians' had gotten their hands on a flame thrower and with a little modification (and careful film tinting) had managed a thrilling approximation of General Mustang's alchemy, and, apparently, Coop Calloway had fallen in love.

            "That's why I'm not acting as much these days," he blushed like a schoolgirl, "I'm spending more time at home."

            "Speaking of which," Andrew and Coop exchanged an amused glance in reference to someone I couldn't see standing in the street or on the sidewalk on the other side of the table, "Basil, stop making faces and get over here!"

            The well-dressed man who came over to join us wrapped his arm around the back of Coop's chair and looked me over with an appraising eye.  He already struck me as at least twice as theatrical as Coop within barely two minutes of acquaintance.  "This is the writer, huh?"

            "Simon Lefevre."

            He had the perfect gentleman's handshake.  "Basil Gilchrist."

            "You came to spy on us, didn't you?" Coop fussed, looking backward and up at Basil, who he probably towered over when he stood.  "If you hadn't already been signed up to attend that lecture, you know I would have invited you to come along."

            "I couldn't help it- I wanted to see General Mustang in person."

            "General Mustang in person..." Coop murmured, reminiscing, "You know, I've never gotten to meet him."

            It was probably because of the threatened lawsuit that had altered the names of the characters (though not the content) in the film.  There hadn't actually been a lawsuit.  As far as I knew (based on what Mr. Taza told me), no standard cease and desist letter had ever arrived at the studio.  On the second day of the film's showings (in three locations in Central City), a late showing had been followed by a very strange telephone call to the producers' office from General Mustang himself.  Apparently references to "setting the studio lot on fire" had been included.  Whatever charges the real Roy Mustang had brought against his film depiction, even after regular business hours and with two unidentifiable male voices murmuring encouragements (maybe) to him in the background, they had gotten the desired results.

            "I got to shake his hand," Basil bragged.

            "Oh, for goodness' sake," the actor grumbled.

            "How is it that you ended up here with us and not at that lecture, Mr. Lefevre?" Andrew wondered.

            Sure, I would've enjoyed seeing and shaking the hand of General Mustang, but that probably wouldn't have advanced my work on the book very far unless by some miracle I'd gotten to tell him what he was trying to do and he'd said, "Hey, that sounds great, Simon.  Here's my number, why don't you call up my secretary and set an appointment so that I can tell you all about what I thought when I watched the film," which was an absolutely insane and ridiculous idea.

            Clearly, I was missing something there.  "The two of you took time out of your busy schedules to meet with me today, Mr. Hiralm- I would never have thought about suddenly changing my plans and rushing off to listen to a lecture," I shook my head.

            "The subject was 'popular media and public perception of politicians,'" Basil said.

            "The speakers were Dr. Leah Tallay and Ms. Maria Ross," Andrew added, telling me everything I needed to know.

            "Maria Ross?!" I gaped, idiot that I was (and am).  I hadn't heard anything about it until now.  How had I managed to let such a relevant, and undoubtedly interesting, opportunity slip through my fingers?  In an area like that where my knowledge was weak, listening in to that sort of expertise could have made a huge difference.  "Ugh," I sighed.

            "Let it go, Simon,” I chided myself.  There was no use getting worked up over it now.

            "Ha ha, now this is the part where all of you tell me how wonderful I am," Basil laughed.  "I didn't know your name, Mr. Lefevre, but I'd already heard from Coop that he was set up to meet with you about this movie history stuff.  ...Well, Ms. Ross was quite interested in your project, so if you'll leave me your card, I'd be happy to pass your contact information on to her."

            I didn't have a business card, but I scribbled it all down.

            Just to let the men know how much I appreciated their time and effort, I bought each of them something off the dessert menu.  Coop opted for a second piece of cake.

*****

            Maria Ross was about the same height as me, but her hearty grip put mine to shame.  "I've been hearing a little bit about you here and there these days, Simon.  A friend of mine was actually sort of concerned that you might be trying to sneak your way onto my literary turf..."

            "N-no, I never intended to do anything like your work!" I laughed nervously, "I mean, what do I know about politics or the inner workings of the military?  I don't think I have any political opinions related to what I'm trying to write any more complicated than 'General Mustang is so cool, no wonder they wanted to make a movie about him.'"

            Maria opened her mouth to respond, but the voice that addressed me was a man's- and I'd heard it before, but only over Radio Central.  "Ha ha, I'm happy to hear that!"  And then the man stepped out around the corner and into Maria's kitchen where we were seated at small table.  It was General Roy Mustang in the flesh.

            I have to admit to you that I'm not sure I can properly transmit the entire conversation the general, Ms. Ross, and I shared.  Immediately afterward I could barely believe it had happened.  Even now, sometimes I almost think I dreamed it.  "That couldn't have really happened to me!" the logical side of me protests.

            The logical side is kind of weak though, so I trust in the dream.

            "As someone who was there, I can tell you that the amount of things that were involved in the...attempted coup that didn't actually end up in the film would surprise even a studio insider as yourself," Roy said, as I continued to gape like an idiot, barely able to scribble down a relevant note or two.

            "No Edward Elric," I suggested, my voice escaping my lips at barely the level of a whisper.

            "No Alphonse Elric," Maria chimed in, eying her borrowed recording equipment carefully to make sure it was picking up our conversation.

            Roy considered adding someone or something else to our litany of missing elements and then thought better of it.

            "Tell Simon who you saw the movie with," Maria prompted her friend.

            "Fullme- the former Fullmetal Alchemist- it was his idea, actually.  ...Makes you wonder if he knew," Roy's thin eyes narrowed to suspicious slits, "My subordinate and friend, Jean Havoc, came as well.  He was the one who decided we should go in disguise."

            "Wait- why?"

            "Well, in case it was terrible and embarrassed us horribly.  It turns out only one of us received that honor."

            "Simon was in the movie, Roy."

            "No, you don't have to worry about offending me!" I assured him, "I wasn't involved with writing it!  I was only an extra."

            "What kind of disguises were they?"

            If his smile were any indication, the act of getting prepared to go see the film, if not the movie itself, was a pleasant memory.  "They were mainly composed of nondescript coats.  And  hats.  The kind of hats you'd associate with a very stereotypical sort of spy film.  ...Not that there was any possibility that anyone who didn't already know me could have picked me out of the crowd after an hour and forty minutes of that."

            "Tell him who else you tried to convince to come along," Maria prodded without losing a trace of her good-natured smile.

            "My wife."

            Riza Hawkeye.  I knew her by name and reputation, but it stood to reason that, as close as Maria was to the general, that she would know his wife as well.  None of the thing I knew about her were enough to give me any idea of how to respond.

            "I don't think it was a very good date movie," Maria answered for me.  "It's probably better that she turned you down."

            "It...Would have been a more terrible date movie for the two of us, than it would have been for most couples," Roy admitted.

            "The way General Armstrong was portrayed, it's hard to believe she wasn't the one who led to the re-dub."  They both laughed awkwardly.

            "That, um, Tiya Bovary," Roy cleared his throat, "Until the credits, my two companions and I assumed she was meant to be portraying...a subordinate of mine."

            "Yeah...Miss Bovary would be the first one to tell you she wasn't that well suited to portraying the actual, heroic General Armstrong.  ...But she plays a hot blond who gets taken captive pretty well.  ...Not that I think her characters' name is ever said in either version of the first film, but she probably benefited most from the re-dub.

            "She was better in the second film," I added.  I wasn't sure whether or not he had gone on to see the others.

            "Speaking of which, you wouldn't believe how relieved I was that "Rick Hotspur and the Alchemist's Daughter" hadn't the slightest resemblance to my relationship with any of the actual alchemist's daughters I've known," the general said.  He laughed.  I really liked his laugh.  There were a lot of photographs of him that appeared in the papers that showed he had an easy-going side, so it wasn't as if I was being privileged to receive something secret by sharing in it, but it didn't matter if everyone had- this was a first time for me.

            "Did you see that one as well, or only hear about it?"

            "I had to see it," Roy answered, far too solemnly considering the subject, "...For research purposes."

            "Edward went with him to that one too," Maria noted, "Still no Hawkeye though."

            I realized I hadn't made any notes for about the last five minutes and jotted down a few things.

            "Tell him about your movie snack," Maria made another suggestion.

            The general had a visible reaction to this too, but it didn't stop him from answering truthfully, "I snuck in a flask."

            "...Does that...?" I wondered, having loosened up enough that my voice had reached a normal volume and pitch, "...Does that have anything to do with why your initial protest call to the studio arrived at such an unusual hour...sir?"

            "Simon Lefevre," General Mustang looked me directly in the eye, "That is precisely the sort of thing that, even if I answer you, must never appear in print."

            It was time to face the facts.  I had gotten to meet Coop Calloway and Andrew Hiralm, Maria Ross, and General Roy Mustang.  I would never be able to manipulate all the information I had gathered into something coherent- I would be better off tossing it all aside and just coming up with some fictional Central Studios insider story to sell.

            I let Ms. Ross have all my research (she came over with a friend, Denny Brosh, to pick up the box of files) and wrote up a list of all my sources and contacts for her to use as she liked.  She promised me a free (autographed) copy of any book she wrote that utilized them, asked me if I liked bell peppers, and, when I said "Yes," sent me home with three from her parents' garden.  "I can't find a use for half as many as they give me," she said.

            She seemed really smart.  Also, nice.

            The general didn't have anything as material to promise me or give, but I said that I would vote for him if I ever got the chance, and the way that he smiled-

            ...If there's ever an officially sanctioned Roy Mustang-centric movie in my lifetime, I'll be first in line to see it.

 

...and to cut out all the press releases and add them to the box of General Mustang clippings I've started like I'm a starstruck teenage girl.

I was too shy to ask for an autograph.