He’d been making calls all morning, but the stack of scripts on his desk hadn’t shrunk much. The casting director took a deep breath as he made his next call.
“Faramir, I’ve got a peach of a story for you. Starring role, of course, and before the War of the Ring, so it’s wide open. The story’s got lots of drama, it’s not too long . . . You capture one of the captains of the Haradrim, and then, as you keep him in your secret hideout in Ithilien, he learns your language and gradually, love blooms – “ A firm click indicated that he was now talking to himself. He sighed and tongued another antacid.
“Mitzi?” he said into the other line. “The lead in ‘A Heart in Chains’ is a no-go. You know the happy ones are the worst – they never want to work. See if you can get one of the stunt doubles to do the part.”
He listened briefly. “Try Feremir and Fairamir first, then. They mostly remember their lines. Will you start making the calls on the second lead? All we need’s a presentable guy from Harad.” He flipped through the script as he spoke. “The usual: dark hair, big dark eyes – just make sure up front that he’ll do nudity. I don’t want another blow-up over their religious scruples.”
He marked the script’s cover page with notes as to where they were in the process and shoved it into the pile going to Mitzi with relief. He hadn’t really expected to get The Name on that one, but he felt that it was his duty as a professional to try. Still, he made a point of picking out an easier one for his next call.
“Smeagol? Glad to catch you in. Look, I’ve got a role for you: top billing, a story of redemption and romance . . . Now, don’t be like that. She’s probably a lovely girl, and she’s a HUGE fan. She wants to redeem you with her love so that you and she destroy IT together.” He grinned as he said that, knowing his audience.
“Yes, of course, Smeagol. You’d carry it the whole way – from the Marshes of the Dead on.”
He pressed his advantage. “I haven’t even told you the best part. As a redeemed Ringbearer, you get a pass to Aman in this one and you have some scenes with Deagol, too.” After five more minutes of soothing his lead actor, he was able to hang up.
“Okay, ladies – and you, too, Figwit – we’ve got a number three,” the Wardrobe Mistress announced. She consulted her notes. “Just two dresses, lessee, ‘a dress just like Arwen’s, but blue and sparkly all over,’ and ‘a lacy elven nightgown.’ Use your imagination on that one: it’s only in one scene.”
“Oh, Sweet Nienna, the Arwen Dress again,” groaned Stephania, the Hobbit costumer. “I can’t take it. I swear I’m transferring to another division when my next review comes up.”
Although she’d spoken in an undertone, it didn’t escape the sharp elven ears of her supervisor. “It’s not so bad, Steph. You can cut the pattern in your sleep and you can always take out your feelings by spelling out ‘Pretentious Twit’ in the sequins, the way you and Leola did last time.”
Stephania and her partner exchanged a guilty look at that, and the Wardrobe Mistress laughed. “Oh, we’ve all done that one – and besides, no-one who wants the Arwen Dress Special can read Angerthas. Well, at least not more than her name.”
The head of the set construction crew held speed drills with her team while they waited for the final word on their new project. She was a hard-bitten dwarf who bellowed like a stevedore at anyone she saw slowing or slacking. Rumor had it that she’d once arranged a transfer to the Animal Wrangling Department for a crew member who didn’t clear the set properly. They dreaded that more than her axe. From time to time they’d nudge each other when she looked annoyed and whisper, “Mumakil manure.”
The crew chief patted the axe as they ran, grinning behind her beard. The real story was that she’d sent a crew member to the Script Reading Department for not putting the stock sets away properly. She’d never tell them that, though: She didn’t want to terrify them into making mistakes.
They were a pretty tight crew, she thought with satisfaction. Even now, racing through the drills, they looked confident. She decided to mix it up a little more. “What are our watchwords?” she hollered.
The answer came back, gratifyingly loud and unanimous. “SPEED! FLEXIBILITY! ATTENTION TO DETAIL!”
Just as she was about to shout back the traditional, “I can’t HEAR you,” the thrush she’d been expecting fluttered up. She offered it a snack and unstrapped the message canister from its leg.
“Rush job,” the bird announced.
She opened up the canister and read the job specs. One full-scale Rivendell, complete with crystal palace, other locations to follow. She couldn’t resist a sneer at the rickety and improbable building in the sketch, in which much of the living quarters teetered high atop the spindly towers, far from all necessities. At least she wouldn’t have to live in the thing.
She raised her voice, “Playtime’s over, lads and lasses! We’ve got a job.” As the crew swarmed up to get their assignments, she added, “We’re going to have to get creative with this one. Perry, let’s make the towers collapsible.”
The production assistant had managed to get his to-do list completely wrapped around his legs as he trotted after the second assistant director. He muttered to himself as he tugged at it.
“Exceptions we need to file: with Ulmo, for redirecting the Baranduin, the Loudwater and Anduin the Great; with Manwe, five exemptions from the laws of gravity, inertia and probability; with Mandos – “ here he cringed, so that he dropped behind the assistant director, who hurried on, oblivious.
“With Mandos,” he repeated, “to arrange for the spirits of Feanor, Finrod and Luthien to appear as ghosts. In Rivendell, no less!”
After he regained his breath and freed his legs, he ran after the assistant director. “Sir, I know you’re busy, but do you know whether I can file the exception for Luthien with Mandos, or do I have to go . . . higher?” He gulped so anxiously on the last word that the assistant director actually stopped and took pity on him.
“You are new at this, aren’t you? No-one actually knows what became of Luthien’s spirit, since she partook of the Gift of Men with her husband. Anyways, working with Feanor and Felagund post-death is far too hair-raising. We don’t need that kind of drama on set.
“Just get casting to find some likely haunts from the Dead Marshes. They’re much easier to work with. As for the other exceptions, you can file the paperwork, but we’ll probably end up shooting those scenes in some more malleable realm, like Xanth or Oz.”
First Day of Production
The director surveyed the lead’s trailer. “How’s our special girl?” he asked the Uruk-hai standing on guard. The Uruk grunted and shrugged towards the door. A hand-lettered sign tacked to it read, “Lady Eruiel, long-lost sister of Lord Elrond, who got amnesia in the Sons of Feanor’s attack on the Havens. Lost to herself, she never made the choice between elf and mortal. What will she choose, and will it be the Prince of Mirkwood or the King of Gondor who sways her heart?” Beneath that, another hand had added raggedly, “Why, dear Eru, why?”
Author's Chapter Notes:
People often decry the effect of non-canonical stories on the characters of Tolkien’s canon, but don’t recognize the real cost. There’s a whole industry of professionals whose work goes into the process. This is their story.