Exterior.Heaven’s Gate Movie Set—Night by Todd Mercer

The franchise-level star is in his trailer running through lines / of distraction, thumbing pages of script changes. / Halfway through the shoot, they tweak re-writes on the fly. / This film desperately needs to choose an identity. The star / can play a hard-case. He can emote and interpret, / but he’s also phoning Murray at the agency. Make sure / the next bunch knows their own minds. A professional / doesn’t want the headaches of diffusion. / It tends to water down the power / of storytelling. The tale in progress is diluted / to homeopathic traces.
Faces on the screen, beloved by the viewing public / for saying words that unseen people write. / It’s a quirky field, Film. The star might recite / the Gettysburg address naked, in the presence of the crew / and later, every movie-goer. Actors assent / to what real art demands. He might work a project for free, / if a must-make screenplay came his way. / But he’s heeded Murray’s guidance, fought typecasting, / successfully avoided the rut of playing himself.
In a similar trailer the director directs writers / to scratch out and margin scribble. He sweats / from the heat production company suits aim at him. / Overruns and batches of botched takes. / The big explosion scene alone cost more than most art-house films / and half of the dynamite failed. The writers stifle / their complaints, aware of the scarcity of work.
The star revs himself up between takes, bangs out / the trailer’s tin door with sheer authority. Let’s make magic, people, / he calls to the crew, exuding life-force. / There’s no Oscar in the future stemming from this stinker. / He’s the best. He beats the laws of conservation, enlarges / modest enterprises. That’s his charismatic knack, a real check generator. / Once the cameras roll, exasperation evaporates.  
Briefly all forget the constant changes, / the cloud of doom on location, the amateurish operation. / Unless this dud suddenly improves, the director won’t mention / his own name in the credits. It will say Anonymous or Alan Smithee. Too late to bail, / so they push through. The studio pressure…
The star somehow salvages his set-piece moments. Shines. / He pulls it off at every job. / That’s why the star’s the star.





Todd Mercer won the Dyer-Ives Kent County Prize for Poetry (2016), the National Writers Series Poetry Prize (2016) and the Grand Rapids Festival Flash Fiction Award (2015). His digital chapbook, Life-wish Maintenance, appeared at Right Hand Pointing. Mercer’s recent poetry and fiction appear in The Drabble, Dunes Review, Eunoia Review, The Lake, Literary Orphans, Misty Mountain Review, Peacock Journal, Plum Tree Tavern, Sonic Boom, Split Lip Magazine, Star 82 Review and Vending Machine Press. Mercer and his wife Michaeleen Kelly recently made their motion picture acting debuts in Return of the Scarecrow.
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