Tour Stop No. 4--Hey, Which Side Are You On?
J.B. is our next witness. Not the hardest-working man in show business, unfortunately, but one of my then-agents, a worker bee in a large agency whom I had never met before he took me to meet the Partners. He was crucial to our case--which, strictly speaking, fell under the rubric of contract law--because he had negotiated the oral understanding that, both sides agreed, constituted the only undisputed agreement between the parties. He was also something of a hostile witness. I had testified that, during the brief time I was actually writing the screenplay, the Heiress had called me to ask if it was true that I had fired J.B. Actually, I explained both to her and in court, I had fired the whole damn agency, and it was, as agents so often like to tell their clients, nothing personal. Yet it was an odd moment, made odder by the discovery, during the aptly named discovery process, of a letter from Agent J.B., dated shortly after that first meeting, soliciting the Partners to let him represent the project. We had introduced that letter into evidence, letting it carry the suggestion that J.B. was at least desirous of working both sides of the street. That can make a man hostile.
J.B. did testify as to the nature of the oral agreement he had negotiated. It contained an outline of dollar figures, a transfer of my option on the book to the Partners in Evil, and a 20-week "period" in which the first draft would be written. The period was the crux of their case, since they were claiming I had let it lapse without due diligence. Attorney G cross-examined J.B. about his knowledge of the Writers Guild rule that prohibits writers from starting to perform services until they start getting paid. It was already in evidence that the Partners hadn't cut me the first check until after the late-August meeting. J.B., embarrassingly for a former lit agent, testified he wasn't familiar with the Writers Guild rules. Sitting down, Attorney G allowed himself the most discreet of satisfied little smiles in my direction, not even really a smile so much as a set of the jaw and a slight widening of the eyes that suggested an inner dance over a corpse.
The next morning was not so amusing for our side. Manager S was scheduled to be our next witness. Since her deposition, she had been drilled a couple of times by the folks on the legal team, and each time they came back shaking their heads. "The jury will like her," Attorney G had said early on. But now there was no jury, only Judge O to impress. She dreaded testifying, and it showed. After each answer, she looked back from the judge on her left to me sitting straight in front of her, shooting me a smiling, querulous glance like that of the 3-year-old who's just finished playing "The Happy Farmer" for his parents' friends and wants to know if he's done OK.
Manager S was responsible for what turned out to be crucial pieces of evidence--pages from her daily schedule, a document that included not only whom she met with or talked to, but also notes on the topic for discussion or on what, in fact, was said. For the date on which Agent J.B. had negotiated the oral agreement, her calendar page had his name, a notation of the details of the deal, and the circled words "20 wks." Attorney T, whose heart suddenly appeared to be in it, made much of her decision to circle those words. Didn't that mean, he suggested, that this deadline was very important? Well, yeah, kind of, but not really, no.
Judge O was perfectly capable of burying Manager S on his own. Handwriting was a kind of private passion with him (he had belabored J.B. with questions from the bench about the handwriting on his memos) and, ever the graph-o-sleuth, he asked her why certain entries on that calendar page were written in green ink. She testified that it was because she had had a green pen handy at the time. Why, he pursued, had other notations on the page been written in purple ink? Was that pursuant to any routine practice on her part? No, she said, sneaking me a quizzical smile. When those notes were made, it was a purple pen that was at hand. This was Venus meeting Mars, and Mars didn't like it one bit. "So there's no way to know what notation was written first and which one was written subsequently," Judge O thundered. "There is no methodology here! Your testimony makes absolutely no sense!" At this point, Manager S might as well have spent the rest of her time on the stand chanting in Urdu.
But testifying in English was bad enough. She had also, on a calendar page from early fall, made a notation near my name that said "writer's block." Why, Attorney T pressed, had she written that down? Did it have anything to do with her client--me--having a problem getting to work on the long-expected script? Over lunch, Attorney G, desperate to rid her answers of the chatty ambiguity that plagued them all morning ("well, yeah, you know, I mean, not really, I mean, I don't know, that could have been, but that's not, like"), gave her three pencils to hold during the afternoon's testimony--one for each of the permissible answers: "yes," "no," "I don't remember." She stuck to "I don't remember" as the answer to repeated questions about "writer's block," then got off the stand and told me during a break that she remembered why she'd written that, but my lawyer had been so adamant that she not testify to anything she wasn't sure of that she thought "I don't remember" was her only viable option. I found myself thinking that, overall, Urdu would have been the better choice.