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Chapter 5 – Sophie & The Production Meeting

2 Jan

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‘Balls, balls, balls’. Sophie sighed. ‘Oh god, there’s just too much to do.’

In front of Sophie, Tom, Kyle The Runner and Victoria lay a pile of treatments, overviews, rough budgets, headshots, CV’s and empty mugs. It was the kick off meeting for scripted reality show ‘Hip Replacement’ which was being renamed, because, the name was ‘obviously a dreadful joke’ and sounded like ‘an depressing view into the lives of 80-somethings’ Ian Langley had informed Sophie by email a few minutes before.

‘Where shall we start?’ Sophie sighed.

The door flew open and Ian strode in. Tall, dramatic, very clean. His hair was slightly silver and cropped short against his dry, over-tanned skin. He was TV rich (as in, not very). He drove a ridiculously large black car with tinted windows. This should have been hot. But, like many senior men in media there were some very serious failings. For one, he had a slightly high pitched voice. He enjoyed telling anyone who would listen that he was a nudest. His legs were slighly too short which made his torso look strangely long – and in the wrong cut suit he looked like a giant dwarf.

On his desk sat a framed photo of himself with a mullet from 1998 – the wrong year to have a mullet, even ironic ones didn’t appear until the early naughties. ‘An embarrassing gift from my old assistant,’ he would claim, handing it to you to get a closer look. He was also topless in it.

‘Hello.’ Ian smiled at Sophie. ‘And you must be Victoria?’

Sophie watched as Victoria blushed and smiled back at him. ‘Yes, very nice to meet you Ian.’ She tucked her hair behind her ears and chewed on a finger nail. Sophie noticed they were chewed down to the stump.

‘Well, we must go for a drink, eh?’ He nodded at Sophie. ‘Lets give her a proper Bear welcome, shall we?’

Sophie didn’t have time for this.

‘Sorry, we’ve got shit loads to do, Ian. Is Penny still around?’

‘Changed that bloody name yet? Hip Replacement? Who the fuck thought of that?’ Ian laughed.

‘Me.’ Said Sophie. ‘A least it’s not called ‘My Big Fat Hipster Challange’ or ‘ The Great British Hipster Revival’ or something equally unoriginal.’ She sighed. ‘We’re working on a new name, but firstly I NEED A FUCKING PRODUCTION MANAGER!’.

‘Jesus, Sophie. Language.’ Ian was thoroughly over-acting his disapproval in front of Victoria.

Victoria looked amused. Tom pushed a CV towards her. ‘Claire Renyolds. PM on 3 BBC feature programs, did some time on Big Brother and was just dropped from a new show due to funding cuts’

‘Tories.’ Ian looked slightly displaced, muttering as he backed slowly out of the room.

‘Oh, Tom.’ Sophie sat down, instantly more relaxed. ‘This is great. And she’s been called? And she’s available?’

‘Yep. I asked her to come in later today. Me and Victoria can prep everything if you like?’

‘Victoria and I.’ Said Sophie meekly. ‘That would be great.’

At that moment fucking Penny walked in and took a seat at the end of the table, Sophie noting the purposeful distance she put between herself and everyone else in the room. Penny had a thick fringe and glossy caramel hair. She had a huge rock on her finger from fiance Gerry who worked in the city doing rich things. Penny was well bred, well brought up, well beautiful and as dull as a night out with Human Resources. Her only fault – a lisp – was impossibly cute.

‘Aw, thanks for coming by. I actually think we’re fine now – amazing Tom’s has got it sorted.’

Penny sighed, slowly, painfully rising back up, and through a forced smile, ‘Oookay, let me know if I can do anything else.’

Sophie continued on. They chose casting agents, possible locations, refined the format. As the morning rolled into lunch, they ordered Kyle The Runner out for sandwiches and by 3pm, and several conversations with Legal, Sophie felt confident they had broken the back of it. They had not decided on a name because they had decided on a set – the set was to be a hairdresser/cafe/bar on a short strip off Bethnal Green Road called ‘The Locks Inn’. It was an iconic Brick Lane business – a cute, retro themed salon complete with barista out front and a ‘nail bar’ out back. It was run by a fabulous woman called Jennifer W. If the staff were not up to scratch they could hold castings and create the dynamic they needed. Sophie pushed away the twang of guilt she felt, reminding herself it would make Jennifer W a lot of money in the end.

‘Guys, this has been great.’ Sophie was tired and her head was starting to pound again. She reached for a couple of neurofen and her phone.

‘Tom can you get everything ready for.. Claire, was it?’

‘Yep, Claire Reynolds’

‘Great. And Victoria, can you type up the notes from today. It doesn’t need to be super neat or anything. I need to… well you guys can go now.’

She waited patiently while they packed and filed everything, and made their way out of the conference room. As soon as the door was closed she made the call.

‘Robyn. Have you got a sec?’ Sophie swung round in her chair to gaze out of the window.

‘Darling!’ Her voice filled with warmth and love. ‘I’ve got a very quick five mins – is that enough?’

‘It’s about Chris.’

‘Oh. Shall we meet after work? I can manage a glass.’ Sophie noted her hangover before agreeing.

‘That would be great. I’m just…’

‘Save it, darling. We can talk then.’

There was something in her best friends voice that told her she already knew. The crushing humiliation weighed down upon on her. She felt instantly nauseous and her chest tightened. How long had Robyn known?

‘Sophie?’ Victoria’s voice came from round the door as she slowly pushed into the room.

‘What is it?’ Sophie snapped, angry at the interruption and too teary to turn around.

‘I just bought you a coffee. I’ll can leave it here?’

‘Right. Thanks.’ she replied flatly.

The door shut softly. Guilt on top of pain turning to anger. It had been 3 years and it still smacked.

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Chapter 4 – Sophie & The TV Chef

14 Dec

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Two weeks earlier Sophie had done the one thing she swore she would never do again…. for the third time. She had shagged the talent.

It was the filming of British Kitchen and the presenter Christian, a swaggering cock, was having his make up done by a plump but gorgeous young thing who fell into fits of giggles every time he spoke. The show was due to record very soon and both were oblivious to the bustle on the studio floor. Sophie kissed her friend Jeff (Camera One) on the cheek as she passed.

‘Hey you.’

‘Hey Sophie! Long time no see. Any news on Hip Replacement?’

‘Shit name!’ shouted Tony the grip, grinning.

‘Thank you Tony,’ she smiled, ‘Friday we hope – fancy a break from this?’ she waved across at Christian who was doing some bizarre impression of a boxer to the delight of his audience. Jeff smiled and rolled his eyes.

‘I hope you’ve organised a VIP area for him. He only speaks to make up and you.’

‘I’m afraid we’re in the grips of a double dip recession, everyone has to give something up’ She joked. ‘The coke, the VIP area, the free sports car. Why the fuck are they called sports cars? Anyway, super super super glad you’re coming, babes.’

‘Of course, 100 shows baby!’ Jeff cheered.

‘FIFTEEN MINUTES EVERYONE!’ shouted the fat, grumpy, bald first assistant director who’s shouty-ness made him sound the most efficient on set and yet he was glued to his twitter and facebook feeds the entire time.

Sophie made her way towards Christian who was now explaining the differences between Thai and Balinese massage through a series of semi-erotic strokes across her bare shoulders.

‘Hi Christian,’ Sophie smiled and turned to his prey ‘Hello, I’m Sophie Sturgess.’

‘Hi, I was just finishing’ she blushed.

‘Thank you.’ Sophie waited while she packed her brushes into her case and disappeared beyond the studio floor into the darkness. ‘Is your mic off?’

‘Yep’ He kissed her cheek managing to brush his greasy made up face against hers. ‘How’s tricks lady S?’

‘Fine. I hope you’re coming tonight?’

‘Of course. Though I can’t stay long, I have a dinner at the new Ramsey. Fucking prick that he is. So fucking arrogant – have you ever met him? He ate in Number Eight when I first opened it. You went there, right? He sent his steak back.’ He kept going. Christian didn’t require answers to his questions, for him question asking was about how clever/thoughtful/interested he sounded, it was not about the actual receipt of an answer. But he was handsome, so it was never a drag to sit and watch him talk. Although this close up and with so much make-up and a bib tucked into his collar was wholly unsexy and Sophie was in a hurry.

‘Listen, I need you to come and see me after we wrap. Ian is coming down and wants to speak to you before the party’

‘Not fired I hope?’ he lamely joked.

‘No nothing like that. Good luck, and congrats on number 100. How you do it I’ll never understand.’

‘FIVE MINUTES PEOPLE… FIVE MINUTES PLEEEEASE!’ Shouted the first assistant director guy. He was either about to explode or punch someone.

Sophie headed back across the floor and up towards the gallery, nodding and smiling at the crew she had worked with for so long now. She picked up her pace and took her seat at the back of the gallery to watch the show record when Tom approached.

‘Sophie can we talk?’

‘Not now, sorry, final record.’ She forced a smile.

‘Okay, but maybe after?’ Tom sounded slightly desperate, but Sophie was glued to the monitor as filming began.

‘Sure.’ She smiled without looking up.

British Kitchen was her first solo commission. She had worked so hard on it and poured her heart and soul into it. The format was simple, cooking lessons with pre-recorded inserts from garden markets around the countryside showcasing local, organic, seasonal food. Today was wild mushrooms, Jersey Royals and rhubarb. And although the show was conceived before she met Christian, he had become the heartbeat of the series and the poster boy for British farming. Of course with that came the book deals, the pap snaps of him looking fat or thin or drunk or buying milk and the obligatory celebrity girlfriend who now did her own spin-off line in British cooking for your baby. The cover featured a blonde haired 6 month old in a British Lion t-shirt and at first glance looked a little like a child rearing manifesto for the fascist EDL.

As these things go, the show became bigger than Sophie and less her own, so when the competing broadcaster won the bid for the next season, it felt the right time to say goodbye and pass it on. Of course the fact it went to Channel 6 meant that the budget would be halved and the reach greatly reduced, and Christian’s ego needed to be well managed so he didn’t try to use the opportunity to renegotiate his already eye-wateringly large salary and bonus package.

Christian was holding up a bunch of bright pink rhubarb and going over the various unexplored uses – cleaning pots and pans, hair colour and insecticide to name a few. The rhythm of filming exhausted her and with one loud, ‘That’s a wrap ladies and gentleman’ from fat, bald first assistant director guy, it was over.

She took a quiet moment while everyone high-fived each other. Christian and her smiled across the room – a genuine moment of success for both of them. She had earned this drink. She popped the cork on a bottle of Moet and walked towards the studio floor.

A few hours later she was cross legged on the floor, surrounded by champagne glasses of varying fullness teetering perilously on the edge of utterly, irreversibly hammered.

There was some truly awful club anthem blaring out of the stereo and younger crew members were dancing, the make-up girl was ‘booty-slapping’ in the direction of Jeff. She wondered why she had never asked him out. Jeff couldn’t believe his luck and was trying to pull her in for a kiss every chorus. Was that a chorus? It was hard for Sophie to tell. She hated dance music. Her favourite album was Pet Sounds.

The Gallery director, sound engineer and gaffer were all chain smoking by the fire exit. Someone had put a fag out in the huge Union Jack celebration cake. She sat on the studio floor a drink in hand and tried to steady herself.

‘You’re not that drunk’ She tried to tell herself.

‘It is the 100th show, you’re celebrating, it’s normal’ She reasoned with herself.

She hiccuped and tried to stand.

‘Have some water’ She pleaded with herself, gulping back another mouthful of champagne.

‘Come on you piss head’ bellowed Christian from nowhere as he tried to pull her up. She collapsed into his arms and gave him a sloppy hug.

‘I’m so sorry about all the changes. Hey, didn’t you have a dinner on?’

‘Oh. Yes, I always say that in case the party is shit.’

She stabbed him in the chest with his finger ‘Well, well, well. What a good trick you have there. I’m not going to try to remember all the times you’ve had ‘a dinner on’ over the last few years – but I know it is quite a lot’

She threw her head back and laughed, almost projecting herself across the floor in the process. Christian slipped his arm under her to pull her back.

‘Come on you.’ He took her drink away, ‘You need something a bit more substantial in you.’

She looked up at him and tried a sexy smile, which he seemed vagually grossed-out by. Or was that enchanted. Yes definitely enchanted. She smiled again.

‘Food, I mean.’

‘Oh,’ she giggled, ‘and I thought we were going to have one for the road.’

‘You need another drink?’ He grinned as he led her toward the door. ‘I don’t think so.’

‘When did Ian leave?’ She couldn’t remember if he had left or not.

‘He’s still here’ Christian pointed to Ian and her assistant producer Tom chatting on the darkened set around the kitchen counter.

‘Oh I need to say good-bye.’

‘No you don’t. Trust me.’

She looked back over her shoulder as Christian picked up her jacked and bag. Tom and Ian were very close it seemed, and they shouldn’t be because in theory he should be only reporting in to her. She was confused. She wondered if Tom was complaining about her. It wouldn’t surprise her, she was constantly mean to him. Not that she meant to be. She saw them both look her way and the pang of paranoia intensified.

She turned to Christian.

‘Take me home.’ She purred as best she could. And then hiccuped.

An hour later she was half naked, vomiting in her bath with a married man asleep in her bed. This was her life. Successful by day, drunk by night.

Chapter 2 – Sophie And the Hangover Horrors

12 Dec

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Sophie sat at her desk, tired and hungover after yet another evening on the devil’s juice. That’s what they all called it, and for good reason. It was like an IV shot of impending doom. Glasses and glasses of cold, dry white wine and several dozen fags outside the Clachan pub huddled round an outdoor heat lamp bitching about their bosses, their friends and their single status before stumbling home onto the towards their various unsatisfactory living quarters.

But Sophie had had a good run recently. She had bought a 2 bedroom house with a little garden in Hackney’s more gentrified area, so things were not all bad. She certainly had ticked house off the marriage, house, kids list which was a start.

The marriage part was certainly in question since she struggled to get to the prerequisite of having a man, and her messy break up with Chris had put all things romantic on the back burner for the meantime.

But today was a huge day as they were officially moving into production the scripted reality show ‘Hip Replacement’ – a quirky peek into the lives of 6 Shoreditch trendies.

‘Day One: Let the madness begin. #icantbelieveitshappening #tvrules’ she tweeted to her 479 followers.

There was so much to do. She had to find a casting director first thing this morning. And an actual director. And a very very good Production Manager since her budget was ‘tight as a nun’s fanny’ (as Ian Langley would say) and she didn’t have the luxury of time since Channel 6 wanted the launch to happen mid November. She needed to write briefs for these roles and advertise. She needed to speak to the lawyers about the structure of ‘scripted reality’ contracts. She must do that first, actually. She needed to clear all the crap cluttering her office from the ‘Pirate Island’ shoot which had finally been cancelled after several exhausting seasons. And there was the ongoing management of British Kitchen, Spun Out and Clink. and Speaking of which, she needed a production schedule ASAP so she knew when all those tasks were to be completed by. The task list felt insurmountable. She logged into Facebook.

A gentle knock at her door and fucking Penny ducked her head around the corner.

‘The new girl, Victoria is here. Shall I send her in?’

‘Sorry?’

Fucking Penny sighed, ‘Victoria Williams is here for the trial of junior production assistant ’

Sophie quickly closed Facebook trying to ignore what she thought she had just read.

‘Yeah, um, sure’ Sophie took a breath. ‘Of course, send her in’.

Victoria appeared at the door almost immediately with a nervous smile. She had a huge over-sized Chloe bag on her arm, looked impeccably (if ridiculously) turned out, and was clutching a large Costa Coffee with a trail of what looked like egg yolk down her trench.

‘Hi Victoria, please take a seat.’ She said, immediately noticing a pile of fake peg-legs and pirate swords in the way. ‘Just shove that shit over there’.

A full minute of comedy followed with Victoria awkwardly juggling coffee and a collapsed pile of pirate props which she then managed to trip on and just catch the cup before it spilled down her front and all over Sophie’s desk.

‘Sorry sorry, oh god’ Victoria’s cheeks were red as a spanked bum.

‘It’s fine, just don’t break anything,’ warned Sophie. Then remembering her first job would be to clear all this stuff up and dump it in the skip, she quickly joked ‘it’s worth a small fortune.’

Victoria smiled nervously again. She was beginning to irritate Sophie, but then all the young ones did.

‘Did you get in okay this morning’

‘Yes, fine thank you’ she said ‘I really like the tube. It’s so easy and efficient.’

Sophie tried not to smirk. ‘Well, that won’t last.’

‘I guess you’re right’ Victoria’s phone was vibrating. Sophie took a little pleasure in watching her panic as she tried to find it and switch it off.

‘Well look, welcome aboard. There is lots to do. We’ve just had Hip Replacement commissioned, here is the overview, read it. We are going to move into production right away. That means there is a mountain to climb so I need you to help me get all this stuff from Pirate’s cleared away – Penny will tell you where – then when you’re done you can join me in the meeting room – the one on the right by the main door – for the production kick off. Your desk is just out there beside Tom’s. That’s Tom out there with the dark hair and glasses. Penny will set you up on your email. Oh and a coffee. Would you mind getting me one, and a bacon roll from next door? I’ve got a wretched hangover. Penny can show you how to expense it.’ She stopped. ‘Sorry, it’s just really crazy right now.’

‘I understand’ Victoria stood, ‘How do you take your coffee?’

‘Intravenously’ Sophie laughed, ‘White, skinny milk, no sugar. Thank you so much.’

Sophie sat for a moment with her fingers on the keyboard. She reopened Facebook. She skimmed down the news feed again and there it was, clear as day.

Christopher Whitcombe is now in a relationship.