Will and the Code
WILL AND THE CODE
by Larry Loebell
Phillip (Phil) O. Strait, a top theatrical agent
Now, or any time when puritans manage to censor the arts
From 1930 to 1967, the motion picture industry, under pressure from religious fundamentalists and the political right, accepted and officially sanctioned self censorship as a way of avoiding government censorship, under the supervision of their trade organization, the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors Association of America (MPPDA). A set of rules was created that severely limited how dialogue about and images of sex, violence, drugs, and crime could occur in the movies. Lists of forbidden subjects and taboo words were published and updated. The document that spelled out what could and could not be said or showed was called The Motion Picture Production Code. For over three decades, no studio film could be released without adhering to the Code. All quotes in the following reference the 1934 Production Code of the Motion Picture Industry.
Enter Will’s agent, Phil, talking on his cell phone, possibly through a headset.
Will. Willie. William.
Yea it’s me. Isn’t that why I have your private number? So I can call you at home whenever I have news?
I know it is your writing time and I promise I won’t keep you long but I wanted to tell you what I heard back.
Well, good news, bad news. You with me?
Good news and bad news I said. Why do you always hear –
No, not mostly bad news. Just a little bad. Not all bad. Will, you know I have your best interest at heart, right?
So everything I’m saying, it’s about you, about your career, your future.
This is what your ninth play?
Tenth. Right. Yes, I should probably know that. Listen to me. You’ve got a reputation. You’re making a good living. And things are going to only get better for you. The sky’s the limit. I’m certain of it. I’m taking my career on it.
Okay. Yes. There’s a “but.”
The but is, there are some… notes.
You can’t have thought you’d get this up exactly as it is.
I know where it’s been developed.
I know who directed the readings.
Will. You have to try to – You have to try listen calmly and –
You have to have an open mind.
No this isn’t just about my ten percent.
I’m hurt you would say — no. No. Let me tell you. Are you listening?
Great. So can you take a minute to hear their concerns?
I know, but if you want it produced –
If you want it produced you’re going to need to –
It is going to require a few tiny rewrites.
Tiny means tiny. I don’t think they’ll change the underlying themes or story one iota.
If you won’t –
Will, if you won’t, no one will take — I won’t be able to book your play. Sorry to be blunt.
Not New York.
Forget the Regionals.
Not in any LORT.
Not in a single SPT.
Forget Chicago League.
Nowhere they charge admission –
Of course I think it’s a terrific play.
Of course I think it’s theatrical.
Yes, I think it invites all kinds of spectacular staging ideas. If Max Reinhardt were alive he’d knock this out of the park.
Julie loves it too. She loves your work. She did a great job with Titus, didn’t she?
But she wants to work, too.
No, it’s not because it’s too big.
Twenty two speaking roles is just fine.
I think they’re great characters. All that love stuff? Hermia and Lysander? “The course of true love never did run smooth.” Truer words were never –
Cliched? Hardly. Every line feels like it ought to have quotes around it.
Will, the speeches are terrific.
My favorite? The one that starts, “The lunatic, the lover, and the poet/ Are of imagination all compact.” Are you talking about yourself, Will? Because if you thought this was going to get by without –
What? Yes, I think it’s funny. ILMFAO.
Sure, I can see Dancy and Arianda doing it. That’s exactly who came to – So, Will. Listen to me? Can I tell you what they said?
Because it’s violates half of the terms –
Violates. No. Violates. Will you let me –
Will you let me finish?
It violates half of the terms of the production code.
The production code.
The new theater production code. You’ve heard of it, right? It’s all that Variety and Backstage and the Times have been talking about for –
I know you hate the trades.
Yes, the one that congress passed.
Yes. That one. The one they passed with the support of all those crazy right wing –
Yesterday. It became effective yesterday.
Of course the President signed it. They had to give something to their base.
Kacking the theater was the perfect choice politically. Better than killing the NEA.
Art? They don’t care about –
Don’t care about that either.
Puritans closed the theaters in 1642. Lots of things change. Puritans don’t. They recur, like eczema. You think this lot is any different? Rick or Newt or Mitt? It’s the damn movie production code all over again.
Of course they won’t try it again on the movies. The movies are our only secure export!
Balance of trade trumps –
It’s full of stuff about “maintain high moral standards, “ and “not throwing sympathy to the commission of sins,” and “preventing the moral corruption of youth,” and “turning an indifferent eye to drugs” stuff like that.
I downloaded a copy.
Of course I don’t think theater leads to the moral corruption of our youth. That’s why it’s brilliant. Like I said, plays to their base.
Because no one thought our guy could possibly lose to a bunch of –
They did that already. They delayed the implementation date. A whole year. Now it’s here.
So can I tell you what you need to do?
Do you have a paper and pen?
Will, I’m not selling you out.
No. I think you already know the things they object to.
Okay. So here we go. Are you ready?
Okay. First of all, there’s blatant lust.
Lust, Will. Blatant sexual desire.
Of course I think it’s natural.
Of course I think it’s normal.
But half your characters are having sex out of wedlock. Or are thinking about it.
You can’t show that anymore.
Here’s what it says. “Excessive and lustful kissing, lustful embraces, suggestive postures and gestures are not to be shown.”
I’m just quoting.
Item two of the code. After not showing crime.
Right. It also says, “The sanctity…of marriage shall be upheld.” There shall be no inference “that low forms of sex relationships are a common thing.” No sex for fun, I guess.
Yes, it really says that. I’m reading it to you. Quoting it directly. You want to hear the details?
“Adultery and illicit sex, must not be explicitly presented as attractive choices. Scenes of passion should not be introduced. Obscenity in word or gesture, by joke or suggestion, is forbidden. Seduction must never be shown by explicit method and is never the proper subject for comedy.”
Really. I think having a woman lusting for a donkey is a crack up, but some people –
You can’t even do dances. “Dances suggesting sexual actions or indecent passion are forbidden.” Is there a dance that doesn’t? I mean the minuet? Come on. All my musical guys are going berserk.
You can take it all out, but that won’t solve it. They still won’t do it.
Because of the drugs.
That Puck uses on — Substances used to alter the consciousness of the unsuspecting.
I know they’re plant extracts.
I’m sure they’re organic.
I know they don’t smoke them.
Or shoot them.
But it’s in the code.
And Puck probably sounds too much like fuck, so you should change his name.
Oh, and there’s also alcohol. Probably. At the wedding? Isn’t there always?
Because it’s part of their beliefs. They don’t drink alcohol. They don’t even drink coffee.
I’m not kidding.
I know none of your characters drink coffee. I’m just saying. For the future.
Who knows how they get up in the morning or how they sleep at night. It doesn’t matter. You can’t have booze and you can’t have java? Savvy?
Nope. Not Dunkin. Not Starbucks. Not Donner or Blitzen.
Okay. So there’s one more thing. Well, two.
You can’t show enchantment.
Which they equate to witchcraft.
Witchcraft. They have some bug about witches being –
I know there’s no witches. But they way they see it –
I can try to talk to them but its pretty clear. Pretty well spelled out.
There’s, one last thing.
Fairies. There are fairies.
They don’t care.
Doesn’t matter if they’re all straight.
It’s in the code. Can’t use the word.
Ways around it? Have you ever tangled with puritans? This is what the country gets for electing –
No, they’re really enforcing it.
I know it’s a supposed to be a dream. I don’t make the rules.
You have to give a little, Will.
Sex is out, death is in. You want to have someone do this play
So that’s the list. What do you think?
No one thought they could get away with it in the thirties either, when they opened the Code office and that clod Will Hays was taking sissors to every other word. But they did. For 30 years. They thought we’d catch a break when he went to his earthly rewards and then we got Joe Breen, who was worse. It was bad enough when these guys were on the sidelines threatening congress. Now they are the congress.
You want to write a safe play? Write one where some superhero kicks the ass of some –
Or one where a team of our guys put a bullet in the head of one of their guys.
Just trying to look out for you.
All right. You think about it, okay?
Call me tomorrow.
Who loves you baby?
C. 2012 Larry Loebell