Every so often throughout his life, Andrew meets a woman he recognizes as someone he knows, though he has never seen her before. He met the first of these women in elementary school in 1955, the second in 1962, the third in 1966, the fourth in 1970, the fifth in 1978, and he married her in 1987.
In 1993, Andrew and his wife Luisa are both forty-five and have been married for six years. Their children Owen and Lily are both eleven and in Fifth Grade. They live in a beautiful house Andrew built not far from the ocean about ten miles north of Vancouver, British Columbia.
Andrew wrote a collection of short stories when he was in his mid-twenties that launched a string of successes for him, and at the height of his good fortune he met and married Kiki, a dancer and choreographer with whom he had Owen. When the exigencies of fate removed his star from the firmament of Canadian culture, Andrew returned to carpentry to pay the bills and ceased to write.
When Owen was four and going to kindergarten, Andrew met Luisa whose daughter Lily was in school with Owen. The marvelous simpatico Andrew experienced with Luisa inspired him to start writing again. A few months later, Kiki got involved with somebody else, divorced Andrew, and gave him full custody of Owen.
The following year, Andrew and Luisa were married. When Andrew’s literary star began to rise again and his income was sufficient to cover the financial needs of their family, he convinced Luisa to give up her cooking gig at a popular restaurant and become his assistant and collaborator.
The business end of publishing books and producing plays holds little interest for Andrew, but for Luisa the commercial aspects of publishing and show biz are endlessly fascinating and she has become quite learned about the interconnected complexities of publishing, theatre, and the movie business. Indeed, her expertise regarding these interconnections has resulted in their most lucrative contract yet.
Two years ago, Andrew’s play Their Summer Holiday ended a long run in Vancouver following a successful premiere run in Montreal, and now the play is being performed in small theatres across Canada, America, England, and France.
Their Summer Holiday is a whimsical romance about a single father and his adolescent son spending a few magical weeks in a coastal village populated with colorful eccentrics and an alluring French woman with whom both father and son become enchanted.
The play was thought too quirky to be made into a movie until Luisa convinced Andrew to create with her a movie synopsis of the play focusing more on the love story and less on the eccentrics. Their elegant four-page synopsis, refined over several months, was pitched by Andrew’s agent to a select group of actors and producers, the movie rights were subsequently optioned by a big Hollywood studio, and Andrew and Luisa were contracted to write the screenplay.
They finish the third draft of their screenplay on a Friday in early April, each new draft written in response to notes from the film’s two LA-based producers, a fast-talking fellow named James Skidmore and a somewhat slower-talking woman named Jennifer Zindel, both of whom will be arriving in Vancouver in mid-April to spend a few days finalizing the script with Andrew and Luisa, filming to begin in September.
Most week days Andrew and Luisa wake to a 6:30 alarm, stay in bed for a while talking, take quick showers, make breakfast for the kids, and then one or both of them bicycles with the kids to the public elementary school three miles from their house, unless it’s raining or snowing or too bloody cold, in which case one of them drives the kids to school.
When Owen and Lily have been safely delivered to the halls of learning, Andrew and Luisa have coffee and breakfast over which they plan their morning and early afternoon. This planning session sometimes leads to a return to bed before the commencement of one or more of the following: writing, gardening, business correspondence, music making, beach combing, shopping, visiting friends, and going into the city for business or pleasure.
The kids get home from school by 3:30, have snacks and debrief with Luisa and/or Andrew, do their chores and homework, help prepare supper, eat supper, practice music for an hour, and gather in the living room with the adults for some sort of group activity, musical or otherwise.
Both Owen and Lily are studying piano with Luisa and both of them love to sing. Lily plays the guitar, Andrew her teacher, and Owen plays the clarinet, his teacher Chas Lowenstein who happens to be Andrew and Luisa’s renter and lives next door with his wife Betty.
Lily and Owen are both avid readers, excellent students, and aspire to be writers and musicians. They are each adept at walking on their hands, juggling three tennis balls, and throwing Frisbees with remarkable power and accuracy.
When the kids have gone to bed, Luisa and Andrew like to sit by the fire with cups of tea and talk about their children and anything else that comes to mind.
One evening after supper, a week before the movie producers are due to arrive, Owen and Lily and Luisa and Andrew gather in the living room for a game of Charades and Owen says, “Today Miss Tucker gave us the choices for our final big project of the year. We can either do a ten-page report on some important event in Canadian history or…”
“A ten-page biography of someone famous,” says Lily, taking up the recitation. “Or five two-page book reports on books from her list of acceptable books or a ten-page family history.”
“We have a week to decide,” says Owen, pursing his lips and gazing thoughtfully at the fire dwindling in the hearth. “Then we have to turn in a detailed proposal and once Miss Tucker approves we have to write a first draft, a second draft, and a final draft.”
“History repeating itself,” murmurs Andrew, thinking of the three drafts they’ve done of their screenplay.
“I’ll probably do a biography of either Mendelssohn or Billie Holiday or Ella Fitzgerald,” says Lily, wrinkling her nose. “I was going to do the book reports, but Owen and I already read all the books on her list two summers ago and she won’t let me do To Kill A Mockingbird because she says we don’t get that until high school even though Owen and I read it last summer.”
“I might do the family history,” says Owen, looking at Andrew, “and if I do you’ll need to remember back as far as you can and then I’ll call Grandma Gloria and Grandpa Zeke and Grandma Kaylia and ask them to remember.”
“I was gonna do a family history,” says Lily, shrugging, “but there’s only you, Mama, and you only remember Grandma Lily so there won’t be ten pages unless I write about Owen’s side and he might already be doing that.”
“Well don’t forget I also remember Grandma Lily’s mother,” says Luisa, smiling at her daughter. “Your great grandmother.”
“You do?” says Lily, excitedly. “I don’t remember you ever telling me about her.”
“I did when you were little,” says Luisa, thinking of her mother and how much she would enjoy Lily and Owen. “But not for a long time.”
“Like what do you remember about her?” asks Owen, who thinks Luisa is the most wonderful person in the world, right after Lily.
“Her name was Ziibi,” says Luisa, closing her eyes and seeing her sturdy grandmother shooing chickens into the coop at dusk. “Ziibi means river in Ojibwe. My mother and I visited her a few times when Ziibi was living in Baudette, a town in Minnesota just across the border. She had an old house on the Rainy River and raised rabbits for meat and pelts, and she rented out a room in the house to an old Chippewa man named Ray who was deaf and smoked a pipe. I stayed with her there without my mother for six weeks the summer I was thirteen. I remember she’d get the barbecue going and I’d pick ears of corn from her big garden and she’d set them on the coals in their husks, and then she’d walk out to the river with her fishing pole and right away catch a big fish, a trout or a pike or a walleye, and clean it in no time and cook it right up. Most delicious fish I ever ate.”
“What did she look like?” asks Lily, eager to know. “Was she as brown as you?”
“No and my mom wasn’t so brown either. I never met my father, but I must have gotten my darker brown from him. He was from Cuba, but I don’t know what he looked like because my mother never showed me a picture of him, though I think she had one.”
“My mom got her brown from Grandma Kaylia who was from Barbados,” says Owen, who hasn’t seen his mother in four years. “My mom’s dad was Chinese, but he died before I was born so I never got to meet him.”
“Ten pages won’t be enough,” says Andrew, knowing Owen longs to see his mother.
Andrew and Luisa meet the movie producers James and Jennifer at Tangelo’s, a trendy restaurant a few blocks from the famous Hotel Vancouver where James and Jennifer have booked a suite on the fifteenth floor.
James is slender and balding and nattily dressed, has a strong Chicago Jewish accent, laughs explosively, and only grows serious when discussing the script for Their Summer Holiday.
Jennifer is short and buxom with shoulder-length bleached blonde hair and pale blue eyes. Raised in New Jersey by Yiddish-speaking grandparents, the first thing she says to Luisa and Andrew is that she hates the name Jennifer and wants them to call her J.
Luisa and Andrew both order fish and chips and beer. James and Jennifer both order gin and tonics, garden salads, and shrimp scampi, and they both give their waiter ultra-specific instructions about how to make their gin and tonics, how to prepare their salad dressings, and how they want their linguini and shrimp cooked.
As Jennifer hands her menu to the waiter she says, “If you overcook my shrimp or serve me a shitty gin and tonic, things will not go well for you.”
To which James adds, “As for my gin and tonic, when in doubt err on the side of gin.” Having said this, he laughs explosively.
When the drinks arrive, Jennifer holds her glass aloft and says, “Here’s to the best script I’ve ever worked on.”
Glasses are clinked, drinks are drunk, the gin and tonics are declared delicious, and Jennifer says, “We are so close to signing Paul Sydney to direct I can’t tell you. The only wrinkle with Paul is he wants to shoot this in Thailand, turn it into a tropical fairy tale with half-naked Asian beauties and sampans. But we really don’t want to go that way.”
“Thailand?” says Andrew, the back of his neck tingling. “You’re kidding.”
“You know what I just realized,” says James, pointing at Andrew. “This movie is a whodunit. Only nobody gets murdered.” He arches an eyebrow. “But maybe somebody should.”
“This is not a whodunit,” says Jennifer, glaring at James. “This is a brilliant coming of age story meets gorgeous mid-life crisis love story.” She pauses. “We’re thinking a few songs sung by the characters might really work in this film. One song for Leo, one for Jonah, one for Louise. Not a musical really, but quasi.”
Andrew recalls his agent Penelope Goldstein saying Have no illusions, Andrew. By signing this contract you are giving them permission to do anything they want with your story. Yes, you will write a screenplay, but they are not obliged to use it. Do you understand?”
“I’m sure you’re aware there are three wonderful songs in the play sung by those characters,” says Luisa, taking a deep breath. “But after we sent you our first draft you said nix the songs.”
“Not those cutesy folk songs,” says James, shaking his head. “We’re talking Elton John, Randy Newman. Big time movie songs.”
“A quasi-musical?” says Andrew, locking eyes with Jennifer and connecting with something deep inside her. “Is that what you want, J?”
“No,” she says, flustered by this unexpected breaching of her usually impenetrable defenses. “I want to shoot this just the way you wrote it, but my job…” She glances at James. “Our job is to get this movie made, which always means deviating from the source material. It just does. For instance, if we sign Marc Laredo, and pray God we do, he’s gonna play Jonah a bit fay, though Jonah in your script is definitely not fay. He’s a serious romantic, ultra-sensitive, thoughtful and kind, yet wonderfully masculine, too.” She laughs self-consciously. “Somebody stop me. I sound like Pauline Kael on Ecstasy.”
After lunch they move to James and Jennifer’s suite on the fifteenth floor of Hotel Vancouver and array themselves on comfy chairs around a big coffee table.
“Drinks?” says James, bouncing his eyebrows. “Coffee? Brandy? Martinis? Champagne? Cannabis? Cocaine?”
“Coffee would be great,” says Luisa, looking at Andrew and saying with her eyes We’ll get through this, darling. Please don’t tell them to go fuck themselves.
James calls room service and orders coffee and cookies, scripts are gotten out, and pens are poised.
Jennifer, still a little woozy from Andrew’s deep dive into her psyche, clears her throat and says, “I wasn’t kidding when I said this is the best script I’ve ever worked on. However, there are two large problems we need to solve before we can sign the likes of Marc Laredo or Shirley Stone who, as you know, got the ball rolling when they both flipped over your pitch.”
“And what are those problems?” asks Luisa, noting Andrew’s growing disquiet.
“Leo,” says James, throwing up his hands. “He’s got more screen time than Louise. And by the way, we found a brilliant unknown to play Leo. When we tested this kid he practically melted the camera. British. Of course. Gorgeous. The young James Dean meets the young Johnny Depp. Eighteen but plays thirteen no problem, and he’s a far better actor than Marc or Shirley will ever be, but even so we can’t have him upstaging them.”
Andrew is about to say something when the coffee and cookies arrive and Jennifer makes a pretty show of serving everyone.
“And the second problem?” asks Luisa, bracing herself.
“Jonah and Louise,” says Jennifer, adding a huge amount of sugar to her coffee.
“Ah,” says Andrew, pretending to understand. “So the two big problems are the three main characters. Anything else?”
“Andrew?” says Jennifer, looking at him and pursing her lips as if wanting to kiss him. “We love the whole not-liking-each-other-at-first turning into a crazy funny love thing. It’s genius. And I don’t use that word lightly.”
“Academy Award stuff,” says James, winking at Luisa. “You can start writing your acceptance speeches now.”
“But then you leave us hanging,” says Jennifer, clasping her hands. “Do they get together at the end? We never find out.”
“What are you talking about?” says Andrew, looking at her as if she’s insane. “Jonah and Leo pull up in front of Louise’s house in their big old convertible and she comes down the walk wearing a quasi wedding dress and dragging her gigantic suitcase and Leo and Jonah jump out of the car and load her suitcase on top of all their stuff and she gets in beside Jonah, and Leo gets in beside her, and off they go and we track back into an aerial view as they speed along the coast highway and make the turn inland. How is that not getting together? She goes with them at the end.”
“Was there a love scene I missed?” says James, flipping through the script. “I can’t find it? Where is it?”
“The whole movie is a love scene,” says Andrew, horrified by these people.
“Of course it is,” says Jennifer, nodding sympathetically. “And some people…”
“One out of twenty,” says James, chewing on a cookie. “Maybe.”
“Some people will get that the whole movie is a love scene,” says Jennifer, smiling sadly at Andrew. “But most people won’t get that unless we show them Louise and Jonah sealing the deal. Kapish?”
“If this was an arty French film,” says James, smacking his copy of the script with the back of his hand, “or even an arty British film, okay, be subtle. But this is a big budget American movie. Subtle won’t fly. Big budget movies can’t afford to be subtle. At the very least we need passionate kissing and the tearing off of clothing, though much better would be the onset of hot sex and exclamations of ‘You’re the best yet, babe,’ or words to that effect.”
“Who would say that line?” asks Andrew, getting up to go. “Jonah? Who would never in million years say something like that? Or Louise who would never in a million years say something like that? Hey I have an idea. Let’s have a parrot watching them fucking and he can say You’re the best yet, babe. Are you truly not aware after reading three drafts that Jonah and Louise never state the obvious?”
“Hey,” says James, waving his hand to dispel Andrew’s outrage. “We’re on your side. But we didn’t spend all this time and money not to make a movie. Right? And though I totally respect your desire to have a movie made that is a hundred per cent true to your vision, that will never happen unless you write and direct and produce your own movie, and even then it won’t turn out the way you want it. I hate to tell you this, pal, but every movie you have ever loved did not turn out the way the playwright or the novelist or the screenwriter wanted it to. They don’t. They never do.”
“Thank you for enlightening me,” says Andrew, feeling as rotten as he has ever felt. “I think the best thing for us to do right now is go home and discuss all this and meet with you again tomorrow.”
“We’d be happy to come to your place,” says Jennifer, getting up and holding out her hands to both Andrew and Luisa. “We are truly honored to be working with you on this movie and I know we can create something fantastic together. I know we can.”
Andrew is too upset to drive home, so Luisa drives, neither of them saying a word until they are free of the city.
“I wonder why they waited until we’d written three drafts,” says Andrew, wishing he and Luisa had never created the enticing synopsis, “before telling us to shrink Leo’s part, expand Louise’s, and finish the movie with sex. Couldn’t they have told us that after the first draft?”
“Maybe they didn’t know what they wanted until now,” says Luisa, wishing she’d never suggested writing an enticing synopsis. “Or maybe they thought we’d be more likely to agree to those changes if we thought a long delay would jeopardize the chances of the film getting made.”
“I couldn’t make those changes if I wanted to,” says Andrew, looking at her. “Could you?”
“No,” she says wistfully. “It would ruin everything.”
“It’s like one of those dreams where you win the race,” says Andrew, laughing despite his angst, “and then you step in a pile of shit and no matter what you do you can’t get the shit off your shoes.”
At supper, Owen and Lily want to hear all about the movie producers.
Luisa and Andrew exchange looks and Luisa says, “They took us to a snazzy new restaurant called Tangelo’s and they were very particular about the proportions of the ingredients in their gin and tonics and their salad dressings and about how to prepare their scampi, and then we went to their snazzy suite in the Hotel Vancouver and talked about the screenplay, and then we came home.”
“The key word here is snazzy,” says Andrew, who is slightly drunk. “They were both very snazzy people, Jennifer perhaps a bit snazzier than James, and they want us to rewrite the screenplay so Louise has a bigger part than Leo and in the end Jonah and Louise have a big sex scene.”
“Yuck,” says Lily, disappointed with their synopsis of the movie producers. “I thought you were done writing the screenplay.”
“So did we,” says Luisa, making a mental note to check their contract about compensation for any writing they might do beyond the third draft.
“When you say snazzy,” asks Owen, frowning at Andrew, “do you mean he’s handsome and she’s beautiful? Because they sound stupid.”
“I would not say James is handsome,” says Andrew, shaking his head. “But I would say Jennifer is beautiful, though for my taste she wears too much makeup.”
“And if you meet her,” says Luisa, smiling at the children, “call her J because she hates the name Jennifer.”
“We might meet them?” asks Owen, sounding worried. “When?”
“There’s a slight chance they’ll be here when you get home from school tomorrow,” says Luisa, looking at Andrew. “We’re still negotiating the location of our next meeting.”
Andrew barely sleeps that night and rises early to have a cup of tea and think about life before he makes breakfast for the kids and bicycles to school with them, the day sunny and cool.
He gets a flat tire on the way home and has to walk the last mile, and as he pushes his bike along the country road something shifts inside him and he lets go of needing to defend the screenplay.
When he gets home he finds Luisa sitting at the kitchen table, still in her nightgown, writing in her notebook.
“What are you writing?” he asks, sitting beside her.
“My dream from this morning,” she says, writing the last few words. “Want to hear?”
“I do,” he says, closing his eyes to listen.
“I’m walking behind my mother on a slender trail following a fast-flowing river through a forest of tall trees. Now we emerge from the forest and come to a corral in which there is a beautiful brown horse.
“My mother says, ‘This is the horse you wanted when you were a girl, but we lived in the city and had no place for him. He is young and wild. You can tame him or let him go.’
“‘I want to let him go,’ I say. ‘But where is the gate?’
“‘There is no gate,’ she says, handing me a saw. ‘You have to make an opening for him.’
“So I take the saw and start sawing one end of the top plank, and I hear someone else sawing and look up and see you sawing the other end of the plank, and I wake up.”
Jennifer and James arrive at one, the day turning cloudy.
Luisa serves lunch on the deck overlooking the garden: chicken quesadillas with homemade guacamole and a garden salad dressed with olive oil and white wine vinegar and a splash of lime.
James raves about the food and the salad dressing and says to Luisa, “You should open a restaurant. I’ll invest heavily.”
“Luisa was the chef at a restaurant not far from here,” says Andrew, gazing fondly at his wife. “I ate her ambrosia for years before I met her.”
“Do you miss it?” asks Jennifer, wrinkling her nose at Luisa. “Working in a restaurant?”
“I sometimes miss the comradery,” she says, looking at Jennifer. “But I don’t miss the pressure. The relentless pressure to produce.”
“Speaking of pressure to produce,” says James, playing a drum roll on the edge of the table with his index fingers. “How soon can you make those changes?”
“We can’t,” says Andrew, relieved to be saying so. “We understand why you want them, but you will have to find someone else to do that for you.”
James and Jennifer exchange looks of surprise and Jennifer raises her hand and says, “Hold on now. Not so fast. We will be happy to pay you for two more drafts.” She puts her hand on her heart. “We love your characters and we love your dialogue and we want to get this right.”
“The thing is…” says Andrew, looking at Jennifer and connecting again with something deep inside her, “we are too much in love with the story and the characters to betray our love.”
“Makes perfect sense,” says James, pointing with both index fingers at Andrew. “You guys are too close to the material. And fortunately, we know some of the best finishers in the business.”
“Would you at least be willing to vet the final dialogue?” asks Jennifer, clearly upset to be losing them. “We really want the dialogue to be consistent.”
“We’d be happy to,” says Luisa, a moment before Andrew can say No.
“Mahvelous!” says James, raising his glass. “Here’s to wrapping this puppy up and signing some sexy A-list stars.”
Andrew and Luisa accompany James and Jennifer to the big shiny black car they hired for the day—the driver waking from his after-lunch snooze and jumping out to open doors.
“We’ll be in touch,” says James, giving Luisa a kiss on the cheek and shaking Andrew’s hand. “You guys are special.”
“Thank you so much,” says Jennifer, pecking Luisa’s cheek and intending to peck Andrew’s, except he embraces her.
“We are of one mind with you, J,” he says, holding her for a long moment. “And we know you will represent us well in the battles ahead.”
“What a wonderful thing you said to her,” says Luisa, holding Andrew’s hand as they watch the big black car roll away. “I think she probably would make the movie the way we wrote it if only she could.”
“I do, too,” says Andrew, feeling light as air. “I also think we should go to the beach now and take the kids out for pizza tonight.”
The movie based on Their Summer Holiday is not filmed in Thailand or anywhere else in September because in July the American movie studio that optioned the movie rights and paid Andrew and Luisa to write three drafts of the screenplay and then paid two other writers to write three more drafts, drops the project after the overseeing studio exec reads the sixth draft and says, “By page five I wanted to vomit.”
A year and a few months later, in October of 1994, a maverick Danish filmmaker named Nicolas Thorsen options the film rights to Their Summer Holiday from Andrew and Luisa for five thousand dollars, writes a new screenplay based on the original play, has Andrew and Luisa tweak his screenplay, and makes the movie for two million dollars.
A charming thirteen-year-old from Bristol plays Leo as if born to the role of a preternaturally kind and imaginative person.
A beguiling French gal with red hair and emerald eyes plays the part of Louise with an irresistible mix of innocence and savvy.
A droll self-effacing fellow from Oxford who reminds everyone of the young Rex Harrison plays the part of Jonah.
The three songs from the play are performed in the movie by the three main characters accompanying themselves on ukuleles.
And the movie ends exactly as Andrew and Luisa imagined it would, except when Louise gets in the car she gives Jonah a marvelous kiss—an unscripted kiss that turns out to be cinematic genius.
Their Summer Holiday, the movie, is released simultaneously in England and France in October of 1995 and is an instant success. By December the movie is playing all over Europe, and in the spring of 1996 Their Summer Holiday opens in a hundred theatres in North America and becomes an art house sensation.
That same spring, Andrew and Luisa and Owen and Lily are in the throes of mighty change. The kids are now in Eighth Grade, Lily fast becoming a young woman with suitors galore, Owen falling in love every few weeks but too shy to approach the girls he’s smitten with.
Luisa and Andrew are writing a play together, a comedy drama set in a bookstore, Andrew is working on a series of short stories about carpenters, and Luisa is writing a quasi-autobiographical novella about the six weeks she spent with her grandmother on Rainy River.
On Tuesday mornings, just for fun, Andrew and Luisa write screenplays together, acting out the parts and imagining how Nicolas Thorsen, who is now their hero and friend, might film the scenes.
In the fall of 1996, Jennifer calls Andrew to see how he and Luisa are doing. Several times in the course of their conversation she refers to Their Summer Holiday as the one that got away, and though she recently had a big hit with a serial-killer flick and has a prostitute-becomes-a-princess film about to open in thousands of theatres, she insists Their Summer Holiday is the best movie she’s ever seen and would love to work with Andrew and Luisa again some day.
When she’s done dropping the names of all the big stars she’s working with, Andrew asks, “So what’s going on with you apart from the movie biz?”
And after a moment’s hesitation she says, “I wonder if I’ll ever be in a relationship with someone who really understands me, really gets me. Like you get me, Andrew. Someone like you.”