The Magic Eye
Studying a script is somewhat like looking at one of those Magic Eye books. Remember those books back in the day? Remember taking one to school for show and tell and spending your entire recess staring at one of the pages trying to make out some unknown image that ended up being a goat or a shoe or a sunset? Your classmates huddled around you as you sat in the center holding the book.
“Do you see it?”
“I can’t see it.”
“I think I see it.”
“What is it again? What are we looking for?”
“I don’t’ know but you’ll know it when you see it.”
My parents would wonder how such a thing could occupy so much of my attention. How my ten-year-old self could sit and stare at a page cross-eyed and cock-eyed eager to see, know, find, and discover. I no longer look in those books. I haven’t for years. I now look at scripts. I read scripts. I study scripts. And when I’m done I do it again. I sit and stare and search for that thing. I never quite know what the thing is but I know I’ll know it when I see it much like the images hidden in the Magic Eye books. I’m searching for some meaning, a deeper understanding, the reason, the why behind a character’s choice of words or action. I know it’s there but it can be so difficult to find.
An acting teacher of mine once told me that Anthony Hopkins reads a script he’s working on one hundred times. That’s absurd, right? I mean surely seventy-eight times will suffice. Why one hundred? The number sounds so arbitrary. Perhaps it simply sounds better than ninety-nine or ninety-eight. Yes. One hundred does sound better but is it better? Is it necessary? Is it possible that after reading a script for the one-hundredth time you might find something so insightful and meaningful that you simply overlooked the previous ninety-nine times you read the script? I had my reservations. I had my doubts.
I came home to my New York City apartment after a long day at work. This is before I made the move to LA. I walked into the kitchen and closed the door behind me but as I began to lock the door I was struck by something. There was a piece of paper, a bit smaller than your average loose-leaf piece of paper, with very fine print stuck to my door. It was a fire notice. Instructions on what to do should there be a fire. “When did this get here?” I muttered to myself. “Has this always been here?” Someone had been in my apartment surely. The superintendent must have come into my apartment and put that there while I was gone earlier in the day. I was uneasy. I had made it clear that the Super can only come into my apartment when I was present. I took out my cell and gave him a call. He told me he had never set foot in my apartment and that the fire notice is on everyone’s door and has been there since I moved into the building five years ago. “What?!” I was shocked. It wasn’t possible. It couldn’t be possible. That thing had been there all this time? I had seen it no doubt thousands of times but never really saw what I was seeing. I grew weary. I was bothered by a number of things. One, I hadn’t noticed something that for five years was right in front of my face. Two, I hadn’t noticed something really important that for five years was right in front of my face. Okay, fine, I was only really bothered by two things, but they were two pretty big things. Don’t you think? A fire notice? A fucking fire notice! Did I just take it for granted? Was I above this fire notice? You can probably guess where I’m going with this. I sat and thought. What else wasn’t I seeing? What else was I missing? I took a bath later that night and sat and brewed in the bubbles. I sunk low in the tub and submerged my self in the hot water. I looked up to my ceiling and my jaw dropped in shock and disgust. I saw dozens of brown dots the size of dimes all over my ceiling. “Whoa?! What the fuck is that? Where the fuck did that come from?” I stood up from my bath completely wet and covered in bubbles. I stood tiptoe on top of the tub and touched the brown spots. “What the fuck is that?” I said again. “How long has this been here?” Suddenly I slipped and fell hard on my ass back into the tub. “FUCK!”
When I got out of the bath I called up a very close friend.
“Leslie, there is brown shit on my bathroom ceiling. I have no idea where it came from.”
“What kind of brown shit?”
“Spots. Brown spots on the ceiling above my shower. Dozens of them. I have no idea how long they’ve been there, what they are, or how they got there.” A moment passed.
“Oh, you know what? It’s probably the moisture from the shower over time.” Another moment passed.
“That makes sense. But there’s so many. How long has it been there?”
“Shit. I gotta clean my bathroom ceiling.”
“Yeah, you need to get on that.”
I hung up the phone and I cleaned my bathroom ceiling then I read the fire notice on the door. I started looking around my apartment. I had no idea what I was looking for but I knew I would know it once I saw it. Then it occurred to me. This is why Anthony Hopkins reads his script a hundred times. Though maybe he hasn’t got it right either. I did see Meet Joe Black. Perhaps Mr. Hopkins should read his script a hundred and one times. In any event, I now know there is stuff right in front of my face everyday that I may be seeing but I’m not experiencing. I think the fact that I know this is a good start. So when I get a script I read it and when I’m done I read it again and then I read it again and then I get a bite to eat or go on Facebook and then I read it again. I sit and stare and study the same way I did when I was ten-years-old and I sat glued to that Magic Eye book waiting for the picture to develop. Artists must have a magic eye. I think that’s what makes one truly great. They see the shit that everyone else overlooks and then they bring light and reason to it. So I’ve begun training and developing my magic eye. And everyday I am constantly reminded of the shit I missed out on the day before. I always wonder what I’ll notice tomorrow that I overlooked today.
I sat next to a seven-year-old one afternoon munching on a hotdog. I had spent almost everyday with her for the past three months. I glanced over at her and my heart stopped. There was a small bruise on her forehead. “Oh my God! Are you okay? How did that get there? What happened?” She put her hotdog down and looked up at me with frustration etched all over her face and then spoke with mild indignation, “That’s been there for weeks! Where have you been?”
My mind drifted to the play I was currently working on. Shit, I thought to myself, I gotta read my script again.
– Melva Graham