“Welcome to the film set, Mr. Kiharazaka. Please mind
your step, we’re having a problem with vermin.”
thin man, fresh from Kyoto, adjusted his stride, placing each step of his
spacesuit boots gingerly.
“I’m Rolf. Can I call you Zaka?” the assistant director
“Please, no,” Mr. Kiharazaka replied demurely.
“Will we be going weightless? It was in the original
“We’re woking on that, yes.”
“A joke. Sort of.”
A few yards away, green gaffing tape marked the edge of
the darkened film set. Rolf spoke into her headset and the lights came up,
revealing the interior of the spacecraft: the complex helm and seating for the
crew. The second set—the crew table and galley kitchen—was halflit in the distance.
Mr. Kiharazaka stared with unreserved
delight. The crew had accurately replicated the 1990s
television series Tin Can’s two most famous locations.
Members of the film crew were already on the set, at
their places among the equipment; lights, extended boom mics
and various camerasome dollied and some
Kiharazaka had to rotate stiffly in his spacesuit,
turning his helmet, visor up, to watch the young
professional film crew. He nodded to some and spoke to none. For the most part,
these serious professionals looked right through him
focused on their craft.
“Please step in, Zaka. We’d like you to feel comfortable
in both locations.”
“Where is the cast? The Robbins family?”
“Soon enough. Please.” Rolf extended her hand and Zaka
crossed the green tape and stepped into the helm, noting that the flooring was
white painted plywood. With the flight helmet on, the voices about the set were
muted. Zaka stared at the helm, admiring, but not touching
the multiple displays. He stood back of Captain Robbins’s helm chair, taking in
all the exacting details of the complex spacecraft controls. Easing between the
captain and copilot chair, he turned to Rolf with his white gloved hand out to
the second chair, asked, “May I?”
Rolf gave him her buttery professional smile.
“Captain, permission to man the helm?” Zaka asked.
Rolf rolled her eyes, up into the complex scaffolding
above. The client was already in role, using the famous and familiar dialogue
from the Tin Can series. Since none
of the cast was yet on set, Rolf answered for Matt Stuck, the sod of an actor
who played Captain Robbins.
“Aye, mate. Take thar helm,” she spoke the next well-known line with a grimace.
Zaka bowed to her voice and twisted around into the
She looked on as Zaka began the familiar series of taps
and changes on the right side of the helm. She could hear him identifying each
click and adjustment he made. He was doing a good job mimicking the terse,
focused voice of copilot Sean Robbins, but his inflections were clearly
The director, Rose Daiss, entered the soundstagecrossed to the set and for once didn’t trip on the
snakes of cables. She wobbled her large rear into the La-Z Boy with “Director”
stenciled on the back. Her nickname was “Bottles” and never used in her
presenceit was a reference to the many times
she had washed up. Her pudgy face was nipandtuck stretched, her skin was rough,
but rouged well. She did have good hair.
The director’s personal assistants entered the soundstage
and roamed to their places just back of the cameras. They donned headsets and
leisurely took up their positions, standing deferentially to Bottles’s side,
their faces lit by the glow of their tablets.
Rolf shouted for status among the
and they called back equally loud. Lighting, boom mics
and cameras leaned in on the set. Mr. Zaka climbed from the helm and walked
back into the spacecraft along the equipment bays on the left wall—the right
wall of equipment didn’t exist, providing the view for one of the many cameras.
He tapped a brief series on the wall panel and the air lock door opened with a
gasp. He stepped through, the door closing at his heels, and crossed the short
area of soundstage to the side entrance of the crew and kitchen set. Zaka took
in every detail of the reproduced Tin Can
galley as he moved carefully through the room. He
eased himself into his role and the chair assigned to Ruth Robbins, the flight
The director shouted at her assistants, barking orders
and questions, sounding semi-lucid. Rose’s drugaddled,
fastclipped voice received intimidated
replies. She was enjoying their palecowering
expressions while chasing two lines of thought, a mixture of moviemaking aesthetics and redundant
direction. Her face was beading with drug sweat on her upper lip and brow.
“Where’s my cast?”
Rose bellowed, finishing he
tirade. That done, she promptly nodded off, delighting Rolf, who then inherited
the director’s role.
Zaka was exploring the many displays embedded in the
galley table, trying to ignore the shouting.
“Heat it up”
Rolf instructed her underling
The assistant typed a series of brief commands on his
tablet and the script dialogue for Ruth Robbins—whom Zaka had paid dearly to
portray—appeared. The script was scroll ready and at an angle on the galley
table that couldn’t be seen by the cameras.
Rolf heard the cast crossing to the set, a scuffing of
moon boots and voices approaching from the soundstage. A sweeping flashlight
beam guided their way. The cast moved into the back glow from the lights on the
set. Rolf pressed the inside of her cheek between her teeth and bit down. Most
of the original cast had been hired or persuaded
to appear in the remake of the famous season sevenending
cat fight scene. The brawl between the Robbins’ daughters was nominally,
impotently refereed by the only member of the
flight crew who was not a member of the family
the handsome, irreverent, and sociopathic engineer, Greer Nails.
Twenty-two years had been most unkind
to the oncefamous family members. Greer Nails appeared overinflated
he penchant for food and wine and dessert
over the past years of dimming celebrity had taken their toll. His formerly
idolized face was jowled, reddened
and fat. His spacesuit looked like a white dirigible.
The other cast members were naked save their space
helmets. Time and gravity and overindulgence had also taken a toll on their
bodies. Greer Nails was the lone holdout from nudity, and with obese good
The scene that Zaka had chosen from the menu provided by
the studio had cost him a breathless $3.7 million. An additional $1.3 million
was invoiced when he selected the option off the Premiere menu for the cast to
be nude except for space helmets. He had expressed his desire to be part of the
famous scene’s reenactment, in the role of Ruth Robbins, the space family
matriarch. Most of his role was to be aghast at the start of a violent family
shouting match and brawl. Later, he would be able to view the vignette time and
again, for all eternity, receiving sole ownership of the footage of this and
the other short scene as part of the package he had paid for.
Zaka watched his castmates approach, trying to keep his
eyes on their helmets, not their nakedness. He was delighted and light headed
with his proximity to the famousthe
real flesh instead of celluloid, but their memorized faces were distorted by
Nods were used in lieu of greetings. They had met during
rehearsal earlier in the day. Places were taken
and Rolf reviewed the lighting and camera placements.
The first scene was succinctly re-rehearsed. This was of
little use to Zaka, who had the script committed to memory. But the rehearsal helped him dissolve some of
his lighter-than-air headiness. The rest of the cast drolly joined the read and
walk through, their acting marked by a blend of boredom, professionalism and chemicals.
Zaka was delighted. Here he was, a real actor with an
important part in the infamous scene’s reenactment. It was all he could to not
giggle. He somehow found the ability to maintain Ruth Robbins’s dithering
Julianne, the slutty smart sister, stepped past Greer and
pantomimed the jerkoff gesture that would set off her
sibling, “Cy” as in Cyborg. In the television
series, Cy had been Greer Nail’s budding romantic interest.
Zaka was enthralled, but also concerned. He had paid for
Captain Robbins to sit at the head of the galley table
and he was nowhere to be seen.
booming authoritative voice carried from the
back of the soundstage.
“Welcome to Tin Can Two, Mr. Kiharazaka. You are
certainly star material, mmhmm!”
Fatima Mosley called out.
Fatima was the studio head, noticeably short and burdened
by a massive chest that gave her stride a wobble. She was dressed in an elegant
and trendy style, including a beret. She had a titanium leg, the original lost
to disease. The metal ratcheted when her knee articulated.
“Zaka’s doing a great job.” Rolf called over, not turning
from the rehearsal.
“It’s Kiharazaka, please,” Zaka politely corrected Rolf
“Actually, it’s Ruth Robbins,” Fatima smiled, causing her
cheeks to fill and her eyes to disappear.
Zaka flushed with pride at being addressed as Ruth.
“All is well, mmhmm?”
Fatima asked Zaka.
“Yes, yes. Might I ask? Is Captain Robbins ready? And son
here’s Sean now,” Fatima answered, her crunched face dissolving downward,
revealing her wise, ferret eyes. She didn’t explain Captain Robbins’s absence and Zaka showed good manners by not
repeating his question.
Sure enough, Sean Robbins, the Tin Can’s copilot appeared
from the shadows of the soundstage, naked save his helmet and boots, looking
slightly sedated—well, a lot sedated. His birdlike wrists hung limp.
There was a white worm of drool creeping from his face,
now ravaged by years of amphetamine addiction. He was escorted by two of the
bigger grips, who held his scarecrow thin arms and pulled him along, his moon
boots sketching the soundstage flooring.
The sisters, Cy and Julianne, did not look pleased to be reanimating their once famous
daughter roles, no matter the money. They were clearly drugged to an agitated
condition and firing foul slurs, even before the shoot began. Julianne had a
wrench tattoo on her naked, once-perfect boob. Cy’s sensual body was scarecrow
thin, as though drawn of all blood.
The grips assisted Sean Robbins into the hot lights and
seated him at the galley table. He opened one eye and panned it across the
cameras and lights aimed on him, then barfed into his own lap.
Zaka did the brave thinghe
stayed in role, putting on his best Mrs. Robbins bemused and maternal
“Nice,” Rolf encouraged him.
One of the grips wiped up Sean’s vomit. The other cleaned
off his chest. Sean stood up and looked on, patting one of the men on the top
of the head.
Rolf called out, “I have the set!”
From the film crews came sharp
short calls and the boom mics lowered overhead.
“Quiet, quiet!” Rolf delighted in her temporary directing
“Lock it up,” she hollered.
“Places,” she shouted to the cast.
A young woman appeared with an electric slate, shouted a
brief stream of incomprehensible code, clacked the device
Zaka did well, not looking to Captain Robbins’s empty
seat at the head of the table.
“Action,” and the movie magic began.
there was a spiritual lift, even as he stayed in his rehearsed movements. He
allowed himself to experience the elation, but stayed in the role of motherly
Julianne entered the scene from the door to the helm. She
moved behind Sean, who had a line of dialogue but missed. Staring at Cy, she
stepped to Greer’s side and hefted the weight of his groin. Cy transitioned
fast and smooth from agog to madness. She fired
forward and attacked, going for the smirk on her sister’s face with a clawed
left hand and the space cup in the other.
As scripted, Mrs. Robbins took one step back from her end
of the table, her expression alarmed and offended.
Greer was looking down at his groped crotch like he was
just then realizing he had one. He leaned back as Cy collided with Julianne and the brawl exploded with screams
and nails and fists. The two careened off the galley counter and shelving,
swinging and connecting blows.
If Captain Robbins had been at the head of the table, he
would have moved fast to separate the two, looking sad and determined and
a bit of ad lib occurred, the two brawlers tumbling low in the shot, fists and
knees swinging and pumping. Greer performed the ad lib, turning to the mayhem
with a slack expression and barfing on himself again.
Mrs. Robbins went into action. She stomped manfully to
her scuffling daughters, arms shooing,
intending to break up the chaos on the spaceship floor. She was two strides
away when Greer stepped out and pushed her back. Mrs. Robbins resisted,
flailing her arms, eyes wide with alarm. Greer held her true. The fight
continued, the sisters grunting and gasping. Hair was grabbed, a low fist was
thrown. Julianne coughed in pain. Cy let out a cry, “You bitch!”
That was Zaka’s cue. He looked away, eyes upward and
spoke the seasonending line, “My daughters. The
“Cut. Cut. Cuu. Cuush . . .” Rose Daiss, the replaced
director called out in a trailing off slur.
She was ignored.
The brawl continued. A mangy rat crossed the plywood set
boards, scurrying away from the fisticuffs. The two beefy grips stepped to the
edge of the set, poised to separate the sisters. The brawl looked real enough
Rolf took the director’s prerogative, screaming at
Ten Things You Didn’t Know About “The Collectors”
One: This is Pierce Danser’s second novel, the first being “Dot to
Dot”, published in 2014. In the prior work, he’s again a determined and
self-proclaimed private investigator, making endless mistakes but bravely
staying in the hunt.
Two: Pierce Danser and Pauline Place are also center stage in the
novel, “Cream of the Wheat” that’s being released in 2022. This novel tells of
their earlier lives, when working in the movie industry and trying to find
their ways to sanity and love amidst chaos and danger.
Three: believe it or not, during the research for “The Collectors”
I came across other museums and collections far more frightening and strange
than those of Deung. As always, I am constantly amazed by the workings of minds
and passions so far from the norm.
Four: While a few reviewers having commented that this novel is
“not for the faint of heart,” and while that is true, “The Collectors” is also
a love story. Set in a world of danger and the macabre, the love survives and
gets stronger, as all the best ones do.
Five: I happily lost control of the first draft write when mid-way
through, Pierce Danser and the other member of the cast took turns grabbing the
steering wheel. As is often the case, I became little more than their typing
pool as they came to life and told the story that they insisted on. One of the
most satisfying parts of being a novelist is when this happens and I’m allowed
a front row seat in their movie.
Six: Following Jane Mansfield’s tragic and untimely
automobile death, the bumper bar at the rear of long haul trucks began to appear. The
'Mansfield Bar' is intended to provide some protection for cars running into
the rear of eighteen wheelers.
Seven: “The Collectors” was written in 2016. Because I write seven
days a week, there are several Danser novels in deep freeze, so to speak. As
the editing of “The Collectors” began in earnest earlier this year, it was a
delight to meet up with the cast again and go along on their adventure.
Eight: James Dean was found alive after his horrific accident. In
one photograph taken just after the accident, he can be seen in the wreckage of
his Porsche, siting up, dazed and staring. He died soon after.
Nine: After my involvement with a few movie productions, writing
“The Collectors” was the first time I wrote with cinematic tools I had learned,
loving and admiring the focus on visuals and dialogue. This structure and style
also surprised me many times, insisting time and again that I knock it off with
details and color and kept the stories’ pace rolling fast and true.
Ten: What I am enjoying the most with the novel’s release is
hearing the questions and insights from readers. I am always delighted and
surprised, be it good or bad. I’m always learning and treasure the gifts that
readers take the time to share.