Golden beams of morning light made their way over the mountains. The mountains did not have the hard, pointed look typical of the Scandinavian landscape- these were softer, more curved mountains- like the ones back home. The light made the grey bark at the tips of the trees pop and seem to leap a foot forward, compared to the dull, flat trunk yet to be kissed by the glowing rays. The squeaking crunch of snow under Matthew’s boots stopped as he reached the lake. The grey swatch of water was mottled with patches of frost, yet to feel the sun.
A deer lay before him, stiff. Perhaps it was the cold that finished it off. The body was clean, no visible signs of trauma. Perhaps it couldn’t last the final stages of night before the sun rose. The one upward facing eye was clear, and crystals of frost spread across the body. The prostrate animal’s rib cage striped the body with its own snow capped peaks.
Matthew was pulled from his own little world by the sound of Andre and the rest of the crew navigating the trees to reach him. He had got there first because he had nothing to carry, he wasn’t expected to carry anything. Andre stood next to him and held out the script notes.
‘Maybe I should tell props not to bother.’ Andre chuckled as he looked down at the deer with Matthew. Shouting came from behind the two of them as the crew set up for the shoot.
‘Do that.’ Matthew said, his eyes fixed on the deer still.
‘You’re kidding, right?’ Andre asked. Matthew was still looking at the deer- he was serious. There was something about this animal, it was meant to be here. Matthew can see what the crew does through the results of their labour. He sees what Andre does by turning film into art. Now it was Matthew’s turn.
‘It’s already here, why waste it?’ Andre shrugged at the response. There were matters more demanding of his time, now he had to go tell props they wouldn’t need the deer carcass they’d been preparing- the cold and the moisture was hell on the glue used to keep the fur in place.
‘Kevin, you need help with those lights?’ Andre called out as he went to help the crew set up. These morning hours were the best shooting times, and they were fleeting. Andre stopped when he heard a crunch too loud to be snow. He turned around to see Matthew hacking into the deer carcass. Matthew insisted on a real knife for his costume, but he still didn’t have a clue how to use it.
‘What the fuck, is Matthew going method?’ Kevin asked as he fiddled with a spotlight.
‘Ask him yourself. It seems he’d rather play with that deer’s insides than use the prop.’ Andre angled the spotlight towards Matthew, who had almost opened the deer its entire length. Kevin walked over to the deer once Andre took over setting up the spotlight.
‘Yo, Matthew. You going method now?’ Kevin asked. He stopped shy of the shoot zone, it would be hard to cover up excess footprints in this snow.
‘No, it’s just that- this was already here.’ Matthew laboured with the deer’s insides. It must have been dead for longer than he thought. Muscle on the underside, closer to the iced earth, had reached the corpse and frozen one side. ‘Why waste it and just replace it with a prop when- when we’ve got the real thing?’
James walked up from the camp to join Kevin, cords dangled from the microphone pack around his waist, headphones as large as earmuffs rested on his shoulders. He held two Styrofoam cups of black coffee. Steam swirled from the travel lids then frayed to mist in the chilled air. ‘What, you trying to win awards or something now Matthew?’ he called out.
‘No! Nugh!’ Matthew exerted himself as he tried to break the crystalised slab of flesh on the underside of the deer. If he could break the ice in the corpse, he could get a bit of flex in the body. ‘I’m trying to add some realism to this shoot. My costume is already ripped and shit, using a real deer would fit that.’
‘You know what we should do though,’ Kevin said, ‘If you do use that deer, we gotta shoot the line from Empire.’
‘And I thought they smelt bad… on the outside.’ James said. ‘Yes! That would be fucking perfect.’
‘It would be a great DVD extra.’ Kevin added. ‘Someone would find it eventually, upload it to Youtube, then there’d be a whole free round of PR as everyone talks about it.’
Matthew realised he wouldn’t get anywhere with the rib cage still in tact. He curled his fingers in the underside of the gash he carved and shook the corpse. The whole deer rocked and the rib cage held tight, even when he started banging the corpse against the ground. He slipped his right foot into the cut to pin half the deer to the ground and lifted the top half.
‘Could you imagine going method for Star Wars though?’ James asked Kevin.
‘I know, right? It’s like, sure Star Wars is a big deal, but it’s not worth the effort of going method.’ Kevin agreed. Matthew levered the deer open. He could hear a sickly wet crack, the sound of a tree branch breaking, as he opened the deer’s sternum.
‘I mean, unless you were playing an established character like…’ James drew a blank. ‘Nope, I can’t think of anyone worth going method for.’
Kevin laughed at the thought, ‘I can see the headline now: “I went method for Star Wars, now my family won’t speak to me.” Meta description: “Sure, it was a good movie- but who the fuck goes method for Star Wars?”’
‘Meta description?’ James asked.
‘Oh, you know when you see a link on, like, Facebook, and there’s the little description under the headline?’
‘Facebook will usually pull that from the article, but you can set it yourself if you want.’
‘Really?’ James said, ‘do… do people know that? Do people use that when they post stuff?’
‘I imagine people use it, at least.’
‘You could use that for so much bad shit.’
Matthew had opened the deer enough to start crawling in. He had to go in feet first and shimmy his feet in amongst the entrails. He had to curl his legs around and could see his knees bulging out through the skin of the deer as he wedged his waist into the animal. Andre approached him, ‘You’re serious about this?’ he asked. Matthew looked up at him, the grey and white swirls of Andre’s beard blended in with the overcast sky behind him. Andre took on an omnipresent aura as his whiskers stretched to the horizon in all areas.
‘I’m already halfway in.’ Matthew pointed out. He supported himself with one arm as he directed Andre’s gaze to where his hips stopped and deer stomach began.
‘Oh shit, you’re going to want a better reason for going method than that.’ Kevin said, referring to Teocah, who was storming up the crest from the camp to the shoot. ‘She’s going to want to know why you’re passing up the fake deer she laboured over for some dead thing you found on the ground.’
They could hear Teocah shouting as she marched her way up to the shoot. Despite the biting cold she wore cargo pants and boots, topped with an old Living Colour tour shirt. Her tight braids cut beams of shadow through the mist of her breath as she walked. Despite being a shorter woman, the swagger of her arms and the pace of her stride gave her a presence that made everyone stop and wait for her to arrive.
Her shouts became more coherent as she closed in on the shoot. ‘So actor boy thinks he’s too fucking good for props!’ Teocah shouted at Matthew as she arrived. She slowed down as she saw Matthew inside the deer. He had now worked his left arm in amongst the rib cage. His arm was folded over itself with his elbow pointing towards the abdomen and his hand nestled amongst the shoulder blade. He was able to get his shoulder past the lip of the gash he had carved, the underside of the deer’s front leg resembled a sickly mouth suckling on his collar bone. His head was pushed into the pit of the animal’s front leg, causing the limb to extend upwards, perpendicular to the ground. Teocah staggered to a stop and her defencive air faded, ‘what the fuck?’
‘Matthew found the real thing.’ Andre said to Teocah.
‘Going method.’ James said with a smile.
‘I’m not going method, it was just here!’ Matthew protested from the deer. He tried to squirm into the deer further. He had twisted his shoulders on an angle to get his left arm in and was hoping he could find space for his right. The carcass started to twist with him instead of swallowing him further. He looked down to see the taught skin bulge around his legs, a tight membrane of animal hide over his lower body.
‘You could have told one of us if you wanted to go method in this movie.’ Teocah protested. ‘We spent a good couple of grand making that prop deer. Do you know what this cold and moisture does to the fucking glue? We had to pull an all nighter to get it movie quality. You could have told us instead of having a fucking diva moment.’
Matthew realised he had filled the deer as much as it would allow, there was no give to accommodate the breadth of his shoulders. He was too big- there was no way he could fit his other arm and head inside. ‘I’m not going method.’ He said, a stern fist punctuating every word, crushing the snow in front of him. The deer’s stiff limbs jiggled with his movement. His head acted as a fulcrum against the upturned leg, the limb performed an artificial wave in time with his head movements. ‘It’s just- I’ve been doing this most of my life.’ He swung his free arm to emphasis “most,” the deer’s head lolled with the motion as the body pitched.
‘Every day- I’m either stuck in some makeup chair having people fuss over me-’ Matthew palmed and scratched at the snow with his free arm as he spoke, ‘or I’m on some set pretending, playing make believe.’ He stared Andre, James, Kevin, and Teocah in the eye as he went on. ‘This is meant to be some ranger movie, it’s about blood and grit and snow.’ He tossed a handful of snow that fanned into powder before disappearing into the frozen hearth. ‘I want to feel that during filming.’ He writhed and rocked inside the deer carcass. An alien birth gone wrong, a deformed centaur.
Matthew motioned to Andre in particular, ‘Like the guy I play in the movie, his face gets all fucked up and shit from windburn and cracked lips, right?’ Andre nodded in agreement. ‘Why have I got to sit in makeup for that? We’re out in the fucking snow. A bit of windburn is worth it for some authenticity. I just want to do something that’s real.’ Matthew tried straightening out in the deer a little. He thought he might be able to stretch it out some more- or at least misplace some organs to make better use of space.
‘Like Kevin, you do lighting. That takes actual skill. People don’t notice it, but it can make or break a movie. I only figured that out from being in the industry- but fucked if I know how to do it.’
‘Well shit, I’m just glad college paid off.’ Kevin conceded, brushing off the praise.
‘James, you do sound. Sound is so fucking hard. It’s fiddly as shit, you play around with all these settings and I can’t even hear the difference.’
‘Teocah,’ Matthew raised his hand straight up towards her. The whole deer tilted forward and he had to shoot his hand to the ground to stabilise himself. ‘You made that prop deer. The detail you have to put into those things is crazy. You make some of the realest shit when it comes to movies.’
‘And Andre. He gets all these cameras, a bunch of green tarp, and has to order all of us around. Then he goes off and stitches it together and turns it into a movie.’ Matthew’s arm then rocked from side to side as he belted out teach term. ‘He gets people and projects, and timetables, and schedules, and programmers, and software- and he turns it into art. Fucking art! Then, when awards season comes around, I’m the one that gets all the credit. Everyone talks about me and what a great job I’ve done. Everyone loves the puppet because you guys have did such a good job hiding the strings.’
Matthew wriggled his legs for comfort and circulation. The hip bones were starting to dig in. ‘So excuse me if I want to feel part of something bigger. I feel like the singer of a band, you guys do all the setup and then I just come and prance around on stage for a while. I want to feel like what I’m doing matters.’
Matthew looked around once he’d finished. Everyone was staring at the ground, not even Andre knew what to say. The silence hung for a few more seconds before James blurted out, ‘what the fuck is that?’ and pointed to the end of the deer. Teocah leaned forward to get a better view.
‘Ew,’ she whined in agreement with James. Everyone not currently in a deer looked to the cause of disgust. A series of pink, fleshy tubes had sprouted from the deer’s sphincter in a moist lotus of digestive organs. Blue filaments of veins detailed the entrail petals. The sheen was so bright it almost seemed artificial, a lacquered network of intestinal passageways.
‘What? What’s wrong?’ Matthew asked. He tried to twist his body back around to look without popping his shoulder out from under the deer’s collarbone. His movements caused the tendrils to spill over each other, contracting as they touched the snow and retracting in response. A mollusk made of inverted deer tasting the landscape for the first time.
‘Is that the authenticity you were looking for, Matthew?’ Andre asked, referring to the cephalopod teased out of the carcass caused by Matthew’s fidgeting.
‘That’s what they call roesbudding.’ Kevin said, to Teocah in particular. Matthew started to peel the deer away from his chest. He knew it was time to give up on the deer. They couldn’t shoot the animal’s prolapsed digestive system- there was no way anyone would take it seriously. Plus, he was too big for it.
‘You think I can’t’ Teocah responded to Kevin. The thick squelching of mud came from the deer’s abdomen as Matthew worked his knees and feet free.
‘Really? Kevin asked, ‘I did not know that about you.’ Intestines followed Matthew’s foot out, forming a loose noose of organs on the snow in front of the corpse.
‘This deer got it coming and going.’ James said.
‘There’s a lot you’d like to know about me.’ Teocah said. Matthew stood up, his costume was smeared solid with blood from his feet to his chest. The bloodline ran diagonally across his left shoulder and slicked his left arm. He scrunched his left hand as he could already feel his skin tighten from the drying blood. Andre approached Matthew and stuck out his hand. Andre hovered his hand over Matthew’s right shoulder, checking it was clean first, before clasping it down firm.
‘We may not be able to use the deer, but you can keep the blood on. We’ll make it look slick in post if it dries out.’ Andre told Matthew in a fatherly tone. ‘Use the prop deer, the blood is real enough.’
‘I’d like to get to know these things about you.’ Kevin said.
‘You fucking wish,’ Teocah said to Kevin, then to Andre, ‘So we’re using my deer? Good. Set up a new spot to shoot and I’ll tell the guys it’s back on.’ Matthew stood staring at the ground with a forlorn look. Everyone was preparing to move their gear, and he had to stand around and wait again.
‘Don’t look so sad, Matthew.’ Andre told him. ‘You’ve traveled halfway across the world, you’re shooting a multi-million dollar movie, you’ve climbed inside a deer, and it’s not even 8 o’clock yet.’
‘Some people think it’s intense, I find it quite beautiful.’ Kevin’s rambling faded as everyone returned to camp. Matthew stood alone at the shoot location looking down at the deer, he then looked up to the mountains. They were lathered in golden sunlight, the trees too. The landscape was still grey, but it felt brighter. There was this intensity and contrast caused by the rising sun that made the pale greys pop and the shadows inky wells of shadow. The middling filter of twilight had faded to a vibrant spectrum of tonality. ‘It’s a part of the body that doesn’t get touched very often. When you can reach in there that far, the sensation can be quite…’ Kevin’s voice faded behind the crest.
‘Yeah…’ Matthew replied, to Andre, to himself, to the snow.
He just really wanted to climb inside that fucking deer.