As promised in my last post, here is the first chapter, as it was published in Panther City Review, of my sequel to The “Volunteer”. The final version may vary somewhat as I continue working on the novel and go through revisions, but this is enough to see where the story might be headed, along with the point of view shift…
Los Angeles is loaded with girls willing to take their clothes off on camera for a part in a movie or television show, hoping it would lead to a shot at fame and fortune, but Adam Munch still drove out to Palm Desert just to meet a naked girl. She was known as Naked Dani, and he had, of course, seen the news reports over the past few months about her and had watched her live appearance on Stossel when it aired. But he had been in the film and television production business long enough to know how staged even the news could be. Sure, they had gotten footage of her walking naked through the campus, and she had been naked for the Stossel show. But was that much different than the nude-in-public videos that were shot in Europe and marketed as soft porn on the web? Surely she wasn’t naked twenty-four hours a day seven days a week as was being claimed. First of all, how could she legally get away with it? And wasn’t she leaving herself vulnerable to all kinds of attacks: verbal, physical, and sexual?
By chance, Adam had found an advanced reader copy of her upcoming memoir The “Volunteer” at a book festival in LA. He read the entire book in one day, and her story resonated with him. Adam was especially intrigued by her philosophy of combating sexualization of the body in pornography and mainstream media by going about casually nude. He was also fascinated by her religious upbringing and her desire to go to church services even in her undressed state. The ideas started turning, so the first thing he did was contact the girl’s literary agent, Audrey Lambert, to inquire about film and television rights. Those had not been optioned yet but two other producers had inquired about them. Adam had asked for a meeting with both Audrey and the girl. Audrey had referred him to a publicist at the girl’s school, Coachella Valley University, since any such meeting would have to take place on campus due to her constant state of nudity.
The meeting was to take place on the fourth floor of the main administration building which Adam found with minimal difficulty after the security officer at the campus entrance gave him a map and directions along with the visitor parking pass. Adam rode the elevator to the fourth floor and found the room number he had been given, a conference room with a clear glass wall facing the corridor and large window overlooking most of the campus. The room was empty since Adam was almost twenty minutes early. He set his briefcase down on the table and stood at the window watching the foot traffic below. Seeing Naked Dani down there without a stitch of clothing in the middle of everybody was jarring even after seeing the news reports and reading her book. Two women in business attire walked on either side of her. Adam recognized Audrey Lambert, the agent. He had met her before and, remembering the name, had researched her before calling her to ask about the film rights. The other woman must be Sylvia Smith, the university’s publicist. The three of them were heading toward the administration building, each with a Starbucks cup in hand.
Adam watched the rest of the people walking to and fro. Those walking the opposite direction seemed to be nodding or saying something in greeting to the naked girl, but only one or two took a look back at her once they had passed. Adam was surprised to see how many people seemed to take no note of Naked Dani at all. Had seeing her naked and out and about on campus really become so commonplace? According to her book, she had started going naked right after spring break. It was now early October. She’d been doing this for seven months, minus the time spent back home away from campus.
Adam watched the three women until they disappeared from sight at the foot of the building below him. He turned away from the window and opened his briefcase to make sure his written questions were still there on top of everything else. They were, so he closed the briefcase without latching it shut. He sat down and tried to look casually comfortable when they came into the conference room. The three of them walked in talking and laughing but quieted when they saw Adam stand to his feet.
“Hello, I’m Adam Munch from Munchie Productions.”
“Oh my gosh, I’m so sorry we weren’t here to greet you,” said the woman he didn’t recognize. She stepped forward and offered her hand. “I’m Sylvia Smith with Coachella Valley University.”
Adam shook her hand. “Pleased to meet you.”
The other dressed woman offered her hand and said, “Audrey Lambert. We spoke on the phone.”
“Yes, we’ve met before. About two years ago, I think. You were representing Claudia Coker.”
“Ah yes. I remember you now. I’m sorry that project didn’t work out for you.”
Adam shrugged. “She seems to have found something better.”
“Yes, she did.”
“Hopefully, we can work out something here.”
“I hope so,” Audrey said.
The nude girl stepped forward, about twenty-one years old and darkly tanned from a summer in the desert sun. Adam reminded himself to maintain eye contact no matter how much the shapely bare breasts hovered in his peripheral vision.
“I’m Dani Keaton,” she said, smiling.
“Adam. Please, call me Adam.”
The four of them stood beside the table for an awkward moment, as Adam marveled at how poised Dani seemed. She didn’t appear to be in the least self-conscious about her nudity.
“Thank you for meeting with me today,” he said to try to break the ice.
“Thank you for coming all this way,” Sylvia offered.
Audrey was already walking around the table to take a seat on the other side, and Dani followed her.
“Why don’t we all sit down, and I’ll go over my proposal,” Adam suggested.
They all sat, and Adam couldn’t help but notice that Dani’s bare breasts were visible through the glass wall to anyone who happened to walk by in the corridor. Her brown hair was long enough to touch her shoulders but not long enough to cover anything below that. Adam pulled his Advanced Reader Copy of The “Volunteer” from his briefcase and set it on the table.
“Let’s talk about your book first,” he said.
“OK,” Dani said before either of the other two women could respond.
“It ends in June, and we’ve only gotten to October. That’s a really fast turnaround.”
“Yeah,” Dani replied. “I wrote almost all of the first two-thirds when I was at home between the spring semester and summer session. And it didn’t take long to write the stuff that happened in May and June.”
“And it’s a true memoir? You didn’t make any of it up?”
“No, everything in the book is true. I had to leave a lot of stuff out of course. That project did run two months, and I didn’t want to give a day-by-day account of all sixty days.”
“Well sure,” Adam replied. “No one could have included everything.” He checked the questions he wrote on his notepad. “Is there anything you left out that you wish you had included?”
“Oh yeah,” Dani said. “When I got home, my friend Samantha and I had a long talk about the project.”
“The nudity project?” Adam interrupted.
“Yes. I told her that I was glad it had ended, but not. If you know what I mean. She really is my best friend, so she agreed to arrange a few scenarios where I could be naked. I even wrote it that way the first time.”
“Her editor thought the scenes back in Texas might read better if there was someone to root against,” Audrey said.
“Yeah,” Dani agreed. “So I rewrote them and kind of made Samantha look like a bad guy. But really, the swim party and everything was pre-arranged. She wan’t being mean; she was doing what I wanted her to. I did put in the book that she agreed to go to that nudist resort with me after that. I tried to make it clear that we were still friends and just hoped that people could, you know, read between the lines.”
Adam was busy writing notes on his pad before stopping and looking in his briefcase.
“Would you mind if I took video of the rest of this meeting?” he asked.
“What for?” Audrey said.
Adam held up his pen. “So I don’t have to take as many notes, for one. And for another, I want to see how Dani looks when talking on camera.”
“Why would that be important?”
“I’ll get to that.”
Dani and Audrey looked at each other, and Dani shrugged. “Sure, I don’t mind.”
Adam took a small camcorder from his briefcase and set it on the table pointed at Dani. Once he made sure it was running with Dani in the frame from the shoulders up, he resumed questioning.
“Has your friend Samantha read the book?”
“I gave her a copy and told her that it kind of made her look mean. I don’t know if she’s read it yet.”
“Did she seem upset when you told her about how she might come across in the book?”
Dani shook her head. “I don’t think so.”
“Audrey said your editor wanted readers to have someone to root against. That would be this Dr. Slater for most of the book. What can you tell me about her? Was this sociology project of hers real?”
“It was,” Dani nodded.
“Her first article on the project will be published in Cultural Sociology Journal next month,” Sylvia said.
“Is she still collecting data?” Adam asked. “Since you are still going nude?”
Dani shrugged. “Probably. They have all those ultra high def cameras everywhere on campus.”
“Why did you continue going naked? You said in the book that you did it to save Dr. Slater’s project, along with her job. Was that the reason?”
“No, not really. It’s complicated. I just know that for two months, I was special. Everyone looked at me everywhere I went. People treated me like a rock star or something. And when I put clothes on after the semester ended, I was like everyone else. Just another face in the crowd. A nobody.”
Adam was nodding, not because he was agreeing but because he was trying to get her to open up and keep talking.
“So when I was back here on campus after the break,” she continued, “I realized that I still had that opportunity to stand out from the crowd, and that if I didn’t continue taking it while I could, then I would probably regret it when I didn’t have it anymore. Do you know what I mean?”
When Dani paused, Adam looked down at his list of pre-written questions and closed the tablet.
“I think I do,” Adam said. “Now, I hope you don’t take this the wrong way, but is there an element of sexual excitement by going nude all the time?”
Dani shook her head. “No, not really. I think it would be if I only went naked just every once in awhile. But going like this all the time, it just becomes a part of who I am.”
“But in the book,” Adam said, picking it up and thumbing through some pages, “you talk about feeling aroused and at one point having to duck into the Science Building just to find a bathroom and give yourself some relief.”
Dani’s face blushed a deep red. “Well, that was my editor again. He wanted to play up the sex. He told me that people would want a read like 50 Shades of Grey or something. Said it would sell more copies. The only problem was, I wasn’t sexually active.”
“So those parts aren’t true?”
“Oh no, they’re true. That was the only ‘erotic content’ I could honestly put into the book,” Dani said, making air quotes with her fingers as she said the words erotic content. “Like I said, it was very important to me to not write anything that didn’t happen or wasn’t honest. And there was an adjustment period to the project. When you’ve been told all your life that your body is impure and has to be covered, and then you’re told you have to go naked everywhere, that ingrained belief in its impurity becomes almost self-fulfilling. If you know what I mean. So yes, I felt sexually aroused by my nudity at the beginning. That gradually wore off as I got more used to it. And that time in the Science Building; yeah, that did happen. I wrote it and hated what I had written, but my editor insisted that I keep it in.”
Adam nodded as he watched Dani talk on the viewfinder screen on his camcorder, containing his excitement as he realized his idea might actually work. The three women in the room would just have to buy into it.
“Ok,” he said. “I came to talk about film and TV rights, so let me tell you my proposal. I don’t think a movie adaptation of the book will work.”
The surprised looks on all three faces almost made Adam laugh, but he held back.
“Why not?” Dani asked.
“A lot of reasons. Number one, there’s a lack of external conflict. The appeal of the book is you telling your story, what you are feeling. That’s all internal conflict and very difficult to portray onscreen. It would take a hell of an actress to pull it off. Which brings me to another issue, casting. I don’t know of any A-list actress who would take the role because of the constant nudity. And without a big name in that role, it would be relegated to the low budget B movie bin. And without that strong external conflict, it would just be seen as a naked girl running around.”
“So why are you interested in the book?” Audrey asked.
“Because of Dani here. The main reason a movie wouldn’t work is because it wouldn’t have her. It would, presumably, only be an actress playing her. People have seen her on the web or on TV. I think that’s what people want to see. What I want to propose is a reality TV series. Short episodes, maybe only a half hour each, focused on Dani going about her normal day-to-day life interspersed with shots of Dani sitting down in front of a camera talking about her philosophy like she was just doing.”
“A reality series?” Audrey asked.
“Exactly. Some successful television shows have been reality series. And Dani’s story and situation are very compelling. People are interested in it. They will watch it.”
“They’ll watch it just to see a pretty naked girl,” Audrey said.
“And they’ll keep watching because of Dani’s personality and outlook on life. She’s positive and has something that people will respond to. That’s why I wanted to come out here for a meeting rather than do business over the phone like every other project I’ve worked on. I needed to meet her and see how she talks when the camera is running. And these past few minutes have convinced me.”
Dani looked at Audrey, and Adam could tell they really wanted to talk about things. He could also tell that Dani was really excited about the proposal.
“So you don’t want to option the film rights of her book?” Audrey asked.
“Like I said, I don’t think a film adaptation would work. But if we move forward on a reality series, that’s going to keep others from optioning it.”
Audrey looked at Dani. “What do you think? It’s you who would be the focus of this reality series? Do you think you are ready for the spotlight?”
“I’ve already been in that spotlight since right after the sociology experiment started,” she said with a shrug of her bare shoulders, ” and especially since that Stossel show.”
Audrey was still looking at Dani with questioning eyes.
“What would you need from us right now?” she asked Adam.
“Well, I don’t have the funding to shoot a pilot right now. I’ll be meeting with someone at Netflix this week to try to secure that. I have a friend on their review board. If I can’t sell it there, I’m probably not going to be able to sell it anywhere else either.”
Adam took two copies of a printed contract from his briefcase and slid them toward Audrey and Dani. “That’s a two week option agreement. I pay you five hundred dollars for exclusive rights to your story, including the book, for two weeks. If I can’t get a deal with Netflix, you keep the five hundred, and you’re free to option the book to anyone else. If I do get a deal, we start production on a pilot episode this month. I’m proposing that you, Dani, get paid ten thousand per episode to start. It’s all in there.”
Audrey was already reading the agreement. Dani just stared at it as if in a daze.
“Five hundred dollars for two weeks,” Audrey mused.
“Yes,” Adam said. “I’m betting my own money that Netflix will go for it. If not, you’re not out anything. The book won’t even be out then, so you’d be free to negotiate with anyone else. But if Netflix does go for it, we could get a pilot episode together before the book comes out. The marketing of both the show and the book could be tied together.”
Everyone looked at Dani.
“What do you think?” Audrey asked. “You would be putting yourself out there in a way that no one has ever done before.”
Adam couldn’t help but see Dani’s eyes shine as she smiled, and he knew she would say yes. This Dr. Slater really hit the jackpot by finding her, a latent exhibitionist, to use in her study on reactions to nudity.
“Like I said, I’ve already had the spotlight on me for the last few months. I don’t see a downside to this.”
Audrey looked to Silvia. “How will the university feel about a film crew following Dani around?”
“Dani has been huge for this university. Our enrollments are hitting new records. If Dani wants to do this, then I don’t see how the university could refuse any reasonable accommodation.”
“The crew would be small,” Adam said, to reassure Silvia of the reasonableness of any future requests, “just me, a sound guy, and lighting guy. We’ll have a makeup artist set up somewhere before each shoot. But other than that, this will be a small, inexpensive production. Especially since we’d be confined to campus. That’s why I think Netflix will go for it.”
“Actually,” Silvia said, “you wouldn’t be entirely restricted to the campus.”
“How is that?” Adam asked.
“We have arrangements with Deal’s grocery store, Mary Ellen’s bar, and a Denny’s in Palm Springs. Dani is as free to be nude there as she is anywhere on campus.”
“Really,” Adam said. “Those businesses just let her walk on in?”
Silvia shrugged. “Fame has its advantages. And Dani is usually a big hit wherever she goes. The Denny’s is the same one we went to after the Coachella Music Festival. They called me a couple of days later and made it clear that Dani, Naked Dani, was welcome back any time.”
In spite of the video camera still running, Adam wrote down the three off-campus locations. They would have to take advantage of all of them during a full season of shows, if the project got that far.
“How is she going to get to these places?” he asked.
“The university has a pool of vehicles,” Silvia replied. “We can appropriate an older one for the show if we need to.”
“Are you sure you want to do this?” Audrey asked Dani.
“Yes,” she answered, looking at Adam’s camcorder as she spoke. “Absolutely.”
“OK,” Audrey said, motioning toward Adam to see the contract. He slid it over to her, unable to hide his smile.