Chapter One CHAPTER ONE
I had arrived.
Leaning over my steering wheel, I got my first real, up-close look at my future. It was big and bright with round, swooping architecture and a giant wrought-iron gate that was currently wide open. I’d seen the building from the freeway almost daily on my way to school, and I’d even driven past the main entrance once or twice or two dozen times before, but I’d never had a reason to pull up to the studio entrance. Until today.
This was the place where a pencil and a piece of paper could be the start of something extraordinary. I’d been imagining this moment—this day—for weeks.
A Boy Named Bear had been made for my generation—for me—and we’d all grown up with Bryan Beckett teaching us the proper way to tell a story. Now I was going to be one of the lucky few to learn it directly from him.
No. Not luck. I wasn’t an intern at BB Gun Films because I was lucky—I was an intern at BB Gun Films because I was good at what I did. Because I knew how to tell a story. With my pencil and paper, I’d beaten out almost five thousand students for a coveted slot in what was possibly the only internship program BB Gun Films would ever do.
It was the first step toward my future. An apprentice at eighteen, a storyboard artist at twenty, head of story by twenty-four, and directing my first feature way before I was thirty. That was the plan.
Next to me, Dad let out a low whistle. I knew exactly what he was seeing. “So this is the house that cartoons built,” he said.
“They’re not cartoons, they’re animated films,” I said for the thousandth time. “And this multibillion-dollar studio was designed by Andrew Howard.”
Dad’s eyebrows rose. “The guy who did the children’s museum in Argentina?” He looked over at me. “Now you show an interest in architecture?”
I shrugged. We were both aware that my architectural knowledge was limited to all things BB Gun. I knew Dad would notice the design, but I was also hoping it would impress him. That the studio would impress him.
“For seventeen years, I’ve tried to encourage a love of art,” Dad said. “And this is how you repay me. By becoming obsessed with cartoo—” He cleared his throat as he caught my glare. “Animated films.” He was joking. Mostly.
“Behave,” I said. I wanted him there and not there. After all, it had taken a lot to convince my parents to let me do this internship. It was clear that they hadn’t even thought I’d get in, but when I did, I’d had to sit through several discussions where my parents weighed the pros and cons of agreeing to let me spend the whole summer doing what they saw as nothing more than an unpaid internship in a field they knew nothing about.
In the end, they’d agreed because I’d assured them it would look good on a college application. They didn’t see what it really was: an opportunity. A chance to prove myself. To them. To my peers. To Bryan Beckett himself.
I rolled down the window to talk to the security guard. “I’m checking in for the evaluation,” I said. “I mean, registration. For the internship.” My face was hot, but the security guard didn’t even blink—no doubt I wasn’t the first awkward teenager he’d spoken to that day.
“Driver’s license,” he said. “Is he on your guest list?”
“Yes, sir,” Dad said, and saluted, trying to be cheeky. He was ignored.
“I’ll need your ID as well,” the security guard said.
We passed them over and waited while we were checked off on the list the guard was holding. I drummed my fingers along the curve of my steering wheel. I could only imagine what it would be like once we passed through those gates. Would I feel different? Special?
I wanted to feel special.
The security guard cleared his throat and I looked up to see that he was holding out our licenses, his gaze focused on my tapping fingers.
“Sorry.” I reached out with one hand, stilling the other.
“You can park on the first floor,” he said with a hint of a smile. “And welcome to BB Gun Films, Hayley.”
I grinned, goose bumps spreading all over my arms. This was it. This was the moment.
Even the parking structure was cool to look at. The whole thing had the feel of an oversize jungle gym, with the metal painted bright colors and each floor named after a different, famous BB Gun Films character.
Floor number one, unsurprisingly, was Bear, the title character from their first film. The wild child was portrayed with his characteristically messy, leaf-strewn hair and muddy face, his hands on his hips and his preadolescent chest puffed out.
We all wanted to be Bear when we were little—a child whose imagination was so impressive that it threatened the status quo. It took me years to fully appreciate the nuances of the film, but when I was a kid, I was simply spellbound by someone my age who could make things happen just by imagining them. When Bear did it, it seemed possible that all of us could.
“Who’s that?” Dad asked, stopping in front of the drawn sign.
“Dad,” I said.
A small group of people who were also walking out of the garage turned to stare.
“I left a list for you and Mom on the counter.” I lowered my voice. “And all the special editions are in my room. Organized by date.”
“I know, I know,” Dad said.
“You said you’d watch them.”
“I thought I was agreeing to one movie—maybe two. Not the whole BB Gum repertoire.”
“Gun,” I said. “BB Gun. And it’s just ten films.”
“That’s a lot of time to spend watching movies.” Dad put his hand on my shoulder. His tone was light but the hand was heavy.
I’d thought that Dad would understand, since he knew what it was like to be an artist. Or to appreciate art. After all, he’d been an architect for as long as I’d been alive and spent his weekends building sculptures in the backyard. It was clear I got my creative gene from him, not from Mom, who had been a stay-at-home parent until about two years ago when she went back to school to study law.
“I don’t like the language they use.” She’d helped me review the registration paperwork in the spring. “They own everything you work on while you’re there? That doesn’t seem right.”
Mom found contracts fascinating. “You can tell a lot about someone by the words they use,” she liked to say.
They had all seemed pretty similar to me—a bunch of legalese nonsense.
“They’re all about teamwork,” I’d said. “You can’t own something that’s a group effort. And the whole point is to prove to them that you’re good enough to be a member of their team.”
That was my goal, at least. I still had another year of high school, but my secret wish was that I’d prove myself so invaluable during this internship that BB Gun Films—ideally, Bryan Beckett himself—would offer me a position that I could take as soon as I graduated high school.
I knew my parents wanted me to be like my older brother, Zach, who was premed.
“A Jewish doctor,” I’d teased him when he declared his major. “How original.”
“At least our parents know what that is,” he’d teased back.
It was true. They thought all of this was a hobby. They didn’t realize that people could actually make a living doing it. They didn’t see that it could be more. That I could make it more.
I’d tried to show them Bryan’s CalTED Talk, but all Mom could focus on was how he had dropped out of CalAn after his freshman year. She’d dropped out of college too, but unlike Bryan, she regretted it. She refused to listen when I told her I didn’t need to go to college.
“You can’t do your best work if you have a backup plan,” Bryan had said.
Even though he never graduated from the school, he’d been given an honorary degree after A Boy Named Bear was released.
“Creating is all about risk,” Bryan had said. “Taking an exhilarating plunge into the unknown, steadied only by confidence in your own talent. In your ability to land safely.”
When I’d first watched his CalTED Talk, it was as if he had taken the things I felt when I drew and put them into words. That video had changed everything for me.
We walked out of the parking garage and were greeted by a friendly-faced white woman with a Bear button on her lapel. “You’ll be starting in the theater,” she said, directing us away from the main structure.
I stared at the big doors longingly. I wanted to get into the studio so badly. I already knew what the theater looked like. It was the only place the press was allowed to go, so I’d seen it in all the videos and interviews and press releases BB Gun Films did. There weren’t many available, but I’d watched them all. Studied them. I wanted to go where no one else got to go.
We settled into the theater seats—they were enormous and plush and covered in soft red velvet. If Zach were here, I probably would have said something about how the room felt a bit like a giant beating heart, and then he would have said something gross and anatomically accurate about the biology of an actual human heart. Then I would have socked him in the arm.
Everyone was scattered around alone or in small groups. According to the acceptance e-mail, there were forty-one of us. It seemed like a weird number, but I was certain that there was a reason for it. I was certain that Bryan had a reason for everything he did.
Out of that forty-one, only four of us were going to get the opportunity to direct. I’d been working on my pitch since the moment I read about the internship.
I was ready. I was so ready.
I glanced around at the other interns—eager to check out my competition—but the lights dimmed before I could. A white guy with blond hair, at least ten years younger than Bryan, walked out onto the stage. I knew immediately who he was, but I wasn’t the only one who slumped backward with disappointment.
“I’m sorry I’m not Bryan Beckett,” he said.
We all laughed politely.
“Don’t worry—all of you interns will get a chance to meet him tomorrow. I’m Josh Holder, the executive head of story. For all you BB Gun Films fans, you’ll know that we do things a little different here than at other animation studios. My role means that I oversee the story teams for all the films we have in development.”
I did know that. I assumed that BB Gun had their own way of doing most things.
“We’re so glad to have you here at the studio. In a few hours, there will be a mixer back at the dormitories—sorry, parents, you’ll have to say goodbye before then—where you’ll have a chance to meet one another before you’re introduced to your mentors. Then, tomorrow, you’ll be back here bright and early to start your first day as employees of BB Gun Films.”
We applauded, excited whispers spreading through the room. It was all happening so quickly. And not quickly enough. I squirmed as Josh continued. Now that I knew what was in store for the next few hours, I wanted to get out of the theater and settle into the dorms.
“For now, we’ve prepared something to welcome you all to the BB Gun family. Enjoy!”
The lights dimmed. “Welcome!” Bryan’s voice boomed through the speakers.
I must have watched his CalTED Talk a hundred times by now, so his voice was as familiar to me as my parents’. I settled back, my fingers curled over my knees.
The film—shot in grainy black-and-white like those old-fashioned movies—opened with Bryan at his desk. I straightened. We’d never seen his office. But before I could get a good glimpse of anything besides his enormous black desk, he was outside the studio gates, walking toward the camera. He was wearing his uniform—black pants, white shirt, and a black tie. He looked like he was outside of time. The film could have been shot yesterday or it could have been shot twenty years ago.
“You’re here because you’re the best of the best,” Bryan said.
I sucked in a proud breath.
“Thousands of students across the United States sent in applications—but we chose you. There was something in your reel or your portfolio that showed potential, and here at BB Gun Films, we’re all about potential.”
I was more than ready to show off mine.