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  • Writer's pictureScott Bryant

The Jewel of Monaco

The Jewel of Monaco by Scott Bryant
Background photo by Kelian Pfleger via

The sun was beginning to rise over the Mediterranean Sea, casting a golden glow over the beautiful city of Monaco. As the yachts in the harbor gently rocked with the waves, Gina Burnhep stood on the balcony of her penthouse suite, a steaming cup of coffee in hand. She had barely slept all night, too excited about the first day of filming for her latest project. Gina took a deep breath, inhaling the salty sea air and letting it energize her.

"Today is the day," Gina muttered, sipping her coffee. "This film will be my masterpiece. The perfect blend of action, adventure, and sophistication. The world will be begging for more." She looked over the harbor, watching the boats bobbing in the water. "And what better location than Monaco? The perfect setting for our daring detectives to uncover the biggest heist of the century." Gina took another sip of her coffee, feeling the excitement build within her. "It's time to bring the magic to life."

Gina Burnhep was a maverick director known for her unique and sometimes daring approach to filmmaking. Often compared today to the new Orson Welles and Steven Spielberg, Gina, on the other hand, could care less about comparisons - or awards, for that matter. Today, Gina was in Monaco shooting her latest project, a sophisticated action-packed adventure movie called The Jewel of Cannes, starring lead actors Josephine DeWitt and Halle James, both fiercely talented, rising star actors dedicated to their craft. Gina met Josephine and Halle at an Oscars after-party last year, the year Josephine and Halle were nominated for supporting roles in their films.

"Okay, ladies. In this scene, you two are walking down the street and conversing. Think of it as I told you two in pre-production talks that you two are the William Powell and Myrna Loys of today, living a bon-vivant life of adventure, yet you two are aware of the high stakes of your investigations. So be the bon vivant and let it be known." Gina said, laying out the scene with Josephine and Halle. "So with the 'ha ha,' should I go fast like "ha ha ha ha" or go slow with a 'ha ha'?" asked Josephine with an uneasy feeling. "Just go slow, Josephine. That'll do."

In this film, Josephine and Halle played the roles of sisters Judi and Rita Remington, two world-traveling, bon vivant detectives with a keen eye for adventure, luxury, and thrill-of-the-moment action. The best way to describe the film was Alfred Hitchcock's To Catch a Thief meets James Bond - without the Bond brand of sexism and less unnecessary action-with-bad-CGI. Gina's idea for Judi and Rita was the sister versions of William Powell and Myrna Loy's Nick and Nora Charles from The Thin Man series of the 1930s - only much more adventurous and action-oriented for the modern era. With Gina, "take what worked in the past and spice it up times 15." Sometimes her approach worked, but there were a few rare times when Gina had to return to the director's drawing board. But in this film, Gina knew her method would work.

"Action!" said Gina.

"Rita, we're in Monaco. You can sense the luxury. The luxury is so luxurious even Grace Kelly walked on these very same streets before she became Princess of Monaco," Josephine spoke her lines with a touch of elegance. "True, my adventurous Judi but remember, we're here to investigate, not sightsee for celebrities," Halle spoke her lines. "Ha, ha! Dear Rita, you must know we must mix fun and adventure in our investigations. It's the Remington way!"

"Cut! Perfect!" Gina yelled. "Ladies, that was a fantastic take. Great dictation. If all my past and present actors could do what you do and master their lines on the first take, I could finish a film within a month." Josephine and Halle take a comedic bow, "Thank you, Gina. We want to thank the Academy and the sacrifices we made through our Hollywood dictation lessons; the long hours, the toiling by the midnight oil," Josephine jokingly said. Gina smirked at Josephine's comedy but instantly went back into serious mode, "Alright, alright, that's enough, you two. Save the energy when we do the action scenes."

"Well, that scene went well, don't you think, Halle?" Josephine asked as she and Halle walked to the film set's food area. "Absolutely. I can't help but think how incredibly refreshing it is being on a film set where the director and producer aren't sex maniacs every waking minute," Halle said. "I get you, sister. It's nice that this film appreciates the spoken dialogue than just 'More sexual! Be feminine! Be arm candy!" Both erupted in laughter.

For Josephine and Halle, lifelong best friends from Hollywood, California, who both grew up and attended The Juilliard School of Drama and Dance together, acting and their friendship were their life. Josephine and Halle saw each other as "extended sisters from different misters" even though both grew up in tight-knit, Hollywood-connected, supportive households of empowering women - with fathers, uncles, and grandfathers as their biggest allies to all the women of their lives. Josephine and Halle also had male allies both in and outside the industry. Most of their family members had worked in behind the scene roles with some of the now-late legends in the past, including Katharine Hepburn, Cicely Tyson, Dorothy Dandridge, Marilyn Monroe, and many more.

While their lives are a dream to others, Josephine and Halle were very aware growing up of Hollywood's toxic history of sexism, racism, and abuse towards women of all races, backgrounds, and sexual orientations. Josephine and Hall had experienced some form of sexism on film sets before - from influential producers and a few leading actors. So when the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements came on the scene, Josephine, Halle, their families, and allies were delighted but also aware that much still needed to be done for Hollywood to confront the past and learn from its mistakes. Only then would Hollywood be a place of a thriving, creative community of inclusion and diversity. For The Jewel of Monaco, Josephine and Halle hoped this would begin a new shift in Hollywood towards more adventurous stories about women made by women - without all the bad CGI, writing, and special effects-every-minute bloatedness.

Currently, Gina is managing a diverse film crew on location in Monaco. It comprises some of the most talented women in almost every filmmaking department: from writing, art direction, cinematography, stunts, and costumes, to film editing, you name it. Gina, over the years, had gotten heat from a tiny yet vocal minority of men in the Hollywood community for her lack of hiring men on film crews, but it wasn't because she had a disdain for men. Certainly not. In Gina's words, "Look, getting certain people - mostly some men - to follow my directions is as difficult as asking them to read a map when I'm the one who drew up the bleeping map; it's not worth it. Maybe in my next film, but I'm reclaiming my filmmaking time this time."

For the past five days in Monaco, Gina and crew had shot most of the scenes, which were, as Gina eloquently put it, "the all-walk and talk and no action filler." Much of Josephine and Halle's scenes during this round of shooting involved their characters either walking from one side of the street, driving mopeds, or engaging in various encounters with characters in Monaco on the hunt for the jewelry— the typical filler scenes to bridge the gap between the action and non-action scenes. As with any film project, Gina always consulted with the Writers Guild to ensure the best of the best writers - regardless of background - were available for her films so that no scene in a Gina Burnhep film would be dull for the audience.

Today, however, was different. "Alright, people, let's get the scene set up! I need the cars lined up, cameras set up!" As the crew prepares for the next scene, Josephine and Halle take a moment to rehearse their lines and go over the action choreography. "Hey, Halle, you ready for this?" Josephine asks, adjusting the straps of her harness. "Born ready, sis," Halle replies, giving Josephine a wink. Josephine chuckles, "I know, right? It's like seeing the queen of cool flustered." Halle smiles and adds, "But if anyone can handle this, it's Gina. She's a force to be reckoned with." Lana, one of the key grips, overheard Josephine and Halle and added, "For sure! I've worked with Gina on numerous projects. Gina could direct a film blindfolded, and it would still be better than any superhero or remake film today." Josephine and Halle nod in agreement with Lana, clearly in awe of Gina's talents.

Gina watches from the sidelines with a proud smile as she watches her two lead actresses bring their characters to life. "Great, Josephine!" Suddenly, a Monaco police van pulls in front of one of the movie cars, causing a loud crash as one of the stunt cars careens onto the side of the road. Gina rushes over to check on Josephine. "Josephine! Are you okay?" Gina asked, peering through the driver's side window. "Yeah, Gina. When did that police van become part of this scene?" Gina turned around and angrily walked towards the police officer. "What the hell is this all about?! We're filming in a closed film set; we have permission from the Monegasques authorities, permits and all!" One of the film crew members, Sophie, rushed over and began speaking with the police officer, as she was fluent in French.

"Josephine! Are you okay?" Halle asked as Josephine walked away from the scene of the accident. "Yes, just a little shaken up. I guess those defensive driving courses my mother told me to take in high school paid off," said Josephine with a smile and laugh. A short time later, Gina came to talk to Josephine and Halle. "Everyone okay? Good. Well, the bad news is this set us back another day of shooting, depending on how quickly this incident resolves. Thank god we have Sophie. This police officer is new and didn't know he was driving onto a film set. Luckily we're insured, so the producer is on the phone with the film studio and the insurance company, who are in contact with Monaco police. So for now, Josephine and Halle, it's best to return to the hotel, and you'll hear from me."

As Josephine and Halle were about to leave the film set, a few Monaco police officers arrived. "Excuse me," one of the officers said, approaching the film set. "I am sorry for interrupting, but we must suspend the filming. There has been a robbery at the Jewel of Monaco, and we are investigating. We cannot allow anyone to leave until we have asked some questions and checked everyone's identification if you please." Gina's eyes widened with frustration. "What? You can't be serious. We have a tight schedule to keep." The officer looked at her sternly. "I understand this is frustrating for you, but we must ensure everyone here is not involved in the theft. Please cooperate with us and answer any questions that we may have. Merci beaucoup." Josephine and Halle looked at each other in shock as the rest of the crew began to gather. "This can't be happening," Josephine muttered under her breath. "We have a premiere to get to in two months." Halle placed a comforting hand on her shoulder. "We'll get through this, sis. We must trust Gina and the rest of the crew to handle it."

One of the police officers began to speak again, "I am not so good at English, but I will try to explain. We have reason to believe that the thief may have used this film set as a cover to escape. We need to search the premises and ask everyone some questions. Can you please all stay here until we have finished?" Gina turned to the officer. "Fine. We'll cooperate, but we need assurances that this won't go on indefinitely. We have a deadline to meet, and we won't let this film suffer because of something we had no involvement in." The officer nodded. "We'll do our best but must follow proper protocol. I suggest you and your crew return to the hotel for now." The group began packing their equipment and heading back to the hotel, all the while wondering how this unexpected turn of events would affect their film's production schedule. Gina's mind spun as the crew settled back into their hotel rooms. She couldn't just sit around and wait for the investigation to be over. There had to be a way to use this unexpected turn of events to their advantage. And then, an idea came to Gina.

"Oh my god. That's it!!" Gina exclaimed. "New plan, crew: forget the original action scenes we had planned. What if we incorporate the Jewel of Monaco into the film? We wouldn't use the jewel as the central plot but as a backdrop to the action scenes. I can see it now: our detective sisters, Judi and Rita, are on the thrilling hunt for the Jewel of Monaco in real time No directions, no scripted dialogue. We could shoot raw footage of Monaco as Judi and Rita comb through the streets and landmarks in search of the missing jewel. No directions, no scripted dialogue. It'll be an improvised masterpiece!" Gina felt excited about this new development.

"Are you sure about this, Gina?" Halle asked after Gina laid out her grand idea to Josephine and Halle in their suite. "Trust me, ladies. I've had a track record of wild ideas turning into film masterpieces. And besides, if it all goes well as I figure it will, this could be an action masterpiece that would make Jaws and Star Wars look like an amateur film student's film project." As Gina explained the rest of her idea, her eyes sparkled with excitement, and her hands moved animatedly, emphasizing each point. Halle furrowed her brows, looking skeptical, but Josephine's face broke into a wide smile. 'I love it!' she exclaimed, 'It's risky, but if it works, it could be incredible.' Halle still looked unsure, but the enthusiasm of the other two was infectious. 'Alright,' she said with a shrug, 'I'm in.' The three of them shared a grin, feeling a rush of adrenaline at the thought of this new challenge."Josephine and Halle looked at each other, smiled, and said, "Let's do it!"

The following day, Gina, Josephine, and Halle started to film the climactic yet improvised action scenes. As they drove around Monaco filming the action scenes, Josephine and Halle looked for any signs of the man in the black hoodie. They focused their attention on the people around them, scanning the crowds for suspicious behavior. "Do you see anything?" Josephine asked Halle as they drove past a busy market. Halle shook her head. "No, nothing yet. Keep your eyes peeled." They continued driving, filming the action scenes as they went. Suddenly, Halle's sharp eyes caught sight of a man in a black hoodie.

"There he is!" she exclaimed, pointing at the man walking quickly down a side street.

Josephine quickly alerted Gina and the driver, who made a U-turn and followed the man, trying to keep a safe distance. They continued to film the chase, with Halle and Josephine using their acting skills to make it look natural. The man in the black hoodie eventually realized he was being followed and started to run. The chase continued through the narrow streets of Monaco, with Gina and the team following the man in the car while Halle and Josephine chased him on foot.

Josephine and Halle encountered various obstacles and challenges as they continued their search for the jewel. In one comedic moment, Josephine and Halle met a women's tour group blocking their path, causing them to maneuver their way through the crowd while trying to maintain their cover. Josephine accidentally bumped into one of the tourists, causing her to drop her gelato on her shoe. Halle tried to stifle her laughter, but Gina yelled from the car, "Keep going, keep going! That's great footage!" Later, as they continued their search, Josephine and Halle climbed over a fence. During one of these moments, Halle briefly struggled to make it over and tumbled to the ground. Josephine rushed around to help Halle up. At that moment, Gina yelled from the car, "Cut! That was perfect!" Josephine and Halle rounded a corner and found themselves at a dead end. The man in the black hoodie was trapped, with Josephine and Halle closing in on him. Suddenly, he turned around, revealing a glinting knife in his hand.

Gina, watching from the car, yelled in panic, "Cut! Cut! We need to stop filming! This scene is getting too dangerous!" But Halle and Josephine didn't hear her. They were too caught up in the moment, using their quick wits and self-defense skills to fight off the attacker. Finally, the driver, who had stayed in the car, called the police. After a few intense minutes, the police arrived to take the attacker into custody. Josephine and Halle emerged from the scene unscathed, though a little shaken. Gina approached them, her eyes shining with excitement. "That was incredible!" she exclaimed. "We got some amazing footage. You two were fantastic! With some editing and polishing in post, we have a hit on our hands!" Josephine and Halle exchanged a relieved smile. They were glad that they had been able to help catch the attacker, but they were also pleased that the danger was over. Finally, they were ready to go back to their hotel and relax. As they returned to their hotel, Gina's mind was already racing with ideas for editing the raw footage into a thrilling film. She knew this would be her biggest challenge but was up for it.

Over the next few weeks, Gina poured herself into the project, spending long days and nights in the editing room. The resulting film was a masterpiece. The action scenes were thrilling, the humor was on point, and the backdrop of the Jewel of Monaco added an air of sophistication to the film. The film debuted at the Cannes Film Festival to rave reviews. Critics hailed it as one of the most original and exciting action films in recent memory. Audiences loved it too, and it quickly became a box office smash. As for Josephine and Halle, they were thrilled to have a part in a groundbreaking film. They had always enjoyed their work as actors, but this was something special. They played a small role in capturing a dangerous criminal and helped create a memorable film people would remember for years. As the credits rolled at the film's end, Gina couldn't help but smile. She had done it. She had taken a wild idea and turned it into a masterpiece.

The Jewel of Monaco triumphed in acting, directing, writing, and production categories when awards season came around. And at the Oscars, The Jewel of Monaco was nominated for the major categories - and triumphed like no other film had done: Best Picture, Best Director to Gina Burnhep, Best Actor to Josephine DeWitt, Best Supporting Actor to Halle James, Best Original Screenplay to Gina Burnhep, Best Production Design by Ruth Ann Rue and Molly Takahashi. And at the Oscar after-parties, The Jewel of Monaco cast and crew were a sensation. Josephine and Halle have continued their friendship while their acting careers skyrocketed. And Gina Burnhep couldn't help but be overwhelmingly proud - with tears - at what this film had achieved. Now, Gina had a place in film history among the legendary, groundbreaking women who came before her: Alice Guy-Blaché, Dorothy Arzner, Agnès Varda, Ida Lupino, Chantal Akerman, Lina Wertmüller, as well as current living legends today including Kathryn Bigelow, Greta Gerwig, Julie Dash, Ava DuVernay, Patty Jenkins, Cheryl Dunye, and Chloé Zhao. And Gina knew that this was only the beginning.

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