The continent of Renault, or Leizhou, was named after the New Era general Harmon Renault. In Renault, the last name of Renault was a status symbol.
Renaults frequently popped up among the top names in politics, military, and finance, but what captured the public imagination the most wasn't these men in positions of power, but young Zaro Renault, a regular in the paparazzi pages.
Zaro Renault was the youngest grandson of the current governor of Renault. Even though the governor already had great-grandchildren, his favorite was still Zaro, who was rather spoiled.
Zaro Renault was the prototypical impulsive rich kid. Born into royalty and wealth, he'd never worked a day in his life and spent most of his time partying and chasing skirts. After graduating from university, he had launched the movie company Wireless Media. But even people who paid scant attention to the entertainment industry knew that the company was a joke. Every movie project it backed was a vehicle for his current girlfriend. So far, Wireless Media had seven films to its credit, and Zaro had cycled through seven girlfriends in the past two years.
People jokingly dubbed Zaro "Senior Master," and not because of seniority. He was the youngest Renault in his generation. "Senior Master" was a reference to his excess, indulgence, and incompetence.
Anyone who lived in Renault knew that any Wireless Media production was crap plot-wise. Every film had a simplistic story. You could figure out the ending by reading the synopsis.
Utterly unoriginal. Sometimes the movies barely made sense.
Given the level of technological advancement in the New Era, film production was quite straightforward. The number of films made had grown exponentially. Still, some of the major online portals screened their offerings. Yet any such restrictions were amenable to political and financial influence.
Take Zaro's Wireless Media, for example. Its releases were nearly universally panned, yet they were promoted vigorously on the most prominent platforms. They drew a significant viewership and did OK at the box office. Their revenues could never rival hit blockbusters, but they still managed to break even.
Viewers also loved to trash the films online because Zaro didn't seem to mind. Gradually, moviegoers became emboldened. Every time a Wireless Media film was released, they would watch it right away and generate tons of reviews. The reviews were still mostly critical. But despite the overwhelmingly negative commentary, the movies still drew a considerable audience.
Part of the reason was Zaro's reputation. Everyone wanted to see what kind of crap the notorious rich kid had produced. They got a kick out of it.
There was another reason. Wireless Media releases usually boasted huge budgets and realistic sets.
The Renaults were loaded, and while Master Zaro set low standards for story development, he was exacting when it came to production design and visual effects. He loved films with epic scenes, so the movies he made were filled with them.
Movie technology was in full bloom in the New Era. A single digital artist could easily create grand and realistic space shots. But sophisticated viewers could always spot flaws.
The proliferation of special effects created a niche audience that preferred big-budget blockbusters that used actual sets and props.
And the reason such viewers enjoyed Wireless Media releases was because they often used the real thing instead of props, be they firearms, flying cars, or spaceships.
For his last production, Zaro had rented a spaceship and 10 fighter jets from the military. Several scenes were also shot in space.
Zaro himself was no expert when it came to production design, but as a Renault, he felt he had to distinguish himself. When everyone used special effects, he would use the real thing. Only lavish budgets and splashy moves would live up to the Renault name.
And now Master Renault was on his eighth girlfriend and Wireless Media was gearing up for their eighth production. It was an old-fashioned damsel in distress movie.
Usually, Zaro would hire a famous actor to star alongside his girlfriend. When he was in the mood, he would make a cameo appearance himself. But this time, Senior Master didn't want to guest star. He wanted to be the leading man proper. So Wireless Media's eighth production had an even larger budget than usual. Zaro ordered the filmmakers to rent three battleships and nearly 50 fighter jets.
Of course, the battleships and fighter jets were steered and piloted by actual soldiers. As impulsive as Zaro was, he wasn't stupid enough to let non-professionals man the battleships and fighter jets. If any of them were damaged during shooting, his father would skin him alive.
Zaro had the perfect excuse cooked up when he approached his father for his military connections—the film would promote the military, boost recruitment, and help clamp down on draft dodgers.
In the New Era, a mandatory two-year period of military service was required for both men and women. The length of service was scaled back to one year after 200 years. Still, people went to extraordinary lengths to avoid serving.
Leizhou had been plagued by a series of high-profile desertions not too long ago involving several rather prominent celebrities, which generated considerable public discussion.
Zaro's father didn't buy his son's story for one second, but alas, his father—Zaro's grandfather, the governor himself—was already on board. Dad had no choice but to comply grudgingly. As a result, he was ostracized within the military and treated like a leper. The insults made in private were even worse.
Someone once joked that Zaro was born to screw over his father.
The latest production generated buzz within Renault's entertainment industry because of the huge budget and the large number of military rentals. Others saw a golden opportunity.
No matter how crappy the film turned out to be, people would still flock to see it. It would probably draw a larger audience than Wireless Media's previous seven movies. Any role in the film offered great exposure. Agents were dying to place their clients.
Apart from actors, composers also wanted in. They scrambled to offer their best songs. Many even offered discounts.
But Zaro didn't like any of the demos he received. Yet his appearance in the film called for the most epic song, so he decided to hire the best composer in town.
Just as he was about to shop for composers, word broke of the magical songs that had a healing effect on a Hull virus patient. The story piqued Zaro's curiosity. He ordered his underlings to obtain copies of "Divine Punishment" and "Cocoon Breach." The songs weren't available for download in Leizhou, but Zaro had his connections.
After listening to the two songs, he made contact with Silver Wing immediately. He loved the first two movements. Judging from the evolution of the songs, Zaro figured the third movement would strike his fancy even more.
He never used pieces that had been previously released on his movie soundtracks. They were too familiar and wouldn't add to the class of the film. He was starring in this eighth production, after all. His entrance had to be accompanied by a brand new, epic song. Only that kind of background music befitted his status.
Most blockbusters hired professional composers to write songs tailored to their plot and different scenes, also known as made-to-order songs.
So Zaro had people reach out to Silver Wing to see if the composer of the first two movements was willing to write a song for his movie. But Silver Wing refused immediately. The reason they gave was that the composer was too busy working on the third movement.
That pissed Zaro off, but Silver Wing was adamant in their refusal. There was nothing he could do. Zaro could make mountains move simply by flaunting his family name in Renault, but people in Yanzhou were less likely to extend a similar courtesy.
After pondering the matter, Zaro asked Silver Wing roughly when the third movement was coming out. The answer was January, which was when Wireless Media's eighth movie was being released. So Zaro decided to buy the rights to the third movement.
Zaro wanted to the buy the third movement outright, which meant it would not be released online in Yanzhou. He was willing to pay extra.
But Silver Wing responded with an equally definite no.
Zaro was so furious he cursed in his office the entire day.
Even paying a premium couldn't get them the third movement. Zaro's assistants and his agent told him to give up.
"There are quite a few composers in Leizhou who write symphonic pieces. If you haven't found one you like, just sift through some more," Zaro's agent pleaded. The movie was already over budget. It was just a matter of commissioning a song. There were so many movie composers in Leizhou. All they had to do was find a reputable one. It was going to be a crappy movie anyway. The most important thing was for Zaro to get his fix from the starring role. What was the point of being so exacting?
The agent was already in a tough spot. Other members of the Renault family were already upset that Zaro had made so many trashy, soulless, and critically panned movies. He already been summoned by a few of them, who had asked him to restrain Zaro and stop tarnishing the family name. Alas, his words carried little weight. Senior Master Zaro didn't care what he said.
At Zaro's insistence, his people kept negotiating with Silver Wing. They finally reached an agreement. Silver Wing would agree to the placement, but it would only license the song for exclusive use for one month. The third movement would still be launched in Yanzhou as scheduled, while in Leizhou, the release would be delayed by a month, until Wireless Media's eighth film ended its theatrical run. Silver Wing's price: 10 million.
Zaro signed off on the deal.
His agent wanted to cry.
In the first half of the year, the filmmakers behind an expensive Renault space war flick had commissioned a famed music cooperative to write a song. That only cost some 3 million. The filmmakers owned the rights to the song outright, which meant they could keep recycling the song in other movies without paying additional royalties. But now Wireless Media had spent 10 million licensing a song from Silver Wing for a mere month.
Where did Silver Wing find such gumption?
And yet Zaro had agreed to the deal. What was he thinking? Did money grow on trees? He really was clueless about his finances.
"Senior Master, should we maybe reconsider?" the agent pleaded again.
"There's no need. Let's do it. Let's speed up the shoot. The day the third movement is released in Yanzhou will be the day our movie is released!" He didn't want the background music that introduced his character showing up elsewhere first.
"But the price and the terms..." Zaro's agent made a last-ditch effort.
"They're fine." Zaro was already fed up. He wanted to get on set and figure out when his first scenes were. His stunt double had been filming until now.
Zaro's agent was the picture of doom. He wiped his forehead.
You had to be nuts to spend so much to license a song. They were bound to become the laughing stock of the industry.
He knew there was no room for savings on production design, given how demanding Senior Master was, but not being able to cut costs on music rights and going over budget instead—how very indulgent.
"I almost forgot—did Silver Wing mention any other conditions?" Zaro asked.
"The composer has requested that the third movement only be used for the scene he specified and no where else," an assistant standing next to him said.
Zaro looked at his assistant and smiled. "That's what we were thinking all along! That's where I make my grand entrance."
"Indeed. That's why Wireless Media agreed to the deal," the assistant said.
It was just one scene and they couldn't even play the entire song. For that, Silver Wing had demanded 10 million. Only a dumb*ss so loose with his cash like Zaro would agree, his agent thought.
Ten million! Were they paying for golden bricks?
Taking note of his agent's sour mood, Zaro chuckled and said, "Look how stingy you are."
"It's not that I'm stingy, Senior Master. It's 10 million dollars, for crying out loud. What if the song doesn't work?"
"Then we'll buy another song, the song you picked earlier. We'll use that as backup."
So they would splurge on another song? What about the 10 million?
"Then we'd have to write off that 10 million," his agent said.
"Then write it off. I can afford it," Zaro responded casually.
Yeah, you're a Renault, 10 million is like 1000 dollars to you, but for mortals like us, it's like treading ice, the agent cursed silently.
Given the cumulative profits from Wireless Media's first seven movies, they could break even despite taking a 10 million dollar loss this time.
That was also why Zaro was so carefree. They were breaking even, even making the occasional profit. He could keep fooling around in the entertainment industry.
"Is it worth it?" Zaro's agent was still in pain.
"Are you suggesting it's not worth it spending this much on music for a crappy film?" Zaro looked at his agent askance.
The agent flashed an embarrassed smile, thinking to himself, So you realize this is a shit production too?
"Wanna hear a saying?" Zaro asked.
"Yeah?" The agent and assistant were all ears.
"Since the beginning of time, crappy films have generated hit songs."