A man walks briskly into the back room of a Saltgrass Steak House in Arlington and circles the group seated at the table. He is wearing a black blazer over a plain black t-shirt and jeans and a black baseball cap with no logo on it. He pats shoulders and nods hellos as he makes his way around the room, his smile so white it has its own privilege.
When the man finally comes to a stop at the head of the table, fingers tented confidently in front of his sternum, everyone turns toward him expectantly—even the waiter, who had been in the middle of refilling water glasses. The man lets the silence build until it teeters on the edge of awkward.
“Gentlemen,” he finally begins, “you are all no doubt well aware of the great success Disney has had with the Marvel Cinematic Universe—the MCU, as some say—over the past decade or so.” He is now holding a cardboard tube no one saw him come in with, lightly tapping it against his palm as he speaks.
“You also, I’m sure, likely recall how Disney was able to turn one of its rides into a five-film franchise. And it wasn’t even one of the good ones!” He laughs. “Pirates of the Caribbean? Come on.” He makes a quick wank-off gesture with the cardboard tube.
“And now they’ve somehow convinced The Rock and Emily Blunt of all people—Emily Blunt!—to be in a movie based on Jungle Cruise.” He rolls his eyes theatrically. “Well, I for one am tired, damn tired, of sitting on an IP goldmine and doing nothing. So I am here tonight to introduce you to”—he slides a poster out of the tube in one sure motion—“the Six Flags Over Texas Cinematic Universe.”
As he says “Universe,” the man dramatically unfurls the poster to reveal an Avengers: Endgame-esque image, a heroic collage of various flags and tracks and trains—but it rolls back up before anyone can really take it in. He tries again, snapping his wrists down and forward like he’s revving the engine of an imaginary motorcycle, but the same thing happens. He grabs a glass of water to hold down the bottom of the poster as he attempts to slowly unroll it, but he accidentally tips over the glass halfway through and it soaks the bottom of the poster.
“Goddammit,” he says under his breath. He drops the poster. “It’s fine—it’sfineit’sfineit’sfine.” He takes a deep breath. “OK. So. The Six Flags Over Texas Cinematic Universe.” His confidence returns with each word.
“Picture this. We open in West Texas. It’s a copper mine. Let’s say in the 1850s, OK? A woman is running away from something, but we don’t know what yet. She trips on train tracks, then gets up and keeps running. Then we see the bad guy—and he’s really bad. Remember Tex Cobb in Raising Arizona? Huh? Huh? Huh? Huh? Huh? Yeah, like that. And then, yeah, right before this bad guy catches her—BOOM—a train comes out of nowhere and wipes him off the face of the earth. And then a series of title cards: ‘He’s the judge. And the jury. And the executioner. Chris O’Donnell is Judge Roy Scream. Summer 2021.’ ”
He lets it hang in the air for a moment before continuing. “OK, you’re thinking, That’s great, but he said universe, right? You’re wondering how we build from there. Well, you also heard me say ‘mine’ before, too, didn’t you? We have a post-credit sequence that gets us to Runaway Mine Train. That’s the next one. And from there, man, it just opens right the heck up: Runaway Mountain, Mini Mine Train, Boomtown Depot, Oil Derrick, Conquistador, and then the one I’m really psyched about, Texas Giant. We already have a tag line for that one.” He clears his throat and goes into a voiceover baritone: “Texas needed a hero. It got a giant.”
He pats his blazer pockets. “Shoot. OK, that’s what we are calling Phase 1. To show you Phase 2 and how we are gonna build to the Shock Wave movie, I’ve got to run to the car and get my phone. Hold on.”
As the door closes behind the man, a voice breaks the silence: “Wait, so who was that guy?”