The acting career of a 17-year-old Latina takes off. Then her parents interfere. 2,035 words. Part One. Part Two. Part Four tomorrow. Illustration by Thomas Warming.
The next day, an assistant called me to set up an appointment at the end of the week. On Friday I went to the talent agency in Beverly Hills. When I was shown to Eli’s office, he was on the phone.
“One minute,” he mouthed. He was in his twenties and had a hot nerd vibe going on with hipster eyeglasses. After he hung up, he looked me in the eyes and shook my hand.
“Liz told me great things about you. She said you’ve been in L.A. less than a month and already booked a TV commercial. That’s impressive. Want to know what the batting average for commercial auditions is? One in a hundred. Meaning you’ll land one for every hundred auditions you go on.”
“I guess I didn’t get the memo,” I joked.
“Maybe you should come back after you go on ninety-nine more auditions,” he joked back. “It’ll probably take you longer to land the next one.” He grew serious. “Because I don’t want my team to put time and energy into getting you auditions only to have you bail because it’s not clicking fast enough.”
“I don’t know what Liz told you, but I don’t have a Plan B. This is it.”
A 17-year-old Latina aspiring actress has the best and worst day of her fledgling showbiz career. 2,073 words. Part One. Part Three. Illustration by Thomas Warming.
I drove back down Franklin Avenue until I reached the 101 Coffee Shop. I sat at the counter and tried to come up with a game plan. I pulled up Craigslist on my cell and scoured the rental listings. Everything was too expensive. The cheapest was a share in Koreatown for $500 a month. I called the number.
“I’m calling about your furnished room. Is it still available?”
The woman who answered made an appointment for me to see it in 30 minutes. As I drove, I felt a lump form in my throat like I was going to cry. I pressed the worn out button next to Unit 3 and entered the creaky elevator. Please don’t be a murderer, I whispered to myself. To my relief, the woman was in her twenties with a warm smile.
“Hi. I’m Liz. Let me take you on the grand tour,” she said wryly. The place was tiny. “I’m never around. I work all the time as an assistant in a talent agency. What do you do?”
“I just moved here. I’m a model and an actress,” I told her.
“I figured,” she said looking at me.
To rent the room, I needed to pay one month’s rent in advance. My heart sank.
“I’m filming a Target commercial next week and can give you the money as soon as I get paid.”
Liz’s face had a skeptical look.
A 17-year-old Latina aspiring actress starts a journey through personal and professional pitfalls. 2,373 words. Part Two. Illustration by Thomas Warming.
May 11th was my last day of high school. It ended in the girls’ locker room where Ava, Tess and Viv finally got the last word after months of threats. Actually few words were exchanged. They beat me up and left me a bloody unconscious mess. When I came to, I was lying face down on the ground alone. I can still smell the ammonia the janitor used to clean the floor earlier that morning.
People talk about life-changing moments. This was mine. As I licked the blood off my lips, a light switch went off inside my brain. I was done. Done with Selma, California. Done with my family. And done with the bitches from school. I went home, packed my bags and tried not to cry as I left a note for José, my 10-year-old brother:
Dear José, This note is to let you know I’m going away. I promise to visit soon. I love you, little man. Natalia
I grabbed my stuff and headed for my car. There was only one place for me to go: Hollywood. Because of a boy, but that wasn’t the entire story. A year earlier, a model scout had approached my Dad at a local mall. She thought I had “potential” and handed him her business card. He never followed up, because he wanted me at home. Ever since Mom died, I had been left with all of her tasks: laundry, shopping, cooking and cleaning. One night when I was looking for a pen in his roll-top desk, I found the scout’s business card with a Los Angeles number. I knew it would be my golden ticket, if I ever needed one. My face would be the parachute out of the hellscape of my life, when it was also the reason for so many of my problems.
A film editor gets the opportunity of a lifetime with the world’s greatest director. 4,163 words. Illustration by Thomas Warming.
I liked Martin from the get-go. He was extremely polite, with an unexpected sense of humor, and eyes so intelligent and intense that most people feared him. Fortunately, I had grown up around a man with fierce eyes, my grandfather. Being his favorite, I was the only one of his grandchildren permitted to sit on his knee and – privilege of privilege – play with his beret.
This day of my interview to work at Kaleidoscope Studio, Martin was wearing a checkered brown and white shirt and brown corduroy pants, but no beret. Not that day.
“May I ask a question?” I say. He nods. “Why am I here?”
Martin breaks into laughter. “We have three films and three films in trouble,” he declares. His producers Forest and Gary nod in agreement.
Martin wants to take me on a tour of the studio. Once outside, something quite weird happens. He points to a black bicycle leaning against a wall.
“Come on the bike.”
Martin repeats, “Come on the bike.”
“I haven’t done this since I was two years old,” I tell him. But I jump on the front of the bike and off we go.
In the final excerpt from the just published novel Lulu In Babylon, the frustrations of the film business unmask a producer’s true personality. Part One. Part Two. Part Three. 3,350 words. Illustration by Thomas Warming.
Ex-studio boss turned film producer Ben Robbins and his wife Dianne were the only people on deck. Ben had already finished more than half his glass of rosé as he sat looking out on the picturesque port of Ajaccio. Some of the lights of the Corsican capital were beginning to go on though it was not even close to twilight. The yacht was anchored outside the harbor because it was too big to come in any closer. It towered over everything – not just the other boats, but all the buildings.
Ben’s jet had landed in Corsica just over an hour ago after a quick flight from Cannes. The car, as arranged, had taken them directly to the port, where a Zodiac ferried them out to the boat.
Now all the guests were about to have dinner. Ben himself planned to leave by 10:30 if all worked out. His director pal Milo Flintridge walked onto the deck. “Hey, Ben,” Milo greeted him. “Quite a view, isn’t it?”
“Quite a boat is more like it,” Ben replied, then pulled Milo aside. “I’ve got the air controller staying late for us, but I don’t think we can push it too far. We have to be wheels up by 10:45.”
Milo agreed. “This is one night we can’t wait for Rob and Xan. We’ve already gone through five bottles of Domaine Ott.”
Milo was referring to the bankable but elusive actor Rob Tracey and his wife, the stunning actress Alexandra Hobart. Ben wanted Rob for the Oscar-worthy lead in Double Or Nothing. This was Ben’s second, and last, chance to get Rob to say yes.
In an exclusive new book excerpt, a dickhead film director goes on a ride-along and gets a painful surprise. 3,248 words. Part One. Illustrations by John Donald Carlucci.
“Hotter ’n Hades,” moaned the boy wonder from the backseat of the black-and-white. “Seriously. My skin’s gonna crack. Any air conditioning in this bitch?”
Lucky Dey flicked an eye to his rearview mirror.
“Tell our guest why sheriffs roll with windows down,” suggested Lucky to his trainee in the Compton Branch of the Los Angeles County Sheriffs Department.
“It’s because L.A. Sheriffs use their ears,” replied Deputy Shia Saint George. “All year round it’s windows down. That way we hear what’s happening outside the vehicle like whistles or shouts for assistance. Or triangulation of gunfire—”
“Right, right,” complied Atom Blum, the Roadkill film director on tonight’s ride-along. “Must be hell on your skin and hair though.”
“My second night, sir,” replied Shia, keeping her eyes forward and scanning the ghostly corners and storefronts. “Time will tell.”
“Complexion like yours,” said Atom. “I mean, it’s fucking beautiful. Like camera-ready—art-school beautiful. And I would know because I’ve directed hours of cosmetics spots.”
“Spots?” asked Shia.
“TV commercials,” said Atom. “When I’m not making a movie, I shoot ads for television. Easy money if you’re A-list.”
In an exclusive new book excerpt, an arrogant movie director puts himself into a humiliating predicament. 2,424 words. Part Two. Illustrations by John Donald Carlucci.
“Holy God,” breathed in the boy wonder, eyes wide orbits. It was 2:49 a.m. and he was desperate to savor the moment.
It was quite possibly, the greatest moment of his life. Or at least he couldn’t imagine anything that came close until one particular memory flashed. And that might have been the look on the faces of those privileged doubters at The Buckley School who’d laughed when fifteen-year-old Atom — then named Adam Blumquist — had announced he was not only going to be a famous movie director, but the most successful movie director in Hollywood history.
After Atom gifted Buckley’s development and scholarship funds with a mid-six-figure donation, the headmaster had asked the boy wonder to deliver the commencement address at their most recent graduation ceremony. From the dais, Atom Blum had not only made a point to stare down each of those teachers who had lacked faith in his talent, but had the balls to call them out by name.
Yeah, man. That moment and this moment.
The present moment was both a collection of images as well a flood of feelings. Though feelings weren’t entirely important to the boy wonder compared to his beloved moving pictures. The picture frame was everything to him. And, from Atom’s perspective, his life deserved to be experienced in theatrical widescreen glory. Thus, the backdrop he’d chosen for the present moment — the view from atop a Topanga Canyon turnout overlooking the West San Fernando Valley. Below, a blanket of lights curtained by distant mountains glowing in the spill of their candlepower.
“Don’t stop,” begged the naked swimsuit model splayed face down on the hood of his blood orange Lamborghini. Her sweaty hands smeared disappearing palm prints on the finish, aptly named by the automaker as Arancio Borealis.
An escalating mystery threatens to end the increasingly difficult sitcom industry. 3,189 words. Part One. Illustration by Mark Fearing.
That day, I set out to find Larry David. I had seen Curb Your Enthusiasm enough to know what Larry’s house looked like but how to get there was the problem. I GPS’d “Larry’s House” but ended up at Larry The Cable Guy’s mansion. I headed down to Sunset to meet with my undercover celebrity map guy. I followed the map’s directions to an inconspicuous mansion sitting in the middle of a drive-thru cul de sac. If not for the fifty-foot hedges sculpted into the shapes of some of Larry’s top neuroses, I might have missed the house altogether. Shame and Paranoia flanked each side of the massive front doors.
On Larry’s front step was a stack of old People magazines. I picked up one and walked towards the threshold. I hoped that my magazine delivery ruse might get me through the portals and I would soon meet the man who had changed television. I swallowed hard, unsuccessfully attempting to dislodge the ever present glob of anxiety-generated saliva that seemed to have taken up permanent residence in my throat. With a deep breath that seemed to carry a toxic mixture of excitement and nervousness, I raised my hand to knock. But before my fist reached it, the door opened.
As if I had just become Curly (it could have been Shemp, but definitely not Curly Joe who ended up on Abbott and Costello’s show), I ended up knocking on Larry David’s head.
“Is something wrong with you?” he said. “What are you trying to do? Who are you?”
“People magazine delivery boy.”
A great sitcom writer has disappeared. Who or what caused it? And why? 2,449 words. Part Two. Illustration by Mark Fearing.
Was that a backfire or a punch thrown by an animated super hero? Perhaps I was in an Adam West Batman episode. I had no idea what was real and what was a cult classic.
Of course it could have been both a backfire and a punch happening simultaneously, a contrived scenario much like the moment a sitcom character alludes to “the one thing that would never happen,” and much to the surprise of the viewer – wait for it – it does. You never see it coming, that is, unless you’ve ever seen any film or television show.
No, that was definitely a backfire. I have got to find some mechanic I can trust.
Christ. I’m staked out in front of the mega-mansion owned by Larry David, the celebrated star/creator of Curb Your Enthusiasm and co-creator of Seinfeld, just hoping I might be able to snag that long-awaited magazine interview we’d arranged. Now I’m stinking up the driveway with explosions produced by a running internal combustion engine that occurs in the air intake or exhaust system rather than inside the combustion chamber. Wikipedia is such a great source for car repair information.
I turned off the engine and jumped out of my car. My heady prudence came coincidentally from my friend Prudence who once revealed to me the secret that had prevented me from putting courage ahead of safety: “The only thing worse than an unemployed writer? An ignored unemployed writer.”
What’s worse than writing for the worst TV show? Writing for dinner theater. 2,182 words. Illustration by Thomas Warming.
“I knew Bret was gay!”
“You don’t know anything,” Mickey snapped.
“He blew me a kiss last night!”
“Actors do that all the time.”
“In a deserted parking lot at two in the morning?”
There was a pause on the other end of the line. “They gave you a car?”
Mickey may have been dying, he may have been richer than Dolores Hope, but give anybody else a dented Volvo rental or a day-old donut and he wanted one, too – with sprinkles.
While Mickey was enduring the final days of a mysterious cancer in New York, I was trapped down in Neptune, Florida, with the Sam Shepard send-up we’d written together. It was my first foray in theater after four years of uncredited script-polishing in a forgotten woodshed on the Paramount lot. I was eager to see my name on something besides a summons from Traffic Court. The play was purposely “so bad it’s funny”– but nobody seemed to get it except us. Even the Alaska Rep passed despite Mickey’s marquee cred: three Oscar noms, two Tonys and a Pulitzer.
The douchey showrunner of a dumb YA series turns up the heat on his writers room. 2,105 words. Illustration by John Donald Carlucci.
My agent Chad tells me it’s a good idea to staff on a show, just to keep my name out there. I tell him I’m a big fan of Veep and GOT and Transparent and he says there’s a staff writer opening on WitcheZ. I’ve never seen WitcheZ, it isn’t the kind of show I watch – teen witches and warlocks who fight each other, and have sex. A lot of hot sweaty witch-y sex. Not exactly in my wheelhouse.
“It’ll show your range,” Chad says.
WitcheZ is in its second year. It did okay the first season – medium ratings and terrible reviews, but has a strong social media presence that keeps the network happy. “They’re rebuilding the staff,” Chad tells me and I ask my friend Suze who I met on Melancholy, my first TV job, to translate. She says “rebuilding the staff” is usually a euphemism for a creator/showrunner being a paranoid control freak asshole who fired everybody. She doesn’t know this guy, Scott Buckley, but she’ll check him out.
“Takes lithium. Had a big coke habit a couple years ago,” she reports back. “Resents the fact he’s writing a shitty YA show and thinks he should be on cable winning Emmys. Once mentioned The Crucible to a reporter and said Arthur Miller was a hack who at least got to bone Marilyn Monroe. Likes being boss. Makes writers come into the office every day. No writing at home because he likes an audience.” Suze pauses. “Oh, and he plays the guitar.”
The screenwriter’s career is going gangbusters again. There’s just one last complication. 3,002 words. Part One. Part Two. Part Three. Illustrations by John Donald Carlucci.
After three more weeks of intense procrastination, screenwriter Gavin Falconer jumped in his Mercedes and rocketed to his favorite Palm Springs haunt. He handed his iPhone, iPad, wallet and car keys to the concierge and told him to lock them up. He had the TV removed from his room. With the help of cigarettes, Kettle One, and vials of amphetamines, Gavin was able, without stopping, to crank out a draft in eleven straight days. He smelled foul and looked like shit, his hair and beard wild. He was half-blind from eye strain and could barely walk. But he managed to hit send by the deadline.
His agent Kurt McCann read the script and told Gavin he’d hit it out of the ballpark. Then Precious Chaing-Lee, the assistant to the producer Lana Meisel, called to set a notes meeting before the script went to studio executive Brent Burnham. Now Gavin was being escorted to Lana’s office where she was waiting along with Precious. Lana started the meeting with praise. Then she expressed concern that he’d failed to ramp up sufficient tension after the mid-point.
But mostly it was smooth sailing. Until Gavin suddenly said that he’d like to made a suggestion.
“Wait, a writer with a note?” Lana laughed uproariously. Within seconds, she’d tweeted what Gavin said, then held up her phone to show him the fast growing tally of ‘likes’ and retweets.
“Listen,” Gavin insisted. “I was just wondering whether to beef up the role of Monique.”
“Monique?” Lana said. “She’s in two scenes as eye-candy for the preteen boys who will want to jack off to her meme.”
The screenwriter is being watched and followed. Will a woman expose his crime or blackmail him? 2,546 words. Part One. Part Two. Part Four. Illustrations by John Donald Carlucci.
In the dream, screenwriter Gavin Falconer struggled again with story analyst Dale Tomasis. They were in the dirt at the base of the deck. Dale threw Gavin to the ground, and then Gavin couldn’t move, as if he’d been paralyzed. He screamed and woke up, covered in sweat. He took a moment to catch his breath, then rose, naked, from the bed. He walked through his silent house. In the kitchen he downed a Xanax with a slug of Kettle One. He grabbed his laptop and headed outside. He took some deep breaths and gazed at lights twinkling up from below. It was dead silent in the hills, a good time to start writing.
He typed a slug line: EXT. DEEP SPACE – NIGHT.
He sat back and stared at the words and thought about his pitch of story analyst Dale’s idea. The first act covered so much ground, he wasn’t sure how to begin. He paced the length of the deck several times, then sat back down and began stabbing at the keys again.
“Lame!” he said out loud, deleting the opening paragraph.
He tried again. “Fuck!” he shouted, because these new words sucked, too. Then he remembered the flash drive from Dale’s desk. Gavin headed inside, found it and plugged it into his computer. Dale’s “Movie Ideas” came up on the screen. Gavin scanned through them but couldn’t find notes or even an outline. Jesus, Gavin thought, was that all this fucker had?
A screenwriter’s stolen pitch earns him a huge payday. Who can stop the film? 2,653 words. Part One. Part Three. Part Four. llustrations by John Donald Carlucci.
Usually screenwriter Gavin Falconer drove down the hill toward Sunset like a maniac, tempting fate, but this time he took the blind curves with care.
Moving a corpse was harder than he imagined. He’d debated calling for help. It was an accident, he’d swear. Instead, he moved to the deck, picked up the hammer and returned to the kitchen where he turned on the hot water and watched as blood and stray bits of hair and skin eddied down the drain.
Then he popped the trunk of the Mercedes and found a huge roll of plastic left over from a roof leak. He used it to carry the broken body, twisted and impaled. Gavin managed to roll Dale Tomasis onto the plastic, then sealed the package with duct tape.
An hour later Gavin was winding his way through the Angeles National Forest. He pulled to the side of a small service road and cut the engine. He looked over the edge of a steep ravine. He grabbed the plastic package and dragged it from the trunk. One strong push, and Dale’s body was gone into the abyss.
Back at home, Gavin could think of nothing but sliding into bed, But then he saw Dale’s Prius. “Fuck me!” Gavin hissed.
He had Dale’s keys, though. He drove the Prius to Dale’s apartment, where Gavon headed straight to the story analyst’s computer. Soon Gavin was scrolling through a folder Dale had marked “Movie Ideas.” He discarded several as poorly thought out. He copied one with merit onto a flash drive he fished from a drawer. He found the pitch idea he had stolen from Dale, copied this as well, and deleted all the film files. Then Gavin slipped out the door.
A screenwriter needs another hit movie. Will he scheme it or steal it? 3,890 words. Part Two. Part Three. Part Four. Ilustrations by John Donald Carlucci.
Up ahead, beneath twin palms swaying in a whispering hot breeze, Gavin Falconer could see a massive production — klieg lights crisscrossing the night sky, the blinking neon of the marquee, a line of gleaming black hybrids and town cars at the curb, and a Red Carpet sweeping into the theater.
Fuckers, Gavin thought as he got nearer. “Motherfuckers!” This he shouted out loud without even realizing it, until he noticed people ahead of him had turned to stare and were giving him wide berth, as if he was crazy. Well, he wasn’t crazy. He was a screenwriter, although some might equate the two. He was, however, in a foul state of mind, and when he realized his invitation didn’t include VIP parking, his mood grew even darker.
But he put on a big smile as he passed through security. He made his way up the Red Carpet and stepped into the lobby, a sea of sleek flesh in equally sleek outfits. He scanned the crowd for a familiar or friendly face. He found neither. He did spot Trish Danaher surrounded by an unwieldy entourage. He could go up and tell her he’d read her script and thought it was mediocre at best. But she already considered him a douche so he didn’t bother. He moved through the crowd toward the concession area. Kurt McCann was in front of him in line. Gavin recognized his agent by the sharp cut of his suit but said nothing, just stared and briefly imagining driving the pen in his pocket into Kurt’s skull. Then Kurt turned.
“Dude,” said Gavin, aiming to keep things light, “thought your assistant said you weren’t gonna show. You could’ve returned my call.”
Kurt aimed for light, too, even though his eyes were looking everywhere except at Gavin. “You know what? I changed my mind at the last minute. Got any pages for me? Because they’re getting antsy over at Netflix. You’re way past owing them a draft. I mean, like, breach-of-contract late.”
A stand-up comedian reviews his painful adolescence and the person who caused it. 3,308 words. Part One. Illustrations by John Donald Carlucci.
Kansas City – 2016
His name is advertised in white lights on a marquee out front, under the heading, COMEDY COLOSSUS. Mainstream sexy is what they want on this circuit. A lot of it, and he delivers. It’s been a nice run so far, the kind of good crowds and boisterous laughs that promise a return gig. But he knows that won’t happen.
He hasn’t been to Kansas City for two years, not since the funeral. And this is his first gig at Chez Vegas. It’s a booking he sought, inexplicably drawn back to Kansas City like a criminal to the scene of his crime, while hoping this would compel him to take care of unfinished business he’d put off far too long. He hadn’t known the unfinished business would devastate him.
He knows the Chez Vegas terrain by heart, could chart and navigate it blindfolded. The pattern for these smallish clubs and their flashy decors rarely changes, whether the curtain he stands behind is red, green or polka-dot.
The smug superior stiff-upper-lips will drink and laugh the least. But he can count on a spillover of loud boozy conventioneers up front along with screaming Hadassah ladies and their husbands who always hang on his words. The closer they are the better, so he can absorb their energy. He knows a few will push hard to meet him afterwards. They’ll want to buy him drinks and, thinking they’re hip, bore him with their own favorite dumb jokes and bleed out their life stories like hemophiliacs. Yeah, sure, Kansas City hip; last month Toledo hip, and before that Louisville.
Hurling insults from the back of the room will be the hecklers: gutless, talentless and mindless with bull’s eyes on their foreheads. They sicken him, but are easy to top and humiliate when they get out of line. Which is why he always hopes they do. He pictures pulling a trigger and blowing them away, all of them, the entire fucking room, thirty seconds of euphoric release.