The director makes the hottest film of his life – at the expense of everyone else’s. 2,157 words. Part One. Illustration by Thomas Warming.
If the goal was to keep film director Frank O’Leary intrigued, then Abigor Productions & Effects had already succeeded. Apparently, Seth Abigor was rolling the dice to impress him. Not that he would let Abigor know that. As a company with no track record, the helmer figured he should be able to get its services for a song. Fair is fair. The effects house would cash in after Firebug was released and everyone was blown away by its work. O’Leary simply had no reason to pay top dollar for it.
Abigor removed a gold cigarette case from his jacket and offered O’Leary one of its contents. The helmer passed but examined the case. He’d only seen such things in old movies. Placing a non-filtered cigarette between his lips, Abigor snapped the thumb and forefinger of his right hand together and lit it with his fingertip.
O’Leary responded with a nervous laugh. “You’re quite the magician.”
“Nothing magical about it, Frank. Haven’t you guessed who I am?”
The director glanced at the door to make sure he had a direct exit in case the situation got any stranger. “Why no, Seth, who do you think you are?”
The TV writer feels like Benedict Cumberbatch has forsaken her. Or has he? 1,974 words. Part One. Illustration by John Donald Carlucci.
“Kaylee wants you to come back,” Alex tells Melanie.
“Come back and do what?” Melanie is pleased. But suspicious.
“Pitch the pilot for Creepy.”
“So they’re giving me the job?”
Silence on the phone. her agent clears his throat. “Not yet.”
“I have a bad feeling about this,” Melanie says.
“Kaylee likes you. She says you have a feel for the characters. And she was very impressed with your vision.”
“So why don’t they give me the job?”
“Because she has to meet with other people.”
“She doesn’t have to. Alex. Maybe we should move on.”
“I think you’re going to get it, Melanie. She told me the two of you had a connection.”
A TV writer facing a career crisis finds Benedict Cumberbatch in her kitchen. 2,152 words. Part Two. Illustration by John Donald Carlucci.
Melanie forces herself not to be bitter at lunch with her pal Paul when he’s talking about his new job on Mind Your Manners.
“It’s the most amazing staff. Everybody is super nice,” Paul says. “The showrunner, Betsy, is famous for the way she treats writers. No long hours. Catered lunches. She’s already had two parties at her house so we can ‘come together as a team.’”
Melanie loves Paul. She tries to remember how much she loves Paul as he goes on and on about Betsy and the room. The actual room. Sofas and comfy chairs and windows with views of trees and mountains. When is the last time Melanie worked in a room with windows?
Melanie’s agent Alex put her up for Mind Your Manners. She didn’t even get an interview. When she complained to Alex, he told her she should write a new spec.
“But I don’t want to write a new spec.”
A screenwriter is frustrated at the Cannes Film Festival – until he stops caring about it. 3,283 words. Illustrations by John Donald Carlucci.
Ira, pleased with Bender’s free rewrite of his script, arranged a meeting with Tarik Azziz, a Moroccan film producer and financier, who would also house Bender for a couple of nights in his villa in Cap d’Antibes. Bender arrived at the Cannes Film Festival well armed. He had a script, an interested producer, and a room. It was now up to Bender to find a way to fuck it up.
As he wandered the Croisette, Bender wondered where he got his policy of walking out of waiting rooms after thirty minutes? What was the purpose, what was the result? From his seat on the Ikea couch of the office suite he could see the Moroccan producer talking on the phone in his office, ignoring Bender. Not a wave, not even a raised hand: Sorry, give me a minute.
Bender allowed himself one more pleading glance at the receptionist, who returned a minimal shrug. The ten minutes flew, he added another five, then five more and got up and left. No one pursued him down the hallway. No one flew after him begging forgiveness, clutching his sleeves, and begging him to return. As he stepped in the elevator it occurred to him that they might have thought he had gone to the bathroom.
Two first-time film producers get schooled by the reality of teaming up together. 2,909 words. Illustration by Mark Fearing.
In other parts of the country, networking is largely structured, taking place predominantly through civic organizations, professional groups, and charitable institutions. In Los Angeles, where showbiz is king, the phenomenon is far more random yet ubiquitous. Business ties are often formed at parties, screenings, and social gatherings. Others begin at gyms, yoga and Pilates classes. Even pre-schools and Little League games provide opportunities, as do weddings and funerals, plus Bar and Bat Mitzvahs. Also never to be overlooked are meetings of Alcoholics Anonymous.
It was thanks to AA that Russo and Adler became acquainted. Initially, it was little more than the kind of brief acknowledgments exchanged by regulars. But one Monday evening, instead of heading directly home in the aftermath, Russo agreed to join a group headed for late night coffee. As six "Friends Of Bill W" grabbed a booth away from other denizens of the night at a 24-hour diner, Adler nodded at Russo. "Nick, right?"
Russo nodded. "And you’re Jerry?"
"Guilty as charged."
Once orders were taken, group talk superseded individual conversations; it was only when the two men were strolling toward their cars afterwards that Adler rekindled their brief chat. "So what do you do?" he asked Russo.
She wants to make it in showbiz. But not by temping for the powers-that-be. 3,386 words. Illustration by Thomas Warming.
I sit at a desk in a poolside cabana at a fairytale Spanish style estate in Bel Air. Platinum record plaques litter the walls, bragging. This cabana is the home office of the assistant to veteran record producer Matthew Vaughn. I am an undercover rock star (like Hannah Montana, only a little longer in the tooth) or so I’d like to believe, but I’m dripping with passionate stage fright. If only I could get on that stage. I could be somebody. Meanwhile, I’m a temporary assistant to the powers-that-be in the entertainment industry, while I “develop my writing and artistry.” That’s my pitch, but it’s getting old. My life is a dichotomy. A nightmarish fantasy. A fantastic nightmare.
This is the second consecutive Monday I am on this particular assignment — a two-day gig that terminates at 6:30 pm. It’s 11:23 am. I wonder what will come out if I write all day as a way to pass the hours. Oh, the hours. Springtime sun rays filter through lush tree foliage over the Spanish tile pool, through French doors, across the desk and glare off my laptop screen. It’s pretty. This place would be heaven if only it were mine. If only I were more than a temporary assistant living a temporary life.
I have been assisting entertainment types for twelve years now. I’ve also written a novel, multiple TV pilots, a feature, endless songs. I’ve come close to success. I’ve tasted it. But it’s never more than a taste on the tip of my tongue. None of my dreams have come true and the only bankable skill I have developed since college is the skill of assisting the powers-that-be in Hollywood. I know how to get them exactly what they want, no matter how ridiculous or seemingly impossible, on the triple. It’s a skill I’ve honed to near perfection, one many people around the world might think they would kill for. But it isn’t feeding my soul anymore.
The Hollywood therapist needs money quickly. A book? TV talk show? Gossip? 2,050 words. Part Five. Part Seven. Illustration by Thomas Warming.
“So I made some calls.” It’s my college buddy, entertainment attorney Barry, over the car speaker. We haven’t talked in a few days about my book idea
“And?” I say into the hands-free. Looking around for a place to eat.
“There’s qualified interest — Audrey, will you send this to Frank Matteson for signatures? Then you can go home. Sorry, Dennis.”
“What are the qualifications?”
“You said qualified interest.”
I turn off Venice into a random mini-mall.
“The market is saturated,” he says. I park, facing a crimson neon martini glass: the Hi-Lite Lounge, next to an army surplus. “They’ve got self-help books up the wazoo. And since they’re all the same book, you need a hook…”
“Do I have a hook?” I rummage in the console for an Altoid. Starved.
“A great hook, the Hollywood hook. But you need a title they can promote: Tales Of A Hollywood Shrink… Psychoses Of The Stars… How To Get Laid Like DiCaprio… So they can book you on Ellen and the morning shows.”
OSCAR FICTION PACKAGE: At Oscars time in Hollywood there are only winners and losers. 2,884 words. Part One. Illustration by Mark Fearing.
When I came back from New York a week later, Rebecca insisted on picking me up at the airport. The Los Angeles weather looked good on her. She was wearing a simple shift and sandals. Her muscular arms were tanned. Very obviously, her Oscars’ makeover had changed her.
"I have something to tell you," she said, as soon as I got into the car. She could have asked me how my business trip went, but no — she couldn’t wait to tell me what was going on with her. I waited. I could always tell her later about my boss and love interest Billy Ward finally asking me to join him for lunch on my second to last day at The W in Times Square. We ran into each other in the lobby. Billy had just checked in. I didn’t see him after that lunch, but I was sure I had made an impression.
“Shoot,” I said.
"Jaxson and I got married in Vegas." I was too flabbergasted to respond. "I know it’s a shock, but we drove out there and got a little tipsy, and before I knew it I was a married woman again." She held up her left hand to show me a slim gold band.
"You can get it annulled," I finally said.
“I don’t want to get it annulled."
"Are you in love with him?"
"Of course not." She moved her rental car into traffic carefully.
OSCAR FICTION PACKAGE: You don’t have to win an Academy Award to have your life transform. 2,476 words. Part Two. Illustration by Mark Fearing.
By the time my cousin Rebecca called to ask if she could spend February with me, I’d already planned a business trip right after the Oscars. She said she’d be fine staying in my house by herself. And who wouldn’t be? I have a condo in Venice with a view of the Pacific. It would be a great place to visit if I didn’t already live there and, since Rebecca lives in Vermont, I can see how it would appeal to her.
We are first cousins and were born only one month apart which is a problem when it comes to her visiting because I’ve been cutting seven years off my age since I arrived out here and Rebecca is likely to blow my cover. She doesn’t even dye her hair; that’s the least a woman can do. I went trophy-wife red five years ago. I’m a regular Rita Hayworth in a business suit.
I didn’t have the heart to refuse Rebecca who, at forty-three, was a widow. Five years ago, her husband, Harold Braddock III, was lost while climbing Annapurna. Rebecca has still not forgiven him even though he left her his enormous fortune.
Rebecca would be here for my boss’s Oscar Party. Billy Ward, the fearless leader at Spectacular Talent Agency, was holding it in the The Theatre at the Ace Hotel. Digging up a date each year for the Oscar party was a chore, especially this year since my sights were set on Billy Ward who was between wives. I’d been in love with Billy since my first day at STA. He had buckets of charisma and charm enough to land the whole entertainment industry at his feet.
A celebrity dead pool puts this deeply in debt showbiz agent on tilt. 2,371 words. Illustration by Thomas Warming.
Hollywood agent Jason Axelman sat down at his dining room table and did the math. His client, Louie Morales, had left at the beginning of the year, taking with him his show, his production company, and the two other shows his company had on FOX. That was about two million a year in billings. Jason’s divorce from Robin had cost him a million and a half plus thirty five thousand a month in alimony and child support. That weekend in Vegas, an attempt to recoup some of these losses, ended up costing him another half million. The consolidated bank loan — to cover the mortgage, the car payments, the shrink, the gardener, the grocery bills, even the flowers he sent the few clients he had left when they won something — was fifty thousand, due the first of every month. Perhaps Wells Fargo could be persuaded to accept a partial payment, he thought as he bit into an apple. Perhaps Israel and Palestine would declare peace in the next month. Anything, he felt, was possible.
But not this. He was broke. Broke the way a junkie is hooked, and Jason couldn’t get out of it. He had lived well, the bottom had fallen out, and there was no reserve. The agency was probably only weeks away from asking him to leave. And he would have to sell the house. He had fought for that house in the divorce. A house in Bel-Air had once seemed to mean something. When he was a young agent, his mentor Abe Saperstein had told him, “An agent must never lose his house.” Abe was dead now; he’d never know.
Jason walked into the living room and sprawled out oon one of his two matching chocolate leather sofas, designer pieces that would have been repossessed had it not been for the bank loan. He picked up the remote, clicked it, and Turner Classic Movies appeared on the 55-inch television screen.
CHRISTMAS FICTION: Laurie Blane’s story continues. This holiday season the actress has a lot to be thankful for – especially her agent. 3,410 words. Illustration by Thomas Warming.
Flying across the Atlantic to London at 600 miles an hour the day before Christmas, investment tycoon Russ Kelly’s Gulfstream G650 carried six passengers — Laurie Blane; her publicist Jackie Fisher; her agent Ron Astor; her personal assistant Marty Oliver; and two private security men. Russ was in New York on business; he was to join her at the next stop in Paris on Christmas Day. Everyone anticipated that Europe would be festive. After all, this year Chanukah started on Christmas Eve, a rare occurrence.
Laurie sat in a high-back rich beige leather chair in the middle of the plane, meditating. In a facing chair, Marty sat directly across, reading a book on her iPad. Terri, the sole flight attendant, hovered nearby. The two security men, both good-looking hulks, sat close to the cockpit, their expressions showing they were all business. Ron Astor and Jackie Fisher sat together in the rear of the cabin, the two discussing strategies for the promotional holiday trip to Europe in hushed voices, not wanting to disturb Laurie.
Actually, Ron and Jackie were arguing.
CHRISTMAS FICTION: An artist thinks he’s come up with a wonderful way to find film content and wow Hollywood. 2,674 words. Illustration by Mark Fearing.
I had never been treated so rudely in my life. I was in a meeting at a major Hollywood studio, sharing my creativity and insight with a top executive, only to be given the bum’s rush by three security guards. As if the humiliation of being dragged out of that office, down the hall and through the lobby wasn’t enough, I was also thrown, literally tossed, onto the street. Onto asphalt, not gold.
The indignity began that November when I read that a major movie studio had bought the film rights to The Christmas Cottage. Not only was opportunity knocking on my door, it was ringing the bell. Hollywood, an insatiable beast, had run out of ideas. Filmmaking was and still is a lowly art form rising to its greatest level of incompetence. While most studios keep producing re-remakes and re-re-remakes, this studio was trying to be an innovator.
The Christmas Cottage is a painting by Thomas Kinkade, the “Painter of Light” as he is affectionately known in America’s shopping malls, who composed a warm-hearted landscape featuring a snow-covered cottage nestled in cozy woods.
I saw this new development as opening a Pandora’s Box in the world of cinema. Why stop with a painting? There are many images and objects that can have a high concept. Hollywood has already made films from board games and Legos. Sculpture, conceptualism, postcards, Campbell Soup Cans and traffic signals could also be made into blockbuster entertainment.
I wasn’t sure what the studio had in mind for its feature about The Christmas Cottage. Wouldn’t Picasso’s Guernica make a better movie? How about the hard “R” of any Odalisque by Matisse? Or, given the current trend for Christian entertainment, would not The Garden Of Earthly Delights by Bosch scare a heathen back to God? But who was I to question the superior intellect and creativity of the Hollywood sensibility.
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. Part Four. 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 female screenwriter heeds her agent’s social media advice with unexpected results. 1,029 words. Illustration by Thomas Warming.
Truth is stranger than fiction, but nothing is stranger than Twitter. Which is too bad because I might be spending the rest of my life here.
That’s right. I’m a successful screenwriter, stuck in Twitter. Find me. @GinaS
Correction: Truth not stranger than fiction, just way more stupid. Especially here in Hollywood.
Backstory: I’m Gina, 42, and I’m good. Writing creds: 2 dramas right out of USC, 3 romcoms and new script (all-girl theft ring on cruise ship).
Beating the odds, right? WGA 2015 stats say 89% screenwriters male. And over 40? Well, I can’t even. But I, Gina Sampson, was nailing it.
Also had boyfriend with no kids, no exes and no mommy issues. At 42. BOOM!
But no, not good enuf for my agent (male). Pious confabs urging Hollywood diversity just made him scared of losing the beach house.
Instead of encouraging me with new Meryl Streep program funding over-40 women in H’wood, my male agent just got more spooked.
So, wait for it: my agent (56, b’day party at Sugarfish) pulls me aside to say I’d seem more youthful if I had more Twitter followers.
Smash cut to me throwing up my yellowfin.
The life of an actress isn’t all glamour and money. Often it’s about humiliation. 2,029 words. Part Two. Illustration by John Donald Carlucci.
So one morning later in the month, I was again facing the relentless onslaught of overdue bills. And once again, I faced an unpayable mortgage. I managed to stretch a few paltry residuals and my unemployment benefits to cover my cell bill, utilities and the minimum payments on my credit card balances. It struck me that “balance” was an interesting word to call mounting debt. What would they call it once it came tumbling down all around me? Bankruptcy, I guessed. Foreclosure.
My chest began its now-too-familiar objection to thoughts of financial matters and squeezed in on itself while my heart sped to a dangerous pace. I tried some exercises to prevent the stroke that I was certain was coming, but I couldn’t even get air to fill my lungs let alone the deep breaths I’d been taught in yoga classes. I was becoming light-headed.
Then the phone rang. It was my agent, Kim.
“Hi, Ruby, good news! I have an audition for you. It’s a new show. Something about cops with ESP versus vampire teens. It’s actually called Sexy Dicks With ESP Vs. Gangster Vampire Teens.”
“You have to be kidding me.”
“It’s a Mentalist/Sopranos/Twilight hybrid with amazing buzz. You’re lucky I was able to get you in.”
Book excerpt from the Monty Python legend: a wisecracking, ambitious and horny film/TV comedian goes to a pitch meeting. 4,096 words. Part Two. Part Three. Illustration by John Donald Carlucci.
Los Angeles – January 2003
My name is Stanley Hay and I’m a professional writer. I write movies, I write sitcoms, and I write gags for TV shows. You may have heard some of them. “I believe in the separation of Church and Planet.” That was mine. Caused quite a stir. I don’t mean to cause trouble. It just seems to be what I do best. I make a pretty decent living writing and rewriting, but I have always wanted to write a novel, and this year, in January 2003, I decided it was time.
It didn’t quite turn out the way I’d planned.
Steve Martin says that the problem with fiction is you’ll be happily reading a book, and all of a sudden it turns into a novel. You should hear the way he says that. “It goes all novelly.” He’s a hoot, Steve. He cracks me up. It’s the way he says things. “Alllll novelly.” But it’s true isn’t it? That is the problem with novels. They are so palpably fiction. Maybe we’re a bit sick of plots with stories and characters, the usual bull. Oh she’s going to end up in bed with him. He’s going to do it with her. They’re all going to run away and join the navy … After all we’ve been reading books for centuries and watching movies and TV for years, and we’ve sat through hundreds and thousands of tales by the time we’re adults, so we know all about plot twists, and sudden reversals of fortune, and peripeteia and all that Aristotelian shit they cram into you at college. But real life doesn’t have a plot, does it? It just kinda rambles on.
So that’s what I set out to write. A reality novel. A novel about a Hollywood writer who is writing a novel about a Hollywood writer writing a novel about Hollywood.