The Hollywood agent learns that every offer comes with consequences. 1,813 words. Part One. Part Two. Illustration by Thomas Warming.
Cliff crossed Mulholland and drove into the Valley, through Sherman Oaks, past Studio City. As he passed through the cemetery gates, he saw the beautiful lawn and how expertly it had been maintained. The network of streets was challenging, but the Hollywood agency chief had a map with him. Five minutes later, he was kneeling and staring at a stone that read: EDWARD A. GEHR 1931 – 1987, Beloved Husband and Father.
Cliff knew he should cry, but what he felt instead was an absence. The absence of a father who had always been on the road selling insurance. And the absence of a boy who had covered up his hurt and come to understand that a father isn’t always there. But had it really been necessary for Cliff to skip his Dad’s funeral to exact revenge?
The tenpercenter leaned over and touched the headstone. “I’m sorry, Dad. I shouldn’t have missed your funeral. I should have” – and here Cliff choked for a second – “loved you more. I miss you. Dad.”
Cliff pulled back his hand and let the lump in his throat dissipate. How long had he promised himself he would do this? Well, now it was done and who was to say that be wouldn’t do it again in another month?
The Hollywood agent decides to go for it. 2,134 words. Part One. Part Three. Illustration by Thomas Warming.
They threaded their way through the warren of tiny Chinatown streets, past chicken wire crates of bok choy and racks of silk kimonos for sale, and wound up at a noodle shop that Mr. A was fond of. He smoked while Cliff asked questions.
“How can my double know how to behave?”
“Your brain waves and emotions are digitally transferred to your double. He is acting out your feelings, so he always does what you would do in a situation.”
“How do I know what he’s doing while I’m off playing?”
“We provide you with a video that’s recorded everything your double does. You need only view it to be aware of what has transpired.”
“What if my double malfunctions or breaks down?”
“You have so many questions, Mr. Gehr,” responded Mr. A. “In three decades of business, with over two thousand international clients, that has never happened.”
“How expensive is this?” inquired Cliff.
“Very. Now have some of the chow fun. The sauce is delicious,” said Mr. A as he scraped a bounty of soft noodles onto Cliffs plate.
“As a Hollywood agent, I negotiate everything,” Cliff stated firmly. “Give me your opening price.”
A powerful Hollywood agent is made an offer he may or may not refuse. 2,022 words. Part Two. Part Three. Illustration by Thomas Warming.
Cliff Gehr slipped outside the Annenberg Center For The Performing Arts and onto its marble patio in Beverly Hills. It was the premiere party for Bobby’s Baby Bump, a semi-offensive PG comedy fantasy about an NFL player who becomes pregnant and decides to have the child. Cliff had arranged the financing for the film through his agency, Gehr Creative Artists. In the past hour, Cliff had congratulated the screenwriter, a client who had recently renounced Scientology on TMZ, and bear-hugged star Carlo Carpetti, the former wrestler turned movie star who was also a client, and winked at the female lead, whose stylist had dusted her cleavage with glitter and who would be, by Cliff’s calculations, a client by the end of the week. He had also conferred in hushed tones with the head banker on an upcoming Japanese video game deal and caressed his wife’s back as she drank her second vodka tonic.
Now, for the first time all night, he was what he wanted to be: alone.
When had he started hating his life so much? It must have been five years ago.
Starting his own agency with nothing more than a bunch of syndicated TV shows, he’d had an enormous appetite for the business. As he stole clients from other agencies and arranged financing for films, he had been thrilled to attend opening nights, Beverly Hills dinner parties and even the Oscars. His natural hunger to make the best deals had earned him the nickname “Jaws.” Famously, he had missed his father’s funeral to close a deal with Deutsche Bank to underwrite ten Sony films.
But lately, returning home from the office, he kept taking a detour to a shopping mall in Reseda. He parked his expensive car in the lot and watched the mostly Latino families as they held hands and walked towards Target or Toy”R”Us. They had no money, no status, and cars that were falling apart. Yet they seemed so happy.
OSCAR FICTION PACKAGE: Part Three revisits Nat and Best Actress Erin Teller’s meet cute. 2,593 words. Part One. Part Two. Illustrations by John Donald Carlucci.
Backstory. Again. I’m Nat. I work in the mailroom at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and last year I went to the Academy Awards. I met Erin Teller on the Red Carpet and she wound up winning Best Actress for When The Mountain Sings with me sitting beside her as her date for the evening. We even went to the Governors Ball together. After that we sort of hooked up for a couple months and it was pretty amazing being with Erin Teller and having paparazzi following us around. My picture ended up in In Touch with the caption, “Erin Teller and her new Mystery Man share a black and white cookie at Art’s Deli.”
I still have the napkin. She wrote the date on it and did a drawing of a penguin. “It’s the only animal I can draw. Isn’t that weird?” she told me. We were eating outside because she said people in the Valley didn’t recognize her as much as people on the other side of the hill. Only one photographer took her photo. No one else approached her, not that she would’ve cared. The entire time we were together, I never saw her get impatient with fans or paps, even when they were crowding around her when she took me to the premiere of her latest starring vehicle Rogue One. I was afraid she would get suffocated, but she kept waving “hey” to people. She saw treating everyone well as part of her job. Like making sure she didn’t gain fifty pounds or get a giant ‘#RESIST tattoo across her forehead.
“It’s stupid the way some actors are so rude,” she told me later when we were in her bedroom. “Here you work your ass off to be a success in this business and you finally make it and you’ve got fans everywhere and then you go like, ‘How dare you interrupt me when I’m eating? Sign an autograph? Go fuck yourself.’ Do you think I’d have a career if people didn’t like my movies? D’oh.”
She sounded exactly like Homer Simpson. At that moment, Erin was leaning back against the headboard. You probably want to know if she was naked. And what the sex was like. I’m too much of a gentleman to disclose that. (Well… use your imagination. And then multiply that by a billion.)
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 tomorrow. 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 mid-career screenwriter has more fun at his secret avocation. 2,169 words. Part Two. Illustration by John Donald Carlucci.
Orson Welles said that, depending where you choose to conclude it, any story can have a happy ending.
My story began the night I met Grace Chase in Cabana in Santa Monica, California.
The sun was living out its final moments, painting the sky gold, and a Pacific breeze flowed through the open-air bar. Hours removed from my first screenplay sale, I spied a beautiful blonde through a haze of tobacco. The strings of “At Last” by Etta James swelled into a crescendo of anticipation as our eyes met and she flirtatiously exhaled a stream of cigarette smoke, compelling me to navigate the swarm of guys that divided us.
“Grace,” she opened.
If my Hollywood story had faded to black at that moment, as the smoke cleared and I gazed into Grace’s eyes, it would have had a happy ending.
Alas, shit happens, as it is wont to do, and four years, three weeks, and two days later, a naked brunette is lying in my bed, screaming, “Choke me! Choke the fucking life out of me!”
A new assistant to a famous actress gets hired only to find out the reality of working in showbiz. 2,354 words. Illustration by Thomas Warming.
“First off, you’re not going to meet the actress who’s not Katherine Heigl, so let’s just get that little fantasy out of your head right now.”
Clutching her resume, Ally Larson nods.
Nicole sternly continues. “The job is to be my assistant. You assist me. I assist the actress who’s not Katherine Heigl. You get it?”
Again, Ally obediently nods although she really didn’t need the stalker chat. She has no burning desire to meet an actress who’s not Katherine Heigl.
“Seriously, you can forget that fantasy you probably have that you and the actress who’s not Katherine Heigl will be drinking Cosmos while she solves the problems of your love life,” Nicole scoffs.
Cosmos? Ally thinks everything about that screams 2008. Well, aside from the problematic love life. That is still very much a thing with 2016 Ally.
“Whatever,” Ally replies in keeping with the “I love 2008“ theme. “I honestly didn’t come here with any expectations.”
The screenwriter of the studio mogul’s biopic works on Act One. 2,036 words. Part One. Part Three tomorrow. Illustration by John Donald Carlucci.
Hollywood – 1969
Weak, Dave, weak. Just like your ex-wife said. Or soft, as Jules used to say. Driving out the front gate was like stepping from inside a fun-house mirror. He felt a headache coming on, the kind he used to get when he worked at Hollywood mogul Jules Azenberg’s Argot Pictures – like a nail being hammered into old plaster, making a hole twice its size and sending dust flying everywhere. He never did work for anyone remotely like Jules after leaving the movie business. Television was a completely different animal. Writers like Dave were hired for a series episode for one reason only: to fill in the intervals between commercials. There was no pretense of making art, or quality entertainment. It was called programming for a reason. The beats were all laid out; writers merely inserted new words inbetween. No one expected Dave to pour his heart and soul into a teleplay the way he had with a movie script in the vague hope that a scintilla of what he’d written actually made it to the screen intact. It never did but it never stopped screenwriters from trying. Keeping that kind of delusion going took a great deal of energy. And Dave had paid for it with big plaster cracks.
The next night, over dinner, Dave and his friend Joel Rodgers discussed Azenberg’s offer to write a warts and all biopic of Jules’ life and career.
“You said yes, I hope,” Joel said.
Dave nodded, but couldn’t conceal his unease.
“Good. For once in your life, maybe you’ll be smart,” Joel chided him. “Take the money and run.”
“It’s not that simple, Joel. It’s just that I’ve never been a leech.”
“It’s a wonder you’ve survived,” Joel chortled. “In this town you need to be either a leech or a lemming. Or a rat. So tell your agent to squeeze that little fucker’s balls until he screams. Then, once you have your money, write whatever the hell you want. He gave you permission. Now call him on it.”
A screenwriter turned TV scripter gets a shocking assignment from his old studio boss. 2,996 words. Part Two. Illustration by John Donald Carlucci.
Hollywood – 1969
Dave Peterson was racing against a deadline. The F.B.I. teleplay was due in the morning and he planned to pull an all-nighter to finish it. Glancing up from his typewriter, he stared directly at a bottle of booze and sighed. Not tonight, buddy. But I’ll take a rain check. He was alone. Tiki, his Greek-born ex-wife, had run off with her boss, a fruit wholesaler from Woodland Hills. Didn’t even ask for alimony. Had even joked that, if he tried to divorce her for adultery, she would sue him for alienation of affection and name Jack Daniels and Smith Corona as correspondents.
He was jolted by the telephone. He checked his watch. No one called at this hour except for his buddy Joel Rodgers when he needed a loan or a ride for poker night, and that wasn’t until Friday.
“David. It’s Doreen, Jules Azenberg’s assistant.”
“Doreen?” he replied, surprised. No, not surprised. Flabbergasted.
“You must be thinking, ‘How long has it been?’” she said with a brittle chuckle.
“Yes,” he replied, trying to recover.
“You sound busy,” she continued.
“Actually, I was in the middle of…”
“So let me get right to it. Mr. Azenberg would like you to come in for a meeting tomorrow.”
“A meeting? Dave asked. “With me?”
Entertainment companies say they want diversity. But this job applicant isn’t so sure. 2,615 words. Illustration by Thomas Warming.
Finally, the miracle arrived and I made it to my stop. The journey through Laurel Canyon had taken an hour, and even once I landed in West Hollywood the bus driver took some nonsensical route. This only reaffirmed that Los Angeles was not a city for pedestrians. For the person who can’t afford a car, that liberty had been taken away decades ago.
After getting off at 3rd and Fairfax, I rushed down the sidewalk – a feat impossible in the heels I wore. I still wasn’t used to them. I had bought them at Target just two nights before. I kept glancing at my phone to make sure Google Maps was taking me to the right place. I’d never been to this part of the city so I was checking and rechecking the address every five seconds. All that did was remind me how late I was and waste the phone’s battery even more. I didn’t even know how to get back home from here. West Hollywood was thirteen miles from my house, but it might as well have been a different country.
I walked right by the entrance at first. It had no logo, no sign, nothing to tell someone it was a film production company. I backtracked when I realized I had gone too far and returned to a grey building with blacked-out windows. Around the corner, I pushed the intercom buzzer and a voice came on.
“Hi, I have an interview at nine with—.” My mind went blank. I couldn’t remember the guy’s name. The voice repeated the question. “Uh, I’m sorry. My name’s Jessie and—”
“Mejia?” I said, in a tone that indicated even I wasn’t sure who I was.
A TV show’s writers room assistant plots more creatively than her bosses. 2,556 words. Illustration by John Donald Carlucci.
“It must be weird that we’re exactly the same age and I’m an executive producer slash showrunner slash creator and you’re the writers assistant.”
She really said “slash.” She said it two times.
I wanted to tell her it was fuckloads easier to make it as an executive producer slash showrunner slash creator when your father is a major exec at a major studio and he got you that first job on an insanely hot Netflix series not because you were qualified, but because your father was owed a major favor from a Netflix VP thanks to a gambling debt. And so, Graylon Kipling, freshly graduated from Cornell, got plopped into a top-tier TV job even though she couldn’t write for shit and everybody wanted to fire her fat nepotistic ass – and eventually did. Now, because of another chit called in by her father, here we sit in our offices on the NBCUniversal lot ready to start work on a ten-episode order of Graylon’s very own new series, TabOO.
It was harder for me. I grew up in the Midwest with a dad who sold Toyotas and a nurse mom. They thought my being a CPA would be an awesome job instead of those “Hollywood dreams” harbored by their little girl. So I have an accounting degree which I never plan to use. But I made it to L.A. and did the barista thing and met a guy at Peet’s who helped me get a job on a Nickelodeon show as a PA. I ended up in the writers room as the assistant after the current writers assistant crashed into a morning rush hour pile-up on the 134 freeway.
But this is the conversation I only play inside my head, very fast, because Graylon’s waiting for me to answer her question. I look down at my feet, as if I’m trying to be humble and oh so thankful for this opportunity, and I say, “Yeah, it’s really weird that we’re exactly the same age and you’re an executive producer slash showrunner slash creator and I’m the writers assistant.”
The agent has a career-altering meltdown because of his wife at a client’s Halloween party. 3,095 words. Part One. Part Two. Part Three. Illustration by Thomas Warming.
It was now an hour later and Casey couldn’t find Lori anywhere. He’d called her cell phone a dozen times, but it had gone straight to voicemail.
Casey was standing by Cheyne’s massive swimming pool, now unrecognizable because it had been transformed into another Halloween set for the Dump Trump bash. It could have been a scene out of a big budget Hollywood movie. Dry ice gave off a smoky effect and magnified the scene of a sinking ship with a fake Donald Trump at the bow, his red baseball cap on and a megaphone in his hand. “We’ve got this in the bag!” he announced. Off to the side were Paul Ryan and Chris Christie figures wearing rat ears and jumping off the sides.
Casey cursed out Cheyne for being so blasphemous towards the one man who could turn this country around. Now the agent just wanted to find Lori and get the hell out. “Lori, you out here?” Casey called, trying to spot her through the thick dry ice smoke. He spotted a dwarf, dressed as a nuclear warhead, walk by with a tray of tequila shots and grabbed two, hoping they’d take the edge off. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d been this angry.
Casey seethed as he stormed across the patio and back into the house. He headed for the stairs with reluctance. He’d already checked every room downstairs and the entire second story, with no trace of his wife. Now he was going to the third floor to find her. There, he spotted his assistant who was dressed as Harry Potter. The kid had a big goofy smile.
“Have you seen my wife anywhere?”
Two agency assistants attend the same party but have very different experiences. 1,860 words. Part One. Illustration by John Donald Carlucci.
“Where were you, man? I’ve been looking everywhere,” Wade Torville said as he sidled up to Casey Strong out on the street after the Goliath Vs Superfly summer tentpole’s first screening. The two twentysomethings worked at rival agencies.
“We got shunted to Theater Two,” Casey admitted.
“Aww, isn’t that too bad,” Wade said with a smirk. “We were seated right behind Will and Jada and their brats.”
Casey had considered lying but not in front of his date Gigi Mayer, a serenely self-possessed junior attorney in business affairs at Warner Bros. The beauty was way out of not just Casey’s but also Wade’s league despite the fact they both wanted to sleep with her. Gigi, as she’d promised, fell asleep during the movie and actually snored a couple of times. So Casey was relieved that they’d watched the monster actioner in Theater Two before the full-frills studio premiere party.
“So what did you think?” Casey asked.
“Awesome!” Wade said, as if his dad had just given him a new car for his sixteenth birthday.
“Awesome in what way?” Gigi challenged. and Casey opted to nod in solidarity. While his inner geek had enjoyed the film, he found himself counting the number of times – at least twelve — he’d witnessed the destruction of Big Ben and the Golden Gate Bridge over the past five years.
An agency assistant attending a coveted Hollywood event hopes it’s not the disaster he fears. 1,919 words. Part Two. Illustration by John Donald Carlucci.
“You want these?” the senior agent said, extending a pair of golden embossed tickets like a temptation. His young assistant, Casey Strong, recognized them immediately. They were for the world premiere and after party of Godzilla Vs. Superfly, an F/X-driven super-violent major studio spoof of monster-meets-superhero movies.
“Jeez, thanks,” replied Casey as he grabbed for the tickets before his boss had a chance to change his mind.
To Casey, it was inconceivable that the socially rapacious agent was skipping what promised to be the coolest Hollywood premiere of the summer. Though no one had yet screened GvS (as it was known on social media), that didn’t stop the film’s minutiae from being leaked and analyzed, leading to intense pro versus con factions at this year’s Comic-Con conventions. That also meant an inexplicable outbreak of light-saber duels. Even PETA weighed in with something about endangered lizards.
The studio was touting the movie as a bold step forward in diversity. The multinationally financed $200 million production boasted an Asian superstar as the villainess who controls Godzilla via a mysterious brain-wave device as the creature demolishes the usual suspects – Tokyo, London, New York, San Francisco. How the reptilian giant manages to traverse continents and oceans is never broached, at least not in the trailer. One internet troll initiated a Kickstarter campaign to donate frequent flyer miles to the misunderstood beast so it could city hop. At last count, Godzilla had over 600,000 miles transferred to its name.
You’ve never heard of the curse of Hedy Lamarr? This screenwriter experienced it. 2,225 words. Illustration by John Donald Carlucci.
Fifty-three year old Steven Harris could recite the ten worst if only moments of his life in Hollywood in perfectly chiseled narrative prose, in a voice resonating with regret that ended in either a deep sigh, a shoulder shrug or another belt of strong coffee since he’d been in recovery. He’d related his woeful tale so often, it had become as polished as the best of his screenplay exposition dialogue. His last project, just passed on after a lot of studio bullshit happy talk, demanded a heavy session of commiseration. For that his ex, Ellen Owens, was his go-to safe place. Theirs had been one of those quirky marriages you hear about: horrible living together, utterly joyous after the divorce.
One of the reasons was Ellen’s magical ability to listen with patience and insight to his mewlings about the downward trajectory of his writing and directing careers. And, as always, his sorry tale began with that fleeting elevator moment, thirty-two years before, with Hedy Lamarr.
Ellen had agreed to meet Steven at the Intelligentsia coffee joint in Silver Lake at a quiet corner table where the lamentations, all familiar and chronologically precise, flowed from his mouth to her ears for the umpteenth time since their divorce ten years before. As she came inside, he got up, and they did their hugs and cheek kisses, and he curled back into his gloomy shell, prepared to spew forth the top ten list of why his career had gone into the crapper.
He tapped his laptop and said glumly, “It’s my best script ever. Fox just passed. Nobody left to see it. That’s project number five in the toilet this year. A new record. Want something besides coffee?”
“Just coffee. So, honey, talk to me,” she asked, planting elbows on the table, curled fists on her cheeks. “What’s the great project they shit on this time?”