Category Archives: Book Excerpt

Closing the deal FINAL2

Closing The Deal

by Allison Silver

An ex-studio boss tries to cast a crazy music superstar in the first film he’s producing. 3,704 words. Illustration by Thomas Warming.


Ben had been working on Art Manning, hard, for almost a week now.

They had 8547D799-C475-4659-B563-17A9A283F8B3done business together in past, since Manning was a powerful lawyer whose roster of A-list clients could set a deal in motion and often helped close it. He was regarded as a combative litigator, but also as a top-notch negotiator – something not always said about powerful entertainment attorneys.

When Manning came in to negotiate a deal, he never inadvertently killed it. He was not one of those lawyers whose art collections were more celebrated than their legal skills.

Ben knew that many industry lawyers were only too happy to have Manning in on a negotiation. It was one way of assuring that they would get the best possible pay-out for their client – as long as they were on the same side of the table as Manning.

Now Ben needed help for the new independent production company he was starting. He didn’t want to admit it, but he’d been unnerved by his most recent industry party. He had never thought that roughly a third of his guests would leave once he was no longer head of a studio. Was this something he needed to worry about now? Should he prepare for a life of slights? His name falling off an important agent’s call list? Never making it to the top of the queue to buy a Gursky? Ben cut off this line of thought. It was a waste of time. He had built his many relationships over years of doing business. Relationships were what mattered in Hollywood. People would always take his calls.

This picture was a good starting point. It would grab that attention of everyone in town. Over the years, many different directors and producers had tried to set up this script. But it had eluded, even stumped, them all.

Ben was certain that he had the key. Howard would make it work. Ben decided that it was going to take longer than he had planned to assemble a deal. A slog, not a quick march. But he had the skills – and patience – required to win. And winning was all that mattered.

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The Rushes
Part Two

by Richard Natale

In this book excerpt, an aspiring filmmaker tries to climb the Hollywood ladder in spite of his evil boss. 2,269 words. Part One. Illustration by Thomas Warming.


Zach celebrated Carson’s birthday by treating him to lunch at Spago in Beverly Hills where Wolfgang Puck prepared a special meal for them. And for Christmas, Carson received a Prada cashmere sweater. He wore it to the office once, so Zach would see it, then returned the sweater and put the balance toward a designer suit on sale at Macy’s. “Cashmere in Los Angeles?” Carson had remarked. “Not exactly practical. A Hugo Boss suit on the other hand…”

Those instances of solicitousness, however, paled by comparison to the number of times Zach had called Carson “a second-class cretin because you’re not even good enough to be first class” and threatened to “fire your sorry ass if you so much as breathe funny for the rest of the day.”

The stress, which sometimes breached Carson’s high tolerance level, had led him to consider stealing a tranq or two from the pharmacy in Zach’s bottom desk drawer. His boss would never know since, like many of the other office execs, he popped pills by the hour.

“Seriously, dude?” Jamie had chided when Carson mentioned it. “Is that the road you want to head down: sucking pills like they were Altoids?”

“No, no, you’re right,” Carson conceded. “But some days, it’s very tempting.”

The opportunity to work for one of the top producers in the industry right out of college was not a matter of happenstance. Carson had been hired on the recommendation of Prof. David Mendoza, who had mentored Carson and Jamie at Cal U School of Film and was one of Zach Corrigan’s closest confidantes. The two had met when Mendoza was working on his doctorate in film and interviewed Corrigan for his thesis, which evolved into a published bio about the maverick producer. Zach often showed Mendoza rough cuts of his films and asked for suggestions on how to improve them. Mendoza had keen cinematic instincts and, over the years, Corrigan had repeatedly tried to hire him.

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The Rushes
Part One

by Richard Natale

An assistant takes friendly advice on how to deal with a monstrous film boss in this book excerpt. 1,706 words. Part Two. Illustration by Thomas Warming.


With a personality as unruly as his person, Carson Thorne’s boss, Zach Corrigan (aka “the beast”), was a large rumpled man who some speculated might be suffering from undiagnosed bipolar disorder. Carson had a better answer: “Zach is a performance artist specializing in mood swings.”

Zach admitted to thirty-eight. He was actually forty-six. Carson knew this because, as his first assistant, he’d helped Zach renew his passport and driver’s license. Zach’s self-image was that of a rakish hipster, dashing and edgy. Everyone else viewed him as a borderline slob. Zach had a heavy beard but shaved only twice a week, probably on the same days he bathed, and with all his accumulated wealth, he had yet to invest in a comb or a steam iron. His Saville Row custom-tailored suits were perpetually rumpled, his club tie always cocked to one side, his shirt tucked half-in/half-out. All his socks had holes in the big toe and the last time his shoes had been shined was by the manufacturer. His attentive patient wife, Mila, had long ago given up on trying to bring order to his sartorial chaos. She chose to pick her battles and fight only those she had a chance of winning.

Though rabidly driven and tireless, Zach was also a devoted family man. Unlike most Hollywood producers, he wouldn’t even think of cheating on his wife despite the constant stream of come-ons from sacrificial lamb ingénues. Moreover, he never missed one of his children’s soccer matches, graduations or dance recitals even if it meant being late to a business meeting or an important political fundraiser he was chairing.

Zach’s preferred means of communication consisted of an infinite variety of snorts and harrumphs, and he freely emitted unsightly noises from all his bodily orifices. He didn’t seem to care if other people were present, even celebrities, most of whom claimed they found the impromptu explosions charming. That’s how badly they wanted to be in business with Zach Corrigan, whose films had won seventeen Oscars to date and been nominated for forty-two.

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Dead For A Living

by Jordan Riefe

A dispirited film journalist in Hollywood is having a dismal time in this book excerpt. 2,777 words. Illustration by Thomas Warming.


It sucked being on the Red Carpet again. It may seem exciting on TV, but in real life it’s a drag. It’s always at the end of the day, your feet are hurting and you just want to go home but, no, you’re in a scrum down. And you’re not even guaranteed the “talent” is going to talk to you unless you’re Entertainment Tonight or Access Hollywood or some other high-power purveyor of poop, which Renny Aucoin was not. Instead he was a low-power purveyor of poop, writing for Wonderwall and MSN. Could be worse, he thought, could be August and 100 degrees and sickening with the smell of perfume and sweat. Mercifully it was May and pissing rain instead.

He hadn’t done a Red Carpet in years, but the damn intern didn’t show up, and his editor threw it at him. What could he say? The venue was 6925 Hollywood Boulevard. A quintessential movie palace from the golden age, this kitschy Chinese deco gem upstaged only by its famous courtyard featuring an endless array of handprints dating from Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks through C-P3O, whose imprint had to be reworked after Regis Philbin stepped in the still-wet cement during a broadcast.

Renny knew all this on account of his life-long love affair with movies. Since childhood they represented an aspirational universe, a shining city on the hill, and Old Hollywood was the Garden of Eden. He quoted movies the way others quoted scripture, and the Chinese Theater was his Vatican.

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Bender in Cannes ART

Bender In Cannes

by Michael Elias

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.

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On The Red Carpet At Cannes
Part Six

by Duane Byrge

The Hollywood film critic thinks he’s found the Cannes Film Festival killer. 2,626 words. Part One. Part Two. Part Three. Part Four. Part Five. Illustration by John Donald Carlucci.


Ingrid Bjorge stretched across the hotel bed, then opened her eyes. “Good morning. I did not know you were here,” she said as she propped herself up.

“You were asleep when I came in last night. I didn’t want to wake you.” Ryan claimed.

Just as the Norwegian actress opened the room door, Ryan’s girlfriend Delisha nearly collided with her as the fashion model leaned forward to knock. She carried a bottle of Cristal and an envelope addressed to Ryan that was left for him at the front desk.

Ryan gestured toward Ingrid. “Does she look familiar to you?”

Delisha stared at Ingrid for a long second, then gazed at her from a side angle. She pointed to the window. “Look out in that direction with your chin tilted up. Look real serious.” Ingrid followed her direction, angling her head and gazing off with a blank expression.

Delisha clasped her hands. “It’s crazy. Is it true? Is it true?”

“Yes,” Ryan answered.

Delisha embraced Ingrid. “Oh, my God, the star of The Ice Princess. What is going on?”

“That’s what we’re trying to figure out,” Ryan said. “Delisha, you can’t tell anyone in the meantime about Ingrid’s being alive. Not a word.”

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On The Red Carpet At Cannes
Part Five

by Duane Byrge

The Hollywood film critic gets a gorgeous surprise at the Cannes Film Festival. 2,590 words. Part One. Part Two. Part Three. Part Four. Part Six. Illustration by John Donald Carlucci.


In the days since Ingrid Bjorge’s death, the entire Norwegian nation had taken the slain actress to its heart. The Ice Princess starlet’s murder when she and her film were supposed to open the first night of the Cannes Film Festival was a countrywide shock. Now her body would arrive on the ferry in a few minutes, then be carried by Viking pallbearers to the pyre.

The Bygdoy Peninsula is the untrammeled part of Norway’s capital city, the area with the museums and the Viking burial mounds. With its aggressive environmental protection laws, the Norwegian nation had kept it largely off limits to developers. An editorial in that morning’s Dagbladet acknowledged the irony of having the multibillionaire oil developer Gunnar Severeid, the mogul behind her movie, using it for the site of Ingrid’s funeral.

Following the autopsy, she had been transported back to her homeland on Gunnar’s personal plane, a Gulfstream G650. Her ashes had been placed earlier that morning in a magnificent oak coffin in Oslo. On this day of national mourning, Norway’s crown prince Harald had delivered a moving eulogy at the Ibsen Theater in Kungs Gate Park.

Erik Bjorge, the costume designer of The Ice Princess and Ingrid’s one-time husband, had gotten little sleep in the last several days. The Cannes police had grilled him, and, even more vexing, Gunnar had questioned him aggressively about the evening of the murder. With his fashion line positioned for the entire world to see at the premiere of The Ice Princess, Erik had believed he would be the Versace of Norway, the Gucci of the fjords. Now that dream was gone. Most of his clothing creations were still on a shipping vessel back in the Cannes harbor. He never bothered to unload it after Ingrid was killed. Instead, he went back to Oslo for her funeral.

Considering that Ryan had been up for several nights, found not one but two corpses, been chased through Cannes by what he thought were cops, had delivered an impromptu speech before a packed room of journalists, Ryan wasn’t too worse for wear. He recalled that Sean Connery line from the third Indiana Jones, where Harrison Ford is whizzing along on a motorcycle with his dad clinging on the back for dear life. “This is not archeology,” Connery groused as Indy accelerated away from the bad guys.

“This is not film criticism,” Ryan muttered to himself.

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On The Red Carpet At Cannes
Part Four

by Duane Byrge

The Hollywood film critic is a suspect in a second murder at the Cannes Film Festival. 2,903 words. Part One. Part Two. Part Three. Part Five. Illustration by John Donald Carlucci.


There were enough security guards to stock an island dictatorship. Instead of colorful uniforms with feathered hats, gaudy medals and polished swords, they wore Armani tuxedos. The crack unit stood at attention in front of the mansion gate for the Cannes Film Festival’s elegant party. Despite their disciplined pose, their eyes were riveted on Ryan’s model girlfriend Delisha.

Within seconds, an attendant pulled up with a gleaming Aston Martin V12 bestowed on Ryan for the long drive back to town and belonging to one of the movie producer-distributors. At least half the valet parkers rushed to help Delisha into the passenger side. She slid into the classic vehicle. “Allons y,” Delisha called out, bestowing a celebratory wave.

Ryan idled the car as the iron gates snapped open with crisp precision, spreading their steel in a deferential backward swoop, like an old-fashioned servant. Only then did Ryan punch the pedal and sail through the estate’s stone entrance.

Delisha clasped his hand. “Home, James.”

“Bond, James Bond,” Ryan called out in his best 007 accent.

Delisha giggled and planted a quick kiss on his neck. For the moment, Ryan felt like the glamorous super-agent. The trouble was: he didn’t really know how to work a shift. Maybe, if it was all downhill, they could continue in this gear.

“You’re grinding. You’ve got to let it out,” Delisha said.

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On The Red Carpet In Cannes
Part Three

by Duane Byrge

The Hollywood movie critic, no longer a murder suspect, tries to cover the Cannes Film Festival. 2,640 words. Part One. Part Two. Part Four. Illustrations by John Donald Carlucci.


When the Hollywood New Times chief film reporter swooped out of the elevator, he nearly ran down the trade’s top film critic, Ryan Hackbert.  “You haven’t returned any of my messages,” Stan Peck said as he came through the entrance to the Hotel Savoy. ”I’d like to get your side of the story.” Peck pulled out a digital recorder and flicked the switch.

“My side of the story is nothing,” Ryan answered. “The police asked me in for questioning and were satisfied with my answers. I know nothing about the murder.”

Ryan quickened his step. Peck clicked off the tape and said unhappily, “You know it’s ironic that you, a member of the press, aren’t talking to me, another member of the press.”

“I’m a very ironic guy. You can quote me on that.”

“Seriously, you were hauled in. You said in your review that she should be strangled.”

“I criticized the dialogue. A new editor mangled it with the scarf thing. The police understood,” Ryan answered.

"This murder of yours is screwing up my Cannes coverage," Peck continued. "I’ve got to go to this stupid press conference about it when I should be having breakfast with the TriCoast people. They’re going to announce a new slate." Peck paused to twist the knife a little deeper. "But a lot of people out there still think you’re guilty. That you killed that blond actress from The Ice Princess at the Carlton."

Despite the momentary high of jerking Peck around, Ryan was pissed at himself for giving Peck between-the-lines hints about the police interrogation. As much as Ryan hated to admitt, Peck reflected a fair amount of what would be movie industry opinion, as berserk as that could be. By doing nothing, Ryan was screwing up everyone’s Cannes Film Festival including his own. This was his eleventh time here. He needed to get back into his normal festival mode.

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On The Red Carpet In Cannes
Part Two

by Duane Byrge

The lead actress of the opening night picture at the Cannes Film Festival is murdered – and a Hollywood film critic is the prime suspect. Part One. Part Three. 3,744 words. Illustrations by John Donald Carlucci.


The French National Police gendarmes hurried Ryan Cromwell through reception, which resembled a cheap hotel lobby, and down a narrow brown hallway. They propelled him into an interrogation room only slightly larger than a bread box and painted gas chamber green. A man in his mid-fifties, wearing a dull black suit befitting a homicide detective, studied a copy of the day’s Hollywood Times. The page was opened to Ryan Cromwell’s review of The Ice Princess. The cop looked directly at Ryan. Then looked down at the paper. Then back up at Ryan.

”We have some questions for you, Monsieur Cromwell,” the detective said in a monotone and perfect English.

”Please, tell me what’s going on?” Ryan’s voice cracked, and his mouth was dry. “Why was I dragged down here?”

“My name is Inspector Thiereaux. I wish to talk about your film critique. In your criticism of The Ice Princess film, you wrote, ‘The script is so bad that one hopes that the film’s signature blue scarf would be stuffed down Kristen Bjorge’s throat so we wouldn’t have to hear her utter another word of dialogue.’”

”What do you mean, ‘stuffed down her throat’? I never wrote that.”

“It is right here.” The policeman shoved the review across the table. Ryan grabbed it and scanned the opening paragraph. He had begun with a discussion about lead actress Kristen’s screen presence. None of that was there.

“These are not my words,” Ryan said.

“I do not understand.”

“Sometimes the editors cut or rewrite my reviews. This is appalling. Because it blatantly misrepresents my thoughts. I would never take such a vulgar and aggressive tone. It’s so Internet.”

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On The Red Carpet In Cannes
Part One

by Duane Byrge

A Hollywood film critic pans the opening night picture at the Cannes Film Festival – and suddenly he’s in police custody. Part Two. 2,430 words. Illustrations by John Donald Carlucci.


The half moon was smudgy white but ripening nicely for its full appearance at the Cannes Film Festival. Like a diva, it would not make its entrance until the final Saturday which the organizers already were proclaiming an evening of perfect alignment when “La Lunar Festival” would ascend to its spot of high honor in the dark blue Mediterranean sky. At the moment, the moon was glowing so exquisitely above the sea that it could have been a special effects rendition.

For a brief second, Ryan Cromwell savored the spectacle. Because the moon, the sea, the breeze, and The Ice Princess party were all his. It was the hottest Cannes invite in years. A sexy publicist from DeSimio & Associates had offered Ryan $250 for his ticket and, when he declined, she had upped the ante with an X-rated proposition. Ryan said no because he had a bad case of “Cannes Disease,” a contagious desperation that you had to be doing something every minute, and if not, you were missing something somewhere. Because the one event you decided not to attend would be the highlight of the festival.

Ryan was the senior film critic for the Hollywood Times, the top trade paper for the movie industry. He stood just over 6 feet with wavy dark hair and a physique toned by daily afternoon runs at the UCLA track and regular Tae Kwon Do workouts at a dojo on Sunset. He dressed well, but erratically, and when he won special praise for his “costume design,” as he called it, he took it as an indication that he lacked style at other times. He had just turned 38, and this was his eleventh trip to Cannes. It still always overwhelmed him that he was at the celebrated film festival, where the likes of his movie idols had graced the Red Carpet. Despite his modesty, Ryan knew that he belonged; his reviews set the tone and held the future for many of the films that would debut here in competition. The world would be reading him.

Standing in line to get into the party, Ryan was tapped on the back. He turned to see Stan Peck, his least favorite journalist. Peck wore a Hawaiian shirt, large sun visor and blue metallic sunglasses.

“Where’s your cigarette holder, Hunter?” Ryan asked.

“Slightly funny,” Peck responded. “I hoped to talk with you about your scathing review of The Ice Princess. It’s already the talk of the festival. I loved your lead: ‘Big guns, big gadgets, big hair, big dud.’”

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Le Jet Lag
Part Four

by Peter Lefcourt

The Cannes Film Festival ends and with it the escapades of a film publicist, journalist and producer. See Part One and Part Two and Part Three. 3,614 words. Illustrations by Mark Fearing.


The next morning, American film publicist Erika Marks sat down with Crimea star Hanna Lee Hedson in the luxurious Carlton Hotel on La Croisette and said, choosing her words carefully, “Do you want the film to win the Palme d’Or?”

“Why else would I have shown up in this fucking country?”

“We may have a little obstacle. The French like low-budget art films and this is a budget-busting Hollywood movie. We’d like you to do a news conference today. This will be the last one, I promise. But you’re a fifteen-minute appearance at the Palais away from winning the Cannes Film Festival. With that, you can do any picture you want.”

This thought penetrated deeply into the soft tissue of actress Hanna Lee Hedson’s ego, the place where she lived most of the time. What Erika didn’t tell Hanna was that her film career probably would never recover from all these Crimea press conferences demonstrating her lack of compassion for minority groups. Or that the actress definitely would lose a large chunk of her gross-profit participation revenue when the movie tanked at the box office.

But neither Erika nor her PR boss Larry Moulds cared. They were still focused on ensuring Crimea didn’t win the most prestigious festival award. Or any Cannes award, for that matter. “The Armenians could picket the event. It’d be great pub,” Larry said to Erika an hour later.

“We don’t want overkill. These people get very excited. They could do something really stupid,” Erika reminded him.

“Like what?”

“I don’t know. Some crazy could take a shot at her.”

“So? Could you buy that type of ink?”

In spite of all her years in the business, Erika never ceased to be amazed at what people would do to promote a movie. Kill off the star? Why not? The movie was in the can, and they had all the loops they needed. So who needed Hanna?

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Le Jet Lag Part Three

Le Jet Lag
Part Three

by Peter Lefcourt

The further Cannes Film Festival adventures of a film publicist, journalist and producer. See Part One and Part Two and Part Four. 3,024 words. Illustration by Mark Fearing.


The Cannes Film Festival jury president, Matthieu Brioche, wasn’t used to getting turned down by women. And he certainly was not used to being left standing in a hotel hallway at two in the morning after an American publicist pushing a film in contention had given him her room number. That was not simply rejection — that was a disgrace. So when his phone rang and he heard the femme in question, Hollywood film publicist Erika Marks – slightly past her prime but enticing none the less, like a bottle of 1975 Chateau Margaux with a leaky cork — inviting him to breakfast, he told her that he had a screening to attend. Erika Marks was proving to be, if not devious, then clueless. He liked that piece of American slang. Though he thought the film with Alicia Silverstone was a turkey. He liked that word, too. He just wouldn’t eat one.

Erika Marks didn’t blame Matthieu Brioche for being pissed. She had given him every indication she was interested. And she hadn’t even been particularly subtle about it. But now that her express orders from her studio boss were to not sleep with the Frenchman, thank God she hadn’t made things worse by jury tampering. Instead, she was just guilty of cock teasing. A misdemeanor.

Outside her door, next to the complimentary copy of USA Today, someone had left that day’s Screen International. Grabbing it, she got back into bed with the trade paper, eager to read the expected hatchet job that film critic Harry Harrington had done on her studio’s picture Crimea. The piece turned out to be great press. It fostered a want-to-see in the reader, which was the name of the game. Her boss Larry Moulds back in Beverly Hills would go ballistic. God forbid, the review could even result in Crimea winning the Palme d’Or. Then they’d really be fucked since their marching orders within the last 24 hours were to kill the film’s Cannes chances.

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Le Jet Lag
Part Two

by Peter Lefcourt

Craziness continues for a publicist, journalist and producer attending the Cannes Film Festival. Part One. Part Three.  4,208 words. Illustration by Mark Fearing.


Larry Moulds, studio Vice President for Publicity and Marketing, had been there and done that. As a unit publicist, he had accompanied movies and worked his tail off, coming home exhausted, sick, and, worst of all, empty-handed. The Cannes Film Festival was an all-or-nothing deal. No matter how you spun it, if you weren’t a winner, you were a loser.

His boss, studio head Vivian Rakmunis, had threatened to send him but she hadn’t actually sent him. Yet. But if his publicist Erika Marks didn’t produce some buzz soon, his ass was on the plane. He picked up his office phone and dialed the Hotel Carlton. Larry realized that he’d be waking up Erika in the middle of the night in France. Fuck her. It was her job to be on call 24/7.

It took seven rings before Erika picked up the phone.

Oui?”

“I love it when you talk dirty.”

“Larry? It’s…three-thirty in the morning.”

“Vivian isn’t seeing any ink on the picture. You don’t start producing, Vivian is going to send me over there. And you don’t want me there, do you? So what about jury tampering? You invite the Cannes jury president back for a shtupp?

“Larry, I’m not having sex with anyone on the jury. Can I go back to sleep?”

When he hung up, Erika was sitting up in bed, wide awake and furious. The digital bedside clock read 3:40 a.m. She had to be up at seven to flack the studio’s entry Crimea. If Larry arrived, she’d give him the keys to the car, kiss him on both cheeks, take a plane home, and sell real estate. Between the stress and the jet lag, she was not looking forward to the all-important interview with Paris Match for the film’s spoiled star, Hanna Lee Hedson.

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Quixote Jones

by Eric Layer

A film update of Don Quixote from the Star Wars director and Indiana Jones hero? 2,049 words. Excerpted from the 2018 book Critically AcclaimedIllustration by Mark Fearing.


Quixote Jones

Directed by George Lucas. Written by Charlie Kaufman. Starring: Harrison Ford, Benicio Del Toro, Helen Mirren, and Arnold Schwarzenegger as Jürgen Von Himmelmacher.

Quixote Jones, an adaptation of the formerly un-filmable Don Quixote, arrives in theatres today as one of the most highly anticipated films of all time — for all the wrong reasons. It’s the movie equivalent of a freeway pileup: we can’t help but gawk, especially after the controversy that preceded its release.

From the inception, it had all the makings of a financial and artistic bomb.
We were all so sure it would fail.

And we were all so wrong.

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The Essential Failure Of The Universe

by Kevin Wilson

A space movie with a $2.5 billion budget? That blew up a planet? Excerpted from the 2018 book Critically Acclaimed. 1,505 words. Illustration by Mark Fearing.


Essential Target

Directed by Naylon Beauregard. Starring: Angelina Jolie, Toni Collette, Jude Law, Jada Pinkett-Smith, Tom Cruise, Matt Damon, Laurence Fishburne, Zhang Ziyi, Robert Duvall, and Jason Robards.

There are few things that end up being worth the wait, the gradual buildup of expectation until it outpaces whatever the final product could ever become. And, yet, Essential Target was poised to top even our own outsized hopes. The pedigree suggested as much. Writer and director Naylon Beauregard’s previous movie, Acceleration Homeward, netted just shy of $900 million in foreign and domestic box office totals. That film, an epic story of an entire civilization’s lifespan aboard a spaceship the size of a planet, revitalized the sci-fi genre and made stars of Jude Law and Toni Collette. It changed the way special effects can enter the storytelling process, reminded us how a singular vision can speak to so many people, and, most importantly, altered our perceptions of our place in this universe. It was, to say the least, as life-changing as film can be.

Essential Target, I must confess, does not succeed as a film in any traditional (or even nontraditional) sense of the form.

It is so ponderous and overwhelmingly large in its focus that our current screens simply cannot accommodate it. I sense that, even if a screen were made that encapsulated the entire dome of the sky, it would not do justice to the aims of this film. What the film does accomplish, through means that may or may not revolve around the act of filmmaking, is to once again cause us to question our necessity in the universe, our need to exist, our possible movement toward a deserved extinction.

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