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.
Private eye McNulty returns to flim-flam a filmdom fugitive. 1,765 words. Part One. Illustration by John Donald Carlucci.
The ex-President of Production of Vantage International Pictures, Vern Clybourne, was aware that Cuba had long been a haven for celebrities and scoundrels. Author Ernest Hemingway made it his home for 20 years,. Then there was fugitive financier Robert Vesco, a close friend and contributor to Richard Nixon, who took advantage of Cuba’s lack of an extradition treaty with the U.S. to create the perfect sanctuary for a wanted multimillionaire evading American justice. Despite the U.S. government’s 50-plus year travel and trade embargo, the mystique and charisma of the Caribbean island nation’s revolutionary leader Fidel Castro proved an irresistible lure to many of Hollywood’s A-list filmmakers. Oliver Stone, Sean Penn, Steven Spielberg, Jack Nicholson, Leonardo DiCaprio were just some of the names who over the years openly defied the travel ban. Their positive comments about both the country and Castro were later decried widely by the conservative media and U.S. officials. Vern basked in the warm realization that soon he, too, would join the ranks of these illustrious film names.
Now he licked his lips in anticipation as Senior Miguel Chavez opened the polished teak box. Nestled inside was a Soviet made TT-30 automatic pistol which was an exact replica of an American-made Colt M-1911-A1.
“Magnificent,” Vern whispered with lust in his eyes. “Che Guevara’s authentic sidearm.” He eyed Senior Xhavez suspiciously. “What about Che’s M-16 shotgun and grenade launcher that you promised me?”
“Still in Havana,” Chavez apologized. “It will be presented to you upon your arrival.”
“I see,” Vern nodded. Clearly the Cubans wanted to be sure he wouldn’t renege on his commitment to serve as an international judge for their newly revived Cuban National Film Festival. “As long as there’s still no extradition treaty between Cuba and the U.S., I’m there,” he promised.
P.I. McNulty is back to uncover a major con by a moviedom con artist. 1,764 words. Part Two. Illustration by John Donald Carlucci.
The big muscled middle-aged guy stormed through the front doors of LAPD’s Hollywood Division police station so forcefully that the duty officer instinctively reached for his holstered sidearm. There was no telling what kind of freaked-out meth head or crazed gangbanger might come bursting through those doors at two a.m., but this dude, apart from being pissed-off, was clearly none of those.
“I need Detective Whitley,” the man barked, the fire in his eyes as intense as a blast furnace. “Tell him McNulty’s here.”
A quick phone call later, the private eye was issued a visitor’s badge and directed to the desk of Detective Owen Whitley. Not that McNulty needed directions. The infamous investigator had been here many times before, usually to bail out some of Tinseltown’s higher profile celebrities. The last time was when his late friend Lenny Hazeltine was clocked doing 120 mph on the 101 in a brand new Ferrari and arrested for speeding, reckless endangerment and resisting arrest. (“Like I told the officers,” Lenny said, a twinkle in his eye. “My first wife ran off with a cop. I thought they were bringing her back!”) But there was nothing funny about McNulty’s early morning visit now.
“Where is she?” McNulty snapped.
The indie filmmaker begs and borrows to finish her shoot – and feed her dog. 2,006 words. Part One. Illustration by John Donald Carlucci.
Indie filmmaker Annie Grayson wasn’t young. But she had more energy than any obnoxious 22-year-old snot-nosed kid out of film school. Both crew members Nigel and Ted admired her for that. So they were onboard as much as they could be without too much self-sacrifice for a very likely doomed project.
Nigel hated to think of it like that. But Annie would not listen to reason. Yes, collaboration could make it work. But not if she refused their help and knowledge.
“First-time filmmakers don’t jump into features or even thirty minute shorts. They do ten minute shorts, or five minute shorts,” Nigel said to Ted, the sound man.
“George Lucas will tell you he started out with a thirty second short and a lot of storywriting experience,” said Ted, lighting up a joint. “Want a toke?”
“Thanks.” Nigel, the cinematographer, said and inhaled. “Then she complains that Tricia is always late. No shit. Actors are always late. They’re prima donnas, even the unknowns.” He let out the breath.
“Especially the unknowns.”
Dante flexes his power as both a screenwriter and a blogger. 2,950 words. Part One. Illustrations by John Donald Carlucci.
Creeping over the Century City skyscrapers, the sun’s harsh rays bathe my 1966 Ford Mustang as I take the 10 from Santa Monica towards Robertson. Ray-Bans I’ve owned since my first week in L..A shield my eyes from the glare and the breeze rushes over the windshield, tousling my already unkempt hair. If this cinematic moment was captured on 35 mm film, it would appear liberating, a sun-drenched endorsement of SoCal living. Nothing could be further from the truth. Under the crushing weight of the CO2 hovering above the L.A. Basin, this drive couldn’t be more claustrophobic and suffocating. As I light up a cigarette, combining the air pollution with tobacco and nicotine may seem like overkill, but I am nothing if not the author of my own story.
I turn west on Wilshire and, in the space of ten minutes, I reach the STA offices. I ride the elevator to the eighth floor and take a seat across the desk from my agent, Dave Chaikin.
“I love this fucking script, Dante!” he yells, slamming a closed fist on the desk between each word, a poor man’s Ari Gold in a rich man’s Armani Collezioni suit. Once upon a time, Dave was a fledgling literary agent in search of the screenplay that would make him a major player. Dave would have me believe the moment he read Galaxy Hoppers, my 120-page tome, it was love at first sight. He created enough buzz that there was a bidding war and then sold it to Global Studio Media.
Now, I stare at my latest screenplay on his desk, the one I’ve affectionately named Skylar And The Ninja Ghosts, as Dave asks, “I have to know, after all this fucking time, what compelled you to finally put pen to paper again?”
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!”
Which is most fulfilling: real sex or virtual reality sex? These teens find out. 1627 words. Part One. Illustration by Thomas Warming.
Hollywood – 2030
Hollywood High School seniors Aidan and Jennifer have reached a new plateau in their friendship. For the first time, they have admitted they are virgins.
“I’ve thought about it,” Jennifer said.
“Me, too.” Aidan replied, wistful. “I know I’m clean. How can I not be? I haven’t ever fucked anyone.”
“We’re both clean,” Jennifer assured him, “because I’ve never fucked anyone either.”
They make direct eye contact. Exchange serious looks. They haven’t been exposed to the antibiotic resistant super-gonorrhea — superum neisseria gonorrhoeae – sweeping the world. A fastidious gram negative diplococci bacteria that usually proves fatal and is keeping global populations from having sex.
When they arrive at the Sensorsex VR Cinema on Wilshire, the teen couple see a line, but it’s not very long. Jennifer turns and puts her arms around Aidan. “Thanks for coming with me. I can’t wait to try this.” Her voice is filled with anticipation.
Aidan becomes embarrassed. Jennifer’s warm body against his is giving him an erection. He turns to hide the bulge in his pants.
In the not-so-brave new world, cinemas are now virtual reality centers for sex. 1,876 words. Part Two. Illustration by Thomas Warming.
Hollywood – 2030
Nine billion human beings on the Earth. People felt squeezed in a hundred different ways. Living with economic deflation. Climate change. Failed crops. Government surveillance. Strange new diseases. Like antibiotic resistant super-gonorrhea. Superum neisseria gonorrhoeae. A fastidious gram negative diplococci bacteria that evolved over centuries and caused joint problems, blindness, pelvic disease, testicular cancer, ovarian cancer, severe dementia. And usually proved fatal.
SNG was especially prevalent among teenagers, most of whom were highly promiscuous. Sex was one of the few pleasures which life had to offer them in a world gone crazy. But there was a dark side to all this sexual activity. Hospitals filled up with young people. World governments tried praising the value of abstention. But the kids were horny. They wanted sex. Propaganda praising the value of masturbation didn’t work either.
Of course adults wanted to have sex, too, but they had better self-control than teenagers and often took the time to use condoms. But they were getting SNG, too.
And so antibiotic resistant super-gonorrhea continued to spread.
Until the full-body sensory suit was developed.
The development of the suit was the natural extension of high tech virtual reality. You put the suit on and you were instantly living in a brave new world. A VR world. A world beyond all human comprehension. Beyond all normal human sensation. Beyond any previous sensory stimulation.
Just how it worked was a trade secret, proprietary information owned by Sensorsex, a Palo Alto corporation. But instead of selling the sensory suits directly to consumers, Sensorsex decided to open up a retail chain of VR Cinemas.
An actor who likes being recognized finds himself playing a 30-foot reptilian alien. 1,847 words. Story and illustration by Mark Fearing.
Decker Bronc was hanging ten feet in the air on a soundstage that was wrapped in green screen material ready for the motion capture shoot. He was wearing a bright green spandex jumpsuit with ping pong-sized white balls stuck all over it. His face was covered with white dots the size of erasers on pencils back when people still used pencils with erasers instead of delete keys. He also wore what could only be described as headgear, consisting of straps that tightened a metal helmet to his forehead and which supported a foot-long rod in front that held a camera lens on the end pointed at his face.
Three bored-looking young men stood hanging onto the wires and ropes and back-up ropes that supported Decker mid-air on the green sound stage. But even with all the discomfort, Decker was still glad he was there amid the grips, gaffers, best boys, computer geeks and one very overworked-looking script supervisor all rushing around. This had been a last-minute job booking and only his second credit in more than two years. It was his first motion capture gig but while his body would be animated at various times, at least he’d be back on the big screen again.
Andy Garcia, seeking to break out of playing stereotypical Latino gangsters, had snagged the part first but then dropped out at the last minute. That’s how the business worked for Decker; he had to wait for the fall throughs, the no shows, the rehab visits and the ego trips. Then he got the job.
Decker had been an almost A-lister once. Now he was probably a B-lister on his best days. And, when guest hosting game shows, definitely a C-lister. But his agent had assured him this massive budget tentpole with the latest CGI could put him back on top. After all, as the tenpercenter had reminded, both Marlon Brando and Russell Crowe had played Superman’s father Jor-El in state-of-the-art CGI pictures like this one.
A guy young enough to be Decker’s grandson who’d introduced himself as the director that morning now yelled up to Decker.
“You okay up there, Deck? Looking great!”
A wannabe filmmaker finds an unconventional way to get his horror script made. 3,216 words. Illustration by Mark Fearing.
“You understand what I want you to do?”
“Yeah,” I said. It was easy to say it. Flowed off the tongue. I wasn’t even worried. What was that line from that Hannibal film, the one with the lambs? His pulse never got above a certain number, he was so relaxed? That’s how I felt. Relaxed.
“And you finance my film.”
“And I get gross participation, backend, off-the-top. The works.”
“The works,” he agreed.
I didn’t smile. But I should have. You don’t smile, though, when you make a Breaking Bad deal like that. I don’t mean a deal with AMC; I mean, a deal that will put you on the other side. For good. I was about to become a Walter White. And I was only in my early 20s.
Got to start sometime in Hollywood.
Everyone’s in a panic except the producer when unsubs digitally mess up a film. 2,382 words. Story and illustration by Mark Fearing.
The producer Bernie Polon sat behind his desk preparing for the emergency concerning the film he’d worked on for the last three years. The director had demanded a meeting in Bernie’s office at eight o’clock in the morning. Bernie wondered if people really have meetings at 8 a.m.? But he had to accommodate Desmond Bright, who was a temperamental British helmer that everybody hated to love. But the filmmaker shot fog-smothered landscapes with gauzy figures delivering modestly indecent lines while fighting Vikings or aliens or demons better than anyone. Also called into the meeting was Jon Wright, the film’s editor with all those credentials Hollywood needs an editor to have.
Though Bernie was pretty sure that soon eighth graders would be doing all the editing in town. Hell, in a dozen years, eighth graders might be doing Bernie’s job the way things were going in the movie business.
“OK, what is so fucking important that we need to meet in person?” Bernie demanded of Desmond, making it clear they weren’t going to be friends today. “Haven’t you learned how to use American technology yet? It’s called an iPhone and it has Facetime.”
Desmond’s cheeks sucked in. “My film’s been hacked!”
The producer had been in the movie business for 35 years and knew that the technical jargon of film changes every 30 seconds. But this was a new situation, even for Bernie.