Category Archives: Directors

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Max And Mona

by Richard Natale

OSCAR FICTION PACKAGE: A director and editor have a complex relationship that’s even more complicated by Oscar nominations. 3,556 words. Illustrations by John Donald Carlucci.


NEWS BULLETIN (Hollywood, CA) – Oscar-winning film editor turned director Mona Hessman, whose initial helming effort Once Upon A Midnight earned her a Best Directing nomination this year, has vanished. Hessman has not been seen since the Academy nominees luncheon on February 6, though she was not officially reported missing until yesterday when she failed to show up for her Oscar gown fitting. Hessman’s cell phone was tracked to a dumpster where it was found inside a Prada purse containing her ID and credit cards.

Mona sat up the cold leather sofa. She had a pounding headache and, as she stroked the back of her head, felt the crusted blood in her tangled hair.

She knew exactly where she was. She’d napped on this sofa for the better part of twenty-five years and was familiar with every sag and indentation. The realization of where she was brought to mind the last words she’d heard before being knocked unconscious: “You’re dead. You’re fucking dead.”

How many times had she heard those words before? But this was the first time they’d been directed at her. And she was left to wonder whether, this time, Max Barton might actually go through with one of his heated threats.

Like several other preeminent directors, Max worked almost exclusively with a female editor. Mona was part of a select group that included Verna Fields, Dede Allen, Thelma Schoonmaker, Sally Menke, Anne V. Coates and Carol Littleton. Like her peers, past and present, she was good at what she did. Damn good; the custom-fitted glove on a great director’s hand. And Max was a great director. Inventive. Fearless.

At least when he was in the director’s chair.

When he stepped into the editing bay, he lap dissolved from Genghis Khan into Chicken Little. This was Mona’s signal to take over. As editor. As surrogate mother. As therapist, confidante, cheering section and, for two months at the very beginning of their twenty-five year collaboration, lover.

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And The Oscar Goes To

And The Oscar Goes To…

by Robert W. Welkos

OSCAR FICTION PACKAGE: An actress thinks the Academy Awards are all about her. 2,991 words. Illustrations by John Donald Carlucci.


The party is swirling and Eleanor Gautier is already drunk.

Charles Dumont had been silent throughout the long drive from Malibu to the Hollywood Hills and silence is rarely a good sign for the moody French director. He’s wearing that brown silk shirt that Eleanor absolutely abhors. She wonders why so many items in his closet resemble the result of an intestinal virus. He’s also smoking, another way to irritate this year’s Oscar-nominated actress who stars in Oscar-nominated Charles’ gritty cop drama Brutal Norms, which received a standing ovation at Cannes and the Palme d’Or.

Tonight’s hostess, Liz Fontaine spots the gloomy couple from across her living room and quickly makes her way around knots of party guests. “You made it!” Liz exclaims as she air kisses the pair. “I wasn’t sure you’d come. As you can see, everyone is here and they adore you both. You’re the buzz of Hollywood, you know.”

“She knows,” Eleanor says as the stir of her vodka martini punctuates her statement. When she’s drunk, she refers to herself in the third-person.

Liz introduces the couple around. Eleanor’s eyes stray and then narrow. “Is that Melanie Milapeed?” she asks Liz.

“Yes, how thrilling I have the two leading Best Actress nominees here at my party,” Liz replies.

“Are there any Oscar voters present?” Eleanor asks, her eyes tick-tocking between her rival and Liz.

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The Paparazzo

The Paparazzo

by Strawberry Saroyan

A meditation on what it means to be the lens watching U.S. culture created – even if you’re foreign. 1,757 words. Illustration by Thomas Warming.


A movie star had died. It used to be these things were good money, plus a relatively easy “get.” You had to have connections, sure, have been around for a while to make your way into the location, but Mick was an old hand and had been around since, what, 2007? The business was getting tougher.

Mick was from Slovenia. He had the body of a broken pen – slim, slightly twisted and with something coursing through it but it wasn’t always blood. He was a good paparazzo. The language barrier had hurt and helped him. It made him determined to listen, hear even the syllables, keep them straight: aah, eeh, eek, ooh. Also, to keep his receptors out at all times. He hadn’t always liked celebrities but he’d grown to do so, and even when he didn’t like someone — did anyone really enjoy working with Jonah Hill, Robert Downey? — at least he knew all their names. The shooting was a way to be independent at the same time that it paid the rent. If Mick had heard of legend Ron Galella, which he hadn’t, he might have felt a sense of tradition, even artistry. But he didn’t. Still, it wasn’t a bad gig. America was working for him.

The funeral was to take place at Westwood Memorial. He’d heard on E! that it was Hollywood Forever but no, Memorial was the place; his friend Rupert had confirmed it.

Rupert was another pap, and an ally most of the time. Mick himself got the name of the valet there — hey, you had to do leg work — and Mick told Jecky, I will help you if you help me. The words had been wrong, cracked in places of course, but Jecky didn’t care. Jecky would give him the go-ahead for a cool $250. Mick knew it might be a slice of profit but he would just have to up his game.

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The Monster 01

The Monster

by Eric Bogosian

Eric Bogosian debuts an original short story: A screenwriter desperate for his movie to be made puts the project into the hands of a famous and successful actor-director-producer. That was the scripter’s first mistake. 4,873 words. Illustrations by Thomas Warming.


Hopefully, this tape will be found some day. Probably by then it’s doubtful anyone will be able to play it back and listen to what I have to say here. But I have no choice. I have to tell this story if for no other reason than to preserve my sanity during these last few hours.

As I lie here, whispering these words to myself in the dark, I can only blame my ambition. Like Icarus who flew too close to the sun, I am being punished. Whether I deserve punishment or not, you can decide.

I’m not exceptional, I’m not special. In fact I’m pretty much a boring person. But just because I was a boring person, doesn’t mean I didn’t have dreams. And desires. And hopes. And fears. And appetites. All of that. Big time. And, in the end, just big enough to consume me. I went willingly into the lion’s den. I was going to dance with the lion. I was going to become a lion.

What the fuck did I know about being a lion?

Six years ago, when I was 28, I was writing for LA Weekly. Online. I wrote an article about a young couple who got lost while hiking around in Joshua Tree. They almost died. It was a pretty good story and, as often happens in L,A,, it garnered a phone call from a studio exec. Focus Features. I pretended that I had an agent and then got this old pal who was an assistant over at UTA to rep me and one thing led to the next and all of a sudden I had a development deal with Focus to write a screenplay based on my story.

I delivered the screenplay (after six outlines), and two days later the exec who ordered it got fired and that was the last I heard from Focus. The movie was never made. And over the past six years, I’ve been able to shuffle along and write scripts for a few other studios. At first it seemed like big money. Averaged out, week by week, it actually wasn’t. But hey, if they made even one of these films, I would have been in Hollywood heaven. Or so I thought.

Lying here now in the darkness, I try to remember the state of my life only one hundred and eighty days ago. It wasn’t bad. I was making enough money that I could afford to shop at Fred Segal every now and then. I could cover my girlfriend Sandy’s side of the rent. (She’s an assistant designer at a boutique on Santa Monica Blvd.) I drove a five-year old Prius. I shopped at Whole Foods up the street from where we lived. I played poker with other screenwriters and actors like Jeremy Sisto and David Zayas. I hit the gym twice a week. I watched my weight. I made it to 34 years old and was still young enough to be “promising.” I guess I’ll never be 35.

I was floating in a dimension that had no past, no future.

And then one day, in the shower, I came up with an idea. Simple, elegant, perfect. A narrative about a returning veteran who becomes a New York City parole officer. Gritty. Full of action. A great role for a macho actor in his thirties. And it could be made for a budget. Easily shot in less than two months. Violent but also filled with pathos.

It was everything I needed to get closer to the sun.

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Rita Lake

Also Starring Rita Lake…

by John D. Ferguson

A young actress works for a studio executive on matters more thrilling than movie roles. 2,521 words. Illustration by Thomas Warming.


Hollywood – February 1938

Inside the gates of Hollywood’s grandest studio, which specifically wasn’t in Hollywood at all but in Culver City, a young woman sat waiting inside the executive suite of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer outside the office of Finbar Gregory, Vice President of Studio Relations. That part, Studio Relations, made her smile. Because he was much more than his benign title would suggest. A former sergeant in the Los Angeles Police Department, he was also the son of an LAPD police captain and had joined MGM in the late twenties as head of security for the studio. He had become the right arm or, more to the point, strong arm of MGM’s Vice President and General Manager Eddie Mannix. Mr. Gregory handled a number of delicate press and publicity issues for the studio. Rumor had it that he and Mannix never exchanged memos but met behind closed doors every morning at seven.

The young woman whose name was Rita Lake looked around the ante room and at Mr. Gregory’s secretary, Marge or Midge or something like that, and wondered if the older woman with light gray hair and a small and efficiently build, thought she was having an affair with the executive. After all, Rita had been to his office several times over the past months and since he had little to do with casting, her presence on so many occasions might be misconstrued as inappropriate.

Rita Lake wasn’t her real name; she was an actress beautiful in an unconventional way with exotic good looks that came from her father, a Russian Jew, and her mother, a Spanish beauty. She had large hazel eyes framed by neatly arched eyebrows, and thick auburn hair recently cut to the new fashion. She had a trim figure, more athletic than voluptuous, and good legs that helped her get more parts than her acting skills.

On this particular morning Rita was dressed in a brown wool suit with a matching handbag and low-heeled shoes, the hem length of her skirt set appropriately at the knee. Rita wondered if it was her wool suit in the mild dry weather or the glacial stares that Marge/Midge was shooting her that was making her perspire. She self-consciously touched the small bruise under her left eye. The swelling had gone down and she hoped that the small amount of make-up she was wearing had been sufficient to cover the black and blue mark.

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Western Spaghetti

Western Spaghetti

by Matthew Licht

An American screenwriter becomes entangled with a zealous Italian film director. 2,780 words. Illustration by Thomas Warming.


Rome, with the voice of all its sparkling fountains, said to me, You can’t leave. Los Angeles never spoke so imperiously. Or maybe she did, but since I was always in my car or in my office on the studio lot, I never heard the message.

In any case, I left.

Rome didn’t offer me a job, or a place to live, or a Vespa to get around. Language was a hurdle, but before too long I could order a plate of spaghetti alla carbonara alongside Pasolinian primitives without drawing a second glance.

The San Calisto bar in Trastevere was a decent substitute for Schwab’s as a place to sit and watch the world go by. The management put rickety tables outside on fair afternoons and evenings. Pretty often, they left them out when it was lightly raining so the drunks could watch the rainbow skies and the fountains carved from travertine marble which gurgled within earshot. Rome’s water is tasteless, or maybe taste-free. But I’d never drunk anything half as refreshing.

A well-dressed perfumed young man stared through face-making eyeglasses. When he came over, I expected tentative pick-up overtures. Instead, he explained his film theory.

“When you ordered white wine, I knew that you are American. From the world of spectacle. This is synchronicity at work. An Italian-American director has usurped an autochthonous genre, with great success” – he was talking about Coppola’s 1972 masterpiece – “at roughly the same time that an Italian director attempted an American-style road movie, which, at least in my view, is a dismal failure.” Maybe Sergio Leone’s Giù La released the year before? “My mission is to re-appropriate and re-subvert a classic theme to re-ëstablish purity of form.”

Ah, he wanted to make a Western.

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Hanging Around

Hanging Around

by Mark Fearing

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!”

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JULES  AZENBERG 04

Tyrannis Rex
Part Three

by Richard Natale

The screenwriter’s challenge for Act Two is seamlessly threading the studio mogul’s public and private lives. 2,260 words. Part One. Part Two. Part Four. Illustration by John Donald Carlucci.


Hollywood – 1969

The second act of his screenplay, the Untitled Jules Azenberg Biopic – First Draft, gave Dave problems as second acts generally do. Determined to push ahead, he rose every morning at seven and, hangover or not, sat down at the typewriter with a pot of coffee and waited for his fingers to magically click into action. On a day when his hands just sat there stiffly poised on the keys and not a single coherent scene emerged, Dave took a break. He and his pal Joel Rodgers went out on the town for a movie, dinner and drinks at Trader Vic’s where Joel regaled him with the details of the latest showbiz scandal. Dave listened, but without much enthusiasm. Like most current gossip, it was graphic and tawdry and destroyed what little illusion was left about movie stars’ private lives. What was Hollywood without glamour? Without fantasy?

When the muse finally revisited Dave, she came equipped with a metaphor. Act Two opens with Jules at a gaming table tossing dice in a visual motif establishing the studio mogul as an inveterate gambler and a smart one at that. For Jules proves himself an expert crapshooter, knowing exactly how long to play, how high to raise the stakes, and when to walk away from the table.

By the early 1930s, his Argot Pictures is on a roll. Most of its B-movie competitors fall by the wayside, victims of the Depression. Argot slowly buys up all the rivals and establishes itself as a viable rival to the A-list studios like MGM and Warner Bros. Here, the script hones close to the real story by assigning Jules due credit. Given his brother Mort’s cautious nature, Argot might have survived the transition to sound but not the economic reversal of the times. It took more than business savvy to keep Argot afloat: it took Jules’ ingenuity and daring.

His risky gamble is to jump head-first into larger budget movies at a time when everyone else, including the established major studios, is cutting corners. And for that he needs an ally because Jules feels inferior to the task of convincing talent to sign with Argot rather than a more deep-pocketed institution like MGM. He needs someone with the polish and finesse to talk to theater types. So he enlists a celebrated and ceaselessly charming German-born director and appoints him vice president of production. It’s a curious choice and, at first, the board expresses concern that a creative type will run financially amuck.

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Snake-Man 01

Snake-Man

by Thomas Roberdeau

A character actor from a hit horror trilogy remembers how good his life used to be. 1,702 words. illustration by John Thomas Carlucci.


Are you ready? Start your tape recorder.

In the movies they used to call me Snake-Man. They did. I was the only one they ever called Snake-Man before or since. I was.

I made three movies, a trilogy. I made them five years ago in the City. Another time, another life. They weren’t bad. They were good action pictures. We made all three of them in about a year and a half. We first did Dawn Of The Snake-Man, then we followed that up with The Thing Called Snake-Man, and the last one was political so we called it Rabooba: Snake-Man’s Revenge. I carried a .44 Magnum in that one.

I don’t carry a gun no more, though. No more guns for me.

They called me Snake-Man because that’s exactly what I looked like, a Snake-Man. There weren’t too many actors who could have pulled it off, I know that. I used to play a lot of foreign spies, just small bit parts, before I got a chance to be Snake-Man in my own shows. Before I got to star.

Oh, I think just about everybody saw a Snake-Man picture. But I don’t go to the movies too much anymore, since I left the business.

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Steaks on a plane

Steaks On A Plane

by John Kane

She was a nasty vengeful Hollywood publicist. It’s hard to change even after retirement. 2,571 words. Illustration by Thomas Warming.


The children at Franklin Elementary School in Santa Monica waved to the aging woman as she passed by their playground every morning at ten. Wearing a sun hat and denim sneakers, she reminded them of a grandmother. They had no way of knowing that she had been, until recently, the most feared woman in Hollywood.

The name Kit Perkins used to bring on a sickly dread among the studio executives who had to deal with her. She had been the first publicist to recognize the power of celebrity in modern culture. Kit understood that if you controlled the star, you could control the story. So she had ridden herd on an enviable movie posse, forcing print and TV journalists to sign over writer approval, photo approval, and quote approval. And, of course, to make her clients always the cover story.

Along with control, vengeance was her mantra. “Don’t cross me,” Kit used to warn people, “because I’ll get you in the end.” Raised on a West Texas ranch by an alcoholic father and an Avon Lady mother, Kit learned early on to take care of herself. At ten her father taught her how kill the rattlesnakes that turned up in the backyard; after that, the Hollywood publicity wars were low cotton to her. Asked one time how it felt to be called “tough as nails.” She replied, “Untrue. After all, nails bend.”

Her game began to go south when the trifecta of social media, the paparazzi and tabloid TV took over coverage of Hollywood stars 24/7. “You can’t control anything anymore,” complained Kit.

The buyout offer came at the right time. Kit never thought she’d enjoy being idle, but now it thrilled her to wave to some schoolchildren. She had divorced her husband twenty years ago, her two sons had their own lives, the stars never called her anymore, and three years ago she quietly ended the discrete relationship with a female tennis player that had lasted for over a decade. For the first time in her life, Kit was responsible for no one but herself. The surprise was how much she enjoyed it.

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Elevator Pitch

Elevator Pitch

by Howard Jay Klein

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?”

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the Business 3

The Business
Part Three

by Ian Randall Wilson

The wannabe director must decide whether to keep working in showbiz or keep dreaming. 2,306 words. Part One. Part Two. Illustration by Thomas Warming.


On occasion, while circling the office and delivering the mail, Max tried to engage the studio’s executives in a conversation about a film that had especially impressed him or a book that he’d found particularly moving. Right, Max," was generally the disinterested response. Then they would ask him to make sure that their delivery got right over to Parker or Simons or Goldstein or whomever.

"Ratings, Max. Concentrate on the ratings," one of the executives finally told him. The man’s name was Drew Oberlin and he was only a few years older than Max. He had a big office, designer furniture, and a secretary who could have modeled. Max stood by the door looking in, his hair matted, his shirt clinging to his underarms. Oberlin spoke from behind his desk. "Concentrate on the ratings," he repeated. "That’s what matters."

Oberlin was immaculate in a dark suit and white shirt that snapped in starched perfection when he moved. He offered Max gleaming white teeth as if practicing for an audience, Max his mirror.

Max returned the smile, hesitantly, with more of a grimace.

"I’m giving you good advice here," Oberlin said. "Never mind art. Ratings. That’s all that matters. Say, could I ask a favor of you? I have some laundry that needs to be picked up…"

At Max’s urging, Oberlin read Max’s screenplays and reluctantly proffered the advice that Max might write better as part of a team. "Your work, well, it’s got class. But you’re not attacking the center of the marketplace."

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the Business 02a

The Business
Part Two

by Ian Randall Wilson

The wannabe director goes in search of a job, any job, inside the industry. 2,086 words. Part One. Part Three. Illustration by Thomas Warming.


The routine continued — the run, the coffee, the calls. The rejections. Finally, Max scored an interview, instructed to arrive on a Friday at eleven a.m., and screamed with joy as he hung up the phone. He allowed himself one minute of unrestrained happiness in which he jumped up and down, threw himself on the ground and beat the carpet with his arms and legs like a baby.

"Yes. Yes. Yes," Max shouted.

Then he picked himself up, adjusted his clothing, and went back to the telephone.

Max had never heard of the company so he tried to do some research. He scanned the trades for some mention of Smigrod Productions. He checked 16mm film rental catalogues. He went to the movie and television Academy libraries. The best he could discover was that Seymour Smigrod might have produced a short-lived game show 20 years ago. After that, Max found nothing. Smigrod Productions was not the artistic haven he sought, but still it was a beginning, and he sorely needed to start somewhere working on a film — not preparing the supporting documents.

Max arrived early for the interview. The address he had scrawled on a slip of paper matched that of a sign that hung askew outside a bungalow on a side street in Hollywood. The neighborhood was seedy. Aging cars were jacked up along the curb, missing one or more tires. Litter was strewn on the cracked and pitted concrete sidewalk. Even the fronds on a pair of decrepit palm trees hung listless.

"It’s a nice résumé," a thin faced woman with glasses and ratty curls said to him. She had told him her name but too quickly for Max to catch. He was reluctant to ask her to repeat herself, too anxious about appearing confident and in control. "You don’t have much real experience, do you?" she asked, keeping her head down. "On productions, I mean." When she glanced up to look at Max, she colored, then dropped her head again.

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the Business 1

The Business
Part One

by Ian Randall Wilson

A wannabe filmmaker who once showed promise now finds himself failing and flailing. 2,109 words. Part Two. Part Three. Illustration by Thomas Warming.


Jumping was a stupid idea, but it was only one of many stupid ideas that lately he had begun to seriously consider. Max stopped at the edge of the palisades of Santa Monica on a bluff overlooking the beach. A crumbling split rail fence — the top rail gone — stood between him and a drop of some 300 feet. The afternoon was warm and a mild salt breeze came off the ocean, the water glinting like the reflection of a million tiny mirrors. It was the kind of Los Angeles afternoon that made people believe they could do anything, live forever, stay forever young.

There was some quality in the light that touched him. He had seen it before in the films of the masters — Antonioni, Bertolucci, Fellini — his idols that no one appreciated now. All of them captured that quality. He tried to resist the impulse to lift both hands, thumb and forefingers spread, to frame a shot, but he couldn’t. He surveyed the ocean through the matte imposed by his outstretched fingers, and understanding came: the light had the quality of flawless diffusion, filtered by clouds and smog.  It didn’t so much illuminate as caress its subjects, letting them stand out against the background.

Max pictured the opening. Glittering ocean, boats with sails billowed, skidding over the quicksilver surface. The camera begins an endless pan, inching left to right, faultless composition, brilliant framing. That rare combination that together produces Art.

Kael would say, "A genius with the lens."

From Denby, "He moves his actors like chess pieces."

Canby: "He achieves a new American sensibility."

The truth was sunset has always been his passion, the moment before the world plunged into darkness. And those reviewers? They were all dead now. Well, Denby wasn’t, but he might as well be.

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Prison 02

Prison
Part Two

by Zak Shaikh

A writer has to get out of a movie job contract and off an exotic island. 1,918 words. Part One. Illustration by John Donald Carlucci.


The next morning, Jenny Logan came to escort me to Jack’s place. She didn’t say a word about the job offer she’d made me to come from L.A. to this isolated island off Cambodia and write and possibly direct a film. But, as we stopped outside the steps of the beachside mansion belonging to the movie studio owner, a Luxembourg billionaire, I noticed cut marks on both Jenny’s wrists. They were obviously recent.

Jenny saw me looking at them. “I’m sorry if I’ve been weird, James. I think, when I get back to L.A., I’ll be my normal self again.”

She gave me a kiss on the lips, and then pulled back before I could turn it into something intimate.

Just then, a tropical rainstorm snapped into life and I rushed inside the palatial home. Jack was short, stocky and tanned but not even plentiful spa treatments could hide his fifty-something age. He smiled like a villain from a Bond movie and welcomed me inside. Of course, Jack’s bodyguard stood expressionless five feet behind us at all times.

“Thank you for this amazing opportunity, Mr. Hauser,” I said politely. I noted he didn’t offer me a drink, not even tap water. At least in Hollywood they offer you a bottle of Voss before they drain you of life.

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Prison 01

Prison
Part One

by Zak Shaikh

A writer gets a movie job offer on an exotic island and goes to check it out. 2,134 words. Part Two. Illustration by John Donald Carlucci.


It was bang in the middle of another Writers Guild strike, and I woke up with a throbbing headache. I hadn’t drunk more than half a bottle of Trader Joe cheap red, and in those days that wasn’t enough for me to suffer a hangover. No, the pounding in my forehead was a form of dread at the thought of traipsing over to Sony Studios to join my comrades on the picket line yet again. I didn’t even know what we were fighting for exactly: just something to do with making money from the Internet. All I did know for certain was that I was broke, and my damn headache wouldn’t go away.

As I sipped a cup of coffee inside one of the few remaining rent-controlled apartments in Santa Monica, I felt entirely disillusioned. I couldn’t turn on the TV for any respite because, without the writers, the programming was filled with reality shows and repeats. Nor did I feel like going out for a walk, as the June gloom had set in since L.A. is never as sunny as people like to think. So, instead, I stared at my laptop screen trying to come up with an original story idea.

In theory, this quiet period would give Hollywood writers an opportunity to delve into our artistry and create something we cared about. But my screen remained blank for an hour. If I’m honest, it was a futile task; I hadn’t been able to write anything original since my first script that had snagged me representation. Everything else since then had been assignments.

I was trying very hard to remember what I cared about – maybe that was giving me the headache – when my phone rang. This hadn’t happened in a few weeks. I feared that a comrade was calling out of disgust with my inability to show up at the picket line. But the call was from my agent.

Had the strike suddenly ended? Or was she quitting the business to start up a yoga studio?

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