Category Archives: Directors

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Vanilla Shake

by Antonia Bogdanovich

The daughter of a Hollywood VIP grows up too quickly after she meets his best friend. 5,517 words. Illustration by The Fates.


I sat back on the soft white leather couch and watched Charlie meticulously roll a joint. The leather 8547D799-C475-4659-B563-17A9A283F8B3smelled clean and, looking around the apartment, I noticed that the decoration was sparse — only a standing lamp and small coffee table were used to fill out the rest of the room. He still looked good: sexy, handsome and alert. At that moment, he looked up and I could tell he was wondering what I was thinking. This time I had decided we both would get what was coming to us, what we had been waiting to happen for some time. I was 17 and had known Charlie almost half my life…

It all started at The House, which was sprawled out along a plot of land that seemed to go on forever. I could whistle on one side of the house and not a peep could be heard on the other. There were no wall-to-wall carpets – only thick Spanish tiles, which often cooled off my bare feet on hot summer days. Or, wearing socks, and carrying a big bowl of Sugar Corn Pops filled with milk, I could slide along the smooth floor confident that not a drip would fall to the ground. Outside, there was a heart-shaped pool and a hip little cabaña to go with it. The House seemed to have everything a grown person could ever want — but of course that was never enough.

I often wondered what it would feel like to be surrounded by adults who had enough. Did such people even exist? People who would be satisfied with a large creamy vanilla shake in a glass sweating pellets of condensation down its sides, a funky transistor radio, and a moderate sized apartment, just big enough to hang their hat and rest their sleepy head. I wanted to know these strangers, but for years when I was young they only existed as characters I could play with in my head, characters that wouldn’t be put off if I asked them for a sip of their shake or a crayon to color with — an adult who might even take the time to color with me — not just to gain favor from the man of the house, but simply because they wanted to.

There were always people at the House. As the voices grew louder, the place seemed to swell, as if at any moment it would reach its breaking point and suddenly pop like a balloon. Most just seemed to be using my father, buying time I guess, perhaps anticipating the day when they would have to get up off the couch and make it on their own, instead of just hanging out and leeching off Dad. There were production assistants, chiropractors, lawyers, playwrights, producers, and high-profile dentists. In my mind, they all somehow seemed to morph into one. Maybe they thought if they just stayed around long enough my father’s genius would rub off on them.

Now Pops, he got The House from making movies, lots of them.

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The Failure Tactic
Part Two

by Steven Axelrod

Will ambition kickstart his movie career or kill his marriage? 2,292 words. Part One. Illustration by Thomas Warming.


“So, yeah, this is risky. But life goes fast, Emma. We’re both starting to realize that. In two years we’ll be invited to our fifteen-year high school reunions and the next fifteen years will fly by. I want to have fun making films.”

“No, I think you want to feel like an important filmmaker. You want to drive some German sports car around Beverly Hills and sit by the swimming pool with movie stars and get the cool table at Craig’s. You want to read about yourself in Variety. You want to be respected by people you hate. Fine. But there’s no way to get that stuff unless you gamble with both of our lives. You can’t spin it, Mike. Paramount is safe, that’s a fact. You have friends there. If something happens, they’ll find you a job somewhere else. You’re always telling me that getting fired is the best way to get a promotion by moving from studio to studio. It’s a club and you’re finally a member. If you turn your back on that, they’ll be rooting for you to fail. And when it happens, you’ll be tainted goods. Is that what you want?”

Mike spoke very slowly into the burning silence of her stare. “I am not going to fail.”

“Really? So then tell me: when have you ever succeeded?”

“That’s not fair.”

“My life is at stake. So, sorry, fair doesn’t matter to me right now. What matters is making you see the truth before it’s too late.”

Mike rummaged helplessly for something to say back to Emma. It seemed that all the words had been used up. There were just three left.

“I want this.”

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The Failure Tactic
Part One

by Steven Axelrod

Every movie career has ups and downs. But every marriage has a breaking point. 1,924 words. Part Two tomorrow. Illustration by Thomas Warming.


Jim pushed his glass aside and leaned forward.

“Let me tell you what’s really going on,” he said. “Bill Terhune has a deal going.”

“Bill Terhune always has a deal going,” Mike replied. “He probably had deals going in kindergarten – ‘You cover for me during nap time and you can have my cookie at snack.’”

“This is real."

“So was that. Not to mention the black market Lincoln logs. And the crayon exchange. Apparently he had the only sharpener.”

Jim had to laugh. “I mean it, Mike, this is serious. He found someone with money.”

It was the one sentence guaranteed to knock the smile off Mike’s face and silence him. This was what everyone was looking for, the seam of gold in the mountains, the genie in the battered lamp, the copy of the Declaration of Independence on the garage sale table: someone with money to make movies.

“Who is it?”

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White Out

by Morgan Hobbs

Temping in Hollywood can be boring or blissful or even brilliant. 2,886 words. Illustration by John Donald Carlucci.


“It’s an insurance company,” she said, idly swiveling in the black leather manager chair with the receiver cradled against her shoulder. “Yeah, Culver City. It’s in the movie business but as borderline as you can get. It’s all they had for me this week. I got bills to pay, babe.”

She looked up, startled to see a man standing over her desk. “Gotta go,” she said, hanging up the phone.

“Hi, I’m Brad,” he said, beaming down at her.

She straightened up. “I’m Sara from the temp agency,” she replied, “filling in for Todd Pierce’s secretary while she’s on maternity leave.”

Sara gave Brad a quick once-over: tan skin, angular jawline, aristocratic nose, blue eyes and blond hair. His perfect teeth glistened through a radiant smile.

“Welcome to Fortress Insurance.” Brad said and started to leave, then stopped. “By the way, how you were holding the phone,” he cocked his head to the side, “you’ll get a crick in your neck. Use the headset.

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Dyin’ To Direct
Part Three

by Tom Musca

The director has some last filming to do before it’s the end. 2,792 words. Part One. Part Two. Illustration by Mark Fearing.


Ivan acted like a tyrant with a giant ego but Gail knew he was even tougher on himself. When the director looked back on his body of work all he could see were his mistakes. These two never watched TV together.

Gail was suppressing the real emotions waiting for her at the starting gate of the end of Ivan. “At least you’re still you.”

Ivan declared, “Is that a good thing?” His voice was weak enough for that to come off as funny.

Ivan was now the actor who had only a few more days on the picture and wanted to make sure it was acknowledged he could make things difficult until he was wrapped and his performance handed to the editors.

Ivan stared straight ahead for the next five minutes and reviewed his life, starting from his first memory of falling down the stairs before he learned to walk. Most people had no memories before the age of three but Ivan was different. He remembered nearly everything in moving images that he could summon with little effort.

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Dyin’ To Direct
Part Two

by Tom Musca

A director stages and blocks the actors for his waning days. 1,868 words. Part One. Part Three tomorrow. Illustration by Mark Fearing.


The next morning, to combat his feelings of extreme insignificance, Myles insisted on bringing cappuccinos. He needed to make some sort of contribution walking to Ivan’s room in Gail’s company. But it was hard to feel helpful in a hospital setting.

Suddenly, they heard yelling coming from Ivan’s room. Gail lengthened her stride.

“How dare you, You don’t know anything about where I’m going. Who are you kidding? Forget global warming — the world is going to end when I die! Count on it, you motherfuckering-cocksucking-fuckface. People in Asia don’t exist unless I’m walking the streets there. You’re all here as supporting characters in my movie!”

The priest of Indian descent fled Ivan’s room, bumping the cardboard coffee tray in Myles’ hands. Myles bent over and dropped the recycled paper napkins that couldn’t adequately soak up three spills. At Starbucks the biscottis would have come in secure plastic pouches and could have been saved. Instead, the homemade and unpackaged ones that were purchased at the hippie coffee shop were now inedible, crumbling under Myles’s feet. Anyway, the mess in the hall would soon be someone else’s problem.

Myles walked into the room, nodding hello to Ivan for the first time in over a decade.

“I’m not only the star but the entire fuckin’ audience.” Ivan softened his last syllables as Myles drifted to his bedside.

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Dyin’ To Direct
Part One

by Tom Musca

This helmer finds himself in the hospital for his final scenes. 2,033 words. Part Two. Illustration by Mark Fearing.


2016 was a banner year: Prince, Mary Tyler Moore, Nancy Reagan, Alan Rickman, Gary Shandling, Garry Marshall, Patty Duke, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Abe Vigoda, John Hurt, Gene Wilder, David Bowie, Carrie Fisher, followed a day later by her mother Debbie Reynolds and, most relevant to Ivan, directors Curtis Hanson and Michael Cimino. Dead and buried, or incinerated and turned to ashes if they were politically correct, and most were. After all, we’re talking Hollywood A-listers.

Ivan wasn’t sure if he would have enough produced credits to qualify for the “In Memoriam” feature at next year’s Oscars or Emmys. Embracing the uncertainty of outcome when it came to living fascinated Ivan. But dying was certain and, at least so far, had proven to be far less interesting than he thought it would be. He had moved to Hollywood, Florida, so his Hollywood, California, acquaintances wouldn’t feel obligated to watch him wither away. People in L.A. didn’t like unhappy endings. They liked sequels.

Now with just days to live, Ivan would direct his death, if only to keep himself entertained.

The hospital room was a visual prison for a man who made a living finding interesting frames and giving depth to images. But since he was directing without interference from a producer, studio or network, he could experiment.

Although he did drape an extra blanket over the metal chair to dampen sound, there wasn’t much he could do about the acoustics. But the lighting he could control. When he could still navigate his hospital room without assistance, he covered the overhead light with an amber gel that produced softer skin tones, and he flagged his bedside lamp so its illumination bounced off the back wall, affording his visitors fill light.

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Monumental
Part Two

by Richard Natale

The Venice Film Festival goes from great to horrible for these moviemakers. 2,233 words. Part One. Illustration by John Donald Carlucci.


As they were packing, Philippe Renoir called to inform the filmmakers that they would finally be meeting their financier Errivo Monsour on the Red Carpet at the Venice Film Festival. After the screening, they would be swept off to his yacht for a lavish fête. Philippe dropped several A-list names before hanging up.

Cynthia spent the next three days in Beverly Hills trying to find the perfect dress. Harlan bought that Ralph Lauren tuxedo he’d promised himself.

Venice was not the picture postcard they’d envisioned. The late August weather was the equivalent of being locked inside a sauna that hadn’t been cleaned in months. The canals gave off the stench of rotting vegetables marinating in a dull brown broth. The streets were clogged with sweaty overbearing tourists. But at least the hotel didn’t disappoint. It was elegantly gaudy and the employees bowed and scraped every time the couple walked past. And room service was delightful.

The filmmakers had flown in a few days early to screen their passion project Monumental for distributors; several seemed genuinely interested afterwards but were loathe to commit until they saw the feature with an audience. The one firm offer they did receive, a direct to cable deal, they turned down flat. Monsour’s representative, Philippe, expressed his annoyance, he being of the bird-in-the-hand school. Harlan said he felt confident a distributor would bite after the premiere. But it was Cynthia who had to point out a contractual obligation he’d forgotte: in the agreements, both leading ladies had inserted a provision demanding a theatrical release. So no streaming services or pay channels were possible.

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Monumental
Part One

by Richard Natale

The Venice Film Festival was the culmination of their dreams. 1,719 words. Part Two tomorrow. Illustration by John Donald Carlucci.


The source material for their project, an obscure novella called “Fork In The Road,” was the story of two life-long female friends whose paths diverge. One pursues a career as a medical researcher, the other becomes a hardened criminal. But in the end, it’s the latter who has the more emotionally satisfying life. She becomes an angel of mercy in prison, redeeming herself through altruism. The story was tersely written, and because it was delivered without even a trace of sentimentality or bathos, earned the tears Cynthia shed when reading it.

She passed it on to Harlan, who also found the story compelling but pointed out “as a movie it screams ‘woman’s picture.’ The only male characters are incidental. And before you give me ‘the lecture,’ I’m only telling you what every producer in town is going to say, even the female producers. Just trying to prepare you.”

Married just two years, but together for six, they’d discussed several co-scripting projects for Harlan to direct but so far nothing had jelled. Cynthia was keeping them afloat with residuals from a long-running TV series in which she’d been a supporting cast member, and a combination of TV commercials, voice-over work and guest-starring assignments. She was regularly cast in pilots, none of which ever went to series. Harlan, meanwhile was directing local theater and temping as a teacher.

Like many of their aspiring friends, they were just getting by, stuck in gear, in desperate need of forward momentum.

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A Hollywood Kid
Part One

by Maureen Harrington

This "son of" is smart and celeb-connected but desperate. 1,965 words. Part Two. Illustration by Thomas Warming.


Dude, I am so screwed, Jason Alden muttered to himself as he sat up in bed alone late Wednesday afternoon to find his apartment trashed, as usual, his grubby sheets kicked to the floor. Earlier he’d had a fight with his girlfriend, Nicole, and she’d thrown him out of her Santa Monica beachfront condo, which her daddy, the guilty party in her parents’ nasty divorce, so generously paid for. That was considered only fair in a L.A. divorce war: he’d been caught sleeping with Nicole’s tennis teacher, then was stupid enough to knock her up and marry her.

Nicole never did get her backhand down.

Jason had slammed out of Nicole’s posh apartment’s parking lot at 5 a.m. in his three series BMW – overdue to the leasing agency, with no replacement in sight. Now he was in his own apartment on the wrong side of town. His study pad, as he described it to his parents when they rented it for him in a sort of safe neighborhood near USC. But even that was about to come to an end. Daddy Dearest wasn’t going to renew the lease and had told Jason in no uncertain terms that he’d have to cover any damage that had been done. There was plenty of that, for sure. Holes in the walls and carpets, vomit in the closets. It was a sty and now he was stuck with the clean-up.

A lot of things were coming to an end for Jason. His dad, Teddy Alden, was a washed-up director-writer-producer who was still talking about his glory days with Spielberg in the 1980s and 1990s. But the senior Alden never made Spielberg money, never had his drive and most importantly hadn’t had the sense to hire his accountants. Teddy Alden had been a partier of the first degree. Right up there with Don Samuels, the producer who famously died on his toilet, stoned on a pharmacy worth of drugs. It was a miracle Teddy was alive, but as he hit his fifties he’d started to slow down. Jason wasn’t sure it was because of the natural inclination of the elderly to get to bed early, or, that he had blown through a Hollywood-sized fortune and had to stop leasing jets to go for lunch in San Francisco.

Whatever.

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Wagons West

by Michael Brandman

Which is worse on a TV shoot: wrangling insane directors or stupid executives? 1,850 words. Illustration by Mark Fearing.


You know it’s a bad day when the Network appoints an incompetent head case to be its new programming chief and the guy you chose to direct your latest movie turns out to be a fraud.

Let’s just call it a massive Xanax day.

My name is Ray Medly and after years of toiling in the fields and learning my craft, I now produce motion pictures, including theatrical features, movies for television and streaming video.

I’d begun shooting Wagons West on the same day Mascot Cable trumpeted the hiring of Truman Rombolt, the third member of a three person team of programmers at RBP Productions and the subject of much industry speculation as to what it was they were thinking when they hired him.

When it was announced he was to become Mascot’s new head of programming, a collective groan could be heard all over Hollywood.

"Clueless," was how one producer described him.

"A deeply disturbed human being," commented another.

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McLaren’s Luck

by John D. Ferguson

A movie studio executive refereeing a ruckus wonders how he got in the middle of it. 1,841 words. Illustration by Thomas Warming.


Hollywood – 1953

The Paramount Pictures executive suite was decorated in muted blue and green tones with aqua adorning the walls of the sumptuous offices where the top men nested on large sofas and chairs that reflected the paint scheme. An interior designer, probably a set decorator from the studio, suggested the colors because they had a soothing effect on the inhabitants and their visitors.

But this soothing atmosphere was having little to no effect on the meeting taking place inside James McLaren’s office. Jimmy to his friends, Paramount’s Chief of Studio Production was in the process of mediating between one of the most heralded directors and the current hot blonde commodity that the studio had produced.

“Sie ist faul und kann nicht handeln!” Hart Winslow, nee Reinhardt Wisner, shouted, slipping into his native German whenever he began to get angry. Winslow was one of many of the great artists that Hitler managed to chase out of Germany in the thirties. The director belonged to the legendary Berlin school of filmmakers that also produced Fritz Lang and Billy Wilder. His escape was aided by the exiled Europeans now living in Hollywood; Bertolt Brecht had been his traveling companion.

McLaren didn’t speak a word of German but knew that Winslow was upset. “Hart, please, calm down.”

Winslow tried to stay in his chair. “Jimmy — excuse me, Mr. McLaren — she is… unprofessional!” He was using both hands as if praying or pleading.

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La Dolce Vita Virtuale

by Matthew Licht

He was a student of Italian film legends like Fellini and Mastroianni. Then he met their muse. Illustration by Thomas Warming.


Quite a few people here in Hollywood on the Tiber hear “writer,” and understand “translator.” This means you exist to help them get their ideas, novels and screenplays produced in the real Hollywood on the Pacific. Bugged me at first, but they’re fast-cash transactions, and the “translate” button on the digital typer works better and better.

Everyone knows the old Cinecittà lot is being gradually turned into a theme park. They still shoot some TV ads and -series there. Hopeful extras line up at the gate. Eager beaver aspiring directors bring their reels, which are usually on their cellphones. No more paparazzi. No limousines, certainly no helicopters. No men in long black coats and Borsalino cowboy hats atop slicked-back hair who hide their authoritarian gaze behind Persol sunglasses, the lenses a shade or two darker than are commercially available.

One guy I met at a boring party heard “writer,” and understood “tour guide.” Not exactly refreshing, but different. “Tell me,” I said, “what’s the job?”

“All you gotta do is act like you’re the actor who played Porcello in Fellini’s Casanova. Tell the customers you and Donny Sutherland grew up together in Canada, played hockey, ate maple syrup, shit like that. You lead groups through the new fake sets, which are gonna look all dusty and sacred. Make ‘em feel like they’re getting the real deal, that they’re seeing something secret for insiders only, so they’ll go away thinking some of that magic might’ve rubbed off on them.”

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The Searchers
Part Two

by Robert W. Welkos

A movie’s magic is finding something new in every screening. 1,819 words. Part One. Illustration by John Donald Carlucci.


Professor Daggett sits inside a local coffee haunt in Silverlake chatting with his colleague, Avery Dortch, who teaches cinematography at USC. Dortch, a short balding man with glasses and a love of Shakespeare, cups his hands around a caramel latte.

“Story doesn’t mean shit anymore, Avery. It’s all bells and whistles and car crashes and explosions.”

“I’ll grant you that we’re raising a generation of pre-diabetic androids who’ve never heard of Titus Andronicus.” Dortch lifts his head and closes his eyelids and recites, “Vengeance is in my heart, death in my hand, Blood and revenge are hammering in my head…”

“Yes, yes, I know. But what do we do about it, Avery? Nuance means nothing anymore. Everything must be spelled out. The trailers give away the whole plot. Moviegoers now expect it.”

Dortch returns to earth. “I had a student once who said the cornfield scene in North By Northwest is way overrated.”

“You see? Proves my point.”

“When I asked him why, you know what he said? That Hitchcock should have had another plane appear. Then they could have had a big air duel in the sky over the cornstalks.”

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The Searchers
Part One

by Robert W. Welkos

Why do film school classes analyze the magic out of the movies? 2,246 words. Part Two tomorrow. Illustration by John Donald Carlucci.


At 6:02 p.m. on October 11, under a canopy of puffy coins sliding lazily south to southeast over the Los Angeles basin, professor Edwin E. Daggett has an epiphany.

“Yes! Of course!” he shouts and thrusts his fists upward in triumph.

Two hours later, Professor Daggett stands before his USC film studies class, his eyes burning with an excitement that his students haven’t seen in him before.

“So, your next assignment is to watch John Ford’s classic western The Searchers over the weekend and on Monday we’ll have a thorough discussion of its mysteries.”

Levi Sims, a member of the Trojans’ track team whose personal best in the 100-meter hurdles is 13.42, raises his hand with a puzzled look on his goateed face. “What do you mean by mysteries?”

“I want you to dissect the film and decipher scenes or dialogue that hint at other things,” replies the veteran author of several books on the Golden Era of Hollywood. “Look for what you may not have seen before.”

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Escapade
Part Four

by Steven Axelrod

The female filmmakers finally, finally, shoot their indieprod. 2,893 words. Part One. Part Two. Part Three. Illustration by John Donald Carlucci.


For Rachel and Stacey, the making of Escapade was a kind of blissful dream. Part of that feeling came from the European landscapes, which had a sort of abstract beauty since the filmmakers never stayed anywhere long enough or took enough time away from the work to absorb their reality. So they were carrying away memories like photographs. Not that there was anything wrong with that. They enjoyed floating. They were living in their own world for those eight weeks and everything else was just backdrop.

It was so easy, that was the astonishing part. It had begun with everyone’s small investments and then Peter Sandrian’s hundred thousand dollars and just continued, like a heartbeat, with the casting, their arrival in Paris, Hector Passy just walking up to them in a cafe and solving a dozen problems at once.

It seemed that every circumstance conspired at perfection: weather and bureaucracies, mood and coincidence and the currency exchange rate. Every location worked out easily. And Rachel’s unnerving cry of "Let’s put it in the movie!" soon became a standing joke. That was how it went. The movie was as much accident as design. Many of the things people wound up liking best were devised on the spur of the moment. For Rachel it was just common sense to take good stuff wherever she found it and use everything. She hated waste.

She was equally pragmatic about giving direction to her actors. She never couched her comments in Actor’s Studio jargon or Hollywood catchphrases. Instead she’d say specific things like "Give it an extra beat before you talk," or "Fall down when you say that line." Any time acting was in evidence, it was overacting to Rachel. "Don’t show us how hard you’re working," she said once. "Leave that to Meryl Streep."

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