Category Archives: Documentaries

Celebreality_Harris

Celebreality

by Mark Jonathan Harris

A down-on-his-luck social message documentary filmmaker is asked to work on a Reality TV show. 2,323 words. Illustration by Mark Fearing.


The phone jarred Michael awake at 6:18 am. It was Eva, his sister and self-appointed agent, calling from her Audi on her way to the gym.

“You couldn’t wait until you finished your workout?” he said groggily.

“Today at 11,” she reminded him. “I sent them over your teen hooker piece and they love it. They’re eager to meet you. Now don’t screw it up.”

“I’ll be on my best behavior,” he mumbled.

“Don’t you dare embarrass me.”

“I didn’t know that was possible.”

“You’re such an asshole,” she said and hung up.

Michael got out of bed and brewed some coffee. He knew he should be grateful for Eva’s attempts to get him work, but reality TV? He had become a documentary filmmaker to make the world a better place, not to contribute to its degradation like his sister, who represented many of the worst offenders of the genre. “Reality TV,” she once told him, “is the 21st Century equivalent of the gladiatorial arena. The Romans loved it and so do we. It’s human nature. We glorify the strong and want to kick the weak.”

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When can you start

When Can You Start?

by Jordan Pope

Entertainment companies say they want diversity. But this job applicant isn’t so sure. 2,615 words. Illustration by Thomas Warming.


Finally, the miracle arrived and I made it to my stop. The journey through Laurel Canyon had taken an hour, and even once I landed in West Hollywood the bus driver took some nonsensical route. This only reaffirmed that Los Angeles was not a city for pedestrians. For the person who can’t afford a car, that liberty had been taken away decades ago.

After getting off at 3rd and Fairfax, I rushed down the sidewalk – a feat impossible in the heels I wore. I still wasn’t used to them. I had bought them at Target just two nights before. I kept glancing at my phone to make sure Google Maps was taking me to the right place. I’d never been to this part of the city so I was checking and rechecking the address every five seconds. All that did was remind me how late I was and waste the phone’s battery even more. I didn’t even know how to get back home from here. West Hollywood was thirteen miles from my house, but it might as well have been a different country.

I walked right by the entrance at first. It had no logo, no sign, nothing to tell someone it was a film production company. I backtracked when I realized I had gone too far and returned to a grey building with blacked-out windows. Around the corner, I pushed the intercom buzzer and a voice came on.

“Yes?”

“Hi, I have an interview at nine with—.” My mind went blank. I couldn’t remember the guy’s name. The voice repeated the question. “Uh, I’m sorry. My name’s Jessie and—”

“Last name?”

“Mejia?” I said, in a tone that indicated even I wasn’t sure who I was.

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H Warming

"H"

by Cari Lynn

Actress Peg Entwistle jumped to her death from the Hollywoodland sign in 1932 at the age of 24. Here is a fictional imagining of her final journey. 2,319 words. Illustration by Thomas Warming.


Immortality is a tricky business. I am sorry for being a coward. Though, in the moment, I always felt myself to be one of the bravest women in the world. Standing alone in the spotlight. Embodying fears and dreams and convictions. Compelling strangers to feel something.

But those moments were fleeting. And then you spend the rest of your moments, and hours, and days searching for that spotlight again. Maybe it was never bravery at all. Maybe I wasn’t doing any of it for the strangers. Maybe it was I who needed to feel something.

The ladder is narrow and crude. Steel spurs nip me. My hands, nails perfectly polished, speckle with blood. I count as I climb. One-Mississippi. Two-Mississippi. My heartbeat pounds the seconds in my ears. I stop at fifteen.

Fifteen goddamn seconds. Maybe I say this aloud. Maybe I scream it. It doesn’t matter when no one is around to hear. A woman on a stage with no audience.

I feel brave having climbed up here, all the way to the top. From my perch, Tinseltown glitters and twinkles, just like the rest of the world thinks it does. Hard to believe it was only several months ago that butterflies fluttered in my stomach when I first glimpsed the Hollywoodland sign, a beacon of shiny white against the mud, a real-life picture postcard informing me I was here. The new face in town, the Broadway actress, a real actress, who desired to be in pictures. All this seemed much longer ago. Another season. But there are no seasons here.

I had thought it brave to come to California. To traverse such distance for my craft, my calling. But I was nothing more than a squirrel trying to hoard acorns. It’s autumn in New York, soon to be winter, and who can much think about Broadway in the year 1932 when people are starving to death. Yet, I’d gone to the train station this morning for a one-way return to New York. Only to burn with humiliation as I counted pennies at the ticket window, and still came up short.

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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. 3,160 words. Illustrations by John Donald Carlucci.


Bender arrived at the Cannes Film Festival well armed. He had his screenplay and an appointment with a Moroccan film financier who would also give him a place to stay. He was in good health and had plenty of money for food and drink. It was now in Bender’s hands to find a way to fuck it up.

His screenplay, which he liked to think of as homage to the French New Wave of Truffaut and Godard, was about Henry, a successful American commercial director in Paris. Henry’s wife, a beautiful model, leaves him. Disconsolate, Henry takes flute lessons in an attempt to get over her. He falls in love with his flute teacher while his wife falls back in love with him. Bender knew if he could get a bankable actor to play the lead, he could find other financiers. But it was a small film, he would be a first time director and actors were wary. Hence, the desirability of independent financing which Bender fucked up.

Where did this come from, Bender’s policy of walking out of waiting rooms? What was the purpose, what was the result? Pride? Was it because from his seat on the Ikea couch of the office suite Bender could see the Moroccan talking on the phone, and Bender knew he could see him and yet didn’t acknowledge his presence? Not a wave, not even a raised hand, no sorry, give me a minute. Bender was growing angrier with each current and past issue of Variety International, Paris-Match and World Cinema.

Was this any way to treat an artist? No. A screenwriter? Maybe. One who needed three million dollars to make a romantic comedy in Paris? Absolutely. Hence, Bender, a long-standing member in the church of passive aggression, said to himself, I will give this prick ten more minutes and then I will leave. Bender didn’t stop to consider that he wasn’t in a store where one could get five million Euros and, if he didn’t like the way he was being treated, he could go to another one. Was this repressed anger at his mother for her dizzy nature that left him stranded after school with forgotten promises and unwashed spoons? All this revealed in fist-clenching sessions on Dr. Gladstein’s leather couch in the converted garage in Westwood.

But the past that illuminates the present doesn’t change the past. Bender should have waited him out like a Russian peasant, cap twisted past recognition. Thank you, Patron, for seeing me. Of course I understand that you were on the phone with the emperors of Warner’s, the caliphs of CAA, the mullahs of the Morris office and the entertainment division of City National Bank. As you know, I am humbly asking permission to make a little film behind the hovel you so kindly let me inhabit. If your majesty would grant me five million rubles, I can do it. Of course you may have my firstborn, rights to my wife and my cow in gratitude. Oh, thank you, may I kiss your hands? It’s what his grandfather would have done. Why couldn’t he?

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Too Much TV

Too Much TV

by Diane Haithman

TV FICTION PACKAGE: A PhD researcher may have inadventently killed her pilot deal. 1,932 words. Illustration by Thomas Warming.


It was like watching Geraldo Rivera attempt the salsa in a Donald Trump wig on Dancing With The Stars. I, Dr. Janet Ling, could not tear my horrified eyes away from the Hollywood news story that might sink my nascent TV career:

LOS ANGELES — Just weeks before 2016’s May network upfront sessions in New York, a joint Caltech-UCLA study is sending shock waves through Hollywood by proving there is too much TV. The document draws a direct causal connection between the volume of TV series programming (the networks tallied 412 scripted series that aired last year) and brush fires, drought, deepening fault lines, traffic congestion, gluten sensitivity, identity theft, arguments with Siri, muffin top, ADHD, man buns, California roll, dog breed names ending in ‘doodle,’ bears in swimming pools and the viral growth of new gastropubs serving craft beers and small plates. “Who knows what will happen next?” said Caltech researcher Don Boswell. The scientific research bears out the ominous words of John Landgraf, president of FX Network, who sparked a heated debate at last summer’s Television Critics Association Press Tour by stating: “There is simply too much television.”

It’s not that I didn’t know. I’m one of the authors of the study.  I’m an associate professor of neurobiology, a promising young researcher at UCLA’s renowned Brain Institute. But seeing our findngs on the front page of the Los Angeles Times still gave me the shivers. I sucked anxiously on my Big Gulp of Red Bull Sugarfree — although if anyone knows the carcinogenic effects of artificial sweeteners, I do. My cat, Higgs Boson, could sense my agitation as he cuddled in my lap.

Was I horrified because, as a responsible scientist, I now feared for the well being of our country? No, I was nervously nibbling Exotic Mango polish off my nails because, while working on the study, I had also been taking a UCLA Extension course in television writing. (Never take these how-to’s in hopes of meeting Mr. Right: all the dweebs who sign up still live with their parents. But I digress).

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Shortlist FINAL white shirt

Shortlist

by Tom Teicholz

OSCAR FICTION PACKAGE: A newbie NYC filmmaker visits L.A. after his documentary is shortlisted. 3,168 words. Art by Thomas Warming.


Rick was making $175,000 annually at a midsize law firm in New York City as a second-year associate with a bright future. He did corporate work and mostly real estate transactions. There wasn’t a lot of law involved, but he had to deal with an ever-changing cast of characters. It was about who had control, who had leverage, who had cash, who had financing. No two deals were alike, and it was Rick’s job to stand up for his clients when others were behaving badly and to smooth out issues when his clients were the ones behaving badly.

The truth was Rick didn’t feel that much commitment to his work. He he felt no personal stake in it. Much of what he did was accumulate files on his desk and make them disappear to somewhere else. What Rick most enjoyed was the process of property development by transforming the most prosaic piece of land or building into something new and different at its highest and best use.

As a second year associate, Rick was required to do a certain amount of pro-bono work (which theoretically meant “for the public good” but actually meant “for the good name of the firm.”) Rick’s contribution was helping his alma mater Columbia Law School raise scholarship funds. A worthy cause and, in the eyes of the firm, a great networking opportunity. For this year’s annual dinner, Rick had the idea to make a short documentary about Supreme Court Justice and Columbia Law grad Benjamin Cardozo.

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