Category Archives: Executives

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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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Gone With The Gelt
Part One

by Howard Jay Klein

It’s 1936 and a smart college student is this movie mogul’s newest assistant. 2,079 words. Part Two. Illustration by Thomas Warming.


I stood up as story editor Kate Brown arrived in the conference room. She smiled. She had a polished debutante look about her with alert eyes that seemed to hide a lively intellect. “So, Buzz, I’m assuming that Professor Hawley briefed you,” she said earnestly, glancing down at a letter. “He writes here that you did your senior thesis on Middlemarch and played first base on the Columbia baseball team. Impressive juxtaposition of talents.”

She lifted her eyes off the paper and sized me up, watching me twitch in my tweed suit, a clearly idiotic choice for a 93-degree New York City summer day.

“Mind if I remove my coat?” I asked, feeling the drip of sweat beads zig-zagging down my neck. Were I a contortionist, I’d surely be kicking myself in the ass at this point. It’s the only suit I now own. I did have a new $15 blue serge number I wore for my college graduation which, to my everlasting misfortune, shrunk in a sudden thunderstorm to a size more adaptable to a Bar Mitzvah boy than my 6’2” frame. So it was either the tweed or dungarees and a Columbia t-shirt.

“Sure,” Kate said. Then she stood up, clicked on the big fan and aimed it to sweep my tweed pants.

“Blessings on you, “ I said, feeling the waves of cool relief. “So this is an assistant job to a movie executive?”

“Mr. David O. Selznick, yes. Didn’t the professor mention that?”

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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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Hollywood Lazarus
Part Two

by Jeffrey Peter Bates

The plot thickens and then doubles as McNulty investigates. 1,922 words. Part One. Part Three tomorrow. Illustration by John Donald Carlucci.


Coffee bar manager Billie Franklin was startled by the sudden arrival of four men. She recognized Vanguard Studio’s Chief of Security and two of his uniformed security guards. She didn’t know who the other man was but suspected he was the private detective McNulty hired to investigate Mitch Mandeville’s hit and run. And from the looks on their faces, they weren’t there to order chai lattes.

“What’s going on?” Billie asked, clearly puzzled.

The security chief explained that they were searching the premises.

“Do you have a warrant?” she demanded.

“Don’t need one,” McNulty informed her. “The studio lot is private property and its security personnel is authorized to conduct any search they deem necessary.”

During questioning, Billie freely admitted that she and Mitch had been having an affair when she learned of his engagement to his Director of Development Tessa Gower. “He didn’t even tell me to my face,” Billie sobbed. “I had to hear about it on Access Hollywood!”

After turning the coffee bar upside down, the security chief informed McNulty that nothing was found tying Billie to Tessa’s drugging.

“My gut tells me something’s here,” McNulty insisted. “Have you looked in the coffee urns?” They hadn’t. “Empty ‘em.”

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Hollywood Lazarus
Part One

by Jeffrey Peter Bates

Tinseltown’s renown P.I. is back solving movie mayhem and murder. 2,268 words. Part Two tomorrow. Illustration by John Donald Carlucci.


“Didja hear?” Micki Finch asked. “Mitch Mandeville died this morning.” She waited a beat, then added: “They say it’s permanent this time.”

“Third time’s the charm,” McNulty said sardonically. “They say how?”

“Died in his sleep at an assisted living facility.”

They were seated at a table at the Spring Street Smokehouse, a small funky joint on the edge of L.A.’s Chinatown. It was a semi-annual get-together the two friends enjoyed when they wanted to catch up over some authentic southern barbecue.

“He finally got it right,” McNulty said.

“Sure as hell had enough practice,” Micki giggled. “Is it true he died twice before this?”

“I wouldn’t say ‘die’ exactly. Murdered twice would be more accurate.”

Micki practically spit her Pinot Grigio across the table.

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The Screenwriterman
Part One

by Steven Mallas

There’s a sucker born every minute and they all come to Hollywood. 2,579 words. Part Two. Illustration by Mark Fearing.


It was Day 10 of their new life. Zak and his wife Cecily had won one of the biggest Powerball lotteries in the history of the game: $367 million after taxes with an immediate payout. Understandably, both of them quit their jobs teaching in the Boston public school system on Day 2. After that, they followed all the advice, especially not to make any major spending decisions during the first several months. They did purchase a new car on Day 3 and started making plans to buy a house on Day 7. They were doing everything they could not to go wild.

But by Day 10, all of that went out the window when Zak made his proposal. “I want to make a superhero movie,” he announced.

It goes without saying that Cecily was stunned. “What?” she said. That was it. That was all that was necessary.

“Look, I don’t expect you to understand, but it’s been my dream to do this. I’ve done some research. Other lottery winners got into the movie business as well. I know people who went to film school and they can help me figure out how to do it. I want to make a superhero film. I just do. I’m not going to let Bob Iger have all the fun.”

“What is this with you and Bob Iger?” Cecily asked. She had a point. Zak had once explained to her how he found the CEO arrogant, how he wasn’t an innovator, how he’d just made a few acquisitions to put everything right at Disney.

“He just bought stuff!” Zak lectured her.

“Yeah, he bought some pretty good stuff,” she said.

“Okay, fine, maybe he did. Point is, if he can make a superhero film, so can I. Now I can. I have the money.”

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Boffo
Part Two

by Daniel M. Kimmel

The film marketer learns the secret science behind box office fever. 1,780 words. Part One. Illustration by John Donald Carlucci.


The rumpled old man looked peeved, as if awakened from a particularly pleasant dream. Dr. Burton Hollister cleared his throat ink front of his colleague Double Helix president Linda Balsamo and their hoped-for client Excelsior Studios SVP of Marketing Sy Mishkin, and went into what was clearly a rehearsed pitch.

“Double Helix has discovered a way to link memes and microbes. We can literally infect people with ideas without their knowing it, making them think their actions are completely self-motivated.”

Linda beamed with approval. “You understand what that means, Sy?”

Mishkin was beginning to think not only had he wasted his morning, but perhaps he ought to pack up his belongings and freshen up his résumé. But, in for a penny, in for a pound.

“I’m afraid not, Linda.”

What she did next surprised him. She pulled out her cell phone and glanced at the screen. “It’s been ten minutes since we’ve come into the office. Tell me, Sy, how do you feel about Excelsior Studios going into business with Double Helix now?”

That’s it. He’d wasted enough time on this. “I think it’s a complete waste…” the studio’s SVP of Marketing paused as he considered how he really felt. Then he completed the sentence. “…of time talking any further about it. Of course we want to do business with you.”

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Boffo
Part One

by Daniel M. Kimmel

The about-to-be-fired movie marketer needs a Hail Mary but finds Typhoid Mary. 1,503 words. Part Two. Illustration by John Donald Carlucci.


Sy Mishkin threw down The Hollywood Reporter in disgust. His name had appeared nowhere in the stories in the trades about how Excelsior Studios had just released the bomb of the year. Costing $150 million to produce, Teen Pirate had everything going for it: a hot young star, a script based on a best-selling television series, and cross-genre appeal as the modern-day pirate faces both zombies and vampires. The reviews on RottenTomatoes.com had been terrible — only 18% Fresh compared with 82% Rotten — but who cared? This was a project that should have been critic-proof. Instead, as the old Hollywood joke put it, audiences stayed away in droves.

Mishkan, at 45, was the Senior Vice President of Marketing for Excelsior and he had been through the mill many times. When a film was a success, it was because of the vision of the director or because the star could open a movie at number one at the box office. When it failed, the talent might take some of the blame, but usually they’d live to fight – or, at least, have stunt doubles or CGI special effects do it – another day. To keep the stockholders satisfied that the drop in price was only temporary, one or more of the suits would have to pay.

Often it was the head of the studio, who would fall on his or her sword for having greenlit a project that turned out to be a turkey. However the new CEO of Excelsior had just assumed his job and Teen Pirate had been the “passion project” of his predecessor. Since that guy already vacated his office, with his name removed from every piece of tangible property at the studio including his parking space, there was nothing more anybody could do to punish him. Indeed, his $20 million golden parachute had already cleared his bank account.

So Mishkin feared the blame would fall on himself for failing to come up with a brilliant marketing campaign that should have made Teen Pirate the must-see movie of the year or, at the very least, last weekend. The way Mishkin saw it, he had only two options. He could start clearing out his office and letting people know that the debacle was due to the underlings he had inherited. Or he could come up with such a brilliant campaign for the the next release so he would be deemed the hero who had pulled the studio back from the brink.

Sitting in his third office in ten years, he decided he liked going to a job where he no longer had to program his GPS to find a route to work. He was going to stay.

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Mishaps
Part Two

by Ian Randall Wilson

He made his career at the movie studio. But not his life. 3,201 words. Part One. Illustration by Thomas Warming.


The second time, Jeffrey was taking the short cut he took every morning to walk from the parking garage to his office at the Studio in the fewest steps possible. No shooting on the lot today because of a driving rainstorm. He had passed by three accidents on the freeway that delayed him. In Los Angeles, no one knew how to drive in a storm. He was in his black raincoat, his umbrella unfurled, and still he was taking on heavy water. The lower part of his legs and shoes were soaked and he’d need to the whole day to dry out, only to repeat the process in the evening and drive home soaked again. It was enough to make him turn around and go home, but he rarely called in sick. He was one of those who came in no matter how he felt: coughing, sneezing, wheezing, infecting everyone.

Jeffrey had come to the part of the path by the community garden, which consisted of a few raised planter beds with herbs that it was rumored the commissary kitchen used in the lunch preparations. Not that Jeffrey noticed any improvement in the taste of the food. There was a vertical planter on wheels that stood maybe 8 feet high. Well, it was supposed to be standing eight feet high, but that morning it was lying tipped and tumbled and turned on its side, with broken segments of pipe and a spray of black earth.

It was a sorry sight, plants drowning in the deluge. Jeffrey didn’t know if he should try to pick the thing up or leave it alone and report it. He was not a mechanical man; a simple screwdriver tightening was the most he could manage. Nor was he a gardening man.

He didn’t participate in any of the community activities on the lot. He came to work; he did his work; he went home. Once or twice when he’d first started, he attended the Studio-sponsored screenings of new films in release. But since guests weren’t allowed, his wife felt left out so he stopped. He didn’t participate in the health confabs or the book fairs or the cocktails and games club held every Thursday night as a prelude to the weekend. He didn’t work out at the Studio gym or play tennis on the Studio courts. He saw no payoff in the extracurriculars.

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Mishaps
Part One

by Ian Randall Wilson

Working for a movie studio isn’t what it used to be. 1,813 words. Part Two tomorrow. Illustration by Thomas Warming.


The first time it was the sign along the wall of the Studio lot. Someone had pulled off the two small "e"s leaving "Ent rtainm nt". Was it a dig at the kind of films the Studio produced? Maybe it wasn’t even vandalism, just some yokel who had shown up and, after the decidedly inferior Studio tour compared to Universal or the fabulous back lot at Warners, concluded that a souvenir was required. They could go back to Paduca or Clover or Groversville, hold up the purloined letters and say, "Look what I got me," basking in the praise from their friends. Maybe they did it in broad daylight. Spontaneously. Maybe they came back at night. There was surveillance all over the interior of the lot. Jeffrey Baumann didn’t know if there were cameras monitoring the perimeter.

Jeffrey did something at the Studio with contracts for a living on the credits for the movie advertising. If asked, he would readily agree that he was an office drone working in any business. The only advantage Jeffrey saw was that he got to watch the Studio’s films in private screening rooms during the day, sometimes with only two or three others people. But given the quality of the Studio’s output lately, that wasn’t much of a perk.

The lot wasn’t the most interesting lot of all the studio lots that someone visiting Los Angeles might take the time to tour. Though years ago, the lot had been huge with its own ranch and animal park, now it was roughly an isosceles triangle, a quarter mile at the base and a half mile at the sides, with the tip chopped off. All this Jeffrey learned on the Studio tour he had to take when he first started working there twelve years before. How interesting was it, really, to have some bouncy guy with unkempt blond hair and a scraggly beard in a blue shirt and shorts guide you briefly through the ratty set. That was the amazing thing, how nasty and cheap the sets looked when you saw them close up and in person. And then he’d lead you to an old musty dusty stage where he solemnly intoned that Esther Williams used to do her high dives into a pool that was underneath the floor, preparing to soar — that’s right, soar — while the cameras rolled. At Universal, a shark literally leapt out of the water, trying to bite off your arm. Scary. Here you had to imagine an actress from yesteryear and her chorus of bathing beauties soaring. Esther who?

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The Roomers
Part Two

by Wayras Olivier

It’s easy, almost too easy, for executives to get fired at a film studio. 1,761 words. Part One. Illustration by John Donald Carlucci.


My name is Santa. You may be interested to hear that I really do not exist. I use the above alias because it is an honest and decent and reliable one that generally puts the average listener at ease. Everything I say through Daniel about the Roomers ⎯ although I do not take oaths ⎯ is true.

This is the one and only time you will ever hear from me directly. If that upsets you, either because you won’t hear from me again or because you have to hear from me at all, you have only Daniel to blame for that. He has already, on account of his narcissism and his inability to properly “pitch,” butchered two rumors.

So, first off, allow me to clarify who your moldy narrator is. Daniel, to begin with, is not by my side because he committed Le Suicide. That’s not how it works. The reason he sounds and speaks exactly as I do is because I have, in my possession, his guilt which is my pleasure to keep dank and alive. His pure vivid soul is breaking bread somewhere else. (We won’t go there.)

One of the great workaholics, and with an unrivaled combination of social anxiety disorders, Daniel treated not a single one of his afflictions with psychotherapy, drugs, sex or alcohol. So when the weekend numbers for his baby The Ring Of Fire came in, none of the above vices sufficed to console him. Looking back you, too, must have noticed that ROF’s nominal losses alone (without adjusting for inflation) made John Carter, 47 Ronin and Mars Needs Moms look like hits. So when the evening of Monday, March 24th, 1997 arrived, Daniel indeed went headfirst Sylvia Plath-style into his oven.

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The Roomers
Part One

by Wayras Olivier

Ambition. Jealousy. Just another day at the movie studio. 2,435 words. Part Two. Illustration by John Donald Carlucci.


My name is Daniel Kennedy. I died, you may be interested to hear, on a Monday. Evening, not night, as so many of the rumors have stated. The film title Secrets & Lies was the last words I heard. A brash-looking Sonny Wortzik, who incidentally must have been on parole, had just finished running through the list of Best Picture nominations for 1997 when euphoria seized me and The English Patient won all the things that make life worth living: glory, prestige and recognition. (A quick side note: when you check out, you know for the first time who you are without the categories that define life: your age, your race, your gender and yes, your occupation.) And before you ask, the answer is no, I was not at the show. I was at home watching it on the boob. The momentary euphoria I just mentioned came from gasoline poisoning. So I here repeat my oath: anything that happened on March 24th, 1997, after the words Secrets & Lies were uttered, I myself cannot personally verify.

Prior to dying, I spread many false rumors about families and had been complicit by remaining silent whenever I, in return, heard rumors that I knew were false. My father was rare. He had an I.Q. only slightly above 50 and was put down when I was just a child. Believing that something other than natural selection (although I didn’t, of course, call it that back then) has the right to gas stupid people, I became increasingly afraid of the “steak.” Something I learned later, when correctly pronounced, is called the “state.”

My mother, who was a beautiful bird, told me that he wasn’t Darwined-out by the steak just because he was fat and dim, and promised to tell me when I turned sixteen why he went the way of the dodo, and how it involved the murders in “the Hills.” Or she may have said the murders in “the Stills.” I could never quite understand her. I never did find out what kind of monster he was, not because my mother had terrible diction but rather, right before she had the chance when my sweet sixteen arrived, she choked on her dentures and suffocated.

I was an only child; I never married, and had no children. So this is my one chance, when I tell you about the Roomers, to make things right.

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The Hard R
Part Two

by Gordy Grundy

The movie marketer needs to know who misspelled the mega-producer’s name. 1,839 words. Part One. Illustration by Mark Fearing.


Normandy was frosty. "Do I have to worry about the deadline?" she snipped to Buzz.

"Have you ever?" he smiled and snagged the passing waitress. "Can you bring us some more wasabi? My friend likes it hot. Thanks."

They were sitting at Katsu-Ya near the Burbank border of Studio City. The restaurant was Normandy’s favorite because it was the hot cool spot for all the studio marketing and publicity elite.

"Normandy. I want you to go back to the office and tell your boss that this misspelled sample is a gift that may grow in value, like a misprinted stamp or a miscast coin. Think Sotheby’s. The Smithsonian. Film history. Fore Score. One of a kind."

She smiled at that. "Do I get one, too?"

"Absolutely not. I think I’ll send you to the Rihanna concert instead." Her eyebrows twitched and she began to soften. An extra ticket would give her a sweet advantage in the socially competitive marketing department at the studio.

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