Category Archives: Fiction

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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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Michael Jackson Is Dead

by Christopher Horton

Are humans hard-wired to gather in mourning for Hollywood celebrities? 1,848 words. Illustration by Thomas Warming.


June 25th is my birthday. Most years. Not this year. This year it’s 2009 and the day Michael died. And Farrah. And it makes me very sad. If you looked at me, you’d probably figure why would a white, divorced, middle-aged accountant — okay, unemployed accountant — give a shit? You’d think I’d have more important things to be sad about. Like the fact that I’m unemployed. Or that I’m middle-aged and fat. Moonwalk? Hell, sometimes just plain walking normally gives me shooting pains in my left arm.

I should be sad that I live in a crappy apartment in Hollywood, the part where the glam is insane homeless men and drug-addled whores. Or that my ex took my kids to Ohio. Or that she did it because I lost my job. In other words, she did it just to be a bitch. Was it my fault that all of a sudden I couldn’t make good money being an accountant? That’s my skill. I didn’t complain that she didn’t make good money being a bitch.

Anyway, let’s not go there now. Lots of nights, I sit around drinking cheap scotch being sad about that. Not this afternoon. This afternoon, I’m sitting around drinking cheap scotch being sad that Michael’s dead. And Farrah.

So why do I give a shit? Because Michael and I were close. We were bros. Not that I ever met him. We probably didn’t have many values in common. Fill in your own pedophile joke here. But we did sorta have stuff in common. We’re the same age. Well, I’m two months older. And I’ve outlasted him. I never thought that would happen. I mean, I never really thought about it at all. But he was a rich singer-dancer -actor who breathed purified air, and I’m a fat accountant who recently began drinking too much cheap scotch. Just since my kids left.

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Exiles

by Ann Hamilton

What if America’s creeps were cast members on The Simpsons meet Survivor? 2,158 words. Illustration by Mark Fearing.


“An animated weekly web series.”

The producer didn’t say anything. Grover waited. He needed a sign. Fingers tapping, a cough. Finally – thank fucking God – the producer blinked. Grover dove back in.

“We’ll generate money from YouTube ads, a lot of ads, because I think this could go big very quickly. Affiliate marketing, merchandising, a book deal, DVDs, network, possible feature sale. But we’ve got to move fast.”

The producer shook his head. “Bannon might be on the way out. But he’s got Hollywood ties. So does Mnuchin. I don’t know if I want to go up against that. How many people have you talked to about this?”

“You’re the first,” Grover said. And that was mostly true. He’d pitched the idea to a producer friend at a Clippers game and the friend had laughed. “Yowza. Career suicide, pal.” Which didn’t exactly count as a pass, did it?

“Remind me of the one-liner again.” The producer took a deep breath.

Lord Of The Flies meets Island Of Misfit Toys meets ‘Basket Of Deplorables’.”

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Rolling With Golden
Part Four

by Daniel Weizmann

The wannabe comedian thinks he’s a hit. His has-been talent agent isn’t so sure. 2,779 words. Part One. Part Two. Part Three. Illustration by John Donald Carlucci.


When comics say, “I started at the bottom,” they are talking about a place called The Wellington, a three-star steakhouse piano bar on a lonely stretch of used car dealerships deep in the San Fernando Valley.

“One time only,” Roy had said, “and don’t get any funny ideas about me managing you.”

As we entered, Roy eyed the schlocky place like a battlefield. I signed my name on the clipboard list (Number 8) and sat next to him at the bar with the Thursday night lushes. I said, “Looks like comics aren’t exempt from the two drink minimum.”

Roy gave me an uncomfortable smile. He was too big for the room. He said, “I’ll drink yours.”

The restaurant hostess — a sandy-haired college girl in a tuxedo vest and a collarless shirt — was doubling as emcee for the night. She balanced a round plate of drinks with one hand and held the mic with the other, giving it all a little too much enthusiasm for the defenseless dinner crowd. “Ladies and gentlemen… Our first act… The hilarious Krembo!”

A WASP-y guy in his forties came up and relieved her of the mic, started right into bits about traveling in Amsterdam. He was dying, not a giggle or a guffaw in the place, and I was cringing — he was truly awful. I couldn’t stand to look directly at him but, just as I bowed my head, Roy somberly put down his vodka gimlet and leaned into me, whispering ardently, “Look at the talent up there. I don’t know what it is that makes someone a superstar, but he’s got it.” Now I had to shut my eyes to keep from laughing out loud. “No, no, Tommy, this guy has got the magic.”

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Rolling With Golden
Part Three

by Daniel Weizmann

The has-been talent agent starts to school the wannabe comedian. 1,890 words. Part One. Part Two. Part Four tomorrow. Illustration by John Donald Carlucci.


As much fun as I was having bodysurfing this glamorous riptide, I knew all along that I was in danger of losing sight of my mission. Being inside the gates of Castle Roy was not enough. Yet as badly as I wanted to tell Golden about my secret act, show him my voices, solicit his advice, I also knew that the second I brought it up, the dynamic between us would change forever. In fact, he could fire me for it, guilt-free. Hollywood was full of wily entrepreneurs like me trying to sneak in the back door. So I held back, waiting.

I drove Roy down Wilshire in the bumper-to-bumper afternoon. He was oblivious, sitting in the back of the Benz, yelling at somebody on the cell, throwing his pauses like punches. “I have…the receipts. Yes. All…the proof…you need.” Roy grunted. “Well you tell him…it’s worth it…to ME.” Then he hung up with an exhalation of great disgust.

We approached a red light. I I flipped down the sunblocker, the glare was killing me. I knew that, when it comes to fame, there’s no sneaking in the back door, no ginger pussyfooting around the dream, protected by your irony and your patience. No way. You go for it. You skate out onto thin ice.

So I said, “Roy, you know I never told you this but I was on TV as a kid.”

“No kidding,” he grumbled.

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Rolling With Golden
Part Two

by Daniel Weizmann

The wannabe comedian goes to work for the has-been talent agent. 1,955 words. Part One. Part Three. Illustration by John Donald Carlucci.


It was the good life. Castle Roy was drunk with color, lush green grass and gently bowing palms, wild purple jacarandas, blazing orange and blue birds-of-paradise, and everywhere unrestrained bougainvillea surging over the balconies. The place could have given the Garden of Eden a serious run for its money.

We worked in the guest house just behind the pool that looked like the cottage of the Seven Dwarfs if the Seven Dwarfs had been sportin’ major bling. This bungalow alone was bigger than many shameless American homes, and it housed the laundry room, Roy’s working office, a two-car garage, as well as the furnished studio apartment where I had been living for almost three months. Behind the garage was a storage space with a coin-operated Madame Esmeralda Prediction Dispenser. She was out of cards, but I still had one question for her: Will I be able to turn Roy Golden into my own personal Jewish Yoda, master of the comic pause?

In the office, Roy conducted his business from a throne — an actual throne that had been given to him by the Princess of Estonia. The whole place was plastered with awards, trophies, heads of the hunt. And there were at least a dozen framed gold and platinum records.

But the best was this one framed photograph up there, my all-time favorite: Roy yelling at Johnny Carson backstage, with a sheepish-looking young Barbara Streisand giggling in the background. Johnny had his hand up as if to say, “Hey, wait a minute, Roy.” But Roy was pointing, furious, absolutely undeterred. What a photo! You couldn’t tell what was happening exactly. Was Roy protecting Barbara Streisand or interrupting her? Was Carson deferring to Roy or avoiding him? And who the hell had the balls to yell at Johnny Carson in the first place?

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Rolling With Golden
Part One

by Daniel Weizmann

A wannabe comedian meets a has-been talent agent. 2,923 words. Part Two. Illustration by John Donald Carlucci.


I first met Roy Golden while I was driving for the Bel Air Continental Livery Service. Roy was a routine airport pickup. That was 70% of the gig. Dusk was just starting to fall on LAX as I pulled into Arrivals and parked. I opened the dash and fumbled around for a Sharpie; I had thrown a paperback copy of Erich Fromm’s Escape From Freedom in there for a little light studying, in case it would be a slow night. I grabbed a slice of cardboard from under the passenger seat and wrote down the name: G O L D E N. Then I got out and popped the trunk, grabbed my hat, and walked down to the Baggage Claim exit with the dopey little cardboard square and held it up like an Olympics judge as I watched humanity pass me by.

Cardboard in hand, I adjusted my driver’s hat and posture in search of a convincing stance, but I knew I looked ridiculous. Anyway, what difference did it make? The limo job was supposedly just supplementary; in six weeks I’d be graduating UCLA with a useless B.A. in Psych. Then I’d really be in trouble because I had no real plans of any kind. Everywhere looked like the outside. From my vantage point at LAX Arrivals, the rushing travelers cut around me like a stampede. Still, I couldn’t be so self-righteous, because I harbored a secret: I was an addict. But I wasn’t addicted to any of the usual things, that would have been too easy.

Sometimes, on my nights off, I’d sneak out to amateur hours around town and do celebrity voice impressions.

Could there be a more stupid, more harmless, thing to lie about? It wasn’t even like I was that good at it: I bombed ritually. I had the voices down pat, but I didn’t have the vibe. Something was missing — what, I don’t know — yet the more I tried, the more I sucked. “Amateur” was written all over my face.

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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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Reverend Monroe

by Aimee DeLong

On what would have been Marilyn Monroe’s 91st birthday, an imagining of her most humble of childhoods. 3,038 words. Illustration by Thomas Warming.


Della noted, as she held six-month-old Norma Jean, that Sister Aimee had said it was very foolish to even hesitate to trust God. Sister Aimee spoke every sentence with a building rhythm. One, two, three, FOUR; one, two, three, FOUR. Certain words clanged like cymbals.

Della held Norma Jean loosely as if waiting for the baby to be scooped up by the great Aimee Semple McPherson. Della listened for twenty more minutes as Sister Aimee preached, her black Bible rolled up and held like a microphone as her long white sleeves trailed down to the stage, a heavenly cord of electricity with all its rhinestones, cascading to earth like stars from the sky.

“What’s more illustrative of our faith than to dedicate one of God’s little lambs? Bring your babies to the front and give back the gift, which has been so graciously given you. To keep them safe and let them truly grow in the light of God.”

Della raised Norma Jean above her head and passed her to Sister Aimee. From the back of the tent the baby appeared to levitate in her white baby gown up to the center of the stage.

“I baptize thee, beautiful baby, Norma Jean Baker. In the name of the Father, the son and the Holy Spirit.”

“Amen!”

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The Hunt

by Thomas Roberdeau

A TV cameraman in the early 1970s finds and films two civil war stories. 1,675 words. Illustration by John Donald Carlucci.


Paul was very young, only 20, and this was to be his first film. He had saved enough money to fund it by working as a TV cameraman at former President Lyndon B. Johnson’s TV station in Austin, Texas. He wanted to produce a short anti-war fable and he was excited. The Vietnam war was raging, and many of his friends were fighting, and some had been killed. Paul had been graced with a high lottery number, so he wouldn’t be getting drafted. But the war was constantly on his mind, and he thought his allegory using the Civil War as a foundation might speak to viewers. It would be done in stark black and white, merging his influences of Ingmar Bergman and Sergei Eisenstein. He had projected a lot of their films in university classes serving as a teaching assistant in the Radio/TV/Film Department.

The story Paul outlined was simple. A wounded Confederate soldier is chased by a troop of Yankees and stumbles onto an isolated cabin in the woods where he is taken in by the kindly Old Man who lives there. Far away from battle, the soldier thinks he is safe. The Old Man shelters him, hiding him from his pursuers, binding his wounds and, when he is healed, watching him return to the war. The story was about paternal care and kindness found even in the heart of battle. It was also about the bleak cycle of violence in combat. There would be no dialogue: just simple action and emotion communicated through faces. And Paul knew that all his skills as a photographer and filmmaker would be required to pull this off.

He needed to find the perfect cast. His younger brother had a friend who was in the drama school at the university and would play the wounded Confederate soldier. The young actor was studying Shakespeare and Chekhov, all the great classic plays. Paul was lucky to have him.

He needed one more actor to play the Old Man, a Good Samaritan type. He searched for him everywhere. He wanted someone with gravitas and a special face. One day Paul drove up to a mini-mart to buy some beer, and an old man came out with white hair and a beard and eyes that almost twinkled. Paul asked him if he had ever thought about doing some acting because he had such a great face. The old man said he had done some community theatre many years ago. His name was Max and he was a beekeeper. Paul knew immediately Max would be perfect as the Good Samaritan.

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In The Frame

by Laurie Horowitz

To what lengths will the wannabe famous go to stay in the celebrity picture? 1,891 words. Illustration by Mark Fearing.


When I spot the paparazzi on Montana Avenue, I get an adrenalin rush. Someone famous is around here. I can smell it. I, myself, have some notoriety, being the only child of Melissa Kane, star of such classics as Moon Over Malibu and Surf Wars.

My mother was famous in the seventies for her beach movies. She met my father, Francis Fanucchi, a mid-level studio executive, when he came to the set of Sand In My Shoes. My mother was blonde and lithe. In contrast, my father was compact, dark, muscular and pugnacious. I am tall like my mother, but I have my father’s coloring. Some say I have his face, but I reject the idea. Still, I have to admit that his robust genes beat out my mother’s more ethereal ones.

I was twenty when they died and they were both forty-two, only six years older than I am now. My father drove their Maserati off a cliff in Big Sur and it was all very dramatic and tragic. Some said it was an accident. Several claimed it was a double-suicide. Others maintained it was something more nefarious. The mystery was the making of the myth. My mother gained stature in death, her fame and celebrity burgeoning until she became a cult hero while my father doesn’t even have an entry on IMDB.

What I have left of them are the happy memories of being caught by the cameras – of Mom and I dressed up for Easter in matching bonnets, of Mom wearing a fat suit as Mrs. Santa and me as an elf. I became addicted to the feeling I got when being photographed.

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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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