Category Archives: Fiction

Sundance 01

Sundown At Sundance
Part One

by Duane Byrge

A noted film critic arrives for what he expects to be just another Sundance Film Festival. 2,544 words. Part Two. Illustration by John Donald Carlucci.


“Are you going to Shoot Mom?”

Ryan Cromwell pulled off his headset and glanced 8547D799-C475-4659-B563-17A9A283F8B3up from his airline seat. A guy in a blue Cubs cap hovered over him.

A stewardess came forward, looking alarmed.

Shoot Mom — are you going to the screening?” the Chicago baseball fan repeated.

“Sir, you’ll have to sit down,” the stewardess commanded. “The warning light is on.”

The guy retreated back down the aisle. Ryan Cromwell settled back into his seat. He turned to the woman next to him who’d been watching the incident unfold.

“Sorry about that. Occupational hazard,” he said.

“You must be in a dangerous profession,” she said. “Homeland Security?”

Ryan smiled: “No, more dangerous. I’m a film critic.”

He was one of Hollywood’s chief film critics, headed to Salt Lake City from L.A. for the Sundance Film Festival. His reviews of independent film could make or break the pictures as well as launch or end careers. They were especially important at an indie film festival like Sundance where the discovery of new talent was the paramount focus. Ryan’s film reviews at previous fests had helped catapult first-time filmmakers such as Gina Prince Bythewood (Love & Basketball), Kevin Smith (Clerks), Justin Lowe (Better Luck Tomorrow), Quentin Tarantino (Reservoir Dogs) and many other rookies. January was his favorite time of year because he was reviewing films that were not just vampire, zombie, special-effects and franchise movies that were critic-proof and, in Ryan’s view, brain resistant.

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The Cheese Plate

by L.C. Folk

A film actor with career problems is trying to overcome anger issues. 1,986 words. Illustration by Thomas Warming.


I  settled into the soft leather seat with a sigh. Nothing like a private jet. First class could not compare. A5B3E0F0-C9C6-486D-B9BF-98B356EAA0EBAcross the aisle, a group of reporters huddled around the latest superhero. What was the kid’s name? Jack or Jake. Strutting and flapping like hungry pigeons, the journalists darted in and out for a morsel. Better watch your step, Jake — they are just waiting for you to fuck up. God knows, they’d feasted off me for years. I’d been served up to them like an extra large pepperoni pizza tossed out of a passing car, then run over a few times and left for dead.

I had to be crazy for agreeing to this. The producer, Max, whose jet this was and who used to take my calls, had asked me to stop by his office for a chat. Just in case I mistakenly thought I could not sink any lower, I’d been asked to wait. I spent the time idly watching the studio parade pass by the large bank of windows in Max’s plush outer office. Writers, editors, directors. Leading men and women and their agents. A group of zombies. A lovely young starlet in cutoff denim shorts on a bicycle. This contained circumscribed world, more than several degrees removed from the gritty hole I’d climbed out of, had somehow always made the insistent, all too real messiness, more bearable.

“Kevin, sorry about that, I didn’t mean for you to have to wait.” Max was a small wiry man, balding and too tan. He threw up his hands and shrugged. “But you know how it is, right? Always crazy around here.”

Crossing the cavernous room, I took a seat on one of the overstuffed couches and sank into the feather down for several seconds before touching bottom. “No problem, Max, I know how it is.”

“I want to talk to you about the press junket, which you have so generously agreed to do.” Max sat at his massive Art Deco burl wood desk. It dwarfed him.

I nodded, a sense of unease slowly gripping my mid-section. “I’m all ears, Max.”

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Third Act
Part Three

by Tom Musca

The down-and-out actor finds himself wanting the wrong woman. 2,032 words. Part One. Part Two. Illustration by Thomas Warming.


As late afternoon approached, Rubi was beside himself knowing that another night in the airport A5B3E0F0-C9C6-486D-B9BF-98B356EAA0EBwould be torture. Kate hadn’t returned his last phone call but he knew he had a date with Kristen the day after tomorrow so if he could just survive till then. His first offensive move at the airport was to call his brother and see if Carlo would change his mind about providing funds or shelter. If anatomy was destiny, it was clear why the younger brother was an aging playboy actor and the older a good-for-nothing loafer living in Turks And Caicos.

Carlo was hypersensitive to perceived slights and was rude to the many people he thought treated him like he was a no-talent who basked in the shadow of the famous Rubi. Most people ignored Carlo but even those who gave him a fair shot determined he was indeed a worthless replica of the original. And even though they didn’t look that much alike, Carlo pretended he was Rubi to inebriated women who were seeing double. The older bro’s only steady job was when he’d worked as Rubi’s stand-in back when Rubi was so busy he was turning down acting jobs.

But when Rubi finally got Carlo on the phone, Carlo pleaded poverty and then tried to hit up Rubi for a loan.

With less than $25 to his name, Rubi planted himself near the American Airlines Admirals Club and acted like a man about to embark on an unfamiliar journey. He hoped to be lucky enough to spot an acquaintance he could solicit for funds, even if he had to descend to some lost wallet excuse. Athletes, rappers and other actors came in and out of the club, but Rubi was a stranger to them and to this place. So he settled in for the night right outside the club’s entrance.

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Third Act
Part Two

by Tom Musca

The actor knows he’s down but plots to ensure he’s not yet out. 2,271 words. Part One. Part Three tomorrow. Illustration by Thomas Warming.


At ten after 8 pm, Rubi strode into the sexy gourmet Chinese restaurant that was lit with pools of colored light. A5B3E0F0-C9C6-486D-B9BF-98B356EAA0EBThe music was just loud and contemporary enough to make him feel out of sorts. Miami didn’t have many decent Asian restaurants but this one, with its dark wood ambiance and pan-China cuisine, was a notable exception.

The actor went to the bar, then the bathroom. A man of his age could hardly go an hour without finding urinary relief. Rubi looked into the mirror as he peed. Sometimes he still saw himself as bold and beautiful. This was one of those times when his caved cheeks, sagging throat and receding hairline flashed warning signs. Even if he got lucky with one of the Ks would his receptors that measured pleasure still function? Was he was losing his looks, his mind and, worse, his senses? Would the maid show? Rubi was vulnerable and he didn’t like it.

When he scanned the restaurant for the third time he still didn’t see her. That was because when Porfiria left the ladies room and walked past him she didn’t look like the housekeeper he’d seen two days in a row. This Porfiria had had her hair done. This Porfiria wore red lipstick. This Porfiria was in heels. This Porfiria snapped her fingers when she made eye contact with Rubi.

Rubi joined Porfiria at an out-of-the-way table he would not have tolerated if he was with either of the Ks, but with Porfiria it was better that they were discreet. He sat down, then reached over and lifted her hand to examine her wedding ring.

“How much?”

“How much do I want or how much did my ring cost?”

Rubi smiled, still surprised that Porfiria had a personality.

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Third Act
Part One

by Tom Musca

An aging actor down on his luck is hoping to become a kept man. 2,798 words. Part Two tomorrow. Illustration by Thomas Warming.


It came down to the two Ks. Either one would do and Rubi had little preference at this point.A5B3E0F0-C9C6-486D-B9BF-98B356EAA0EB

There was Kristen. A soft-spoken, senior partner in the entertainment law firm her deceased husband had founded. The same firm who used to represent Rubi back when he needed dealmakers. Her hair was long and reddish blond.

And then there was Kate. Her hair was short, stylish and black. This trust fund baby was on the board of every museum in Miami. She had swagger, not to mention a five bedroom condo on the 44th floor of Zaha Hadid’s new downtown tower, a palatial home in the Gables, a four bedroom condo at the Ocean Reef Club on Key Largo, and a cabin on a mountainside in North Carolina decorated impeccably in mid-century modern.

Kristen’s big advantage was that she was absent from her penthouse ten hours a day. Her eye-opening terrace overlooked the Port of Miami with its humongous floating buffet boats that moved with the precision of a clock as they docked on Fridays and set sail on Sundays. Rubi could imagine having her place all to himself until she returned from work when they would enjoy a cocktail hour that stretched well past 8 pm. The perfect capper on a day he spent doing nothing but walking Kristen’s annoying little dog before primping for the night. And although Kate was the more attractive of the two, Kristen even though she had just turned 59 was more creative in bed than her slightly younger competition.

A plus in the Kate column was that she could speak four languages when she and Rubi travelled or made love. Who cared if she occasionally objectified the actor as a living work of art? Truth be told, Rubi liked thinking of himself as a possession, a man who could please a woman in a variety of ways, and by any means necessary.

The most difficult task Rubi faced was not confusing the details of his two paramours. His increasingly unreliable memory made him prone to mixing up the names of the significant people in the Ks’ lives, especially their investment bankers, lawyers, ex-husbands, children and grandchildren. Still, one or the other would have to do. Unfortunately, the choice between the two Ks was not Rubi’s to make but it did have to be made soon. He was an ex-soap opera star who’d recently turned 70 and was in desperate need of a woman willing to make him a kept man.

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A Hollywood Kid
Part Four

by Maureen Harrington

Is Jason going to spy on his celeb friends for a gossip mag? 2,304 words. Part One. Part Two. Part Three. Illustration by Thomas Warming.


Beverly saw Jason sitting at a corner table under the heavy drape of bougainvillea. He looked like his 8547D799-C475-4659-B563-17A9A283F8B3dad with some of his mother’s refinement thrown in. He definitely wasn’t movie star material but he was cute. Beverly didn’t like her staff to be too great looking. It made them memorable. Memorable was definitely not good. A few years ago, she’d had a reporter with a purple streak in her hair. Jenifer Lopez referred to her on the red carpet as Juicy’s Miss Purple. Subsequently, the reporter had been thrown out of a posh hotel in Cabo because Jennifer’s security people recognized the hair and knew she was a gossipmonger.

Looks are fine, but not too out there. Jason could blend in wherever he went.

He stood up when she approached the table. She never saw that anymore, thought Beverly, who would have raised an eyebrow but that expression had been wiped out by Botox long ago. Melody must have been awake enough during his childhood to get some manners pounded into him, Beverly surmised. Actually, he’d learned that from Big Jack. Stand up, look them in the eye and shake hands, but only if they offered theirs first. “It’ll get you laid, I promise you." Big Jack had been right.

Beverly went into her no-nonsense mode, shotgunning questions at him. Asking Jason what he did for fun. What he read. Where he went with his friends. And what he was studying. Then she got down to it. Did he know Selena or Kendall? What about Demi’s kids? Does anybody still care about Britney Spears anymore? Is Jennifer Lawrence going to keep so private she’ll fade? Which clubs were hot right now?

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A Hollywood Kid
Part Three

by Maureen Harrington

Jason is down but not out yet after growing up too fast. 1,902 words. Part One. Part Two. Part Four tomorrow. Illustration by Thomas Warming.


Melody Alden had no idea that studio execs, actors and other big deals in Hollywood don’t give out their 8547D799-C475-4659-B563-17A9A283F8B3cell numbers. They preferred to torture supplicants by having them talk to their self-important assistants, who then made them wait for a return call. It was all about timing, and how miserable and nervous can you make the next guy. The underdog waiting game.

Her son knew better. But right now, Jason was on his way out the door – he’d get to it whenever. Whenever came a lot sooner than he’d anticipated. The next morning the Korean landlady was knocking on his door at the break of noon, asking to inspect the place and get it ready for the next rich kid tenant. That was when Jason made his first mistake. He called Beverly less than twelve hours after she’d given his mother her cell number. Jason knew it was a sign of desperation to call this quickly. Hopefully she wouldn’t realize how uncool it was.

Unfortunately for Jason, Beverly had read those social tea leaves just fine. This could be interesting, she thought to herself when her assistant handed her his message. She’d given Melody her work cell. Not her private number, the one she answered herself. But even giving a business cell number was what passed for intimacy in this town.

“Tell him I’m on a call and I’ll get to him when I can.” When I’m good and ready, she thought to herself. Melody’s kid can wait. More to the point, Teddy’s kid can wait.

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A Hollywood Kid
Part Two

by Maureen Harrington

A top gossip editor is asked to help Jason get a job. 2,176 words. Part One. Part Three. Illustration by Thomas Warming.


While Jason was asleep across town, the West Coast Editor of Juicy Magazine was in the midst of her 8547D799-C475-4659-B563-17A9A283F8B3Wednesday morning meeting with editors and reporters. The top dog on the manure pile known as celeb reporting. Beverly Jones (once Jankovitzki) was having a tough day. But then all her days were tough. Her idiot husband and whiny kids had no idea what she had to go through to pay their personal vegan chef to put the bok choy on the Philippe Starck knock-off table. She let them know every day and night on the rare evenings she was home. She texted them about her suffering for her foul working life. She loved it, of course. They knew it. She knew it. But it was their family myth: Mommy is killing herself for us.

Beverly sighed loudly and farted silently. She was on a raw vegetable diet.

Beating the other tabs was the name of Beverly’s game. Her take — a cool million dollars a year, an unlimited expense account and the various perks of the job like travel, access to the famous, stock options. But, most importantly for Beverly, all the ass-kissing that went along with her title. The agents, the studios, the celebs paid her homage despite the fact that they knew her to be ruthless as far as scandal went. No one was off-limits, so best send a case of trophy Pinot Noir at Christmas and ask her to the exclusive Oscar parties. And more importantly, attend hers.

While her twentysomething staffers vied for her attention, recounting tales from last night’s clubbing and speculating on the drug consumption of the famous, Beverly was thinking about her future. She was damned if she was going to allow herself that long slide toward the humiliating bottom-feeding of celeb reporting. She shuddered, imagining a future of covering movie junkets for the wires or filling in at Entertainment Tonight. Beverly thought about the pile-up of aging media people – Katie Couric, Mary Hart, even Billy Bush was sounding like an altercocker until he got busted encouraging Trump. On camera, no less.

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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 8547D799-C475-4659-B563-17A9A283F8B3to 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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Hollywood Roadkill

by Richard Natale

A humongous Hollywood merger has unforeseen consequences for all involved. 2,559 words. Illustration by Mark Fearing.


Margaret Sewell sighed as she sat across from her friend, Lou Delray, at the Fox studio commissary’s outdoor A5B3E0F0-C9C6-486D-B9BF-98B356EAA0EBpatio. She had little appetite and barely touched her salad. “My boss said, ‘I wish I could take you with me.’ And he didn’t even bother to try and sound sincere. Then he gave me a holiday gift card to Neiman-Marcus. As if that was supposed to make me feel better. ‘Hey, clown,’ I wanted to say, ‘how about a gift card to Ralphs, so’s I can buy some food after I start collecting unemployment in 2018.’”

Lou was only half-listening. He hadn’t filed for unemployment since losing his first job right after college. For the past twenty years he’d been a teamster driver on a succession of studio TV and film projects. The studio facilities would remain and his boss, Henry, claimed Lou had “nothing to worry about.” But when your boss tells you not to worry, that’s precisely the time to start making other plans.

With the departure of the television and movie production units, sooner or later, probably sooner, something was bound to give. And that usually meant the older and more expensive workers.

“They’re saying that, after the merger, ten thousand jobs are going to be lost in all. Screw Murdoch and screw Iger twice,” Margaret said as she threw her salad into the trash. A number of heads turned and nodded, some eyes rolled, and a couple of mouths uttered sarcastic laughs.

Buoyed by the reaction, Margaret added, “I might as well tattoo ‘Roadkill’ on my forehead. Am I right?”

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America’s Twit

by Howard Rosenberg

And the award for most hated man in Hollywood goes to… 708 words. Illustration by Roll Call editorial cartoonist R. J. Matson.


I’m just back from an emergency meeting of Make Acronyms Great Again (MAGA) in Hollywood.

As chairman of MAGA’s Crisis A5B3E0F0-C9C6-486D-B9BF-98B356EAA0EBCommittee (CC), I called the meeting in response to a recent survey showing that most Americans believe President Of The United States (POTUS) nor Son Of A Bitch (SOB) adequately defines Donald Trump. The debate was spirited, acronymists being famously passionate.

“POTUS describes only the office, not the individual,” I began.

“And SOB is much too narrow,” said a linguistics scholar from Berkeley. “It addresses bad character but fails to take into account the buffoon’s low Intelligence Quotient (IQ).”

“Make it Stupid Son Of A Bitch (SSOB),” cried out a ventriloquist who does Trump impressions. “Or Stupid President Of The United States (SPOTUS).”

“Hear, hear,” added his dummy.

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Monkey Wrench

by Steve De Jarnatt

CHRISTMAS FICTION: Two Hollywood families discover the real meaning of the holidays thanks to a transgender plumber. 3,165 words. Illustration by Mark Fearing.


The last Sunday before Christmas, the Strider twins took their Swedish Vallhund decked out in an elf onesie 8547D799-C475-4659-B563-17A9A283F8B3to the Palisades dog park. They’d came home with what to them was ho-hum news. But to their folks, it was tantamount to a shot at the holy fucking grail.

“Some boy Jared and his sister wanna come over next week,” Cody told his mother, Radha.

“Their last name is Pfeffer with three F’s, two E’s and a silent P,” said Cass who’d transcribed the names and the proposed details of a holiday playdate.

“Jared Pfeffer? Not Bobby Pfeffer’s kid?” Radha twitched.

“On the board at the Brautigan School, Bobby Pfeffer?” her husband Rex said. The parents exchanged a telling look, then both grabbed for Cass’ notepad. Indeed, it was the same A-list family.

Thus the most pivotal event of the Striders’ entire lives would transpire three days later when Jared Pfeffer and his younger sister Blair and a couple of friends would be coming over. A previous engagement with the brood of a basic cable star had fallen through, and the Striders were now a last-minute slot filler.

But the real coup was that, after a screening of the Scrooged reboot, Bobby himself planned to stop by for coffee with his new trophy wife.

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The Maid

by Linda Boroff

CHRISTMAS FICTION: During the holidays, a domestic stays loyal to a screen bad blonde. 2,642 words. Illustration by Thomas Warming.


Mamie the maid drove around the block four times before she found a parking space for her old Nash 8547D799-C475-4659-B563-17A9A283F8B3Rambler. Her heart gave a tripping little beat — how Barb was going to laugh when she saw Mamie still driving that heap today, in 1966. Barb’s son Johnny had named Mamie’s car “Balky,” for obvious reasons. Each time they got on the road, Mamie would make promises to God: if it would only let her reach her destination, she would be cash-register honest from now on, or teetotal for a year, things like that — promises usually broken within hours. Mamie knew it was odd to think of Johnny being seventeen now, nearly a man. He had been such a fragile little thing, clinging to Mamie’s hand as if she were a life preserver; a gentle, persistent little presence, all those times when his mother the movie star was in trouble, or in court, or falling down drunk or just falling apart.

Falling. The thought made Mamie want to turn the car and head out of this dismal East Hollywood neighborhood as Christmas approached. Grimy holiday decorations on Yucca Street. Already, Mamie’s mouth was dry, and her hands shook on the steering wheel. She tried to remind herself that nobody else wanted to be here either. This place was for people on their way out, not for those who still had hope, or a chance to amount to something.

“Barb Payton, I’m gonna find you,” Mamie said aloud, “if I have to prowl this street forever.”

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Lipstick II

by Michael Burns

CHRISTMAS FICTION: Laurie Blane’s story continues. This holiday season the actress has a lot to be thankful for – especially her agent. 3,410 words. Illustration by Thomas Warming.


Flying across the Atlantic to London at 600 miles an hour the day before Christmas, investment tycoon 8547D799-C475-4659-B563-17A9A283F8B3Russ Kelly’s Gulfstream G650 carried six passengers — Laurie Blane; her publicist Jackie Fisher; her agent Ron Astor; her personal assistant Marty Oliver; and two private security men. Russ was in New York on business; he was to join her at the next stop in Paris on Christmas Day. Everyone anticipated that Europe would be festive. After all, this year Chanukah started on Christmas Eve, a rare occurrence.

Laurie sat in a high-back rich beige leather chair in the middle of the plane, meditating. In a facing chair, Marty sat directly across, reading a book on her iPad. Terri, the sole flight attendant, hovered nearby. The two security men, both good-looking hulks, sat close to the cockpit, their expressions showing they were all business. Ron Astor and Jackie Fisher sat together in the rear of the cabin, the two discussing strategies for the promotional holiday trip to Europe in hushed voices, not wanting to disturb Laurie.

Actually, Ron and Jackie were arguing.

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Ebenezer Scrump

Ebenezer Scrump
A Christmas Story

by Howard Rosenberg

CHRISTMAS FICTION: Ghosts visit a nasty old showman to unmask his not-so-entertaining lies and life. 836 words. Illustration by John Donald Carlucci.


The darkened penthouse of Scrump Tower on Christmas Eve….

Ebenezer Scrump, asleep after hours 8547D799-C475-4659-B563-17A9A283F8B3of heavy tweeting, is jolted awake by loud clanking sounds and a terrifying sight.

Scrump: Who are you?

Ghost: Look upon me, Scrump, for I am the Ghost of Your Past.

Scrump: What do you want of me at this hour, ghost?

Ghost: I’m here to show you the errors of your ways.

Scrump: Errors? Where are you taking me?

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The Christmas Cottage

by Gordy Grundy

CHRISTMAS FICTION: An artist thinks he’s come up with a wonderful way to find film content and wow Hollywood. 2,674 words. Illustration by Mark Fearing.


I had never been treated so rudely in my life. I was in a meeting at a major Hollywood studio, sharing my 8547D799-C475-4659-B563-17A9A283F8B3creativity and insight with a top executive, only to be given the bum’s rush by three security guards. As if the humiliation of being dragged out of that office, down the hall and through the lobby wasn’t enough, I was also thrown, literally tossed, onto the street. Onto asphalt, not gold.

The indignity began that November when I read that a major movie studio had bought the film rights to The Christmas Cottage. Not only was opportunity knocking on my door, it was ringing the bell. Hollywood, an insatiable beast, had run out of ideas. Filmmaking was and still is a lowly art form rising to its greatest level of incompetence. While most studios keep producing re-remakes and re-re-remakes, this studio was trying to be an innovator.

The Christmas Cottage is a painting by Thomas Kinkade, the “Painter of Light” as he is affectionately known in America’s shopping malls, who composed a warm-hearted landscape featuring a snow-covered cottage nestled in cozy woods.

I saw this new development as opening a Pandora’s Box in the world of cinema. Why stop with a painting? There are many images and objects that can have a high concept. Hollywood has already made films from board games and Legos. Sculpture, conceptualism, postcards, Campbell Soup Cans and traffic signals could also be made into blockbuster entertainment.

I wasn’t sure what the studio had in mind for its feature about The Christmas Cottage. Wouldn’t Picasso’s Guernica make a better movie? How about the hard “R” of any Odalisque by Matisse? Or, given the current trend for Christian entertainment, would not The Garden Of Earthly Delights by Bosch scare a heathen back to God? But who was I to question the superior intellect and creativity of the Hollywood sensibility.

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