Category Archives: Filmmakers

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Mary Pickford’s Lost Diary

by Quendrith Johnson

America’s Sweetheart was truly the Iron Lady of the motion picture world. 2,242 words. Illustration by Thomas Warming.


1919 — Last year, Fairbanks and me did the War Bonds; now that’s over. Victory. I can’t believe I’m almost A5B3E0F0-C9C6-486D-B9BF-98B356EAA0EBan old lady at 27. I remember 19 years old, 150 dollars a week. Like heaven, standing in front of the camera. Then $500 a week from Mr. Zukor when I was 21. I remember every year by money: how much I made. Almost more than a full-grown lady, though still an adolescent by his standards. But I let him consider me a child. “If it pays, it plays.” I didn’t mind calling him “Papa Zukor.” Tess Of The Storm Country is what he wanted me to make. After all, in 1914, it was just like playing myself in a boarding house at age 12, alone and battling to pay the rent. Stealing milk for a baby! What tripe for some, but for me almost a true story. I mean for Lottie and Jack, how we struggled. So many years since I shouted down Belasco on Broadway. I learned the word “thespian” from a British actor, a drunk. It sounded like a lisp. But when I found out it is the real word for Actor, I perked up, got all the craft out of the way, tried to read all I could.

I spoke to Chaplin and D.W. Griffith. Well, we will stay united, “United Artists.” So we made up our minds to go into business together, and here we are, stuck together. since Feb. 5, 1919. If I hear one more person say “Lovable Little Tramp,” I’ll throw something. Little Mary Pickford is the only “Little” big star. Charlie has even horned in on my public. Little smallpox, more like it. The man is contagious, not a true actor. Just makes his pants fall down when his hat falls up. Oh the nerve of him.

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Quixote Jones

by Eric Layer

A film update of Don Quixote from the Star Wars director and Indiana Jones hero? 2,049 words. Excerpted from the 2018 book Critically AcclaimedIllustration by Mark Fearing.


Quixote Jones

Directed by George Lucas. Written by Charlie Kaufman. Starring: Harrison Ford, Benicio Del Toro, Helen Mirren, and Arnold Schwarzenegger as Jürgen Von Himmelmacher.

Quixote Jones, an adaptation of the formerly un-filmable Don Quixote, arrives in theatres today as one of the most highly anticipated films of all time — for all the wrong reasons. It’s the movie equivalent of a freeway pileup: we can’t help but gawk, especially after the controversy that preceded its release.

From the inception, it had all the makings of a financial and artistic bomb.
We were all so sure it would fail.

And we were all so wrong.

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One Night Only

One Night Only

by Katherine Tomlinson

OSCAR FICTION PACKAGE: A Best Actress nominee has the best and worst time of her life. 2,746 words. Illustration by Thomas Warming.


The first thing Lyla thought when she found the script for Circle Of Squares in her mailbox was, This has 7B44E679-DD00-4B87-9873-6B80A7AA57E8come to me by mistake.

She lived in a guest house on a property belonging to a beloved actress known for a series of “grumpy old lady” comedies that had touched a chord. Though claiming to be retired, the landlady was still very much interested in being courted by filmmakers. Way back in the day, Lyla occupied the same casting niche of supporting comic character even though she was two generations younger than her landlady. But the older actress snagged every part, cashing a nice little paycheck for a couple hours of work.

Lyla was used to delivery people dropping packages on her porch because it was accessible to the road and the landlady’s house was situated down a long driveway behind a tall security gate. But this screenplay had Lyla’s name on the envelope.

She began reading it and her first thought was, It doesn’t make any damn sense at all. It’s even more inexplicable than Cloud Atlas. Lyla had never understood the point of pointless movies.

But as Lyla finished the script, she knew it had Oscar bait written all over it.

The story and characters had everything the old farts in the Academy liked in an indie movie, she realized, beginning with the pretentious and never-explained title right through to the heavy-handed political message and depressing plot.

It was a bonus that the role she was being offered was the star.

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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 7B44E679-DD00-4B87-9873-6B80A7AA57E8bright 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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After The Red Carpet

by Ann Hamilton

OSCAR FICTION PACKAGE: A Red Carpet meet compels this couple to keep going. 2,312 words. Part One. Illustrations by John Donald Carlucci.


Backstory: My name is Nat, I work in the mailroom at the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences, 7B44E679-DD00-4B87-9873-6B80A7AA57E8and I went to the Academy Awards. Instead of sitting up in the lousy seats with the rest of the AMPAS staff, I met Erin Teller, the Erin Teller, and she sort of made me her date. I sat with her and she won the Best Actress Oscar for When The Mountain Sings.

And now we’re going to the Governors Ball.

I am not making this shit up.

So Erin and I are walking out of the Dolby when Erin grabs my hand and asks me where I’m going because, duh, don’t I know the Governors Ball is upstairs and she’s starving to death. She says some of the cast from Hamilton is performing and isn’t it the best musical ever. I tell her I haven’t seen it and she says, boy, I’m in for a surprise.

This whole night is a surprise. Having my date get a migraine so I go to the Awards solo, then running into Erin Teller – literally, when her limo door knocks me down. Now I can’t figure out why she hooked on to me. But I’m not complaining.

We’re riding up the escalator to the Governors Ball and Erin has her Oscar clutched in her fist. Occasionally, she waves it in the air and says, “Woo hoo,” and people shout, “Woo hoo” back at her. This is the most amazing night of her life. And, fuck me, I never want it to end.

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Sundance

by Bernard Weinraub

A Sundance Film Festival print journalist despairs because bloggers are thriving. 4,219 words. Illustration by Mark Fearing.


I met Billy McNulty in the Avis parking lot at the airport in Salt Lake City. He had walked past me on the plane 8547D799-C475-4659-B563-17A9A283F8B3from Los Angeles, a vaguely familiar face whom I had seen at one or two press screenings at Paramount or Fox. Outside, the predicted blizzard had tapered off and a sprinkle of snow was flying in the wind.  The street was covered with ice that was being sanded as I arrived.

It was crowded, actually mobbed and chaotic, at the airport, one day before the start of the Sundance Film Festival, and the flight from L.A. had disgorged hundreds of people carrying luggage, cameras and boxes. Ten minutes later, a flight from JFK arrived. The same scene. Everyone looked very young and bedraggled — certainly younger but just as bedraggled as I did. It was January 1996.

I was standing in line when, just outside, there was a commotion. At the door of a minivan with the sign "SUNDANCE – PRESS" posted, a crowd had gathered. A burly fellow was pushing a smaller guy out of the bus onto the street and screaming, "Get the fuck away. Asshole. Prick."

The victim was McNulty, who fell to the ground. The bus door closed. Someone came over and helped McNulty get up. The crowd dispersed. Just another mini-drama among quasi-talented filmmakers at Salt Lake City airport.

The grim woman behind the Avis counter gave me the keys to a Ford Explorer — you need a four-wheel drive for the icy roads — and a printed card with directions how to reach Park City. Before I could say a word, she shouted, “Next.” It was freezing when I left the terminal. Even bundled up in a down jacket, woolen hat and gloves, I was shivering. Without snow boots, which I had stupidly packed in my luggage, my toes turned icy. I scurried to the parking lot, my laptop over my shoulder, rolling my big valise filled with sweaters, woolen socks, thermal underwear and thick ski pants. As I waited at the light to cross the street, Bill McNulty stood next to me.

"Hey," he said.

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Keep The Good Pieces

by Anne Goursaud

A film editor gets the opportunity of a lifetime with the world’s greatest director. 4,163 words. Illustration by Thomas Warming.


I liked Martin from the get-go. He was extremely polite, with an unexpected sense of humor, and eyes so 8547D799-C475-4659-B563-17A9A283F8B3intelligent and intense that most people feared him. Fortunately, I had grown up around a man with fierce eyes, my grandfather. Being his favorite, I was the only one of his grandchildren permitted to sit on his knee and – privilege of privilege – play with his beret.

This day of my interview to work at Kaleidoscope Studio, Martin was wearing a checkered brown and white shirt and brown corduroy pants, but no beret. Not that day.

“May I ask a question?” I say. He nods. “Why am I here?”

Martin breaks into laughter. “We have three films and three films in trouble,” he declares. His producers Forest and Gary nod in agreement.

Martin wants to take me on a tour of the studio. Once outside, something quite weird happens. He points to a black bicycle leaning against a wall.

“Come on the bike.”

“What?”

Martin repeats, “Come on the bike.”

“I haven’t done this since I was two years old,” I tell him. But I jump on the front of the bike and off we go.

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Monumental
Part Two

by Richard Natale

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


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

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

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

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

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Monumental
Part One

by Richard Natale

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


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

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

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

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

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La Dolce Vita Virtuale

by Matthew Licht

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


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

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

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

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

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The 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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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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Escapade
Part Three

by Steven Axelrod

The two women indie filmmakers now must find a cinematographer. 3,224 words. Part One. Part Two. Part Four tomorrow. Illustration by John Donald Carlucci.


Rachel and Stacey rehearsed Escapade for weeks, a luxury that no studio production could afford. At the same time they were making travel plans and renewing their passports. They wanted to organize the whole film in advance, but there wasn’t much they could accomplish until they actually arrived in Paris. They were set to leave April 1, and booked the others two weeks later. Outside the travel agency, with all the tickets clutched in one hand, Rachel threw her arms around her friend. "We’re really going, now. It’s official.”

The week before they left, Rachel threw a dinner party for the cast and crew. She wanted everyone comfortable with everyone else before they started shooting a low-budget film at close quarters in a foreign country. It was an enjoyable afternoon – volleyball on the beach, an early cook-out, people having fun. The only disturbing moment happened with Emily. Again.

They were outside in the deepening evening. A cool wind was blowing in off the ocean and Rachel was getting hamburgers onto buns before they burned. Emily slipped beside Rachel as she worked.

“So what am I feeling now?” Rachel asked her.

“Suspicious. Uncomfortable. Annoyed. It’s just something I can do. I wish you trusted me more. I could help you. I want to talk about… ” Emily looked around and lowered her voice, “Rafe DeMarco. He isn’t what he seems. You should get away from him.”

“I’m leaving for Europe with him in less than a week.”

“He’s trouble. I just think you should get as far away from him as possible.”

Rachel stared at her. “Where am I supposed to find a new DP who’ll fly his whole crew to Europe on four days’ notice?”

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Escapade
Part Two

by Steven Axelrod

Will the two female indie filmmakers find an angel investor? 3,532 words. Part One. Part Three tomorrow. Illustrations by  John Donald Carlucci.


A few weeks before Christmas, Rachel was awakened at six in the morning by a long distance call. "This better be important."

The deep voice on the other end of the line sounded amused. "I think you could say that."

"Who is this?"

"Peter Sandrian. When we were in eighth grade, I took you to Wollman ice-skating rink in Central Park. You had to hold me up the whole time. The insides of my ankles were practically touching the ice. I fell in love with you that day, Rachel. But I never got up the courage to tell you."

Rachel laughed, fully awake now. "Oh no! I had a crush on you for years. Why didn’t you ever call me?"

"Why didn’t you call me?"

"Girls weren’t supposed to."

"We blew it, didn’t we? We were idiots.”

There was a moment of silence while the reverberations of gratuitous adolescent heartbreak subsided.

"What are you doing now?" Rachel asked. "Where are you calling from?

"Cleveland. I’m married; we have four kids. I’m the new Chief Executive Officer of Sandrian Pharmaceuticals. Dad wanted to take early retirement, and I knew the business inside out, so now I get to work the sixteen-hour days with occasional trips to Des Moines or Omaha. It’s not quite as glamorous as the movie business."

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Escapade
Part One

by Steven Axelrod

Two women start the disspiriting process of making an indie film. 3,231 words. Part Two tomorrow. Illustration by John Donald Carlucci.


On a warm evening in July, Rachel Scanlon and Stacey Clark were sitting at a tiny table overlooking the Chateau Marmont hotel bar.

"Andy Dickson," Stacey said. "Tommy Bell. Marty Cohen. Mark DeSalvo. Peter Steinkamp. Susan Drexel."

Rachel looked up. "What made you think of all these people?"

"They’re on my list. Don’t you ever read those alumnae reports that Dalton sends out?"

"I never open my mail from Dalton or Hampshire. They always want money and I never have any."

"They also have a section with information on your classmates. Annie Sobel is a painter. She just bought a loft in Tribeca and had two one-woman shows at the Holly Solomon gallery. Mark DeSalvo inherited four million dollars from his grandfather. He supports the arts and collects Rookwood pottery. Peter Steinkamp has a seat on the New York Stock Exchange and is renovating an old firehouse in Brooklyn."

"Does he support the arts, too?”

"I bet he does. And I have two artists in mind. They’re planning to make a low budget movie."

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No Budget-2

No Budget
Part Two

by Jon Jack Raymond

The indie filmmaker begs and borrows to finish her shoot – and feed her dog. 2,006 words. Part One. Illustration by John Donald Carlucci.


Indie filmmaker Annie Grayson wasn’t young. But she had more energy than any obnoxious 22-year-old snot-nosed kid out of film school. Both crew members Nigel and Ted admired her for that. So they were onboard as much as they could be without too much self-sacrifice for a very likely doomed project.

Nigel hated to think of it like that. But Annie would not listen to reason. Yes, collaboration could make it work. But not if she refused their help and knowledge.

“First-time filmmakers don’t jump into features or even thirty minute shorts. They do ten minute shorts, or five minute shorts,” Nigel said to Ted, the sound man.

“George Lucas will tell you he started out with a thirty second short and a lot of storywriting experience,” said Ted, lighting up a joint. “Want a toke?”

“Thanks.” Nigel, the cinematographer, said and inhaled. “Then she complains that Tricia is always late. No shit. Actors are always late. They’re prima donnas, even the unknowns.” He let out the breath.

“Especially the unknowns.”

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