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 of 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?
A perverse concept for a Reality TV show turns into an even more perverse shoot. 2,122 words. Illustration by Thomas Warming.
It was the dumbest Halloween pitch anybody had heard in forty years. So, naturally, it sold. The reality show was suggested as a joke at a party on Friday night, and by Monday morning the network lawyers had the contracts ready to sign for The Real Vampires Of Transylvania. Why it never aired is revealed in line producer Josh Combs’ production reports. Thanks to Mr. Combs’ widow for permission to reprint them here:
Friday, April 13:
How auspicious to start a vampire series on Friday The 13th. I’m here in Romania for pre-production. We announced an open casting call from 10 to 6, then realized that we should have made it PM instead of AM. In line with the network’s mandate for diversity, we put out a call for a cross-section of physical types. Of course, all the vampires have to look young, beautiful, and sexy; our shorthand for this is “VILF.” Anybody who’s either old or ugly will be cast as villagers. Since we’ll be shooting entirely at night, we were afraid the show couldn’t have any children. Amazingly, all those who applied so far are at least a hundred years old yet look like they’re nine and ten.
In order to make sure we hire the real thing, we have mirrors posted at strategic spots around the meeting room. Note: this may eventually pose a problem for the make-up department. Costuming probably won’t be an issue since everyone tends to arrive dressed in period finery looking like a cross between a Frozen character and the Ambassador Hotel doorman. Most of the actors say they’re from Seattle and are almost all unrelentingly morose. One of the ways we ferret out fakers is by inviting them to sample our craft service table. They refuse everything, although we almost had a disaster when one of the less worldly applicants started to eat a blood orange and we quickly told him it was just a name. Rather than risk another such incident, Amazon Prime is overnighting a supply of crucifixes.
A movie producer and a studio head begin a tough negotiation that ends with a surprise twist. 1,524 words. Illustrations by John Donald Carlucci.
“Mr. Allen will see you now.”
The middle-aged secretary barely looked up from her computer screen as she flicked her head in the direction of a short hallway just beyond. When no further direction was forthcoming, Movie producer Tim Munson realized it was time for him to move. He rose from the barely comfortable seat in the powder blue outer office, fumbled with his briefcase, and headed past several closed doors to the one that was ajar at the end of the hall. He tentatively poked his head in, not quite sure if this was where he was supposed to be.
At the far end of the room, behind a broad mahogany desk, sat I.F. Allen, head of Tigerslair Pictures. His white hair and neatly trimmed beard were countered by his lively eyes. At this moment, they were focused on his electronic tablet, while he also tapped his ear. He was wearing a Bluetooth and seemed to be engaged in a conversation. He looked up and saw the young producer and waved him in.
As Munson tried to figure out which of the many seats available was intended for him, Allen was wrapping up his conversation. “Look, Barry, it’s my way or the highway. If you think you can make a better deal elsewhere, good luck to you. I’ve got to go.” Without so much as a goodbye, the conversation apparently concluded.
Allen put the tablet aside and then swiveled to face the new arrival, who had taken a seat to the left of the desk. A long table piled with scripts and other documents extended from the center of the desk, forcing visitors to choose whether to go left or right, never being quite sure if they had made the right decision, and Allen never indicating where they should sit. It was one of the many ways that those bringing their projects to Tigerslair were kept off-balance.
A wannabe filmmaker finds an unconventional way to get his horror script made. 3,216 words. Illustration by Mark Fearing.
“You understand what I want you to do?”
“Yeah,” I said. It was easy to say it. Flowed off the tongue. I wasn’t even worried. What was that line from that Hannibal film, the one with the lambs? His pulse never got above a certain number, he was so relaxed? That’s how I felt. Relaxed.
“And you finance my film.”
“And I get gross participation, backend, off-the-top. The works.”
“The works,” he agreed.
I didn’t smile. But I should have. You don’t smile, though, when you make a Breaking Bad deal like that. I don’t mean a deal with AMC; I mean, a deal that will put you on the other side. For good. I was about to become a Walter White. And I was only in my early 20s.
Got to start sometime in Hollywood.
A character actor from a hit horror trilogy remembers how good his life used to be. 1,702 words. illustration by John Thomas Carlucci.
Are you ready? Start your tape recorder.
In the movies they used to call me Snake-Man. They did. I was the only one they ever called Snake-Man before or since. I was.
I made three movies, a trilogy. I made them five years ago in the City. Another time, another life. They weren’t bad. They were good action pictures. We made all three of them in about a year and a half. We first did Dawn Of The Snake-Man, then we followed that up with The Thing Called Snake-Man, and the last one was political so we called it Rabooba: Snake-Man’s Revenge. I carried a .44 Magnum in that one.
I don’t carry a gun no more, though. No more guns for me.
They called me Snake-Man because that’s exactly what I looked like, a Snake-Man. There weren’t too many actors who could have pulled it off, I know that. I used to play a lot of foreign spies, just small bit parts, before I got a chance to be Snake-Man in my own shows. Before I got to star.
Oh, I think just about everybody saw a Snake-Man picture. But I don’t go to the movies too much anymore, since I left the business.
Is he a fierce Hollywood mogul or a fearsome studio zombie? He’s still deadly. 2,476 words. Story and illustration by Mark Fearing.
Mo Merkleman was buried at Forest Lawn on an unusually warm and rainy day. Funeral guests got mud on their shoes, but that didn’t stop the throngs of agents, producers, real swear-to-god movie stars and studio executives who showed up in the rain. There were whispers that he was buried with his Oscars.
Mo was a legend. A small in stature guy who appeared larger. It was an optical illusion; his charisma radiated out like heat waves off hot asphalt. He was a throwback to the golden days of Tinseltown and yet totally modern. He went from running the largest talent agency to opening his own shingle and producing box office hits. Then he spent 25 years in charge of the largest studio. The reams of dirt he had on everyone in the industry were pure Old Testament.
But he was dead now. Or that’s what everyone thought.
Exactly eight months later on an unseasonably humid and rainy day, Mo Merkleman showed up at Gate 2 in his Bentley. It didn’t take long for him to talk his way past the guard. And when Annabelle Lee looked up from her reception desk and saw Mo’s identifiable gait lilting down the hall, she almost screamed. But instead she put that energy into withholding belief in what she was seeing.
As the figure came closer, Annabelle could plainly see it was Mo carrying a box of some weight because he struggled with it. He was pale with saggy skin. His grey hair was a bit thinner than last she’d seen it. Then she looked into his eyes. They were different but not in a bad way. There was something so hypnotizing about them that she found it difficult to look away.
OSCAR FICTION PACKAGE: After a movie studio’s big night, the new boss plans changes. 1,442 words. Illustration by Thomas Warming.
TO: All Employees of Persistent Pictures
FROM: Bradford “Buddy” Newborn, President
RE: Studio Philosophy and Production Slate
We’re all proud of the eight Oscars that Persistent Pictures won last night under Bob Cutner’s management. We hope he gets to use his taste and leadership at another company now that he’s suddenly moved on to make way for me.
Since arriving to head the studio, I’ve seen many of you in the hallways, in the valet parking lot, and as I walk through the commissary on the way to my private dining room. But this is the first chance I’ve had to introduce myself since my father, Bradford Newborn Sr., bought the studio.
To quell some of the rumors and wisecracks I’ve been hearing through our advanced monitoring system, I am well aware that moviemaking isn’t anything like the strappy sandal business. It just so happens that shoes are only one of the many manufacturing interests of Newborn International. We also make small home appliances (“Nothing larger than a toaster oven” is our motto), breath mints and lacrosse equipment. We also had a major investment in the Miami Majors, an ice hockey franchise that I was in charge of running until it folded last year. Let me speak frankly: the Majors died because of poor public support, not because of that lawsuit from 12-year-old Jimmy Brewin after a puck got sucked up into the Zamboni and shot out into the stands, taking with it half his face.
I can report that Little Jimmy is doing well, all things considered, and loves his new nose, mouth and mansion.
Now, for studio business.
An ingénue learns a lot more than she expects from her Hollywood agent. 2,890 words. Story and illustration by John Donald Carlucci.
Four weeks after I stepped off the bus from Atlanta and saw the street signs for Hollywood and Vine for the first time, I was standing on a small stage giving a monologue before several bored agents and managers.
My roommate had persuaded me to take part with her in a showcase that bit into my meager savings for $300. I couldn’t even afford ramen noodles with what remained, but I did what she wanted because I was that kind of go-along, get-along girl. Plus, I figured I was moving closer to my dream. Baby steps are still steps forward.
The smell of mold, pee, and something not dissimilar to despair permeated the lobby where I waited to pay my ‘appearance’ fee. Sharon had bailed at the last minute because she wasn’t feeling well, or so she said. That girl didn’t have what it took to make it here, and I expected to be searching for a new roommate once she ran home to mama. I looked over the list of agents and managers attending the event but the other actors said there was no one they recognized. I guess it was ridiculous to expect CAA to be at a cattle call like this.
I chose Jessica Lange’s monologue as Constance Langdon in American Horror Story. Season One. Episode Four. It was a minute long and I hoped to make a better impression hitting the crowd hard and fast. The room felt claustrophobic in its smallness as I walked out on the creaky stage. The lights were in my eyes. The assembly seemed short on audience.
A follow-up to The Auteur, the murdering filmmaker seeks an audience of one. 2,938 words. Illustration by John Donald Carlucci.
The Auteur’s troubles began when he finally attended a screening.
He knew it was a risky move, but other directors watched their films with an audience. Why should he deny himself? It was a Hollywood tradition – from the test audiences with their comment cards, to the gala premieres with the klieg lights waving their vertical proclamations into the smog of the nighttime sky. Sitting in a roped-off section of the theatre among peers and feeling the charge in the air when sound and image mingled with the brain chemistry of a thousand strangers. Such moments were nerve-wracking but necessary: part triumph, part trial by fire.
It was more than that, though. Screenings also were social occasions, part of the communal life of filmmakers. And the Auteur had exiled himself from that. It was lonely doing what he did. True, there was a nobility of purpose. But he wanted respect, acknowledgement of achievement, applause.
Of course it was impossible. He had to remain anonymous. He couldn’t risk revealing himself. He knew his ego was getting the better of him. It was a weakness, and he despised weakness.
A successful actor discovers the consequence of appearing in too many crappy movies. 3,245 words. Illustration by Mark Fearing.
Only a dozen people remained dancing, drinking, and trying to score as music echoed around the club. Kal Bobby sat alone with a smile on his perfectly tanned face. It was the wrap party for Kal’s film that would never be seen in a movie theatre because it was destined to be Netflix-ed on an iPhone. In the instantly forgettable feature he played a police officer from a small town transferred to New York City to fight zombie-terrorists who somehow steal millions of dollars in gems and buy weapons of mass destruction. As bad as the pitch sounded, Kal was paid just under $1 million with his name above the title – an act of desperation by the producers who faced a rapidly approaching shooting date and no lead after Charlie Sheen pulled out.
Kal wiped his forehead and glanced about. Being alone at an event like this was worse than being invisible. He played with his cell phone, pretending to read nonexistent texts. Kal looked for his date, Carla the redhead. He didn’t know her last name. She was close with Kal’s agent and always good for these events. She’d wandered off when Tony Danza showed up. Kal wasn’t sure if that was more embarrassing for him or for her.
Kal shoved the cell phone into his tasteful Valentino suit jacket and headed for the restroom. A caterer smiled and bowed his head slightly as Kal walked by. Nice to be noticed, Kal thought, until he realized that the caterer was just coughing.
The Actor was relieved to find the restroom empty. He locked the door, rubbed his eyes, wiped his chin and stared into the mirror. The lighting was unkind. He moved closer to the mirror and ran his fingers across his face and — was it the fluorescents? — he could see through his hand. He leaned in closer but the longer he stared without blinking, the more transparent it became. Now he could see through his head and make out the fresco on the back wall.
A Hollywood premiere for the most expensive horror film made in years has unintended consequences. 2,381 words. Illustration by Thomas Warming.
It was the one of the worst flu seasons on record and the shots turned out to be useless because they didn’t include protection against influenza A (H3N2), the particularly virulent strain going around. Public health officials were urging everyone to wash their hands often, with the CDC helpfully suggesting it should last as long as it took to sing “Happy Birthday” twice, or about 20 seconds. People were urged to avoid large gatherings, but no one who’d been invited to Prospero Studios’ screening of Masque was going to heed that warning.
There was a frenzy surrounding the movie, which at an estimated $270 million cost (a figure no one confirmed but plenty of people denied) was the most expensive horror film in years. Privately, Hollywood thought the bloated budget was missing the point considering the huge profits generated by cheap found footage scares like The Blair Witch Project and Paranormal Activity.
Publicly, nobody wanted to be like the naysayers who’d predicted Avatar would crash and burn as the budget headed north of an unconfirmed $300 million. So people were falling all over themselves to declare that Masque was going to be a gamechanger. “The next step in the evolution of horror films,” pontificated a New York movie critic in a Sunday essay.
Not that anyone knew much about Masque. Secrecy surrounding the project was so intense that few knew who’d actually been cast in the movie because of draconian non-disclosure agreements. To add another layer of camouflage, the studio set up several dummy productions filming simultaneously. One was called Argo because who doesn’t like an inside joke?
HALLOWEEN FICTION – A down-and-out ’70s film director thinks he’s made a deal with the Devil. 4,831 words. Illustration by Mark Fearing.
Nobody liked Fred Pine. If he had any self-awareness, he wouldn’t like Fred Pine either. Pine made bitterness into an art form. Unfortunately it was the only art form he excelled at.
To say that his films were grade “Z” would be an insult to Ed Wood. Hell, it would be an insult to film. If Pine had just spent a little more time, effort and tender loving care on them, the films would be awful.
He tried his best. That was the scary part.
One look at his clothes and you could tell what he had for lunch the last three weeks. Far too much starch. In his food — not his clothes. A man of slender build, he’d never be as old as he appeared. His hair looked as if it were trying to remember the last time it was washed.
His wife had left him. But that was years ago. Pine figured she was jealous of his career. He recalled the last words he said to her as she hurried out the door: “If you think making films is so easy, you try it.”
She did. The Ex was now one of the most successful TV directors at Paramount. “Must have slept her way to the top,” he would mutter. But he was amazed she got as far as she did for a woman who hated sex. Then again, she was doing TV. Not features.
But introspection wasn’t his long suit. His long suit was plaid –- and two sizes too big. Room to grow into, as mother used to say. He wore loud clothes hoping to be noticed. He was noticed, but not in the way he wanted.
HALLOWEEN FICTION – A narcissistic actress meets the one man she can’t have. 2,546 words. Illustration by John David Carlucci.
When Jacqui decides to rent a house, the most important item on her wish list is the position of the pool. The wrong exposure, too much shade – deal breaker. No tanning beds or creams, Jacqui enjoys the sun. She has zero interest in people who obsess about skin cancer. God created sun, didn’t he? But did he create dihydroxyacetone, the creepy stinky chemical in self-tanners that does who knows what to your immune system? She visits her dermatologist once a year to get checked out and she’s doing just fine, thanks. SPF? Not for Jacqui.
Jacqui never wanted to be an actress. She moved to L.A. with a high school girlfriend who had the acting bug. Jacqui figured she’d get a job, then marry a nice man. Enough of a reason to leave Fresno. The girlfriend took acting classes and one night, after a showcase, Jacqui was approached in the lobby by an agent who said he admired her performance.
“I wasn’t in the show,” Jacqui told him.
“You should’ve been,” the agent told her, not missing a beat.
Jacqui married the agent, did some guest spots on TV shows. Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman. Quantum Leap. She learned her lines, got along with everybody, became known for her pretty face and nice body. But L.A. was filled with actresses like Jacqui. Fortunately, there also were plenty of men who admired them. Divorce, alimony. Another marriage, another divorce. Alimony again. Star Trek: Voyager, NCIS, a couple Lifetime movies. She was aware of getting older, of losing roles to younger women. But Jacqui didn’t care. She had money – not a huge amount, but enough. She still worked. Other actresses talked about their plastic surgeons and line fillers and boob lifts, but Jacqui was oblivious. Because, no matter what, Jacqui always had the best tan.
HALLOWEEN FICTION – ’50s Movie Monsters consider an agent’s offer to license their computer likenesses. 40 pages. Illustration by Keith Burns.
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