Category Archives: Journalists

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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 dad 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 cell 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 Wednesday 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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Hollywood Lazarus
Part Three

by Jeffrey Peter Bates

The showbiz murder attempts mount as famed P.I. McNulty tries to prevent more. 1,570 words. Part One. Part Two. Illustration by John Donald Carlucci.


Mandeville Moving Pictures was six weeks into a ten-week shoot on A Whisper In The Dark when the stalker finally made his move on Jade San Vincente, Hollywood’s newest and brightest young star who also happened to be the lead actress in Mitch and Billie Mandeville’s newest movie.

“Quiet, please!” the assistant director called out. “This is picture!”

Everybody was gathered at the far end of the Malibu Pier to film a crucial scene where Jade must wordlessly decide if her character will honor her dementia-stricken mother’s pleas to help her die. As Jade took her place at the rail, her assistant held up a parasol to shade the actress from the bright Malibu sun. After a few quiet words with Jade, the director nodded to the A.D. who then ordered the camera operator to “roll camera!”

All eyes were on Jade as a range of emotions flitted across her face. It was a touching moment and Jade was capturing her character’s anguish beautifully. Then, from the corner of his eye, private detective McNulty caught a flash of movement. Someone on a ten-speed bicycle was hurtling down the pier toward them!

The bike knifed through several crew members, knocking them down, and raced straight for Jade. McNulty saw the rider was holding a plastic drink container in one hand. Moving reflexively, The P.I. grabbed the parasol and stepped in front of Jade just as the rider squeezed out a long stream of hydrochloride acid from the container.

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Hollywood Lazarus
Part Two

by Jeffrey Peter Bates

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


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

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

The security chief explained that they were searching the premises.

“Do you have a warrant?” she demanded.

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

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

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

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

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Hollywood Lazarus
Part One

by Jeffrey Peter Bates

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


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

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

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

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

“He finally got it right,” McNulty said.

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

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

Micki practically spit her Pinot Grigio across the table.

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On The Red Carpet At Cannes
Part Six

by Duane Byrge

The Hollywood film critic thinks he’s found the Cannes Film Festival killer. 2,626 words. Part One. Part Two. Part Three. Part Four. Part Five. Illustration by John Donald Carlucci.


Ingrid Bjorge stretched across the hotel bed, then opened her eyes. “Good morning. I did not know you were here,” she said as she propped herself up.

“You were asleep when I came in last night. I didn’t want to wake you.” Ryan claimed.

Just as the Norwegian actress opened the room door, Ryan’s girlfriend Delisha nearly collided with her as the fashion model leaned forward to knock. She carried a bottle of Cristal and an envelope addressed to Ryan that was left for him at the front desk.

Ryan gestured toward Ingrid. “Does she look familiar to you?”

Delisha stared at Ingrid for a long second, then gazed at her from a side angle. She pointed to the window. “Look out in that direction with your chin tilted up. Look real serious.” Ingrid followed her direction, angling her head and gazing off with a blank expression.

Delisha clasped her hands. “It’s crazy. Is it true? Is it true?”

“Yes,” Ryan answered.

Delisha embraced Ingrid. “Oh, my God, the star of The Ice Princess. What is going on?”

“That’s what we’re trying to figure out,” Ryan said. “Delisha, you can’t tell anyone in the meantime about Ingrid’s being alive. Not a word.”

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On The Red Carpet At Cannes
Part Five

by Duane Byrge

The Hollywood film critic gets a gorgeous surprise at the Cannes Film Festival. 2,590 words. Part One. Part Two. Part Three. Part Four. Part Six tomorrow. Illustration by John Donald Carlucci.


In the days since Ingrid Bjorge’s death, the entire Norwegian nation had taken the slain actress to its heart. The Ice Princess starlet’s murder when she and her film were supposed to open the first night of the Cannes Film Festival was a countrywide shock. Now her body would arrive on the ferry in a few minutes, then be carried by Viking pallbearers to the pyre.

The Bygdoy Peninsula is the untrammeled part of Norway’s capital city, the area with the museums and the Viking burial mounds. With its aggressive environmental protection laws, the Norwegian nation had kept it largely off limits to developers. An editorial in that morning’s Dagbladet acknowledged the irony of having the multibillionaire oil developer Gunnar Severeid, the mogul behind her movie, using it for the site of Ingrid’s funeral.

Following the autopsy, she had been transported back to her homeland on Gunnar’s personal plane, a Gulfstream G650. Her ashes had been placed earlier that morning in a magnificent oak coffin in Oslo. On this day of national mourning, Norway’s crown prince Harald had delivered a moving eulogy at the Ibsen Theater in Kungs Gate Park.

Erik Bjorge, the costume designer of The Ice Princess and Ingrid’s one-time husband, had gotten little sleep in the last several days. The Cannes police had grilled him, and, even more vexing, Gunnar had questioned him aggressively about the evening of the murder. With his fashion line positioned for the entire world to see at the premiere of The Ice Princess, Erik had believed he would be the Versace of Norway, the Gucci of the fjords. Now that dream was gone. Most of his clothing creations were still on a shipping vessel back in the Cannes harbor. He never bothered to unload it after Ingrid was killed. Instead, he went back to Oslo for her funeral.

Considering that Ryan had been up for several nights, found not one but two corpses, been chased through Cannes by what he thought were cops, had delivered an impromptu speech before a packed room of journalists, Ryan wasn’t too worse for wear. He recalled that Sean Connery line from the third Indiana Jones, where Harrison Ford is whizzing along on a motorcycle with his dad clinging on the back for dear life. “This is not archeology,” Connery groused as Indy accelerated away from the bad guys.

“This is not film criticism,” Ryan muttered to himself.

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On The Red Carpet At Cannes
Part Four

by Duane Byrge

The Hollywood film critic is a suspect in a second murder at the Cannes Film Festival. 2,903 words. Part One. Part Two. Part Three. Part Five tomorrow. Illustration by John Donald Carlucci.


There were enough security guards to stock an island dictatorship. Instead of colorful uniforms with feathered hats, gaudy medals and polished swords, they wore Armani tuxedos. The crack unit stood at attention in front of the mansion gate for the Cannes Film Festival’s elegant party. Despite their disciplined pose, their eyes were riveted on Ryan’s model girlfriend Delisha.

Within seconds, an attendant pulled up with a gleaming Aston Martin V12 bestowed on Ryan for the long drive back to town and belonging to one of the movie producer-distributors. At least half the valet parkers rushed to help Delisha into the passenger side. She slid into the classic vehicle. “Allons y,” Delisha called out, bestowing a celebratory wave.

Ryan idled the car as the iron gates snapped open with crisp precision, spreading their steel in a deferential backward swoop, like an old-fashioned servant. Only then did Ryan punch the pedal and sail through the estate’s stone entrance.

Delisha clasped his hand. “Home, James.”

“Bond, James Bond,” Ryan called out in his best 007 accent.

Delisha giggled and planted a quick kiss on his neck. For the moment, Ryan felt like the glamorous super-agent. The trouble was: he didn’t really know how to work a shift. Maybe, if it was all downhill, they could continue in this gear.

“You’re grinding. You’ve got to let it out,” Delisha said.

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On The Red Carpet In Cannes
Part Three

by Duane Byrge

The Hollywood movie critic, no longer a murder suspect, tries to cover the Cannes Film Festival. 2,640 words. Part One. Part Two. Part Four tomorrow. Illustrations by John Donald Carlucci.


When the Hollywood New Times chief film reporter swooped out of the elevator, he nearly ran down the trade’s top film critic, Ryan Hackbert.  “You haven’t returned any of my messages,” Stan Peck said as he came through the entrance to the Hotel Savoy. ”I’d like to get your side of the story.” Peck pulled out a digital recorder and flicked the switch.

“My side of the story is nothing,” Ryan answered. “The police asked me in for questioning and were satisfied with my answers. I know nothing about the murder.”

Ryan quickened his step. Peck clicked off the tape and said unhappily, “You know it’s ironic that you, a member of the press, aren’t talking to me, another member of the press.”

“I’m a very ironic guy. You can quote me on that.”

“Seriously, you were hauled in. You said in your review that she should be strangled.”

“I criticized the dialogue. A new editor mangled it with the scarf thing. The police understood,” Ryan answered.

"This murder of yours is screwing up my Cannes coverage," Peck continued. "I’ve got to go to this stupid press conference about it when I should be having breakfast with the TriCoast people. They’re going to announce a new slate." Peck paused to twist the knife a little deeper. "But a lot of people out there still think you’re guilty. That you killed that blond actress from The Ice Princess at the Carlton."

Despite the momentary high of jerking Peck around, Ryan was pissed at himself for giving Peck between-the-lines hints about the police interrogation. As much as Ryan hated to admitt, Peck reflected a fair amount of what would be movie industry opinion, as berserk as that could be. By doing nothing, Ryan was screwing up everyone’s Cannes Film Festival including his own. This was his eleventh time here. He needed to get back into his normal festival mode.

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The Incalculable Hours
Part One

by James Kaelan

A rebel filmmaker struggles to deter professional and personal disaster. 2,334 words. Part Two. Illustration by Thomas Warming.


Hollywood – 1969

“You’re a fucking kamikaze pilot, Tall,” said Jack Benton from behind his teak desk. “And you just crashed into your own fucking ship!” He wore a chambray blouse and a necklace of mahogany beads, but on his wrist dangled a gold Rolex. And only two days earlier, Jay Sebring had flown back from Las Vegas just to give him a haircut.

“And you didn’t just kill yourself,” Benton continued, pounding the heel of his palm onto a year-old issue of a Black Panther newspaper he’d never read. “You killed me, you killed your wife, and you killed that little band of outlaws you have marooned out there in the desert with you. I’m sure they’ll pretend like it’s a blessing — since they think they’ve transcended the fucking material world like an order of fucking Tibetan monks. But let me tell you a little secret. If anyone had gotten famous from this stillborn movie of yours, they’d be buying Jaguars and houses in fucking Malibu.”

“I just earned you lines around the block!” yelled Tall, standing in the middle of the office, rocking from his toes to his heels with the violent energy of a wrestler on his starting line. He was short, but broad across the shoulders, so that with his arms crossed, his buckskin jacket stretched taut across his upper back. His old tan boots chirred as he pitched onto his toes, and his wavy blonde hair curled down his neck.

“How the hell do you figure that, Tall? From my experience, people go to movies to be entertained — not to feel like they’ve fallen off a roof.”

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Keep Santa Monica Clean
Part Two

by Pasha Adam

Dante flexes his power as both a screenwriter and a blogger. 2,950 words. Part One. Illustrations by John Donald Carlucci.


Creeping over the Century City skyscrapers, the sun’s harsh rays bathe my 1966 Ford Mustang as I take the 10 from Santa Monica towards Robertson. Ray-Bans I’ve owned since my first week in L..A shield my eyes from the glare and the breeze rushes over the windshield, tousling my already unkempt hair. If this cinematic moment was captured on 35 mm film, it would appear liberating, a sun-drenched endorsement of SoCal living. Nothing could be further from the truth. Under the crushing weight of the CO2 hovering above the L.A. Basin, this drive couldn’t be more claustrophobic and suffocating. As I light up a cigarette, combining the air pollution with tobacco and nicotine may seem like overkill, but I am nothing if not the author of my own story.

I turn west on Wilshire and, in the space of ten minutes, I reach the STA offices. I ride the elevator to the eighth floor and take a seat across the desk from my agent, Dave Chaikin.

“I love this fucking script, Dante!” he yells, slamming a closed fist on the desk between each word, a poor man’s Ari Gold in a rich man’s Armani Collezioni suit. Once upon a time, Dave was a fledgling literary agent in search of the screenplay that would make him a major player. Dave would have me believe the moment he read Galaxy Hoppers, my 120-page tome, it was love at first sight. He created enough buzz that there was a bidding war and then sold it to Global Studio Media.

Now, I stare at my latest screenplay on his desk, the one I’ve affectionately named Skylar And The Ninja Ghosts, as Dave asks, “I have to know, after all this fucking time, what compelled you to finally put pen to paper again?”

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Keep Santa Monica Clean
Part One

by Pasha Adam

A mid-career screenwriter has more fun at his secret avocation. 2,169 words. Part Two. Illustration by John Donald Carlucci.


Orson Welles said that, depending where you choose to conclude it, any story can have a happy ending.

My story began the night I met Grace Chase in Cabana in Santa Monica, California.

The sun was living out its final moments, painting the sky gold, and a Pacific breeze flowed through the open-air bar. Hours removed from my first screenplay sale, I spied a beautiful blonde through a haze of tobacco. The strings of “At Last” by Etta James swelled into a crescendo of anticipation as our eyes met and she flirtatiously exhaled a stream of cigarette smoke, compelling me to navigate the swarm of guys that divided us.

“Grace,” she opened.

“Dante.”

If my Hollywood story had faded to black at that moment, as the smoke cleared and I gazed into Grace’s eyes, it would have had a happy ending.

Alas, shit happens, as it is wont to do, and four years, three weeks, and two days later, a naked brunette is lying in my bed, screaming, “Choke me! Choke the fucking life out of me!”

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The Paparazzo

The Paparazzo

by Strawberry Saroyan

A meditation on what it means to be the lens watching U.S. culture created – even if you’re foreign. 1,757 words. Illustration by Thomas Warming.


A movie star had died. It used to be these things were good money, plus a relatively easy “get.” You had to have connections, sure, have been around for a while to make your way into the location, but Mick was an old hand and had been around since, what, 2007? The business was getting tougher.

Mick was from Slovenia. He had the body of a broken pen – slim, slightly twisted and with something coursing through it but it wasn’t always blood. He was a good paparazzo. The language barrier had hurt and helped him. It made him determined to listen, hear even the syllables, keep them straight: aah, eeh, eek, ooh. Also, to keep his receptors out at all times. He hadn’t always liked celebrities but he’d grown to do so, and even when he didn’t like someone — did anyone really enjoy working with Jonah Hill, Robert Downey? — at least he knew all their names. The shooting was a way to be independent at the same time that it paid the rent. If Mick had heard of legend Ron Galella, which he hadn’t, he might have felt a sense of tradition, even artistry. But he didn’t. Still, it wasn’t a bad gig. America was working for him.

The funeral was to take place at Westwood Memorial. He’d heard on E! that it was Hollywood Forever but no, Memorial was the place; his friend Rupert had confirmed it.

Rupert was another pap, and an ally most of the time. Mick himself got the name of the valet there — hey, you had to do leg work — and Mick told Jecky, I will help you if you help me. The words had been wrong, cracked in places of course, but Jecky didn’t care. Jecky would give him the go-ahead for a cool $250. Mick knew it might be a slice of profit but he would just have to up his game.

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The Monster

by Eric Bogosian

Eric Bogosian debuts an original short story: A screenwriter desperate for his movie to be made puts the project into the hands of a famous and successful actor-director-producer. That was the scripter’s first mistake. 4,873 words. Illustrations by Thomas Warming.


Hopefully, this tape will be found some day. Probably by then it’s doubtful anyone will be able to play it back and listen to what I have to say here. But I have no choice. I have to tell this story if for no other reason than to preserve my sanity during these last few hours.

As I lie here, whispering these words to myself in the dark, I can only blame my ambition. Like Icarus who flew too close to the sun, I am being punished. Whether I deserve punishment or not, you can decide.

I’m not exceptional, I’m not special. In fact I’m pretty much a boring person. But just because I was a boring person, doesn’t mean I didn’t have dreams. And desires. And hopes. And fears. And appetites. All of that. Big time. And, in the end, just big enough to consume me. I went willingly into the lion’s den. I was going to dance with the lion. I was going to become a lion.

What the fuck did I know about being a lion?

Six years ago, when I was 28, I was writing for LA Weekly. Online. I wrote an article about a young couple who got lost while hiking around in Joshua Tree. They almost died. It was a pretty good story and, as often happens in L,A,, it garnered a phone call from a studio exec. Focus Features. I pretended that I had an agent and then got this old pal who was an assistant over at UTA to rep me and one thing led to the next and all of a sudden I had a development deal with Focus to write a screenplay based on my story.

I delivered the screenplay (after six outlines), and two days later the exec who ordered it got fired and that was the last I heard from Focus. The movie was never made. And over the past six years, I’ve been able to shuffle along and write scripts for a few other studios. At first it seemed like big money. Averaged out, week by week, it actually wasn’t. But hey, if they made even one of these films, I would have been in Hollywood heaven. Or so I thought.

Lying here now in the darkness, I try to remember the state of my life only one hundred and eighty days ago. It wasn’t bad. I was making enough money that I could afford to shop at Fred Segal every now and then. I could cover my girlfriend Sandy’s side of the rent. (She’s an assistant designer at a boutique on Santa Monica Blvd.) I drove a five-year old Prius. I shopped at Whole Foods up the street from where we lived. I played poker with other screenwriters and actors like Jeremy Sisto and David Zayas. I hit the gym twice a week. I watched my weight. I made it to 34 years old and was still young enough to be “promising.” I guess I’ll never be 35.

I was floating in a dimension that had no past, no future.

And then one day, in the shower, I came up with an idea. Simple, elegant, perfect. A narrative about a returning veteran who becomes a New York City parole officer. Gritty. Full of action. A great role for a macho actor in his thirties. And it could be made for a budget. Easily shot in less than two months. Violent but also filled with pathos.

It was everything I needed to get closer to the sun.

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Tyrannis Rex
Part Three

by Richard Natale

The screenwriter’s challenge for Act Two is seamlessly threading the studio mogul’s public and private lives. 2,260 words. Part One. Part Two. Part Four. Illustration by John Donald Carlucci.


Hollywood – 1969

The second act of his screenplay, the Untitled Jules Azenberg Biopic – First Draft, gave Dave problems as second acts generally do. Determined to push ahead, he rose every morning at seven and, hangover or not, sat down at the typewriter with a pot of coffee and waited for his fingers to magically click into action. On a day when his hands just sat there stiffly poised on the keys and not a single coherent scene emerged, Dave took a break. He and his pal Joel Rodgers went out on the town for a movie, dinner and drinks at Trader Vic’s where Joel regaled him with the details of the latest showbiz scandal. Dave listened, but without much enthusiasm. Like most current gossip, it was graphic and tawdry and destroyed what little illusion was left about movie stars’ private lives. What was Hollywood without glamour? Without fantasy?

When the muse finally revisited Dave, she came equipped with a metaphor. Act Two opens with Jules at a gaming table tossing dice in a visual motif establishing the studio mogul as an inveterate gambler and a smart one at that. For Jules proves himself an expert crapshooter, knowing exactly how long to play, how high to raise the stakes, and when to walk away from the table.

By the early 1930s, his Argot Pictures is on a roll. Most of its B-movie competitors fall by the wayside, victims of the Depression. Argot slowly buys up all the rivals and establishes itself as a viable rival to the A-list studios like MGM and Warner Bros. Here, the script hones close to the real story by assigning Jules due credit. Given his brother Mort’s cautious nature, Argot might have survived the transition to sound but not the economic reversal of the times. It took more than business savvy to keep Argot afloat: it took Jules’ ingenuity and daring.

His risky gamble is to jump head-first into larger budget movies at a time when everyone else, including the established major studios, is cutting corners. And for that he needs an ally because Jules feels inferior to the task of convincing talent to sign with Argot rather than a more deep-pocketed institution like MGM. He needs someone with the polish and finesse to talk to theater types. So he enlists a celebrated and ceaselessly charming German-born director and appoints him vice president of production. It’s a curious choice and, at first, the board expresses concern that a creative type will run financially amuck.

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