TV’s top actress helps the struggling writer – but can he help her? 3,268 words. Part One. Illustration by Mark Fearing.
Suicidal and in denial? Hysterical bleeding? This is way beyond everything I thought I understood about actors, women, anything. Jill Racine – if there’s been another actress who draws on a combination of comedic chops and sex appeal to such great effect since Carole Lombard, I’ve never seen her — is a danger to herself and me and anyone else unfortunate enough to find themselves in her orbit.
I figure I’m here because Jill had sensed my vulnerability and desperation at pre-school and assumed I’d do anything. I feel like the sap in some perverse religious film noir.
“Do we have a deal?” she says. “You don’t even have to believe me.” She grimaces in pain again. “Say yes fast,” she adds, “I need a clean fucking towel.” The moment the ink on my deal is dry, I’ll call her doctor.
The next day, I drop Ryder off at pre-school and park in what my hotshot new agent described as a spot on the studio lot “that four guys I know would kill for and one actually did.” The deal’s still verbal, nothing’s signed yet so they could theoretically take it back, but I’m not a Producer, my previous credit. I’m an Executive Producer, a huge jump in salary and status. With no history on The Jill Show and a modest reputation in the industry, I outrank everyone but Ivan, the creator and showrunner, and, of course, Executive Producer Jill herself, on the most popular television show in the land.
I’m ushered into Ivan’s enormous office. Shaking my hand and introducing himself, Ivan – a boyish, prematurely gray fellow a couple of years younger than me whom I hear is a decent guy – smiles as he asks me, on behalf of his staff, his cast, his crew, twelve million fans and a gossipy Hollywood community, what the fuck I’m doing here.
This struggling writer is back at the behest of TV’s top actress. 2,010 words. Part Two. Illustration by Mark Fearing.
I have no idea why Jill Racine’s flunky just asked me if I could come to his boss’s house “right away.” A job? Sex? Right. I’ve seen Jill in passing, she drops off her daughter at pre-school every morning, and all I’ve been able to get out of her have been waves and smiles I’m certain are insincere. Why should I expect more? The day I met her, the kids’ first day, I planned to make her laugh to pave the way for hitting her up to get me in to pitch stories for The Jill Show but ended up sobbing uncontrollably in front of Jill, the other parents, two teachers and a dozen terrified three-year-olds, including my son Ryder. He’d been diagnosed with cerebral palsy just a couple days before and I wasn’t prepared to deal with it. I am now, albeit after ordering a non-existent God to go fuck himself a few thousand times. I don’t really care what this actress wants, I needed to get out of the house. But it’s all I can do to stop myself from plowing into the lovely young couple traversing this crosswalk.
I drive down a long winding driveway to a closed gate, peer up into a security camera and yell at a speaker, “Eric Ornstill.” No answer. “To see Jill,” I add stupidly.
“Come in.” The male voice in the box is different from the one on the phone. She probably has a fucking army working for her.
The gate opens, I steer farther down and around and finally park near a low-water garden that fronts a huge Mediterranean-style house. The distressed ochre finish reminds me of the trip to Pompeii Leslie and I made when we had money and not mental issues and a 3-year-old we love whose body is degenerating. Not another servant but Jill herself pushes open the hand-carved front door and, with a big smile, bounds straight for me.
Her hair’s tied back, her pants are ripped at a thigh, her shirt at a shoulder. The clothes are clean, though, only her gardening gloves are browned with dirt. She shouts, “Thanks so much for coming over,” and Jill Racine gives me a hearty hug! I smell a rich perfume and wonder whether she’s using it to overpower the smell of the alcohol I’ve heard she likes to abuse. She hooks her elbow into mine and leads me into her home. I should give her a chance, whatever it is she wants; she was friendly that day we met, too, not cruel like her reputation says she is.
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.
A 17-year-old Latina actress after a wrong turn finds the right man and right career. 2,509 words. Part One. Part Two. Part Three. Illustration by Thomas Warming.
The next day after the brush-off from my agent Eli, I went on an audition for a new unnamed TV network pilot. I sat outside the casting office and heard an actress inside running the lines just like I had planned. Now I had to figure out a different way to say them so I would stand out. As I was memorizing the sides, a hot scruffy-looking actor sat down next to me.
“Are we gonna do this together?” he asked me.
“Get the job?”
I laughed. His name was Cole Ryan. He was in his late twenties and had been around the Hollywood block for a good decade racking up a couple pages worth of IMDB credits along the way. He asked me for my cell number and texted me later that same day to meet for coffee. “Urth at 3?” I was captivated by his bravado.
We flirted over iced lattes and he didn’t miss a beat when he walked me to my car and pulled me into him with a long slow intense kiss. Our chemistry was electric, so when he asked me to go to a party with him later that night, I agreed.
While I was getting ready at the apartment, I told Liz about him. She knew who he was and warned me that he had a reputation for lots of girls and lots of partying. I didn’t care. The Eli brush-off still stung.
The acting career of a 17-year-old Latina takes off. Then her parents interfere. 2,035 words. Part One. Part Two. Part Four. Illustration by Thomas Warming.
The next day, an assistant called me to set up an appointment at the end of the week. On Friday I went to the talent agency in Beverly Hills. When I was shown to Eli’s office, he was on the phone.
“One minute,” he mouthed. He was in his twenties and had a hot nerd vibe going on with hipster eyeglasses. After he hung up, he looked me in the eyes and shook my hand.
“Liz told me great things about you. She said you’ve been in L.A. less than a month and already booked a TV commercial. That’s impressive. Want to know what the batting average for commercial auditions is? One in a hundred. Meaning you’ll land one for every hundred auditions you go on.”
“I guess I didn’t get the memo,” I joked.
“Maybe you should come back after you go on ninety-nine more auditions,” he joked back. “It’ll probably take you longer to land the next one.” He grew serious. “Because I don’t want my team to put time and energy into getting you auditions only to have you bail because it’s not clicking fast enough.”
“I don’t know what Liz told you, but I don’t have a Plan B. This is it.”
A 17-year-old Latina aspiring actress has the best and worst day of her fledgling showbiz career. 2,073 words. Part One. Part Three. Part Four. Illustration by Thomas Warming.
I drove back down Franklin Avenue until I reached the 101 Coffee Shop. I sat at the counter and tried to come up with a game plan. I pulled up Craigslist on my cell and scoured the rental listings. Everything was too expensive. The cheapest was a share in Koreatown for $500 a month. I called the number.
“I’m calling about your furnished room. Is it still available?”
The woman who answered made an appointment for me to see it in 30 minutes. As I drove, I felt a lump form in my throat like I was going to cry. I pressed the worn out button next to Unit 3 and entered the creaky elevator. Please don’t be a murderer, I whispered to myself. To my relief, the woman was in her twenties with a warm smile.
“Hi. I’m Liz. Let me take you on the grand tour,” she said wryly. The place was tiny. “I’m never around. I work all the time as an assistant in a talent agency. What do you do?”
“I just moved here. I’m a model and an actress,” I told her.
“I figured,” she said looking at me.
To rent the room, I needed to pay one month’s rent in advance. My heart sank.
“I’m filming a Target commercial next week and can give you the money as soon as I get paid.”
Liz’s face had a skeptical look.
A 17-year-old Latina aspiring actress starts a journey through personal and professional pitfalls. 2,373 words. Part Two. Part Three. Part Four. Illustration by Thomas Warming.
May 11th was my last day of high school. It ended in the girls’ locker room where Ava, Tess and Viv finally got the last word after months of threats. Actually few words were exchanged. They beat me up and left me a bloody unconscious mess. When I came to, I was lying face down on the ground alone. I can still smell the ammonia the janitor used to clean the floor earlier that morning.
People talk about life-changing moments. This was mine. As I licked the blood off my lips, a light switch went off inside my brain. I was done. Done with Selma, California. Done with my family. And done with the bitches from school. I went home, packed my bags and tried not to cry as I left a note for José, my 10-year-old brother:
Dear José, This note is to let you know I’m going away. I promise to visit soon. I love you, little man. Natalia
I grabbed my stuff and headed for my car. There was only one place for me to go: Hollywood. Because of a boy, but that wasn’t the entire story. A year earlier, a model scout had approached my Dad at a local mall. She thought I had “potential” and handed him her business card. He never followed up, because he wanted me at home. Ever since Mom died, I had been left with all of her tasks: laundry, shopping, cooking and cleaning. One night when I was looking for a pen in his roll-top desk, I found the scout’s business card with a Los Angeles number. I knew it would be my golden ticket, if I ever needed one. My face would be the parachute out of the hellscape of my life, when it was also the reason for so many of my problems.
The screenwriter’s career is going gangbusters again. There’s just one last complication. 3,002 words. Part One. Part Two. Part Three. Illustrations by John Donald Carlucci.
After three more weeks of intense procrastination, screenwriter Gavin Falconer jumped in his Mercedes and rocketed to his favorite Palm Springs haunt. He handed his iPhone, iPad, wallet and car keys to the concierge and told him to lock them up. He had the TV removed from his room. With the help of cigarettes, Kettle One, and vials of amphetamines, Gavin was able, without stopping, to crank out a draft in eleven straight days. He smelled foul and looked like shit, his hair and beard wild. He was half-blind from eye strain and could barely walk. But he managed to hit send by the deadline.
His agent Kurt McCann read the script and told Gavin he’d hit it out of the ballpark. Then Precious Chaing-Lee, the assistant to the producer Lana Meisel, called to set a notes meeting before the script went to studio executive Brent Burnham. Now Gavin was being escorted to Lana’s office where she was waiting along with Precious. Lana started the meeting with praise. Then she expressed concern that he’d failed to ramp up sufficient tension after the mid-point.
But mostly it was smooth sailing. Until Gavin suddenly said that he’d like to made a suggestion.
“Wait, a writer with a note?” Lana laughed uproariously. Within seconds, she’d tweeted what Gavin said, then held up her phone to show him the fast growing tally of ‘likes’ and retweets.
“Listen,” Gavin insisted. “I was just wondering whether to beef up the role of Monique.”
“Monique?” Lana said. “She’s in two scenes as eye-candy for the preteen boys who will want to jack off to her meme.”
The screenwriter is being watched and followed. Will a woman expose his crime or blackmail him? 2,546 words. Part One. Part Two. Part Four. Illustrations by John Donald Carlucci.
In the dream, screenwriter Gavin Falconer struggled again with story analyst Dale Tomasis. They were in the dirt at the base of the deck. Dale threw Gavin to the ground, and then Gavin couldn’t move, as if he’d been paralyzed. He screamed and woke up, covered in sweat. He took a moment to catch his breath, then rose, naked, from the bed. He walked through his silent house. In the kitchen he downed a Xanax with a slug of Kettle One. He grabbed his laptop and headed outside. He took some deep breaths and gazed at lights twinkling up from below. It was dead silent in the hills, a good time to start writing.
He typed a slug line: EXT. DEEP SPACE – NIGHT.
He sat back and stared at the words and thought about his pitch of story analyst Dale’s idea. The first act covered so much ground, he wasn’t sure how to begin. He paced the length of the deck several times, then sat back down and began stabbing at the keys again.
“Lame!” he said out loud, deleting the opening paragraph.
He tried again. “Fuck!” he shouted, because these new words sucked, too. Then he remembered the flash drive from Dale’s desk. Gavin headed inside, found it and plugged it into his computer. Dale’s “Movie Ideas” came up on the screen. Gavin scanned through them but couldn’t find notes or even an outline. Jesus, Gavin thought, was that all this fucker had?
A screenwriter’s stolen pitch earns him a huge payday. Who can stop the film? 2,653 words. Part One. Part Three. Part Four. llustrations by John Donald Carlucci.
Usually screenwriter Gavin Falconer drove down the hill toward Sunset like a maniac, tempting fate, but this time he took the blind curves with care.
Moving a corpse was harder than he imagined. He’d debated calling for help. It was an accident, he’d swear. Instead, he moved to the deck, picked up the hammer and returned to the kitchen where he turned on the hot water and watched as blood and stray bits of hair and skin eddied down the drain.
Then he popped the trunk of the Mercedes and found a huge roll of plastic left over from a roof leak. He used it to carry the broken body, twisted and impaled. Gavin managed to roll Dale Tomasis onto the plastic, then sealed the package with duct tape.
An hour later Gavin was winding his way through the Angeles National Forest. He pulled to the side of a small service road and cut the engine. He looked over the edge of a steep ravine. He grabbed the plastic package and dragged it from the trunk. One strong push, and Dale’s body was gone into the abyss.
Back at home, Gavin could think of nothing but sliding into bed, But then he saw Dale’s Prius. “Fuck me!” Gavin hissed.
He had Dale’s keys, though. He drove the Prius to Dale’s apartment, where Gavon headed straight to the story analyst’s computer. Soon Gavin was scrolling through a folder Dale had marked “Movie Ideas.” He discarded several as poorly thought out. He copied one with merit onto a flash drive he fished from a drawer. He found the pitch idea he had stolen from Dale, copied this as well, and deleted all the film files. Then Gavin slipped out the door.
A screenwriter needs another hit movie. Will he scheme it or steal it? 3,890 words. Part Two. Part Three. Part Four. Ilustrations by John Donald Carlucci.
Up ahead, beneath twin palms swaying in a whispering hot breeze, Gavin Falconer could see a massive production — klieg lights crisscrossing the night sky, the blinking neon of the marquee, a line of gleaming black hybrids and town cars at the curb, and a Red Carpet sweeping into the theater.
Fuckers, Gavin thought as he got nearer. “Motherfuckers!” This he shouted out loud without even realizing it, until he noticed people ahead of him had turned to stare and were giving him wide berth, as if he was crazy. Well, he wasn’t crazy. He was a screenwriter, although some might equate the two. He was, however, in a foul state of mind, and when he realized his invitation didn’t include VIP parking, his mood grew even darker.
But he put on a big smile as he passed through security. He made his way up the Red Carpet and stepped into the lobby, a sea of sleek flesh in equally sleek outfits. He scanned the crowd for a familiar or friendly face. He found neither. He did spot Trish Danaher surrounded by an unwieldy entourage. He could go up and tell her he’d read her script and thought it was mediocre at best. But she already considered him a douche so he didn’t bother. He moved through the crowd toward the concession area. Kurt McCann was in front of him in line. Gavin recognized his agent by the sharp cut of his suit but said nothing, just stared and briefly imagining driving the pen in his pocket into Kurt’s skull. Then Kurt turned.
“Dude,” said Gavin, aiming to keep things light, “thought your assistant said you weren’t gonna show. You could’ve returned my call.”
Kurt aimed for light, too, even though his eyes were looking everywhere except at Gavin. “You know what? I changed my mind at the last minute. Got any pages for me? Because they’re getting antsy over at Netflix. You’re way past owing them a draft. I mean, like, breach-of-contract late.”
TV FICTION PACKAGE: An adventure channel crew reconsiders after a scary encounter. 2,347 words. Illustration by John Donald Carlucci.
After the monster bit our boat, we got the hell out of the river.
Our star, Dr. Grady Jackson, laughed as we climbed up the bank and made our way in the dark to the van. Nothing seemed to slow him down. Not even an evil villain sent straight from hell. Less than an hour ago, we were standing knee-deep in a Central American river filled with horrific hungry creatures big enough to eat us. At night. So we could shoot dramatic footage in the dark with Grady as he caught a few of the bigger beasts. In small rubber boats, no less. Me, I almost saw the headline flash before my eyes when he went under the water: “REAL LIFE ACTION HERO KILLED MAKING TV ADVENTURE SERIES.” People do die making our shows.
Top that, Hollywood.
“Pura Vida!” Grady said.
“Or Aloha,” I said. “Whatever.”
Helping Grady was exhilarating, but for me it represented a new low point in my career. I was glad to be outdoors, shooting video in an exotic location. It sure beat smoking crack next to our headquarters in the middle of downtown Washington, D.C. on my lunch breaks every day. But this was getting too weird. Even for me. No, I don’t really smoke crack. It’s a metaphor. My job now was chasing killers more ruthless than any of the other wild creatures I have spent thousands of hours watching from the safety of editing rooms.
The FBI and LAPD pursue the notorious Hollywood killer teaching a UCLA film class. 3,721words. Illustration by John Donald Carlucci.
Special Agent Phillip Kennis lifted the mini-bar bottle of orange juice and toasted his image in the mirror. He hadn’t taken a real drink in fourteen years and he had never been a breakfast drunk, anyway. But he wouldn’t have minded a touch of champagne in the Tropicana this morning. He finally had something to celebrate.
After close to half a million man hours including his own team and the state police and local cops in four cities in two states; after a closed door Congressional hearing, two review boards and a suspension over his methods and attitude; after a work-related divorce and eight months of eating Stouffer’s macaroni and cheese out of the microwave, he was finally going to arrest the Auteur.
The Auteur wasn’t some Rambo-like killing machine. He wasn’t even particularly fit. He was devious, not physically intimidating. Today, he was just an ordinary guy, standing in the pit of a lecture hall, teaching a course called Directing Actors — the tabloids would have a ball with that one. It was going down this morning, in a little more than an hour, when the film classes started at UCLA.
The paperwork was done – Phil wasn’t going to make that mistake again: no more cowboy stuff, no more improvisations. The judge had signed off on the raid just before midnight, and shaken Phil’s hand with a terse, “Go get him, son.” It was an uncharacteristic moment of warmth. Judge Howard Kyle was an unapologetic civil liberties fanatic who despised the Patriot Act and the men who took advantage of it. Phil had come up against him before. But this was different. Judge Kyle had seen the captured film — part of it at least.
“I walk out of regular movies all the time,” he said. “I walked out of Inglourious Basterds when they started beating people to death with baseball bats, and that was make-believe. I saw precisely as much of this one as the letter of the law required.”
So the Auteur had brought them together in a moment of bipartisan law enforcement and judicial solidarity, when nothing else had ever come close. That felt good. The Auteur had unwittingly created that irony, along with his high-end murder porn.
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 Russ 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.
More conflict as a struggling screenwriter and a famed director are now locked in a test of wills. 3,587 words. Illustration by John Donald Carlucci.
It was a gorgeous crystal-clear morning in Bel Air. The sky was blue, birds sang, the pool sparkled. Inside the pool house of legendary septuagenarian director Roger Edmund’s hilltop mansion, screenwriter Paul Slater, on a cot asleep, spasmed in the grip of a nightmare. There was a knock at the door. Paul woke with a start, looked around and remembered where he was. On the doorstep stood Maria the maid carrying a breakfast tray. She entered and put it down on the table beside Paul’s laptop. Paul noticed a note on the tray. He picked it up and read: I EXPECT PAGES. WE’LL MEET LATER. ROGER
Paul was agitated. Pages? What pages? We’ve only been working together for 48 hours and don’t even have a basic story yet. He asked Maria, "Where’s Roger?”
“Señor Roger?” Maria pointed toward the driveway. Paul ran out. At that moment, Ernesto, the houseman, was helping Roger and his wife Karen, the Undersecretary of Commerce, into a limo. Roger’s hand was bandaged and Karen had a Band-Aid over her eye after their contretemps the night before. Ernesto closed the door and the limo drove off as Paul appeared.
“Roger! Roger, wait!” Too late. The limo disappeared through the gate. Paul turned to Ernesto. “Where did he go?”
“To the airport. To see his wife off. He’ll be back in a few hours.”
“Look, Ernesto, I need to go get some reference books–” Paul suddenly noticed something was missing. “Hey, where’s my rental car?”
It’s his first Hollywood job. So his film producer boss changes his life – but not for good. Part One. 3,498 words. Illustration by John Donald Carlucci.
“This is Cara in Arielle Castle’s office. Is this Scott?”
“So you’re looking for a job?”
I jumped out of my seat, suddenly extremely conscious of the fact that I was wearing nothing but boxer shorts. It was 104 degrees in Burbank and, despite what the advertising tells you, they don’t have air-conditioning in every unit at the Oakwood Apartments. I wanted to be in “the business” more than anything. When people told me it was a brutal industry and that I should try something else, it just made me want it more. My parents had told me in no uncertain terms that I had better get a job, and soon. "Because," my mom had said, ‘your father and I are only paying that exorbitant $1,050 for a studio apartment for one more month." I wondered if Arielle Castle had air conditioning in her office.
“Yes. Absolutely,” I answered, quickly navigating my laptop to IMDb.com. I typed in “Arielle Castle.” I had applied for hundreds of jobs online: the UTA job list, EntertainmentCareers.net, studio job portals – you name it. This was the first time anyone had called back.
“Can you come in for an interview tomorrow at 11 a.m.?”
“Yes. I would love — That would be great. Yes. Thank you,” I sputtered, scanning Arielle Castle’s list of credits. There were 29 of them – nearly one movie a year for the past three decades, including some major franchises and Oscar winners. She was always credited as “Associate Producer”.
“Okay. Arielle will meet you at her house. It’s 974 Knob Tree Avenue, Sherman Oaks.”