Category Archives: Short Story

Press Play
Part Two

by Tom Musca

It becomes clear that the scheming student filmmaker’s only talent is for blackmail. 2,602 words. Part One. Illustration by Mark Fearing.


As the evening was drawing to a close, Danny Shields began to question his plan. Would he ruin his chances of being accepted at the USC School Of Cinematic Arts in the traditional way in the event the admissions office came to their senses and recognized his genius? If he replaced his cousin Chuckie with real actors, Danny was certain his movies would more than hold their own with the early works of notable auteurs.

It was now 9:30 p.m. and many of the alumni and a few of the prospective students were beginning to leave. At the buffet, Danny reached for the last of the salmon and maguro sushi that had been exposed to the air too long. It was that precise moment when Danny caught J.T. Quinn’s mirrored reflection approaching in a stainless steel tray. As Danny slid a few inches sideways, the Admissions Office executive absentmindedly stepped behind him, hovering only a few inches away, still indecisive on whether he would indulge himself with the picked-over platters.

Danny was on autopilot since he had envisioned a version of this very scenario at least fifty times from twenty different angles when he initially hatched the idea. He took out his refurbished iPhone and held it over his shoulder, as if he was casually photographing the gathering in a master. Danny reversed the lens, pivoted to his left, pressed record, then suddenly stepped backwards into Quinn, as if momentarily losing his balance, squishing his face in victim mode, the same way he had been rehearsing on the bus. J.T. reflexively mumbled, “Excuse me” and wandered off. Danny hit pause as Quinn steered his wife to the door, oblivious to what had just happened that would change his life forever.

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Press Play
Part One

by Tom Musca

The wannabe director seeks acceptance to elite USC film school any way no matter how sordid. 2,385 words. Part Two. Illustration by Mark Fearing.


The lights dimmed, the conversation stopped, the phones vanished, and the film came on. Being the first day of the new semester, the screening room was packed with film brats who had flocked to L.A. to study at the world’s most prestigious film school. Most of the time screenings started seven or so minutes late but tonight’s began on the dot. These were films the School of Cinematic Arts never wanted to show.

There are only a handful of top-tier film schools and even folks outside the business have a notion of the pecking order: UCLA, NYU, AFI, Columbia, Cal Arts followed by UT, Emerson, Chapman, LMU and perhaps U of Miami. But with little debate the consensus #1 cinema school is USC. Especially for directors. George Lucas, Ron Howard, Ryan Coogler, Judd Apatow, Jay Roach, John Singleton, Robert Zemeckis, James Ivory, Jon Turtletaub, Doug Liman, Jason Reitman, Taylor Hackford, James Foley, Walter Salles, Jon M. Chu, and Elizabeth Allen Rosenbaum just to name a few. Add to that a slew of up and coming female directors soon to make their mark on the industry. Shit, Steven Spielberg got rejected from the program and he still endowed the school with half a million smackers.

No shame there because getting into USC film school is now more difficult than getting into Harvard. While other film schools were ransacking China to fill dwindling enrollments, USC could afford to reject 97% of its applicants. No one knew that better than Danny Shields, for he had already been rejected four times.

Colleges are intentionally vague about their decision-making processes, and in the diversity frenzy gripping Hollywood, it didn’t help that Danny was a white male applicant from a community college who would require financial aid. Still, Danny Shields was not easily deterred, which is, of course, a very desirable trait for a filmmaker. Directors need to be stubborn and Danny Shields was not going to be ignored.

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Sassy Black Girlfriend Agency Inc.
Part Two

by Diane Haithman

Was the casting director promoting a sexist and racist business model? Or just finding roles for underserved actresses? 2,149 words. Part One. Illustration by Thomas Warming.


Look, I’m not blind. Or stupid. Even back then, I knew there were a few black women who slipped past the gates to become legitimate stars, including Academy Award winner Halle Berry. (I admire her so much that I’ve granted my husband blanket permission to sleep with her if she ever happens to ask him. I can bed Mahershala Ali.) Now it’s even better, with blazing talents like Viola Davis, Jennifer Hudson and Lupita N’yongo walking away with Oscar statuettes.

No, my role in the industry was not to build the careers of those special few but to champion the right for my SBGs to make a decent living off supporting parts in substandard material, just like any white actor of middling talent in Hollywood. Time’s up on waiting for our right to cash in on being mediocre, just like everybody else.

Time to get sassy! My assistant Cherie and I began watching the video.

The actress’s smile disappeared instantly. The earrings stopped moving and hung immobile for one long alarming moment. Then she spoke in a voice devoid of any dialect. I would never have represented this blandness.

“Hello, Sassy Black Girlfriend Agency Inc. I submitted this video not in hopes of signing with your agency, but to tell you in a very digital way that I am one of a new coalition of Hollywood actors of color who object to your very existence in 2018. Time’s up on limiting your clientele to women — even worse, specifically black women — and reinforcing negative stereotypes by sending them out for this very limited segment of available roles.

“We’re calling you out on your sexist and racist business model and demanding that you cease and desist immediately.“

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Sassy Black Girlfriend Agency Inc.
Part One

by Diane Haithman

African American film and TV roles are all the rage right now. But it wasn’t always that way. 2,135 words. Part Two. Illustration by Thomas Warming.


I opened the photo attachment to full screen. The 23-inch monitor was sitting on my mid-century modern desk, positioned in feng shui perfection beneath a classic wooden ceiling fan in a Spanish-style apartment complex turned office building just off Cahuenga and Santa Monica Boulevards in Hollywood.

Too much detail? Deal with it. That’s just the kind of person I am.

I also like to be able to see things clearly, hence the big screen attached to my MacBook Air at the office. I’m too old to watch Netflix on an iPhone, thank you very much. My Gen Z assistant, Cherie, peered anxiously over my shoulder, standing stork-like on one small bootie-clad foot.

“What do you think?” she asked, nervously stretching the cuffs of her pink cotton H&M sweater down over her tiny hands.

Visually, this actress was just right. Black, mid-30s, with too-tight clothes, at least one hundred long braids, sky-high heels and three-inch gold-painted nails bearing so many jewels they looked like they had clawed open the royal gates of Versailles. Stunning.

Still, there remained one important test she had to pass.

Sass.

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Firing Forsyth
Part Three

by Nat Segaloff

With tensions climaxing, the filmmakers wonder if they can convince the famous actor to quit. 1,649 words. Part One. Part Two. Illustration by Thomas Warming.


Operation Death moved through the studio slowly but surely. Casting proceeded apace. Costume fittings were routine for a contemporary picture. Naturally, Forsyth would be contractually permitted to keep his clothes. Sets went up on schedule and, as expected, Dr. Doherty’s home, seen in only one quick sequence, was decked out with expensive dark brown shag carpeting.

Director-screenwriter Allan Spanner was Overseeing storyboards for the screenplay when his agent ordered him to find some place private to take the call. He chose the men’s room off the office.

“Are you sitting down?” the rep asked. “I just got a call from Pete Trimble, the newspaper columnist for one of the Chicago papers. He said he was letting you know that, under Writers Guild rules, a writer who is hired to write behind another writer has to inform the first writer.”

“What are you getting at?” Spanner asked.

“Pete Trimble is a friend of Brendan Forsyth. It looks like your old buddy has hired his old buddy to rewrite your script.”

“You mean the one we’re starting to shoot on Monday.”

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Firing Forsyth
Part Two

by Nat Segaloff

The celebrated actor starts driving the filmmakes crazy. Can they control him? 2,191 words. Part One. Part Three. Illustration by Thomas Warming.


The first phone call started as an innocent inquiry.

“Does he have to drive an SUV?” Brendan Forsyth’s agent asked.

“Why not?” Charlie Greene, one of the two producers on the film Operation Death starring Forsyth, asked back.

“Brendan feels that the character would drive something sporty. Say, a Porsche.”

Don Masaroff was an old-time ten-percenter who brought his client list with him when he’d hopped agencies the year before. He was known as a gentleman, had repped Forsyth since forever and was used to nudging producers rather than playing brinksmanship.

“The man’s a middle-aged surgeon,” Greene said. “Plus, we’ve lined up a promotional tie-in with GM for free vehicles in exchange for an onscreen credit. A Porsche wouldn’t be in character or in the budget.”

“Brendan thinks the character should be more daring,” Masaroff said, ignoring Greene. “That raises the stakes for his encounters. Besides, a lot of middle-aged guys buy a sports car. It’s a rite of passage, you know? I did.”

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Firing Forsyth
Part One

by Nat Segaloff

A comedy-action star stretches to take on a daringly different dramatic role. 1,705 words. Part Two. Illustration by Thomas Warming.


Brendan Forsyth was a green-light machine. Ever since he shot to stardom opposite Ryan Howson in Gangsters Two, the pair playing two lovable rogues, he had become one of those rare Hollywood commodities popular with both public and critics. He was also smart. He had a social conscience and supported many causes and charities, but he kept a low donor profile. His marriage was stable and the press treated him and his wife, Barbara, with respect. He was selective with interviews.

His ability to choose projects was equally remarkable. He famously passed on the starring role as the ship builder who rescues all the passengers in the disaster picture Sea Doom because it was the builder’s flawed design that put everybody in jeopardy in the first place. Rather, he wanted to play the captain of the rescue liner because that was the only guiltless character in the script. Interestingly, Howson had no qualms playing the ship builder, and the re-teaming scored a box office record.

Forsyth would even take a supporting role if he thought it could help a picture get made. That garnered him a lot of good press, but it also made his fellow actors wary of him. And yet the guy was just so likable that they had to forgive him. What other big star would have played the fireman for barely ten minutes in the children’s movie, Cathy’s Kitten? Because his daughter loved the books, that’s why. Or the voice of a paranoid caller on the TV series Shrink Rap? Because the sitcom was his guilty pleasure, and it set off a trend of celebrity cameos.

So when Forsyth agreed to play the hotly contended role of Dr. Bob Doherty, an alcoholic surgeon who climbs on the wagon to save the U.S. President’s life in the medical thriller Operation Death, it was seen as another daring decision by the iconoclastic star. Producers Adam Hoffman and Charlie Greene were thrilled; Larry Cooper, the retired surgeon who’d written the bestselling novel, was honored; and screenwriter-director Allan Spanner was eager to work with his friend of twenty years dating back to when they were both struggling actors.

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The Cache Of Al Montillado
Part Two

by Stephen Whitty

Fed up with no media coverage, the film palace owner fantasizes revenge. 1,940 words. Part One. Illustration by Mark Fearing.


The Casbah’s one-year anniversary was approaching and it was time to do something drastic. The next film A5B3E0F0-C9C6-486D-B9BF-98B356EAA0EBbooking would have to be a unique program. I devised a Plan A… and a cold-blooded Plan B.

But, first, I began checking the availability of prints. As a completely non-digital venue, our options were extremely limited and getting more so with every month. Then I set a face-to-face meeting with Flicker Weekly’s film reporter Tony Fortunato so this run could, finally, be decently promoted. However much the newspaper game seemed to have changed, I knew the best way to a journalist’s heart was still through his stomach, with perhaps a secondary route through his liver. I also knew that writers always accepted anyone’s invitation that ended with the words, “My treat.” So I went through several recent issues to see what was the newest, trendiest, silliest restaurant in town and made a reservation for two.

The next week we sat at a small table in a large room where the portions were miniscule and the prices gargantuan. But the drinks were enormous, too, and I had arranged with the waiter to make sure that Fortunato’s kept coming. The journalist began our dinner by launching into a long list of reasons why nobody cared about my theater or its programming.

“Those damn black-and-white movies. They’re so corny,” he railed.

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The Cache Of Al Montillado
Part One

by Stephen Whitty

A messy intersection of film journalism and the revival-house business. 2,153 words. Part Two tomorrow. Illustration by Mark Fearing.


The thousand injuries of Flicker Weekly I had borne as best I could, but when they insulted Orson Welles, I A5B3E0F0-C9C6-486D-B9BF-98B356EAA0EBvowed revenge. It had already been a long and stressful year since I had refinanced my house, cashed out my 401K and bought the elegant ruins of the Casbah.

The movie theater had been empty for nearly a decade when I spied it. It was like seeing a once great beauty with her front teeth knocked out. The screen was miraculously intact, hidden behind a cheap curtain, and the seats were all there. But the projection booth was full of pigeons, and something far less pleasant had been living in the men’s room. The whole place smelled of damp and rot and mold and despair.

“I’ll take it,” I said. That was a year ago,

Designed by the esteemed Rapp & Rapp, the motion picture palace had been built in 1924 in the faddish “Moorish” style, influenced by then-popular melodramas of exotic oases and desert passions. Intricately cut archways framed every interior door; turquoise tiled fountains bubbled invitingly outside the ladies’ and gents’ lounges. A painted azure ceiling replicated a limitless North African sky, and pictures of leafy palms waved from the walls. Patrons who bought a ticket bought a dream.

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The ICON Award

by Michael Brandman

Hollywood may have too many award shows but everyone still wants to be a winner. 1,929 words. Illustration by Mark Fearing.


Hollywood – 1978

"And the winner is," heralded Artie Edgar, hesitating a beat in an effort8547D799-C475-4659-B563-17A9A283F8B3 to heighten the suspense.

Known mainly for his role in the made-for-cable comedy series, Geezers, Edgar had been tapped to emcee history’s first cable TV awards program, the Inter-Connected-Networks awards, or simply, the ICONs.

The program was being televised nationally on every cable channel, a joint effort to elevate awareness of the non-conventional fare now being offered by a myriad of new programming services.

The year was 1978, fifteen years before the cable industry’s first Emmy nomination. For its time, however, the ICON awards were the symbol of excellence in cable programming.

"The ICON goes to Burlesque Heaven," Artie Edgar gleefully announced.

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Picasso Poodle

by Quendrith Johnson

She never thought a dog’s Hollywood career would be better than hers. 1,710 words. Illustration by Thomas Warming.


Maura Downing was waiting to hear what her former employer had to say, and when it came, the last 25 years A5B3E0F0-C9C6-486D-B9BF-98B356EAA0EBof their relationship of professional and emotional gymnastics snapped into focus.

“I’ll give you a $6,500 vintage Hermes Jane Birkin handbag…”

‘Subcontract rate for a couple of months’ work is a designer handbag? Seriously?’

The rest of the conversation was a muddle of Maura refusing showbiz work for the first time ever. While she had been underpaid for years, never had she been offered an empty purse for writing services rendered. It seemed almost funny, ironic in a tragic bad novel sort of way.

“What else are you going to do? Work at CVS?,” the Boss taunted.

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Werewolf

by Alan Swyer

The most desperate and lonely and horrific naturally find a home in Hollywood. 2,547 words. Illustration by Mark Fearing.


This morning, cold and hungry, I approached a woman in carefully torn jeans who was stepping out of her A5B3E0F0-C9C6-486D-B9BF-98B356EAA0EBBentley near the Gucci store in Beverly Hills.

“Madam,” I said, trying my best not to appear frightening in any way, “I haven’t eaten in three days.”

“I wish I had your will power,” she replied jauntily.

For a moment I was sorely tempted to gnaw on her well-toned arm or take a bite of her Botoxed cheek. But having resolved not to give in to my bestial side, even as my skin started to turn to fur and my teeth began to jut out, I did my best to shrug as the woman headed off towards Pilates or perhaps to fight for world peace.

I am what’s known as a lycanthrope, which is a fancy way of saying werewolf. Lore about my problem — or species — or whatever appellation one chooses to describe beings like me — has it that we can only be killed by silver bullets or some such nonsense. For me, a far worse fate than having some yo-yo search from gun shop to gun shop for silver bullets is being ignored. Or ostracized. Or shunned.

I suppose I should blame Lon Chaney Jr, or Universal Pictures, or whoever it was who started making the films that have demonized my breed. Even the medieval legends about creatures such as me, though farfetched and ludicrous, are nowhere near as vile or condescending as those willfully haunting but heinously incorrect movies.

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Film School
Part Two

by Alan Swyer

Not just the student but two obnoxious colleagues are driving him out the door. 2,098 words. Part One. Illustration by Mark Fearing.


Berger girded himself, then entered the classroom. "Okay," he said, "any problems? Questions? Strange or A5B3E0F0-C9C6-486D-B9BF-98B356EAA0EBunforeseen developments?"

After dealing with the issues that were presented, then getting progress reports from several students, he turned to Candace. "Any questions before you start?"

"How many pages can my script be?"

"Let’s say 135 max."

"Why?"

"Why a duck?"

"I don’t follow."

"It’s a line from a Marx Brothers movie."

"I still don’t follow."

"This is supposed to be a place where students learn to be members of the professional film community."

"But isn’t that limiting?"

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Film School
Part One

by Alan Swyer

Why is there always one really annoying student in every film school class? 3,053 words. Part Two. Illustration by Mark Fearing.


At the first meeting of his new seminar, Berger had the nine graduate students introduce themselves and A5B3E0F0-C9C6-486D-B9BF-98B356EAA0EBdiscuss their backgrounds, then he stated his credo.

"I can’t make you a writer," he announced. "For that you’d need a magician, not a screenwriting mentor. But I can make you a better writer. And I can help you think, function, and carry yourself like a professional. Any questions before I go on?"

A woman who looked to be in her mid-forties, which meant nearly twice the age of most of her classmates, and older than Berger as well, raised her hand. "The script each of us will eventually get to write –" she began.

"What about it?"

"What’s the limit on page count?"

"Candace, right?" Berger asked, trying his best not to cringe. When she nodded, he went on. "Why’s that more important to you than character, structure, theme, or tone?"

"It’s the kind of thing I like to know."

"Instead of answering your question, I’m going to ask one. What’s the difference between plot and story?"

"What’s that got to do with page count?"

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Casting Call

by Gilli Messer

Short or tall. Blond or brunette. Whoever women are, Hollywood wants someone else. 552 words. Illustration by Mark Fearing.


SEEKING ACTRESSES AND ACTORS WITH TOTALLY ATTAINABLE QUALITIES FOR HIGH PROFILE TOP SECRET FEATURE FILM
OFFICIAL CASTING CALL: UNTITLED FEATURE FILM (MAJOR STUDIO)
*No phone calls. Email pitches ONLY*

FEMALE LEAD: Allison is effortlessly sexy but not intimidating: a true leading lady in every sense. She’s A5B3E0F0-C9C6-486D-B9BF-98B356EAA0EBthe girl next door to the girl next door; a classic beauty with an edgy quality that we cannot describe in words… but we’ll know it when we see it. Her imperfections make her who she is. Maybe she’s got a quirky birthmark on her thigh, or two different color eyes, or a penchant for wild lipstick. Surprise us!

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American Beast
Part Two

by John D. Ferguson

Slowly and painfully, the one-time movie star comes back from near death. 2,232 words. Part One. Illustration by Thomas Warming.


Everything hurt.

He tried but he couldn’t move; restraints held his arms and legs down. There was something A5B3E0F0-C9C6-486D-B9BF-98B356EAA0EBover his face, something heavy and damp, and there were tubes in his nose feeding cool air into his nostrils to control the rate of his breathing. Pain vibrated throughout his body but it was a dull ache, not a sharp piercing, that ran from his neck to his toes. Something was masking the real feeling. Just when he felt he could open his eyes, he would pass out again.

There were times the famous movie star Tommy Shaw heard voices hovering above but he remained in a constant state between dreams and consciousness so that the voices hardly seemed real. Were they talking to him or amongst themselves? One time he could clearly hear the conversation:

Take it easy on the morphine, Mr. Clovis… We do want him to wake up some day. Can he handle the pain, Doctor? He moans so in his sleep… Gradually, okay?… We need to lower the dosage over the next few days… We must concentrate on getting Mr. Shaw back to full consciousness and then we can regulate the pain… You can see him trying free himself… Mr. Shaw, please try not to struggle… Your wounds will bleed… Please, sir, listen to the doctor.

Then Tommy would obey the voices and stop fighting against the restraints and fall back to unconsciousness.

Tommy Shaw’s recovery from his near coma, to his weeks-long stay in bed, to his standing and trying to walk, took over a month of painful rehabilitation. He couldn’t attend Helen Porter’s funeral; her family came and took her body back to Springfield, Illinois, and they made it clear that no one from Hollywood was welcome to be there. Fans left flowers and postcards with their condolences and hopes for a speedy recovery outside the gates of the mansion. Universal Pictures sent over food from the town’s best restaurants and Carl Laemmle sent over a signed blank check for whatever Tommy needed. No visitors were allowed in the house. It fell solely to Clovis to prepare his master for life as his new self.

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