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.
Former LAPD detective turned screenwriter Nick Chapel follows a lead in the serial murder case. 2,096 words. Part One. Part Two. Part Three. Part Five tomorrow. Illustration by Thomas Warming.
There is a reason I specialize in rewriting crime stories. It’s not just the compelling nature of murder, and the ease of breaking a second act that is propelled by the search for a criminal. It’s the simple motivation that drives the hero to his or her goal. No boring exposition is needed to explain why a police officer or private investigator endures trials and hardships to solve the crime and catch the villain. It’s simply what they do, and who they are. It defines them.
It’s the detective who doesn’t pursue the killer that requires explanation. He knows the criminal is out there somewhere. The same sun beats down on him. He wears sunglasses to cut the glare, just like I am, and maybe even a hat to protect his sensitive scalp. The same hot wind blowing in from the desert burns his lungs. I drive east, sketching out the backstory of a man I’ve never met.
He works in show business, or used to, but the reality never matched his dreams. That made him angry, enough to kill, but he’s no wild man ranting on Hollywood Boulevard about what might have been. He’s quiet and thoughtful. Intelligent. He has a plan and a place to do his work that must be private, where no one would notice his comings and goings, or the bodies he carries.
Driving through Beverly Hills, I wonder if he is shopping at this very moment. Maybe he is sipping a cappuccino at one of the coffee shops on Robertson, or eating lunch at the Beverly Center. But then he is probably more accustomed to brown-bagged lunches and black coffee from a thermos than hipster meetings at The Ivy. I settle into his shoes, and feel the weight of the implements he uses to cut his victims apart. I should be angry with my ex-partner, LAPD Homicide Det. Jim Brandt for introducing me to this character, but only feel an odd gratitude. Finding Sid Shulman is the least I can do.
Which is worse on a TV shoot: wrangling insane directors or stupid executives? 1,850 words. Illustration by Mark Fearing.
You know it’s a bad day when the Network appoints an incompetent head case to be its new programming chief and the guy you chose to direct your latest movie turns out to be a fraud.
Let’s just call it a massive Xanax day.
My name is Ray Medly and after years of toiling in the fields and learning my craft, I now produce motion pictures, including theatrical features, movies for television and streaming video.
I’d begun shooting Wagons West on the same day Mascot Cable trumpeted the hiring of Truman Rombolt, the third member of a three person team of programmers at RBP Productions and the subject of much industry speculation as to what it was they were thinking when they hired him.
When it was announced he was to become Mascot’s new head of programming, a collective groan could be heard all over Hollywood.
"Clueless," was how one producer described him.
"A deeply disturbed human being," commented another.
The showbiz somebody tries to overcome his nobody past. 1,742 words. Part One. Illustration by John Donald Carlucci.
“I didn’t know this guy, Tate, was a good friend of yours,” the Netflix show’s cinematographer, Percy Swain, said when he ran into the producer in the hotel lobby a few days later.
“He’s not,” Dale Beauchamp replied, succinctly, about Tate Frawley, the local guy who’d been hired only because he owned an ARRI and let the production have it for free as long as he was hired to operate it. “We grew up together. Haven’t seen him since high school. How’s he working out?”
“He’s capable enough. Bit of an attitude problem, but nothing I can’t handle.”
“Sorry. Didn’t know it was him until after you gave me the green light. Since we were in the home stretch, I didn’t want to risk losing another day of shooting.”
“Forget I mentioned it. When I’m exhausted, the slightest ripple threatens my authoritarian demeanor. Hope you’re pleased with what I’ve done.”
“Percy,” Dale grinned, “the dailies look terrific. You’re one of my not-so-secret weapons.”
“Thanks,” Percy said, expelling a deep breath. “I really needed a good ass-kissing this morning.”
Today’s showbiz somebody was a nobody way back when. 1,481 words. Part Two. Illustration by John Donald Carlucci.
On the third day of production, Dale Beauchamp dragged himself into the hotel just after midnight. He scanned a room that had seen better days. The bedspread was faded and one of the armchairs had an injured foot that caused it to list to one side. In the absence of any four-star accommodations within ninety miles, this was his home for the next four months during filming of his new series for Netflix.
Initially, he’d considered renting a house in a more secluded spot. But WiFi out of town was sketchy and the production office was only a two-minute walk from the hotel. The only decent places to eat – mostly mom and pop diners, and one not half bad “upscale” bistro – were located along the anonymous undulating blue highway outside his window. Otherwise, it was Arby’s or IHOP or other chains as far as the eye could see.
The set caterer, Cindy, was a townie who’d worked a few commercials, an affable young woman whose sewn-on smile never flagged even when she’d stubbed her toe. Yesterday, for the first time since he’d left home in Catesville, he ate sandwiches made with Wonder Bread. While he was far from a Hollywood elitist, Dale was caught up short by the fact that Wonder Bread was still being manufactured.
He made a note to have Lucille, the production supervisor, speak to Cindy but held out little hope. Their catering budget was restrictive. Working for streaming outlets made him nostalgic for the relatively lavish perks of mainstream cable, which were already a far cry from network shows. Every spare penny went to talent and production values. If it wasn’t up there on the screen, there’d be no second season, and he’d be making the rounds again with one of the half dozen film and TV projects his company was developing: working harder just to keep his name visible, praying for a break-out hit to afford him some leverage.
A hit TV show set in Hawai’i is ending an eight-season run. What’s the local crew to do? 2,581 words. Illustration by Mark Fearing.
"Now, this is the exact location of the camera of the title sequence, which we all know so well. Place your hands like this," as Waimea made a bracket to simulate a camera’s view in front of his face. They were standing on the valley ridge and all four held their hands in front of their faces like directors do. "Then, we slowly pan across that jungle edge to the ranch house. Then we zoom in, pan slowly, then zoom out and we keep panning across the valley as the music builds. We keep panning, panning, until we settle on the beautiful blue Pacific and a spectacular sunset."
"And up comes the Paniolo main title!" said the woman.
They all stared, squinting in the bright sunlight. There was much to see. The bright green of the valley floor that deepens to brown at the top of the jagged primeval ridgeline. The bright blue of the sky and the bright white of the billowing clouds. Waimea turned to the young girl and asked, "Can you tell me what Paniolo means?"
She proudly replied, "Hawai’i cowboy!"
"That’s right. Now we’ll head to craft services and get you some lunch. And then you can see your Aunt Amanda. She only has one fast scene today. Then I think she wants to take you to the North Shore."
At they arrived at the buffet barbeque, Waimea turned to the family and said, "It was a pleasure to have met you. Here is my card. If you need anything on your vacation, please call me. I’m a local boy. Make sure you try a little grilled Portuguese sausage, yah? It’s hard to find on the Mainland and it’s everywhere here. Savory.”
Waimea Ward thought savory was a good word. The cast and crew of Paniolo were savoring their last days. Their familiarity, long taken for granted over the last eight seasons, would soon disappear. The show was ending. Strong ties would unlace. Routines vanish. Lovers uncouple. The mood on set was underscored with unspoken goodbyes.
Out-of-work Hollywood types travel to the middle of nowhere to make an adventure show. 2,332 words. Part Two. Illustration by John Mann.
We were desperate. Art. Bruce. Lance. Tony. Scott. The whole lot of us. Desperate for another break. Desperate to make another month’s rent, another phone bill, another car payment. Desperate to make something happen. Tired of waiting tables, waiting in open houses, waiting to get slaughtered at the next cattle call. We’d all had a break or two already – a national commercial, a recurring role on HBO or FX or AMC, a juicy part in a fourquel splatter-fest. Just enough to keep our hopes up, keep us out of real jobs and real money. Only the breaks hadn’t led to bigger breaks. We needed that big roller to take us over the top. And this was our wave machine.
“Can you believe this shit?” said Art, an aspiring film editor scraping by on local commercials and backyard bare-knuckle brawl videos. Believe it or not, they pay people to edit those things. He got four hundred bucks and an eight ball for the last gig, which launched the career of a 380 pound overalls-clad cyclops named Opie Mohammed.
I couldn’t believe the tab as I looked at it, dollar signs burning my eyes. Even out in the middle of nowhere like we were, in some Northern California town where the redwoods met the Pacific, it was possible to run up a four figure bar tab. Before I could react, another round had arrived — bottles of Budweiser and whiskey backs, although you could have them in any order you liked. I could already feel the hangover and I knew a couple of the others were half blind. Somebody had to pay for this. The credit cards were maxed. We didn’t have the budget for this bill. I hailed the waitress and ordered another round of whiskey.
As soon as I said it I got hit in the eye with the flash. “How come every time I order a whiskey, you take my picture?” I asked.
Scott slipped the phone back in his pocket. “Because in Argentina they say ‘whiskey’ instead of ‘cheese’. Picked it up on a shoot in Patagonia.”
Writers on a new TV series love everything about their job. Well, almost everything. 1,983 words. Illustration by John Donald Carlucci.
It’s a dream job. I imagine Disorderly running for years. A guaranteed job. No more jumping from show to show to show. I’m working on a TV series with smart, funny, non-asshole people, a production company that buys us lunch, a pilot plus ten order guaranteed, and a show that’s fun to write. It’s about crazy attorneys and cops. Imagine an amped up, whacked out Law & Order. The showrunner/creator, Stefan, is amazing. No ego, a nice guy who insists on sane hours, thinks writers get burned out by being in the room too long. The first week of the show, he invited us over to his house for a barbeque. He didn’t hire a caterer, either. He did the grilling himself. His wife made cupcakes.
Like I said, dream job.
The rest of the Disorderly staff is great, too. And I’m back with my friend Lisa from Ghombie (aka piece of shit). Thank God, it got canceled. “Pinch me, Kyle,” Lisa says on the job every day. “This is way too good to be true.”
“Don’t jinx it,” I tell her.
Stefan wants us to meet the cast so the actors and actresses stop by the office. It’s mostly an ensemble show, but there are two big guy parts. Matthew Roth is the arrogant attorney. He’s done a ton of TV and a couple of indie films. The first thing he says is how blessed he is to be doing a show like this. Blessed.
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.
TV FICTION PACKAGE: An Emmy publicity stunt goes terribly and hilariously wrong. 2,665 words. Illustration by Thomas Warming.
It materializes out of the smog at daybreak, low on the horizon over the San Gabriel Mountains when most of Los Angeles is still asleep. From the early news reports patched into his headset, Garrett discovers that people just waking up to their morning coffee are already calling in about it. Some claim to be witnessing a UFO. Or even a falling angel.
“It’s like trying to shoot Jesus,” he hears his cameraman say as if he, too, is rising from a dream.
The figure is attached to thick wire ropes that dangle from a harness beneath the open cargo bay of the big chopper, a heavy-lift Sikorsky Skycrane. The first rays of sun glint from gilded wings as the figure glides serenely with outstretched arms over the industrial outskirts of Van Nuys. It turns and banks in a long sweeping curve over the palm-lined tracts of Studio City, flying up and over the hillside estates of Mulholland, dropping in low at treetop level through Beachwood Canyon until it hovers motionless, a pinpoint of flashing gold over the Hollywood sign.
Garrett is seated comfortably next to his pilot in the little chopper, a Bell Jet Ranger, the chase craft orbiting the spectacle at a distance. He’s relieved to discover a sense of stillness above the traffic just beginning to spill onto the freeways. But this tranquility is short lived. He can see prop-wash kicking up squirts of sand on the fire road that snakes its way above Hollyridge. And he knows the deep penetrating thwack of the chopper blades is rattling the flimsy stucco homes packed into the sides of the canyons. He can see people beginning to crane their heads out of doorways and sliding windows.