Category Archives: Book Excerpt

Why, Why, Why
Part One

by Stephanie Carlisi

Rule #1 for showbiz assistants: don’t fall in love with the boss. 1,416 words. Part Two. Illustration by Thomas Warming.


Jake Easton caught me in the middle of a mani-pedi at the nail shop. I pulled one hand away from the A5B3E0F0-C9C6-486D-B9BF-98B356EAA0EBmanicurist to answer the phone.

“Hi, there.”

“Listen, on your way to my house, I need you to stop by Aida Thibiant for me.”

“Aida what?”

“Aida Thibiant,” he pronounced with an arrogance that sent daggers through me. “It’s a spa in Beverly Hills. I’ve ordered a bunch of skin and hair products that need to be picked up. There’s a sale so I decided to go to town for the best that money can buy. It’s the stuff I used back when I took good care of my skin. Also, I need you to book me a facial and a massage with the receptionist. Her name is Jenny. Make the appointments for Saturday morning. Nine for the massage with Bridget and ten for the facial with Lauren. Do you have a pen? I’ll give you the address.”

This guy annoys the fuck out of me. He’s a 58-year-old legendary songwriter/recording artist who’s written tons of hit songs for notable artists on the seventies Laurel Canyon music scene. As well, Jake has enjoyed a pretty successful acting career over the years. Also, he’s a notorious ladies man/lothario who has been romantically linked to a plethora of beautiful iconic female singers. By contrast, I’m thirty years younger than Jake and hired to transcribe his lyric journals for an upcoming album, but also to perform unclear personal assistant tasks. I’m a struggling actress/writer and still hopeful that working for Jake will be my ticket into the Hollywood elite.

“No,” I snapped. “I don’t run around with pen in hand waiting for you to bark orders at me. Sorry.”

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The Minder
Part Two

by David Freeman

He must make a choice: become the out-of-control young starlet’s BFF – or her babysitter. 2,778 words. Part One. Illustration by Thomas Warming.


Jimmy Sakamuru talked a lot about art, but he cared more about money. It’s the only way a director can A5B3E0F0-C9C6-486D-B9BF-98B356EAA0EBget anything done. Jimmy would try to stick to dollars and cents around Barney but he was sure to look for a chance to tell us how his movie was like Italian neo-realism or some damn thing. He had directed a few studio pictures but none of them had been hits. It meant that now he could make a studio distribution deal but he’d have to find his own financing. Jimmy had lost his pipeline to studio financing. To claw your way back from that took a fierceness that wouldn’t be denied. The ins and outs of this were tricky.

And now Jimmy was bringing Caitlin Harper to our office. We mostly got business people coming through our doors. This would be our first pop diva.

Barney was wearing his best suit — a blue pinstriped double-breasted model that he wore to bank meetings. He seemed a little anxious. It hadn’t occurred to me to dress for the occasion. I was in my usual khakis and an old grey herringbone jacket. Jimmy was dressed in leather, jacket and trousers, though not the James Dean-Marlon Brando biker sort. Jimmy’s leather was buttery and so tight that it must have caused pain. He was wearing Japanese running shoes that had air pumps in them. The shoes looked like the 1980s to me but, as I came to see, those shoes and much else with Jimmy were worn in an ironic manner that mostly went over my head and certainly over Barney’s.

Jimmy showed up solo with a song and dance about Caitlin being ill. Her absence was an unmistakable sign of how things would go if we got in the Caitlin Harper business. Jimmy was full of assurances about how well he could handle her. Before Barney could throw him out, we were treated to a disquisition on the finer points of the shooting scheme for Overdrive. "I don’t want to just tell the story. Not a biopic, you know?" Barney knew what a biopic was but not much more. “The influence here is the nouvelle vague," Jimmy added with an aggressive French accent that irritated Barney.

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The Minder
Part One

by David Freeman

Who’ll be tapped to tame a young starlet with wild ways? 2,762 words. Part Two.  Illustration by Thomas Warming.


It was two o’ clock in the morning and Caitlin Harper was weaving her way east on Sunset Boulevard in her A5B3E0F0-C9C6-486D-B9BF-98B356EAA0EBCadillac Escalade. She’d had a lease on that enormous black beast for all of two days. Three of her pals were on board. Caitlin had sworn up and down to her agents, her manager (who was also her mother), her lawyer, possibly her accountant and to her one friend who had some common sense, that at night she would always have a driver. She would never, day or night, drive after drinking. She probably meant it when she said it, but Caitlin was twenty years old and famous. She did whatever she wanted to do whenever she wanted to do it. Caitlin had recently seen Bonnie And Clyde and was in a Faye Dunaway mood. She’d taken to wearing a black beret, imagining herself an outlaw on the run.

Caitlin Harper might have been the only pop diva I had heard of. That’s because everybody had heard of her. You couldn’t look at a screen or a magazine without encountering her round and lubricious face. She pouted her way across the American media with her high and swollen breasts pushed nearly out of her famous swooning necklines. I couldn’t name any of the songs she was associated with though I had seen a few of her movies.

On this night all that weaving from lane to lane, complicated by those Dunaway dreams, sent her diagonally across Sunset, over the lushly planted road-divider and into a telephone pole near the Beverly Hills Hotel. The pink palace as it was known was the property of the Sultan of Brunei, a personage that I’m sure Caitlin had never heard of though it’s entirely possible that the Sultan had heard of her. A woman in one of the big houses on Foothill Road was awakened by the noise and called in the accident. Caitlin had been drinking, which is what she was usually doing at two In the morning, unless she was having sex or possibly both at once. She was wearing her seatbelt, though I doubt it was buckled at the moment she wrapped the Escalade around that pole. It was a triumph of ingenuity that despite the inconvenience of interference from two airbags, Caitlin had enough of her wits about her to buckle up even if It was too late to do much good. Caitlin had banged her head on the side window which caused a mild concussion, but that was all. Concussions are one of the many things that seatbelts prevent. No one seemed interested in such pesky details. Her chums were bounced around a bit though the serious damage was to the pole and the Escalade.

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Closing The Deal

by Allison Silver

An ex-studio boss tries to cast a crazy music superstar in the first film he’s producing. 3,704 words. Illustration by Thomas Warming.


Ben had been working on Art Manning, hard, for almost a week now.

They had 8547D799-C475-4659-B563-17A9A283F8B3done business together in past, since Manning was a powerful lawyer whose roster of A-list clients could set a deal in motion and often helped close it. He was regarded as a combative litigator, but also as a top-notch negotiator – something not always said about powerful entertainment attorneys.

When Manning came in to negotiate a deal, he never inadvertently killed it. He was not one of those lawyers whose art collections were more celebrated than their legal skills.

Ben knew that many industry lawyers were only too happy to have Manning in on a negotiation. It was one way of assuring that they would get the best possible pay-out for their client – as long as they were on the same side of the table as Manning.

Now Ben needed help for the new independent production company he was starting. He didn’t want to admit it, but he’d been unnerved by his most recent industry party. He had never thought that roughly a third of his guests would leave once he was no longer head of a studio. Was this something he needed to worry about now? Should he prepare for a life of slights? His name falling off an important agent’s call list? Never making it to the top of the queue to buy a Gursky? Ben cut off this line of thought. It was a waste of time. He had built his many relationships over years of doing business. Relationships were what mattered in Hollywood. People would always take his calls.

This picture was a good starting point. It would grab that attention of everyone in town. Over the years, many different directors and producers had tried to set up this script. But it had eluded, even stumped, them all.

Ben was certain that he had the key. Howard would make it work. Ben decided that it was going to take longer than he had planned to assemble a deal. A slog, not a quick march. But he had the skills – and patience – required to win. And winning was all that mattered.

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The Rushes
Part Two

by Richard Natale

In this book excerpt, an aspiring filmmaker tries to climb the Hollywood ladder in spite of his evil boss. 2,269 words. Part One. Illustration by Thomas Warming.


Zach celebrated Carson’s birthday by treating him to lunch at Spago in Beverly Hills where Wolfgang Puck prepared a special meal for them. And for Christmas, Carson received a Prada cashmere sweater. He wore it to the office once, so Zach would see it, then returned the sweater and put the balance toward a designer suit on sale at Macy’s. “Cashmere in Los Angeles?” Carson had remarked. “Not exactly practical. A Hugo Boss suit on the other hand…”

Those instances of solicitousness, however, paled by comparison to the number of times Zach had called Carson “a second-class cretin because you’re not even good enough to be first class” and threatened to “fire your sorry ass if you so much as breathe funny for the rest of the day.”

The stress, which sometimes breached Carson’s high tolerance level, had led him to consider stealing a tranq or two from the pharmacy in Zach’s bottom desk drawer. His boss would never know since, like many of the other office execs, he popped pills by the hour.

“Seriously, dude?” Jamie had chided when Carson mentioned it. “Is that the road you want to head down: sucking pills like they were Altoids?”

“No, no, you’re right,” Carson conceded. “But some days, it’s very tempting.”

The opportunity to work for one of the top producers in the industry right out of college was not a matter of happenstance. Carson had been hired on the recommendation of Prof. David Mendoza, who had mentored Carson and Jamie at Cal U School of Film and was one of Zach Corrigan’s closest confidantes. The two had met when Mendoza was working on his doctorate in film and interviewed Corrigan for his thesis, which evolved into a published bio about the maverick producer. Zach often showed Mendoza rough cuts of his films and asked for suggestions on how to improve them. Mendoza had keen cinematic instincts and, over the years, Corrigan had repeatedly tried to hire him.

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The Rushes
Part One

by Richard Natale

An assistant takes friendly advice on how to deal with a monstrous film boss in this book excerpt. 1,706 words. Part Two. Illustration by Thomas Warming.


With a personality as unruly as his person, Carson Thorne’s boss, Zach Corrigan (aka “the beast”), was a large rumpled man who some speculated might be suffering from undiagnosed bipolar disorder. Carson had a better answer: “Zach is a performance artist specializing in mood swings.”

Zach admitted to thirty-eight. He was actually forty-six. Carson knew this because, as his first assistant, he’d helped Zach renew his passport and driver’s license. Zach’s self-image was that of a rakish hipster, dashing and edgy. Everyone else viewed him as a borderline slob. Zach had a heavy beard but shaved only twice a week, probably on the same days he bathed, and with all his accumulated wealth, he had yet to invest in a comb or a steam iron. His Saville Row custom-tailored suits were perpetually rumpled, his club tie always cocked to one side, his shirt tucked half-in/half-out. All his socks had holes in the big toe and the last time his shoes had been shined was by the manufacturer. His attentive patient wife, Mila, had long ago given up on trying to bring order to his sartorial chaos. She chose to pick her battles and fight only those she had a chance of winning.

Though rabidly driven and tireless, Zach was also a devoted family man. Unlike most Hollywood producers, he wouldn’t even think of cheating on his wife despite the constant stream of come-ons from sacrificial lamb ingénues. Moreover, he never missed one of his children’s soccer matches, graduations or dance recitals even if it meant being late to a business meeting or an important political fundraiser he was chairing.

Zach’s preferred means of communication consisted of an infinite variety of snorts and harrumphs, and he freely emitted unsightly noises from all his bodily orifices. He didn’t seem to care if other people were present, even celebrities, most of whom claimed they found the impromptu explosions charming. That’s how badly they wanted to be in business with Zach Corrigan, whose films had won seventeen Oscars to date and been nominated for forty-two.

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Dead For A Living

by Jordan Riefe

A dispirited film journalist in Hollywood is having a dismal time in this book excerpt. 2,777 words. Illustration by Thomas Warming.


It sucked being on the Red Carpet again. It may seem exciting on TV, but in real life it’s a drag. It’s always at the end of the day, your feet are hurting and you just want to go home but, no, you’re in a scrum down. And you’re not even guaranteed the “talent” is going to talk to you unless you’re Entertainment Tonight or Access Hollywood or some other high-power purveyor of poop, which Renny Aucoin was not. Instead he was a low-power purveyor of poop, writing for Wonderwall and MSN. Could be worse, he thought, could be August and 100 degrees and sickening with the smell of perfume and sweat. Mercifully it was May and pissing rain instead.

He hadn’t done a Red Carpet in years, but the damn intern didn’t show up, and his editor threw it at him. What could he say? The venue was 6925 Hollywood Boulevard. A quintessential movie palace from the golden age, this kitschy Chinese deco gem upstaged only by its famous courtyard featuring an endless array of handprints dating from Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks through C-P3O, whose imprint had to be reworked after Regis Philbin stepped in the still-wet cement during a broadcast.

Renny knew all this on account of his life-long love affair with movies. Since childhood they represented an aspirational universe, a shining city on the hill, and Old Hollywood was the Garden of Eden. He quoted movies the way others quoted scripture, and the Chinese Theater was his Vatican.

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Quixote Jones

by Eric Layer

A film update of Don Quixote from the Star Wars director and Indiana Jones hero? 2,049 words. Excerpted from the 2018 book Critically AcclaimedIllustration by Mark Fearing.


Quixote Jones

Directed by George Lucas. Written by Charlie Kaufman. Starring: Harrison Ford, Benicio Del Toro, Helen Mirren, and Arnold Schwarzenegger as Jürgen Von Himmelmacher.

Quixote Jones, an adaptation of the formerly un-filmable Don Quixote, arrives in theatres today as one of the most highly anticipated films of all time — for all the wrong reasons. It’s the movie equivalent of a freeway pileup: we can’t help but gawk, especially after the controversy that preceded its release.

From the inception, it had all the makings of a financial and artistic bomb.
We were all so sure it would fail.

And we were all so wrong.

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The Essential Failure Of The Universe

by Kevin Wilson

A space movie with a $2.5 billion budget? That blew up a planet? Excerpted from the 2018 book Critically Acclaimed. 1,505 words. Illustration by Mark Fearing.


Essential Target

Directed by Naylon Beauregard. Starring: Angelina Jolie, Toni Collette, Jude Law, Jada Pinkett-Smith, Tom Cruise, Matt Damon, Laurence Fishburne, Zhang Ziyi, Robert Duvall, and Jason Robards.

There are few things that end up being worth the wait, the gradual buildup of expectation until it outpaces whatever the final product could ever become. And, yet, Essential Target was poised to top even our own outsized hopes. The pedigree suggested as much. Writer and director Naylon Beauregard’s previous movie, Acceleration Homeward, netted just shy of $900 million in foreign and domestic box office totals. That film, an epic story of an entire civilization’s lifespan aboard a spaceship the size of a planet, revitalized the sci-fi genre and made stars of Jude Law and Toni Collette. It changed the way special effects can enter the storytelling process, reminded us how a singular vision can speak to so many people, and, most importantly, altered our perceptions of our place in this universe. It was, to say the least, as life-changing as film can be.

Essential Target, I must confess, does not succeed as a film in any traditional (or even nontraditional) sense of the form.

It is so ponderous and overwhelmingly large in its focus that our current screens simply cannot accommodate it. I sense that, even if a screen were made that encapsulated the entire dome of the sky, it would not do justice to the aims of this film. What the film does accomplish, through means that may or may not revolve around the act of filmmaking, is to once again cause us to question our necessity in the universe, our need to exist, our possible movement toward a deserved extinction.

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Sundown At Sundance
Part One

by Duane Byrge

A noted film critic arrives for what he expects to be just another Sundance Film Festival. 2,544 words. Part Two. Illustration by John Donald Carlucci.


“Are you going to Shoot Mom?”

Ryan Cromwell pulled off his headset and glanced 8547D799-C475-4659-B563-17A9A283F8B3up from his airline seat. A guy in a blue Cubs cap hovered over him.

A stewardess came forward, looking alarmed.

Shoot Mom — are you going to the screening?” the Chicago baseball fan repeated.

“Sir, you’ll have to sit down,” the stewardess commanded. “The warning light is on.”

The guy retreated back down the aisle. Ryan Cromwell settled back into his seat. He turned to the woman next to him who’d been watching the incident unfold.

“Sorry about that. Occupational hazard,” he said.

“You must be in a dangerous profession,” she said. “Homeland Security?”

Ryan smiled: “No, more dangerous. I’m a film critic.”

He was one of Hollywood’s chief film critics, headed to Salt Lake City from L.A. for the Sundance Film Festival. His reviews of independent film could make or break the pictures as well as launch or end careers. They were especially important at an indie film festival like Sundance where the discovery of new talent was the paramount focus. Ryan’s film reviews at previous fests had helped catapult first-time filmmakers such as Gina Prince Bythewood (Love & Basketball), Kevin Smith (Clerks), Justin Lowe (Better Luck Tomorrow), Quentin Tarantino (Reservoir Dogs) and many other rookies. January was his favorite time of year because he was reviewing films that were not just vampire, zombie, special-effects and franchise movies that were critic-proof and, in Ryan’s view, brain resistant.

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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 8547D799-C475-4659-B563-17A9A283F8B3dad 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 8547D799-C475-4659-B563-17A9A283F8B3cell 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 8547D799-C475-4659-B563-17A9A283F8B3Wednesday 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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A Hollywood Kid
Part One

by Maureen Harrington

This "son of" is smart and celeb-connected but desperate. 1,965 words. Part Two. Illustration by Thomas Warming.


Dude, I am so screwed, Jason Alden muttered to himself as he sat up in bed alone late Wednesday afternoon 8547D799-C475-4659-B563-17A9A283F8B3to find his apartment trashed, as usual, his grubby sheets kicked to the floor. Earlier he’d had a fight with his girlfriend, Nicole, and she’d thrown him out of her Santa Monica beachfront condo, which her daddy, the guilty party in her parents’ nasty divorce, so generously paid for. That was considered only fair in a L.A. divorce war: he’d been caught sleeping with Nicole’s tennis teacher, then was stupid enough to knock her up and marry her.

Nicole never did get her backhand down.

Jason had slammed out of Nicole’s posh apartment’s parking lot at 5 a.m. in his three series BMW – overdue to the leasing agency, with no replacement in sight. Now he was in his own apartment on the wrong side of town. His study pad, as he described it to his parents when they rented it for him in a sort of safe neighborhood near USC. But even that was about to come to an end. Daddy Dearest wasn’t going to renew the lease and had told Jason in no uncertain terms that he’d have to cover any damage that had been done. There was plenty of that, for sure. Holes in the walls and carpets, vomit in the closets. It was a sty and now he was stuck with the clean-up.

A lot of things were coming to an end for Jason. His dad, Teddy Alden, was a washed-up director-writer-producer who was still talking about his glory days with Spielberg in the 1980s and 1990s. But the senior Alden never made Spielberg money, never had his drive and most importantly hadn’t had the sense to hire his accountants. Teddy Alden had been a partier of the first degree. Right up there with Don Samuels, the producer who famously died on his toilet, stoned on a pharmacy worth of drugs. It was a miracle Teddy was alive, but as he hit his fifties he’d started to slow down. Jason wasn’t sure it was because of the natural inclination of the elderly to get to bed early, or, that he had blown through a Hollywood-sized fortune and had to stop leasing jets to go for lunch in San Francisco.

Whatever.

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Journey Of The Villain

by Michael Tolkin

EXCLUSIVE: Michael Tolkin debuts the beginning of his novel-in-progress about a veteran executive’s humiliation when he has to start over in Hollywood. 2,974 words. Illustration by Thomas Warming.


Chapter 1 – Out With A Scream

For thirty-five years, I was the right hand man to John Brine Trubb, the legendary producer who would 8547D799-C475-4659-B563-17A9A283F8B3have been immortal if he hadn’t died. I had the privilege of being at the old man’s side when he went out with a scream. It’s the great puzzle of Rosebud that no one was in the room to hear Kane’s last word, but three of us were there to hear the Trubb’s final adios. JBT’s attorney, Redoubtable Maize, always too fancy with his allusions, heard in the old man’s dying expression the horror of Don Giovanni dragged into Hell at the foot of the Commendatore’s statue, agony after defiance. JBT’s special friend Auspicia Renn, his Abishag, said that it was the sound her rather older lover made when he was in ecstasy on Ecstasy.  A logical guess, but wrong; from my catbird seat forward of the curtain that hid his day/nite bed on the Gulfstream, I knew too well the shape of the sordid bellow she was able to draw out of him and I can arbitrate the credit for his final yodel; she loses. No, JBT’s death shout was a blend of the old man’s two favorite moments in all of cinema, opening with the start of the cattle drive in Red River, the close ups of cowboys waving their hats in the air, calling Yee-Haw! And blended with the "Yah-hoo!" at the end of Dr. Strangelove, when the great Western actor Slim Pickens rides the nuclear warhead out of the bomb bay, setting off the end of the world. I kept this observation to myself, as JBT would have wanted. “Hum this every morning when you brush your teeth: never share your personal taste,” he used to say to the people he knew in the business, the people who looked up to him. It was a ridiculous mantra, bad advice, meant to send his enemies, which meant all of you, in pursuit of wasting someone else’s money. Pursue failure. That was the message inside the advice however justified by the circumstances. He had plenty of good advice, too, look at what he did, but he never shared it, not even with me.

The funeral service was austere but per his manifesto, surprisingly well catered for a crowd of three hundred or so, although I had no appetite after my first pass at the pastry table, when attorney Redoubtable took me aside. When his first words were, “Look, Martin,” I could have written the rest of what he said, or hired a writer to do it, at scale.

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The Fatal Allure

by Allison Silver

An ex-studio boss hosts Hollywood’s hottest acting couple at a dinner party that turns disastrous. 4,268 words. Illustration by Thomas Warming.


Ben Robbins was sitting at his desk, considering the best approach to take with Rob Tracey. Many in Hollywood had 8547D799-C475-4659-B563-17A9A283F8B3tackled this test. Few had passed.

Tracey was nothing if not elusive. He had been pursued for many projects over many years. Early on, he had learned always to say yes. So he did. The most seasoned veterans would heed his siren song. Even those who knew that “yes” was his fallback position could not resist. Having Tracey star in a movie was worth any amount of effort. Years were lost, sometimes the entire project, as filmmakers tried to get a script into the shape he wanted. He seemed far too young to have enticed so many pictures onto rocky shoals.

But getting him from that first “yes” to the first day of shooting could prove a treacherous, even deadly, effort for any project.

Tracey, was a serial enthusiast, warming up to an idea quickly, only to drop it without a backward glance. That’s what lawyers are for. He was a master juggler – keeping projects in various stages of limbo, as directors or producers or studio executives or other bankable stars waited for him to decide up or down on moving forward.

He was the Svengali of reworking. Subplots were changed, or added, or subtracted; supporting roles beefed up – unless they cut, changed from men to women or women to men. Or he might want the location shifted to Europe or China or New York, with appropriate supporting roles and accents gained or lost; or moved from mountains to coastline or small town to megalopolis – or the reverse. He might need key plot points re-focused or details blurred. Or positive traits made provocative, or negative traits written out.

Many movies had improved during this process of trying to lure him in – emerging as better iterations. Some hadn’t. Projects could be caught in the Tracey quagmire for years, only to be substantially overhauled for another actor or actresses. But many other projects died waiting for him to commit.

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