A screenwriter is frustrated at the Cannes Film Festival – until he stops caring about it. 3,283 words. Illustrations by John Donald Carlucci.
Ira, pleased with Bender’s free rewrite of his script, arranged a meeting with Tarik Azziz, a Moroccan film producer and financier, who would also house Bender for a couple of nights in his villa in Cap d’Antibes. Bender arrived at the Cannes Film Festival well armed. He had a script, an interested producer, and a room. It was now up to Bender to find a way to fuck it up.
As he wandered the Croisette, Bender wondered where he got his policy of walking out of waiting rooms after thirty minutes? What was the purpose, what was the result? From his seat on the Ikea couch of the office suite he could see the Moroccan producer talking on the phone in his office, ignoring Bender. Not a wave, not even a raised hand: Sorry, give me a minute.
Bender allowed himself one more pleading glance at the receptionist, who returned a minimal shrug. The ten minutes flew, he added another five, then five more and got up and left. No one pursued him down the hallway. No one flew after him begging forgiveness, clutching his sleeves, and begging him to return. As he stepped in the elevator it occurred to him that they might have thought he had gone to the bathroom.
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 unforeseen 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 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?"
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 discuss 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?"
OSCAR FICTION PACKAGE: A newbie NYC filmmaker visits L.A. after his documentary is shortlisted. 3,168 words. Art by Thomas Warming.
Rick was making $175,000 annually at a midsize law firm in New York City as a second-year associate with a bright future. He did corporate work and mostly real estate transactions. There wasn’t a lot of law involved, but he had to deal with an ever-changing cast of characters. It was about who had control, who had leverage, who had cash, who had financing. No two deals were alike, and it was Rick’s job to stand up for his clients when others were behaving badly and to smooth out issues when his clients were the ones behaving badly.
The truth was Rick didn’t feel that much commitment to his work. He he felt no personal stake in it. Much of what he did was accumulate files on his desk and make them disappear to somewhere else. What Rick most enjoyed was the process of property development by transforming the most prosaic piece of land or building into something new and different at its highest and best use.
As a second year associate, Rick was required to do a certain amount of pro-bono work (which theoretically meant “for the public good” but actually meant “for the good name of the firm.”) Rick’s contribution was helping his alma mater Columbia Law School raise scholarship funds. A worthy cause and, in the eyes of the firm, a great networking opportunity. For this year’s annual dinner, Rick had the idea to make a short documentary about Supreme Court Justice and Columbia Law grad Benjamin Cardozo.
A down-on-his-luck social message documentary filmmaker is asked to work on a Reality TV show. 2,323 words. Illustration by Mark Fearing.
The phone jarred Michael awake at 6:18 am. It was Eva, his sister and self-appointed agent, calling from her Audi on her way to the gym.
“You couldn’t wait until you finished your workout?” he said groggily.
“Today at 11,” she reminded him. “I sent them over your teen hooker piece and they love it. They’re eager to meet you. Now don’t screw it up.”
“I’ll be on my best behavior,” he mumbled.
“Don’t you dare embarrass me.”
“I didn’t know that was possible.”
“You’re such an asshole,” she said and hung up.
Michael got out of bed and brewed some coffee. He knew he should be grateful for Eva’s attempts to get him work, but reality TV? He had become a documentary filmmaker to make the world a better place, not to contribute to its degradation like his sister, who represented many of the worst offenders of the genre. “Reality TV,” she once told him, “is the 21st Century equivalent of the gladiatorial arena. The Romans loved it and so do we. It’s human nature. We glorify the strong and want to kick the weak.”
Entertainment companies say they want diversity. But this job applicant isn’t so sure. 2,615 words. Illustration by Thomas Warming.
Finally, the miracle arrived and I made it to my stop. The journey through Laurel Canyon had taken an hour, and even once I landed in West Hollywood the bus driver took some nonsensical route. This only reaffirmed that Los Angeles was not a city for pedestrians. For the person who can’t afford a car, that liberty had been taken away decades ago.
After getting off at 3rd and Fairfax, I rushed down the sidewalk – a feat impossible in the heels I wore. I still wasn’t used to them. I had bought them at Target just two nights before. I kept glancing at my phone to make sure Google Maps was taking me to the right place. I’d never been to this part of the city so I was checking and rechecking the address every five seconds. All that did was remind me how late I was and waste the phone’s battery even more. I didn’t even know how to get back home from here. West Hollywood was thirteen miles from my house, but it might as well have been a different country.
I walked right by the entrance at first. It had no logo, no sign, nothing to tell someone it was a film production company. I backtracked when I realized I had gone too far and returned to a grey building with blacked-out windows. Around the corner, I pushed the intercom buzzer and a voice came on.
“Hi, I have an interview at nine with—.” My mind went blank. I couldn’t remember the guy’s name. The voice repeated the question. “Uh, I’m sorry. My name’s Jessie and—”
“Mejia?” I said, in a tone that indicated even I wasn’t sure who I was.
Actress Peg Entwistle jumped to her death from the Hollywoodland sign in 1932 at the age of 24. Here is a fictional imagining of her final journey. 2,319 words. Illustration by Thomas Warming.
Immortality is a tricky business. I am sorry for being a coward. Though, in the moment, I always felt myself to be one of the bravest women in the world. Standing alone in the spotlight. Embodying fears and dreams and convictions. Compelling strangers to feel something.
But those moments were fleeting. And then you spend the rest of your moments, and hours, and days searching for that spotlight again. Maybe it was never bravery at all. Maybe I wasn’t doing any of it for the strangers. Maybe it was I who needed to feel something.
The ladder is narrow and crude. Steel spurs nip me. My hands, nails perfectly polished, speckle with blood. I count as I climb. One-Mississippi. Two-Mississippi. My heartbeat pounds the seconds in my ears. I stop at fifteen.
Fifteen goddamn seconds. Maybe I say this aloud. Maybe I scream it. It doesn’t matter when no one is around to hear. A woman on a stage with no audience.
I feel brave having climbed up here, all the way to the top. From my perch, Tinseltown glitters and twinkles, just like the rest of the world thinks it does. Hard to believe it was only several months ago that butterflies fluttered in my stomach when I first glimpsed the Hollywoodland sign, a beacon of shiny white against the mud, a real-life picture postcard informing me I was here. The new face in town, the Broadway actress, a real actress, who desired to be in pictures. All this seemed much longer ago. Another season. But there are no seasons here.
I had thought it brave to come to California. To traverse such distance for my craft, my calling. But I was nothing more than a squirrel trying to hoard acorns. It’s autumn in New York, soon to be winter, and who can much think about Broadway in the year 1932 when people are starving to death. Yet, I’d gone to the train station this morning for a one-way return to New York. Only to burn with humiliation as I counted pennies at the ticket window, and still came up short.
TV FICTION PACKAGE: A PhD researcher may have inadventently killed her pilot deal. 1,932 words. Illustration by Thomas Warming.
It was like watching Geraldo Rivera attempt the salsa in a Donald Trump wig on Dancing With The Stars. I, Dr. Janet Ling, could not tear my horrified eyes away from the Hollywood news story that might sink my nascent TV career:
LOS ANGELES — Just weeks before 2016’s May network upfront sessions in New York, a joint Caltech-UCLA study is sending shock waves through Hollywood by proving there is too much TV. The document draws a direct causal connection between the volume of TV series programming (the networks tallied 412 scripted series that aired last year) and brush fires, drought, deepening fault lines, traffic congestion, gluten sensitivity, identity theft, arguments with Siri, muffin top, ADHD, man buns, California roll, dog breed names ending in ‘doodle,’ bears in swimming pools and the viral growth of new gastropubs serving craft beers and small plates. “Who knows what will happen next?” said Caltech researcher Don Boswell. The scientific research bears out the ominous words of John Landgraf, president of FX Network, who sparked a heated debate at last summer’s Television Critics Association Press Tour by stating: “There is simply too much television.”
It’s not that I didn’t know. I’m one of the authors of the study. I’m an associate professor of neurobiology, a promising young researcher at UCLA’s renowned Brain Institute. But seeing our findngs on the front page of the Los Angeles Times still gave me the shivers. I sucked anxiously on my Big Gulp of Red Bull Sugarfree — although if anyone knows the carcinogenic effects of artificial sweeteners, I do. My cat, Higgs Boson, could sense my agitation as he cuddled in my lap.
Was I horrified because, as a responsible scientist, I now feared for the well being of our country? No, I was nervously nibbling Exotic Mango polish off my nails because, while working on the study, I had also been taking a UCLA Extension course in television writing. (Never take these how-to’s in hopes of meeting Mr. Right: all the dweebs who sign up still live with their parents. But I digress).