Category Archives: Fiction

Dead Or Alive

by Michael Burns

OSCAR FICTION PACKAGE: Well, here’s one way to avoid another no-host awards show. 1,299 words. Illustrations by Mark Fearing and Thomas Warming.


George Markus didn’t like to be kept waiting. Since he’d been nominated for an Academy Award for special effects, the whole industry had recognized his talent. But that was four years ago. Since then, Markus had all but disappeared. Now, practically coming out of left field, he had demanded a meeting with the president of the Academy Of Motion Picture Arts And Sciences who apparently was enmeshed by problems caused by this year’s host-less Oscars.

And so all Markus could do was wait. Sitting in the anteroom outside Berman’s office, Markus closed his eyes and decided to hone his pitch. This has to fucking work, he thought. They have to see its value. And, for the hundredth time, he went over his opening line.

Another twenty minutes went by.

“Mr. Berman will see you now.”

Lost in thought, Markus looked up from his paperwork. He nodded curtly at the secretary, rose from his chair, took a deep breath and followed her into Berman’s office. The President was sitting at his desk.

“Sorry to keep you waiting. What’s on your mind today?” He didn’t bother getting up to shake hands, waving Markus into a facing chair.

Markus ignored the slight. “We’ve come up with something new, Mr. Berman. Next year I can give you the best Oscar show in the Academy’s history.”

No reaction. Maybe bored skepticism.

“What have you got?”

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Everything But Oscar

by Quendrith Johnson

OSCAR FICTION PACKAGE: A screenwriter turned Hollywood blogger obsesses about award shows. 2,673 words. Illustration by Thomas Warming.


He liked to call her Celeste, after Celeste Holm, because he said, “You are destined to be a character actor of writing.” Kenny was the first screenwriter turned journalist she ever met who really got somewhere. And Kenneth J. Bodemire was incredibly smug about it at the time. Framed magazine coverage of himself with famous film names lined a back wall in his Marina Del Rey stronghold on the beach. It looked like a set decorator had given the place a nautical going over.

Since nobody was making any money from journalism these days, Kenny characterized his career collapse with this line: “When the Internet went up, the price of words went way down. And the price of assholes went way up.” Which referred to professional trolls, he said, as if he’d just discovered this decades-plus phenom.

On this day, she saw him up at Peet’s on Montana near 14th Street, one of his favorite “I’m still here” hang-outs. Next thing she knew, he was walking toward her car. Unbelievable. Zip, window down.

“Isn’t there a law against walking under the influence?” she smiled.

In hindsight, she wished she’d had a body mic to record their conversation. At the time Celeste had no way to help him, even as Kenny poured his Tequila-soaked self into her passenger seat. As soon as he got in the Volvo, he quipped, “If you give me $20, I’ll get out.” That was his new reflexive funny line. Celeste side-eyed him, trying not to think how steep his drop had been. She really didn’t like driving around with this level of manic depression energy in a closed space.

“You don’t know how rotten the whole thing is, all of it. Everybody is in on it. Except Oscar.”

“I’d never pegged you for a paranoid schizophrenic, but I’m warming up to it.” It was meant to be funny, but he tightened. “What’s your objective, Kenny: to bring down the entire Award Show establishment?”

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Famous Last Words
Part Two

by Sara Hammel

The CelebLife reporter could dig up dirt on any actor — unless she liked him. 2,214 words. Part One. Illustration by Thomas Warming.


I freshen up, check my teeth, brush my hair, reapply my makeup while I’m standing in line. I wait a few moments before a staffer notes my sparkling wristband and waves me in with a smile. The club is packed because they’ve clearly let too many people inside for Tristan Catline’s movie premiere. I check my watch: fifty-five minutes to go. I have to dodge Tracey while scanning for Tristan and figure out who Ms. Creamsicle is. I beat my way through the crowd to find one of only two bars in the place, and it’s clear I’ll be spending my remaining fifty-something minutes waiting for a drink. I check my phone, fending off people pushing past and cutting the line.

Who’s the angel who got me in tonight? Lance? H. Mark? Who else could it be? Of course, another fantasy option has occurred to me but I don’t dare acknowledge it. I get to the front of the line and shout my order for a Love-tini, tonight’s signature drink that sounds suspiciously like a glorified Cape Codder. I am on my first sip when I see Tracey.
She’s standing alone in a corner looking like a frightened bunny, holding her own Love-tini up to her face like a security blanket. She’s supposed to find Tristan and watch his every move. But, from what I can see, she’s doing no such thing. Interesting. Lance and H. Mark burst into view, sweaty and grouchy.

“I literally would take one detail at this point,” growls Lance. “Tristan’s shit-hot right now, but he’s not talking, OK, fine. But can’t he, like, talk to a girl or fall down drunk or do something in public where I can see?” Lance looks around frantically. “He’s not even here, is he, at his own premiere party?”

“Don’t sweat it,” H. Mark yells over the din. “This is the reality of celebrity reporting. As glamorous as a Port-a-Potty at a rodeo.”

As I watch them disappear into the crowd, the mystery redhead appears by my side like a ghost. “Miss Noble. If you’d like to come with me.”

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Famous Last Words
Part One

by Sara Hammel

The CelebLife reporters go hunting for a scoop, while the powerhouse publicists protect their A-list clients. 2,475 words. Part Two. Illustration by Thomas Warming.


Quinn clicks a button and up comes someone I once met, a lanky boy with innocent eyes, freckled cheeks, and a shy smile.

“Tristan Catlin,” Tracey narrates. “What the hell happened to him?”

I don’t know. The shy lanky boy I met on the ice that day no longer exists, and I don’t know what did it to him, Hollywood or life. His eyes are puffy, he’s got a hint of alcohol bloat (I know from bloating), and he’s had his normal-looking nose whittled down to please the cameras.

Tristan became the darling of independent film a few years after I interviewed him. The world was introduced to “Tristan Tears” when he cried in every other scene in And She Played On, a movie in which his piano-genius wife threw herself in front of a car to save his life. It earned him an Oscar nod but no award. Marrying America’s sweetheart, Josephine Jansen, put him on the A-list and secured him a role in an action franchise. But his marriage to Josephine began to crumble. She held on for a long time, after co-star affairs and rumors of various addictions, but now they’re embroiled in a messy split.

“We’re hearing Tristan is still living at the house. He’s been seen there,” I say. I’m Augusta Noble, a freelance reporter for CelebLife, one of the world’s most read media outlets. I ended up in the Los Angeles bureau after the London office was shut down abruptly due to budget cuts.

“Great,” Maguire Carnaby, the conniving L.A. bureau chief and my bitch of a boss, nods to me. “Is Ivan confirming?”

“Does he ever?”

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Mentor

by Alan Swyer

The young writer loved listening to the Hollywood history that the veteran shared. Was it true? 2,451 words. Illustration by Mark Fearing.


Hearing more and more stories about Hollywood in its heyday, Kaplan often found himself musing about how much he had missed. Not that his life had been boring or circumscribed, coming as he did from an industrial town in New Jersey where he had been a part of worlds never seen by kids from suburbia. In that blighted but interesting environment, he grew up with sons of the local Mafia, became one of only two white kids on the high school basketball team, and by the age of 16 financed excursions into Lower Manhattan by selling bags of oregano, catnip, and twigs to rich kids. Later he was an impoverished American in France with an expense account, thanks to a gig he hustled writing the Paris section of a travel guide for the youth market.

But the Hollywood that Kaplan later encountered was run by MBAs rather than moguls, and populated by “bankable" actors who seemed more like flavors-of-the-month than the stars of yesteryear. But as a young screenwriter then lunching with a stuntman turned writer-producer turned director on nothing but margaritas, chips and salsa, Kaplan was hooked.

Long enamored of the original version of Kiss Of Death — and even more of Richard Widmark, who carved a special niche for himself in film noir history by pushing an elderly woman in a wheelchair down a flight of stairs — the scribe was stunned to learn that his lunch partner, in drag, had done the stunt. Even more astonishing was that Verlaine had arrived on the set that day simply to visit his girlfriend, an actress who had landed a small role in the film. Only when every professional stuntman on the shoot balked at the far too dangerous gag did Verlaine, who had been searching for a way to make a name for himself in the business, volunteer.

Ironically, the largely alcohol-based lunch set up by an agent attempting to steer Kaplan away from feature films and into episodic TV was in many ways a mistake professionally. Because it came on the day when Verlaine, deluged with ridiculous network notes, received one that was a deal-breaker.

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The Big Fadeout

by Stephen Whitty

A few jobs in Hollywood are glittering and exciting and rewarding. The rest aren’t. 2,534 words. Illustration by Mark Fearing.


Errol Flynn sat at the bottom of his kitchen stairs, sobbing.

His hands hung between his tuxedoed knees, shaking. In his left fist he had a broken arrow, the shaft snapped roughly in two near the head. In his right, he had a bottle of whiskey. There were red smears on the arrow’s feathers, and crimson fingerprints on the bottle.

It wasn’t his blood.

“It’s not my fault,” he said.

It never is.

They wrap their nice new Pierce-Arrow around a lamppost at 90 miles an hour? Not their fault. That lovely lady they met at the Trocadero on Friday night turns out to be 15 years old on Saturday morning? Not their fault. Oh, and nine months later, when she’s heading for the maternity ward in a hurry? Not their fault either. These people? No, never.

And cleaning up after themselves? That’s not their job, either. That’s my job. And that job, very basically, meant making sure that the studio’s stars were kept out of trouble and able to work. Get out my wallet and pay the cops, pay the lady, pay the reporters. Hold my nose and pick up their dirty laundry and shove it someplace where it won’t smell, where it won’t be seen. The studio’s money, sure, the studio’s orders, but still my job. And I don’t like it any more than I did when I started.

But I like paying my bills, occasionally, so I keep doing it.

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Fat Caesar

by Jay Abramowitz

The unemployed TV writer joked about the most depraved series ever for a black kid. Uh-oh. 3,254 words. Illustration by Mark Fearing.


Eric Ornstill was imparting phony inside tidbits about Tom Cruise during another of his tours to the homes of the stars when the name of his former agent, who’d fired him a few months earlier, lit up on his phone. Eric jerked the van to the side of the street and informed his tourists he was about to present them with a very special treat: a conversation between a habitually unemployed TV comedy writer and a bona fide Hollywood dealmaker. He tapped the speaker icon on his cracked iPhone 4 and turned to face his confused passengers.

“Denny?” Eric asked, trying to mask his incredulity.

“Network’s got a show for some kid under contract,” said the agent. “Want to meet him?”

A few hours later, Eric called Denny and reported on his meeting with the talent and the talent’s manager.

“I sat in the Yum Yum Donuts at Melrose and Highland, with an African-American woman and her son, the star of the series, a somnambulant 5-foot-8, 286-pound 12-year-old who occupied the two chairs opposite. The mother didn’t pitch me a premise, she pitched a bunch of fat jokes while her son never took his eyes off his cell phone and consumed the contents of a box of Boston creams. It was clear to me that this grotesque excuse for a parent considers it in her interest – and, yes, in her son’s interest – that the kid remains morbidly obese for at least as long as it takes to produce a hundred episodes of the piece of shit she pitched me, if he lives that long.”

“And you nodded and smiled, right?”

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Follow Me

by George Nickle

The struggling actress decides to be a cult leader with money and power all taken from the Hollywood elite. 2,563 words. Illustration by Thomas Warming.


Thirty years ago in a small town in rural Pennsylvania, I knew exactly what I was going to be when I grew up. I would be an actress. There was always a white Christmas, and Amish buggies often blocked your way on single lane roads, and some of the nicest buildings were impeccably maintained barns sporting Hex signs. I got out of that place and went to a respected conservatory where some of my idols had studied. The moment I got my BFA I did exactly what they trained you not to do; I went to L.A. to be in movies. Heresy! I’d turned my back on the theater and embraced its lesser upstart cousin, film.

Ten years later I was still a waitress. A goddamned fucking waitress.

It was at a nice Westside restaurant at least. When I first arrived in town an agent told me that I was, “Fine for a human but ten pounds overweight for an actress.” I’m pretty and pleasant and always on the ball, so I did well with tips. And every evening I had the honor of serving overpriced tiny portions of exquisitely arranged delicacies to people who had everything I ever wanted. Lesser people who had fallen upwards, as only you can in this business. Connected kids with no cares and little talent. The farthest they had to travel from home to achieve my dreams was their doorsteps.

Except her. Sabine. (A stage name, of course. Should I have changed mine? Would it have made a damn of difference?) She was good. She actually deserved all of her success, and there was a lot of it. Once a performance of hers had given me chills. Real goosebumps raised up across my flesh as I sat at the Arclight believing she was a doomed historical figure and not the biggest female star in Hollywood.

She came in for dinner one night a week. Every Friday she was in town. I suspected it was her cheat night and that she starved herself every other long hungry day. I waited on her often and she was always nice. (What in the world did she not have to be deliriously happy about anyway?) Finally, I reached the point where I created the role of a lifetime for myself to take what I deserved: some sort of success in Hollywood.

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The Streaming Service
Part Two

by Steven Mallas

Anna pitched The Streaming Service what she was told no one should ever, ever, do. 1,501 words. Part One. Illustration by Mark Fearing.


Anna had been forced into participating. In terms of any successes prior, she didn’t really have any because she was basically still in high school when she was drafted by The Streaming Service. For years she had thought that The Streaming Service was a laudable institution. Who didn’t love to binge-watch mindless entertainment? It was simply part of being American. In fact, she remembered being fascinated by it when she was younger, watching with her family, enjoying herself whenever a new series would come along.

She even fantasized what it would be like to be one of those creators. Imagine: making money by thinking up stories, a sweet deal generating a high net worth based on simply writing bibles and treatments and screenplays and the like. It was everyone’s dream. The Service became a driver for new online colleges devoted to turning out the next generation’s writers and producers. Student loan debt inflated in this particular area at a higher rate than monies doled out for more traditional curriculums such as the ubiquitous MBA.

But when the drafting process came along, even she knew as a young person that something was not as it seemed. Volunteering to make content for a YouTube channel was one thing, as was submitting a screenplay for consideration to an agent. These were opportunities you chose to seek. Once it became a potentially mandatory career, Anna’s thinking on the subject changed 180 degrees. It amazed her how the public went along with it, or at least it seemed that way to her. When single-payer health care was put before the electorate, there would be nonsensical screaming devoted to freedoms being abridged. But being forced to write entertainment for a company that was already rich beyond all measure? Sign everyone up. What did it matter if someone couldn’t afford surgery so long as the sitcom was ensured?

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The Streaming Service
Part One

by Steven Mallas

What if a streaming service took over the country, and maybe the world? 1,740 words. Part Two tomorrow. Illustration by Mark Fearing.


Anna walked into the Pitching Room. She was nervous. Perspiring. It was a pretty normal reaction. Seated before her were three Evaluators. It was like a parole board. Or an appellate court bench. Except she wasn’t accused of a crime. She was valedictorian of her high school class. She was a good girl. It was simply her time. Her lottery number was called up in the draft. She was selected by The Streaming Service. And she needed to hit a home run in this pitching session.

Or else.

“I have an idea for something called Unboxing.”

The Evaluators were stone. They were among the most powerful individuals. Their time was not to be wasted.

From The Streaming Service: A History: “Consolidation in the media industry was rampant for many years until all major studios were placed under one corporate roof. All the tech companies also were gathered together. All the FANG stocks were taken off the public markets. AT&T, with Warner Bros., was a hard one to swallow, but it finally got the memo. Apple eventually bought it all, and then acquired Disney, the latter having never ceased its incessant mission of becoming bigger and bigger, even after Robert Iger finally retired and became POTUS.

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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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Waimea: Uprising

by Gordy Grundy

A hit TV show set in Hawai’i is ending an eight-season run. Then disaster strikes. 2,874 words. Excerpted from the 2018 novel Waimea: Uprising by Gordy Grundy. Illustration by Mark Fearing.


"I didn’t tell you that Sanders tried to recruit me for his posse party," said Amanda. There was no way in hell she was going to jeopardize her career.

"Equal opportunity," Waimea laughed.

"I’m always up for a new experience." She shook her head and whistled. "But raiding a hippie commune seems highly unadvisable." The TV actress’s star was rising and she wanted to keep the trajectory into the clear smooth blue.

"Heard any word about it on the set grapevine?" asked Wai. His job as second Associate Producer on the Hawaii cowboy epic Paniolo had been waylaid by a favor for his boss. "Any gossip?"

She thought about it and was surprised, "No."

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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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