Category Archives: Film

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.

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

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?

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

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.“

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

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.”

Continue reading

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.”

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

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?"

Continue reading

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?"

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading