Category Archives: Lawyers

Keep Santa Monica Clean
Part Two

by Pasha Adam

Dante flexes his power as both a screenwriter and a blogger. 2,950 words. Part One. Illustrations by John Donald Carlucci.

Creeping over the Century City skyscrapers, the sun’s harsh rays bathe my 1966 Ford Mustang as I take the 10 from Santa Monica towards Robertson. Ray-Bans I’ve owned since my first week in L..A shield my eyes from the glare and the breeze rushes over the windshield, tousling my already unkempt hair. If this cinematic moment was captured on 35 mm film, it would appear liberating, a sun-drenched endorsement of SoCal living. Nothing could be further from the truth. Under the crushing weight of the CO2 hovering above the L.A. Basin, this drive couldn’t be more claustrophobic and suffocating. As I light up a cigarette, combining the air pollution with tobacco and nicotine may seem like overkill, but I am nothing if not the author of my own story.

I turn west on Wilshire and, in the space of ten minutes, I reach the STA offices. I ride the elevator to the eighth floor and take a seat across the desk from my agent, Dave Chaikin.

“I love this fucking script, Dante!” he yells, slamming a closed fist on the desk between each word, a poor man’s Ari Gold in a rich man’s Armani Collezioni suit. Once upon a time, Dave was a fledgling literary agent in search of the screenplay that would make him a major player. Dave would have me believe the moment he read Galaxy Hoppers, my 120-page tome, it was love at first sight. He created enough buzz that there was a bidding war and then sold it to Global Studio Media.

Now, I stare at my latest screenplay on his desk, the one I’ve affectionately named Skylar And The Ninja Ghosts, as Dave asks, “I have to know, after all this fucking time, what compelled you to finally put pen to paper again?”

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Lenny’s Last Laugh
Part Two

by Jeffrey Peter Bates

Hollywood’s best P.I. McNulty helps a comedian corpse get one best laugh. 1,848 words. Part One. Illustration by John Donald Carlucci.

“Okay, let’s do this,” McNulty said aloud as the sun slowly rose over the San Gabriel Mountains.

Seated in a florist’s van rented from a movie vehicle supply house, Hollywood’s most in-demand private eye waited to see if the first minor obstacle, namely getting screen siren Eden La Peer’s actor fiancé out of the house, had been successfully handled. The answer came shortly after 7 a.m. when the gate to their Beverly Hills home opened and the fiancé’s Jaguar convertible headed off to Palm Springs for a two-day gig that McNulty had arranged through a TV producer who, like most people in the industry, owed the P.I. a favor.

So far so good, McNulty thought.

A few minutes later, the florist van rolled up to the gate intercom and buzzed.

“Yes?” a woman’s tinny voice asked.

“Floral delivery for Miss La Peer,” the uniformed driver said.

The gate opened slowly. But, before the van moved, the side door slid open and one of McNulty’s men hopped out wearing a rented security guard uniform. His job was to keep any unwanted visitors from passing through the gate while the van headed to the house.

A few moments later, the van driver carried a large floral arrangement wrapped in clear cellophane to the front door. McNulty followed but hid himself off to the side. The door opened and Eden La Peer was standing there in a low-cut satin nightgown, her hair tousled and her eyes sleepy from the early hour.

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Lenny’s Last Laugh
Part One

by Jeffrey Peter Bates

Hollywood investigator McNulty must fulfill a comedian’s final wish. 2,287 words. Part Two. Illustration by John Donald Carlucci.

Lenny Hazeltine was dead.

“How dead was he?” echoed the voices of a phantom TV audience in McNulty’s head.

So dead he stopped getting robo calls from politicians.

So dead Nigerian Princes quit emailing him.

So dead his three ex-wives stopped suing him for more spousal support.

Yes, Lenny Hazeltine, one of America’s most beloved funny men, was truly, absolutely and undeniably dead. Not that he wasn’t used to it.

“I’ve died so many times on stage,” he would joke, “my undertaker’s on speed dial.”

But now, in the truest sense of the word, Lenny Hazeltine, the man who claimed he’d been cited by the Center For Disease Control for spreading infectious laughter, was dead. And that was bad news for McNulty, Hollywood’s most infamous private eye. Not only because a close friend had passed away, but also because the day had finally come when McNulty had to make good on his marker.

The IOU had come about a few years earlier when Lenny, one of the more notorious and self-admitted degenerate showbiz gamblers, invited McNulty to sit in on one of several underground poker games that had become a high-stakes pastime among A-list celebs, high-rollers and other moneyed mucky-mucks. McNulty’s invitation was a so-called “bonus” after he’d saved Lenny a bundle in outrageous spousal support from his second wife. To prove that she had been the unfaithful party, McNulty’s team of Nerd Ninjas had hacked into her cell phone and downloaded explicit photos and videos of her and a soap opera hunk engaged in a catalog of Kama Sutra positions.

“They were tied up in so many knots,” Lenny joked, “the Boy Scouts awarded them merit badges.”

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Tickets To The Premiere
Part Two

by Richard Natale

Two agency assistants attend the same party but have very different experiences. 1,860 words. Part One. Illustration by John Donald Carlucci.

“Where were you, man? I’ve been looking everywhere,” Wade Torville said as he sidled up to Casey Strong out on the street after the Goliath Vs Superfly summer tentpole’s first screening. The two twentysomethings worked at rival agencies.

“We got shunted to Theater Two,” Casey admitted.

Aww, isn’t that too bad,” Wade said with a smirk. “We were seated right behind Will and Jada and their brats.”

Casey had considered lying but not in front of his date Gigi Mayer, a serenely self-possessed junior attorney in business affairs at Warner Bros. The beauty was way out of not just Casey’s but also Wade’s league despite the fact they both wanted to sleep with her. Gigi, as she’d promised, fell asleep during the movie and actually snored a couple of times. So Casey was relieved that they’d watched the monster actioner in Theater Two before the full-frills studio premiere party.

“So what did you think?” Casey asked.

“Awesome!” Wade said, as if his dad had just given him a new car for his sixteenth birthday.

“Awesome in what way?” Gigi challenged. and Casey opted to nod in solidarity. While his inner geek had enjoyed the film, he found himself counting the number of times – at least twelve — he’d witnessed the destruction of Big Ben and the Golden Gate Bridge over the past five years.

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Tickets To The Premiere
Part One

by Richard Natale

An agency assistant attending a coveted Hollywood event hopes it’s not the disaster he fears. 1,919 words. Part Two. Illustration by John Donald Carlucci.

“You want these?” the senior agent said, extending a pair of golden embossed tickets like a temptation. His young assistant, Casey Strong, recognized them immediately. They were for the world premiere and after party of Godzilla Vs. Superfly, an F/X-driven super-violent major studio spoof of monster-meets-superhero movies.

“Jeez, thanks,” replied Casey as he grabbed for the tickets before his boss had a chance to change his mind.

To Casey, it was inconceivable that the socially rapacious agent was skipping what promised to be the coolest Hollywood premiere of the summer. Though no one had yet screened GvS (as it was known on social media), that didn’t stop the film’s minutiae from being leaked and analyzed, leading to intense pro versus con factions at this year’s Comic-Con conventions. That also meant an inexplicable outbreak of light-saber duels. Even PETA weighed in with something about endangered lizards.

The studio was touting the movie as a bold step forward in diversity. The multinationally financed $200 million production boasted an Asian superstar as the villainess who controls Godzilla via a mysterious brain-wave device as the creature demolishes the usual suspects – Tokyo, London, New York, San Francisco. How the reptilian giant manages to traverse continents and oceans is never broached, at least not in the trailer. One internet troll initiated a Kickstarter campaign to donate frequent flyer miles to the misunderstood beast so it could city hop. At last count, Godzilla had over 600,000 miles transferred to its name.

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The Invisible

by Richard Natale

As protector and pal to a Hollywood VIP, he did everything the boss asked. Everything. 3,470 words. Illustration by John Donald Carlucci.

If you look at any photo of the famous media mogul Magnus Byers taken over the past thirty years, chances are I’m in it. Not my face. No, never my face. But my arm, my shoulder or my flank. Right there next to the boss (I always call him boss, never Mr. Byers, and for sure not Magnus).

I’m there but at the same time invisible. And indispensable.

I’m not tooting my horn here. Just stating the facts. I contributed to his success from the very start and in ways that only he can appreciate. I know the boss better than anybody, better than my parents – and they gave birth to me. I know the good stuff and the bad stuff and he knows I know. But he trusts me. And I never gave him reason not to.

Hardly anybody outside Magnus Byers’ close circle knows my name or exactly what my responsibilities are. Most of them think I’m his bodyguard, just some big tough who doesn’t say much probably because I’m a little soft in the head. And that suits me fine. Keeps them from asking questions. Annoying questions. Awkward questions.

I don’t like being asked questions.

Except for some hoax kidnapping threat about twenty years ago, keeping people out of the boss’s face is the least of my duties. I just step out front, fold my arms and give them the old stare down. They back off pretty quick. Just the same, I always keep a sidearm handy. Perfectly legit. Got a permit and everything. Practice firing it every week at the Beverly Hills Gun Club. My aim is still dead-on, even after all these years. Yeah, I’d take a bullet for him. What of it?

The boss created, bought and sold newspapers, TV and radio stations, movie theaters, casinos, resorts, satellite and internet. His finger in every pie and made more dough out of it than any of his competitors. Men looked up to him, wanted to be him. Women were impressed by him, even the ones who eventually tried to suck him dry. He was feared and respected but rarely loved. Even by his own kids. Especially by his own kids. Five of them. By three different wives. They barely tolerated each other. Their only common goal was waiting for him to kick the bucket and destroying everything he built. Talk about a lack of respect.

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Silverberg’s Ghost

by Howard Jay Klein

Who will succeed this ailing Big Media chairman/CEO? Only the board knows. 3,042 words. Illustration by John Donald Carlucci.

Dennis Medwick was up at six, peering through the bedroom window of his Bel Air home, watching the gleaming black Tesla pull up the driveway and stop, idling to a barely audible purr. He heard stirring and saw his wife Sandra, habitually a late Saturday morning riser, already sitting up, propped on her elbows, sleep mask off.

"What’s with you?" he asked, glancing at his watch. "It’s midnight Sandra time."

She ignored his gibe. "Bert here yet?"

"Outside. I’d better get moving. You know, it’s gang warfare day."

"I’m still baffled by all this," she said, swinging her legs off the bed. "You’re the studio head. You made more money than any of the ten morons who came before you. You’re going to be CEO, chairman, macher-in- chief, Dennis. Period," she said, lacing her arms across her chest. "I’m confident that sanity will ultimately prevail — even in this looney town." After a reflective pause, she added, "Doesn’t it?"

"We’ll see," he laughed, padding across to the bathroom.

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The Big Picasso

by Jeffrey Peter Bates

A scandal-plagued Big Media mogul has a painting problem. Guess who investigates? 2,772 words. Illustration by John Donald Carlucci.

Allegra Chandler sashayed through the Polo Lounge like she owned the place. And, judging by the number of swiveling heads, she certainly owned the room. Why the hell not? She was movie star gorgeous, with an aura of insouciant sexiness and steely self-confidence that let the world know she was a woman who wasn’t afraid to spit in its eye.

As she zig-zagged across the outdoor patio, Allegra flashed a warm smile at the man who occupied a table in the far corner. He could see she was an absolute knockout. But he also knew she was more than that: whip smart, elegantly graceful, and as mysterious and complex as a movie studio’s profit and loss statement.

“Hello, McNulty,” Allegra said, brushing her lips against his.

“Still turning heads, I see,” the Hollywood private eye responded as Allegra sat down. “Martini?”

“Are they good?”

“Must be,” McNulty replied, beckoning a waiter with a wave of his hand. “The urinals are filled with olive pits.”

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What The Hedgehog Knew

by Howard Jay Klein

A film financier asks something but expects nothing from the producers and screenwriter. 2,543 words. Illustration by John Donald Carlucci.

“Everyone there?” Mannie Jacobs bellowed, his super-lawyer’s telephone voice bouncing off the walls of the Periodic Pictures conference room.

“All here, Mannie. Me, Cal, Jim and Dex.”

“So Eric Greenhill came to see me. He’s a big hedge fund guy who wants to put $100 million into a single film with you.”

“A nut job with an agenda?” Cal asked.

“No. I checked him out. He runs a $15 billion fund. He’s 38, personally worth $2.5 billion, no scars or warts we could find. He lost a gorgeous young wife to breast cancer three years ago. Got two kids. A bit eccentric, but in another era you would call him a straight arrow.”

“Why us?” Cal Lerner, Periodic’s CEO, asked.

“He’s screened all your productions, both movies and TV series. He believes Periodic has integrity of intent. Why I’ll never know.”

“Sure he’s not a nutter, Mannie?” Dexter Foley cracked.

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by Steven Axelrod

TV FICTION PACKAGE: A veteran producer learns from one of his teen contestants. 2,442 words. Illustration by John Donald Carlucci.

People have a lot of questions for me lately. How did I come to fire the most powerful law firm in Hollywood? Tear up the contract that governs how most reality competition shows do business? Lose the potential breakout star of my TV singer-songwriter contest Troubador?

The last one is the easiest to explain: Why didn’t I sue Brady James when he gave me and my series the finger and walked away?

He didn’t have a contract.

It started with me watching Crystal Bowersox on season nine of American Idol and thinking — that girl writes her own songs so let’s hear some of them. The idea took shape with Phil Phillips and this latest kid Mackenzie Bourg.  I quickly realized a new show could put everything I loved together in one package. I love music. I love songwriters. And as I’ve proved during a thirty-year career working with all four networks and a couple of cable newbies, I love TV. So why not air a performance contest for singer-songwriters? Forget LaPortia Renae standing up there in the laser show belting out some old Mary J. Blige number. My vision was 1974’s Joni Mitchell standing up with a guitar, no light show or pyrotechnics, and simply singing Big Yellow Taxi. Or Bob Marley performing No Woman No Cry for the first time on my stage. Or – why not, shoot for the stars, Danny! – Bob Dylan, scruffy and unknown, knocking the world on its ass with Mr. Tambourine Man. You’re telling me the world ran out of Joni Mitchells and Bob Marleys and Bob Dylans? Seriously?

Then check out Brady James. I knew he was the genuine article at the first Troubadour audition. And it was a big relief, let me tell you.

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Part Two

by Ian Randall Wilson

The studio counsel ponders a future without the law or the neighbor. 2,787 words. Part One. Illustration by Thomas Warming.

Jeffrey couldn’t accurately assess how his job search was going. He made calls — all of them taken. He’d sent emails — all of them answered. This was a relief. All the usual players from gym were still friendly in the locker room. He had no sense that he’d crossed some great divide of people who were in the business and those who weren’t. Still no offers. He was an unemployed studio lawyer.

He had no income except his severance from General Studios but he had a routine. He had a half a dozen lunches for which the other side always paid. He went out to meetings. He came home. Every day he worked out. Every day in the early afternoon he went to check his mail and saw the planter bed out front with a gash in the landscaping where the tree used to be. He had his car washed and waxed; that was seventy dollars each time. He kept the tank full of gas; that was sixty dollars.

Almost every time he went out and came back, there was Rina tapping on his door. She must have known he wasn’t in and still she tapped on his door.

Sometimes, if he saw her from the stairs as he was coming up from the garage, he turned around and went back to his car. After that first time at the gym, Rina didn’t ask to come along anymore. Most often she was unavoidable, following him into his condominium, acting as if it were her home. It didn’t matter if he was in his workout clothes, sweating and smelly and in need of some kind of recovery drink. She wandered around his apartment, picking up the one framed picture he had on a side table and putting it down, opening the art books on his coffee table and closing them after flipping through a couple of pages. It didn’t matter if he was out for a moment to empty the trash. There she was again.

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Part One

by Ian Randall Wilson

A laid-off studio lawyer hangs around home and discovers a new neighbor. 3,443 words. Part Two. Illustration by Thomas Warming.

It wasn’t just a job you left but a way of life. Lunches at a certain grade of restaurant expensed, and many colleagues and celebrities. It came to Jeffrey that he had been fired from the collective us, a place of order with its numbered parking spaces and assistants purchasing his favorite pens, to take on the solitary I. I am by myself, he thought many times afterward. An unemployed entertainment attorney in a town full of counsel. I am no longer negotiating for either side.

His first day unemployed he rose at his usual time of 4:30 AM, put on workout clothes and went to the gym. His trainer was waiting. Trainers were part of the style. Trainers also cost a thousand a month. The gym itself was five hundred a month which included valet parking, unlimited sweat towels during the workout and little bottles of water to maintain proper hydration during exercise.

Jeffrey was not focused that first morning unemployed. Focus was something he tried to bring to everything he did whether it was negotiating to stay within a film’s budget or a fourth set of cable flies. His trainer pulled and pushed at him, correcting his form, but the usual strength and energy were absent. Though Jeffrey was 52, he lifted as much weight as someone half his age. He had good flexibility and core strength. These things were important especially as the years moved on and the body became less stable.

After an hour session, Jeffrey had the deluxe strawberry fruit smoothie at the juice bar, a daily cost of five dollars, and then went to the showers. A familiar group was always there at that time, the same agents, attorneys and younger studio executives carrying scripts. Once he had been the youngest of them and now he was the oldest. How had that happened?

So far no change from them, though all knew he was gone. People stayed friendly, but careful. At any moment Jeffrey might resurface in a more important position where he could do things for them. In fact, they actively expected his return. They were certain he was making moves, arranging meetings, working his list. It didn’t matter that General Studios had just cut Jeffrey along with 1,200 others. The group believed that any day there’d be an announcement in the trades of Jeffrey’s new better job. They believed, because it might mean they would not return if they were ever let go.

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Back From Forest Lawn

by Mark Fearing

Is he a fierce Hollywood mogul or a fearsome studio zombie? He’s still deadly. 2,476 words. Story and illustration by Mark Fearing.

Mo Merkleman was buried at Forest Lawn on an unusually warm and rainy day. Funeral guests got mud on their shoes, but that didn’t stop the throngs of agents, producers, real swear-to-god movie stars and studio executives who showed up in the rain. There were whispers that he was buried with his Oscars.

Mo was a legend. A small in stature guy who appeared larger. It was an optical illusion; his charisma radiated out like heat waves off hot asphalt. He was a throwback to the golden days of Tinseltown and yet totally modern. He went from running the largest talent agency to opening his own shingle and producing box office hits. Then he spent 25 years in charge of the largest studio. The reams of dirt he had on everyone in the industry were pure Old Testament.

But he was dead now. Or that’s what everyone thought.

Exactly eight months later on an unseasonably humid and rainy day, Mo Merkleman showed up at Gate 2 in his Bentley. It didn’t take long for him to talk his way past the guard. And when Annabelle Lee looked up from her reception desk and saw Mo’s identifiable gait lilting down the hall, she almost screamed. But instead she put that energy into withholding belief in what she was seeing.

As the figure came closer, Annabelle could plainly see it was Mo carrying a box of some weight because he struggled with it. He was pale with saggy skin. His grey hair was a bit thinner than last she’d seen it. Then she looked into his eyes. They were different but not in a bad way. There was something so hypnotizing about them that she found it difficult to look away.

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Custom And Practice

by Ian Randall Wilson

A Hollywood studio lawyer who is the film credit czar just wants to do a good job. Always. 5,221 words. Illustration by Thomas Warming.

The legal case all hinged on a semicolon. Any fool could see it, and Champs was no fool. Not at $1,750 an hour and a big retainer. Why didn’t he see it?

It wasn’t as if one word glittered more than another, obscuring what was true. His hand trembled with that telltale shake, but he could still read. It was a matter of outcomes. Clients paid for them. Lawyers produced them. One way or another.

Now Champs wanted Baumann, whose entire job was based on outcomes. There were only 15 like him in the entertainment business. "Oh, you’re the poor bastard," National Studios’ Head of Marketing once remarked. Fifteen lawyers who understood the intricacies of the credit provisions of the guild agreements. Fifteen who could put together a billing block from a thousand pages of contract language. Hardly the glamour of the step and repeat with the red carpet photographers calling, "Look this way!" But one of the 15 who knew what to do when the Head of Marketing was hawking the new ensemble comedy that "everyone" was saying was sure to open to at in its first weekend (and when it didn’t, that Head of Marketing wouldn’t be head of marketing long). And knew what to do when the director and thus the writer and thus the producer and thus all the executive producers and thus all the department heads were going to have to appear in a billing block along with four more stars in that full-page newspaper ad the Studio planned to run in Chicago, Los Angeles and New York.

It didn’t matter that having to sandwich in all those names wouldn’t help sell the film or put one extra butt in a seat. Baumann said it was required. Even if the director and the writer asked their guilds nicely. Even if the Head of Marketing dragged his feet.

Because that’s what it meant to be Credit Czar for National Studios or any of the dream factories. You brought bad news. You told them that four words in a contract could have changed everything. But would they listen?

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The Return Of The Player

by Michael Tolkin

The manipulative movie executive who got away with murder is back – and even more desperate. 4,366 words. Illustration by Mark Fearing.

Griffin Mill was broke, he was down to his last six million dollars. No one knew he was broke, not Lisa, his wife, not June, his first wife, not even his lawyer, but the nine million dollars in investments that he made on the advice of his business manager, convinced of a permanent new economy charged by an expansion of wealth made possible by technology, had failed and what had once been sixteen and a half million dollars in options in the studio’s decrepit stock could now generate barely six hundred thousand dollars a year and if he wanted to preserve the principal, the stock’s value would have to increase by more than the six percent he drew down, but the parent company had made a dismal merger, and a stock which rose to ninety-three was stuck, five years later, at seventeen. The parent company refused all offers for the film division to avoid a declaration of surrender.

Until last year, Gregory Peck Swaine had badly managed the division of the studio created for buying and making low budget films, reporting to Griffin. Greg complained that the studio never committed enough money for prints and advertising, which was true, because distribution didn’t expect Greg’s films to do well, and only sustained the division so that the annual report could include pictures of the executives at the Sundance Film Festival, as a validation of their devotion to film as art. When Greg released four of what he called art films one year, each set in the American heartland, with roughly the same scene in the local coffee shop, of impotent highway patrolmen, intellectual commercial fishermen and slutty but honorable waitresses, finally and reluctantly the studio shut the classics division down, and tossed Greg a generous settlement, in veneration of his last name. Greg’s father, Warren Swaine, had produced sixty-two movies, and still, at age 85, made a movie every few years. Greg and his father were not close. Now Greg was stupidly trying to raise money to run the same kind of company without a studio’s support. He was the dullest of Hollywood types, a Nicholas Ray intellectual who knew the jargon of French film theory, a neutered film buff who whined about the bean counters, who believed that Hollywood had once been better. But Hollywood has always been the same.

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