A 17-year-old Latina aspiring actress starts a journey through personal and professional pitfalls. 2,373 words. Part Two. Part Three. Part Four. Illustration by Thomas Warming.
May 11th was my last day of high school. It ended in the girls’ locker room where Ava, Tess and Viv finally got the last word after months of threats. Actually few words were exchanged. They beat me up and left me a bloody unconscious mess. When I came to, I was lying face down on the ground alone. I can still smell the ammonia the janitor used to clean the floor earlier that morning.
People talk about life-changing moments. This was mine. As I licked the blood off my lips, a light switch went off inside my brain. I was done. Done with Selma, California. Done with my family. And done with the bitches from school. I went home, packed my bags and tried not to cry as I left a note for José, my 10-year-old brother:
Dear José, This note is to let you know I’m going away. I promise to visit soon. I love you, little man. Natalia
I grabbed my stuff and headed for my car. There was only one place for me to go: Hollywood. Because of a boy, but that wasn’t the entire story. A year earlier, a model scout had approached my Dad at a local mall. She thought I had “potential” and handed him her business card. He never followed up, because he wanted me at home. Ever since Mom died, I had been left with all of her tasks: laundry, shopping, cooking and cleaning. One night when I was looking for a pen in his roll-top desk, I found the scout’s business card with a Los Angeles number. I knew it would be my golden ticket, if I ever needed one. My face would be the parachute out of the hellscape of my life, when it was also the reason for so many of my problems.
The screenwriter’s career is going gangbusters again. There’s just one last complication. 3,002 words. Part One. Part Two. Part Three. Illustrations by John Donald Carlucci.
After three more weeks of intense procrastination, screenwriter Gavin Falconer jumped in his Mercedes and rocketed to his favorite Palm Springs haunt. He handed his iPhone, iPad, wallet and car keys to the concierge and told him to lock them up. He had the TV removed from his room. With the help of cigarettes, Kettle One, and vials of amphetamines, Gavin was able, without stopping, to crank out a draft in eleven straight days. He smelled foul and looked like shit, his hair and beard wild. He was half-blind from eye strain and could barely walk. But he managed to hit send by the deadline.
His agent Kurt McCann read the script and told Gavin he’d hit it out of the ballpark. Then Precious Chaing-Lee, the assistant to the producer Lana Meisel, called to set a notes meeting before the script went to studio executive Brent Burnham. Now Gavin was being escorted to Lana’s office where she was waiting along with Precious. Lana started the meeting with praise. Then she expressed concern that he’d failed to ramp up sufficient tension after the mid-point.
But mostly it was smooth sailing. Until Gavin suddenly said that he’d like to made a suggestion.
“Wait, a writer with a note?” Lana laughed uproariously. Within seconds, she’d tweeted what Gavin said, then held up her phone to show him the fast growing tally of ‘likes’ and retweets.
“Listen,” Gavin insisted. “I was just wondering whether to beef up the role of Monique.”
“Monique?” Lana said. “She’s in two scenes as eye-candy for the preteen boys who will want to jack off to her meme.”
The screenwriter is being watched and followed. Will a woman expose his crime or blackmail him? 2,546 words. Part One. Part Two. Part Four. Illustrations by John Donald Carlucci.
In the dream, screenwriter Gavin Falconer struggled again with story analyst Dale Tomasis. They were in the dirt at the base of the deck. Dale threw Gavin to the ground, and then Gavin couldn’t move, as if he’d been paralyzed. He screamed and woke up, covered in sweat. He took a moment to catch his breath, then rose, naked, from the bed. He walked through his silent house. In the kitchen he downed a Xanax with a slug of Kettle One. He grabbed his laptop and headed outside. He took some deep breaths and gazed at lights twinkling up from below. It was dead silent in the hills, a good time to start writing.
He typed a slug line: EXT. DEEP SPACE – NIGHT.
He sat back and stared at the words and thought about his pitch of story analyst Dale’s idea. The first act covered so much ground, he wasn’t sure how to begin. He paced the length of the deck several times, then sat back down and began stabbing at the keys again.
“Lame!” he said out loud, deleting the opening paragraph.
He tried again. “Fuck!” he shouted, because these new words sucked, too. Then he remembered the flash drive from Dale’s desk. Gavin headed inside, found it and plugged it into his computer. Dale’s “Movie Ideas” came up on the screen. Gavin scanned through them but couldn’t find notes or even an outline. Jesus, Gavin thought, was that all this fucker had?
A screenwriter’s stolen pitch earns him a huge payday. Who can stop the film? 2,653 words. Part One. Part Three. Part Four. llustrations by John Donald Carlucci.
Usually screenwriter Gavin Falconer drove down the hill toward Sunset like a maniac, tempting fate, but this time he took the blind curves with care.
Moving a corpse was harder than he imagined. He’d debated calling for help. It was an accident, he’d swear. Instead, he moved to the deck, picked up the hammer and returned to the kitchen where he turned on the hot water and watched as blood and stray bits of hair and skin eddied down the drain.
Then he popped the trunk of the Mercedes and found a huge roll of plastic left over from a roof leak. He used it to carry the broken body, twisted and impaled. Gavin managed to roll Dale Tomasis onto the plastic, then sealed the package with duct tape.
An hour later Gavin was winding his way through the Angeles National Forest. He pulled to the side of a small service road and cut the engine. He looked over the edge of a steep ravine. He grabbed the plastic package and dragged it from the trunk. One strong push, and Dale’s body was gone into the abyss.
Back at home, Gavin could think of nothing but sliding into bed, But then he saw Dale’s Prius. “Fuck me!” Gavin hissed.
He had Dale’s keys, though. He drove the Prius to Dale’s apartment, where Gavon headed straight to the story analyst’s computer. Soon Gavin was scrolling through a folder Dale had marked “Movie Ideas.” He discarded several as poorly thought out. He copied one with merit onto a flash drive he fished from a drawer. He found the pitch idea he had stolen from Dale, copied this as well, and deleted all the film files. Then Gavin slipped out the door.
A screenwriter needs another hit movie. Will he scheme it or steal it? 3,890 words. Part Two. Part Three. Part Four. Ilustrations by John Donald Carlucci.
Up ahead, beneath twin palms swaying in a whispering hot breeze, Gavin Falconer could see a massive production — klieg lights crisscrossing the night sky, the blinking neon of the marquee, a line of gleaming black hybrids and town cars at the curb, and a Red Carpet sweeping into the theater.
Fuckers, Gavin thought as he got nearer. “Motherfuckers!” This he shouted out loud without even realizing it, until he noticed people ahead of him had turned to stare and were giving him wide berth, as if he was crazy. Well, he wasn’t crazy. He was a screenwriter, although some might equate the two. He was, however, in a foul state of mind, and when he realized his invitation didn’t include VIP parking, his mood grew even darker.
But he put on a big smile as he passed through security. He made his way up the Red Carpet and stepped into the lobby, a sea of sleek flesh in equally sleek outfits. He scanned the crowd for a familiar or friendly face. He found neither. He did spot Trish Danaher surrounded by an unwieldy entourage. He could go up and tell her he’d read her script and thought it was mediocre at best. But she already considered him a douche so he didn’t bother. He moved through the crowd toward the concession area. Kurt McCann was in front of him in line. Gavin recognized his agent by the sharp cut of his suit but said nothing, just stared and briefly imagining driving the pen in his pocket into Kurt’s skull. Then Kurt turned.
“Dude,” said Gavin, aiming to keep things light, “thought your assistant said you weren’t gonna show. You could’ve returned my call.”
Kurt aimed for light, too, even though his eyes were looking everywhere except at Gavin. “You know what? I changed my mind at the last minute. Got any pages for me? Because they’re getting antsy over at Netflix. You’re way past owing them a draft. I mean, like, breach-of-contract late.”
TV FICTION PACKAGE: An adventure channel crew reconsiders after a scary encounter. 2,347 words. Illustration by John Donald Carlucci.
After the monster bit our boat, we got the hell out of the river.
Our star, Dr. Grady Jackson, laughed as we climbed up the bank and made our way in the dark to the van. Nothing seemed to slow him down. Not even an evil villain sent straight from hell. Less than an hour ago, we were standing knee-deep in a Central American river filled with horrific hungry creatures big enough to eat us. At night. So we could shoot dramatic footage in the dark with Grady as he caught a few of the bigger beasts. In small rubber boats, no less. Me, I almost saw the headline flash before my eyes when he went under the water: “REAL LIFE ACTION HERO KILLED MAKING TV ADVENTURE SERIES.” People do die making our shows.
Top that, Hollywood.
“Pura Vida!” Grady said.
“Or Aloha,” I said. “Whatever.”
Helping Grady was exhilarating, but for me it represented a new low point in my career. I was glad to be outdoors, shooting video in an exotic location. It sure beat smoking crack next to our headquarters in the middle of downtown Washington, D.C. on my lunch breaks every day. But this was getting too weird. Even for me. No, I don’t really smoke crack. It’s a metaphor. My job now was chasing killers more ruthless than any of the other wild creatures I have spent thousands of hours watching from the safety of editing rooms.
The FBI and LAPD pursue the notorious Hollywood killer teaching a UCLA film class. 3,721words. Illustration by John Donald Carlucci.
Special Agent Phillip Kennis lifted the mini-bar bottle of orange juice and toasted his image in the mirror. He hadn’t taken a real drink in fourteen years and he had never been a breakfast drunk, anyway. But he wouldn’t have minded a touch of champagne in the Tropicana this morning. He finally had something to celebrate.
After close to half a million man hours including his own team and the state police and local cops in four cities in two states; after a closed door Congressional hearing, two review boards and a suspension over his methods and attitude; after a work-related divorce and eight months of eating Stouffer’s macaroni and cheese out of the microwave, he was finally going to arrest the Auteur.
The Auteur wasn’t some Rambo-like killing machine. He wasn’t even particularly fit. He was devious, not physically intimidating. Today, he was just an ordinary guy, standing in the pit of a lecture hall, teaching a course called Directing Actors — the tabloids would have a ball with that one. It was going down this morning, in a little more than an hour, when the film classes started at UCLA.
The paperwork was done – Phil wasn’t going to make that mistake again: no more cowboy stuff, no more improvisations. The judge had signed off on the raid just before midnight, and shaken Phil’s hand with a terse, “Go get him, son.” It was an uncharacteristic moment of warmth. Judge Howard Kyle was an unapologetic civil liberties fanatic who despised the Patriot Act and the men who took advantage of it. Phil had come up against him before. But this was different. Judge Kyle had seen the captured film — part of it at least.
“I walk out of regular movies all the time,” he said. “I walked out of Inglourious Basterds when they started beating people to death with baseball bats, and that was make-believe. I saw precisely as much of this one as the letter of the law required.”
So the Auteur had brought them together in a moment of bipartisan law enforcement and judicial solidarity, when nothing else had ever come close. That felt good. The Auteur had unwittingly created that irony, along with his high-end murder porn.
More conflict as a struggling screenwriter and a famed director are now locked in a test of wills. 3,587 words. Illustration by John Donald Carlucci.
It was a gorgeous crystal-clear morning in Bel Air. The sky was blue, birds sang, the pool sparkled. Inside the pool house of legendary septuagenarian director Roger Edmund’s hilltop mansion, screenwriter Paul Slater, on a cot asleep, spasmed in the grip of a nightmare. There was a knock at the door. Paul woke with a start, looked around and remembered where he was. On the doorstep stood Maria the maid carrying a breakfast tray. She entered and put it down on the table beside Paul’s laptop. Paul noticed a note on the tray. He picked it up and read: I EXPECT PAGES. WE’LL MEET LATER. ROGER
Paul was agitated. Pages? What pages? We’ve only been working together for 48 hours and don’t even have a basic story yet. He asked Maria, "Where’s Roger?”
“Señor Roger?” Maria pointed toward the driveway. Paul ran out. At that moment, Ernesto, the houseman, was helping Roger and his wife Karen, the Undersecretary of Commerce, into a limo. Roger’s hand was bandaged and Karen had a Band-Aid over her eye after their contretemps the night before. Ernesto closed the door and the limo drove off as Paul appeared.
“Roger! Roger, wait!” Too late. The limo disappeared through the gate. Paul turned to Ernesto. “Where did he go?”
“To the airport. To see his wife off. He’ll be back in a few hours.”
“Look, Ernesto, I need to go get some reference books–” Paul suddenly noticed something was missing. “Hey, where’s my rental car?”