The special effects wiz was so sure he would land the Disney contract. How will failure impact his family? 3,331 words. Part One. Illustration by Thomas Warming.
Jerry glances at the clock: ten a.m. He rolls back to his workstation, where the screensaver catches his attention. It’s the logo of his company, an abstract depiction of a fishing boat about to be engulfed by a monstrous wave – the scene from the movie that made his special effects company’s reputation. Just looking at it now depresses him. The artwork for the logo, even using the still frame from the film, cost twenty-five grand, reminding him of that era of seeming limitless resources. Jerry hits the space bar on the keyboard just to get rid of the damn logo.
A buzzing at the office door jolts Jerry out of his reverie. He finds a cheerful woman with a latte and cinnamon roll, his usual order from the corner kiosk. He pays her and settles back in his work chair. The cinnamon roll in his stomach congeals into a rock. Without looking Jerry reaches into the drawer beneath the desk, pulls out a bottle of Tums, and pops a few. Is it too early to call Hal Rosen, the studio exec, and check up on the Disney deal? Jerry reaches for the phone but realizes that calling would be a faux pas. In New York, a call like that would mean you really wanted the job and you’d work extra hard if you got it. In L.A. it was a sign of weakness, of desperation.
Jerry asks Emily to invite Hal and his wife Lisa over for dinner – and for Emily to make her killer bouillabaisse. Emily and Lisa know each other not only from college but from their charity work for the Dream Center, and their daughters sometimes go horseback riding together. The evening is pleasant; business is never discussed. Upstairs their girls watch an old video and giggle a lot.
Late that night, after the guests have gone, Emily vomits up the fish stew. Then it’s Jerry’s turn. This goes on until three in the morning when it strikes Jerry that Hal and Lisa might be having the same reaction. First Jerry checks on their own daughter, who feels fine except for her resentment at being awoken in the middle of the night. Then Jerry calls Hal’s home number. No answer. He tries Hal’s cell and, to his surprise, Hal’s daughter answers. She’s with her parents at the emergency room at the City of Hope, just checking them in.
Oh, shit, Jerry thinks. “What’s happening?” he asks.
A special effects wizard on the way to the top of his profession suddenly tumbles. 3,614 words. Part Two tomorrow. Illustration by Thomas Warming.
If you’re looking for warm and fuzzy, look elsewhere. The Hollywood tabloids and online rumormongers only let the matter pass because, at first, Jerry Switzer didn’t merit their attention and, by the time the full bloom of his foulness became known, the subject was old news. But for those of us in the entertainment industry, Jerry’s downfall wasn’t schadenfreude as much as there-but-for-the-grace-of-God-go-I.
Jerry worked as a highly paid specialist in Hollywood’s visual effects industry, conjuring his wizardry of transforming or heightening reality not on the chaos of the set but later, at the quiet of a humming computer workstation. From about nine in the morning until long after dark, he toned up the visuals of countless film and commercial images for FloMotion, a company which made its reputation years earlier depicting ocean waves on the big screen with such detailed realism that you would never believe they were filmed in what amounted to an oversized bathtub.
Louise and I both had known Jerry and his lovely wife Emily since college at Cal Arts. Back then Jerry was a regular guy, a bit of a social slouch, but he laughed at our jokes and occasionally came up with one of his own. If we laughed, he glowed as if finally being accepted by our group. Which we considered him to be: he was one of us.
I don’t pretend to know the whole account; I can only try to piece it together after the fact. Jerry was my friend; that is to say that I knew him over a period of years and we and our wives and families went to the beach, had cookouts together, those sorts of things. One pristine spring day, before any of us had kids, we even hiked the length of Malibu Canyon – a sobering thought looking back now.
Jerry and I also knew each other professionally, so I have a minor role to play in this saga. I have this to say: the Jerry I knew was a good man, devoted to his wife and daughter, considerate of his employees, an all-around true-blue-swell guy.
The director makes the hottest film of his life – at the expense of everyone else’s. 2,157 words. Part One. Illustration by Thomas Warming.
If the goal was to keep film director Frank O’Leary intrigued, then Abigor Productions & Effects had already succeeded. Apparently, Seth Abigor was rolling the dice to impress him. Not that he would let Abigor know that. As a company with no track record, the helmer figured he should be able to get its services for a song. Fair is fair. The effects house would cash in after Firebug was released and everyone was blown away by its work. O’Leary simply had no reason to pay top dollar for it.
Abigor removed a gold cigarette case from his jacket and offered O’Leary one of its contents. The helmer passed but examined the case. He’d only seen such things in old movies. Placing a non-filtered cigarette between his lips, Abigor snapped the thumb and forefinger of his right hand together and lit it with his fingertip.
O’Leary responded with a nervous laugh. “You’re quite the magician.”
“Nothing magical about it, Frank. Haven’t you guessed who I am?”
The director glanced at the door to make sure he had a direct exit in case the situation got any stranger. “Why no, Seth, who do you think you are?”
A semi-successful film director has a burning desire to reach the next level. 1,983 words. Part Two. Illustration by Thomas Warming.
This movie was going to be his claim to fame. Frank O’Leary was no Scorsese or Tarantino, no Spielberg or Nolan. But he wasn’t exactly a hack. His films garnered good reviews as often as not, and while he hadn’t won any Oscars, he had several nominations from the Golden Globes, the Director’s Guild, and the People’s Choice Awards. His mantelpiece might be bare, but it wasn’t for lack of trying.
His problem was that he had no personal vision. He would be brought into projects developed by a studio or some actor’s production company, and they knew he would turn out a solid film on time and on budget. Several of his films had been big hits, although it had been a while since the last one. Audiences didn’t have a clue who he was, and the announcement that he was attached to a project never went beyond the trades. Who cared about “A Film By Frank O’Leary?” Even fanboys were hard pressed to name his last big hit, though it had topped $200 million worldwide. Unfortunately, most of that came from overseas as the film had tanked in its U.S. release. Bad luck it released the weekend that the U.S. President was removed from the White House in a straitjacket. O’Leary couldn’t blame anyone. It was the biggest spectacle since Election Night.
His latest was Firebug, a thriller that would mark the film debut of Jon Petroni, a pop star whose last three albums had gone platinum and fan base was in the millions. The so-called bad boy of the tweens and teens, he had a few tats and a ring through a pierced nipple that got prominently displayed in every video he did. He had an exclusive recording deal with Galaxy Entertainment, whose film division had looked for a project that would take him to the next level. In Firebug, he was playing a disturbed young man, Dante, who sets fires, leading to a massive manhunt. However, the script made him a sympathetic figure: abused as a child, he tried to avoid hurting anyone. His goal was to destroy property, not people.
As far as O’Leary was concerned, it was all claptrap. If the director had developed the script, the character Petroni played would be a psychopath, and the hero would be the investigator who brought him to justice. There would be a fiery climax all right. It would be Dante burning in the electric chair.