A film studio scion makes life and death decisions about movies way too easily. 3,861 words. Part Two of this serialization coming soon. Illustrations by Thomas Warming.
It’s universally accepted both east and west of La Brea that Danny Reinhold is a Grade-A piece of shit. Not a Harvey-sized psychopath or a young Dustin Hoffman terrorizing a raging-against-the-dying-of-the-light Laurence Olivier, but a real prick nonetheless. One of the reasons Danny’s a shithead is because he can be.
Morton Reinhold was second only to the king at MGM in the mid-1960s. He lassoed his legacy when he told Warren Beatty to flatter the boss by saying Bonnie And Clyde was homage to the old MGM gangster pictures. That Warren shouldn’t worry, he’d tell Mr. Mayer what an “homage” was.
Richard Reinhold came up in his father’s shadow, first greenlighting muscle-bound action films for Jerry and Don in the late 1980s before going on to run Universal for a successful decade and a half. That ended with his not-so-subtle ouster a decade back for a string of flops, the last being an affair with his assistant. The lawsuit settled out of court became the writing on the wall. A ceremonial producing deal on the lot came with his parachute. Since then, he has produced three low budget indie features, the last of which (were anyone following the money) was self-financed. But no one was following Richard and none made a dime.
Danny came from this line of Hollywood royalty, memorialized in a framed photo of Morton, Richard, Danny and his gorgeous red-haired date, a couple years back at Morton’s AFI Lifetime Achievement Award shindig. All the Reinholds in Armani tuxedos and Rolexes, not a smile among them, except for the redhead.
This was the moonlit photo Danny was staring at early that morning, 5 am, as he sat bedside quietly putting on that same Rolex, hoping against hope that his last two films were hits thanks to his strategy and taste, but knowing better.
Danny doesn’t get up this early. But last night he never went to bed. The reason being was the black cocktail dress in a ball on the carpet. He swallows hard seeing it in the twilight then recoils slightly when her warm breath on his ear asks, “You’ll call casting for me today?”
Danny nods, “Of course.” He leans down, slipping into his Varvatos sneakers, a recent addition to his athleisure style. She kisses him on the temple then walks across the room into the shower-damp bathroom, passing the inlaid fish tank on the wall, where Toby, the baby box-tiger shark, follows her ten feet before reaching the end.
Danny nods. He understands. You don’t look back. You move forward. Let the self-loathing chase you to the top. Fight the fear with aggression. You’re a Reinhold with something to prove.
The kitchen is made of white marble with an island bar in the center. Danny sits eating a bowl of quinoa and egg whites, scrolling through Deadline on his laptop, trying not to think of his housekeeper Maria’s contempt every time he drops quinoa onto the floor. He’s lucky she isn’t in yet.
Breaking News, the headline reads, 6 AM UPDATE: Body Count Rising In Apparent LA Vigilante Slayings. Serial Killer Or Hero?
“Fuck!” Danny scrolls past the headline to something more pressing,
Stephanie Mia Replaces Emma Stone In Grano’s Streets Of Fire remake, Production Set To Begin In One Week.
Accompanying the article is a photograph of a young woman, smiling, wholesome, not from Los Angeles. The gorgeous redhead from Danny’s AFI Tribute photo. This is Stephanie Mia.
Danny slams his laptop, pushes the quinoa onto the island, spilling a handsome amount, and storms off.
The sun begins to edge over 6th and Los Angeles Ave. Skid row, tent city, the last stop on the Bad Luck Line before you drop into the Pacific. Homeless walk down the tent lined streets to the breakfast stir at St. Rocco’s Mission. Free eggs, bread, instant coffee and powdered creamer. One serving apiece – you cut the line you don’t eat. The crowd grows as hustlers hustle and LAPD cruisers creep slowly through the dim morning light. Another dawn, another day for the seedy side of L.A. Except for the guy on the wrong end of a phone call from the car down the block.
A brown Buick Skylark sits purring in the bicycle lane under a busted streetlamp on 6th. The glowing cherry of a filterless Camel is all that helps to make out a man behind the wheel on a disposable cellular phone.
“Three dimes, two eights, all the kpin you have.”
“Si, friend. You like to start early,” a Mexican voice replies.
“I like to keep it going.”
“Five minutes. You know the drill.”
“Sixth and Los Angeles.”
The Buick is dusty from years of not giving a damn. Ash, burger wrappers from The Nickel, packages of socks and underwear. You buy and toss when you lay your head in a backseat. There’s no hashtag for #skylarklife. Yet.
Tossing the cell phone to the passenger seat, he reaches into the glove box for a Glock 9mm.
Around the corner, a relic of a 1993 Ford Mustang sits on Los Angeles Ave playing mariachi. Ramon Reyes has been in L.A. a few years. He grew up in Juarez to a devout family crusading for local reform. They all vanished one night when the teenage Ramon was on a mission in Mexico City, helping earthquake victims find a cup of clean water. More than his passion for soccer and Jesus faded when they never returned. The irony wasn’t lost when a local politician introduced Ramon to his new cousins. Ramon was running crystal into San Antonio a couple years later, eventually working his way up to Los Angeles and the Mustang. The American Dream is alive and well for Mr. Reyes.
He opens the center consul of the car. Inside is a lockbox. Inside that lockbox are a rainbow of pharmaceuticals, dilaudid to fentanyl, meth, cocaine for the USC undergrads, Ritalin for the kids. He counts out three small packets of black tar, weighs two eight-balls on an electronic scale and takes an unopened bottle of Klonopin before putting the consul back together.
Ramon puts the Mustang in gear. He loves the feeling of punching it from first into second and coasting around the corner. That was a gift America gave him. In Juarez, he had no need for a car. When that need came, he was off to The States, across the border, up to Phoenix then into California. His reputation on the Juarez streets preceded him and the route to LA was laid out. All he did was show up. The Mustang was a gift from the underboss for a year’s worth of jobs well done. He teared up when he put the keys in his pocket. He loves this damn car.
Turning onto 6th, the Mustang swerves around a pothole and parks on the northwest side of the street. That’s how they do it. The northwest corner, the car with the Nelson Mandela bumper sticker. If you don’t know the drill, you don’t get the pills.
Ramon waits. He skips to the next song, an electronic mariachi mash-up he favors at dawn, helping him push through the yawns and face rubs until he can call it a night, drive to his rented one bedroom in Boyle Heights, hide from the So Cal sunshine for a few hours and sleep before starting his next night.
The Buick’s driver side door opens. Out steps the man in an old Notre Dame Starter jacket, in work boots and jeans. He walks swiftly across the street, is to the north west corner in five seconds.
Ramon catches the figure approaching out his smudges driver’s side window. The man moves fast, the early morning jones. You name it, lawyer, mechanic, doctor or nurse, whoever they used to be, if you miss your fix, you move with purpose. Ramon grabs the heroin, coke and pills in his left hand. He grabs a TEC-9 with his right, holds it in his lap tilted up towards the driver’s window. This is a must, a precaution. He learned it back in Juarez. You’re always ready for a shakedown in this business. With a little time, it always comes.
But none of it matters, none of Ramon’s affection for his car, the horror of his youth, the lessons learned in blood and guilt and shame. None of that matters when Starter jacket puts a hole through Ramon’s window into his forehead, then unloads through the windshield into Ramon’s chest until his Glock 9mm is emptied.
Footsteps race across 6th. A car door opens and slams shut. The Buick peels out.
The sun is almost up, a soft glow falling onto the concrete under the Mustang, covered in shards of glass. A hustler peers into the broken and bloodied windshield, then to the women in a sleeping bag on the sidewalk, woken up by the gunshots. He says, “Hurry and we split it.”
One goes through the driver’s side door, the other the passenger’s, tugging the center consul until it’s ripped free. Pills spray throughout the car, onto the ground, hands pull the baggies from Ramon’s bloody grip with the TEC-9.
They flee down 6th towards tent city as a group of homeless and hustlers pull from Ramon’s Mustang anything they can. Handfuls of broken glass with the occasional pill, the red, green and white dice hanging from the rearview, the Stetson and leather jacket in the backseat, until there’s nothing left.
The Mariachi continues to play, until drowned out by the sirens as they approach. The sun is up. It will be hot today.
Danny races his black BMW 9 Series between stop signs through the Beverly Hills flats, attracting a smile from a Saudi prince and middle fingers from nannies pushing strollers.
His phone rings through the Focal speakers.
“Hey Danny. Good morning. I have your dry cleaning.”
Carl Travis, Danny’s assistant, makes the best coffee of any Harvard grad chasing Hollywood dreams.
“Did you fucking read Deadline this morning, Carl?”
“Um, no. Why? Good news?”
“Have I ever called you with good news?”
“Not yet, but there’s always…”
“Are you at your computer?”
Danny can hear Carl close the door, begin to type on his laptop.
“Come on, buddy. Close Bang Bros and hustle.”
“Stephanie got the movie.” Carl pauses, either way is the wrong way. “That’s wonderful.”
“Wonderful, Carl? Did you know about this? Why didn’t we know about this? You have other assistant friends. You guys talk.”
“No, and I don’t know. And yes, we do but why would anyone think to tell me…”
“Get me Rockwell’s office.”
“Are you sure you want to get invol…”
“Connect me, Carl.”
A number is dialed.
Taylor Highwater, a receptionist from Ladera Heights with a law degree, Carl’s work crush recently turned girlfriend after a year of trench warfare bonding over her boss at Universal’s edit notes on Night Window, “David Rockwell’s office.”
“I have Danny Reinhold for Davis.”
“Mr. Rockwell’s in an all hands meeting. He’ll have to return.”
“Okay, Taylor, thanks.”
“Taylor,” interjects Danny (she assumed he was on the line), “Have him return immediately. Tell him it has to do with Park City last Sundance. He’ll know what I’m talking about and it he doesn’t, remind him of this. Safe word: Stardust.”
“Um… Okay, Mr. Reinhold.”
Danny hangs up, listens to 98.7fm while cruising Fountain to Cahuenga to Barham to the Warner Brother’s gate. He swipes his card and pulls up to his parking space at his production company, Box Shark Pictures.
His phone speaker rings. He answers. Electronic music beats in the background.
“How was it, buuuddy?” Roger Slasworth, man-child from Long Island City who runs development for Box Shark. Favors any project with hot ass, male, female or in-between. The writer gets an immediate call back if his opus is set at a music festival.
“Not in the mood for a post-mortem, Rog.”
“Oh, you think I’m asking for you? Just taking your emotional temperature? No! Throw a guy a bone. I’m half hard here.”
“Jesus, man. You’re sick.”
“I’m sick!? You make fibromyalgia look healthy.”
“Fuck you, Slasworth.”
“Let me put some things into perspective. You’re young, you still have your looks, your hair, you took home and I assume woke up with every teenager’s dream. So… How can you possibly be in a bad mood right this very post-nocturnal emission moment?”
“You know why.”
“Do me a favor. Just take a deep breath.”
“Not into your Burning Man ayahuasca mindfulness.”
Danny hangs up, gets out of his car.
A front office window of Box Shark opens. Slasworth, balding in a slim-fit button-up with yesterday’s 5 o’clock shadow, eyes sunken from lack of sleep or coke or both, sticks his head out. Electro beats pump from his office.
“I’m serious, bro. Two minutes.”
Danny nods, leans against his BMW’s open door.
“Look around. See the sunshine? The blue sky, white clouds, the breeze?”
“What are you getting at?”
“I’m getting at this. The universe is having a remarkable morning. So what the fuck is so fucking wrong with you?”
Danny recognizes truth in this. Fortune cookie truth. Face value facts that don’t come close to an emotional experience. But right now, under the sun, sulking in front of his mini-empire, he feels it. Identifies. The tension in his jaw almost eases, a lightness may have followed, hope beginning to shine on a new spiritual center.
But Roger leans further out the window, “What the fuck’s up, Butler?!”
Danny turns, sees Gerard squint at the sun turning towards them.
“Fuck you, Roger.”
Danny closes his car door and heads into the office.
Slasworth tracks him, “I lost $10k to Butler in a poker game at Coachella.”
“Hey, I got a thing tonight with a bunch of stuff. Hills. Tail. Free drugs.”
“I’m thinking an early night, but thanks.”
“Stephanie will be there.”
Danny flips him off, opens the door and steps inside.
Box Shark Pictures is spare. Posters for Night Window and Carnival Blood on the wall next to a string of Danny’s father’s blockbusters and his grandfather’s award winners.
“You have the tremendous advantage of being able to leverage the family name, Daniel. Use it. But if you break it, I’ll break you.” Words of wisdom when Danny went to Richard to barrow money to option his first article. Danny wanted to remind him the name was nearly broken thanks to his prick wagging and lazy, glad handing approach to business. But he didn’t.
Danny knew entering the family business would put an ever-present bull’s eye on his back. He tempered the insta-hatred with a genuine affection for movies. Danny was a fan who could rattle off directors and release dates, old and new, with the best of them. He even programed a series of Morton’s films for The New Beverly, wrote the liner notes himself. Drove his grandfather there and back, holding his hand when cried during the screening of The Landlord.
Richard went into the business to outshine Morton. He didn’t care about quality, only the deal. The gross. The shiny names attached. Danny hoped his motives were more pure. He wanted to make movies so good that Richard Reinhold’s legacy would be buried under a mountain of Oscars so deep history would forget him.
Night Window and Carnival Blood weren’t those movies. But they made money. And that would be his leverage to do better. Maybe bigger. Even if he did it for spite.
Danny’s office is large with a glass door. Carl is inside pouring half a cup of decaf into Danny’s morning coffee, hides it as soon as Danny enters and walks behind the desk.
“Did Rockwell return?”
Carl hands Danny his cup.
“Did you half-caf me again?”
“No. Of course not.”
“Because today is not the day.”
“I know you’ve done it before. And I’d respect you more if you just owned it. Fuck a man to his back, you’re the bitch. Fuck him to his face, he’s the bitch.”
“Danny, I don’t want to fuck you. Slawsworth may. He probably does. But I don’t.”
“What’s up this morning?”
“Well, first, I wanted to ask you if you saw the headline for the vigilante story I’ve been tracking? Because he struck again and I think we should option one of the articles. This is a movie. Maybe a franchise. V For Vendetta meets Batman meets The Player.”
“V For Vendetta didn’t make money and you promised to lay off the Adderall. No one wants a vigilante unless it’s Jennifer Lawrence. Is your vigilante J. Law?”
“I mean, it’s a real case that has the whole town on edge like the Manson murders. There’s no suspect let alone…”
The phone rings. Carl reaches for Danny’s desk. Danny slaps him away, shakes out his arms. Focus. Eye of the tiger. He looks to Carl. Carl nods. Danny grabs the receiver.
“Danny Reinhold…,” he smiles. “Davis, calm down. Calm down. I was kidding. No one knows about Stardust… I’m sorry, I just needed to speak with you… No, I’m fine… My father is fine, too… I will… No, it’s about the Stephanie Mia movie… I know you know I know it’s the past and I know you’ll understand when I say I don’t care that it’s the past…”
Danny puts the call on speaker, places both hands on his desk like a general in a tent in a jungle.
Carl steps closer, intrigued. It’s a blood sport.
Davis sounds nasally through the speaker. “You’re serious about this?”
“I most certainly am.”
“What exactly are we speaking to? Specifically?”
“I’m just a friend calling another friend worried about decisions he’s making within his business upon which my grandfather sat on the board and still holds a minority stake which I’m in line to inherit.” Danny smiles to Carl, even closer now, almost touching the desk. “This is an altruistic call, Davis.”
“Danny, it’s a slamdunk with her. She’s perfect for the part.”
Davis lets that hang. Danny feels the opening, his endorphins releasing that welcome confidence that almost always comes back to bite.
Danny makes his movie, “I’ve secured the rights to the new Frank Miller graphic novel series, Davis.”
“I heard. I don’t know how we missed that one.”
“Frank and I do cross fit together when he’s in town. He’s a monster on the row machine. You’d never guess it.”
“Is that project part of your Warner deal?”
“It’s not, Davis. I wanted to tell you that. And it’s something I’d considering bringing across the street.”
Davis’ trepidation leaves. This is business. Leave your morals and ethics at the door. If you had them in the first place.
“Okay, yeah. I guess she’s probably miscast.”
Danny leans back, to the winner goes the spoils. “The movie as a whole is probably a dud.”
“Are you serious? We literally go before camera in eight days.”
Danny holds up his hand, counts his fingers down one per seconds. Only gets to three before Davis says, “Fine. Done. But you have to tell Bobbi. That producer would eat her young.”
“Get it done, Davis. And have it on Deadline in an hour.”
“I’m having my assistant set a lunch end of week to discuss Miller. Bring your lawyer. I’ll bring mine.”
“I look forward to it.”
“Oh, wait. Look, about this year’s Sundance…”
“Davis, I’d love to have you up to the chalet again.”
“Thank you, Stardust.”
Danny hangs up. Moves his shoulders like a fighter leaving the ring after a KO. The mojo, the swag, the juice.
Carl smiles, utterly disgusted, unfortunately impressed.
“Wow. That must be a Hollywood record. Production announced in the morning, canceled in the afternoon. That’s some emotionally decimated Jedi shit, Danny.”
Danny shadowboxes. “Thank you.”
“I think you need professional help. I’m positive of it”
“You’re right. I’ll go boxing after my brunch. Tell Jonny. And clear my afternoon.”
“You have a 2 pm at Soho House with that writer for the Jungle Book remake. Clifton Jefferson.”
“Hold it for now then cancel at 1:50.”
The Ivy on Robertson is an enchanted garden of an eatery. It’s a place to been seen, or it was a decade or two ago. The rich and famous are now blue-haired with leased Bentleys.
Danny enters and smiles at the beautiful twenty-something hostess, Rena.
“Rena, how are you?”
They hug. The prince and the pilgrim on level footing inside these palace walls. They break down soon as the check is signed and parking validated.
“He’s at his usual table.”
Danny looks into the dining room to Richard, distinguished, gray, handsome, a Facconable man, sitting at his usual table talking to a standing Albert Brooks.
Albert spots Danny’s approach.
“Danny, how’s the prince of the city?”
“I’m well, Albert. How’re you?”
“Busy as always.”
“Really? Surprising after the last movie.”
Richard shakes his head. Albert cracks a smile.
“I remember you when you were just this big! Now look at you. All grown up and such a prick. Just like your grandfather.” He turns to Richard. “Tell Janice I say hello. I’ll call you.”
With a nod to Danny, he vanishes.
Danny sits opposite Richard. A silent moment. Danny looks away, embarrassed.
“Your mother asks about you more and more.”
“I’ve been busy. I’m sorry.”
“Your grandfather’s assistant says you’ve been visiting often. What’s her name, Yolanda? What kind of name is that?
“She’s South African.”
“Doesn’t sound African. We’d like to see more of you, is all. Your mother.”
“I know. I will.”
“You look healthy. Physically.”
Danny nods. They can agree on that.
“It’s Stephanie, isn’t it?”
Danny shrugs, like a kid caught stealing.
“I’m not the guy to give relationship advice, but…”
“You’re telling me.”
Richard’s blank stare says enough.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean that, dad.”
“Yes, you did. It’s alright. My amends to you will mean something one day. I hope.”
Danny takes a breath. Richard sobered up a few years back, goes to meetings, works steps, apologized profusely. It worked for Janice. Not Danny.
Richard leans forward, closer, intimate.
“I got a call from Davis Rockwell at Universal.”
Danny rolls his eyes.
“Danny, you chose to work in this industry. It’s a small community. A fuckin’ high school. You may not like that I’m your father and your colleague, but that’s how it is. That’s how I know to do it. That’s how it was done with your grandfather and me.”
“And that was a hit.”
Shame runs in the family.
“Okay, this is what I have to say to you. Go around sinking movies for egoic personal reasons and you may find yourself at an office in Woodland Hills. But go around and fuck up my relationships, and I don’t care what your winning streak is, I’ll take you out of this business very fast. Love is an action, Danny. But self-preservation is a reaction. It’s a reflex. I’ve told you this before.”
Danny looks up, makes eye contact. Richard hands him a menu.
“Maybe we’re both like grandpa.”
“More than we’ll ever admit.”
To be continued…