Night Shoot

by Nat Segaloff

A perverse concept for a Reality TV show turns into an even more perverse shoot. 2,122 words. Illustration by Thomas Warming.

It was the dumbest Halloween pitch anybody had heard in forty years. So, naturally, it sold. The reality show was suggested as a joke at a party on Friday night, and by Monday morning the network lawyers had the contracts ready to sign for The Real Vampires Of Transylvania. Why it never aired is revealed in line producer Josh Combs’ production reports. Thanks to Mr. Combs’ widow for permission to reprint them here:

Friday, April 13:
How auspicious to start a vampire series on Friday The 13th. I’m here in Romania for pre-production. We announced an open casting call from 10 to 6, then realized that we should have made it PM instead of AM. In line with the network’s mandate for diversity, we put out a call for a cross-section of physical types. Of course, all the vampires have to look young, beautiful, and sexy; our shorthand for this is “VILF.” Anybody who’s either old or ugly will be cast as villagers. Since we’ll be shooting entirely at night, we were afraid the show couldn’t have any children. Amazingly, all those who applied so far are at least a hundred years old yet look like they’re nine and ten.

In order to make sure we hire the real thing, we have mirrors posted at strategic spots around the meeting room. Note: this may eventually pose a problem for the make-up department. Costuming probably won’t be an issue since everyone tends to arrive dressed in period finery looking like a cross between a Frozen character and the Ambassador Hotel doorman. Most of the actors say they’re from Seattle and are almost all unrelentingly morose. One of the ways we ferret out fakers is by inviting them to sample our craft service table. They refuse everything, although we almost had a disaster when one of the less worldly applicants started to eat a blood orange and we quickly told him it was just a name. Rather than risk another such incident, Amazon Prime is overnighting a supply of crucifixes.

Sunday, April 15:
Location scouting all weekend. Total letdown. Have you ever tried to find castle, ruins and cobblestone streets within union jurisdiction of native earth?

Tuesday, April 17:
What’s with the anemic budget? They actually think we can knock out 13 episodes for $3 million. That’s $200,000 per episode. Okay, it’s actually $231,000 but that’s not counting the $31,000 we intend to skim. At least the WGA still doesn’t think reality shows are written. I just hope our vampires don’t go union. LOL.

Monday, April 23:
First night of shooting. Right away we hit a perfect dramatic conflict: our main vampire pod has a charismatic leader Baron O’Neil, his consort is Genevieve Tillis, their ward is Steffi Batchelder, and then a mysterious newly minted vampire, Harris Charlton, shows up. Charlton knows all about the others’ living pasts before they became undead and seeks to out them. Lots of possibilities here.

One sad note: we need to hire a new key grip. The one we had died.

Thursday, April 26:
Terrific fireworks between O’Neil and Charlton. O’Neil adlibbed something that’s sure to become a catchphrase, “By Satan’s horns, I curse the shadow you cannot cast.” The crew has started to use it on each other. For example, one of the electricians accidentally stepped on the prop man’s foot and the prop man cursed the electrician’s shadow. We all laughed.

One sad note: the prop man died so we have to hire another one.

Sunday, April 29:
In an effort to get a few pages ahead, the actors have agreed to work on Sundays. Apparently, none of them attends church so this is not a big deal, although the script clerk complained that she wanted to find a church for services. Genevieve Tillis offered to show her the town’s lone church as soon as we wrapped.

One sad note: at sunrise the script clerk was found nailed to the door of the church so we’re going to have to hire another one.

Tuesday, May 1:
We had a visit from the local Child Welfare Society about our use of children in the show. They wouldn’t accept that our sweet little Steffi Batchelder is actually 123 years old. The CWS Director demanded that we trim Steffi’s on-set time to three hours and use her only during the day, not at night. Charlton took him aside and explained how we work, then returned and announced that everything would be fine from now on.

We’re knocking off early tomorrow so we can attend the funeral of the Director of the Child Welfare Society. Such a sad coincidence.

Wednesday, May 2:
Bit of fun yesterday. Somebody played a practical joke on Baron O’Neil by putting real garlic bread on the table in our dining room set. Who knew that he was violently allergic to garlic? He sneezed so hard that he turned himself into a bat and flew madly around the room. I had the editor save the footage for the outtake reel. Naturally, Baron was embarrassed and apologized but it spooked the make-up lady who was just about to touch up his lips.

More sad news: the make-up lady came down with some sort of rare blood disorder and has gone to the hospital for tests.

Friday, May 4:
End of Week Two of production and we have become a tight cohesive unit. The director no longer has to say “action.” The actors might as well be reading his mind. And they have hit upon the idea of mixing with the local townspeople to bring fresh blood – that’s what Charlton calls it – to the show. Most of the villagers only appear in one episode apiece and then disappear. (You know how boring production is; I guess they can’t take it). BTW, we’ll have to alert Standards & Practices that O’Neil considers all of the female villagers to be his “wives.” Perhaps we can dub “fiancées” over the word “wives” in Post. After all, we wouldn’t want the religious nuts to think The Real Vampires Of Transylvania is about atheists.

Happily, the script clerk has left the hospital and is feeling better. O’Neil is treating her like one of his fiancées, so we’re going to need another script clerk.

Saturday, May 5:
The first episode is ready for uploading. I think you’ll be impressed, especially when you hear that we didn’t have to spend any of our optical effects budget. It seems that the cast was able to make their eyes turn red and yellow, zoom across the room faster than you could see, levitate, and make objects shatter all on their own. Suggestion: these tricks look awesome in person. Maybe the PR department can set up visits to children’s hospitals and church groups.

Tuesday, May 8:
Sad news to report. Little Steffi Batchelder is dead. Well, not “dead,” technically, because she already was. She was taking a nap on a sofa behind the set and didn’t hear us when we wrapped at dawn. A beam of sunlight struck her and she turned into ash. We’re going to try to work it into the storyline but I don’t think we can get away with it because of the “no smoking” rules.

Thursday, May 17:
I haven’t written in a while because I’ve been putting out fires. That’s not a metaphor. The villagers have been upset over our shooting here and, starting a week ago, they began gathering outside our production offices with torches, pitchforks, rakes, and shovels. I said that we already had a union landscaping unit but thanks anyway, and I guess they took it the wrong way because they demanded to know what we had done with (so far) four of their wives, two of their husbands, eight of their children, eleven of their pets, and the town Mayor. You know how, when you’re shooting a movie, you don’t pay attention to the news? Hearing that, boy, did I feel out of it! I told them I’d ask around.

Friday, May 18:
None of the cast or crew knows anything about all the local disappearances. I reported this to the head villager who grumbled and walked away making veiled threats about reporting it to the authorities. I know that there can often be tension between film crews and the townies, so I reminded him of the amount of money we were dropping here. Talk about ungrateful! If we get picked up for a second season, we’re going to have to find a location that wants us.

Wednesday, May 23:
I didn’t mean to alarm you, but now I can’t avoid it. An old man named Van Helsing has been making a pest of himself since last weekend. He looks like something out of a Bergman movie and has been stalking practically everyone in the main cast. I’ve tried checking him out but when you Google him all that turns up is one conspiracy theory after another. Would you believe it: he thinks that vampires actually exist! If they did, wouldn’t we put them in the show? ROTFLMAO.

Friday, May 25:
This morning I received a message from Van Helsing. It read he was going to dispatch our remaining key cast members one by one unless we made him a featured player. I ran this past O’Neil, Charlton, and Tillis and they weren’t thrilled but they didn’t want to let the show die. Tomorrow morning Van Helsing will move in as the wacky neighbor. Unfortunately, this means that we will have to fire and pay out the character actor we originally cast as the wacky neighbor.

Sunday, May 27:
The good news is that we won’t have to pay out the actor we originally hired as the wacky neighbor. The bad news is that we will have to ship his body home to his relatives in Tarzana. The cause of death has not been determined, but it appears that he cut himself shaving and bled to death.

Monday, May 28:
Bad news. Baron O’Neil was discovered this morning with a wooden stake through his heart. His hands were also nailed to the inside of his coffin with sharpened crucifixes, a silver bullet was lodged in his brain, a clove of garlic had been shoved into his mouth, and a small vial of Sparkletts holy water was left beside his withered body. The town sheriff has called it the worst case of suicide he’s ever seen. We’re going to have to shut down for a couple of days until we can restructure the story lines. Harris Charlton and Genevieve Tillis have offered to have a child, especially after losing Steffi, but I’m not sure the show is ready to jump the undead shark before it even premieres. Any ideas?

Tuesday, May 29:
Never mind. Baron O’Neil showed up for work today looking normal – for him. Must have been an elaborate prank, right?

Friday, June 1:
Our hotel has been upset. It seems that our crew have been tearing apart their Gideon Bibles and gluing the pages to the windows, doorways, ventilation shafts, and any place that the outside world could find its way into their rooms. Not only that, they have rubbed garlic on all the door handles and bathroom fixtures. The place smells like Gilroy. Tonight, before we start, I will have a sit-down with the crew and cast and tell them that we need to respect our hosts.

Saturday, June 2:
Well, that didn’t work. Boy, did I catch an earful. It seems that many of the cast members have been making unwelcome advances to other cast and crew members. It usually stops at hickeys, but I have told everyone in no uncertain terms even that is completely unacceptable. I directed most of my remarks to O’Neil, Charlton, and Tillis, who seem to be the ringleaders. I am meeting them privately later tonight to tell them that I would rather shut down the show than keep them involved with it.

Wednesday, June 6:
Dear Mrs. Combs: The producers of The Real Vampires Of Transylvania wish to express their condolences on the death of your husband, Josh. He was a fine line producer just starting to reach recognition. Although we shut down production on his series when he died suddenly, we plan to edit the existing footage into a one-off special and run it in his honor on Netflix or YouTube Red. By the way, please execute the enclosed indemnification papers so we can release his body to you for proper burial. Incidentally, we don’t recommend immediate interment; we suggest cremation, salting his ashes with garlic, sprinkling them with holy water and then interment. Kind regards, Mack Bennett and Colin Beauregard, producers.

About The Author:
Nat Segaloff
Nat Segaloff is a journalist, producer, author and critic whose memoir Screen Saver: Private Stories Of Public Hollywood and its forthcoming sequel Screen Saver Too are published by Bear Manor Media. He has been a professor (Boston University, Boston College), publicist (Fox, UA, Columbia) and broadcaster (Group W, CBS). He has written more than a dozen books, the latest A Lit Fuse: The Provocative Life of Harlan Ellison (NESFA Press).

About Nat Segaloff

Nat Segaloff is a journalist, producer, author and critic whose memoir Screen Saver: Private Stories Of Public Hollywood and its forthcoming sequel Screen Saver Too are published by Bear Manor Media. He has been a professor (Boston University, Boston College), publicist (Fox, UA, Columbia) and broadcaster (Group W, CBS). He has written more than a dozen books, the latest A Lit Fuse: The Provocative Life of Harlan Ellison (NESFA Press).

  3 comments on “Night Shoot

  1. What a wonderful thing to wake up to in the morning. I laughed from the moment I began reading this until the final line. I’ve often wondered about a bunch of the Hollywood producers I’ve met in the business. This piece answers a lot of questions I’m sure we’ve all had. Great work Nat.

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