The Optimist

InterrogationRoom

 From Craigslist 

Acting Coach – One on One (Silverlake) 

Working producer and acting coach seeking new clients.
Reasonable rates.

Gretchen sat in the small room gulping down the water that she received  after much begging. Detective Puzzleman sat across from her staring at her like she was a bug under a glass.

“Isn’t there supposed to be a good cop,” she asked.

“That’s only in the movies. Besides, the only really bad guy in here is you.”

“I already told the other guy what happened.”

“Tell me, but don’t leave out the truth this time.”

“It was the truth,” she screamed, fighting back tears.

Puzzleman sat down and crossed his arms. Gretchen blew her nose and began to tell her story once again.

“I came to Los Angeles three years ago to pursue my dream of becoming an actress.”

Detective Puzzleman fought a smile. The woman was thirty-five if she was a day. Stringy brown hair framed a chubby pale face. He tried to imagine in what she thought she might be cast.

“I had been so busy working that I couldn’t go on many auditions,” she said looking down at the floor. I’d taken a couple of audition workshops, but the casting directors never noticed me.

I was forever looking at the Craigslist talent section. One day, I came across Tim’s ad.”

“What was the ad for?”

“For the umpteenth trillionth time it was for an acting coach.”

“What made you think an acting coach would work if everything else hadn’t?”

“It was a very convincing ad. It said that we would have three one hour sessions together and then he would put together a reel just for me. It said he’d worked as a casting director for 20 years.”

“I would have thought he was a scammer.”

“I did at first. But, I looked him up on IMDB. There was a Tim Harger who is a casting director. There was no picture of him, but everything there was consistent with what he said. He told me that he was in-between agencies and it just seemed like he knew what he was talking about.”

“What were the acting lessons like?”

“They were amazing. He  found the perfect parts for me. An ex stripper in a gritty story about a murder in the 1940’s, a married woman in love with her boss and then there was the scene he wrote just for me about a young lawyer defending an innocent man.”

Detective Puzzleman made a weird snorting noise.

“Continue please,” he said.

“So anyway, I felt a lot more confident when we started to make my reel. We filmed  the scene he wrote just for me. Then he said he wanted me to do a scene with another actor. He said the scene was set in a coffee shop. He said that there was no way we could really afford to have a shoot in a coffee shop as it would have cost thousands of dollars, so we were going to do it ghetto style,” she said making air quotes.”

“Ya, mean just go in there and shoot it without telling them that you are shooting it?”

“Right, so his sister Jill, my scene partner comes over to his house and we rehearsed the scene…”

“So he didn’t have a studio space or anything?”

“Well, no, I mean he was just using his house, right then.”

“Where was this house located?”

“Downtown.”

“He had a house in downtown Los Angeles?”

“Well, his apartment.”

“I see. Did he have a dedicated room for this?”

“Well, I mean he lived in just one room.”

“He was in a studio?”

“Yeah.”

“And you believed he was a successful casting director? Was it a toney building, at least?”

“Well, I mean it was the Rossyln.”

“Oh, the lofts?”

“No.”

“The Hotel Rossyln?”

“Yeah.”

He just stared at her for a long moment. She looked down at the floor.

“Anyway, I didn’t mean to interrupt your story. Please go ahead.”

“Well, We rehearsed this scene from a play in which this troubled woman is thinking about killing her husband. She caught him cheating with her best friend and she can’t forgive him. My character has most of the dialog. Jill only had two lines. She asks me why I want to do it and how I want to do it.”

“What play was it from?”

“It was called Man Slaughter.”

“Who wrote the play?”

“Dorothy Parker.”

The Detective Googled the play on his phone to see that it did not exist. Gretchen rolled her eyes.

“What exactly were your lines?”

“You want me to do the scene for you? “

“I got some time.”

“Okay, well do you want to just call action or what?”

“Action,” he said with a mean smile.

“Up could you que me too. I mean after you say action could you say, ‘How ya been doin’?’

“Action, How ya, been doin?”

“Last night I was layin’ in bed and I was thinkin’ about her.. just her, not him. I started thinking about all the times I confided in her….ya know like when I told her about intimate details of our relationship and stuff. Did she go right back to him and tell him what I said?”

Gretchen played with an imaginary napkin. She seemed to be attempting to cry.

Detective Puzzleman pushed the Twitter app on his phone.

“So, I realized that as long as she was alive I was always gonna… just..I was always gonna be haunted by memories of that…that I was never gonna sleep again. I think I’ve had like twenty hours of sleep in the last six weeks. I can’t eat. I drink and it just it makes me so sick. So I got so crazy that last night I went out and I bought a gun, a shotgun, like for hunting.

This is where my scene partner said would say, ‘are you kidding’ and then I would go on.

I’m not saying I’ll use it or anything. I’m just saying I have it; ya know. “

“So you rehearsed it and then went to a coffee shop to film it?

“Yeah we did.”

“The wait staff wasn’t suspicious when they saw you guys filming?”

“No, we used IPhones, not cameras. People film themselves doing everything now a days.”

“I would think it would be a bit different if someone was filming you.”

“Jill and I filmed each other. First from her side and then from mine.”

“You used your own phones?”

“no, his.”

“I see. How long were you there?”

“About an hour and a half.”

“Did he ever give you the actual reel?”

“No, he didn’t.”

“What happened when you asked him for it.”

“He just kept stalling. After a while he stopped answering the phone.”

“Three weeks after this conversation was tape recorded Samantha Hodgens was found murdered at the Alexandra. You were seen on camera going into the Alexandra.”

“I went to meet Jill.”

“What a coincidence.”

“It was a set up.”

“By who.”

“Tim and Jill.”

“Why would they do that?”

“He wanted to kill his ex girl friend and rob her.”

“Oh come on Gretchen, admit it. You were friends with Jill, you started going out with her brother. He told you about his crazy ex-girlfriend who lived at the Alexandria and had a stash of cash and jewelry. You caught him cheating with her, so you decided to help yourself to the goods and eliminate the competition in the process. Fortunately, his sister knew how nuts you were and tape recorded a conversation she had with you at lunch where you basically confessed to your motive.”

“No, I met him on Craigslist, he did the coaching and introduced me to his sister. We made the reel and then I didn’t hear from him for a while. I ran into his sister outside of my building one day and she told me that if I met her at her room at the Alexandria, we could go to Tim’s apartment and get the reel. “

“Then where is the video you made?”

“They must have erased the video. She must have been tape recording me with the recording app on her cell phone. “

“We found a sawed off shot gun in a locker at the Greyhound bus station, along with a pair of diamond earing belonging to one miss Samantha Hodgens.  We found the locker key in your bag How did it get there?”

“I have no idea.”

Detective Puzzleman got up and told her that he would be right back. Gretchen bust out into tears.  She tried to tell herself that everything would be okay.  She wondered if she would go to jail.  She had a vision of herself rotting away. She imagined being raped and beaten and locked in solitary confinement.

She cried until she couldn’t anymore. She wondered when the detective would return. She imagined that he was preparing for her arrest. She wondered if her parents would get her a lawyer; maybe they would get a good one. Maybe she would have to go to jail for a while and then she would be exonerated. She imagined going on “The View” and being interviewed by Oprah.   Maybe someone would see her and see something in her that would bring her opportunity. She began to brighten as she heard footsteps in the hallway.

Charlie Manson’s Greatest Hits Part I

manson

 

 

Oscar Tubington was a bastard: at least that was the general consensus. When he was 35 he impregnated his secretary Abigail and she had insisted that he leave his wife for her. He didn’t want to get a divorce, but Abigail threatened to go to the authorities about the cocaine that he often romanced his clients with.

His wife had been furious and attempted to sue him for fifty percent of his talent agency.  He hired a team of lawyers and she got a modest bungalow and child support until their ten-year-old daughter turned eighteen.

He and Abigail got married right after their baby was born and they had stayed married for some twenty years and had two more children together. Their marriage ended when Oscar’s car stalled out on the train track and he was killed by an oncoming Amtrak. He went to the afterlife and was sitting in the waiting room to see exactly what came next.

A woman’s voice called his name and he was lead to a small office that contained a woman who was so fat she resembled a lounge chair with a head sticking out of it.  She was sitting on a reinforced loveseat. There was a beanbag chair directly across from her and she motioned for Oscar to sit down. He fell gracelessly into the beanbag chair and introduced himself.

“I know who you are, Mr. Tubington. I’m your judge.”

“My judge? What do you mean exactly, my judge?”

“I get to decide if you go to Heaven or Hell.”

“What, are you fucking kidding me? You’re God?

“I didn’t say that. I said I get to decide where you go.”

“And who might you be?”

“I’m Karen Kraft. We went to Jr. High together. You called me fat and made fun of me because I had a learning disability. I was like ten pounds overweight at the time. As you can see, I developed a horrible eating disorder.”

“This is my fault?”

“You and your friends.”

“I was like twelve.”

“Yes, I know, but so was I. I gave you the benefit of the doubt, but you were a complete schmuck. You cheated on both of your wives. You emotionally abused your children and you ran a dishonest business.

“I gave to charity.”

“For a tax shelter.”

“I patronized the arts. I owned a gallery.”

“In Portland. You opened it there because you knew you could get artist and buyers to come from California and buy and sell art in Portland, because there is no state tax there.”

“So obviously. I’m going to Hell.”

“Not necessarily, you may be able to redeem yourself.”

“How?”

“Well, were running a little social experiment up here. You may be able to assist us.”

“What kind of social experiment?”

“Well, we’ve been doing a little study of history’s greatest monsters. We’re trying to find a common thread. We are particularly interested in the cases of Hitler and Charles Manson. “

“Why them?”

“They were both failed artist.”

“Oh yeah, I remember hearing that Charles Manson tried to get into the Monkees.”

“Well, that’s an urban legend, he was in jail at the time. But he did try to make it as a singer and songwriter! If fact that has to do with your assignment. In the world you were a talent agent, yes?

“”Yes! And a good one.”

“Well, we believe that if Charles Manson had been a successful artist, the whole Manson Family Murders may never have happened.”

“So what do you want me to do?

“We want you to travel back in time and make sure that Charles Manson gets signed to a record deal.

“And if I am successful.”

“You’ll jump through that hole and right into the delivery room where you will be reborn,” She said pointing to a hole in the corner of the office.

“And if I fail?”

“Hell.”

Oscar sighed. He signed the paperwork and agreed to go back in to me and see what he could do. He was dressed in an enormous aluminum suit. He leaped off what appeared to be a cliff.

Oscar awoke to the sound of an old fashion alarm clock. The room he was in was pitch black. He turned on the light to find himself in a cheap motel room. He took a shower and dressed in a wide lapel suit that had been laid out for him.

A delivery boy knocked on the door and handed him a San Francisco Chronical, coffee and a bagel. He looked at the date on the newspaper, it was March 22, 1967. He thumbed through the paper and saw that there had been a coup in Sierra Leone and that there had been an oil spill in Europe. He finally landed on the want ads and saw that an ad had been circled for a talent scout in the music industry.

Oscar picked up the rotary phone and dialed the number.

Sidney Poitier, Masturbation and Make Believe!

I came across the ad in the Westword (Denver sister of the LA Weekly). “Actors wanted for short film set in call center. Call for details”. With as close as I’d come to Hollywood success, I’d never even been on a movie set before. I decided that if I wanted to pursue film, I should at least get my feet wet by getting some sort of practical experience. I realized that I was probably going to get rejected because of the way that I looked, but I figured I would try. Maybe they had a crowd scene or maybe they needed behind the scenes help.

I called the number and a man with a slight accent answered the phone. He told me that the film was being made as a pitch of a full length movie. He warned me that some people had been offended by it as there was a lot of sexuality in it. He said it was basically a mockumentary and I would be playing a call center employee. I asked if there was an audition he said no, I could just come over to his house on Tuesday and he would have a part for me. H’mm, was I going to be abducted: it seemed unlikely. To be on the safe side, I had a friend drive me to his house and make sure everything was ok. We arrived to find the door wide open and a whole bunch of people gathered in the living room.

I was greeted by Calvin, the filmmaker, a heavy-set Bahamian man of about thirty-five. He handed me a script and told me that I would be playing Michelle, a new call center employee. I was introduced to Will, a strikingly handsome , 21-year-old who was to be my scene partner. The scene entailed Will’s character training me. In the midst of my training he gets a dirty phone call and asks me to assist him in preparing to masturbate. Not only was the scene ridiculously over the top, but we were both very miscast. He was far to young for the role of the supervisor and, as I look like Tom Petty and he looks like a model, it was hard to believe that anyone would think he would harass me. I thought the dialog was awful, but I held my tongue. I reminded myself that I was there to learn; nothing more.

Will and I rehearsed for about two hours. He had to take his pants off one point and he was very uncomfortable doing this. As the other actors rehearsed their scenes around us I noticed that most of the scenes had to do with sex and almost none of them had anything to do with call center work. None of the dialog was funny at all. I began to wonder what I had gotten myself into. We were told to go over our lines and be there the following Saturday for the filming of the movie. I was shocked that I had been given such a big part.

Calvin drove me home. He told me that he had worked in a cable call center for a year and a half and that’s what inspired the film. He said he knew a production company in California that might be interested in producing the film. I mentioned that I had written a screenplay and he asked me if I would be interested in rewriting the screenplay for his film. I told him I would think about it and that I would bring a copy of my screenplay to the filming. He was very flirtatious on the way home. I strongly implied that I was not interested. He did not seem to pick up on it.

I arrived at Calvin’s house the following Saturday. I was to play two different characters. The trainee and an old lady complaining about her cable bill. We spent 24 hours filming it. I got the giggles when we shot our scenes. Will stumbled over his lines.

Calvin seemed very disorganized. He didn’t really give us any direction. The camera man seemed to know what he was doing. He told me that he had worked on several sports news shows.

On the day of the filming several of the actors read my screenplay and said they loved it. Calvin also said he liked it and asked if he could send it to that production company in LA. He said he would be interested in having me rewrite the original screenplay to” Cable Call Center”. A couple of the actors on the film were actually pretty good. One woman named Stephanie stood out as having especially good timing. Will told me that she was the estranged sister of some guy who produced, “Party of Five”.

I read the whole screenplay and found it to be riddled with fart jokes and sex gags. There was absolutely no plot at all it was all just scenes of agents taking various calls. I actually liked the idea of just doing skits of phone calls I also liked the idea of a mockumentary. I Told Calvin that my sense of humor was very different than his and that if I were to do the rewrite it would be almost completely different. I rewrote the first scene to the best of my ability and he told me to go ahead and rewrite the whole thing and we would submit it around as co writers.

It occurred to me that I could just write my own screenplay about call centers. I had entertained the idea before, but I couldn’t think of a plot.  I didn’t think of going from call to call the way Calvin did I decided it wouldn’t be ethical to take his general idea so I agreed to do it. There was some self-interest involved in this, Calvin had started his own production company (it was a legitimate LLC and everything) and I could use his recommendation.

I wrote one page a night for three months. I gave it a plot in which an earnest young man who works at the call center is making a documentary about his coworkers. I tried to stick to Calvin’s request to make it very commercial and conventional. I gave it a romantic sub-plot and lots of simple-minded humor. I had an action subplot about a cable repair man who gets chased thought the city. I showed it to a few of my call center co workers and they liked it. We registered it under both our names with the WGA.

We began to make plans to attend another pitch fest. Calvin sent the screenplay to those producers he knew in California. I looked them up on IMDB and they had done one documentary about a wrestler. We entered it in a contest, I also sent it to a man named Dylan who was the friend of Stephanie’s the “Party of Five” guy’s sister. Dylan was a somewhat successful writer of movie trailer scripts and a fairly well-known comedian, he even wrote for the Huffington Post.

I was a bit leery to go to Pitchfest with Calvin. He continued to hit on me constantly. I made up a boyfriend; I even had a friend of mine poise as said boyfriend at the screening of Calvin’s film but, nothing would discourage him. If I said I was tired he would ask if it was because of sex. I told him I didn’t like The Wedding Crashers that much and he asked if I liked the scene where one of the principles gets a hand job. He was incorrigible.

After about six weeks I got a response from Stephanie’s friend Dylan; He loved my screenplay. He said he saw fully developed characters, where he hadn’t seen them before. He said he saw funny jokes where before he had seen none. I was thrilled. I wrote to Calvin and said “He loved it!” Unfortunately, I accidentally sent the e-mail to Dylan. I am a female Larry David.

The producer in California wrote back and said he loved  “Surface” and  “Cable Call Center”. Calvin called me and told me that they might be interested in producing it when they got their funding. He told me that they were trying to produce a film about the life of Lynden Pindling the former prime Minister of the Bahamas’. He showed me a prospectus for the film which was very detailed and over 300 pages long. He said that Pindling had been best friends with Sidney Poitier when they were kids and that Poitier was interested in producing the film.

“No way” I said thinking this sounded way, way to good to be true.

“Not only that, but I talked to Sidney on the phone”, Calvin told me.

“You talked to Sidney Poitier on the phone?”

“Yes”, he said without a moment’s hesitation.

“What did you call him?”

“I called him Sidney”

“But, isn’t he a Knight aren’t you supposed to call him sir?”

He just laughed.

The whole thing sounded pretty suspicious. Calvin was a former call center employee who was working in a jewelry store, what did a real production company in LA want with him? Calvin said that a local radio talk show host in Denver had introduced them. He said the host was interested in helping black artist to network. I talked to Tony on the phone. I didn’t know what to ask him I just wanted to make sure he was real. He told me that he was pretty sure they would be getting funding soon and that they might be interested in both screenplays when they did. I told him I’d keep my fingers crossed for him. I asked him how he knew Sidney Poitier and he said he had been interested in writing about Pindling and sent the prospectus to Sidney’s production company as Sidney and the Prime Minister had been classmates.

Calvin gave me Pindling biography. Pindling was the first black Prime Minister of the Bahamas whose career ended in scandal when NBC ran a story about him accepting bribes from Columbian drug dealers. The book Calvin gave me was extremely slanted in Pindling’s favor. He also gave me the government report which detailed shocking instances of blatant flagrant drug trafficking. Pindling was clearly guilty. I got the distinct impression that Calvin and Tony wanted me to write a script in which I made it look as though he had been framed. I told Calvin I was not comfortable with this. He told me the only reason Poitier wanted to do the film was to clear Pindling’s name.

I felt very frustrated. I wanted to write the screenplay; it was a great story that no one knew about. It was full of sex, drugs racial controversy and international politics! It almost wrote itself. But, I couldn’t write the real story if I ever hoped to see it on film. It occurred to me that I could just write my own screenplay about the real Pindling, but I felt guilty; I never would have known about any of this if it hadn’t been for Calvin.

I wrote the first couple of scenes. But, my efforts were cut short. As I worked on the Pindling screenplay Calvin was busy doing something unbelievable stupid.  I didn’t know it , but I was falling down a rabbit hole out of which I would never fully climb.