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Friday, December 28, 2012

STEN IN HOLLYWOOD: THE PENULTIMATE MISADVENTURE


ONE MORE MISADVENTURE TO GO and then, as they say in the Biz, the Bunch & Cole Show will be entering hiatus to "rest" for a year. (You can get the collected MisAdventures both as Dead Tree and Kindle editions BY CLICKING HERE)  Meanwhile, TALES OF THE BLUE MEANIE, will debut after the MisAdventures end. And so, Gentle Reader, you'll get your Friday funny fix without interruption.  Set in Venice Beach, California the Tales follow the zig-zag path of a young newsman - yours truly - through the crazy, hazy daze when  the Flower Children sang, and danced and romped to drown out the sounds of distant guns. 
*****

The Eternal Emperor filled up his glass again. "You took care of everything? On the Sten matter?"

"Just like you said, boss."

The Emperor thought a minute. "Let me know how he works out. I think that Sten is a boy to watch."

"He sure is, boss. He sure is."

Mahoney forced himself to finish his drink. And then held out his glass for more. In his job, you made sure you always kept the boss happy.

And the Eternal Emperor hated to drink alone.
.......... (From Sten #1 - The Final Scene)

*****
Lew Weitzman was on the phone. He said, "Hey there, Big Guy. How's everything in Gator Land?"


I said everything was fine and it was. The sun was doing its usual South Florida best. Through my office window the orange blossomed Poinciana Tree on the opposite bank of the canal delighted the eye. A fish leaped from mossy waters for a flitting dragonfly and was almost snared himself by an enterprising hawk. Besides the blessings of a benevolent Mother Nature, I had a good start on a new book; I was healthy and so was Kathryn; and now I was talking to one of the only two decent agents I'd had since Chris and I broke into the game. (To learn what happened to the first one see Episode #69: Hollywood Screw -Up.)

I was thinking of telling Lew about the bull gator Kathryn and I had heard bellowing for its mate the night before, but as The Boss Man at Preferred Artists he was perennially short on time so I just asked, "What's up?"

Lew replied, "We have a situation here that I wanted to run past you, Allan."

I said, go ahead and in his clipped, efficient manner, he said, "A kid from (Redacted Inc.) stopped by to inquire about Sten. (Redacted Inc.) has a pretty good reputation, so I said we might be interested in hearing what they had in mind."

I thought - Hmm. Movie deal? In my head, Chris warned, "Careful, Cole. They're gonna try to fuck us again."

I told both Lew on the phone and Chris in my head, "Won't hurt to listen."

Lew said, "Exactly my take on it, Allan. He said they're thinking movie - possibly even a series of movies. All the Big Tent Pole franchises in Town are getting pretty worn. Everybody's looking for new properties with legs. He thought with eight novels, Sten would be perfect."

In my head, Chris gave a cynical, "Yeah, yeah." But what I said to Lew was, "Can't disagree with that. There's enough material for a dozen movies. "

But, in my head, Chris was still arguing: "Been down this fucking road before, Cole. Sten is, Number One - too expensive. And Number Two - Hollywood just doesn't get it. They'll think it's just a bunch of bang, bang you're dead books."

Lew said, "This kid said he was a big fan of Sten. He said his father turned him onto the books years ago and he's read the whole series dozens of times." (This was not unusual. I've had communications from all over the world from people whose father - and sometimes mothers - introduced them to Sten. One Russian's old man was even a Soviet-era fighter pilot.)

In my head I told Chris, so much for Number Two. To Lew, I said: "Well, the bit about being a Sten fan is heartening. But what about the cost? Isn't it too damned expensive? Chris and I budgeted it out years ago, and a Sten movie would go for an easy hundred million dollars."

Lew laughed. He said, "Yeah, but, Allan - that's back when a hundred million dollars was A Hundred Million Dollars. Even adding in inflation, with all the computer Blue Screen stuff they have now it would probably cost about the same. Except, these days they'd consider a hundred million dollars for a Sci-Fi action movie pretty cheap."

In my head, Chris said, "Hmm. Maybe. But who the hell are they?"

Good point. I asked Lew, "Who are these guys? They some kind of a production company, or something?"

Lew said, "Part production. Part management. They're mainly a Canadian company, and now they're expanding their presence here."

"So, what do they want to do with Sten?" I asked. "Option it? Shop around for backers?"

"Pretty much like that, Allan," Lew said. "Except, it's my guess they'll try for more of a commitment than just an option. They'll probably want to manage the property as well."

In my head, Chris said, "Fuck that. Movie - maybe. TV - maybe. Nothing else."

No argument from me. I told Lew, "If they want to option the film and television rights for a limited time, let's see what they offer. But they can't have a say over the past, present or future of the actual books."

"That's my take on it too," Lew said. "The books are a known entity. You and Karen (Chris' widow) are doing a great job of getting them republished. And now they're all moving into new formats... E-books... Audiobooks... and every other kind of book."

It was good to see that, as usual, Lew and I were on the same page. Chris didn't say anything, so I figured he was of same opinion.

Lew asked, "What's the readership of Sten, now? The kid asked me, but I didn't have the details."

I said, "Ah, geeze, Lew. We're probably up to twenty five million sales... maybe more... and in half-a-dozen languages. The Dumb Asses in the U.S. let it go out of print, but we're doing gang-buster business in Europe. (As of this writing the books have been re-issued in both the U.S. and the U.K. See The Sten Page for details.) Last I heard from my Russian editor we'd sold ten million copies there. And that's in hardback. Top of the Moscow best seller list for over two years. And the German publisher is going to be republishing them as well."

Lew said, "Perfect. It's got a built-in international market. And it's action-adventure science fiction, which always sells a lot of popcorn and Coke no matter what country you're in. What's not to love?"

In my head, Chris said, "That's what we've been telling ever Tom, Dick and Lucas Films for years. And see where it fucking got us."

Ignoring the gripe - which was legitimate - I asked Lew, "What's the next step?"

Lew said, "I think the kid would appreciate a call from you, Allan. Get your take on him. Then get back to me."

And so that's what I did. My call was directed to voice mail, but I had no more than stated my name when The Kid From (Redacted Inc.) picked up. In a voice that started high, then went to just a chest hair less than shrill, he gushed, "Allan, it's such a thrill to speak to you. I've been a Sten fan for so many years. I just love the series so much. And when I got into this business I swore that someday I'd be in a position to do something with it. And now I can."

I mean, what could I say after all that? Uh... thanks? So, okay, that's what I said. But in my head, Chris mocked him with a screechy-voiced, "The Hawks take care of their own!" Sounding like the pre-teen actor who played the Wuss gang leader in Code Red who was trying to entice Adam (The Beach Ball) Rich to join his Band Of Punk Brothers. (See Episode #32: The Hawks Take Care Of Their Own.)

I had to bite back laughter as The Kid From (Redacted Inc.) gushed on, while in my head Chris muttered things like: "Yaps like a poodle in heat." And, "Maybe his balls haven't descended yet." And, "Comes on like a cross between The EatAnter and The Weasel." (A producer and an agent, respectively.) And then I really almost lost it when Chris started singing Tip Toe Through The Tulips in a perfect imitation of Tiny Tim. (Chris repped Tiny briefly in his days as "the worst PR man in the history of Rock and Roll.")

Finally, when The Kid From (Redacted Inc.) wound down, he told me some things his company was involved in, which were moderately impressive. Explained that they had a big fat Line Of Credit, which was more impressive. And that they had a relationship with the Weinstein Brother, which shut even Chris up.

I called Lew, told him what I'd learned, and asked the crucial question, "What's your take on this, Lew?"

Lew said, "Let's see what the numbers are. If we like them, we can bounce it off Karen and take it from there."

In my head, Chris said, okay, we'll see - and so I told Lew to go ahead. Then I got back to work on Lucky In Cyprus, an-in-progress book about my life as a CIA brat in the Middle East.

FREEZE SCENE FOR A SHORT SANITY DEFENSE


If all this sounds crazy - me talking to the ghost of my late partner - it probably is. But the fact is, even though Chris and I split up back in the mid-90's, and he died some years before this incident (July 4, 2005) we had been friends and writing partners for so many years that an area of my brain had been altered from long use to consider his point of view. Whether he was actually there in the flesh, or not.

Also, Sten was just as much his brain child as mine, and he'd poured just as much sweat and murdered just as many brain cells as I had to complete the series. So, I had to consider what he'd think about any deal involving our joint authorship.

Bottom line: I might be nuts, but name me a writer who isn't and I guarantee sleep-inducing prose. Either that, or a diabetic coma.

RETURN TO SCENE


A couple of weeks later Kathryn and I flew out to LA. We visited her mom and younger brother, (Phil Bunch - an amazing musician.) and my son and his wife, Jason and Hiroko, and my grandsons. (Can't resist. Here's a picture of Ryan, the youngest, and his little girlfriend.)

Jason drove me to a meeting with The Kid From (Redacted Inc.) and his boss. They had a Beverly Boulevard address and a reassuring (Inside The Loop) 90048 Zip, so I went to the meeting wary, but encouraged.

The Kid From (Redacted Inc.) was a tall, good-looking lad and proved to be just as gushy in person as on the phone. His boss was small, wiry and nervously aggressive. He was in constant motion, running his hands through his hair, finger-drumming the conference table, shifting around in his seat like - well, as Chris opined in my head: "Fucker must have an anthill for an ass."

At that moment The Kid From (Redacted Inc.)'s Boss shifted forward, until his Anthill was right on the very edge of the seat, and with great sincerity said, "I've heard all about you and your books, Allan. To be honest, I haven't read more than a few pages of Sten, but what I read was impressive. Very impressive. I really think that this is a property we can work with."

In my head, Chris snorted laughter. "Property? Things never fucking change, do they, Cole?" But I knew he really wasn't insulted. We'd grown thick hides in our time in Tinsel Town. Never mind calling books "property," that's how they viewed people as well.

I said, "I'm not quite clear on what you guys intend to do with Sten. I've heard movie. Series of movies. And even a television series. Maybe we could narrow that down a bit."

The Kid From (Redacted Inc.)'s Boss said, "Definitely a series of movies. After we hook up with the right people, we'll start with one, then move up to the next level."

"That's the best sales point," The Kid From (Redacted Inc.) put in. I thought I saw a flicker of annoyance on his boss's face (he wasn't done yet) but his oblivious employee went on, "Sten starts out young - seventeen, right?" I nodded."Then in each book he ages and gains more abilities."

The next line he addressed to his boss: "Just like Harry Potter.'

Outraged, Chris went, "Harry Fucking What?"

But The Kid From (Redacted Inc.)'s Boss seemed pleased with this. He nodded. "Absolutely. And the Potter franchise is over and done with. Everybody's looking for a replacement."

"And that should be Sten," The Kid From (Redacted Inc.) said.

"Aw, fuck, Cole," Chris said in my head. "Set 'em straight, would you?"

I said, "Sten is a long way from Harry Potter, guys. To begin with, he kills people. He's the Eternal Emperor's number one assassin."

The Kid From (Redacted Inc.) waved that aside. "Not a problem," he said. "We can have all the blood we want and even flash Bet's tits, and we'll still score a PG rating." (Bet is Sten's first girlfriend.)

PAUSE SCENE FOR MOVIE ECONOMICS ASIDE

In Movieland, the preferred rating is P(arental) G(uidance) A much-tamer G rating is for kiddies, and that means too many half-price seats for a big bucks movie. Bottom line: you've got to have multiple viewings by millions of little Rug Rats before you can make a dime.

On the other hand, an R rating, means the Junior High crowd will have to buy tickets to something else at the multiplex, then sneak into the forbidden R flick to catch glimpses of the naked body of Angelina Jolie's double. (Or, the real deal with Lindsay Lohan.) Meaning, the money intended for your movie goes into a competitor's pocket.

An "X" rating almost never happens because the multiplex has to spring for extra security to keep the theater swapping from getting out of hand and bringing down the local law, Ministry, and the PTA on them.

But, with a PG rating you can have all the violence, fart jokes, and barely contained Jiggle you need to lure the young popcorn and Coke chugging minions, who, after all, have about the only real discretionary money there is to spend these days. (Outrageous ticket prices barely pay the bills at a multiplex. All the profit is in the outrageous candy counter prices.)

RESUME SCENE

The Kid From (Redacted Inc.)'s Boss was starting to look less twitchy now. In my head, Chris said, "He's smelling money."

The Bossman said, "Is there a script?"

I said there wasn't. Chris and I had had only briefly considered doing a Sten movie script and decided against it. Unless somebody crossed our palms with silver, that is. We were too busy writing books. And I still was.

"Not a problem," The Kid From (Redacted Inc.) said. "I've got just the writer who's dying to do a spec script on something of this quality." (A spec script is for no money, but for the hopes of same. As Someone In The Know once said, "A freelance writer is somebody who is paid per piece, per word, or perhaps.")

The Kid From (Redacted Inc.) named the guy he had in mind, which seemed to more than satisfy The Bossman. "He's certainly, A-List," he said. I'd never heard of him, but then I'd been out in Boca Raton for quite some time.

I said to the (Redacted Inc.) Pair, "Sounds good to me."

In my head, Chris remained silent. No surprise there. If he were still alive and banging on the keyboard he'd have no more time than I did to write a Sten script on spec. Besides, as I've mentioned several times in these MisAdventures, books are way more fun and you don't have to take shit from anybody.

Then, just to make sure that we were all on the same GPS spot, I said, "Summing things up: We're talking option on film rights only, correct?" They agreed that it was. "And Lew is my agent, so any deal has to include him, right?" They said, right. "And I get final say-so on the script, obviously." It was and they said so. "Then, I'll give Lew a call when I clear the meeting and tell him what we all agreed on, okay?" It was.

We left and for a change the Beverly Boulevard traffic was mild enough to get back to Jason's house in Culver City in time to take my 5-year-old grandson - Ryan Ito Cole - to the park. And what a time we had running Grandpop's legs off.

DISSOLVE TO: MY PLACE IN BOCA - A WEEK OR TWO LATER

I'm taking a break from the Cyprus book, perusing my e-mail, when I see something from The Kid From (Redacted Inc.) I open it. To my surprise he informs me in the email that he's had (Redacted Inc.)'s Business Affairs people work up a contract, which is attached.

In my head, Chris says, "What the fuck? Over."

I'm thinking the same thing. Lew hasn't mentioned anything about contracts. Hell, he's barely mentioned any details of a pending deal. In any deal in any field, there's always a tendency for the Side With The Big Bucks to grab as much as they can. In Hollywood, you can double that. No, triple that. As far as Lew and I were concerned, everything was still way up in the air. (Karen had been consulted from the very beginning. She was an experienced Hollywood hand herself, and had a positive, but wait-and-see attitude.)

As I clicked to open the PDF attachment, Chris was saying, "They trying some kind of end run around Lew, for fuck's sake?"

My thinking, exactly. Contracts and contract details should be handled by agents, not writers. There has to be a middle person between The Art, and The Business Of Art, or nothing but grief is sure to follow.

I open the attachment. Scan it. "Fuck!" Chris says.

I agree. It looks like total bullshit. Starting with the fact that it's basically a no-limits contract and the way it is worded there were loopholes that might not only give them control of all future Stens - in all media forms - but gave them a piece of the royalties of the completed series.

"Fuck!" Chris says again.

I forwarded the email and attachment to Lew's office. It was lunch time in Boca, meaning LA was just getting good and snarled in rush hour morning traffic, so I waited a couple of hours to call.

Lew was not happy. And by this time I was going from irritated to steamed. We talked it over, then Lew got me - and partner's ghost - calmed down. He pointed out that if we can make things work, maybe - just maybe - we can finally kick start Sten The Movie.

"He's a kid," he said. "Chalk it up to inexperience."

I agreed, although in my head Chris was making rude noises.

A day later The Kid From (Redacted Inc.) called to make squeaky apologies. It was never his intention to - blah, blah. Business Affairs communications screw up, blah blah. Unfortunate boilerplate language that slipped by, blah, blah, blah. Blah. (Ever notice that Boilerplate language always favors the We Say So Corporations of this world?)

Chris wanted to rip his lungs out just on GP, but I did my damndest to graciously accept his apology, said go thou and boilerplate no more, then got back to the far more rational world of 1950's Mideast terrorism.

A few weeks go by. Contracts bounce back and forth and are finally approved by me and Karen. I'm told the writer is excited to get to work on the Sten Script. Mild alarm bells jingle when I get the idea that the writer thinks all he needs to do is read the first book, and he'll be ready to go. (Everybody hates to read actual books in Hollywood, including many writers.) I warn The Kid From (Redacted Inc.) that if the writer wants to get a handle on not just Sten's character, but the all important character of The Eternal Emperor, plus the Galactic Empire Chris and I have created, he'd better read at least a few of the other books.

Sure, sure, The Kid From (Redacted Inc.) tells me. No problem. Not to worry.

In my head, Chris says, "Wanna bet?"

I sigh, tell him, "Back in the box," and time travel back to the good old days of the Cold War. Time passes. Every once in a while I pull my head out of the book long enough to ask how the script is going. Wonderful, I'm told. Just great. The writer's really "broken the back of this thing."

It's a familiar writer's lie that I've used often enough myself. But, I can't begrudge its use by a fellow ink-stained wretch. (See The Four Most Important Writers' Lies in Episode # 76 - Hooray For Hollywood.)

I pretend I believe the writer and return to my book.

More time passes. I finish the first rough draft of Lucky In Cyprus. Just short of nine hundred manuscript pages. By now, the Sten script - which ought to come in at around 90 to 120 pages with lots and lots of white space instead of prose - should be way, way done.

It's not.

"He had to take a break," The Kid From (Redacted Inc.) tells me, "to do some character tweaks on a movie he's on."

"Character tweaks?" Comes Chris' outraged internal voice. "Only a Twinkie would fuckin' talk like that. Who are these guys?"

Alas, I have no choice but to let it go for a little longer. Kathryn and I have booked a trip to Cyprus so I can gather material for the second draft of my book.

I hadn't visited the island for many decades, and was dealing with some decidedly mixed emotions. Those were among my most formative years. I had a Cypriot teacher - Jim Demedrakis - who was probably more responsible than any other person for my success as a writer. He'd been murdered by terrorists shortly after I left the island, which would make my visit there bitter-sweet, to say the least.

All this made the goings on in Hollywood seem like baby stuff - which, of course, is what it really was. And is.

The visit complete, we headed home - only for me to be waylaid by a heart attack at Athens Airport. Fortunately, I remembered enough of my childhood Greek to get help and stave off the Grim Reaper. A week in Intensive Care later, we returned to Boca Raton.

In my experience, near death has a way of wonderfully focusing the mind, and so I threw myself into my work, pouring out pages. (So little time. So many books to write.) I finished the last draft of the Cyprus book. Published it. Finished a book about my adventures in the Crazy Hazy Sixties in Venice Beach - Tales Of The Blue Meanie. Published it. Also published The Hate Parallax, which I'd collaborated on with Nick Perumov, the Russian fantasy author. Got a dozen books that had been out of print back in print. Moved all my books into the e-book market and some into the Audiobook market. And, along with that, I resurrected two books that Chris and I hadn't quite finished when we were still partners: The Wars Of The Shannons and Freedom Bird. (One's about the Civil War, the other about The Summer Of Love in the Vietnam era.)

Sten The Movie was rarely on my mind, but once in awhile I'd pause long enough to make an inquiry, hear another writer's lie - which don't work as well when told by a Wannabe Producer.

But, I let it go, let it go, until, one day Chris stirred around in the back of my brain and informed me: "The asshole could have written War And Fucking Peace three times over, by now."

I made inquiries with The Kid From (Redacted Inc.) He did not reply. No return emails, or phone calls. I was starting to get pissed. Finally, I posted a "What The Eff?" on his very public Facebook page and instantly got this email saying that the writer had delivered a first draft and that The Kid From (Redacted Inc.) would read it over the weekend and get back to me on Monday.

Monday came and went. No word.

"They're dodging us, Cole," Chris said in my head. "This can't be good."

"No shit, Dick Tracy," I mentally growled in reply. "Where'd you park your squad car?"

Finally, The Kid From (Redacted Inc.) called. Squeaky apologies for the delay. Somebody got the flu. Yeah, yeah. Somebody else was stricken with Beriberi. Yeah, yeah. "Fuck me," Chris said in my head. "Will this son of a bitch ever get to the fucking point?"

Finally, he did. Sort of.

He said, "I read the first draft and except for a few things here and there, it's pretty good. We have a meeting set up (whatever day) so I can give him my notes."

In my head, Chris said, "Hold the fuck up! Why can't we see it, first?"

I said as much to The Kid From (Redacted Inc.) Hemming and Hawing commenced.

"What the hell's the problem?" I finally burst out. "Does a first draft actually exist? If it does, I'd appreciate the opportunity to look it over and offer notes of my own."

More hemming and squeaky-voiced hawing. Finally, The Kid From (Redacted Inc.) said, "You see, back a few months ago (Redacted Writer's Name) and I decided that we had to make certain changes necessitated by marketing concerns. And those changes took us down - you know - different... uh... avenues... and that's one... uh... reason the... the... process has taken longer than we... uh.. expected. But those... uh... marketing changes... necessary though they may be... created some other... uh... problems... Unexpected problems... (nervous giggle) You know how that goes. And so, the first draft, is really to... uh... rough... and... uh... (then in a rush) really doesn't express what we had in mind. And so, if... uh.."

Enough! I jump in. "What marketing changes?" I demanded.

The hemming and hawing started again. I said, "Tell me."

He tells me. And with dawning horror I realize what they have done. Chris is going apeshit, and I'm only a few beats behind from joining him - howling on the bars.

"It's like this, Allan," The Kid From (Redacted Inc.) began. "Sten is what, seventeen when the first book begins? And you know how hard it is to cast somebody that age in a major feature."

Dismay. Of the heart-wrenching variety. But I hold it together long enough to say, "Sten's seventeen at the start. Twenty two at book's end. In my experience, they'd cast an actor about 25 - or even 30 - for the part. Ask any Casting Director - it's routine casting. "

"Well, yes, but we thought somebody older might have more appeal to general audiences," he said.

"What the fuck's he talking about?" Chris said in my head. "What this kid knows about The Business you could stick in the small end of frigging nothing and it'd still rattle around."

I want to scream and shout, but I clamp down and say, "Would you please tell me what's going on?"

The Kid From (Redacted Inc.) finally got it out. "We made Sten older. He's 25 when the story starts."

"What the fuck?" I blurted. "So, now he's twenty five when his parents and his brother and sister are killed?"

"Well, that's the other thing," The Kid From (Redacted Inc.) said. "In this version, it's not his parents who are killed. But his wife and kid. We thought it better to give him a family of his own."

In my head, Chris said, "Don't they get it? The military becomes his family. The Imperial Guard. Under the Eternal Emperor. Whole damned point of the character. That's why in the end, it's..."

I break through Chris to say, "Let me get this straight. So, now instead of seventeen, he's twenty five when - not his folks - but his wife and kid are killed. And then what... is he still thrown into the Hellworld slammer?"

"Yes, just the same," The Kid From (Redacted Inc.) said. "And he escapes, too, just like in the book. And hides out until Mahoney comes along."

"Who does he hide out with?" I said. "In the books it's the Delinqs. Teenage - and younger - runaways and malcontents. All hunted by the Company."

"Yeah, yeah, the Delinqs," he said. "Same thing as the book"

I said, "Don't you think it's a little weird for this twenty five year old guy to be hanging out with a bunch of kids? Not only that, he's got a Delinq girlfriend he's fucking. She's about sixteen. So now he's a pedophile?"

"Well... That's one of the things we have to fix," he said. "We're going to make Bet older too."

Chris started to say something, but I'd already gone way around the bend. "That's just plain fucked," I told The Kid From (Redacted Inc.) "And it is so fucked in so many way I won't even begin to spell them out. Absolutely no way would I agree to anything vaguely like that. It's not only stupid, and unnecessary, but insulting."

The Kid From (Redacted Inc.) bleated a string of apologies. No insult intended. Stupid mistake. Don't know what I was thinking. Sorry. Sorry. Yadda. Yadda. And on.

One thing I'll give him, though. He didn't cast the blame on the writer. Took it all on himself. The writer was only following orders, and such.

That small act of generosity calmed both me and the internal voice of Chris Bunch, who always was a softie at heart. Witness the multitude of pussy cats that dined off his largesse wherever he lived. Or, how fast he'd reach into his pocket when told a tale of woe.

In my head, he said, "We've got, what, two three months left on the contract? Let them run it out. Maybe they'll surprise us."

"Fat fucking chance," was my take. Once again reversing roles - as was our habit. But he continued to plead their cause, and so I finally relented and told The Kid From (Redacted Inc.) that they could continue, but only if they returned to the original source and motivations of the novel's hero.

Sounding much chastened, he swore on stacks of holy nonsense that they'd sin no more and got off the phone. I sent Lew an email, briefly describing the imbroglio and the temporary status of things. A day or so later, Lew called back to say he agreed, but that we'd better "keep a close eye on things."

Time passes. I write many more words, some of which even involve these MisAdventures. A few days before the contract with (Redacted Inc.) ends I still haven't heard anything, so I send a "what's up?" email. Then another. Then I repeat the Facebook routine. Still nothing. I hit him on Linkedin.

Bam! The phone rings. Shrill voice proclaiming, "It's done, it's done!"

I say, send me the script, and a few minutes later an email with a script attachment pops up on my inbox.

I open it.

I read.

"Aw, fuck!" says Chris.

And that's just at the Fade In.

It gets worse from there.

Instead of the accident that triggers the first novel being the simple error of a hungover tech, it's now caused by a freighter that bangs - somehow unnoticed - into the factory planet that is Vulcan. Those of you who have read the books know that the old "for want of a shoe, etc." is at the heart of the whole series. Even three thousand years from now, things just don't work the way they're supposed to. Sten and Murphy's Law march very much in step. (Except when Murphy screws up.)

Okay. Never mind that. Proceed.

I flip pages. Come upon Sten's father, moments before death, staring meaningfully into the eyes of Sten's mother. Saying, "Everything's going to be fine, dear."

More "Aw fuck's" from Chris.

Flip. Flip.

The gates to The Row come crashing down and Sten charges them "like a fullback charging the line." Chris goes from "Aw fuck," to "What total, unmitigated sour owl shit!"

Flip. Flip.

Sten jumps on a small hooded figure, the hood comes off. Long hair spills out. And it's - no shit - a girl! Bet. The love interest.

"Who are these guys?" Chris demands - not for the first time. But, he knows. He knows.

Flip. Flip.

Enter the Eternal Emperor. But, instead of the down-to-earth guy in the series, who rules with a cat's paw instead of a mailed fist, we get this brooding figure, slouched in Thinker-like poses on a huge throne in a darkened throneroom.

"What's he think this is - Batman?" Chris demands. "The Emperor doesn't do thrones. He does barstools."

Flip. Flip.

And, "What's this shit?"

The feces Chris is referring to is the big fight scene at the end. Suddenly the Eternal Emperor is there with Sten and his Mantis team. Fighting side by side. This is a glaring example of how fucked up Hollywood can get. The Emperor showing up for the fight on Vulcan, would be like President Obama flying in with the S.E.A.L. teams to whack Bin Laden. Dumb. Never happen. But, it does here.

Then we have the penultimate scenes, in which things that never happened, happen. Mahoney saves Bet's life. She thanks him. He says (No kidding) "Just doing my job, Ma'am." And... get this... Bet says, "Not you weren't." And rises on her toes to give him a little thank you kiss.

I skipped the final scene and closed the file. Too depressed to go on.

Chris said, "Time to pull the fucking plug, Cole."

So, that's what I did.

Later, after the deed was done, Chris rose up in an idle moment and said, "Maybe we should write it ourselves, Cole."

Then Lew called and said the ties had been cut with (Redacted Inc.) and I said maybe - when I had time - I'd do a script for a Sten movie myself.

Lew said, "I've thought that all along. Who better than you, Allan?"

And maybe I will.

If I did, it would probably start something like this:

STEN
By Allan Cole & Chris Bunch

THE BLACKNESS OF UTTER MOST SPACE

HARSH WHISPER: Death came silently to the Row

FADE IN: VULCAN - HUGE AND MENACING

Spinning slowly on its axis. Vulcan is a gigantic artificial factory planet. Many thousands of miles long, but only a few hundred miles wide, it looks a bit like an enormous cop’s flashlight - with a glowing “Eye” at the top.

Old, space-worn freighters move in and out of gaping space ports that belch fire and gasses from the factories within. The “Eye” is a vast brightly lit “greenhouse” - think “Silent Running” on an immense scale. It contains forests, green fields, crystalline lakes and the luxury homes, apartments, and offices of the Execs - the planet’s elite.

But the main body of the planet is in desperate shape. It’s composed of many sections, and each section is an enormous and self contained module with loading docks, factories, crew spaces, Migratory labor (MIG) dorms and apartments, mess and recreation areas.

But the supreme bottom-line thinking of the Execs - especially their hereditary leader, BARON THORESEN, can be seen in the supreme neglect of anything but the comfort of the Execs. Cheaper to abandon then remove, some sections appear dark next to more efficient modules newly installed. Patched and pitted areas appear on the older modules, many hydraulic leaks are seen spewing into space.

And just then:

ANGLE ON EVA UNIT
A small powered space suit is seen cruising over a low maze of pipes. As it moves past we can hear the Tech inside bitterly complaining.

TECH’S SPEAKER VOICE: Clottin’ suit stinks so bad, boss, I’ve got heaves. Somebody ought to make Jonsey take a bath, once every planet fall, or three, or four.

FOREMAN’S SPEAKER VOICE: Ah, you’re just hung over. Jonsey don’t smell any worse than the rest of us. I saw you knockin’ down the narco-beers last off-shift. Get your butt movin’ out there, or I’ll bust you down to MIG status.

TECH’S SPEAKER VOICE (contrite - but surly): Okay, boss. Whatever you clottin’ say.

ANOTHER ANGLE
As the Tech in his EVA unit moves on. But hungover as he is, the Tech doesn’t notice the small wrench drift out of one his storage pouches. It’s on a tether, and as he continues on the wrench swings violently to the side.

It soundlessly impacts one of the pipes, and we see metal fragments shatter outward.

ANGLE
The pipe array is laid across one of Vulcan’s modules. An identifying marker tells what it is: REC 26. And through large plas-glass viewing ports that peer into Rec 26 we see people moving about.

Then:

ANGLE ON PIPE A crack starts to form from the pressure and the wrench impact. Pale yellow gas begins hissing out. Fluorine - a highly corrosive yellow/green gas spews out, hosing against the side of the Module.

The metal wall begins to blister and boil.

CAMERA PUSH THROUGH the module - a MIG recreation area known to the inhabitants as:

THE ROW

Think of it as a mini Las Vegas, complete with a Red Light district where JOYGIRLS AND JOYBOYS ply their wares. ‘BOT GAMBLING MACHINES hoot the odds, and drinking machines dispense narco-beer, and other heady refreshments.

Way down along the aisle is the FAMILY SECTION, where MIGs and their kids can enjoy family-rated livees - movies with full quadra-sensaround - touch, hear, smell and feel - entertainments.

STEADY ON a MIG family: Father, AMOS STEN; his wife, FREED STEN; and two kids, a boy and a girl, eight and ten respectively. The boy is JOHS STEN, his sister is AHD STEN.

They hurry toward a livee marquee, which advertises: THE EXEC AND THE JOYGIRL. As they move past scantily clad hookers of both sexes and gambling machines, Freed tries to block her kids’ view of the seamier side of “The Row.”

JOHS (shouting): Hurry! We’ll miss the livee!

FREEZE UNTIL THAT TIME

When I may, or may not continue.

*****


Meanwhile, as we await the glorious day when Sten - The Livee - comes to Multiplexes near us, the books are still the books, and you can read them by actually turning pages, or hitting the next page bar on your e-reader, or listening to them on your favorite listening device. And they can all be found in The Sten Page alcove in Allan's Bookstore.

NEXT: THE LAST MISADVENTURE



IT'S A BOOK:
THE COMPLETE HOLLYWOOD MISADVENTURES



GET THE MISADVENTURES HERE:
Over 200,000 readers visited the blog every Friday. Now all seventy three MisAdventures have been collected into a book. Click on one of the links above to buy the book. Maybe get one or three for your friends. If you'd like a personally autographed copy you can get it directly through my (ahem) Merchant's Link at Amazon.com. Click here. Buy the book and I will sign it and ship it to you. Break a leg!


ALL THREE STEN OMNIBUS EDITIONS NOW ON TAP


The entire 8-novel landmark science fiction series is now being presented in three three giant omnibus editions from Orbit Books.  The First - BATTLECRY - features the first three books in the series: Sten #1; Sten #2 -The Wolf Worlds; and Sten #3, The Court Of A Thousand Suns. Next: JUGGERNAUT, which features Sten #4, Fleet Of The Damned; Sten #5, Revenge Of The Damned; and Sten #6, The Return Of The Emperor. Finally, there's DEATHMATCH, which contains Sten #6, Vortex; and Sten #7, End Of Empire. Click on the highlighted titles to buy the books. Plus, if you are a resident of The United Kingdom, you can download Kindle versions of the Omnibus editions. Which is one clot of a deal!
Here's the Kindle link for BATTLECRY
Here's the Kindle link for JUGGERNAUT
Here's the Kindle link for DEATHMATCH



HERE ARE ALL EIGHT AMERICAN EDITIONS OF STEN 



YOU CAN BUY THE TRADE PAPERBACKS, E-BOOKS AND AUDIO BOOKS BY CLICKING ON THE STEN PAGE!

*****
THE STEN COOKBOOK & KILGOUR JOKEBOOK



Two new companion editions to the international best-selling Sten series. In the first, learn the Emperor's most closely held  cooking secrets. In the other, Sten unleashes his shaggy-dog joke cracking sidekick, Alex Kilgour. Both available as trade paperbacks or in all major e-book flavors. Click here to tickle your funny bone or sizzle your palate.  



TALES OF THE BLUE MEANIE
Venice Boardwalk Circa 1969
In the depths of the Sixties and The Days Of Rage, a young newsman, accompanied by his pregnant wife and orphaned teenage brother, creates a Paradise of sorts in a sprawling Venice Beach community of apartments, populated by students, artists, budding scientists and engineers lifeguards, poets, bikers with  a few junkies thrown in for good measure. The inhabitants come to call the place “Pepperland,” after the Beatles movie, “Yellow Submarine.” Threatening this paradise is  "The Blue Meanie,"  a crazy giant of a man so frightening that he eventually even scares himself. Here's where to buy the book.  The Tales Of The Blue Meanie blog will makes its debut after the first of the year, so stay tuned. 
*****

STEN #1 NOW IN SPANISH! 

Diaspar Magazine - the best SF magazine in South America - is publishing the first novel in the Sten series in four 
episodes. Part One and Part Two appeared in back-to-back issues. And now Part Three has hit the virtual book stands.  Stay tuned, for the grand conclusion. Meanwhile, here are the links to the first three parts. Remember, it's free!


Friday, December 21, 2012

A HOLLYWOOD CHRISTMAS

TWO MORE MISADVENTURES TO GO and then, as they say in the Biz, the Bunch & Cole Show will be entering hiatus to "rest" for a year. (You can get the collected MisAdventures both as Dead Tree and Kindle editions BY CLICKING HERE)  Meanwhile, TALES OF THE BLUE MEANIE, will debut after the MisAdventures end. And so, Gentle Reader, you'll get your Friday funny fix without interruption.  Set in Venice Beach, California the Tales follow the zig-zag path of a young newsman - yours truly - through the crazy, hazy daze when  the Flower Children sang, and danced and romped to drown out the sounds of distant guns. 
*****
A Marilyn Monroe
White Christmas
NOTE FROM ALLAN: This episode, which appeared last Christmas, was set at the end of our sojourn at Werewolf - a show created by our old friend Frank Lupo for Fox Television. It was so popular, that I thought I'd run it again. Happy holidays, one and all.

***
"It's Christmas time in Hollywood, Santa's back up in the hood..." (Lyrics by The Hollywood Undead)

* * *
'Twas the day before the night before Christmas and all through the Werewolf 's house, every critter was stirring, and as far as I can recall, not a single one of us was soused.

We were all too darned busy figuring out new and interesting ways to scare hell out of people and besides, it was going to be a short day in a short week because our boss, Frank Lupo, was throwing a big party for the staff and crew.

To locate everyone, this was Wednesday, Dec. 23, 1987, and we all had Thursday off as well as Friday, which was Christmas. In the high speed, high stakes world of weekly television, this meant that everything had to be done by the (early) close of business, because shooting would resume in Salt Lake City, Monday morning. (The day starts well before the crack of dawn for actresses because of makeup and costume requirements. The guys wearing the Werewolf suits started even earlier.)

Chuck Connors
To further locate you, this was a little before Chris and I got to TWEEP Chuck Connors on the new Fox Network series, so we still had that little bit of fun ahead of us. (For the definition of TWEEP, see The CIA dictionary.)

We were just working on our second cup of coffee, when our secretary buzzed us to say that Bob Butler was on the line. Butler was a hot, hot, hot television director who had a nice production deal with Viacom.

Chris slapped the speaker phone to "On" and said, "Ho, Fucking Ho, Robert!"

I heard Butler chortling at Chris' greeting, then he said, "And Merry Fucking Christmas to you too, Bunch."

I came in. "Gonna come over and check out our new digs? See a werewolf or two? Let us buy you a couple of drinks?"

Butler said, "Maybe later, boys. I'm just calling to give you guys an early Christmas present."

Chris said, "Hmm, let's see. I already asked Santa for a new crossbow and a speedloader for my AK-47. Got something like that in mind?"

More laughter. Then Butler said, "Actually, I was getting ready to call your agent and re-up the option on We Take The Palace." He was referring to an hour-long comedy series Chris and I had created about a group of screwball mercenaries who end up running an equally screwball island. Sort of like "F Troop," but with an ocean view.

I said, "Same deal? Option for another year at the same price?"

"That was my thinking, " he replied.

"Far fucking out," Chris said.

"Would that be a 'Yes, thank you, Mr. Butler, sir?'" Robert said.

"Fucking A," Chris said. "And Merry Christmas back at you... Mr. Butler... sir."

We exchanged a few more pleasantries, then got off the line.

Chris said, "Now, that's gonna brighten our Christmas." He started flipping through his Rolodex. "Gotta call Kurtz Jewelers," he said. "Buy Karen something shiny."

A little over an hour later - and I swear I'm not making this up - we got a similar call, this one from Phil Fehrley, a producer, but one of our favorite people just the same.

"Ho, Fucking Ho, Uncle Phil," Chris greeted him.

"You're such a heathen," Fehrley laughed. "Better watch out for lightning."

Chris said, "Hey, it wasn't JC who said Ho, Ho, Ho. It was Saint Nicholas and he was a fucking Turk, and last I heard the Pope yanked his sainthood stripes. So, I'm pretty sure I'm safe."

I said, "Let me guess, Phil. You're calling about the option on The Berlin Reel, right?" The Berlin Reel was yet another TV series proposal, this one a drama about an American newsreel journalist in pre-war Berlin.

Phil said, "That's the size of it, Allan. And Merry Christmas to you both."

The option money for The Berlin Reel was similar to We Take The Palace, so Christmas was looking merrier by the minute. Chris called Kurtz again and I made grander plans for Kathryn as well.

Naturally, things couldn't continue in that vein, even if it was the day before the night before Christmas. The next call was a little troublesome and involved outgo, not in-go. It was from the artist/owner of a crystal-making shop in Venice.

Chris and I had conspired to create some special gifts for people on the show. We'd scored photographs - from different angles - of one of the werewolf costumes. We'd given these to the artist to make crystal statues for everyone. Lupo was to get the largest - about ten inches high. John Ashley, his right hand man, John York, star of the show, and Rick Baker, who created the costumes, would get smaller ones - about six inches high. And we'd had another two dozen or so made up for our secretary and other key people on the show. These consisted of the werewolf head, mounted on a base.

They were very, very cool, if I do say so myself.

Anyway, the order was a week overdue. The good news - the artist was calling to say they were finally done. The not so good news - he was so swamped by Christmas orders that he couldn't personally deliver the gifts to our office.

I jumped on the line, called ABC Messenger service, and arranged for a pick up. Naturally, with the holiday, ABC was pretty busy. But for an extra fee, they promised delivery before the party.

Finished what we were doing and went to see Lupo. Stuck our heads in the door. Chris said, "Want to hear how we're going to kill that son of a bitch, Chuck Connors?"

Lupo paused, hands dangling over his keyboard. "Ah, geeze, guys, it's the holidays. I never kill people during the holidays."

I gestured at his typewriter. "What's the body count on the Fade In? Two hundred? Three hundred?" He was working on the pilot for his new science fiction series, Something Is Out There, which opened with a violent break out on a prison space ship.

Frank chuckled. "Fuckin' guys," he said. Then he waved us off. "See you at the party."

When we got back to our office, Kathryn and Karen had shown up. They'd both come directly from work. Karen was the top designer at a fancy flower shop. While Kathryn owned an escrow company at Wilshire and Bundy in West LA. (Escrow Revue, decorated with antique movie posters and sporting a big, working popcorn machine just inside the front door.) Kisses and embraces were exchanged. And we shared the good news about the two timely options.

After chatting awhile, Kathryn said, "I saw the funniest thing this afternoon. It was right outside of my office. We wouldn't have noticed at all, if it wasn't for the fabulous old car."

Chris, who was making drinks, looked up at his baby sister and asked the typical guy question: "What kind of old car?"

"Oh, I don't know," Kathryn said, impatient. "The story isn't about the car, it's about what happened while we were looking at the car."

Wisely, Chris said no more, but just delivered the drinks.

"You know how I have all those big windows in my office?" Kathryn said.

We did indeed. The entire front of the long building was all window, with mirror coating. People in the office could see out, but people trying to look in only saw their reflection. Kathryn and her staff used to love to watch people pause to pose and primp, not knowing they had an audience.

Maria & Arnie In Somewhat
Happier Times
"Anyway, we were all looking at the old car, when who should come out of the Bicycle Shop next door, but Arnie and Maria." The Bicycle Shop was a trendy Hollywood lunch stop. Arnie and Maria were, obviously, Arnold Schwarzenegger and his wife, Maria Shriver.

"It was Arnie's car," Chris guessed correctly.

"Right," Kathryn confirmed. "And that's where they headed when they came out of the restaurant. They were in the middle of a knock-down fight. Maria was furious about something, and Arnie was stupid enough to argue back. Can you imagine? Making a Kennedy mad?"

Chris and I laughed, guessing what the fight was about. A friend of ours was a Below The Line craftsman on one of Arnie's recent shoots. He said Arnie had been after one cutie something awful, demonstrating in spades, what he would later call in his run for Governator of California, "My playfulness." The girl finally came around to his way of thinking, but the director spotted them in mid-act, and a couple of minutes later, Arnie begged: "Don't tell Maria. Don't tell Maria. It was jus' a ploh jhob, jus' a ploh jhob. It doesn't count."

Kathryn continued, "They stood right in front of our windows yelling at each other. Except Maria was doing most of the yelling. Arnie took off for the car, but Maria got in front of him, and she kept on yelling. And she was shaking her finger at him - she's so teeny, and he's so big, but he wilted like a scared you know what. Oh, it was so funny to see. Finally, they both got in the car and took off, but you could see her still yelling at him."

We had a good laugh at that. Chris looked at his watch. Frowning. "Where the hell's that messenger with the werewolves?" he wondered.

I started worrying. The party would start any minute and our presents hadn't shown up. Then our secretary buzzed us. I answered and she said, "Allan, there's something weird going on."

I asked what could be weirder than working on a show about a Werewolf, and she said, "What's weird about a Werewolf?" When I couldn't answer, she said, "There's some loony guy running all over the building asking for Brunch and Cola. He's going from office to office and floor to floor. Somebody thought it was a practical joke, or something. You know, Brunch and Cola? So they sent him to the restaurant. The receptionist finally figured it out and called me."

Right away I knew it was our missing gifts. I said, "Tell the receptionist to send the guy up."

She said it was too late, he'd already left. Chris and I bounded up and headed for the elevators. We searched for the guy floor by floor. Finally, we ended up in the basement in the Security office and there we found our missing presents in the keep of an hysterical guy with the looks and thick accent of somebody whose native land was South by Southeast of Somewhere The Hell Else. Obviously the messenger service was short-handed during the holidays and he was a temp. We showed Security our IDs and they released him into our custody.

There were several boxes and he wanted to help, but he was so screwy we were afraid he'd drop them and next thing we'd know there'd be this horrible crash and crunch of all those crystal figurines. We tipped him, snagged a nice rent-a-cop to help, and elevated the boxes upstairs to our office.

Christmas music blared over all the hallway speakers and it was time for the party. We carried the boxes into the main meeting room, which had been turned into a Hollywood Christmas Wonderland. Our set decorators had really gone overboard and we had glitter and lights and glorious Yuletide props everywhere.

A copy of the scarred Skorzeny Werewolf 's head was set up as a centerpiece of the table, with lights and candy canes dripping from his ears and muzzle.

 Spread around the head, we had plenty of drink to drink and goodies to eat. In one corner, there was a huge stack of presents piled under a spectacular tree blazing with lights.

The room filled up quickly and everybody got something to eat and drink and the fun began. Frank came in and he and Ashley handed out presents to everyone. Chris and I got new Sony stereo systems with all the gadget trimmings, including dynamite speakers.

Everybody oohed and ahhed over their loot, then Chris and I started handing out the boxes of crystal werewolves. When Lupo opened the box meant for him and drew out the large Werewolf figurine - an exact crystal copy of Rick Baker 's original - he was speechless.

"Fuckin' guys!" he said, choking up.

Then everybody else got their crystal mementos, including Ashley, York and Baker. And the reactions were equally appreciative. We also had smaller ones made up - just the head with bared teeth - for the rest of the team.

The party moved on and we had a nice chat with Rick Baker, the Academy Award winning costume artist. (He got it for American Werewolf In London) He told us some of the tricks of the trade, such as the hydraulic puppetry he'd developed to bring the werewolves to life.

A short, but muscular stuntman was inside each costume for the main movement. But the really cool scary things - like the opening of slavering jaws, sharp claws reaching out, the head turning to show those blood red eyes - were performed by a team of technicians with control boxes hooked up to hydraulic lines that were connected to the werewolf.

Wherever the werewolf went, the team followed, all dressed in black, and keeping carefully out of camera range.

Our Star Werewolfing Out
Then we got to talk to our star, John York, who was a little shy and unassuming - a lot like the character he played.

York joked about the werewolf transformations. All his clothes would be ripped off, of course, and later there'd be a scene where the human York - quite naked - had to score new clothing. Stealing them from clotheslines, or whatever.

It was a challenge to come up with something different for each transformation.

"You guys are always making me flash my butt," he said.

Chris said, "Hey, we're past masters of flashing actors' butts, John." He clapped York on the back. "Just ask Bill Bixby. Two, maybe three Hulkouts per episode. Losing all his clothes every damned time... And poor Lou Ferrigno... There was the Hulk, always stuck in ripped up shorts with his balls hanging out."

"Happened so often," I lied, "they had to spray paint 'em green to match the rest of him."

York had to agree that he wasn't as bad off.

Rick added, "At least the guys in the werewolf suits don't have to worry," he said. "I made them smooth between the legs, like Barbie's boyfriend."

Chris said, "That bothered the shit out of artist who made the crystal statues, so he added a set on each of them. Take a look and see."

They all bent down and peered between the legs of one of the statues. And Chris said, "What're you guys, pervs or something? Staring at the poor werewolf's balls."

That broke everybody up and we all had a couple of more drinks.

The party wound down and finally, Chris and I and our ladies made our separate ways home.

***

DISSOLVE TO:

Thursday. The day before Christmas. Kathryn and I slept in, recovering from the party and a hard (albeit) short work week. The doorbell bing bonged and I grumbled and got up. It was chilly for California and the polished wooden floors weren't so charming in bare feet.

We were in our new house on Amoroso Place, in Venice. It was a two-story 1918 Arts & Crafts home, with leaded glass windows looking out on a wide front porch. I could see a young man in a suit and tie waiting there, with a big box beside him.

Even though there are few things in Venice Beach more worrisome than a short-haired guy in a suit and tie, I answered the door. He was too young and the suit was too nice for him to be some breed of cop. Also, even though I was a Venice denizen, I didn't have any current reason to feel guilty. That I knew of, anyway.

"Merry Christmas, Mr. Cole," the kid said, beaming like one of Santa's elves. He told me his name, then added, "I'm from 20th Century Fox, Mr. Cole. The studio sent this little gift to thank you for the fabulous job you're doing on the show."

And he lugged the huge box into my house, shook my hand, refused coffee, and rushed out into the chill beach air, probably on his way to Chris' place in Manhattan Beach.

My sleepy-eyed wife wandered into the living room, tying her robe about her. "Who was that?" she asked.

I indicated the big box. "It's from the studio," I said.

Sleepiness was replaced by bright interest. "Ooh, let's open it," she said.

And so we did. The first thing we found was a large, wooly lap rug. It was red and black and white, and in the center was a big 20th Century Fox logo - like you've seen at the beginning of every Fox movie since 1935 when the legendary Mr. William Fox merged his company with the equally legendary Mr. Darryl F. Zanuck.

Beneath that were all kinds of goodies. Bottles of champagne and cider with two glass flutes. Cakes and cookies. Fine cheeses and sausages and crackers. Two 20th Century Fox mugs with packets of gourmet hot chocolate to go in them. And lots, and lots of other things, too many to remember.

While Kathryn made some hot chocolate and unpacked the cake and cookies, I finished setting up the new stereo Frank had given us.

Kathryn put on a record, then curled up with me under the 20th Century Fox lap rug, sipping at mugs of chocolate. Kathryn clicked the remote, a record fell into place, there was the hiss of a needle in the grooves and the music purred out of the speakers.

And this is the very first Christmas song she played:

Eartha Kitt's "Santa Baby."




NEXT: STEN IN HOLLYWOOD: 
THE NEXT TO THE LAST MISADVENTURE
*****


IT'S A BOOK:
THE COMPLETE HOLLYWOOD MISADVENTURES



GET THE MISADVENTURES HERE:
Over 200,000 readers visited the blog every Friday. Now all seventy three MisAdventures have been collected into a book. Click on one of the links above to buy the book. Maybe get one or three for your friends. If you'd like a personally autographed copy you can get it directly through my (ahem) Merchant's Link at Amazon.com. Click here. Buy the book and I will sign it and ship it to you. Break a leg!

ALL THREE STEN OMNIBUS EDITIONS NOW ON TAP


The entire 8-novel landmark science fiction series is now being presented in three three giant omnibus editions from Orbit Books.  The First - BATTLECRY - features the first three books in the series: Sten #1; Sten #2 -The Wolf Worlds; and Sten #3, The Court Of A Thousand Suns. Next: JUGGERNAUT, which features Sten #4, Fleet Of The Damned; Sten #5, Revenge Of The Damned; and Sten #6, The Return Of The Emperor. Finally, there's DEATHMATCH, which contains Sten #6, Vortex; and Sten #7, End Of Empire. Click on the highlighted titles to buy the books. Plus, if you are a resident of The United Kingdom, you can download Kindle versions of the Omnibus editions. Which is one clot of a deal!
Here's the Kindle link for BATTLECRY
Here's the Kindle link for JUGGERNAUT
Here's the Kindle link for DEATHMATCH


HERE ARE ALL EIGHT AMERICAN EDITIONS OF STEN 


YOU CAN BUY THE TRADE PAPERBACKS, E-BOOKS AND AUDIO BOOKS BY CLICKING ON THE STEN PAGE!

*****
THE STEN COOKBOOK & KILGOUR JOKEBOOK



Two new companion editions to the international best-selling Sten series. In the first, learn the Emperor's most closely held  cooking secrets. In the other, Sten unleashes his shaggy-dog joke cracking sidekick, Alex Kilgour. Both available as trade paperbacks or in all major e-book flavors. Click here to tickle your funny bone or sizzle your palate.  

Friday, December 14, 2012

HOORAY FOR HOLLYWOOD!


Hooray for Hollywood
That screwy ballyhooey Hollywood
Where any office boy or young mechanic can be a panic
With just a good looking pan
And any barmaid can be a star maid
If she dances with or without a fan
(Johnny Mercer)

***

Get it in your head,
Baby, Hollywood is dead.
(Michael Buble)

***

The earnest young reporter asked, "What do you miss most about Hollywood?"

Chris said, "Not a fucking thing."

The reporter switched off his recorder and said, "Can I paraphrase that?" He shrugged. "It's a family newspaper, you know."

As an ex-newsman I thought it was my duty to help. I said, "How about swapping 'not a damn thing,' for 'not a fucking thing.' That work?"

The kid thought a minute, then nodded and scribbled a note to himself. "Long as I don't put God in front of it," he said, "Damn is okay."

He switched the recorder back on. "What about you, Allan? Do you feel the same?"

I said, "Not entirely. Chris is probably a little more burned out than I am. When I think back on it, mostly I had a helluva good time."

Chris scoffed. "It was mostly shitty, with occasional bursts of piss."

"We made a lot of money," I pointed out.

More scoffing. "What most people make in a year will get you through maybe a month in LA," he said. "It hooks you. Then you're always Jonesing on money."

I couldn't disagree with that, but persisted, "Didn't you at least have a little fun?"

Chris grudged. "Okay. Maybe a little."

"And we learned a lot, right?" I said.

Chris nodded. "I could write a write a big fat natural science book on the Assholes Of Hollywood - with illustrations."

"Can't use that," the reporter said, but laughed anyway. Then he asked, "As a writer, what's the most important thing you learned in Hollywood."

I said, "Story, story, story. You have to come up with so many ideas, so fast, and so frequently, that any smell, sound, or movement turns itself into a story possibility."

"What about you, Chris?" the reporter asked.

"How to tell a boy stunt person, from a girl stunt person," he said.

The kid chuckled. "Isn't that kind of obvious?"

"Not really," I said. "Even these days the Town's pretty sexist. In a lot of stunts involving women they substitute a small guy. You can usually catch the switch just before the big gag. If the hero's best girl is dressed in pants and a jacket and sensible shoes, she'll probably only do some of the action. She'll run away from, or after someone, and it'll most likely be the actress running."

Chris broke in: "In the old days, actors and actresses had to take fencing and riding lessons. These days they've practically got to be fucking marathoners and world class sprinters."

I nodded agreement, then got back to the point. "So, the actress is running. But then there's a big jump coming up. One rooftop to the next... whatever."

Chris said, "At that point you get a closeup of the chick - reacting - Holy Shit. Then camera pullback and they swap a small stuntman dressed just like the hero's best girl to do the jump, or the fall, or whatever."

I said, "They try to make the costume loose, so they can hide the lack of a female figure and also to put protective gear under the costume."

Xena And Her
Stunt Double
Chris said, "Of course, if they want the shot to be sexy - the audience gets to see her pretty ass, and so on - they use an actual stuntwoman. But, then they can't wear protective gear so they can get pretty banged up. In that kind of situation, it's a helluva lot more dangerous - and takes more moxie and guts - to be a stuntwoman than a stuntman."

"The best Tell is when the action has a woman jumping or falling off a bridge into a river," I said.

The reporter leaned forward, interested. "How so?" he asked.

I said, "If it's a woman, she'll protect her tits." I demonstrated, hands on my chest.

"If it's a dude," Chris said, also demonstrating, "he'll protect his balls."

More laughter from our audience of one. "What about the writing part?" the reporter asked. "You obviously prefer books to scripts. What's the difference?"

Chris snorted, "You'll never hear anybody say they curled up last night with a good script. And if you do, it'll be some lying sack of a producer who moves his lips when he reads."

I agreed. "A script's more like an architectural drawing. A model for a whole lot of other people to stick their own ideas in."

"But what really sucks big fat greasy donkey dicks," Chris said, "is that Hollywood is the only place where a writer doesn't own what he writes."

The reporter made a note to paraphrase the donkey business when he played the tape back, then looked up. "I don't get it," he said. "You write it, then it's yours. Or should be."

Chris said, "That's true everywhere but fucking Hollywood."

I said, "When you sell a book you're actually just leasing certain publication rights to the publisher. And they can't change a damned word without your permission. It's a piece of property. And it's yours for 99 years plus whatever the latest copyright law says it is. You can will it to your wife and kids so it'll take care of them when you're gone."

"Same with a play," Chris said. "A playwright physically owns the play. Like a book, nobody can change it without his okay."

"During tryouts," I said, "when they're getting ready to run the play up to Broadway, the playwright fine-tunes his work after every rehearsal, and every performance."

"But if the director tries to insist on something that the writer doesn't like," Chris added, "The writer can tell him to go fuck himself."

The reporter hesitated. I could see that he was still having Eff-word issues. I took pity. "Just say 'bleep' whenever we say 'fuck,'" I offered. "After fifteen years in journalism and almost twenty in Hollywood, foul language is an impossible habit to break."

"Plus, I did six fucking years in the fucking Army," Chris said. "Getting shot at will knock all the 'oh, dears,' and 'gee whizzes,' the fuck out of you fast."

The kid gave an apologetic shrug. "A lot of our readers are regular church goers," he said.

"Then God Fucking Bless them," Chris said.

"But back to Books Versus Scripts," I said. "When Hollywood started out it was the Silent Era. The only thing you needed from a writer was to map out a scenario, then do Title Cards. They figured, who needs an actual Writer, writer? Anybody can do 'I Can't Pay The Rent,' and 'You Must Pay The Rent,' Title Cards."

"That's why the writer is the lowest man on the shit pole in Hollywood," Chris said. "Never did get any respect."

"But the big thing..." I put in... "the really major thing, is that when the whole system of screenwriting evolved into talkies, the hacks they had on staff got a salary to write whatever crap the Studio bosses wanted. They might get a little extra if somebody actually exposed film and made a movie, but everything in the script - story, characters, dialogue - was owned outright by the Studio."

"In the end, you were just a hack for hire and they could do anything they wanted with your script because They owned it, not you," Chris said.

"But you get paid a lot," the young reporter said. "Plus you get rerun money."

"You do," Chris admitted."And, like I said, it's is a bitch of a habit to break. If you're serious about being an ink-stained wretch you should be working on your books. But, then some producer calls and whispers sweet dollar figures in your ear and you shove the book aside."

"That's why we got the hell out of La-La Land," I said. "And now we're in Writers' Rehab in Ilwaco, Washington. Writing books and looking over tons of ideas we've both had for future books."

Chris thought of something else. He said, "Another thing you learn fast is how to lie like a rug."

The kid's eyebrows rose and I put in, "He means Writer's Lies. It's the only way to deal with producers. You have to have a lie ready on zip notice."

Chris said, "Sometimes you get a producer who calls for a progress report every fucking minute. Gets so you can't think to write."

"Also," I said, "if you are a freelancer you'd better be working on several projects at once, or you'll be Broke-City in no time. So, more than likely when the producer calls you're not even on his project. But, you can't tell him that. He wants exclusivity."

Chris said, "I'll give you four of our favorite lies... Number One: 'No worries, boss. We've got a good fucking start on it."

I translated: "In reality that means that you're thinking about writing 'Fade In' - but only when your hangover lets up."

Chris said, "Number two: 'We're smokin', babe! Half fucking done.'"

"This means," I said, "that you maybe have the First Act firmly in mind - now, if only that hangover will let go."

Chris said: "Lie Number Three: 'Man, are we fucking whipped. Finished a First Draft. Pretty rough, yet. But we're already marking it up for rewrite.'"

I said, "This means that the Fade In is a definite possibility."

Carson As Carnac
Then I put a hand to my forehead like Johnny Carson doing The Great Carnac. Eyes closed, I said, "Writer's lie Number 4: 'We're almost there, boss. Just need to do some character tweaks.'"

Chris mock-plucked an envelope up and blew into it - Poof. Pulled invisible paper out and pretended to read: "We must have written these fucking notes drunk. Can't make heads or tails of them. What's this, Hero does Talk, Talk, shit?"

The reporter loved it. "Maybe I'll censor that part," he said. "With a couple of changes, those lies would work just as well on my editor."

"We've tested them out on Random House," Chris said. "Works for book editors too."

I said, "Another list a writer has to know - if he wants to eat and pay the rent - is the lies a producer will try to sell him about a deal. "

Chris said, "If the producer says the deal is fucking set..."

I finished, "It means the contracts may or may not be in the wind."

Chris said, "If he says, 'No worries, boys. This deal is not just Set - it's fucking Set-Set...'"

I translated, "... It means he's possibly had his 'girl' mail the check to your agent."

Chris said, "If you're agent calls and says the deal is not only Set, but Set-Set-Set..."

"It means the check has not only arrived, but cleared the bank," I said.

The reporter had a laugh at that. Then moved on. "You hear a lot of scuttlebutt about censorship in Hollywood," he said. "Especially on television. How did you deal with that?"

"When we started out," I said, "we fought like hell.'

Chris came in: "We'd say, 'Hey, this is fucking America. What about Free Fucking Speech?"

I grimaced at the memory. "And they'd say: "We're all for Free Speech. Just as long as it doesn't violate Program Practices." I sighed, adding: "Then we learned a couple of tricks to get around the censor."

Chris said, "Put shit in there you don't care about, then give 'em hell when they try to make you take it out."

"Then, you very reluctantly give up the point," I said. "They get so full of themselves they miss the stuff you really wanted to get in."

"Another thing you do," Chris said, "is fuck with the descriptions of action that might get you into trouble."

"If you have a big fight scene on an eight o'clock show," I said, "Program Practices will go bananas if they think there's going to be massive bloodshed."

"So, you don't say the people are wounded, or killed," Chris said. "You say they're stunned. You know - car full of bad guys fleeing the scene... hero shoots the tires out... car goes over canyon wall... crashes and burns... but the guys inside somehow roll out - stunned."

"You had to do that on A-Team a lot," I said. "Nobody was ever killed on that show - even when Hannibal Smith let loose with his machinegun and chewed down brick walls."

Chris raised a finger. "Actually, one person was killed," he said. "In the pilot. And the A-Team was on the run because they were 'falsely accused' of the guy's murder."

I said, "A producer friend - an old timer - was hired to do a mini-series about the Roman Empire. Wanted lots of T&A, which was no problem. Tits and Ass come cheap in Hollywood. But they also wanted some big set piece battle scenes. Which was a definite problem.

"They gave him shit for a budget, but said they'd had the foresight to buy the rights to some old Italian flicks about ancient Rome. Said he could use all the footage he wanted for the battle scenes and so on."

Chris said, "It was pretty gory stuff. Especially the big Aftermath Of Battle Scene. Arms and legs and guts all over the place."

I said, "When they screened the rough cut for the network, the Program Practices Lady pitched a fit. Said, no way, Jose."

Chris said, "So our buddy scratched his head. Then got a flash. Rearranged the footage some - but not cutting anything out, because then he'd be fucked for time."

I said, "Then he looped in a guy shouting: 'Help me with these wounded men!'"

"Showed it to the Network again," Chris said, "including the Program Practices chick. And they bought it, guts and gore and all. Easy as bacon through a goose."

I said, "On the other hand, once in a rare while you agree with the censor."

Chris said, "Like the time we were doing a fire show and sold a story about a pyromaniac. The bad guy, who was no fan of Smoky The Bear, was burning up half the State and Federal parks."

I said, "The producer asked us how somebody could do that much damage and get away with it for so many years."

Chris said, "It's a simple trick. Cheap. And almost untraceable. We told the guy how it was done."

I said, "The jerk got all excited and said, 'Put it in! Put it in!'"

"We refused," Chris said. "And it took some convincing to make the Dimbulb realize that maybe twenty, twenty five million people would be watching a show about firemen and there was bound to be a potential firebug among them. And guess, what? We've just taught him how to burn down our National Forests."

Lindsay Wagner
"Another screwball case we agreed with," I said, "was when we worked on a Lindsay Wagner cop-type show. She played a shrink working for the police department."

"Before we went in to pitch the show," Chris said, "we got a call from the Network warning us that beautiful as Ms Wagner is... and talented as she is... She's got a few screws loose about a couple of things."

I said, "Like, they said she was an True Believer in homeopathic cures."

"Dipshit science," Chris said. "Dilute the medicine until only a lonely fucking molecule is hanging around, then feed it to a cancer patient, or whatever, and bingo - They're dead."

"The Network said Ms Wagner was determined to get some of her ideas about homeopathic medicine into the show. You know - 'For the good of Mankind...'"

Chris said, "The Network didn't give a fat fuck about Mankind. But, they were scared shitless that as the original Deep Pockets they'd end up in a big class action suit."

I said, "It wasn't easy. She was really, really nice to us. And so easy to look at... Well, we're only human... even if we are writers."

The kid reporter grinned. "But you resisted, right?" he said.

Chris sighed. "Should've gotten a medal or something. But, yeah - we resisted."

I said, "Another way you can have some fun getting around censors is by substituting foreign words for smutty language."

The reporter, who had smutty language problems of his own, perked up at that. "How so?"

Chris said, "Instead of calling a guy a dick, you say he's a putz."

"Which is Yiddish for 'dick,'" I said.

"We got that through a lady censor who was Jewish," Chris said. "Back brain she had to know, but it went right past her."

"Instead of saying that your hero has big brass balls," I said, "you say he's got big brass cajones."

"But, that's 'balls' in Spanish," the kid said.

"No shit," Chris said.

"You mean, no 'drek'," I said.

Chris laughed. "Try that out on your editor," he told the reporter. "Bet you lunch it gets past him."

Guess who got a free lunch?
*****

FADE OUT: BUNCH & COLE


Chris and I struck out on our own not long after we left Hollywood. He went on to write books like the very popular Star Risk Ltd. Series, while I ventured forth with books like the Timura Trilogy - loosely based Omar Khayyam's Rubaiyat. I'd dreamed about writing such a work since I discovered a battered old book of his poems at a Middle Eastern bazaar when I was just a lad.

I also labored for more than three years on Lucky In Cyprus - about my experiences as a CIA brat during the height of the Cold War.

During our years together Chris and I sold more than 150 screenplays, and published 16 novels together, amounting to many millions of words.

And, as Chris said more than once: "That's a fuck of a lot of dead trees, Cole."

*****

NEXT: A HOLLYWOOD CHRISTMAS FLASHBACK

(Note From Allan: After Christmas there are two more episodes to go - Sten In Hollywood and Chris Bunch: In Memoriam.)

*****


THE COMPLETE MISADVENTURES: IT'S A BOOK!
AND A GREAT CHRISTMAS PRESENT


THE VITAL LINKS:

The MisAdventures began humbly enough - with about 2,000 readers. When it rose to over 50,000 (we're now nearing the 200,000 mark) I started listening to those of you who urged me to collect the stories into a book. Starting at the beginning, I went back and rewrote the essays, adding new detail and events as they came to mind. This book is the result of that effort. However, I'm mindful of the fact, Gentle Reader, that you also enjoy having these little offerings posted every Friday to put a smile on your face for the weekend. So I'll continue running them until it reaches the final Fade Out. Meanwhile, it would please the heart of this ink-stained wretch - as well as tickle whatever that hard black thing is in my banker's chest - if you bought the book. It will make a great gift, don't you think? And if you'd like a personally autographed copy you can get it directly through my (ahem) Merchant's Link at Amazon.com. Click here. Buy the book and I will sign it and ship it to you. Break a leg!

*****

THE NEW STEN OMNIBUS EDITIONS:
IT'S HERE: JUGGERNAUT! 
Sten Omnibus #2
Click this link to buy the book!


Orbit Books in the U.K. has gathered up all eight novels in the Sten Series and is publishing them as three omnibus editions. The First - BATTLECRY - features the first three books in the series: Sten #1; Sten #2 -The Wolf Worlds; and Sten #3, The Court Of A Thousand Suns. Click this link to buy it.  The Kindle Edition OF BATTLECRY, includes all three books but is only available in the U.K. and territories. Click this link to buy it. Available now: JUGGERNAUT, which features the next three books: Sten #4, Fleet Of The Damned;  Sten #5, Revenge Of The Damned; and Sten #6, The Return Of the Emperor. Click this link to buy both the trade paperback and Kindle version. Next month months Orbit (A division of Little Brown) will publish DEATH MATCH, which will feature Sten #7, Vortex, and Sten #8, End Of Empire. Those will be issued as Kindle editions as well. Stay tuned for 


STEN #1 DEBUTS IN SPANISH! 

Told in four parts, Episode Two now appearing in Diaspar Magazine, the best SF&F magazine in South America! And it's free! Here's the link. And here's the link to the first episode. 
 *****
Sten debuta # 1 en español! Narrada en cuatro partes, Episode Dos ahora aparece en la revista Diaspar, la mejor revista de SF & F en América del Sur! 

*****
THE STEN COOKBOOK & KILGOUR JOKEBOOK

Two new companion editions to the international best-selling Sten series. In the first, learn the Emperor's most closely held  cooking secrets. In the other, Sten unleashes his shaggy-dog joke cracking sidekick, Alex Kilgour. Both available as trade paperbacks or in all major e-book flavors. Click here to tickle your funny bone or sizzle your palate.