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Julia & Neal

2 Oct

Julia stands outside of the restaurant door unable to catch her breath. She is late. And this is a first date. A blind date.

Inside, Neal sits at a corner table and worries the keys on his Blackberry. He is waiting for news. This is a first date. And he doesn’t even know the woman. He hardly even cares.

Julia can’t make herself go in. “Just one cigarette,” she tells herself, “To take the edge off.” Julia quit smoking three weeks ago, but bought a pack on the way to the date. And gum, guaranteeing to make her breath extra minty fresh. That’s one thing she always hated about smoking… the bad breath.

Neal checks his email for the fourth time in as many minutes. He promised himself that he’d leave his phone at home. But he is not only lonely. He is broke. Neal keeps getting bit parts that don’t pay his bills let alone his alimony. And the email he is expecting might bring him news of a job. A real part. A lead.

Julia stands to the side of the door and lights her cigarette. She inhales deeply. The taste is familiar, comforting. Her sister Mary told her that cigarettes would taste repulsive after one week. Mary lied. This cigarette is heavenly.

Neal looks up from his Blackberry and realizes his date is late. And he feels relieved. He’d be a crappy date today anyway.

Julia stubs out her cigarette on the pavement and realizes just how late she is. She feels OK about that. The last two dates were crappy anyway. But she’s got nothing to lose.

Neal and Julia pass each other as he leaves and she enters. They smile at one another and feel comforted.


One More Donut

20 Sep

donuts in a boxThe donuts were affecting Neal. Maybe it actually was true sugar kills brain cells because he could swear he was smarter when he arrived on set than he was after eating the buttermilk one, or was it the pink one with sprinkles that brought this abrupt sense of being out of touch with the soundstage, the morning, the day, the plan? Was every hole in every donut a black hole sucking up his mind? Was it performance anxiety? Stage fright for a walk on/ check phone/ walk off passerby small crowd sequence?  Was it a blood sugar thing? A brain chemistry thing? Hell, if he was clever enough to be thinking about neurotransmitters he must still be smart enough.

A chocolate frosted donut with peanuts lay there on the slightly rumpled, frosting smudged wax paper in the pink box. And what’s with the one sugar glazed with a piece cut out of it? Why was somebody always mangling the donuts and leaving the plastic knife in the box?  That’s just insult to injury. Who only eats a little piece of a sugar glazed donut, dammit? If you’re gonna have a donut, eat the whole damn donut!

But the chocolate peanut: if he didn’t eat it now, it might be gone after his walk on / check phone / walk off. But, if he did eat it now that would be three donuts and it wasn’t even 11am yet. At 11am, *Seth Rogen would be there and they’d go to work. Now of course Rogen wasn’t gonna be interested in the chocolate peanut, but the grip could be another story. Better eat it.

He’d do a water fast the rest of the day, after the coffee, and by night he’d still be under the calorie limit to keep losing. Ten more pounds and Christine said she was confident she could get him stand-in for Rogen, unless Rogen kept slimming down and Neal stalled out. Who ever thought Rogen wouldn’t always want to be the goofy fat guy?

The chocolate was giving Neal wisdom: He’d keep pace with Rogen, get stand-in, get a line, get Taft Hartleyed, get a part, get chiseled and then of course be handsome, get a role, get hooked up with the right people, get in the crowd get in the game, get the script, get on the A list, be in the right place at the right time and get the pinnacle role that Rogen would forever regret turning down! He’d get the hit, get the mansion, get the Oscar, get the girl, get while the gettin’ was good!

“Places! Action!”

Elevator doors open, take a quarter beat. Extra-Sara, extra-Paul and extra-Abbey step in, quarter beat, walk out, nod – everybody’s in a rush. Keep walking, check phone, Rogen rushes into scene, exit stage left, Rogen dashes onto elevator. Doors close.

“Cut! Let’s do it again… Places!”

Neal gets back onto the elevator and turns to see Rogen moving toward the pink box. As the doors close Neal sees Rogen slice the sugar glazed with the plastic knife, pick up a small piece, and pop it into his mouth.

*Seth Rogen is only pretend in this fiction.

A quantum of solace

16 Sep

Think steady, stick to the rhythm, one-and-two, one-and-two. The assault rifle slips slightly on its shoulder strap, and I try to shrug it back closer to my centre of gravity, without losing my grip on the bar above my head. I fix my eyes firmly on the chimney, and try not to visualise the limp, futile crash mats four stories below my dangling boots. Just a few more feet to go, and I can swing up onto the relative safety of the roofline. Crouch, run, straighten up, and edge round the ledge on the chimney. As I slide down the gable end, she sees me, and her hand flies to her mouth, wide-eyed in shock.

My eyes measure the gap, and I rock back on one heel, tensing for the jump. “It’s too far”, she whimpers, horrified. “You’ll fall!”. Her saucer eyes locked on mine, beseeching, her arms reaching out. I’m glad, now, that I declined the wire, despite the drop. A breath, held, and then a hefty push and I’m airborne. I grab my pistol from it’s holster and hold it high, pointed skyward, as I arc out across the gap, landing into a studied crouch on the rail of the balcony. A moment, poised, and then a short drop down to her waiting at my feet. I fold her fluidly into my arms, drinking in the scent of crushed lilies as I bend in towards her.

“Cut”. She stiffens, and pulls sharply away, wrinkling her nose at the perspiration moistening my collar. “And swap. Change angles ready to roll on the closeup”. He elbows past me, chin held high, and I catch a whiff of freshly-doused Italian aftershave. He steps up onto the provided box, to match our heights, and clasps her face with his pale, manicured fingers. “Oh James” she sighs “You came to rescue me”, and she pouts her soft scarlet lips up to meet his.


12 Sep

In the six months since I first met Neal Higgens, he had never said a word that was not written on a screenplay. He was always first or second in line for casting calls, and when he would get moved to the side of the studio with the “EXTRAS GREEN ROOM” sign hanging overhead he wouldn’t even look at me. The other casting agents and I always joked around that he could play a deaf mute if we had such a role available.

I’m sure he just wanted a chance, but a generic white twenty-something hipster isn’t something the studio can take a chance on. He was one of thousands of kids who left Indiana or New Jersey or Kansas for a chance to make it big in Hollywood. Hell – he’s lucky any of us even got to know his name.

As I look up at his pale face, eyes closed and jaw relaxed, I am at a loss for words. What else can I tell the investigators about this kid? “Has Neal been acting strangely lately?” “Has he had any relationship issues?” “Did anyone have an issue with Mr. Higgens recently?” Not a damn clue, detective, but I’m sure he had an issue with us.

Ask me why he hung himself from the rafters in the sound studio and I’ll tell you one thing: he didn’t get to live his dream. Can’t fault him for that.


4 Sep

Covered in fake blood and screen-mud, the seething carcass of Neal Bettafour lay inert just to the left Robin Glint, the man who had fictionally slaughtered him. Was there ever a more poignant depiction of the injustice of the world than the image of Neal Bettafour lying prone and bespattered at the feet of Chestal Spring’s own Robin Glint with Chestal Spring’s own Robin Glint standing tall and unnaturally, like the heroes of old. This is how it seemed to Neal.

Robin Glint! Real name: Robstein Halofski. Robin Glint! The man who put Chestal Spring on the map. Robin Glint! Only alumni of the Chestal Spring Academy of Acting to have had a named role in a motion picture. This was his third starring movie. Third time playing some wayward but moral action hero with a flawed past.

Third time would mean the money would be good.

The director called for a little bit more mud to be added to Glint’s cheek and looked down at Neal and said, “You. Look a little more dead.”

Neal couldn’t imagine being any more dead than this. He looked up with glazed eyes at the star. He loathed that square face that looked like it had been carved out of a smug tree stump.

The make-up girl fled and Robin looked down at Neal and winked. His smile was proof that Robin recognised him. Proof he recalled those classes at Chestal Spring Academy of Acting. It wasn’t clear whether he remembered that it was Neal Bettafour who always got the lead roles in the end of term productions. (Neal Bettafour! Real name: Neal Bettafour.) Or that Robin would always get smaller roles because he was so stiff.

As Neal lay there, the director murmured, “action!” and Robin delivered his line in his trademark flat style. The director called “cut!” said it was great and that he’d like to do it again. He hopped down out of his chair and stood over Neal. “That was great,” he said encouragingly. “But could you try to look a little more like you died in agony.” Neal nodded and focussed his gaze on the leading man.

prompt: Neal

3 Sep

Use one or all the elements of the prompt. It’s completely up to you!

  • Name: Neal (22)
  • Profession: Actor
  • Wish: To play a lead role. He has only ever been an extra.
  • Location: On set

If you have any questions about Character Project, contact me.

See upcoming prompts here.

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