Sad news to report. Little Steffi Batchelder is dead….A beam of sunlight struck her and she turned into ash.
Sometimes you have to lie in order to get to the truth. Hollywood and Venal is a collection of short Hollywood fiction, each of which is based on a scandal, secret, or sensibility of Tinseltown. Most of the stories and illustrations originally appeared on Nikki Finke’s acclaimed HollywoodDementia.com website and are now collected in a single illustrated volume from BearManor Media. “Night Shoot” is an epistolary about a reality show that went off the rails and touches on the unspoken fact that TV reality shows are fake. But maybe not this one.
It was the dumbest party pitch anybody had heard in forty years so, naturally, it sold. Mack Barrett made it as a joke to Colin Beauregard at Tina Reynolds’ gathering on Friday night and by Monday morning the network lawyers had the contracts ready. The Trades said that Barrett’s pitch was at the level of Snakes on a Plane and maybe even rivaled the most sacred party pitch of all time, Wheels. (Wheels got made when an agent and a writer got high at a producer’s house in the middle 1970s and said, “What’s the stupidest combination of genres you can think of?” Because The Exorcist and Vanishing Point were raking in nothing but cash at the time, the writer joked, “a possessed car.” When everybody in the room stopped laughing at the crassness of it, the host sneaked off to the bedroom and phoned the vice president of production at Columbia. Presto, in May of 1977 Wheels hit the screen and became the 19th top-grossing film of the year.) The show that Mack Barrett sold to Colin Beauregard was The Real Vampires of Transylvania. It never aired for reasons that are revealed in show runner Josh Combs’s production reports. The author would like to thank Mr. Combs’s widow for permission to reprint them.
Friday, April 13:
How auspicious to start a vampire series on Friday the 13th. I’m here in Romania for preproduction. They had us booked at the local Marriott and we announced an open casting call at 10 AM, then realized that we should have made it 10 PM instead. In line with the network’s mandate for diversity, we put out a call for a cross-section of physical types. Of course, all the vampires have to look young, beautiful, and sexy; our shorthand for this is “VILF.” Anybody who’s old or ugly or both will be cast as villagers. Since we’ll be shooting entirely at night, we were afraid we couldn’t have any children in the show. Amazingly, all those who have applied so far are at least a hundred years old, yet look like they’re nine and ten. In order to make sure we hire the real thing, we have mirrors posted at strategic spots around the meeting room. (Note: this may eventually pose a problem for the make-up department.) Costuming probably won’t be an issue since everyone tends to arrive dressed in period finery looking like a cross between a Frozen character and the Ambassador Hotel doorman. Most of the actors say they’re from Seattle and are almost all unrelentingly morose. One of the ways we ferret out fakers is inviting them to sample our craft service table. The real ones refuse everything, although we almost had a disaster when one of the less worldly applicants started to eat a blood orange and we quickly told him it was just a name. Rather than risk another such incident, Amazon Prime is overnighting us a supply of crucifixes (all of those in town are privately owned and jealously guarded).
Sunday, April 15:
Location scouting all weekend. Total letdown. Have you ever tried to find a castle, ruins, and cobblestone streets within union travel radius of a pile of native earth?
Tuesday, April 17:
What’s with the anemic budgets? Do they actually think we can knock out 13 episodes for $3 million all-in? That’s $200,000 per episode. Okay, it’s actually $231,000 but that’s not counting the $31,000 we intend to skim. At least the WGA still thinks reality shows aren’t written. I just hope our vampires don’t go union. LOL.
Monday, April 23:
First night of shooting. Right away we hit a perfect dramatic conflict: Our main vampire pod has a charismatic leader in Baron O’Neil, his consort is Genevieve Tillis, their ward is Steffi Batchelder, and then a mysterious newly minted vampire, Harris Charlton, shows up. Charlton knows all about the others’ pasts before they became undead and he seeks to out them as vampires. Lots of possibilities here. One sad note: we need to hire a new key grip. The one we had died.
Thursday, April 26:
Terrific fireworks between O’Neil and Charlton. O’Neil ad-libbed something that’s sure to become a catch-phrase. He said, “By Satan’s horns, I curse the shadow you cannot cast.” The crew has started to use it on each other. For example, one of the electricians accidentally stepped on the prop man’s foot and the prop man cursed the electrician’s shadow. We all laughed. One sad note: the prop man died so we have to hire another one.
Sunday, April 29:
In an effort to get a few pages ahead, the actors have agreed to work on Sundays. None of them attends church so this is not a big deal, although the script clerk complained that she wanted to find a place to worship. Genevieve Tillis offered to show her the town’s church as soon as we wrapped for the night. One sad note: at sunrise the script clerk was found nailed to the door of the church so we’re going to have to hire another one.
Monday, April 30:
Slight meltdown. One of the cast members complained that another cast member had called him the N-word. In order to be politically correct, characters will no longer call each other “Nosferatu.”
Tuesday, May 1:
We had a visit from the local Child Welfare Society about our use of children in the show. They wouldn’t accept that our sweet little Steffi Batchelder is actually 123 years old. The director of the CWS demanded that we cut Steffi’s on-set time to three hours and use her only during the day, not at night. Charlton took him aside and explained how we do things. Then he returned and announced that everything would be fine from now on. We’re knocking off early tomorrow so we can attend the funeral of the Child Welfare Society representative. Such a sad coincidence.
Wednesday, May 2:
Bit of fun yesterday. Somebody played a practical joke on Baron O’Neil by putting real garlic bread on the table in our dining room set. Who knew that he was violently allergic to garlic? He sneezed so hard that he turned himself into a bat and flew madly around the room until we removed the offending food. I had the editor save the footage for the outtake reel. Naturally, Baron was embarrassed and apologized but it spooked the make-up lady who was just about to touch up his lips. More sad news: the make-up lady came down with some sort of rare blood disorder and has gone to the hospital for tests.
Friday, May 4:
End of week two of production and we have become a tight, cohesive unit. The director no longer has to say “action”; the actors might as well be reading his mind. They have hit upon the idea of mixing with the local townspeople to bring fresh blood — that’s what Charlton calls it — to the show. Most of the villagers only show up for one episode and then disappear. (You know how boring production is; I guess they can’t take it.) BTW, we’ll have to alert Standards and Practices that O’Neil considers all of the female villagers to be his “wives.” Perhaps we can dub “fiancées” over the word “wives” in Post. After all, we wouldn’t want the religious nuts to think The Real Vampires of Transylvania is about Satanism. Happily, the script clerk has left the hospital, is feeling better, and has joined the cast. O’Neil is treating her like one of his fiancées, so we’re going to need another script clerk.
Saturday, May 5:
The first episode is edited and ready for uploading. I think you’ll be impressed, especially when you hear that we didn’t have to spend any of our optical effects budget. It seems that the cast was able to make their eyes turn red and yellow, zoom across the room faster than you could see, levitate, and make objects shatter all on their own. Suggestion: these tricks look awesome in person. Maybe the PR department can set up personal appearances at children’s hospitals and church groups for live demonstrations.
Tuesday, May 8:
Sad news to report. Little Steffi Batchelder is dead. Well, not “dead,” technically, because she already was. She was taking a nap on a sofa behind the set and didn’t hear us when we wrapped at dawn. A beam of sunlight struck her and she turned into ash. We’re going to try to work it into the storyline but I don’t think we can get away with it because of the FCC’s no-smoking rules.
Thursday, May 17:
I haven’t written in a while because I’ve been putting out fires. That’s not a metaphor. The villagers have been upset over our shooting here and, starting a week ago, they began gathering outside our production offices with torches, pitchforks, rakes, and shovels. I informed them that we already had a union landscaping crew but I guess they took it the wrong way because they demanded to know what we had done with (so far) four of their wives, two of their husbands, eight of their children, eleven of their pets, and the town Mayor. You know how, when you’re shooting a movie, you don’t pay attention to the local news? Boy did I feel out of it! I told them I’d ask around.
Friday, May 18:
None of the cast or crew knows anything about all the local disappearances. I reported this to the head villager who grumbled and walked away making veiled threats about telling TMZ. I know that there can often be tension between film crews and the townies, so I reminded him of the amount of money we were dropping here. Talk about ungrateful! If we get picked up for a second season, we’re going to have to find a location that wants us.
Wednesday, May 23:
I didn’t want to alarm you, but now I can’t avoid it. An old man named van Helsing has been making a pest of himself around here ever since last weekend. He looks like something out of a Bergman movie and has been stalking practically everyone in the main cast. I’ve tried checking him out but when you Google him all that turns up is one conspiracy theory after another. Would you believe it, he thinks that vampires actually exist! If they did, wouldn’t we put them in the show? (ROTFLMAO)
Sunday, May 27:
Bad news. Baron O’Neil was discovered this morning with a wooden stake in his heart. His hands were also nailed to the inside of his coffin with sharpened crucifixes, a silver bullet was lodged in his brain, a head of garlic had been shoved into his mouth, and a small vial of Sparkletts holy water was left beside his withered body. The town sheriff called it the worst case of suicide he’s ever seen. We’re going to have to shut down for a couple of days until we can restructure the story lines. Harris Charlton and Genevieve Tillis have offered to have a child, especially after losing Steffi, but I’m not sure the show is ready to jump the undead shark before it even premieres. Any ideas?
Monday, May 28:
This morning I received a message from van Helsing. He said he was going to dispatch our remaining key cast members one by one unless we made him a featured player. I ran this past O’Neil, Charlton, and Tillis and they weren’t thrilled but they didn’t want to let the show die. Tomorrow morning van Helsing will move in as the wacky neighbor. Unfortunately, this means that we will have to fire and pay out the character actor we originally cast as the wacky neighbor.
Tuesday, May 29:
The good news is that we won’t have to pay out the actor we originally hired as the wacky neighbor. The bad news is that we will have to ship his body home to his relatives in Tarzana. The cause of death has not been determined, but it appears that he cut himself shaving and bled to death.
Friday, June 1:
Our hotel manager is upset. It seems that our crew have been tearing apart their Gideon Bibles and gluing the pages to the windows, doorways, ventilation shafts, and any place that the outside world can find its way into their rooms. Not only that, they have rubbed garlic on all the door handles and bathroom fixtures. The place smells like Gilroy. Tonight before we start I will have a sit-down with the crew and cast and tell them that we need to respect our hosts.
Saturday, June 2:
Well, that didn’t work. Boy did I catch an earful. It seems that many of the cast members have been making unwelcome advances to other cast and crew members. It usually stops at hickeys, but I have told everyone in no uncertain terms that even that is completely unacceptable. I directed most of my remarks to O’Neil, Charlton, and Tillis, who seem to be the ringleaders. I am meeting with them privately later tonight to tell them that I would rather shut down the show than keep them involved with it.
Wednesday, June 6:
Dear Mrs. Combs: The producers of The Real Vampires of Transylvania wish to express their condolences over the death of your husband Josh. He was a fine line producer just starting to reach recognition. Although we pulled the plug on his series when he died suddenly, we plan to edit the existing footage into a one-off special and run it in his honor on Netflix or YouTube Red. By the way, please execute the enclosed indemnification papers so we can release his body to you for proper burial. Incidentally, we don’t recommend immediate interment, we suggest cremation, salting his ashes with garlic, sprinkling them with holy water, and only then interment.
MACK BENNETT and COLIN BEAUREGARD, producers, The Real Vampires of Transylvania
Nat Segaloff is a former movie publicist and film critic (not at the same time) who now writes about what he couldn’t tell at the time
Thomas Warming is an illustrator, author, and designer.