The Man in the Bar

The Paradise Bar is like many watering holes. It’s a place to drown sorrows. A place to debate the meaning of life. A place to go to be amongst others – anonymously… and that’s where the man in the bar comes in.

We first see the man in the opening scene of the Paradise. There he is, in his regular seat, a bottle of Jim Beam in one hand, his fedora next to the other. He is quiet, this man in the bar; he eavesdrops on the lives of others, but offers no clue about himself. Even if he wanted to, he could not, for the man in the bar is a ghost.

His name is Sam. He never gives his last name… but I have a feeling that I know it.

Sam was a P.I. in Hollywood, in the 40s. He enjoyed the company of dames and drink. He took the usual cases – philandering spouses, runaway heiresses, the occasional murder-for-hire. Ruthless and greedy, he’d take money from anyone – and shed no tears for anyone’s pain. He cashed the checks with a smile.  He consoled lonely wives with relish. That was, until the first week of January of 1947. That was when there was a knock on his door – a knock that changed his world.

A man stood in the doorway; middle-aged, clothes threadbare, his hands trembled with palsy. He placed a picture on Sam’s desk – the picture of a young woman. A raven-haired beauty with startling blue eyes. It was his daughter – and she had disappeared. He gave Sam what little money he had, and begged him to find her. Her name was Elizabeth.

Something shifted in Sam’s universe. Perhaps it was his longing for his own daughter, estranged from him, along with her mother, by his devotion to his job – and the women that came with it.

Sam took the case, and began pounding the streets of Downtown L.A., where Elizabeth was last seen. He followed her trail to the Biltmore hotel, where she had gone to meet a man – and there, the case went cold. He found no trace of her – until the morning of January 15, when he woke to find her picture splashed across the city papers. The headlines screamed “Sex Fiend Slaying Victim Found – Detectives describe butcher scene as worst ever,” and indeed it was.

The victim’s last name was Short. Elizabeth Short, also known as the Black Dahlia.

For the next five years, Sam devoted his life to finding her killer. He took no other clients; he became obsessed with the case – wandering the crime scene over and over again, combing through cold cases and criminal records. Each night, he’d end his self-made shift at the Paradise, his ever faithful Jim Beam at his side.

His obsession took its inevitable toll, and on August 17, 1952, Sam was found dead in his office/apartment, the victim of a coronary.

Sam, ever pugnacious, refused to surrender to death. He vowed to find Elizabeth’s killer, and so, here he sits, night after night in the Paradise, going over the facts of the case, laying out rows of suspect, untangling webs of alibis, searching, sniffing for the truth.

Something in Sam’s life – and in the lives of others – is about to change. For soon, another young woman will be found dead, exactly as Elizabeth was. Same modus operandi – dismembered, mutilated, beaten. The girl could be Elizabeth’s twin sister. This discovery, this sickening crime lures Sam out of his ghostly dream-world and propels him into this life.

And so, with Sam, yet another story thread begins.

Like A Moth To The Flame

When we last saw Caim and Serafina, he had brought her to the safety of his home. Once again, the lovers have met.

I’ve been wondering a lot about this scene, as I immerse myself into these final pre-production rewrites. I know that Serafina has no memory of Caim; and yet, perhaps there is something deep within her that does. I wonder if she senses the connection between them, the eternity that they have shared together, only to be torn apart again and again. I wonder if she fears this connection, for its power is overwhelming. I fear it may drive her back to Rocco.

I crouch in the far corner of Caim’s warehouse-turned-home. My eyes are on him as he watches Serafina sleep. I wonder what he is feeling inside –  is it joy or is it anguish that washes over him as his mind turns over and over the eons of relentless punishment? Last time, losing her drove him into madness. It took years to pull him out, decades.

I believe that this reunion is bittersweet. I watch Caim as Serafina wakes. My heart breaks, for I know he yearns to touch her… and yet,  this touch has the power to undo him.

It’s a particular kind of torment, to be drawn to another, almost against one’s will, like a moth to the flame. I close my eyes and hope that this time, Caim can save her. Last time, he lost his sanity. This time, he could lose his soul.

The Sins of the Father

As I prep the script for its final pass – and begin work on Episodes 4 – 6, the character of Rocco emerges.

I’ve described Rocco as brutal and ruthless, for he is… and yet he is much more than a one-dimensional stereotype.

Rocco’s mother immigrated to the States, in search of a better life. She landed in the Bronx, and it was there that Rocco’s path was formed. She met a man – Denny was his name, and, in a matter of weeks, found herself married and pregnant. Her life was far from idyllic, for Denny had a dark and terrible secret. Ruthless fathers beget ruthless sons, and Denny was a vicious man, hell-bent on pounding out his transgressions upon his wife and child.

Like so many victims of abuse, Rocco left home at an early age. He boarded a bus and rode it straight to the West Coast. Like his father, Rocco was a dreamer. Like so many dreamers, Rocco found that his dreams were, in themselves, a trap.

He was ill-prepared for the reality of life on his own. His inner demons haunted him. He turned to drugs  for solace.

One night he met a girl. Her name was Serafina. She moved him in ways that he could not define. Perhaps she touched his soul. Their relationship was not always one of abuser and victim; but Rocco’s patterns were too deeply imprinted. The black void inside him could only filled by rage. He believed, as his father did, that love was a weakness, a disease to be cured. And so, he began to strip Serafina of what he himself did not have. He tried to rob her of her soul. He abused her. He pimped her on the streets.

And yet, there once was a very different Rocco in a very different time. A time when he knew love instead of fists. A time of hope and of promise.

We first see him, as Caim first sees him, beating Serafina into unconsciousness in a darkened alley. His rage is untethered; he is like a wild animal.

For Rocco, the sins of the father have now become the sins of the son.

Boulevard of Broken Dreams

Worlds collide at the intersection of Hollywood and Vine.

A few blocks west, and you will find yourself enveloped in the glitz of Hollywood glam. Shopping. Dining. Clubs. The Kodak, where celebrities – and their fans – turn out in Oscar-hungry droves.

A few blocks east of Vine, however, the landscape alters, for this is where this legendary roadway morphs into the Boulevard of Broken Dreams.

I’ve seen countless Serafinas working their territories on the streets. I grieve for them; I mourn the innocent girls that they once were. I wonder about the circumstances that drove them into such a dangerous occupation – dangerous to the mind, to the body, and to the soul. I think of the unbearable abuse that they suffered as children, and continue to suffer as adults. I think of the shame that they feel inside. I yearn to hold them, to hug them, to tell them that everything is going to be alright… even though I know this to be a lie.

For my Serafina, life has become a particular kind of hell. A runaway by the age of 13, she lived on the streets until she met Rocco, her drug-addled lover. By 15, she was fully immersed in prostitution, trading sex for money. She has suffered beatings at the hands of her clients; she has been raped more times than she can remember. She is so far removed from that little girl that she once was; trapped in self-loathing, frightened, alone.

I think that by the time that Caim finds her, she is ready to die. Death, for Serafina, would come as a relief. No more pain. No more humiliation. Just the quiet, and the dark… and Rocco’s rage is the force that propels her towards the very brink of existence.

But Serafina does not die. She wakes, the following morning, in a stranger’s home. Caim stands over her – beautiful, quiet, strong. There is sanctuary in his eyes. He treats her with kindness – perhaps he is the first man to do so. He asks her to stay; he tells her that he will take care of her. He wants nothing in return.

For most people, the decision seems obvious – but Serafina’s soul is too battered to accept such unconditional love. She struggles with her decision – to place faith in a complete stranger, or to return to the only life she knows. Now, our soul-mates are once again reunited. Their worlds will never be the same.

Night Shifts

The story of Peg Entwistle is a Tinseltown tragedy.

Peg was born in the U.K.; her mother died when she was young, and at the age of eight she found herself accompanying her father to America.

Through family connections, Peg found herself thrust into the life of theatre at an early age. By the time she had grown into adulthood, she was earning critical praise for her work on the boards. Some biographies have her traveling back to England to work; others keep her here. Whatever the facts are, what I do know is this – that by May of 1932, at the age of 24, Peg was living in Los Angeles, and, while she was still receiving acclaim for her work on the stage, she could not get a job in film to save her life.

Literally.

For on the night of September 16, 1932, Peg left her friends, walked to the Hollywoodland sign, climbed the workmen’s ladder to the top of the letter “H,” and deliberately plummeted off the sign into the canyon below. Her body was found two days later. Nearby was a carefully folded coat and purse.

It’s sad to me that so few people today know of Peg’s tragic cautionary tale. She began a precedent for young, failed actresses seeking a way out of their degradation and pain.

I knew that she had to be part of my story.

In the world of “They Live Among Us,” Peg, as a suicide, is forced to live the final moments of her life over and over again, each night since her death. I imagine her up there, in the dark, in the cold, so alone. Perhaps people are hiking Mulholland, as they often do. Perhaps she calls to them; perhaps she reaches out for help – only to be passed by again and again, for they do not see her.

Enter Ted, a Griffith Park ranger, who patrols the night. Ted, like so many who work night shifts, spends his life in solitude. I’ve described him as “terminally shy” – and, I believe that he is. I think that the world for Ted, like Peg, has been a somewhat cruel place. I imagine Ted in his truck, night after night, reading the works of Shakespeare, great poets and other food for the soul – for Ted is, at heart, a romantic.

And so we have a shift in Peg’s torment, and Ted’s isolation on one particular night. Ted, on patrol, hears the sound of a someone crying. He looks up – and sees a beautiful woman, atop the Hollywood sign. He goes to her; he soothes her. He talks her down – and he falls in love. Only to discover that she is a ghost.

Thus, another story thread begins.

A New Threshold

Today, we cross a new threshold in our journey. Today, casting begins.

To all who submitted their head-shots and resumes for consideration, I give you my thanks. We had (as of this morning) 3,123 submissions. You made my job difficult – and for that I am grateful.

I truly wish that I could call each and every one of you into read. You see, I was an actor. I know your pain. I understand the desire to work, the connection to a project or to a role. I’ve felt that desperation, that fear, when bookings are slim. I want to cast all of you; I want you to shine.

At the end of the day, I did need to cull through submissions, in order to see who seemed to best articulate my vision for the roles. If I did not call you in, please do not take it personally. I hope I’ll see you submit for future episodes. Keep your eyes on the prize. Persevere.

To all of you attending this weekend’s reads: you are the 3% who made the cut. I’m very excited to see your work; to hear as you begin to bring your characters to life. I hope that you are relaxed, and that you understand that we are delighted to bring you in. I leave you with these wise words:

Acting is behaving truthfully under imaginary circumstances.
~ Sanford Meisner

The Gathering Place

When I wrote the first three episodes of “They Live Among Us,” I was toying with the concept of each episode as a stand-alone story, patterned somewhat after Rod Serling’s masterful “The Twilight Zone.” I liked the idea of strangers, walking in and out of each other’s lives, and how little we know about the man or woman who stands next to us on the train. However, as the characters began to come to life, I realized that this little idea was bigger than I originally thought; it had – and has – all of the earmarks of a fully fledged series.

I began to think about how to keep the characters independent of one another, while also weaving a tapestry of stories. I was also concerned about exterior night shoots – they are considerably more expensive to film. I realized that what I needed was a central location, a gathering place where my characters could come to meet, to work, to seek solace and comfort. Thus, I created TLAU’s gathering place – The Paradise Bar.

Contrary to its name, Paradise has seen better days. It’s a shabby, dark watering hole just off of Hollywood Boulevard. Faded photos from stars of yesteryear adorn its paneled walls. This is where Caim and Father Buer come to meet. This is where Craig meets Lillith. Beth works at the Paradise. Drawn to Hollywood by its promises of celebrity and fame, Beth is a struggling actress, and, like so many desperate young women before her, will do anything to get the job.

Presiding over the Paradise’s tarnished facade is Jimmy. Jimmy is a transplant from Ohio; his grandmother moved there from California after Jimmy’s grandfather died. She had just discovered that she was pregnant, and she moved in with her in-laws, so they could help her raise the child.

Jimmy has always been curious about his grandfather; like Jimmy, he was a writer – though not a successful one. The circumstances surrounding his death were mysterious; tawdry fodder for the tabloids. Jimmy yearns to uncover the truth behind this mystery, and to discover just who his grandfather really was. The only thing he has to go on is the knowledge that his grandfather was a screenwriter. He also has his grandfather’s name: Joe. Joe Gillis.