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12 Real-Life Hollywood Horror Stories
Execs, agents, producers, writers share Tales of Tinseltown Terror!
Hollywood has created thousands of classic monsters and tales of terror over its century of entertaining. From the Creature from the Black Lagoon to Freddy Krueger, our industry has delighted the world with some of the most fiendish specters ever brought to life.
But as terrifying as are the goblins and vampires we bring to the screnes, the most dreadful tales are the ones we live out right here at home. Anyone who works in this business has them: stories seared into their memories of behavior so awful they count as real-life horror stories: the meeting gone wrong, the project from hell, the star off the leash — as diabolical as any tale from Bram Stoker, Mary Shelly or Jason Blum.
As a special Halloween treat, I rounded up a basketful of some of these diaries of dread, calling a few of my friends and asking them, off the top of their heads if they had some nightmares to share in this holiday season. All shared their tales on condition of anonymity, knowing the demons still lurk and wait. Sit back and enjoy a few examples of the kind of egomaniacal awfulness that we do like no one else. It came from Hollywood!
From a PR/marketing exec:
My Hollywood horror was most of the bosses I've known.
One used to literally do nothing. Go to yoga at lunch, come back and eat at her desk for 45 minutes while she spoke to her decorators about remodeling her house on speakerphone. Then launch into how she needed a weekend nanny because she had no time to herself.
Another boss used to speak to her therapist on speakerphone, complaining about her husband.
A male boss used to torture the poor girl in the music department to get concert tickets always claiming they were for his boss (they weren't).
Another boss used to torture his assistant to get him and his entire family “free” first-class upgrades without paying for it. The company travel agent was so exhausted by it, he would just bury the charge. I also recall him having flatulence issues and those were the days you weren’t allowed to leave the desk without permission
Another honcho used to expense her clothes and claim they were purchased for talent and got kickbacks from the limo service which she demanded that everyone use.
I once interviewed with a bigwig's office and the first assistant spent the entire time explaining how important it was that I knew how the boss liked her apples cut.
The Big Sleep
From a writer/director:
A few years back, I was asked to pitch on a remake of one of my favorite films. I jumped at the chance, went ham on the pitch and a deck, made it past the first few gauntlets until only one remained: to pitch my take to a venerable, legendary, iconic (you get it) producer. The icon would be the final decider. So, I was all excited and I pay out of pocket to fly across the country and pitch this legend in person. (Out of pocket!)
Kids, if you're worried about me at this point, you're very very smart. My pitch was in the late afternoon on a Friday. I sat in a boiling-hot waiting room, listening to the producers laugh with delight at whoever was pitching before me.
Laughing, like, a lot.
So. I should note that my take involved the following keywords: Appalachia, opioid crisis, trailer park. But yeah, they were laughing, like, a lot at the person before me.
It's finally my turn, and after some intros, I jump in. As the late afternoon sun fries a veritable hole in the conference table, the venerable, legendary, iconic producer falls asleep.
Obviously, this means I'm not getting this job. See, kids, in Hollywood when an icon falls asleep in a meeting, no one dares wake them. It'd be like waking a sleeping giant if the giant could fire you. So, we all had to pretend it wasn't happening and I finished the pitch knowing there was no way they could hire me. And they didn't. Because they were “looking for something a little lighter.”
Location, Location, Location
From a director/screenwriter:
Back in the ’90s, I was asked to come up with a sequel for a very, very popular high-school movie. Development execs were super involved — insisted I set it in college — and spent months micromanaging every beat. I finally get the okay to pitch to the big producer (their boss), who says: “Well, I look forward to hearing your take… as long as it doesn’t take place in college. College movies don’t work.” At which point I glance over to the development execs who nod along — he’s right. College setting is a terrible idea.
I barf out the pitch — whatever strangled version I can muster. The producer gives me an extra hard cover copy of a popular novel he’s producing as a consolation prize.
The Idea Factory
From Kit Sargent:
I wrote a spec screenplay that didn’t sell but got me some meetings with producers. It was a legit producer, not just a rando. After some preliminary chit-chat, we get down to business. The guy — very nice guy — says my spec wasn’t a fit for them but that they liked the writing, and asked if he could pitch me an idea they’d developed in-house. I said “Sure!” and he goes, “Okay, two words: man cave.”
Then he said that they saw it as a vehicle for someone like Zach Galifianakis except “not him, because he’s totally over.” (This was pre-Hangover, btw.)
I also worked on a sitcom where guys in the room kept making truth-or-dare bets that culminated in a guy pissing into a big potted plant in the hallway.
Revenge of the Teen Idol
From a TV writer-producer:
My scary showbiz horror moment? I've lived through death threats, earthquakes, riots, two out-of-shape producers physically grappling over a doomed sketch, and 20th Century Fox setting off explosions without warning us studio workers at Fox Plaza when it doubled for Nakatomi Plaza in Die Hard.
But the scariest single moment I can remember was working on a show a few years ago that starred a show-biz veteran who had been a child star in the ’70s. One of the writers had left the show to work on a pilot he had written. The star was mad that someone would leave his show to make a new show, even though the network had asked the writer to do both. The star thought it was disloyal at the least, and at worst that it risked the star's show by providing the network with a competing show. The writer was told that the star didn't want to see him at his show again. This, of course, seems like an overreaction because the move was sanctioned by the network and people leave shows all the time to create their own shows. The network even let him use his office at our show to work.
So this writer, after working alone in his office, wandered into our snack room to get a snack and then started chatting up the writers room. Well, one of the star's moles alerted the star and the star snuck into the writers’ assistant area adjacent to the writers room. And he listened. Then after a moment, he sprung out of the assistant area and into the room with an "Aha! You've been caught!" look on his face. We were all shocked. Mostly because grown men don't spring into rooms much.
One of our writers who was going to the restroom hid there. The star then began to berate the writer, saying “I thought I told you to stay away.” And “This room is for people who work here!” “Give me back my snacks!” The mole laughed and encouraged the star. The writer thought the star must be joking, but he clearly was not. It got tense as the star challenged the writer to a fight. “Wanna step outside?” WRITER FIGHT!! Has there ever been anything less threatening sounding? The writer declined the fight. It's a no-win. If he gets beat up by the star, he looks stupid and weak. If he wins, he gets a lawsuit and possible arrest.
The writer walked back to his office and the star stormed out and finally, the writer hiding in the bathroom thinks it's safe to come out. But the star storms back in asking why the writer in the bathroom took so long. He screamed at her and then left again.
4 Tiny Tales of Hollywood Terror
From a writer/comedian:
1. I once had a staffing meeting during which the showrunner showed me a picture of a pretty teen who was posing provocatively and said, “What do you think?” And I said, “She’s very pretty.” And he said, “Yeah, but hot or not hot?” I said, “Hot?” And he said, “Thanks, that’s my daughter.”
2. I once worked on a show where the room typically ended around midnight and the star wouldn’t let us leave until we drank the very strong cocktail she made resulting in many of us having to sleep in our cars.
3. I was once asked to punch up a script written by another staff member who was so enraged they threw it at me and sliced my eyeball.
4. I was once in a room where the showrunner would pick his nose and then insist on massaging my neck.
It All Goes Black
From a screenwriter:
I once wrote a script that was purchased for a major action star of the day. We had a meeting with the studio execs and this star to talk about the script.
Star in a thick Austrian accent: “I like the first 48 pages then it goes a little flat.”
Me: “OK, sure. What should we do from there?”
Star: “Nobody told dese guys?”
We look around the room full of execs, A skinny guy in an army green T-shirt asks: “Have you met Shane Black?”
A couple of the great studio notes of my career:
“You need to change the main girl’s name to Chrissy. Chrissy is good luck.”
“You don't have to add jokes. It's funny enough that they're on a bus.”
At another, I was developing a quasi-documentary show for a certain youth-oriented cable network. The execs at the network were obsessed with catering to the network's target demographic, 18- to 24-year-olds. At one meeting, we were talking about a plotline that was about something very teen-oriented. The top exec in the room kept saying, “The demo is never going to get this.” My partner and I were very confused because the thing that we were talking about couldn't have been more 18- to 24-year-old specific, and we kept asking why they wouldn't get it, to which he would say things along the lines of, "They just won't."
After about 10 rounds of this, he finally put down his papers, sighed and stared us hard in the eyes. “Look,” he said. “When we say 18- to 24-year-olds, what we are talking about,” he said with scorn, “is 10- to 13-year-olds.”
The Sum of All Fears
From a film exec
Does every time somebody said, “Nikki Finke called” count?
From an above-the-line multi-hyphenate:
Once, in the middle of me pitching a teen movie, the producer hearing the pitch stood up and said, “… yeah, I see where this is going. I made the definitive teen movie of the last 10 years and I don’t need to make a poor imitation of it.” Then left the meeting and never came back.
A Molly Good Fellow
From a TV writer:
In one of my first TV pitch meetings, the network executive told me after the pitch that it was unprofessional of me to pitch from a spiral notebook with Molly Ringwald on the cover. And that he was definitely not buying the pitch.
From an agent:
1. The head of a major agency called me into a private meeting to tell me to stop using exclamation points in my emails.
2. When I started out in the business I was tasked with buying a power strip during a torrential downpour. I brought back a maroon power strip and the head of the company's commercial division looked at me and said, “Are you a fucking idiot?”
Say the Word
From a producer:
After seven years of no green lights and three studios, my project got a blinking green light at major studio. The directors were African American. There was a gig meeting: directors, producers, studio.
Senior VP says: “Okay so the main reason this hasn’t been green lit so far is…”
Director cuts him off; “Is because we are “N-words” (using the word).
Nightmare silence followed. They did not make the film.
Behind the Restroom Door
From an aspiring writer:
A few stories come to mind.
1. I was hired to adapt a foreign TV show for an American audience. The contract negotiations took an insanely long time, even for Hollywood. Two years later, we were all about to sign on the dotted line but they hadn't kept the original creator of the show in the loop over the two years. She got so pissed that she refused to sign and the deal was dead.
2. An A-list actor took me out on a date to a concert. On the way he told me there was a co-star of his who thought they were dating, but told me to just ignore her — it was a business thing he was doing to string her along. When I got there the co-star turned out to be another A-lister. The entire time she was giving me the evil eye. Then after a few drinks, she started acting overly happy with me. She grabbed my hand and dragged me to the bathroom where she proceeded to piss in front of me and tell me the A-list guy I was on a date with was hers and to back off — like a dog marking its territory.
3. My manager told me to drop my TV agent two years ago because he had another agent lined up who was eager to sign me. So I did. Then my manager never followed up with the agent. My manager then called to say he didn’t want to help his clients get staffed anymore because “it wasn’t where he wanted to put his focus.” So I’ve been agent-less for two years now and my TV meetings have completely dried up because of his decision to cut the TV opportunities off. I’ve attempted to find new reps but he controls every professional relationship I have to the point where my lawyer won’t even get on the phone without him being on the call.