The Lethal Hollywood Script
Reading time: 9.4 minutes
It was a balmy night in Miami’s business district. Jorge, the founder of Chief Pictures, sat in the 5-star restaurant waiting for his son to arrive. He was a regular, which is really saying something because securing a reservation at the Hoof and Wave Steakhouse was nearly impossible for ordinary folk. Add to that, a main course would cost them more than three days’ pay.
Jorge was an elderly gentleman. Glowing neon lights outside shone through the window and onto his white hair, turning it pink and blue. The colours made his wrinkled, sour expression soften so that he seemed almost approachable. Almost. Of course, in reality, Jorge was anything but approachable. He was probably more diabolical than the villainous characters found in his impressive 2,000-film theatrical library.
His son, Mateo, arrived and sat down, without saying a word. Jorge glanced at the waiter who approached immediately. “The usual, sir?” Jorge nodded and the waiter hurried away.
Mateo was an extremely talented screenplay writer. He’d written many successful movies for his father’s company that had gone on to become box office successes, earning them both vast amounts of money.
Tonight’s dinner meeting was focused on one thing: preventing Chief Pictures from losing its top spot in the industry … by any means.
The muffled voice of Carin Léon rose from a nearby club floating tremulously through the air when Jorge decided to speak.
“I want you to develop a script about those teens who vanished on a kayaking trip in Hybden State Park. It needs to be scary, lots of action sequences and a love interest.” he said.
“Wait, that’s a true story, Dad. Shouldn’t we just stick to what has worked for us in the past? Straight fiction?” Mateo replied.
Jorge ignored him and continued. “The satanic cultists that call themselves ‘The Church Below’ still live in those mountains. There was a rumor they were involved with the teens, but no charges ever stuck. It is imperative that this film is shot on location, too. No studio green-screen sets. That has to be written into the contract. Do you understand?”
“I do.” Mateo replied, masking his confusion.
Jorge continued, “Use a fake pen name. Nobody can know you wrote it. I’m going to do a dummy bid on the finalized script. Make it obvious that I’m eager and that I don’t want anyone else to get the rights. Here’s the twist. You have to get them to buy the script. They’ll think they’ve had a win against me. Do whatever it takes.”
You might think that slipping from the top to second place in the movie production business is not that big a deal. But, competition was hot, and by the end of the year, if the duo didn’t make some drastic moves, they would slip from their exalted and lucrative heights. The trouble would immediately become evident because all the hottest scripts are sent to the best studio first, the unwanted scraps are then thrown out for the other production houses to fight over. So, it was incredibly difficult to climb the ladder of success because the industry was rigged against you.
Jorge had done his homework. A recent post about script sales on the YouTube channel ‘That’s a Wrap,’ reported that action, horror, and romcom ideas had never been hotter. Jorge also knew that shooting in a real location would legitimize the film dramatically and the marketing campaign would be easy. It would sell itself. Jorge whispered to himself: “Build your enemy a golden road.”
The storyline and the plan were strange, but Mateo knew it was best to nod and agree. Asking too many probing questions always led to a tongue lashing. He’d rather just enjoy his Japanese Kobe steak in peace.
Jorge continued: “I’m going to deposit a large sum of money into the filthy hands of those inbred families in the forest. In return they will sabotage the production, derail the whole project, burn through their budget and stop them taking away my number one spot.” Then, Jorge hissed quietly through his teeth. “Simple, really.”
The more Jorge’s plan unfolded; the more nervous Mateo became. When he was a child, his father always said: “Whatever it takes.” Mateo sliced himself a piece of steak and said: “I’ll start tomorrow morning.” He tasted the most succulent meat imaginable and silently agreed that they had to do something to keep on top.
It can take anywhere from 5 days to 5 years to write an entire screenplay. There are three stages, outlining/planning, writing, and editing. Jorge was wildly talented and was completely finished in 4 days. This included his pitch, which specified the type of cinematography, lighting, music, estimated budget and, most importantly, film locations. On the last page of his proposal, he made it clear that Chief Pictures had already placed a bid to buy the property. If anyone else was interested in the script, they had seven days to outbid them.
Mateo collected all of Jorge’s competitors’ emails and sent ‘to all’ using a fake name. Paul from Moon Storm Cinema took the bait immediately and replied, asking Mateo a variety of probing questions.
Mateo was no salesman, but he didn’t need to be, he simply pasted Paul’s email response into MercurySaysSales and followed the instructions on what he should do next. He’d sold all of his screenplays this way. He often wondered if other writers used MercurySaysSales to sell screenplays to his father. It wouldn’t surprise him. Millions used it. MercurySaysSales was too popular for them not to know about it.
It wasn’t long before Paul offered $500,000 and not a dollar more. He had outbid Jorge. Mateo called his father before he’d even finished reading Paul’s email. Stage one was complete, hook, line, and sinker.
Jorge was excited. “Take it straight away! I’m organizing payment for The Church Below this week. They’ll be ready and waiting.”
The Satan worshipping families had been living in the rugged woodlands for generations. Over that time, they had built themselves an extensive network of camouflaged treehouses, underground tunnels, and homes built deep inside cave systems. Of course, all of their assets were protected by booby traps which were cheap and simple to make.
Some of the elders had fought in the Vietnam War and returned with an extreme hatred for their government and society. They rebelled by joining The Church Below and leaving society and its values behind. They taught the families how to build deadly traps like the Viet Cong used against G.I.s in the 1970s.
So, Hybden State Park was not a good place for hiking. In fact, most people thought it was a good place to avoid. The short-hand term people used was to say that Hybden was cursed. Even the police felt wary and refused to stick around for long. The Church Below was a perfect example of the danger of groupthink. Its members were a threat to all outsiders.
It was extremely difficult to find these backwoods ferals. They were rarely seen. That only added more fuel and fear to the legend. Drunks at the local bar would claim to have seen some cultists hunting deer late at night.
Somehow, Jorge managed to get his money to them. Nothing made people act on his behalf faster than the promise of wealth.
The black duffle bag bulging with cash was carried to the elder who called himself the ‘Minister.’ All he said to the courier was: “They’ll wish they never came. Consider it done.” Then, the pale, sunken-eyed man disappeared back into the gloomy forest.
Four months passed as Moon Storm Cinema completed all the pre-production work. The producers, director, production managers, cinematographers, and other key department heads had created a plan. They were ready to begin Principal Photography and their first stop was Hybden State Park.
Not long afterwards the first trucks filled with equipment rolled into a clearing in the vast, rugged pine forest. The production crew heard stories of what lurked in those wild, untamed dead-end valleys and confusing corners of the forest, but they had no idea they were being constantly watched.
Jorge was as sly as he was relentless; he tipped off the local and national media about the film unit operating in Hybden State Park. Film-related stories always attracted interest because the public were fascinated by celebrities and the movie business, in general. Moon Storm Cinema hadn’t begun filming yet already the media was watching almost as intently as the silent members of The Church Below, who slipped like shadows from tree to tree.
Moon Storm set up a base camp under Killdeer Mountain and a second smaller camp on the shores of Devil’s Lake. There were so many employees trekking back and forth it seemed that a circus had moved in. That wasn’t too far from the truth.
The Church Below despised this invasion and were eager to punish what they called the “trespassing filth.” The entire convent, for that was what they called themselves, was on high alert when they first heard about the cash incentive. Now that the film crew had arrived, serious decisions had to be made.
At a gathering in the mouth of a cave, some members spoke about shooting the crew with poisoned blow darts, which were silent and deadly. The elders knew that would be too obvious. The darts would be found on the bodies, and The Church Below would be hunted by the authorities. The attack needed to be anonymous, leaving everyone guessing who was to blame. Such an attack could only add to their legendary status and to that of the forest’s curse.
The ‘Minister’ pondered the poison idea then spoke up. “We can’t use darts, that’s obvious, but the Ghoul Berry juice used to coat the points could be added into their craft services.” After a few seconds deliberation, the group burst into excited chatter. They all agree it was a brilliant plan.
The Ghoul Berry is one of the most toxic plants in North America. It was created and cultivated by The Church Below. It posed a lethal threat to those who knew nothing about it due to the berries’ attractive, bright red sheen and sweet first taste. However, the absorption of a single drop of its juices would kill an adult in less than 5 minutes. The symptoms included vertigo, blurred vision, confusion, hallucinations, convulsions, and massive organ collapse that finally led to death.
Two days later, under the cloak of a cloud-filled night, The Church Below sent two of its best hunters into the main camp to sabotage the food supplies. They moved like a soft zephyr in total silence: young, small, and stealthy. Barely cracking a single twig, they slid through the camp. They were lucky. They came upon a long table set with food. It was ready for a group who’d finished their long day’s work at Devil’s Lake and were being bused in. There were dishes of steaming hot salmon, brown rice, broccoli, chicken breasts, sweet potatoes, pasta, green beans, salad and more. One of the young hunters poured the entire bottle of Ghoul Berry juice over the chicken. The liquid gave the white meat a pale red, glossy coating that actually complemented its flavor. Thankfully for The Church Below convent, the poor souls who ate it wouldn’t realize something was wrong until the hallucinations began.
As they hurried back to tell the ‘Minister’ and the other elders, they heard two buses arrive with the hungry workers.
The gathering of The Church Below cult waited patiently at the opening of the cave. No-one spoke. They had sent out observers so they waited for those people to return.
An hour passed. In the distance came the faint sound of barking foxes. Somewhere nearby a rutting deer bellowed. The low hooting of an owl seemed to be counting off the passing minutes.
They never needed to hear the observers’ reports. Out of nowhere, a screaming siren pierced the air as flickering lights lit up the forest in flares of red and blue. The ambulance accelerated down the dusty road towards the campsite.
It had begun.
Jorge checked the news online every morning as soon as he woke up. It certainly wasn’t a healthy habit, serving himself a large portion of negativity before the day had even begun, but it had its good side. One being that he immediately knew The Church Below had upheld their side of the deal.
The headline read: “Hybden Curse or Studio Negligence leaves 3 employees dead”
Jorge grinned like only a villain could. He was amused by the appalling situation. His strategy was working perfectly. The media immediately blamed Moon Storm Cinema for the deaths without any corroborating evidence. And, over the next 48 hours, the bad-news momentum quickened as Paul tried desperately to protect Moon Storm Cinema’s reputation. His PR team worked 24/7 on damage control.
The state government blocked Moon Storm from all future projects in the state until a legal investigation was concluded. And, every other state seemed to have their finger on the trigger to do the same. The media dragged Paul and Moon Storm Cinema through the mud for weeks. The police investigations became confused. New injunctions were issued by judges almost every day. And, the number of threats to sue rose with dizzying speed.
Nobody wanted to film with Moon Storm anymore.
Nearly 12 months had passed since that dreadful night in Hybden State Park. Jorge was thoroughly enjoying his life on top of the food chain as Chief Pictures continued to be the most sought-after company to work for. It always got first choice with scripts.
His profits skyrocketed as all the A list actors and directors came knocking on his office door. The memory of his evil deed faded as new projects, events and meetings fought for his time and his mind. He had completely gotten away with it. The more time that passed the more difficult it became for law enforcement to ever connect him with the murders. It was a beautiful morning and Jorge was preparing to leave for work. The birds sang sweet melodies as he reversed his Mercedes-Maybach S-Class out the driveway before remembering he’d left his coffee in the house. It only took him a minute to dash inside and collect the beverage but when he returned he noticed a note tucked under his windshield wiper. A little annoyed, he snatched it off the window and opened it. It simply said “Karma never loses an address. Coming soon to a movie theatre near you!” The paper was stained in some sort of pale red liquid, it looked like juice from a berry.