Agent to the Starsby John Scalzi
The space-faring Yherajk have come to begin humanity's first interstellar friendship. Unfortunately, they are hideous and they smell like rotting fish. They're going to need an agent... the best agent in Hollywood.See more details below
The space-faring Yherajk have come to begin humanity's first interstellar friendship. Unfortunately, they are hideous and they smell like rotting fish. They're going to need an agent... the best agent in Hollywood.
With a plot that starts out as the rough life of a young agent in Hollywood and rapidly metamorphoses into B-movie territory as a remarkably intelligent first-contact yarn, this book is absurd, funny, and satirically perceptive.
If Stephen King were to try his hand at science fiction, he'd be lucky to be half as entertaining as John Scalzi.
- Tom Doherty Associates
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Agent to the Stars
By John Scalzi
Tom Doherty AssociatesCopyright © 2005 John Scalzi
All rights reserved.
"Fourteen million and fifteen percent of the gross? For Michelle Beck? You're out of your fucking mind, Tom."
Headsets are a godsend; they allow you to speak on the phone while leaving your hands free for the truly important things. My hands were currently occupied with a blue rubber racquetball, which I was lightly bouncing off the pane of my office window. Each quiet thock left a tiny imprint on the glass. It looked like a litter of poodles had levitated six feet off the ground and schmooged their noses against the window. Someone would eventually have to wipe them all off.
"I've had my medication for today, Brad," I said. "Believe me, fourteen million and fifteen points is a perfectly sane figure, from my client's point of view."
"She's not worth anywhere near that much," Brad said. "A year ago she was paid $375,000, flat. I know. I wrote the check."
"A year ago, Summertime Blues hadn't hit the theaters, Brad. It's now $220 million later. Not to mention your own Murdered Earth — $85 million for perhaps the worst film in recent history. And that's before foreign, where no one will notice that there's no plot. I'd say you got your one cheap taste. Now you've gotta pay."
"Murdered Earth wasn't that bad. And she wasn't the star."
"I quote Variety," I said, catching the ball left-handed for the briefest of seconds before hurling it back against the glass, "'Murdered Earth is the sort of film you hope never makes it to network television, because nearby aliens might pick up its broadcast signal and use it as an excuse to annihilate us all.' That was one of the nicer comments. And if she wasn't the star, why did you plaster her all over the posters and give her second billing?"
"What are you all about?" Brad said. "I remember you practically doing me for that artwork and billing."
"So you're saying you'll do anything I say? Great! Fourteen million and fifteen percent of the gross. Gee, that was easy."
The door opened. I turned away from the window to face my desk. Miranda Escalon, my administrative assistant, entered my office and slipped me a note. Michelle just called, it read. Remember that you have to get them to pay for her hairdresser and makeup artist, it read.
"Look, Tom," Brad said. "You know we want Michelle. But you're asking too much. Allen is getting $20 million and twenty percent of the gross. If we give Michelle what she wants, that's $35 million and a third of the gross right there. Where do you suggest we might make a profit?"
$14 million, she can pay for her own damn hair, I wrote on the pad. Miranda read it and raised her eyebrows. She left the room. The odds of her actually giving that message to Michelle were unimaginably remote. She's not paid to do everything I say — she's paid to do everything I should say. There's a difference.
"I have two points to make here," I said, turning my attention back to Brad. "First: Allen Green isn't my client. If he were, I'd be endlessly fascinated by the amount of money you're throwing to him. But he is not. Therefore, I could not possibly give two shits about what you're handing him. My responsibility is to my client and getting a fair deal for her. Second: $20 million for Allen Green? You're an idiot."
"Allen Green is a major star."
"Allen Green was a major star," I said, "When I was in high school. I'm about to go back for my tenth-year reunion. He's been out in the wilderness for a long time, Brad. Michelle, on the other hand, is a major star. Right now. $300 million in her last two films. Fourteen million is a bargain."
The door opened. Miranda popped her head in. She's back, she mouthed.
"Tom," Brad began.
"Hold on a second, Brad. The woman herself is on the other line." I cut him off before he could say anything. "What?" I said to Miranda.
"Miss Thing says she has to talk to you right now about something very important that can't wait."
"Tell her I'm already working on the hairdresser."
"No, it's even more important than that," Miranda said. "From the sound of it, it may be the most important thing ever in the history of mankind. Even more important than the invention of liposuction."
"Don't be mocking liposuction, Miranda. It has extended the career of many an actress, thus benefiting their agents, allowing them to pay your salary. Liposuction is your friend."
"Line two," Miranda said. "Let me know if fat-sucking is toppled."
I punched the button for line two. Ambient street noise filled my earphones. Michelle was undoubtedly careening along Santa Monica Boulevard.
"Michelle," I said. "I'm trying to make you very rich. Whatever it is, make it quick."
"Ellen Merlow got Hard Memories." Michelle said. "I thought I was in the running for that. I thought I had it."
"Don't feel too bad about it, Michelle," I said. "Everyone was up for that one. If you didn't get it, that puts you in there with Cate Blanchett and Meryl Streep. You're in good company. Besides, the pay wasn't that good."
I heard a short brake squeal, followed by a horn and some muffled yelling. Michelle had cut someone off. "Tom, I need roles like that, you know? I don't want to be doing Summertime Blues for the next ten years. This role would have helped me stretch. I want to work on my craft."
At the word craft, I mimed stabbing myself in the eye. "Michelle, right now you're the biggest female star in Hollywood. Let's work with that for a couple of movies, okay? Get a nice nest egg. Your craft will still be there later."
"I'm right for this role, Tom."
"The role is a fortyish Jewish woman victimized in the Warsaw ghetto and Treblinka, who then fights racism in the United States," I said. "You're twenty-five. And you're blonde." And you think Treblinka is a shop on Melrose. I kept that last thought in my head. No point confusing her.
"Cate Blanchett is blonde."
"Cate Blanchett also has an Oscar," I said. "So does Ellen, for that matter. One in each acting category. And she's also not twenty-five, or blonde. Michelle, let it go. If you want to work on your craft, we can get you into some live theater. That's craft. Craft up the wazoo. They're doing Doll's House over at the Geffen. You'll love it."
"Tom, I want that part."
"We'll talk about it later, Michelle. I've got to get back to Brad. Gotta go. We'll talk soon."
"Remember to tell him about the hair —" I clicked her off and switched Brad back on. "Sorry, Brad."
"I hope she was telling you not to blow this offer by asking for too much," Brad said.
"Actually, she was telling me about another project she's really passionate about," I said. "Hard Memories."
"Oh, come on," Brad said. "She's a little young and blonde to be playing Yentl, isn't she? Anyway, Ellen Merlow just got that part. Read it in the Times today."
"Since when does the Times get anything right? Michelle's a little young for the part, yes, but that's what makeup is for. She's a draw. Could get a whole other audience for serious drama."
Brad snorted. "She won't be getting fourteen million for that," he said. "That's their entire budget."
"No, but she'll be working on her craft," I said. I popped the ball up and down on my desk. "The academy eats that stuff up. It's a nomination, easy. Like Charlize Theron in Monster." Sometimes I can't believe what comes out of my own mouth.
But it was working. I could hear Brad weighing the options in his mind. The project at hand was the sequel to Murdered Earth — called, in a burst of true creativity, Earth Resurrected. They had a problem: they killed off the hero in the first film. Which was just as well, since Mark Glavin, who played him, was a loser who was well on his way to replicating the career arc of Mickey Rourke.
So when it came to the sequel, they had to build it around Michelle, whose character managed to survive. The script had been written, the casting completed, and the preproduction was rolling along under a full head of steam. Stopping now to recast or rewrite was not an option. They were over a barrel — they knew it and I knew it. What we were arguing about now was the size of the barrel.
Miranda's head popped through the door again. I glared at her. She shook her head. Not her, she mouthed. Carl.
I set the ball down. When? I mouthed.
Three minutes, she mouthed.
"Brad, listen," I said. "I've got to get — I've just been told I have a meeting with Carl. He's going to want to know where we stand on this. Hard Memories has about wrapped up its casting. We have to tell them one thing or another. I have to tell Carl one thing or another."
I could hear Brad counting in his head. "Fuck," he said, finally. "Ten million and ten percent."
I glanced down at my watch "Brad, it's been a pleasure talking to you. I hope that my client can work with you again at some point in the future. In the meantime, I wish you and the other Murdered Earth producers the best of success. We're going to miss being a part of that family."
"You bastard," Brad said. "Twelve five, salary and percentage. That's it. Take it or don't."
"And you hire her hair and makeup people."
Brad sighed. "Fine. Why the hell not. Allen's bringing his people. It'll be one big party. We'll all put on pancake together and then get a weave."
"Well, then, we have a deal. Courier over the contract and we'll start picking at it. And remember we still need to wrangle about merchandising."
"You know, Tom," Brad said, "I remember when you were a nice kid."
"I'm still a nice kid, Brad," I said. "It's just now I've got clients that you need. Chat with you soon." I hit the phone button and looked at my watch.
I just closed the biggest deal of the year to date, earned one and a quarter million for my company and myself, and still had ninety seconds before the meeting with Carl. More than enough time to pee.
When you're good, you're good.CHAPTER 2
I came out of the bathroom with thirty seconds left on the ticker, and started walking briskly towards the conference room. Miranda was trotting immediately behind.
"What's the meeting about?" I asked, nodding to Drew Roberts as I passed his office.
"He didn't say," Miranda said.
"Do we know who else is in the meeting?"
"He didn't say," Miranda said.
The second-floor conference room sits adjacent to Carl's office, which is at the smaller end of our agency's vaguely egg-shaped building. The building itself has been written up in Architectural Digest, which described it as a "four-way collision between Frank Gehry, Le Corbusier, Jay Ward, and the salmonella bacteria." It's unfair to the salmonella bacteria. My office is stacked on the larger arc of the egg on the first floor, along with the offices of all the other junior agents. After today, a second- floor, little-arc office was looking somewhat more probable in the future. I was humming the theme to The Jeffersons as Miranda and I got to the door of the conference room and walked through.
In the conference room sat Carl, an aquarium, and a lot of empty chairs.
"Tom," said Carl. "Good of you to come."
"Thanks, Carl," I said, "Good of you to have the meeting." I then turned to the table to consider probably the most important decision of the meeting: where to sit.
If you sit too close to Carl, you will be pegged as an obsequious, toadying suck-up. Which is not all that bad. But it will also mean you run the risk of depriving a more senior agent his rightful position at the table. Which is very bad. Promising agency careers had been brutally derailed for such casual disregard of one's station.
On the other hand, if you sit too far away, it's a signal that you want to hide, that you haven't been getting your clients the good roles and the good money; thus you've become a drag on the agency. Agents smell fear like sharks smell wounded sea otter pups. Soon your clients will be poached from you. You'll then have nothing to do but stare at your office walls and drink antifreeze until you go blind.
I sat about halfway down the table, slightly closer to Carl than not. What the hell. I earned it.
"Why are you sitting so far away?" Carl asked.
"I'm just saving space for the other folks in the meeting," I said. Had he heard about the Michelle Beck deal already? How does he do it? Has he tapped my phone? I goggled frantically at Miranda, who was standing behind me, notepad at ready. She shot me a look that said, Don't ask me. I'm just here to take shorthand.
"That's very considerate of you, Tom," Carl said. "But no one else is coming. In fact, if you don't mind, I'd prefer it if Ms. Escalon wouldn't mind excusing us as well."
This would be the point where I casually dismissed my assistant and turned suavely to Carl, ready for our executive powwow. What I ended up doing was staring blankly. Fortunately, Miranda was on the ball. "Gentlemen," she said, excusing herself. On her way out, she dug the spike of her shoe into my pinky toe, and snapped me back to reality. I stood up, looking for where to sit.
"Why don't you sit here," Carl said, and pointed to a chair on the far side of the table, next to the aquarium.
"Great. Thanks," I said. I walked to the other side of the table and sat down. I stared at Carl. He stared back. He had a little smile on his face.
There are legends in the world of agents. There's Lew Wasserman, the agent of his day, who went over to the other side of the movie business and thrived at Universal Pictures. There's Mike Ovitz, who went over to the other side and exploded, humiliatingly, at Disney.
And then there's Carl Lupo, my boss, who went over to the other side, took Century Pictures from a schlock-horror house to the biggest studio in Hollywood in just under a decade and then, at the height of his reign, came back over into agency. No one knows why. It scares the hell out of everyone.
"I'm sorry," I said.
"What?" Carl said. Then he almost immediately laughed. "Relax, Tom. I just want to have a little chat. It's been a while since we've talked."
The last time Carl and I had talked directly to each other in a nonmeeting setting was three years earlier. I had just graduated from the mailroom to the agency floor, where I shared a pod with another mailroom escapee. My client list was a former teen idol, then in his thirties and a semi-regular at intervention sessions, and a cute but brainless twenty-two- year-old UCLA cheerleader named Shelly Beckwith. Carl had dropped by, shook hands with me and my podmate, and blathered pleasantries with us for exactly two minutes and thirty seconds before moving on to the next pod to do the same thing.
Since then, the former teen idol strangled in his own saliva, my podmate imploded from stress and left the agency to become a Buddhist monk in Big Bear, Shelly Beckwith became Michelle Beck and got lucky with two hits in a row, and I got an office. It's a strange world.
"How are things going with Michelle Beck's negotiations?" Carl asked.
"They're done, actually," I said. "We're getting twelve five, cash and percentages, and that's before merchandising."
"That's good to hear," Carl said. "Davis thought you'd hit a wall at about $8.5 million, you know. I told him you'd top that by at least three and a half. You beat the point spread by a half million dollars."
"Always happy to overachieve, Carl."
"Yes, well, Brad's no good at bargaining anyway. I stuck him with Allen Green, of all people, for twenty million. How that film is ever going to make a profit now is really beyond me."
I chose not to say anything at this point.
"Oh, well, not our problem, I suppose," Carl said. "Tell me, Tom. Do you like science fiction?"
"Science fiction?" I said. "Sure. Star Wars and Star Trek, mostly, same as everyone. Watched a couple of those new Battlestar Galacticas. And there was a period when I was fourteen when I read just about every Robert Heinlein book I could get my hands on. It's been a while since I've really read any, though. I watched Murdered Earth once, at the premiere. I think that's killed the genre for me for a while."
"Which do you like better, movies with evil aliens or movies with good aliens?"
Excerpted from Agent to the Stars by John Scalzi. Copyright © 2005 John Scalzi. Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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