“I’m Roger Clifton, Casting Director. Welcome to Illustrious Film Studios. You’re 10 minutes late.”
There at the security gate to Illustrious Film Studios stood a man in his mid-40’s with neatly parted hair and an uncomfortably thin mustache. He wore a forest green suit and a blue-and-red-striped tie. He was the jovial type, but clearly a little put-off by Anna’s tardiness.
“I’m so sorry, Mr. Clifton. My bus from Peoria reached the station about 45 minutes ago, and I ran here as quickly as I could.” Anna’s big move to Hollywood had started off about as poorly as she could imagine. The light blue dress she wore was wrinkled (and now quite sweaty thanks to her stressful commute), and her hair was an absolute catastrophe.
Mr. Clifton displayed little empathy for her, however, “Tardiness may be tolerated in Illinois, Ms. Speith, but here we consider it completely unacceptable.”
Anna’s stomach dropped.
“Please leave your suitcase with the security guard and follow me.”
Five minutes later they arrived at an open hangar door. Anna’s eyes took a minute to adjust, but it appeared a scene had just finished. The backdrop and the costumes suggested a film set in Ancient Rome, and the white columns, togas, and sandals confirmed her suspicions. The enormity of the set and the personalities mesmerized her.
Mr. Clifton noticed Anna’s astonishment.
“They don’t have anything like this in Peoria, do they Ms. Speith?”
“No, Mr. Clifton,” replied Anna, still quite under Hollywood’s spell, “nothing like this at all.”
“You know, it’s strange. You would think after working here for 15 years I would be used to the aura of film-making, but I still get that rush when I step into the studio.”
Mr. Clifton placed his hand on Anna’s shoulder.
“Now please, if you’ll come with me to my office, we can see if you have what it takes to be a movie star!”
They wormed their way through the toga-clad actors until they reached a door that read “Casting Office: Unauthorized Personnel Strictly Prohibited”.
“Here we are, Ms. Speith. Follow me.”
Mr. Clifton opened the door and led Anna into the pitch black room. She took six steps inside and immediately had the feeling the room was far bigger than she initially expected.
A switch clicked and the room’s fluorescent lights hummed to life.
To her left Mr. Clifton was seated behind a desk, an empty chair across from him likely waiting for her.
To her right, was something far more difficult to comprehend.
What looked like a giant sinkhole about 200-feet wide and lord knows how deep comprised one-half of the Casting Office. This wasn’t your standard “giant-hole-in-the-middle-of-a-building,” however. Anna felt what she could only describe as a slight vibration emanating from its core. It was as if there were something inside of it, breathing.
Or it was breathing.
She took a step closer and saw what appeared to be small, thin spikes coming out of the walls of the hole. The inside surface of this–thing–rippled along with it’s breath.
“Now Ms. Speith, I see here on your paperwork you did quite a bit of acting back in Illinois. That’s wonderful news. While stage and film acting are two separate beasts, any kind of experie-”
“Mr. Clifton,” interrupted Anna. She was staring into the depths of the hole completely entranced, unable to look away. She desperately wanted to step back, but fear kept her rooted to the spot. This audition is going incredibly poorly, she thought.
“Yes?” Mr. Clifton looked up from his papers. He was understandably annoyed at being interrupted.
“What…” Anna was struggling, “What… What is that?”
A deep rumble emanated from the hole, as if offended by Anna’s inquiry.
Mr. Clifton rolled his eyes at the naive Midwesterner. “Oh that? That’s The Maw. Hmm, I suppose you don’t have The Maw in Peoria either, huh? You small town girls live such sheltered lives.”
His relaxed tone put Anna at ease–a bit.
“But, what does it do?”
“Oh, it’s the secret behind all of Illustrious Studio’s success. Anyone who has a career here has The Maw to thank.”
Mr. Clifton could tell this answer did not satisfy Anna.
“You see, when our founder Andrew McGinty helped build Hollywood 30 years ago, The Maw was already here. He decided to develop a film about it, some sort of low-budget Science Fiction piece. It had been going quite well until one day one of the actresses slipped and fell right into The Maw. Obviously they thought she was a goner, and spent the rest of the week mourning and doing rewrites. Then, out of the blue, she waltzed into Mr. McGinty’s trailer, and started reciting her lines. Her return wasn’t even the biggest surprise… Suddenly she could act!”
Anna stared at him. It was kind of all she could do.
“Anyway, long story short, Mr. McGinty used the money from the Sci-Fi film to build Illustrious Studios around The Maw, and Mawlestation has been part of the casting process ever since.”
The term made Anna’s eyes grow wide.
Mr. Clifton continued, “Actors and actresses go into The Maw, and after a week of mawlesting, they come out with talent.”
Anna mulled this over. She thought she was quite talented, but Illustrious was the only studio to contact her for an audition. She turned around to face Mr. Clifton, “When you go into The Maw… does it hurt?”
“Well I personally can’t speak of the experience, but based on the ear-piercing screams I have to tolerate, I’d imagine The Maw does have its way with you. It’s mildly distracting, but it really streamlines the process. Once The Maw spits you out, I can put you right to work!” said Mr. Clifton, with a flourish.
Anna considered her options. Becoming a Hollywood actress had been her dream since she was a little girl. But she would likely endure an unbelievable amount of pain inside The Maw.
“What if I just… show you I’m a good actress?”
“Now Ms. Speith,” Mr. Clifton answered, “if we were to let someone skip The Maw, don’t you think the other actors and actresses would feel a little jealous?”
“And wouldn’t that set an unfair precedent?”
“Now… What do you say?”
Mr. Clifton grabbed the contract and a pen from the desk and stepped towards Anna. He made a point to not seem menacing, but Anna (being from Peoria and all) instinctively took a step back.
Unfortunately, her spacial awareness was not what it normally was thanks to the long bus ride and the existence of a monster that tortures you into a movie star. Anna stepped right onto the edge of the beast’s–lip, I suppose–and fell backwards.
And in that moment, Anna knew she was destined for stardom.