First Time I Got Paid for Doing This: And Other Tales from the Hollywood Trenches


The First Time I Got Paid For It is an unprecedented collection of essays by over 50 leading film and television writers, edited by Laura Shapiro and Peter Lefcourt for the Writers Guild Foundation, with an introduction by screenwriting legend William Goldman. Linked by the theme of a writer's "first time"--usually the first time they got paid for their work, but sometimes veering off into other, more unconventional, "first times," these essays examine what it takes to succeed, what it takes to write well, and ...
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The First Time I Got Paid For It is an unprecedented collection of essays by over 50 leading film and television writers, edited by Laura Shapiro and Peter Lefcourt for the Writers Guild Foundation, with an introduction by screenwriting legend William Goldman. Linked by the theme of a writer's "first time"--usually the first time they got paid for their work, but sometimes veering off into other, more unconventional, "first times," these essays examine what it takes to succeed, what it takes to write well, and other aspects of maintaining creativity and integrity while striving for a career in Hollywood. Richard LaGravanese (The Fisher King, The Horse Whisperer, Living Out Loud) confesses that his first paying writing job was crafting phone sex scripts. Nicholas Kazan (Reversal of Fortune, Mathilda) explains why, in Hollywood, a verbal "yes" often turns out to be a written "no." Peter Casey writes about the unparalleled pitch meeting for the award-winning NBC series Frasier. Virtually every big name writer in Hollywood has contributed to this collection; it is essential research material for anyone trying to make it in the entertainment industry, and a perfect read for movie buffs everywhere.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
This delectable collection of entertaining essays by more than 50 TV and screenwriters is a treat not only for neophytes hoping to break into the business, but also for film buffs. While most of the contributors write about their first paying job in the profession, many of the tastiest tales venture off to detail other "firsts": Chuck Lorre (Roseanne; Cybill) hilariously recalls the first time he was fired (from a Beany & Cecil revival show); Melville Shavelson recollects the first time he was sued (by former First Lady Mamie Eisenhower to stop the filming of a movie about the Ike-Kay Summersby affair); and 12-time Emmy winner Carl Reiner remembers getting $1,000 to write his first novel, Enter Laughing. Many of the short pieces create suspense by withholding the name of a long-delayed or much-rewritten project until the very end. One of the best stories illustrating Hollywood's fickle nature is Australian Jan Sardi's piece on being at the center of a fierce bidding war over Shine; it concludes with the sobering fact that, over 12 years, he's had six movies produced in Australia but none in America. Each reminiscence is only a few pages long (Michael Tolkin's biography at the end of his recollection is almost as long as his story), which keeps the pace quick and the writing lively. The sassy title, eye-catching faux noir cover art and the impressive list of contributors (Steven Bochco, Eric Bogosian, Cameron Crowe, Delia Ephron, Larry Gelbart, Lawrence Kasdan and Joan Tewkesbury are just a few listed on the back cover) make this a compelling item for film buffs. (Oct.) FYI: A portion of the sales will be donated to the Writers Guild Foundation. Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
What initially might seem interesting only to Hollywood insiders and aspiring movie and TV writers is in fact an enjoyable read for anyone fascinated with entertainment media. A foreword by famed screenwriter and novelist William Goldman is followed by 54 essays on screenwriting by the likes of Alan Alda, Eric Bogosian, Tina Andrews, Delia Ephron, Steven Bochco, Larry Gelbart, Fay Kanin, Lawrence Kasdan, Carl Reiner, Joan Tewkesbury, and Richard Wesley. Among the highlights are John Gay's recollections of writing for live TV, Cameron Crowe's discussion of his well-founded but totally mistaken belief that Fast Times at Ridgemont High would flop, and the congratulations accorded Georgia Jeffries for writing like a man. Although some of the contributors don't follow the theme of the title (Peter Casey had already written for The Jeffersons but here describes pitching Frasier to NBC executives; Melville Shavelson's piece is "The First Time I Got Sued") and some of the material that these writers created is hardly majestic, the book proves that persistence and luck as much as talent may carry the day.--Kim Holston, American Inst. for Chartered Property Casualty Underwriters, Malvern, PA Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
A collection of over fifty stories by American screen writers on the first time they received money for their writing, with thoughts on what it really takes to succeed in Hollywood. The list of contributors includes many well-known screenwriters, including Richard LaGravanese, author of who first worked writing phone sex scripts, and Cameron Crowe, who wrote , and his shock at the success of his earlier films. Written casually, often humorously, for anybody interested in "the business", or just in Hollywood lore. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (
Provides a remarkable cross-section of the industry . . . it just may soften the hearts of a producer or two when the two sides meet across the bargaining table.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781586480134
  • Publisher: PublicAffairs
  • Publication date: 11/28/2000
  • Edition description: 1 ED
  • Pages: 288
  • Lexile: 1060L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 5.82 (w) x 8.57 (h) x 1.04 (d)

Read an Excerpt


Alan Alda

I was writing my first episode of Mash in a hotel room with French furniture from the Wilshire Boulevard period, and I noticed I had begun dancing around the room.

    I was in the hotel because the architect who was doing renovations on our house had promised me the work would be finished by the time I came back to town for the second season of Mash, whose first season had paid for the house in the first place.

    Renovations, like rewrites, take longer than expected, and I had made things worse by insisting that the house look like the plan we had agreed on before I left town. "I don't want that big excrescence in my living room," I had said, using the biggest word I could think of for a modernist hump on the wall the architect was proposing. Sure enough, when I got back to L.A., the house wasn't finished, but there was the hump, big as life, and just as excrescent. I took a sledgehammer to it and knocked it off the wall. This made my point, but set back construction another three weeks.

    So, here I was, working on my first serious try at a television script in the cool, contemplative solitude that can only be found in a cheesy, fake-elegant hotel. More and more, I found myself taking a sledgehammer to my own scenes and dialogue, and after a while I was dancing.

    I was dancing because, after hours of rewriting a scene, I had finally solved it and had crashed through to something I knew would work. "I can do it ...! I can do it!" I chanted, dancing and jumping for joy untilthe thought intruded that there were another few dozen problems to solve before I'd be finished.

    This was the first time since I had decided I wanted to be a writer at the age of eight that I was actually working on something that might be seen by millions of people. Every little writing victory was therefore charged with emotion.

    I've thought, since then, how lucky I was that my first script was one in which so many problems had already been solved for me. The show had been on the air for a year: I wasn't creating characters from scratch; I wasn't imagining a whole new world.

    As an actor, I had already researched the time and place. I'd read that the Korean winters were bitter and, in a series of two-handed scenes, I let a humble pair of longjohns go from one shivering body to another through a string of deals, love offerings and extortions. It was, of course, similar to a device used by Schnitzler in the film La Ronde, so even some of the plot was borrowed.

    In this way, I was able to concentrate on the pleasures of putting words together, discovering the voices of the characters, tracking the subsurface tectonics of their emotions. This made my victory dances a whole lot easier to come by than I realized at the time. Even after I had written a number of episodes and was exploring new paths, I was still making use of the work of people who had first explored the territory.

    It was something of a shock when I began working on the first feature-length script I'd try after writing for Mash. Since it would be three times longer than an episode, I assumed it would be about three times harder. Imagine my surprise when it turned out to be about 27 times harder.

    Suddenly, I had to create, through research and imagination, a new world, populated by characters I had to build from their heads to their toes. I had to find out how they would act on one another in a way that would plunge them into Act Two and let them climb out through Act Three. I was all by myself on a huge construction site.

    Hemingway said that writing is architecture, not interior decoration. I was learning that, even with all the rewriting, it wasn't renovations, either.

    Now I was taking a sledgehammer to the foundation itself, redesigning it time after time, from scratch.

    After all that, when I would finally crash through to something that worked, I would feel—and every writer must feel something like this—a thrill, a rush of joy, a desire to dance around the room.

    I still feel it. And, once in a while, I still dance.

* * *

Alan Alda has written five screenplays: The Seduction of Joe Tynan, Four Seasons, Sweet Liberty, A New Life, and Betsy's Wedding. He wrote eighteen episodes of Mash, one of which, Inga, won him an Emmy for writing.

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Table of Contents

Preface xi
Foreword xv
Alan Alda 1
Tina Andrews 4
Steven Bochco 9
Eric Bogosian 12
Allan Burns 16
Peter Casey 20
T. S. Cook 26
Cameron Crowe 30
Roger Director 36
Delia Ephron 41
Devery Freeman 44
John Furia, Jr. 47
John Gay 52
Larry Gelbart 57
Gary David Goldberg 61
Bo Goldman 64
Pamela Gray 67
Dean Hargrove 79
James V. Hart 82
Charlie Hauck 88
Georgia Jeffries 93
Amy Holden Jones 97
Fay Kanin 101
Lawrence Kasdan 104
Nicholas Kazan 110
Richard LaGravanese 114
Peter Lefcourt 118
Chuck Lorre 124
Nat Mauldin 129
Peter Mehlman 133
Marilyn Suzanne Miller 137
Daryl G. Nickens 143
Gail Parent 147
Daniel Petrie, Jr. 151
Anna Hamilton Phelan 155
Alan Plater 158
Carl Reiner 164
Del Reisman 168
Gary Ross 171
Jan Sardi 177
Tom Schulman 183
Melville Shavelson 188
April Smith 195
Ed Solomon 199
Beth Sullivan 207
Robin Swicord 212
Miguel Tejada-Flores 215
Joan Tewkesbury 223
Caroline Thompson 226
Peter Tolan 231
Michael Tolkin 236
Audrey Wells 241
Richard Wesley 246
Steven Zallian 249
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