Rebels on the Backlot: Six Maverick Directors and How They Conquered the Hollywood Studio System

Rebels on the Backlot: Six Maverick Directors and How They Conquered the Hollywood Studio System

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by Sharon Waxman

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The 1990s saw a shock wave of dynamic new directing talent that took the Hollywood studio system by storm. At the forefront of that movement were six innovative and daring directors whose films pushed the boundaries of moviemaking and announced to the world that something exciting was happening in Hollywood. Sharon Waxman of the New York Times spent the

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The 1990s saw a shock wave of dynamic new directing talent that took the Hollywood studio system by storm. At the forefront of that movement were six innovative and daring directors whose films pushed the boundaries of moviemaking and announced to the world that something exciting was happening in Hollywood. Sharon Waxman of the New York Times spent the decade covering these young filmmakers, and in Rebels on the Backlot she weaves together the lives and careers of Quentin Tarantino, Pulp Fiction; Steven Soderbergh, Traffic; David Fincher, Fight Club; Paul Thomas Anderson, Boogie Nights; David O. Russell, Three Kings; and Spike Jonze, Being John Malkovich.

Editorial Reviews

Liz Smith
“A behind-the-cameras fireball of wicked insider revelations . . . Love it!”
Buffalo News
“Terrific . . . wildly informative and readable about the plight of the biggest young talents in modern movies”
Miami Herald
“Addictively readable . . . fascinating”
Minneapolis Star Tribune
“Fascinatingly candid”
New York Times Book Review
“Vivid . . . fascinating . . . delightful . . . [Waxman’s] background as a hard news reporter serves her well.”
Los Angeles Times Book Review
“A lively book with gossipy and readable stories about some obsessive guys who are as much rascals as rebels.”
“Enjoyably dishy.”
“[Waxman’s] thorough reporting results in a compulsively readable chronicle of the decade’s auteurs and their work.”
Pittsburgh Tribune
“[Rebels on the Backlot] makes a case for creating a new film canon of this late ‘90s renaissance.”
Entertainment Weekly
“Riveting tales of Hollywood hubris . . . a fun read.”
The Hollywood Reporter
“Up-close, often gossipy”
“Admirably reported . . . Waxman unearths juicy anecdotes that’ll keep film fans cackling and turning the pages.”
“Hums along on detail and gossip, adding up to a template for making it in contemporary Hollywood.”
Publishers Weekly
New York Times Hollywood correspondent Waxman has written a gritty, truthful study of six boundary-breaking young directors who revolutionized 1990s filmmaking and still represent a refreshing alternative to "cookie cutter scripts and cheap MTV imagery." Her full-blooded profiles introduce Quentin Tarantino (Pulp Fiction), Paul Thomas Anderson (Boogie Nights), David Fincher (Fight Club), Steven Soderbergh (Traffic), David O. Russell (Three Kings) and Spike Jonze (Being John Malkovich). Waxman shows these auteurs, who "wreaked havoc with traditional narrative form" and combined brutality with humor, as eccentric, frequently antisocial and hardheaded. Their stories make for compelling reading: Waxman dramatizes Russell's erratic, explosive nature in the book's most blistering episode, where the director loses his temper and has a fistfight with actor George Clooney on the set of Three Kings. Other chapters depict Tarantino's penchant for jettisoning close friends after achieving success and Soderbergh's unswerving loyalty to pals. These men possess a daring vision, which the author skillfully depicts, simultaneously offering an illuminating view of motion picture politics. Most of all, Waxman proffers assurance to artists with original voices that their ideas can reach the public if they maintain Fincher's attitude-"Take me or leave me. My way or the highway"-and possess a little luck. Photos. Agent, Andrew Blauner. (Feb.) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
New York Times Hollywood correspondent Waxman examines the trajectory of the independent feature film in the 1990s as exemplified by the work of six Tinsel Town outsiders. In the early 1990s, Hollywood corporate mergers and their resultant focus on the bottom line resulted in a bumper crop of sequels, remakes, and other dependable moneymakers inoffensive to anything but taste. Quentin Tarantino's Pulp Fiction blazed across this dull background with all the shock of an incendiary device, decimating expectations about the kinds of movies people would pay to see and forcing the studio conglomerates to create independent divisions with the mission of funding Tarantino-esque films. Waxman takes a chronological look at the movies that preceded and followed Tarantino's master work, examining the men (indies are as gender-biased as the rest of the film industry) who had the drive to steer their work through the always-treacherous studio system. Among the films considered are Steven Soderbergh's Sex, Lies, and Videotape, made in 1989, and David O. Russell's incest dramedy, Spanking the Monkey. Paul Thomas Anderson's Boogie Nights was another risk-taker, and Spike Jonze's absurdist Being John Malkovich could win an award for the film least likely ever to be made. Waxman's accounts of the ins and outs of the Hollywood machine are as arresting as any of the indy scripts, with cliffhangers, villains, and blunders galore. Russell's Three Kings, widely noted as a triumph, was ignored by the Oscar committee, and watching Soderbergh's Traffic, a movie about illegal drugs, struggle and fight its way into existence is a real nailbiter-even though we know it would end up with five Academy Award nominations.Waxman's grasp of the interior of the studio world, and her ability to make the workings of closed-door deals comprehensible, raise her work from text book to something truly absorbing. Agent: Andrew Blauner/Andrew Blauner Books

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Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
P.S. Series
Edition description:
P.S. Insights, Interviews & More
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Product dimensions:
5.31(w) x 8.00(h) x 1.05(d)

Read an Excerpt

Rebels on the Backlot

Six Maverick Directors and How They Conquered the Hollywood Studio System
By Sharon Waxman

HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.

Copyright © 2005 Sharon Waxman
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0060540184

Chapter One

Quentin Tarantino Discovers Hollywood;
Steven Soderbergh Gets Noticed


Memorial Day in 1990 dawned bright and hot in Hollywood, even for a maker of horror films. Scott Spiegel, a screenwriter and the horror filmmaker in question, wanted to celebrate. He had some cash in his pocket from selling his first big screenplay, The Rookie, to Warner Brothers with Clint Eastwood attached to star. With his neighbor, actor D. W. Moffett, Spiegel threw a barbeque bash and invited to his backyard every starving actor, screenwriter, director, and movie wannabe he could think of, including some dedicated fans of his horror genre work.

Under leafy elm trees, behind a blue clapboard house on McCadden Place just off Sunset Boulevard, dozens of young wouldbes and could-bes in Hollywood gathered. Some of them would eventually make it. Director Sam Raimi was there along with actor/director Burr Steers and screenwriter Boaz Yakin. Others wouldn't: One of the aspiring screenwriters present, Mark Carducei, would kill himself in 1997. The eighties still hung in the air; the cool guys had mullet haircuts and leather jackets; the hot women had long, permed hair fluffed out to there and bright red lipstick. While playing an electric keyboard, actor/screenwriter Ron Zwang belted out "Wild Thing" to a crowd slightly buzzed on beer and stuffed with Moffett's burnt burgers and hot dogs. Inside the house a few people were slumped on a loveseat watching A Clockwork Orange.

One of the restless young men hanging around the yard was Quentin Tarantino, a twenty-seven-year-old screenwriter who'd spent the previous night on Spiegel's couch. He loped around the backyard like a habitué of this crowd. He came from Manhattan Beach, an aspiring young screenwriter who only lately had started spending more time in Hollywood than in the working-class neighborhood down the coast.

Tarantino had reason to feel confident. After a decade of scraping by doing odd jobs, hanging with the other video geeks and movie dreamers at Video Archives, a video store in Manhattan Beach, Hollywood was beginning to show some interest. He had several scripts making the rounds, and a low-grade buzz had begun around his raw, clever screenplays: From Dusk Till Dawn, True Romance, Natural Born Killers. He was still penniless and unknown, but all of these scripts were on the verge of being sold. His moment was just off the horizon.

On this particular day, Tarantino was his blabbermouth self. He looked rumpled, of course, his striped blue shirt slightly untucked, his brown hair overgrown and stringy. As Spiegel wielded his video camera, Tarantino regaled film editor Bob Murawski with his latest insight on the latest movie he'd seen for the umpteenth time. When it came to film arcana, no one out-triviaed Quentin Tarantino.

"That movie -- Motorcycle Gang -- remember the goofy guy? His buddy? The goofy guy?" he asked, looming over his friend.

Murawski nodded.

"That's Alfalfa!" Tarantino was psyched; he'd recognized one of the Our Gang actors in the B movie. "That's Carl Switzer! I couldn't believe it."

Marowski was slightly less enthused. "That makes me glad I saw it," he deadpanned.

Tarantino didn't seem to notice. "It's the same movie" (the same one as yet another B movie he'd seen, Dragstrip Girl.) "It's the same lines. Yeah -- I was reading about it last night."

In the 1990s Quentin Tarantino would turn out to be the biggest thing to hit the movie industry since the high-concept film. He became an image, an icon, and inspired a genre, if not an entire generation, of hyper-violent, loud, youthful, angry, funny (though none as funny as Tarantino) movies. His Pulp Fiction was the first "independent" film to crack $100 million at the box office, though technically it was made at a studio that had just been bought by the Walt Disney Company. Cinematically he spoke in an entirely new vernacular, and he threw down the gauntlet to fellow writer-directors as if to say Top this, assholes.

He also happened to come to prominence as the spinning, whizzing media machine began to be the central function of Hollywood rather than a mere by-product of its production line. In the 1990s the buzz machine, the sprawling, relentless entertainment media, became the very engine that made Hollywood run, a monstrous contraption that required constant feeding. And the Quentin Tarantino story was the perfect product to fill the cavernous maw.

The only thing is, a lot of the story wasn't true.

The myth that worked for the likes of Esquire magazine and Entertainment Tonight went that Tarantino was a half-breed, white trash school dropout from rural Tennessee who went to work at a video store in Torrance, saw every movie known to mankind, and emerged, miraculously, a brilliant writer and director, a visionary autodidact with his finger on the pulse of his generation.

The reality is something far more subtle and complicated. Quentin Tarantino was not raised in poverty, nor in a white trash environment, nor as a hillbilly. He was from a broken home, but his mother was unusually intelligent and ambitious, and she did all she could to associate her son with the bourgeois values of the upper-middle class: education, travel, material success. Which Quentin chose to utterly reject.

After Quentin became a media star, his mother, Connie Zastoupil, was horrified to see a distorted view of his background spun into myth. After journalist Peter Biskind interviewed her for Premiere magazine, she was mortified by the first sentence that referred to Tarantino's background as "half Cherokee, half hillbilly." At the time, "I was the president of an accounting firm; my lawyer sent it to me," she said in 2003. "You have no idea the humiliation that caused me. Nobody ever got beyond that one sentence." She refused to talk to journalists for years after that.


Excerpted from Rebels on the Backlot by Sharon Waxman Copyright © 2005 by Sharon Waxman. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Liz Smith
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