The Devil's Guide to Hollywood: The Screenwriter as God!

The Devil's Guide to Hollywood: The Screenwriter as God!

by Joe Eszterhas

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781466852419
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Publication date: 09/10/2013
Sold by: Macmillan
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 416
Sales rank: 742,370
File size: 475 KB

About the Author

Joe Eszterhas has written fifteen films which have made more than a billion dollars at the box office. Among them are Basic Instinct, Jagged Edge, Flashdance, Showgirls, Betrayed, Music Box and F.I.S.T. He is the author of the recent New York Times bestsellers AMERICAN RHAPSODY and HOLLYWOOD ANIMAL. In 1975, his second book, CHARLIE SIMPSON'S APOCALYPSE, was nominated for the National Book Award. He was a senior editor at Rolling Stone from 1971 to 1975. He lives with his wife, Naomi, and their four sons in Bainbridge Township, Ohio.

Joe Eszterhas has written fifteen films which have made more than a billion dollars at the box office. Among them are Basic Instinct, Jagged Edge, Flashdance, Showgirls, Betrayed, Music Box and F.I.S.T. He is the author of the New York Times bestsellers American Rhapsody and Hollywood Animal. In 1975, his second book, Charlie Simpson's Apocalypse, was nominated for the National Book Award. He was a senior editor at Rolling Stone from 1971 to 1975. He lives with his wife, Naomi, and their four sons in Bainbridge Township, Ohio.

Read an Excerpt

The Devil's Guide to Hollywood

The Screenwriter as God!

By Joe Eszterhas

St. Martin's Press

Copyright © 2006 Joe Eszterhas
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4668-5241-9



They Can Snort You Here!

Why do you want to be a screenwriter?

The answer I get from most young wannabe screenwriters is, "Cuz I want to be rich."

I tell them what Madonna says: "Money makes you beautiful."

And I tell them that I've made a lot of money but that I'll never be beautiful.

Why do you want to write a screenplay?

Screenwriter/novelist Raymond Chandler (The Blue Dahlia): "Where the money is, so will the jackals gather."

You, too, can be a star.

My biggest year was 1994. I wrote five scripts in one year. I made almost $10 million. I had houses in Tiburon and Malibu, California, and in Kapalua, Maui.

I made half a million dollars for writing a thirty-second television commercial for Chanel No. 5 perfume.

I fell in love. I got divorced. I married my second wife. Our first child was born.

I had the best tables at Spago and the Ivy and at Granita, Postrio, and Roy's. I had limos in northern California, in Malibu, and on Maui.

I ate more, I drank more, I made love more, and I spent more time in the sun than I ever had. The world was my oyster.

I became the screenwriter as star.

"Ben Hecht," his friend Budd Schulberg wrote many years ago, "seemed the personification of the writer at the top of his game, the top of his world, not gnawing at and doubting himself as great writers were said to do, but with every word and every gesture indicating the animal pleasure he took in writing well."

Robert McKee makes money, doesn't he?

When a student interrupted a McKee seminar with a question, McKee roared, "Do not interrupt me!"

A few minutes later, McKee shouted to the student, "If you think that this course is about making money, there's the door!"

I'll say this right up front: This book is about making money.

Money is not the best thing about screenwriting.

The best thing about screenwriting is this: I sit in a little room making things up and put my conjurings down on paper. A year and a half later, if I'm lucky, my conjurings will be playing all over the world on movie screens, giving enjoyment to hundreds of millions of people.

For two hours, the lives of hundreds of millions of people will have been made better by something that I conjured up in a little room out of my own heart, gut, and brain.

By then, my conjurings will have become a megacorporation employing thousands of people — from gaffers to makeup people to ticket sellers.

And it will all have begun with me, with my imagination and my creativity, literally communicating with the whole world.

That's the best part of screenwriting.

The money (almost) doesn't matter.

Screenwriter Jack Epps (Top Gun, Legal Eagles): "You do it because you love the movies. The money gets in the way. I think that if you're a good writer, the money will follow. But if you're writing for money, I don't think it's going to work. I think that very few people can make that happen." I'll say this right up front: This book is about making money. Without losing your soul.

Ben Hecht is no role model.

Wrote Ben: "The fact that the movie magnate is going to make an enormous pile of money out of my story and that I am therefore entitled to a creditable share of it seldom, if ever, occurs to me. I am, to the contrary, convinced that my contribution is nil. The story I will provide will be a piece of hack work, containing in it a reshuffling of familiar plot turns and characterizations."


Getting to the Tit

An old Hollywood expression for making some big money.

If you sell a script, you'll be part of a fun and glamorous business.

When he got back to London after the Lawrence of Arabia shoot, screenwriter Robert Bolt told the London Sunday Times that the shoot had been "a continuous clash of egomaniacal monsters wasting more energy than dinosaurs and pouring rivers of money into the sand."


Dream Street

Hollywood legend: If you walk down Dream Street and somebody notices you (or buys your script), you can be a star overnight.

We have no role models.

When asked by reporters why he was a screenwriter, Ben Hecht, the most successful screenwriter in the history of Hollywood, said, "Because I was born in a toilet."

Screenwriter William Goldman (Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, All The President's Men) described himself in the twilight of his career this way in his book Hype and Glory: "Couldn't walk, couldn't read, couldn't do a goddamn thing but stare the night away and block out the past."

His big brother, screenwriter James Goldman (The Lion in Winter), wrote this to director Joe Mankiewicz: "I need your help to write this thing. If this letter sounds prosy and dull, it's because I've been reading my script."

Screenwriter Charlie Kaufman, in Adaptation: "Do I have an original thought in my head? Maybe if I were happier my hair wouldn't be falling out. ... I'm a walking cliché. Why should I be made to feel that I have to apologize for my existence?"

In the movie Tales of Ordinary Madness, written by Charles Bukowski about himself, a prostitute was trying to get Ben Gazzara (playing Bukowski) to stop writing and make love to her.

Watching the movie in the back of a Hollywood theater, the real Bukowski yelled, "If that were me, I would have stopped typing long ago."

Somebody in the audience told him to shut up.

"Hey," Bukowski said. "I'm the guy they made the movie about. I can say anything I want to say!"

Somebody yelled, "Oh yeah? Then shut the fuck up!"

Bukowski yelled, "Oh yeah? Fuck you!"

Cops were called. They handcuffed Charlie Bukowski and dragged him out of his own movie and locked him in jail.

You're certainly in good literary company.

William Faulkner, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Truman Capote, Alberto Moravia, Carson McCullers, John Steinbeck, John O'Hara, Dorothy Parker, Jim Harrison, Joan Didion, Ken Kesey, William Kennedy, Norman Mailer, Ayn Rand, Jay McInerney, and Hunter S. Thompson were all screenwriters at one point or another.

Faulkner even took a meeting with Sammy Glick.

After he won the Nobel Prize for Literature, William Faulkner did rewrites of these scripts: The Left Hand of God and Land of the Pharaohs. He took meetings with actress Julie Harris and producer Jerry Wald, Budd Schulberg's model for agent Sammy Glick in What Makes Sammy Run?

Robert McKee is an artist ...

McKee: "People today don't respect screenwriting as an art. People didn't think this way in the 1930s, 40s, and 50s. But it takes real genius to do it beautifully."

Don't ever refer to yourself as an artist.

Novelist Sherwood Anderson said to Ben Hecht, "You let art alone ... she's got enough guys sleeping with her."


The Revolt of the Assholes

Screenwriter John Gregory Dunne's definition of a writer's strike.

Faulkner was a mensch.

A producer, who'd begun as a press agent for studio czar Harry Cohn in the 1930s, wanted to demonstrate his knowledge of American "literatoor" for me.

"Fitzgerald?" he said. "His wife, that crazy bitch Thelma, told him he couldn't get her or any other woman off because it was too small. And that hotsy-totsy Brit gossip kurva he was living with out here, what was her name? Graham, that's it. Heather Graham. She said Fitzgerald was so ashamed of it, she never saw him with his clothes off. And then after the poor putz died, she said she'd rather make it with the size of a chimpanzee than the size of a horse. That was almost as ugly as the stuff Sally said about Burt in Playboy ... that fageleh stuff that everybody talked about. Anyway. Hemingway? His bullfighting friend, that American, that gay guy, Sidney, Stanley, whatever. Stanley said Hemingway was always worried about his size. Sidney said it was the size of a thirty-thirty shell. And then there was that gay-bashing thing where Ernest sees a guy across the street who's flaming and goes across the street and beats the fageleh up. Faulkner? He schtupped that little secretary in town for almost twenty years. Liked her to put on little skimpy white dresses. Took her out to the beach in Santa Monica so the other guys could look through those white dresses, too. She told everybody he was a wild man — three, four times a night. Faulkner liked it here, kept coming back for the money and the pussy, just like the rest of us. Faulkner was a mensch."

You don't have to be smart to be a screenwriter.

Screenwriter Sylvester Stallone was thrown out of fourteen schools in eleven years.

Be proud that Rocky is your colleague.

Sylvester Stallone even had himself photographed for a cover of Writer's Digest. He even sat in front of a typewriter. He even wore horn-rimmed glasses. He even said he was more a writer than an actor.

Then he stopped writing for thirty years and became an action figure and a windup toy.

But ... at one point during those thirty years, he even smoked a pipe for a while.

He had himself photographed smoking his pipe, too, though he didn't wear his horn-rimmed glasses at the same time.

You don't want to turn into Sylvester Stallone ... or do you?

Thirty years after Rocky, Sly and I were talking about writing.

"I used to love writing," Sly said. "I don't know what happened."

I said, "I do. You became a movie star. You've had your head in pussy all these years."

Sly said, "You're probably right."

You've got a good shot to make it.

"Less brains are necessary in the motion picture business than in any other," producer Lewis J. Selznick, David's dad, told a congressional committee.


A Hollywood High:

To be overjoyed at the prospect of something great happening ... something that will turn into shit the next day.

Maybe you might need a brainguard, too.

Producer David O. Selznick felt that a good idea was worth a million dollars, so he hired a guard to stand in front of the room where his company's scripts were kept.

He called this guard "the Brainguard."

Let's hope you get it kissed.

Legendary studio boss Harry Cohn: "I kiss the feet of talent and I kick the ass of those who don't have it."

Everybody wants to be a screenwriter.

Alice Sebold, author (The Lovely Bones): "We are living in the shadow of Hollywood where I teach, at UC Irvine. I was stunned at how students talked about movies when we went out to dinner, when I was expecting them to talk about novels. There is big money in Hollywood and it lures away really good minds."

David Benioff, screenwriter (Troy): "Thirty years ago, students probably wanted to be the next great novelist. Now many want to write the next great screenplay. Film is something young writers think about."

Jim Shepard, instructor, UC Irvine: "If you go into a classroom and ask who's read Michael Cunningham's The Hours, half the students will raise their hands and say they've seen the movie. All of these students are interested in writing books. But more and more are finding it hard to keep their eyes off the brass ring that film represents."

Paul Schrader, screenwriter/director (Taxi Driver, American Gigolo): "More literature is being written to be film-friendly. When I was a student, the writer Robert Coover said the goal should be to write a novel that cannot be adapted to film. I doubt any student aspires to that today."

Screenwriter/novelist William Goldman: "When I was a kid, novels were important, theater was important, movies were our secret pleasure. Now, movies are the center of our culture."

Screenwriter/director Nora Ephron (When Harry Met Sally): "Movies are the literature of this generation and all subsequent generations."

Norman Mailer: "Movies are more likely than literature to reach deep feelings in people. ... People who can't read are quite able to reach profound reactions in the dark of a theater."

Because everybody but everybody goes to the movies.

In 1991, during the Gulf War, Iraqi airplanes dropped leaflets on our troops that said, "Your wives are back at home having sex with Bart Simpson and Burt Reynolds."

Even Richard Russo wants to be a screenwriter.

The Pulitzer Prize – winning author (Empire Falls and Nobody's Fool) has written three teleplays and an original screenplay and has also adapted Scott Phillips's novel, The Ice Harvest, starring Billy Bob Thornton.

Even FDR wrote a treatment.

Yes, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, as a young man, pitched a story about John Paul Jones to Jane Wells of the Paramount Famous Lasky Corporation.

Ms. Wells liked the future president's pitch and asked him to send her an outline. He sent her a twenty-nine-page treatment.

Everybody is a writer.

Disney Mogul Michael Eisner wrote a play called To Metastasize a River; famed attorney to the stars Bert Fields writes thrillers under the pseudonym D. Kincaid; ex – Beverly Hills mayor Robert Tanenbaum writes mysteries under his own name; former L.A. mayor Richard Riordan has written several unproduced screenplays; assistant U.S. attorney Dan Saunders has written a play entitled The Death of William Shakespeare.

Even the swamis write screenplays.

Writer Anthony Haden-Guest: "It was a crisp fall morning in 1971. Two swamis were down by the desk of the Chateau Marmont. They wore long swami hair and filthy swami robes, but the swami with blond hair was fiddling with amber worry beads in an un-guru-like fashion. 'Get this, Al,' he said apologetically. 'I can let you have a script by Thursday.'

"The other swami dropped his key on the desk with a metallic clatter. His occult pendant jangled.

"'I don't want a script,' he declared coldly. 'I want the script.'"

Robert McKee owes his success to me and to Shane Black.

Ian Parker, writing in The New Yorker: "McKee became part of a great boom in screenwriting instruction which had its roots in the end of the studio system and the subsequent rise of the American auteur director: a screenwriter being one step from a director, and a director being God. The boom was further propelled by public knowledge of the multimillion-dollar fees paid to writers like Joe Eszterhas and Shane Black."

Will this be you?

Actress Hedy Lamarr discussing screenwriter Gene Markey (Meet Me at the Fair, A Lost Lady): "I had never been close to an American screenwriter before and I felt Gene was an individualist, one of a kind. He was bright and amusing, often brittle and superficial but at other times deep and confused. I have since learned that most screenwriters are this way. I don't know what came first, the chicken or the egg — whether they try to live up to the reputation writers have or whether their work makes them like that."

You can even turn priests on.

Through the years, a great many people have told me, like Mark McGwire, how much they loved Flashdance. Hundreds of women have viewed me more kindly the moment they found out I wrote (actually cowrote) the movie; some of these women even took me to bed to demonstrate to me their enthusiastic and wholehearted endorsement of the movie.

My wife Naomi's OB-GYN told me how much he loved Flashdance as Naomi was in her twenty-second hour of labor — sweating and nearly purple with our firstborn. He asked me, like Mark McGwire, "Is Jennifer Beals as hot as she looked?" even as Naomi groaned in pain in the background.


Excerpted from The Devil's Guide to Hollywood by Joe Eszterhas. Copyright © 2006 Joe Eszterhas. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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.

Table of Contents


Title Page,
Copyright Notice,
PART ONE: Pursuing Your Dream,
PART TWO: Learning the Business,
PART THREE: Getting Ready to Write the Script,
PART FOUR: Writing the Script,
PART FIVE: Selling the Script,
PART SIX: Filming the Script,
PART SEVEN: Working with the Director,
PART EIGHT: Working with the Producer,
PART NINE: Dealing with the Studio,
PART TEN: Inspiring the Actors,
PART ELEVEN: Surviving the Critics,
PART TWELVE: The Happy Ending,
Praise for Joe Eszterhas's Nonfiction,

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