After screenwriter Joe Eszterhas told his powerful agent, Michael Ovitz, he was leaving Creative Artists Agency to join a rival around the fall of 1989, Ovitz threatened to destroy his career. Eszterhas responded with this powerful letter defending himself, which was quickly circulated around Hollywood and is now widely regarded as the catalyst to ending the despised agent’s Hollywood reign.
In Hollywood, only the ruthless and shameless can survive. So how do you learn the rules of the game? Take a lesson from an old pro, of course.
The best high-concept definition of a film I’ve ever heard is producer Robert Evans’ description of his film The Cotton Club: “Gangsters, music, pussy.”
The Whammo Chart
a.k.a. the Eleven-Minute Commandment
A formula invented by producer Larry Gordon for action films. The formula calls for an action sequence every 11 minutes. Time Joel Silver films like Die Hard, Lethal Weapon, and Predator and you’ll see how religiously Joel believes in Larry Gordon’s 11-minute commandment.
You’ll need to be a really good liar
Screenwriter Dalton Trumbo: “The art of lying is the art of the practical. It ought never be indulged in for the pure pleasure of the thing, since overusage dulls the instrument, corrodes the character, and despoils the spirit… Curb, therefore, your imagination. Let the lie be delivered full-face, eye to eye, and without scratching of the scalp. Let it be blunt and forthright and so simple that you can repeat it in detail and under oath 10 years hence. But let it, for all of its simplicity, contain one fantastical element of creative ingenuity — one and no more — designed to capture the attention of the listener and to convince him that, since no one would dare to invent the improbability you have inserted, its mere existence places the stamp of truth upon everything you have said.”
Don’t let ‘em fart at your ideas
Producer Bert Schneider could fart whenever he wanted and farted often during story meetings with screenwriters at ideas he didn’t like.
Writing during a Writers’ Guild strike can be lucrative
The guild strike had been going on for several weeks when the producer flew up to see me at my home in northern California. If I rewrote the script that would soon go into production, he said, he would pay me $200,000. He would put the money into a bank account in Dubrovnik. No one would ever know, he said. Not the IRS and certainly not the Writers’ Guild, which forbids doing any writing during a strike.
Did I do it?
Ha! What are you — nuts?
Do anything to sell your script
Actress Sigourney Weaver was in the middle of her gynaecological exam when the doctor said: “I have written a screenplay. Could you possibly read it?”
Call yourself on the phone
If you want people to think that you’re important, have yourself paged by friends at the Polo Lounge or at the pool of the Beverly Hills Hotel. The producer Robert Evans once took a phone call from director Roman Polanski while being interviewed for ABC’s 20/20. An ABC staffer picked an extension up and found Evans speaking to dead air. Bob had faked the call from Roman.
Make ‘em feel smart and you’ll get your way
I learned this trick from screenwriter Waldo Salt (Midnight Cowboy). He’d finish his script and then tear six or seven pages out of it and turn the script in to the studio. The studio execs would sometimes — not always — notice that something seemed to be missing from a sequence and suggest that he fill it in with some scenes. Seemingly acting on their suggestions, he would then put the pages that he had torn out back into the script. The studio executives would then praise him for listening to, and acting upon, their suggestions.
Put your laptop away
I write my first drafts longhand. That’s right — longhand, with a pencil. On my subsequent drafts I go to my manual Olivetti Lettera typewriter - but you can use your laptop while sipping a double latte at Starbucks. In my drinking days, I used to suck on a bottle of Jack Daniel’s as I wrote — the only danger was that I sometimes couldn’t read my own handwriting the next day.
Write six pages of script a day
Stick to this schedule no matter what. You’ll have a finished first draft in roughly twenty days. Then go back and edit what you’ve written. Spend no more than five days on this edit.
Then rewrite your script from page one — with your edits. Spend no more than one week on this rewrite - that means putting out 20 pages a day. Put the script away for a week; don’t even look at it. Then edit it once again. Spend no more than four days on the edit this time. Then rewrite it again from scratch with your edits — taking another week. This will be your third draft. Now begin the process of trying to sell it — this, your official first draft. If you write a script that’s too long… extend and lengthen the margins on your page. Chances are that the person timing your script (a minute a page is the rule) won’t notice what you’ve done.
Steal as much memorabilia from the set as you can
Everybody does it. I visited Steven Spielberg’s house years ago and it was filled with what he called “toys” from his sets.
Try to find something positive to say about your film
Sharon Stone, after the release of Basic Instinct: “At least it proves I’m a natural blonde.”
Don’t don’t set your film in the jungle
Actors will avoid your script.
Don’t have a movie star for a friend
Remember that the word “star” spelled backward is “rats”.
The Devil’s Guide To Hollywood by Joe Eszterhas is published by Duckworth.
Hollywood Legend Joe Eszterhas is top of the bill at this years London Screenwriters’ Festival. He will be running a number of sessions including an indepth Script To Screen on Basic Instinct.
With thanks to LoSceicco1976
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