Monday, May 23, 2011

Doing it for money

Book: The First Time I Got Paid For It… Writer’s Tales from the Hollywood Trenches

Author: various (edited by Peter Lefcourt and Laura J. Shapiro)

Publication: 2000 (PublicAffairs)

Number of pages: 253

I bought this book for three reasons.

Except touch typing is even sexier.

  1. I love the cover.
  2. It was $5 at the 2011 Columbia BookFest. 
  3. I thought it’d be about prose writers who went to write in Hollywood for money to support their authorial East Coast drinking and typing habits, like Hemingway and Fitzgerald did.

And it is, sort of, but not really. It’s a collection of essays by screenwriters talking about the first time they felt like they really made it in the movie/TV business. Okay. Still an interesting premise.

I have very vague ideas about how screenwriting and Hollywood work, culled from books like these and a screenwriting friend. My friend’s been a much more informative source so far. Most of these essays are short, a good chunk are light, and so very, very many make jokes about how publicists aren’t actual human beings.

This might sound snobby but I promise it’s just ignorant: I don’t know how famous these people are. William Goldman wrote The Princess Bride, I found out from the foreword, so he’s cool with me. And they caught Cameron Crowe right before Almost Famous; his bio at the end of his essay says, “Crowe is currently in postproduction on a DreamWorks feature film due out in 2000, which was not yet titled at press time.” Totally Almost Famous. Alan Alda is of course from M*A*S*H, but he managed to confuse me in his first two paragraphs.
“I was writing my first episode of M*A*S*H in a hotel room…I came back to town for the second season of M*A*S*H, whose first season had paid for the house in the first place.”
It took me a second to realize he said he was writing HIS first episode. OH. RIGHT. There were other people writing for the show before him. Thus the two seasons he mentioned. Gotcha.

I didn’t get as much insight into the screenwriting mind as I wanted. I feel like prose writers and script writers have such different processes in the same general creative field that it’d be great to read them explain themselves to each other. Funny anecdotes are charming reads and mentions of odd day jobs gave me a couple possibilities, but dammit, I wanted to go deeper.

Ah well. I guess I can just watch Adaptation again and put a few more pieces together.


  1. Oh my, a budding book reviewer. Another positive influence of a constant reader?

  2. Mayhaps, Mr. Howard. You'll just have to keep wondering. :)