The Book Was Better

West Coast Work

In a passage from his latest novel, Richard Russo nails the screenwriter's dilemma.

The relationship of writers to the Hollywood dream machine has been extensively documented--the Coen Brothers' Barton Fink even gave us a spoof of poor William Faulkner's stint writing for the movies. In the past few years, Jim Harrison has mused on screenwriting in his memoir Off to the Side and Richard Price has been less than enthusiastic about West Coast work. Richard Russo, who has worked on a fair number of films (on his own Nobody's Fool with Robert Benton, among others) has the protagonist in his new novel That Old Cape Magic (Knopf) fulminating:
Griffin hated that the deals seemed more important than the work that resulted from them. He could and often did riff on the subject. The "juice," the creative surge, was all front loaded. Talking up the deal, you were excited and the producer was excited and the young studio exec was fucking beside himself with excitement. Why? Because nobody ever made a movie like this before. It was beyond quirky, it was fucking unique. It was fucking better than unique, it was one of a kind. Just go away and write it, the exec would tell them, because it was a can't miss idea. In fact, there was almost no way to fuck it up. After two years, the new producer and fifteen drafts (only three paid for) based on fifteen conflicting sets of notes, what you had, if you were lucky and the whole thing hadn't been put in turnaround, was yet another standard-issue piece of shit that a single compelling reason to shoot it...
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