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Monster: Living Off the Big Screen Paperback – March 17, 1998


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage (March 17, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 037575024X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375750243
  • Product Dimensions: 7.9 x 5.1 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (22 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #384,307 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

This is a story of a screenplay, how it was initially conceived, "developed" by a number of studio heads and producers, and finally transformed into a movie even its writers admit is mediocre. In 1988, John Gregory Dunne and his wife Joan Didion began work on a film script based on the tragic life of anchorwoman Jessica Savitch. Over the next eight years, studio executives coaxed them to transform it into Up Close and Personal, a toothless star vehicle for Robert Redford and Michelle Pfeiffer. In his account of the script's metamorphosis, Dunne also mentions other potential masterpieces of excess that he and Didion worked on, including Dharma Blue, an aborted Jerry Bruckheimer-Don Simpson movie about UFOs and Ultimatum, a nuclear thriller that was abandoned after its studio spent $3 million on script development! Dunne makes no bones about being in show biz for the money--his film work financed his heart surgery, legal costs, and vacations in Honolulu. Still, this account of a screenplay's devolution unmasks an industry spoiled rotten by wealth and power. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

Novelist (Playland) and journalist Dunne makes much of his living by writing screenplays, and this journal covers the eight years it took between the time he and his wife, Joan Didion, were approached to write a screenplay based on Golden Girl, a biography of newswoman Jessica Savitch, and the 1996 appearance of Up Close and Personal, a rather different movie that made no mention of Savitch. The "monster," this veteran of Hollywood knows, is the producers' money, which always takes precedence over creative ego. This account-written while Dunne had much other work but also money worries-is often digressive and undigested, as if it were written to satisfy Dunne's own money monster. Even so, Dunne can be a deft and amusing reporter both of the tricks of the screenwriting trade and of the foibles of the "industry," as Hollywood is known. He explains why studio execs like screenplays with explanatory exposition while good actors don't, and he uncovers the dynamic of a script reading, in which stars need less dialogue than others to establish their characters. He tells of the youthful "creative executives" who give screenwriters critiques laden with peculiar jargon, and he reports on working with a series of charismatic executives-first producers Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer, then producer Scott Rudin and director Jon Avnet. In the end, the film made a nice profit and Dunne not only had a good time but wrung a book out of the experience.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

13 of 14 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on March 18, 1999
Format: Paperback
John Gregory Dunne is an arrogant, name-dropping monster, himself. So much of the book is poisoned by his self-congratulatory tone. While he was a full participant in all of the events he recounts, he drips superiority as if he were floating (sneeringly) above the action rather than right down in it. The book is so lazily written. Abrupt, disjointed sections; his pacing and sense of time only confuse the reader. He indulges great detail on boring scenes that show himself off while he quickly glances over the scenes that would interest the reader the most. We have absolutely no sense of his wife, Joan Didion. We learn nothing about how he actually writes a script. Nevertheless, I couldn't put the darn thing down. I read it in a few hours and was captivated. It doesn't give nearly enough detail, the analysis is slight, the conclusions absent. But, somehow, I whipped through it and was glad I did. The subject matter is so fascinating that--while he forces us to peer at it through the haze of his ego--I still enjoyed looking. Perhaps more than anything, I enjoyed luxuriating in my hatred of the author.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Marc Flanagan on July 17, 2006
Format: Paperback
At a lunch with a studio executive,screenwriter John Dunne was insisting on a story point in the script that he had written with his wife,Joan Didion, the excutive mimed reaching under the table and bringing out,"The Monster",their money, to win the argument. Seven or eight years they toiled on the script that became ,"Up Close and Personal",this is the chronicle of their experiences. Fascinating and sobering, when you realize how things can dissolve and then reappear in a completly different form. It is very well told and forshadows his health problems that cost him his life in 2003, that his wife wrote so exquisitly about in "The Year of Magical Thinking". If how movies get made is of any interest to you this and his other film making tale, "The Studio" will fascinate you.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on May 5, 1997
Format: Hardcover
I thought that as a professional screenwriter, Mr. Dunne's book might be something to which I could relate. To a certain degree I can--the business as he describes it is a dysfunctional system with no immediate signs of recovery.

However, budding scenario writers who do not know should be warned that Mr. Dunne and his wife, the great Joan Didion, do not rely on the big screen exclusively for their livelihood. Mr. Dunne claims early on that heart problems and the Writers Guild's health benefits precipitated their acceptance of the assignment to write the script that came to be called "Up Close and Personal."

But the facts are (as recounted in MONSTER) that the Dunnes are capable of high-tailing it to Hawaii or St. Trop when they need to think things over, rub elbows with both literati and gliterati on both coasts, and throw their collective weight around with nasty faxes to studio execs.

While this makes for an occasionally entertaining read, it is hardly representative of its subtitle, "Living Off the Big Screen," and suffers from an overall tame but nonetheless self-serving tone. Thus, the whole book suffers from a lack of teeth given the subject. Perhaps that's oddly fitting, though, as "toothless" was the same basic criticism that the Dunnes' screenplay for "Up Close and Personal"--once based on the life of Jessica Savitch--itself received.

bilfro@loop.com
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on November 30, 2000
Format: Paperback
An excellent account of screenwriting and movie making, told in a very sardonic manner. If you liked Memo from David O. Selznick or William Goldman's Adventures in the Screen Trade, or Dunne's own The Studio, you'll probably enjoy this as well.
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Format: Paperback
Dunne gives us a revealing, fly-on-the-wall account of writing movies for the Hollywood system from the viewpoint of one of the privileged (?) few who are highly paid to do just that. MONSTER is a fast, funny, perceptive, and admittedly frustrating read at times - sympathy is hard to come by, considering the stellar paydays involved. Still, it's a highly entertaining personal account. Although it doesn't provide insight into the how-tos of screenwriting (it's not intended to be that kind of book), it humorously addresses the battle of wills and visions that go into getting movies made - and how those same creative battles affect the final product. Anyone who's ever fought over their own creative venture only to see it go down in flames, or at the very least, changed beyond recognition, will relate to this story.
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Format: Paperback
I've read many of the screenwriting how-to books, but this is the first one that tells what actually happens with a screenplay outside in the real world. I've spoken with some major Hollywood writers and heard about their hassles and disillusionment with the system. Almost without exception they begin with a vision, wanting to tell a good story, but are ultimately subject to the whims and studio politics of mid-level executives more interested in business than craft. Anyone contemplating a screenwriting career should read this book--probably more than once.
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Format: Paperback
This tale of life in Hollywood has a bit of dark humor mixed in with the tame tale of the making of the film 'Up Close and Personal'. The lives of the two writers become interwined with those of many Hollywood star directors and Corporations such as DISNEY (a real monster when it comes to movies) A real cautionary tale to try to help take away some of the happy mystique surrounding Hollywood writing, MONSTER is a good read for all those interested in writing for the greatest medium of all, movies
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