So, you want to write a movie. You could do worse than read The Big Deal
, a collection of funny, horrible, and/or inspiring stories of Hollywood break-ins by former Oliver Stone employee Thom Taylor.
What's most striking about the book is the madly random nature of films' gestations. Allison Anders got her break (and off welfare) via the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences' Nicholl Fellowship (one of several competitions Taylor recommends). Total Recall was optioned for $1,000 16 years before it got made. The Elephant Man script got to its producer because the coauthor's girlfriend baby-sat for him. Alien only got made because Steven Spielberg liked it.
Andrew Kevin Walker, the Tower Records clerk who wrote Seven, wrote a letter to then barely known screenwriter David Koepp (Bad Influence), who improbably hooked him up with a deal that collapsed partly because the studio's co-owner was distracted by becoming the president of Italy. Various moguls rejected and almost destroyed the story; Brad Pitt saved it, and it grossed $340 million. Dustin Hoffman cleverly added the hero's guilt over failing to save JFK to In the Line of Fire, then exited; Tom Cruise's people demanded this be deleted, because a 28-year-old hero wouldn't have been around for JFK. The dead-broke writer spurned about $100,000 from Cruise, and just when he would've settled for Bob Denver, wound up with Clint Eastwood and about $1 million.
"If Hollywood scoured the earth looking for the world's top furniture designers," Taylor writes, the studios "would bring them all to Los Angeles to design $6 plastic chairs to sell at the local Wal-Mart." But it's the only Hollywood we've got, and Taylor has got its number. --Tim Appelo
"If you want to know how that million-dollar fantasy comes true, read this book and laugh, weep, and wonder." -- Jeremy Kagan, award-winning director
"Next to talent, The Big Deal
is the best ammunition for a new screenwriter entering the Hollywood wars." -- Paul N. Lazarus, producer, Westworld and Capricon One, and director of the Motion Pictures Program, University of Miami School of Communications
"Reading The Big Deal
is like overhearing a spec script power lunch at Morton's. To be successful in the spec market, read this book." -- Tom Holland, writer and director of Child's Play and Stephen King's The Langoliers
"The title grabbed my attention. The book held it. An excellent portrait of not just the US script market, but the whole business of writing, THE BIG DEAL is thoroughly researched, well-organized and crisply written.... Besides describing quick auctions at inflated prices, the book chronicles sales that took years.... LAST ACTION HERO gets the longest chapter, and is a harrowing portrait of development hell being driven by the worst of the Hollywood blockbuster mentality.... It's not the only perversion on show.
The book describes an industry where "the decisions are pushed down to the very youngest people in the process [the trackers]." Trackers are the junior story people hired to track writers and their spec scripts. Trackers can kill a good script. The book quotes an anonymous studio producer saying that because trackers "talk to each other all day long they make decisions largely based on whether or not their friends are in so you end up with insecure young children with no real guts protecting their jobs."
At the same time the book totally endorses the spec market as an empowering development for screenwriters. It stresses that a script can be crushed at the bottom of the system if the person placing it isn't connected. If you want to crack the L.A. market, this book is indespensible. If you'd rather avoid the whole mess and stick to the Canadian scene, the THE BIG DEAL is a fun read, except for all those big numbers." -- Bruce McKenna -- "Canadian Screenwriter," magazine of the Writers Guild of Canada
"This entertaining insider's look at the real, painful, pathetic, and ultimately random process by which Hollywood's power elite attempts to predict 'the next big thing' makes stock picking look logical by comparison." -- Douglas Rushkoff, author of Media Virus and Ecstasy Club
"This entertaining, anecdotal, and personalized book takes an amusing look at the business side of selling screenplays in the glitter capital of the world. . . . Thom Taylor has accurately captured the flavor and serendipity of this bizarre marketplace of literary madness." -- Peter J. Dekom, entertainment lawyer and co-chairman of American Cinemathequea
"Thom Taylor's book, The Big Deal, is a most comprehensive and knowledgeable look at the subject of marketing scripts for motion pictures. It is an evening read." -- Robert Wise, film producer and Academy Award-winning director of The Sound of Music and West Side Story
"[Thom Taylor] tells of a Hollywood so desperate for new material that ideas -- in the form of independently written "spec scripts" -- become million-dollar plus propositions. Unlike scripts written by writers under contract with a major studio, specs can be bought and developed by anybody. With a clever agent and a few interested stars or directors, a spec can quickly become a hot property, with dozens of studios bidding for the rights to put it into production.
Taylor... tells the stories of several scripts, all of which sold for big bucks. After sale, however, a spec's path is in no way guaranteed -- some become hits, some flops, and many more never get made at all, becoming mired in what is plainly referred to as "development hell." Although ostensibly a guide for writers themselves, thanks to the depth of its research, The Big Deal becomes a revealing look at the whole Hollywood filmmaking process ." -- Mark T.R. Donohue - The Daily Californian
Author Thom Taylor mixes keen observations with telling insider testimonials and in-depth case studies to vivdly illustrate just how damned difficult it is to not only make a spec sale, but to then actually see your work reach the silver screen. The result is an intelligent, take-no-prisoners assault on the Hollywood Dream Factory that serves more as a cautionary tale than a blue-print for launching and maintaining a screenwriting career." -- Allen B. Ury - "Fade In: The First Word in Film"