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.
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.