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A Pound of Flesh: Perilous Tales of How to Produce Movies in Hollywood Paperback – January 7, 1998
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Art Linson, producer of such Hollywood films as Car Wash, The Untouchables, Melvin & Howard, and This Boy's Life, among others, has written a chummy and chatty how-to "for that small and perhaps unfortunate group"--aspiring movie producers. Seduced by the glitz, glamour, and cutthroat glee that clung (and clings) to Hollywood producers, young Linson never really "got" what it was they did. In 1961, when he was getting started, a producer's role was as ill-defined as it was just this side of unseemly. Producers, begins Linson in the highly amusing, anecdotal A Pound of Flesh, were "compared to Willy Loman, not Arthur Miller."
Make no mistake: Linson is lecturing to the Hollywood aspirant--not to aspiring auteurs or scrappy independent filmmakers. As such, A Pound of Flesh is a strange breed--more travelogue through Tinseltown than down-to-earth how-to. It's ripe with gossip and "aren't we wonderful?" scenes--the morphing of Hunter S. Thompson's Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas into an updated, drug-drenched version of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Walking into Thompson's hotel room for the initial meeting, Linson was confronted with a smoking gun and a four-inch hole in the wall. And that's just the beginning of their "negotiations." (The film actually became Where the Buffalo Roam, starring Bill Murray.)
Where the chatty, chummy Linson primer becomes useful is with behind-the-scenes examples of such "lessons" as pitching the idea; working with writers, directors, and cast members; and understanding budgets and the studio system. Where it goes soft is with such vague and hip promptings as "if you have a head filled with good ideas, an extended list of Hollywood hangouts is more beneficial than a list of agencies and production companies." So introverts beware! To succeed in Hollywood, you still need the chutzpah, the connections, and the dough.
Wild exploits, turns of fate, and serendipities characterize the brazen and breezy teachings of A Pound of Flesh. What is fabulous is Linson's unbridled enthusiasm. Aspirants and movie fans alike will find this highly entertaining book a quick read, hard to put down, and irresistible. But rely on Linson as your sole Virgil through Tinseltown and your dreams of artistic success will surely falter.
From the Back Cover
Have you ever wondered what a Hollywood movie producer actually does? In A Pound of Flesh, producer Art Linson takes us behind closed doors on a rare backstage tour through Hollywood. With amusing stories that recount his challenging experiences with a legion of players whose roster includes David Mamet, Robert De Niro, Jeff Katzenberg, Brian De Palma, Sean Penn, Ned Tanen, Dr. Hunter S. Thompson, and Sean Connery, Unson sheds klieg lights on the mystery behind the moviemaking process. From acquiring scripts to hiring a writer, packaging the talent, and facing the horror of opening night, you'll glimpse the sweat on the brows of some of Tinseltown's hottest players as they sidestep minefields at the box office, grin through embarrassing defeats, and occasionally bow to the magic of success. A Pound of Flesh is the first guide by a true insider to exactly how movies get made in Hollywood. Linson maps the entire course, beginning with that initial spark of an idea that propels the producer into action, through unpredictable and often chaotic meetings with writers, agents, and movie executives, and even on to the fearsome task of confronting preview audiences and the critics. He chronicles his own disasters and successes, charting the bloody process by which a film is finally, and at times painfully, realized on the screen. We are brought into executive suites, made privy to cellular phone conversations, and escorted onto the sets of multimillion-dollar productions to see what it takes to get a movie made, as well as to learn why other projects, despite the vast effort and money behind them, can ultimately end up gathering dust on some studio's forgotten shelf, or in pieces on the cuttingroom floor. A Pound of Flesh is an engaging, informative, and oftentimes hilarious account of one man's odyssey to compete in America's cruelest, most glamorous industry. This is a book for film students, movie lovers, and anyone interested in the backstage drama of Hollywood.
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As someone who has produced five short films and has aspirations of moving into the feature film arena, there was some value. Art Linson has obviously ridden the roller coaster of producing major films with major stars in Hollywood and he does have some knowledge to impart. The main thing I got out of the book was: Don't try to make a movie about something that is currently popular (i.e. vampires), because by the time the whole thing comes together, the thing that was so popular won't be anymore. I think this is invaluable and would be of benefit to anyone who is trying to do something truly unique, artistic or original, if in fact those adjectives can be applied to anything these days.
Otherwise, there are moments of humor and shock and surprise as you follow Art through some of his adventures with the big wigs. The problem is he will ramble a bit and it's hard to understand what the point or purpose is of some of his passages. In this way, the book is not helpful and the Amazon review sums it up best by saying it is "chummy," "chatty" and a "travelogue" as opposed to a "how-to-do-it" type of book, which would be much more helpful.
The bottom line: If you have a strong interest in a short list of films that Art was involved with and an interest in how Robert DeNiro transformed himself into Al Capone for "The Untouchables" (the book seems to spend a lot of time on this film and Bob DeNiro, maybe because it was the pinnacle of Art's success), and if you don't mind wading through some rambling prose to get to some entertaining bits about a world that doesn't really exist anymore, then this can be an entertaining read.
In fact,the book's great strength is Linson's success in divorcing himself - or his ego - from his topic, allowing the reader to learn with the author, rather than from him. The entire process of the creation of a film, from pitch to production to premiere, including unpleasant diversions like Turnaround Hell and rites like Test Screenings, is laid before us through Linson's formative years as a producer.
What the reader ends with is an understanding of the filmmaking process that no textbook could convey, and that few insiders would be willing to impart to a tyro.
This is truly a primer on movie production that belongs on the shelf of everyone from development executive to film student to movie-lover.
I often enjoy flipping through this book (it's not necessary to read in order). Despite the Author's Note at the outset, I think its best value is not so much as a "How To" primer but rather as a collection of anecdotes about the industry. A funny (sometimes darkly funny) book about making movies in Hollywood.