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Tough Love Screenwriting: The Real Deal From A Twenty-Year Pro Paperback – October 29, 2014
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About the Author
An Honors Graduate of the NYU Film Program, I sold my first screenplay at 24 and have been a professional screenwriter ever since. The film I wrote most people are familiar with is "Romeo Must Die" -- the hip-hop/kung-fu actioner starring Aaliyah and Jet Li. During my career I've written many films and TV pilots for major studios Warner Bros., Universal, Fox, Sony and Dreamworks, and have been fortunate enough to work with some of the best producers and directors in Hollywood. These include -- Jeffrey Katzenberg, Neil Moritz, Joel Silver, Terence Chang and John Woo, Mike Medavoy, James Foley, Carl Beverly, Sarah Timberman and Warren Littlefield. Among other projects, I wrote "Hard-Boiled II" for John Woo, scripted the animated family film "Outlaws" for Dreamworks, and most recently co-wrote "The Man With The Iron Fists II" for NBC/Universal which will be released first quarter 2015. A member of the Writers' Guild of America since 1991, I currently serve on the WGA Screen Credits Committee. I am repped by WME and managed by Ensemble Entertainment.
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I found the book to flow much like a casual, energetic conversation. John has no filter and gives fair warning to anyone who may have issues with heavy doses of profanity and the like. That was one warranted warning. I'm religious (and part Polish...) but was able to stick it out- chalk it up to having worked on +30 sets. I did glaze over some and some of it did have me cackling. Suffice it to say though, John would be a worthy contributor to Urban Dictionary if he so desired.
I was interested in reading Tough Love because of the promised perspective of a working writer's life from someone who makes a living at it. It was not a let down. I like how John throws out real numbers in his experience writing and selling. Who doesn't want to know how much someone gets paid? So you truly get a firsthand account of the business. I'm in the middle of my first feature, first draft and I found his section on Writer's Arbitration very interesting and not premature as a new writer. Then again, Armageddon isn't here yet and I looked forward to reading Revelation.
There is a very helpful section called Screenwriting 101. Even though it's info I've heard before, I read it as if reading it for the first time (we're urged to) and it was a helpful blast to read. The info was concise and coming from someone who sells screenplays to the big guns- that was key for me.
There are no real cons to the book that would have prevented me from buying it if I would have known about them. But if I had to nitpick, I did feel the flow of the content was schizophrenic from time to time. Bear in mind this is coming from a sleep-starved Mom with a baby who isn't sleeping through the night yet, so it could be just me...
Lastly (yes, I know, the road to Hell is paved with adverbs), it's evident John has a head full of fun facts, "useless knowledge", what have you. I thoroughly enjoyed the many quips he stuck in, from Three Dog Night to Faulkner to Cezanne. As someone who's been around the block several times, it's obvious John also has several blocks under his belt, so it was fun to relate to him in that way.
As the book is over 400 pages, there is still a lot of quality stuff worth mentioning. If you pick it up, I hope you find it as helpful, humorous and insightful as I did.
Here is why: We (we, the people of the world) *depend* on Hollywood to deliver us truths that no one else can, will, or does. And Hollywood delivers, sometimes more successfully than other times.
Take Major League Baseball. You could read books, go to games, watch Sports Center on ESPN, swallow wholesale droppings from the baseball industry promotion machine-or you could watch "Moneyball" and "Trouble With The Curve," and get a fictionalized sense of the truth that, I'm pretty sure, is much closer in many ways to the day-to-day reality of Major League Baseball than anything else you could get without being part of the game.
The complex set of people, rituals, business units and God knows what else that created those two movies is, of course, called "Hollywood."
I'm an accomplished and experienced professional writer, but not in Hollywood. My field is just as high-stakes but maybe not quite as dramatic: direct marketing copywriting. Nevertheless, for many years I was exploring how to write screenplays and get them produced. I made a decision some years back that I didn't like the way business was done in Hollywood enough to give up any plans to be a screenwriter.
This book hasn't changed that. It has, in fact, reinforced my decision. But it has also made me like Hollywood, and many different aspects of it, one hell of a lot more than I did.
So, to be clear: I am writing this review as an outsider, who in all likelihood will stay an outsider. Most other reviews are by insiders (READ THOSE) and people who want their way in.
Just as important: I know the writing game, in different arenas. Been making a living at it, and helping others do the same, for about 40 years. I can smell when something is fishy and I can smell when something is authentic.
So. This book is the real deal. Without reservation. John Jarrell has done everyone a *huge* favor by writing this book, and he has balls the size of twin asteroids. Not just in what he reveals, but in the energy he brings to every page. I've never seen a book quite like this, and mind you, I *write* books like this myself, including a kindle bestseller on copywriting (look it up).
What's so great about this book is that it will keep a writer at any level of his/her career, out of trouble in Hollywood.
I saw it live on TV: Fixed in my mind is the image of the 405 freeway in LA, shut down as up to 20 cop cars chase O.J. Simpson driving northbound before his epic arrest in June, 1994. For any screenwriter in Hollywood, the stakes are just about as high if you screw a few things up. Oh, you won't be O.J. and it won't be cops in the cars and you may not get physically chased. But make no mistake, there are records ("coverage," as Jarrell explains) that don't fade into history, and follow you forever.
There are ways to avoid that kind of trouble, and Jarrell spells them out in hard-headed details.
This book convinced me that the scene at the movie producer's house with the Jon Voigt character, in "Ray Donavan," is not that far from how the business really works: Mickey made some cardinal errors, and his short-lived screenwriting career is over. Forever.
Don't get me wrong. This book is NOT mainly a list of "don'ts." But nowhere else (and yeah, I've taken all the seminars and read most of the books myself) have I seen anything REMOTELY close to the few stern warnings Jarrell generously gives.
Just as important are the tons and tons and tons of valuable tips, ideas, techniques, and systems he jams into the book. For example, one really stupid thing you can do is submit your screenplay in the wrong format. Jarrell gives you the EXACT dimensions to toss into your version of Final Draft to match the standards at Warner Bros. To a working pro or wannabe working pro, this is not trivial or stupid information-this is gold.
I know this from "parallel experience." Like I said, I have no film industry experience. But I've been a freelance writer, publisher, editor, author, copywriter, and mentor to other copywriters. And I've seen bonehead mistakes people make, because no one warned them about them or because they were stubborn and needed to 'stand out.' Mistakes that have relegated them to the status of Permanent Outsider.
What's some of the other good stuff in this book? A few basic questions you need to have crystal-clear answers on before you start writing a screenplay. How to deal with meetings and notes, which takes a lot more social intelligence and creative flexibility than are native to most writers. What Henry Miller said about writing, which, to my mind (especially since what Miller says covers any kind of professional writing), is alone worth far more than the price of the book, by itself. What to cut out of a screenplay that you love but directors, producers, and audiences will hate. All in all, what things are really like, and how to deal with them to your best advantage.
As an added bonus, this book is filthy (the way most writers talk) and hilarious. That's a real plus. No putting on of airs. Right there where the rubber meets the road, screeching tires, locked brakes, skid marks, and all.
You should get this book. If for no other reason that it sure looks to me like there's lots of unvarnished truth in it, from a town that doesn't particularly like unvarnished truth, by a guy who has gotten the town to like him, and his work. That's a rarity, right? So you'll enjoy what you read and have a better shot at the success you've been dreaming about all these years.
I personally am not looking to work in the industry. I love reading a variety of topics that I can reference for my own research. This book is easily in my top 10 books on the subject of screenwriting. Can not recommend this enough.