Raymond Chandler on ‘Writers in Hollywood’

Scott Smith’s Screenwriting From Iowa blog scores again:


by Scott W. Smith

“HOLLYWOOD is easy to hate, easy to sneer at, easy to lampoon.”
Raymond Chandler’s essay Writers in Hollywood published in the Atlantic in 1945

I’m going to go out on a limb and say that novelist/screenwriter Raymond Chandler (The Big Sleep, Double Indemnity) was not in a happy place when he wrote the essay Writers in Hollywood which was published in the Atlantic back in 1945.

“The making of a picture ought surely to be a rather fascinating adventure. It is not; it is an endless contention of tawdry egos, some of them powerful, almost all of them vociferous, and almost none of them capable of anything much more creative than credit-stealing and self-promotion. Hollywood is a showman’s paradise. But showmen make nothing; they exploit what someone else has made.”
Raymond Chandler
Writers in Hollywood

“The first picture I worked on was nominated for an Academy award (if that means anything), but I was not even invited to the press review held right in the studio. An extremely successful picture made by another studio from a story I wrote used verbatim lines out of the story in its promotional campaign, but my name was never mentioned once in any radio, magazine, billboard, or newspaper advertising that I saw or heard – and I saw and heard a great deal. This neglect is of no consequence to me personally; to any writer of books a Hollywood by-line is trivial.
Raymond Chandler
Writers in Hollywood

“Few screenwriters possess homes in Bel-Air, illuminated swimming pools, wives in full-length mink coats, three servants, and that air of tired genius gone a little sour. Money buys pathetically little in Hollywood beyond the pleasure of living in an unreal world, associating with a narrow group of people who think, talk, and drink nothing but pictures, most of them bad, and the doubtful pleasure of watching famous actors and actresses guzzle in some of the rudest restaurants in the world. I do not mean that Hollywood society is any duller or more dissipated than moneyed society anywhere: God knows it couldn’t be. But it is a pretty thin reward for a lifetime devoted to the essential craft of what might be a great art.”
Raymond Chandler
Writers in Hollywood

But that essay was written over 65 years ago, and he was talking about a Hollywood studio system of the 30s & 40s. One we ironically look back on as the golden era of Hollywood—the era before TV muddied the waters. Time and time again you hear 1939 named as the best year ever in the history of motion pictures: Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Stagecoach, Gone with the Wind, The Wizard of Oz. (And 1941 wasn’t too bad either: Citizen Kane, The Maltese Falcon, Meet John Doe, Suspicion, Sergeant York, How Green Was My Valley, Sullivan’s Travels.)

Every era produces its share of bad people and bad movies, but given a little time all of that is forgotten and we remember mostly the great movies—and the great filmmakers who made those movies. My guess is back in 1945 Chandler was too close to the egos—the sauguage making—to step back and see that some great movies were made.

When I first saw Double Indemnity 40 years after it was made I knew nothing of Raymond Chandler (screenwriter), Billy Wilder (screenwriter/director), or James M. Cain (who wrote the novel).  I was unaware of the tension Chandler and Wilder had in writing the script—I just knew it was a great film.  (I did know Fred MacMurray from the TV show My Three Sons, so it did take some effort seeing him as the bad guy.)

It would be interesting to see what Raymond Chandler would write today about Hollywood, independent filmmaking, global cinema, and even television. But he did end his 1945 essay with a little hope:

“In spite of all I have said, the writers of Hollywood are winning their battle for prestige. More and more of them are becoming showmen in their own right, producers and directors of their own screenplays. Let us be glad for their additional importance and power, and not examine the artistic result too critically. The boys make good (and some of them might even make good pictures). Let us rejoice together, for the tendency to become showmen is well in the acceptable tradition of the literary art as practiced among the cameras.
Raymond Chandler
Writers in Hollywood

Chandler would have liked Joe Eszterhas a lot.  And I imagine if Chandler were alive to watch the 2008 Academy Awards he would have smiled when screenwriter/”showman” Diablo Cody won her Oscar for Juno and simply said, “You go girl.” And I think he’d be proud—and amazed— of the modern filmmakers that produced Winter’s Bone, The Artist, and Life of Pi.

To paraphrase what David Mamet said of theater, “Cinema is always dying, and always being reborn.”

Lawrence Kasdan’s Rejection/Breakthrough

Yes, we know this title doesn’t mean anything unless you know who Lawrence Kasdan is. But we’re counting on your heightened awareness and proceeding accordingly:


Lawrence Kasdan’s Rejection/Breakthrough – by Scott W. Smith (Screenwriting From Iowa Blog)

“A week later [my agent] called with news that the folks at Starsky and Hutch had read my screenplay and didn’t think I had what it took to work on the show. I told my agent I was on page 108 of my new script and he should not to anything rash. I’d call him as soon as I was done. I thought I had bought myself another week or so.

But when I came into my job the next day, there was a message that my agent had called. Could he have changed his mind overnight? Of course he could. After nine years of writing screenplays without success, I believed only bad things were going to happen.

But what he had to tell me wasn’t bad. It was kind of miraculous. After two years and all that rejection, suddenly two different parties were interested in my thriller—which was called The Bodyguard.”
Four time Oscar nominated writer/director Lawrence Kasdan (Grand Canyon, The Big Chill)
Kasdan also wrote Raiders of the Lost Ark, Body Heat, and Star Wars: Episode IV—Return of the Jedi
From The First Time I Got Paid For It edited by Peter Lefcourt and Laura J. Shapiro
Page 105

P.S. Kasdan sold The Bodyguard in the 70s but it would take more than a decade for the film to get made.

Garry Marshall on Rewriting

A big tip of the TVWriter™ hat to screenwriter-blogger Scott Smith for reminding us this great book exists:

Offensive & Defensive Screenwriting (Tip #62) – by Scott W. Smith

“The biggest lesson a screenwriter can learn is how to master a rewrite of his own script, or someone else’s, and make the change a studio wants without destroying the story. It’s like a football game: If you think of writing an original screenplay as ‘offensive’ creativity, then rewriting is all about ‘defensive’ creativity.

There are some screenwriters who are great on offense while others excel only at defense. The greatest screenwriters–and the ones who are in demand—are those who can handle both kinds of creativity. The problem I’ve found is that young writers usually change too much in a rewrite and old writers often don’t change enough. What writers should remember is to read a first draft or a rewrite twice, not once but twice, before handing it in. First read it for pacing and plot, and then read it a second time to see if there are good parts for the stars, because that’s exactly how the stars are going to read it.”

Garry Marshall, Wake Me When It’s Funny (written with Lori Marshall)
pages 114-115

Read it all (not the book, the blog post)

Don’t Blame the Writers, Blame the Buyers

…Which is to say the studios and production companies. What are we talking about? Glad you asked:

How awesome is Chris Rock? This awesome. Hi Chris! Hi Rihanna!

Chris Rock & Adult Movies – by Scott W. Smith (ScreenwritingFromIowa.Com)

“Most parts in comedy, they’re not written for men. They’re written for, like, boy-men. So it’s cool to play a man-man. They don’t make adult movies anymore. Go to a multiplex. If Sydney Pollack was around today, he’d be directing episodes of ‘True Blood.’”

Chris  Rock

New York Times

August 5, 2012

“Film 2 Days in New York”

Interview with Dave Itzkof
Oh.Those kinds of “adult movies.” Grown-up ones. Not…you know. Dang. Not that we disagree with anything Chris is saying here. He’s one of funniest, brightest, smartest doods in the showbiz galaxy. But we have to point out that this situation doesn’t exist because writers don’t want to write for adults. All the writers we know actually do want just that. No, the situation exists because it’s what the studios want. They simply aren’t buying many men-men vehicles these days.

LB: Peter Bogdanovich Regrets…

by Larry Brody

Bogdanovich & Boris Karloff back when Bogdanovich began his ascent

…Just about everything he’s ever done, judging from some quotes I saw yesterday. But then, it often seems to me that showbiz brings out two character traits in most of the people who “make it:” Self-aggrandizement as they hit it big. And self-pity as the big gets smaller.

On his blog, Screenwriting From Iowa, which you all should read, btw, Scott W. Smith has two very interesting posts. The first is called The Making of Peter Bogdanovich,in which Smith gives us the following timeline:

1) Born in Kingston, New York in 1939 & raised in Manhattan.
2) His father took him to see silent films at revival house theaters in New York City. (Developed an early appreciate of visual storytelling.)
3) “At the age of 10 I remember my favorite films were She Wore a Yellow RibbonRed River, and The Ghost Goes West.”
4) “I started keeping a card file of everything I saw from the age of twelve, twelve and a half.” (He did that for 18 years and had between 5,000—6,000 cards.)
6) At age 15 he got his first job with a professional theater company in Traverse City, Michigan. “That was a great experience, we did 10 plays in 10 weeks.”)
7) At age 16 started studying acting with Stella Adler. (Continued for 4 years.)
8) At age 19 he got the rights to a Clifford Odets play and took 9 months raising $15,000. to direct The Big Knife. (The play was not a financial success.)
9) When he was 20 he met New York Times film critics Andrew Sarris and Eugene Archer. “They would come over to my apartment in Manhattan and talk movies into the wee hours. I learned a great deal from both of them.”
10) Started writing about plays and films for newspapers to earn some money.”It was a way of getting on screening lists and seeing movies for nothing. And getting books and seeing plays for nothing. It was totally motivated by not wanting to spend my own money because I didn’t have any.”
11) At 24, he did a retrospect on Orson Welles at the Museum of Modern Art in New York for $50.
12) Started writing freelance articles on film for Esquire magazine.
13) Had his second theatrical flop in New York and moved to LA with his wifePolly Platt to try to get into the movies.
14) “A little less than a year after we’d gotten to Hollywood I met Roger Corman by accident…he said, ‘you’re a writer, I read your stuff in Esquire. Would you like to write a movie?’ Yeah, I’d like to write a movie.”
15) He did a rewrite on one of Corman’s scripts for $300 and no credit. “The Wild Angels (1966) as it was known as— it was the most successful film of [Corman’s] career.”
16) Bogdanovich also found most of the locations and shot second unit on The Wild Angels. And suggested Peter Fonda for the lead.
17) Just before turning 30 he directed and co-wrote a feature film for Corman called Targets starring Boris Karloff.
18) His next film was The Last Picture Show (1971) which he directed, edited and co-wrote. It was nominated for 8 Academy Awards and comparisons were made between a young Bogdanovich and Orson Welles after he made Citizen Kane.

These were Bogdanovich’s good years, obviously. His rise in terms of craft, art, fame, and fortune. His ecstasy. It didn’t happen overnight, and it gives everyone who’s struggling to make it the thing they (I suppose it would be more honest to say “we”) need most of all: Hope. (Well, actually we all think we need money, no? But certain things are hopeless…sigh.)

Smith’s second post on the director, The Breaking of Peter Bogdanovich, takes us past this point in his subject’s life, to what clearly is (sorry, kids) the agony, and includes the following remarks from a director who once, metaphorically at least, “owned” the town:

“If you’re not hot in Los Angeles, it’s a very lonely town…It’s a lonely town even if you are hot.”

“I’m not bitter. I ask for it myself. Success is very hard. Nobody prepares you for it. You think you’re infallible. You pretend you know more than you do. Pride goeth before the fall.”

”[Hollywood’s] an easy place to get fooled. There are no real seasons and you’re not aware of time going. Orson had this line: ‘The terrible thing about LA is that you sit down when you’re 25 and when you stand up you’re 62.’ He was not wrong.”

Whatever Peter Bogdanovich’s personal problems – and brain chemistry and hard luck – it’s clear here that he forgot to follow one of the basic precepts of the Biz, which, according to our LB, our boss, LB first heard from Bogdanovich’s early mentor, Roger Corman:

“If the phone stopped ringing for Orson Welles, you can bet that one day it’ll stop ringing for you.”

We all have regrets about our lives, and most of the time we know what we should do in various situations even though we don’t do it. We’re all going to screw up, or get screwed, one way or another, but the most important thing I’ve learned is not to lose hope. Mock it by calling it “magical thinking” if you must. But without hope we have nothing but the frustrations of the present (no matter who we are, damn it, just ask Buddha or Kafka, et al), and what all humans need to get through their eternally current darkness is the bright beauty that says, regardless of whether or not some people construe it as a lie: “Tomorrow can be better. We just have to try.”

How do I reconcile my hope with my regrets? It’s simple. I’m shallow. I think of something Colonel Tom Parker is reported to have said:

“Why should I be nice on the way up? Elvis is never coming down.”

And I dream and I plan and I work because I find genuine joy in the illuminating act of doing all you can to make the impossible tomorrow real today.

Uh-oh, maybe that’s just me and my brain chemistry.

Hope not.