I’ve attempted to read the biographies of famous storytellers in the past. Most recently I tackled the Akira Kurosawa and Toshiro Mifune joint biography, but failed. The small font, 800 pages and three renewals overtook me in the end. I’m a slow reader. I’m not a skimmer – key words don’t stick unless I’m completely enraptured by the story and the only way I succeed in ensuring that is by reading every damn word.
It’s fair game with the memoirs of Joe Eszterhas, Hollywood Animal. A Hollywood screenwriter who has received equal parts praise and revilement for his work – be it the sexploitive powerhouse thriller, Basic Instinct, to the sexploitive commercial-failure, Showgirls - Eszterhas, as you can tell by his headshot below, is a paramount force any young writer would be wise to heed.
Hollywood Animal is not a cautionary tale, it is quite simply put the crucial events in Eszterhas’ life that have shaped him into the screenwriter we love and hate. Although the stories follow no set chronology, often flip-flopping from one point of his career to another, embarking on his memories of growing up in post-WWII refugee camps to name-dropping and smack-talking like there’s no tomorrow, Eszterhas has an incisive sense of storytelling and a written voice that is as imposing as his gruff image.
In his honest vulnerability, he jabbed a sore spot with me, even bringing in famed Network and Altered States screenwriter Paddy Chayefsky to back him up. Paddy said:
Becoming a director diminishes a writer – it may give him more power and control, but he loses the writer’s perspective.
Like Paddy before him, Joe has no interest in directing, nor should any writer, he thinks. As unreasonable as that sounds, I get it. It is a feeling that inhibits the very reason why I want to direct what I write. Think about it. Pretend you are Eszterhas, a devotee to the manual typewriter. He spends three years writing a 200-page script. On a manual typewriter. He takes the time to adjust the tabs. On a manual typewriter. Do you see the painstaking devotion that shapes his perspective on what a writer should be?
And here I am feeling guilty; using an automated program with templates that adjust the tabs for me. Me, feeling guilty, for wanting, perhaps somewhat naively, the glory of auteurship.
Eszterhas says something lovely. He says a lot of things lovely, but I love this particular idea. He gives young writers advice, despite being given the advice to do the contrary if he wanted to survive as a writer in the film industry. He says:
Put every ounce of heart and soul and guts and passion that you possess into every sentence of every screenplay.