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How to write for Hollywood

How to write for Hollywood — Art Linson’s ”A Pound of Flesh: Perilous Tales of How to Produce Movies in Hollywood,” and others touch on the troubles of producing a film

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The conventional wisdom around Hollywood has it that producers can’t read. That hasn’t stopped them from writing, though. And given the runaway success of Julia Phillips’ 1991 up-the-nostrils-and-down-the-industry blockbuster, You’ll Never Eat Lunch in This Town Again, the publishing world has been quick to welcome a new pair of Hollywood heavyweights.

Art Linson, the high-profile producer of The Untouchables, Point of No Return, and This Boy’s Life, and Dawn Steel, formerly president of Columbia Pictures and production chief at Paramount, and a producer of Honey, I Blew Up the Kid and the upcoming Sister Act 2, will each be focusing only one eye on the weekly grosses this fall. The other will be fixed on best-seller lists to see how their first books are doing.

Linson’s A Pound of Flesh: Perilous Tales of How to Produce Movies in Hollywood (Grove) and Steel’s They Can Kill You but They Can’t Eat You: Lessons From the Front (Pocket Books) will be released in October. Both authors are quick to note that while they do name names and point fingers, the fallout shouldn’t affect their tables at Mortons. ”If the doors are going to close on me,” says Steel, whose reputation is as flinty as her moniker, ”it’s a little late.”

”My purpose is more to inform than expose,” says Linson, ”to help people understand how movies work. I wanted to show the horrors of the process, taking you through my movies the way [screenwriter] William Goldman did (in his 1983 Adventures in the Screen Trade).” For example, Linson describes how he persuaded then Paramount chief Ned Tanen to hire Robert De Niro for The Untouchables. ”Think of it,” he told Tanen. ”When Bob De Niro kills somebody with a baseball bat, it will never be forgotten.”

Steel describes Kill, dictated into a tape recorder and given shape by a ghostwriter, as a ”kind of how to succeed in show business and still have a family and a life.” It is Dawn does Iacocca, a traditional up-the-ladder climb told from her personal point of view (including her romance with Richard Gere).

Both Linson and Steel make one thing perfectly clear: They don’t want their books to be confused with Julia Phillips’. ”What are they saying?” asks Phillips. ”That I wasn’t a best-seller? Or maybe that I was just too feisty for their taste?” After three false starts on a novel, Phillips has returned to what she knows best: a sequel to Lunch is due from Random House next spring. ”There seems to be an endless appetite to understand Hollywood,” she says. ”It runs the world. So my publishers are making me do one more Hollywood-ish book, and if I’m a best-seller again, I have permission to be James Joyce in my next.”

Linson, for one, isn’t looking for literary grandeur. ”I’ll probably get a screenwriting offer after this,” he jokes. ”But,” he adds, no punch line intended, ”I can’t afford to take the cut in pay.”