James Ellroy, author of the novel "L.A. Confidential," is jazzed that the film was nominated for nine Academy Awards,
including best picture, director and adapted screenplay. Hollywood is also excited. That’s why three new projects based on the 49-year-old author’s books are being given high priority: “Seven” director David Fincher has been hired to shoot “Black Dahlia”; Nick Nolte will produce “White Jazz” from a script Ellroy wrote; and there’s the indie movie “Brown’s Requiem,” starring Michael Rooker.
Things weren’t moving as quickly for Ellroy before “L.A. Confidential” took off, however. While 12 of his 13 books had been bought by Hollywood, the projects were all sinking in development muck — until the glowing reviews and awards for the film noir arrived.
This helps explain why the man famous for writing tough guys with itchy fists has a tender spot for Curtis Hanson, the film’s director, who with co-screenwriter Brian Helgeland masterfully recreated Ellroy’s nearly-500 page novel. “I think the specific strengths of my novels (the dense plots and multiple characters) tend to preclude them from ever being made into movies,” Ellroy says. “The essential miracle of ‘L.A. Confidential’ is that Curtis Hanson and Brian Helgeland compressed and cut plot lines with the skill they did.”
But Ellroy, who has abandoned the city of angels for life in Kansas City, isn’t hopeful that future films based on his books will be equally successful. “How many truly great crime movies have you seen in your lifetime?” he asks. “The odds of it happening to a writer twice in his career are pretty slim.”
Still, the hard-boiled author is happy to take the moviemakers’ checks and let them give greatness a shot. “People come around and keep throwing money at me — $15-, $25- and $50,000 increments, and I don’t have to do a darned thing for it except sign my name,” says Ellroy.
You might think that being connected to a hit film that was named Best Picture by the New York and Los Angeles Film Critics associations would tempt Ellroy to try his hand as a director. Think again. “I’m grateful for the way ‘L.A. Confidential’ has widened my readership, but it’s all about my books,” says Ellroy. “If I never saw another movie, that’d be okay with me.”