Years ago, when I was nothing more than a film fan with dreams of directing, and long before I even considered taking a stab at screenwriting and producing, I picked up a copy of William Goldman’s classic, Adventures In The Screen Trade: A Personal View Of Hollywood and Screenwriting. I expected a fluffy read, peppered with cute anecdotes of larger than life screen stars and cartoonish studio moguls. Man, was I off. Adventures pulled no punches. Sure, Goldman combed over the easy triumphs, but he hovered over the seemingly endless challenges, many of which ended in soul crushing defeats. There was no ambiguity. He named projects. He named names.
Looking back at articles written during upon Adventures release, it’s hard to find anyone covering the industry who didn’t believe Goldman had created career suicide. Goldman was always colorful and diverse in his responses to such beliefs, but the message was static: For a screenwriter working in Hollywood, what’s on the page trumps all. Opinions mean shit.
Turns out he was right. Over the next twelve years, Goldman would have twelve screenplays produced. That’s produced … not just bought and stashed away. He would be hired by the very same people, working at the very same studios he spoke about, at times none too kindly, in Adventures. He would adapt the highly regarded works of some of America’s most popular novelists including King (Misery, Hearts in Atlantis), Grisham (The Chamber), and Baldacci (Absolute Power).
And then, in 2001, in response to the those in Hollywood who grumbled at dinner parties that he was full of it, Goldman released Which Lie Did I Tell?: More Adventures In The Screen Trade. The sequel was even more bodacious. The tales more explicit. The insight revelatory. I read it twice in a week and when I finally put it down, I was certain of two things: William Goldman was my hero and I wanted to write screenplays.
Over the last half dozen years or so, my life has intersected with the film industry on a variety of levels. As the editor of Razor Magazine, I found myself on many a movie set interviewing or profiling talent. More recently, as a producer, I’ve been exposed to the business side of what I like to call “the Big Dance.” And, as a screenwriter, I have dealt with prospective producers, managers and agents. My experience has taught me this: Telling you what you want to hear is the Hollywood way of giving you the truth. People literally find a sort of inner peace speaking in generalities. And for some, the fail-safe is for their generalities to have, well, generalities. Over time, you come to not only accept this reality, you learn how to navigate the waters. It becomes part of your skill set. The game becomes second nature. And, occasionally you meet with some other industry friends, usually over dinner and a drink, and vent. Lament how you wish it were different. Curse the lack of integrity and stand-up people.
And then a guy like Doug Richardson enters the picture.
I first became privy to Doug’s internet existence - I had been well aware of his Hollywood existence and string of screenwriting successes - through a mutual friend, Jeanne Veillette Bowerman. Jeanne, a screenwriter, journalist for Script magazine, and author of the extremely popular and aptly named blog, Balls of Steel, led me to Doug’s site, specifically instructing me to check out Doug’s blog.
I was blown away. It was William Goldman redux.
Here was a hugely successful screenwriter, the first to sell a spec for seven figures no less, pulling back the curtain and taking you in the meeting rooms, on the sets, and into the star’s trailers. Here was a guy still getting assignments detailing the raging insecurities that run throughout the industry, from the third AD to the studio heads. Like Goldman, Doug covered the triumphs, but really sought to educate (and, make no mistake, entertain) by illustrating the challenges and breaking down the failures in naked detail. And he wasn’t afraid to name names. Needless to say, I was an instant fan and an even greater admirer.
Over the last few weeks, nearly 25,000 Stage 32 members have read some or all of Doug’s exclusive series: “Writer Held Hostage”. The feedback has been voluminous and overwhelmingly positive. Many of you took advantage of Doug’s availability (and guileless generosity) to ask some extremely insightful questions. Many of you chose to comment on the series in a private message or email … I thank you for the support.
I have to share one letter that I received. The sender is someone I’ve known for a while. Someone who has toiled in the Hollywood jungle for many years and, as most, has had her share of riding rainbows and being fondued in boiling cauldrons. She wrote simply: “RB, please tell me Doug is for real. Give me something (someone) to believe in!” Yes, for a Hollywood vet, this question is asked with the same wide-eyed desperation of a 6-year-old whose starting to find flaws in the Santa/2-billion-chimney-drop-in-one-night blueprint.
Well, Virginia (and the rest of you), it’s true, the Doug Richardson you see is the Doug Richardson you get. The subtle lessons which inform “Hostage” - family first, work second is one that comes to mind - are, for him, tenets by which he lives his life. Rare is the man, especially in this business, who is so willing to share his experiences for the greater good of those that follow. I couldn’t be more thankful to him for giving us the gift of this series.
Thanks for reading.
PS - I urge all of you who are interested in pursuing a career in film, television or theater - and if you’re not, what the hell are you doing here! - to continue following Doug’s blog. Further, if you enjoy Doug’s work, you simply must read his new novel, The Safety Expert. You know the saying “It reads like a movie”? Well, that’s The Safety Expert. It’s a page turner. I can’t recommend it highly enough.
Lest you think I’m whoring for Doug, The Safety Expert has a 4.5 out of 5 star rating on Amazon AND was on The Huffington Post’s list of top independent novels of 2011