Editor’s note: Guest columnist Joe Eszterhas contributed this piece in response to the May 15 column by editorial director Peter Bart, which facetiously urged Eszterhas to consider establishing his own talent agency.
Eszterhas’ compensation for writing this column was $ 4 million less than the amount he received for his last four-page opus, “One Night Stand,” which was acquired by New Line.
YOU SCARED THE HOLY BEJESUS out of me, Peter.
I wake up Sunday morning, Naomi brings Joey into the bedroom by way of fax machine, and I see a drawing of my manual typewriter going off the cliff at Point Dume into the sea.
Peter, they don’t make manual typewriters anymore: Every manual typewriter that goes over the cliff is a life-shortening experience for me.
Badly spooked, I spent most of Mother’s Day worrying about your career advice:
1) You’re right about my obsession with big bucks: I was paid $275,000 to write “Flashdance”; it made the studio over $300 million. I was paid $500,000 to write “Jagged Edge”; it made the studio more than $50 million. I was paid $3 million to write “Basic Instinct”; it made the studio more than $400 million. I was paid $1 million to write “Sliver”; it made the studio more than $100 million.
If you put all those numbers together, I was paid $4,775,000. The studios’ take was $850 million.
I mean, Peter — you and I work with words, not numbers, I know … but still. They made $850 million and I made less than $5 million. They made about 200 times more than I did. At that rate of exchange, wouldn’t you, too, get a little obsessed about making more, about evening things out … just a little bit?
2) You’re right about me recycling my scripts. I wrote “Big Shots,” a comedy about two little kids, and I obviously recycled it into “Jagged Edge.” I wrote “Checking Out,” a comedy about a man who thinks he’s going to die, and I obviously recycled it into “Music Box,” a drama about guilt and war crimes. I adapted Ira Levin’s voyeur’s tale, “Sliver,” and I obviously recycled it into my last script, “Blaze of Glory,” about the possibility of brotherhood between blacks and whites. And then of course, there is “Betrayed,” about an FBI agent who pops a neo-Nazi, which I recycled into “Sacred Cows,” about a President who pops a cow, which I recycled into “Foreplay,” about people who indiscriminately pop everybody in the script. As far as “F.I.S.T.” goes, I obviously recycled Johnny Kovak into first John Gotti and then into Otis Redding.
I PROMISE, IN THE FUTURE, to try to tackle a wider variety of genres, subjects and themes.
3) You’re right about “Gangland,” my adaptation of Howard Blum’s book about John Gotti (although you’re wrong about the numbers). I made a total of $1.3 million on “Gangland” and gave up the additional $2 million in the deal because I wouldn’t put stupid, inane, benighted, absurd, insulting and moronic “suggestions” into my script. Howard, incidentally, who knows this turf better than any one else, agreed with me that the “suggestions” were stupid, inane, benighted, absurd, insulting and moronic.
Nevertheless, I promise, in the future, to put all stupid, inane, benighted, absurd, insulting and moronic “suggestions” into all of my scripts … and put my $ 2 million into the bank instead of scrawling four-letter words on all those big bucks I am obsessed with.
4) You’re right that I don’t like doing rewrites. I have a silly notion that I have spent my entire life learning how to write. That, for better or for worse , I am a writer. That a director is not a writer, that a producer is not a writer, that, God forgive me and protect me as I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, a studio head is not a writer, either.
But I promise, in the future, to be more egalitarian about it. I promise to admit that everyone is a writer (Jimmy Carter is even a poet). I will admit that studio heads are the best writers, and will personally nominate several of them for first the Pulitzer and then the Nobel Prize for Literature.
5) You’re right about all the TV exposure. I forgot for a nanosecond, as Jeff Berg likes to say, that screenwriters should be neither seen nor heard. They are at the bottom of the monkey-point food chain. They should live in obscurity, beset by melancholia and Styron-like depression. They should be victims, proud of their victimhood. They should write books about their victimization and make money off their self-proclaimed misery, impotence and humiliation.
I promise, in the future, to try to act depressed, even though since I’m happier than I’ve ever been, it won’t be easy. I’ll take the bullets off my cowboy boots and keep Bill Goldman’s “Adventures in the Screen Trade” on my nightstand next to Scott Fitzgerald’s “Pat Hobby Stories” and Jimmy Carter’s volume of poetry.
6) You’re right about the Joe Eszterhas Agency. Why not? Sometimes some agents get distracted, Peter. They’re dealing, as you point out, with Mel Gibson and Arnold and Howard Stringer and Rupert Murdoch … and I’m asking them to find directors and actors for a script or two? I’m asking them to focus on selling a spec script written on a manual typewriter while they are exploring the cloverleafs of the Information Highway in their souped-up, computerized, gung-ho carts.
WELL, SOMETIMES, YOU KNOW, when they get distracted like that in some CD-ROM junkyard, you have to … gettheir attention. You have to save them from their … own distractions.
The Joe Eszterhas Agency would specialize in doing that. It’s a small cottage industry, though, attuned only to the benefit of wife, children, ex-wife, parents and divorce lawyers.
You were wrong about something, though. Wilshire Boulevard is cool. Don’t worry about me crossing it. It is a demilitarized zone; there are no foot soldiers there. I cross it with no fear, no animosity.
Six years after my wariness about Wilshire, my body is unstomped and unscarred. There have been no assaults of any kind. I was thinking maybe it’d be a nice area for the Joe Eszterhas Agency … maybe across the street from Wilson’s House of Leather … or maybe farther down where Charles Keating used to be.
What do you think, Peter? I need some more advice.