WME Story Chief’s New Novel Delivers Inside Scoop on Script Development

There are few words in the Hollywood lexicon more dreaded than “coverage.” To writers and filmmakers, “coverage” is what happens to their scripts when executives are too lazy, or stars too dyslexic, to read them.

Mindful that they are disdained, as well as distrusted, the readers responsible for coverage rarely appear in public to acknowledge their misdeeds. That’s why I was surprised last week to learn that Adam Novak, perhaps the dean of the coverage community, had the temerity to write a novel, thus opening himself to pans from fellow story analysts. It’s actually a funny novel about readers.

Novak is chief of the WME story mafia, and his novel is steeped in inside jokes about stars and the crazed agents who represent them. The protagonist, a story analyst, reads scripts while driving hookers around at night to supplement his pay. When scripts he recommends become star vehicles, he is never thanked by the actors themselves (but Mick Jagger once bought him dinner). He is not above recommending a werewolf comedy titled “Tastes Like Chicken” or trying to sell Woody Allen on a work called “Rest in Pieces.” While he dislikes most of the scripts he reads, talent agents press him for material they can package. “Sell it, don’t smell it,” his boss prods him.

The title of Novak’s novel is itself an inside joke — a reference to an apocryphal story of “Tonight Show” host Johnny Carson asking Bette Davis to give starlets advice on the best way to get into Hollywood. “Take Fountain,” the acerbic star is said to have snapped, referring to the less-traveled avenue that parallels Sunset Boulevard.

Novak himself is a genial, rotund 45-year-old who has been reading scripts for 20 years at WME and its predecessor, the William Morris Agency. His office sits next to janitorial. The story departments at WME, as at most agencies, have been sharply depleted, leaving most scripts to be read by assistants, who are often more literacy-challenged than the stars. Novak reads only scripts that come in with firm offers from studios. In years past, he covered all submissions for the likes of Bruce Willis and Arnold Schwarzenegger

“I enjoy my job,” he insists. “I started this morning with a Tom Stoppard.” The main character in his novel is named Larry Meursault, after a figure in his favorite novel, Camus’ “The Stranger.” Meursault works for a talent agency called Omniscient, which fiercely competes with its rival, the Insanely Creative Agency.

The cover of Novak’s book heralds a quote from Michael Tolkin, who penned the novel and screenplay for “The Player,” declaring that “Novak has a merciless eye for a society in which striving replaces every consideration of morality.” Yet Novak knows that his “merciless eye” will inevitably be critiqued by writers whose works he himself has reviewed.

Reduced to the language of coverage, Novak’s narrative will be called insufficiently visceral, its protagonist’s catharsis unsatisfying, the relationships lacking in empathy. While the novel is basically dramatic, it needs more comedic moments (if it were a comedy, it would need more drama).

Novak would expect this response. While accustomed to the noise that defines a major agency, he points out cheerfully that “I just have a voice, not a vote.” And he likes it that way.

Will “Take Fountain” be adapted into a screenplay, like “The Player”? In the end, the final vote would be cast by a star and his agent. Neither of whom would have read the script.

More Voices

  • Deadwood HBO

    Netflix, HBO Get Ready to Rumble as Emmy Nominations and Phase 2 of Voting Loom

    Last year, Netflix ended HBO’s 17-year Emmy-nomination domination, posting 112 nods overall (to HBO’s 108), continuing the service’s miraculous rise. Now comes the next goal, which may be in reach this year: Surpassing HBO’s all-time record. HBO earned 126 nominations in 2015, its all-time best and a number that Netflix could hit this year. It’s [...]

  • Ellen Sitcom Original TV Show

    GLAAD Chief: Hollywood Needs to Continue Playing a Role in LGBTQ Progress

    This Pride Month is not only about celebrating — it’s also about reflecting how far LGBTQ acceptance has come since the Stonewall riots catalyzed the LGBTQ movement 50 years ago, and about honoring the trailblazers and leaders who propelled LGBTQ visibility and issues forward in what many social justice experts describe as relatively lightning speed.   [...]

  • Matthew Shepard MOth Judy LGBT Activist

    Matthew Shepard's Mother: Why Hate Crime Is Only Conquered When We Speak Up

    In January, “Empire” star Jussie Smollett reported a violent attack at the hands of two men outside his Chicago apartment building. Local police and prosecutors said Smollett fabricated the event, which the actor still vehemently denies. More than a dozen criminal charges, including falsifying a police report, were filed and later dropped by state attorneys. [...]

  • Stonewall Riots 50 Years Later

    What the Stonewall Riots Mean 50 Years Later

    For one to fully understand the impact of the Stonewall riots, it is important to comprehend the darkness that LGBTQ Americans faced every day of their lives in the years leading up to Stonewall. Allow me to take you back to the 1950s and ’60s, when I was coming of age as a closeted gay [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content