Jason Starr’s Hollywood Glossary

by Jason Starr

TKZ is thrilled to host Jason Starr today, an award-winning author who has written everything from graphic novels to novels to screenplays. His first series just hit bookstores this week, leading off with THE PACK, of which PW says, “Manhattan receives a lustrous varnish of black, black humor in this sly urban fantasy thriller.” His last thriller, PANIC ATTACK, was recently optioned by David Fincher (yes, THAT David Fincher, director of THE SOCIAL NETWORK and SE7EN), with OCEAN’S ELEVEN screenwriter Ted Griffin attached to write the screenplay. Here, the aptly named “Starr” offers helpful tips to navigating the Hollywood quagmire…

It’s widely known that in Hollywood people very rarely say what they are actually thinking, so the next time you interact with any agents or producers this glossary may come in handy. Here are some comments you might hear during your next trip to Hollywood, along with their actual meanings.

HOLLYWOOD: “Everyone’s really excited about your script.”
TRANSLATION: “I haven’t brought up the script with anybody yet except my girlfriend, but she thought the concept sounded pretty dope.”

HOLLYWOOD: “I like your script.”
TRANSLATION: “I think I read part of that script a couple of weekends ago. Didn’t I? Eh, maybe, maybe not. Wait, yeah, I did read it. I can’t remember much about it, but I think I remember not hating it.”

HOLLYWOOD: “I love your script.”
TRANSLATION: “I read your script. It was okay. I think there’s a five percent or less chance any studio will want to do it, but what the hell? If you’ll let me go out with it for free, I’ll give it a shot.”

HOLLYWOOD: “I’m obsessed with your script.”
TRANSLATION: “I like your script. I think it’s pretty good. I’m not sure anybody else will like it, but I actually think there’s a decent shot of other people liking it.”

HOLLYWOOD: “I have notes.”
TRANSLATION: “This script sucks. I pretty much hated everything about it. Did you really write this garbage? I have no idea what you can possibly come up with to salvage this total mess but I’ll have my assistant come up with some notes to send you.”

HOLLYWOOD: “We’re approaching Leo.”
TRANSLATION: “I’m going to discuss the idea of Leo, or some other A-list names we have no chance in hell of actually getting, with some other people here. Maybe I’ll do that sometime next week? Or maybe not. It’s probably a waste of time anyway.”

HOLLYWOOD : “Leo’s people are interested.”
TRANSLATION: “I think Leo’s name came up at that party at Cannes two weeks ago. Didn’t it? I don’t know, I was pretty wasted that night. Also, I think I was talking about like six projects at once, all bigger than yours, and I can’t really remember if I mentioned Leo in connection with your project or something else, but people totally seemed into the idea of trying to attach Leo to something. Yeah, this definitely sounds like a good idea.”

HOLLYWOOD: “Leo’s attached.”
TRANSLATION: “No one has actually made an offer to Leo yet. Leo’s manager is into the idea of Leo taking this role, but his agent will probably talk him out of it. Maybe I can figure out a way to get to Leo directly. Do you know anybody?”

HOLLYWOOD: “I want to make your movie.”
TRANSLATION: “I really do want to make your movie, but I’m broke and I’ve burned a lot of bridges lately. I think it would be a cool project to shop around though. Can I have a free option?”

HOLLYWOOD: “I want to make your movie in the fall.”
TRANSLATION: “Yeah, I want to make your movie in the fall. I want to make all my movies in the fall. You have fifty million dollars to lend me?”

HOLLYWOOD: “I’m going to make your move in the fall.”
TRANSLATION: “I’m not going to make your movie in the fall. I can guarantee you that.”

HOLLYWOOD: “There’s heat on me.”
TRANSLATION: “Fox hired me to write something five years ago. My deal has long since run out and I’m desperate to get back in the game.”

HOLLYWOOD: “I lost my offices at Fox.”
TRANSLATION: “Fox fired my sorry ass.”

HOLLYWOOD: “We have access to German money.”
TRANSLATION: “We don’t have a development deal anywhere and we have access to no money. But I met some guy from a German fund last year at that party at Sundance, and maybe if he’s still with that fund and they’re still interested in new projects they might want to do this. It’s worth a phone call anyway, right? Or, the hell with it, I’ll just have my assistant email the guy sometime next week. Hopefully by then you’ll forget this conversation ever took place.”

HOLLYWOOD: “It’s a go picture.”
TRANSLATION: “We’re hoping they greenlight this thing soon, but we haven’t heard anything yet and we’re all starting to seriously panic.”

HOLLYWOOD: “The movie’s been greenlit.”
TRANSLATION: “I hope the movie’s been greenlit. But everybody’s such a liar in this town, I hope people aren’t lying to me, but they probably are.”

HOLLYWOOD: “The movie is shooting.”
TRANSLATION: “The movie is shooting.” *

*This may mean the movie is actually shooting, but must be confirmed by an actual visit to the set.

JASON STARR is the author of numerous novels including THE PACK, the start of a new series, which is on sale now in hardcover and e-book from Penguin/Ace. He has several film and TV projects in development, including adaptations of his recent books THE FOLLOWER and PANIC ATTACK. For more info check out www.jasonstarr.com. Connect with Jason on Facebook and Twitter.

Translating bestsellers to the screen

by Michelle Gagnon

I stumbled across this piece the other day in the LA Times, which dovetailed perfectly with a conversation a friend and I had recently about the pros and cons of getting your novel optioned. Several current NY Times bestselling writers were virtually undiscovered until their book was made into a film (Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child with THE RELIC come to mind. On a side note: great book, terrible movie).

For many authors the possibility of having their work made into a film, whether the end result is a masterpiece or not, is the dream goal. Because if nothing else, the amount of free advertising garnered by a film release exponentially outpaces what most of us receive from our publisher’s marketing departments.

Yet paradoxically, all too frequently a book that was a runaway bestseller on its own flops at the box office.

I can give a few examples. Let’s start with THE LOVELY BONES, hands down one of my favorite reads of the past several years. I thought the adroit manner with which Alice Sebold handled such a difficult storyline was absolutely astonishing. Having a murdered young girl watch her family deal with what happened from the vantage point of heaven could have been unbelievably trite, cliched, and painful to witness. Yet she was so skilled and deft with the story that it worked. It remains one of the only books I’ve ever read that moved me to tears.
When I heard that it was being made into a film, I recoiled. Even though the director was someone whose other work I loved. Because for me, this was a story that I’d experienced so viscerally on the page, nothing onscreen could match it. And so much of what Sebold accomplished had little to do with the actual story, and everything to do with the way in which she wrote it.

THE TIME TRAVELER’S WIFE is another example. Constructing a linear narrative via a plot that jumped back and forth through time, frequently showcasing different decades on the same page–that was simply astonishing. I became invested in the characters despite the fact that from the opening pages, I knew something terrible was going to happen. But did I want to see Eric Bana and Rachel McAdams as those characters? Not really. Again, they’re two actors whose work I generally enjoy. But it felt as though watching someone else’s interpretation of the book would taint a reading experience that was extremely cathartic for me.

The flip side of the coin is books that actually worked better onscreen. As I wrote in an earlier post, I was underwhelmed by THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO. Interesting characters and one interesting plotline (out of two), but any positives for me were lost in what appeared to be an unedited manuscript.
The screenwriter did the smart thing by focusing on the main storyline, eliminating unnecessary details, characters, and red herrings, and condensing it all into something that I thoroughly enjoyed.
Granted, it’s rare, but those few times that a filmmaker manages to improve upon a book, the end result is remarkable (I still think that the cinematic ending of ABOUT A BOY was superior to Hornby’s original). One of the listservs I frequent is currently engaged in a heated debate about the casting for the film version of Evanovich’s ONE FOR THE MONEY. Is Katherine Heigl the right actor to portray Stephanie Plum? She’s not what I imagined for that character, but given her comedic flair, she might surprise me. And how about Angelina Jolie as Kay Scarpetta? Apparently so far Cromwell’s fans are voting 10-1 against the casting. But is the issue that they think she’s wrong for the role, or that they just can’t imagine any actor matching what their imagination conjured up for that character?

So which books would you never want to see on the big screen? And conversely, which movies do you think in the end produced a superior experience?


by Michelle Gagnon

So I just got back from vacation. I finally had some free reading time, and decided to see what all the fuss was about Steig Larsson’s Millenium series. I’ll try to write this post without any spoilers.

I must confess, I remain perplexed.

This series has been the biggest crime fiction crossover, arguably, since THE DA VINCI CODE.

There, I could understand the hype. The writing wasn’t the best I’ve ever read, but Dan Brown is a heck of a storyteller, and the underlying religious conspiracy themes were compelling.

To be frank, I spent most of my time reading TGWTDT scratching my head. I honestly don’t get it. The dialogue was clunky throughout, the bulk of the story revolved around a financial scheme that was underwhelming, and the characters were fairly two-dimensional. And above all that, the resolution of one of the two primary plots was largely unsatisfying. Now, some of the fault here might lie with the translator. But then most of the copies sold have been translations into one language or another. So why did this, of all books, become a runaway bestseller?

I read the next two books, and they were decidedly better. There was actually action- hallelujah- and the themes outlined in the first installment came to fruition. The characters developed some depth (although based on Larsson’s portrayal, the men in Sweden either love women to death, or are misogynistic to the point of credulity, which I found annoying).

Still- all in all, I’d rank the books in the mid-range of works I’ve read in the past year. They weren’t bad, as a whole, but they weren’t fantastic either.

So what’s the big deal? Was it the tragic backstory of Larsson’s untimely demise that kicked the marketing machine into overdrive? I haven’t read many of his fellow countrymen, but from what I understand some of their works are superior. So why did these become the books that people who never read thrillers suddenly embraced with their book clubs? Especially since none of the books was particularly literary. And the characters weren’t what one would usually expect the mainstream to embrace. We had a couple that was involved in a extramarital affair that was accepted by all parties involved (including the cuckolded husband), and a main character who was a Goth/punk Aspergers hacker. Interesting, but not the type of main character I’d expect the world as a whole to cheer for.

If someone would care to enlighten me, I’d be much obliged.