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Oh, Woe, the Writer's Life in Hollywood

Television * Fitzgerald, Chandler and many others came to L.A. to practice their craft (and make money). An AMC special tries to explain why they largely failed.


Hollywood has always treated the writer like a second- and third-class citizen. Even animal stars like Lassie and Rin Tin Tin received more respect. Over the decades, acclaimed novelists--often lured by lucrative salaries--have tried their luck in Hollywood as screenwriters with decidedly mixed results.

The new hourlong AMC documentary "Blocked: The Novelist's Experience in Hollywood" looks at the travails in Tinseltown of such legendary novelists as F. Scott Fitzgerald, William Faulkner, Ayn Rand and Raymond Chandler.

Carrie Fisher--who has written such novels as "Postcards from the Edge," for which she also adapted the screenplay--is the wry, acerbic host.

"Blocked" doesn't sugarcoat the problems and tragedies that befell some of literature's best-loved novelists when they tried their hand at movies. Fitzgerald, for example, was in a career decline when he came to Hollywood in the late 1930s. He wrote screenplays for such films as "Marie Antoinette," "Three Comrades" (the only one for which he received screen credit), "The Women" and "A Yank at Oxford."

Faulkner came to Hollywood and ended up signing a low-paying seven-year contract at Warner Bros. Though Rand had tight control over the 1949 movie version of her seminal novel, "The Fountainhead," she was so appalled by the results she abandoned Hollywood forever.

"Blocked" also features funny and revealing interviews with noted novelist-screenwriters such as Ray Bradbury, Budd Schulberg, Michael Tolkin, Joseph Wambaugh, Thomas McGuane, Sherman Alexis and Richard Price.

Lewis Bogach, who wrote "Blocked" and produced and directed the documentary with editor Don Fizzinoglia, recently talked about the documentary.

Question: If novelists are so poorly treated in Hollywood why do they want to write for the movies? Is it the money?

Answer: I think Tom McGuane says it best--you don't have much of a choice [in order to make a living]. And it is the money. When you look at Fitzgerald or Faulkner, you look at the time they put in Hollywood and they have nothing to show for it. It's kind of mind-boggling to think that I can write a book, but I can't write a screenplay? It just seems like it would be something very natural to do, so [novelists] keep putting their heads out the window and keep getting cut up.

Q: Was it difficult to find contemporary novelists who were willing to talk about their problems in Hollywood?

A: Well, obviously, we had some people who turned us down. I think the biggest guy that we have [in the documentary] is Richard Price, who is able to do big Hollywood movies and write big novels. He is able, which I think comes across in the show, to deal with [the differences]. He thinks they are all a bunch of idiots in Hollywood, and he's doing it for the money--"the only reason I make movies is so I can write a book." It puts him in a nice lifestyle and he's able to take two years off and do what he wants to do. A lot of the writers don't have that luxury.

Q: Why do producers and directors treat writers, especially novelists, so poorly?

A: This is a very difficult question to answer. Look, people have to put their stamp on things. You can't be in charge of a movie and say [to the writer], "Go ahead and do your stuff." Although that is what they should do. Ray Bradbury says [writers] are hired and paid. Sherman Alexis says [producers] have never written a poem, a screenplay or a book and somehow, they are going to dictate the movie because somehow they are in the position to do that. How that happens--that is a mystery. Alexis said he went to some pitch meeting and the producer was cleaning his toenails with a letter opener during the meeting.

Q: Did the writers you talked to find things are getting better or worse for them in Hollywood?

A: It's exactly the same. I hope that comes through. [The writers] are there to reaffirm what these guys from the past did. Bradbury did a whole thing on the remake of "Fahrenheit 451." [The producer], of course, went to him and Bradbury wrote the script and they said how great, how great, and then he doesn't hear from them for months and months and months. Then a friend of his called and said, "I have this script of 'Fahrenheit 451'--somebody else's name is on it and three-quarters of your work is not in." And then he calls [the producer] to find out what's going on and he gets the runaround.

* "Blocked: The Novelist's Experience in Hollywood" can be seen today at 5:05 and 11 p.m. on AMC.

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