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Rebels on the Backlot: Six Maverick Directors and How They Conquered the Hollywood Studio System

by

Rebels on the Backlot: Six Maverick Directors and How They Conquered the Hollywood Studio System Cover

 

 

Excerpt

Chapter One

Quentin Tarantino Discovers Hollywood; Steven Soderbergh Gets Noticed
1990–1992

Memorial Day in 1990 dawned bright and hot in Hollywood, even for a maker of horror films. Scott Spiegel, a screenwriter and the horror filmmaker in question, wanted to celebrate. He had some cash in his pocket from selling his first big screenplay, The Rookie, to Warner Brothers with Clint Eastwood attached to star. With his neighbor, actor D. W. Moffett, Spiegel threw a barbeque bash and invited to his backyard every starving actor, screenwriter, director, and movie wannabe he could think of, including some dedicated fans of his horror genre work.

Under leafy elm trees, behind a blue clapboard house on Mc- Cadden Place just off Sunset Boulevard, dozens of young wouldbes and could-bes in Hollywood gathered. Some of them would eventually make it. Director Sam Raimi was there along with actor/ director Burr Steers and screenwriter Boaz Yakin. Others wouldn't: One of the aspiring screenwriters present, Mark Carducei, would kill himself in 1997. The eighties still hung in the air; the cool guys had mullet haircuts and leather jackets; the hot women had long, permed hair fluffed out to there and bright red lipstick. While playing an electric keyboard, actor/screenwriter Ron Zwang belted out "Wild Thing" to a crowd slightly buzzed on beer and stuffed with Moffett's burnt burgers and hot dogs. Inside the house a few people were slumped on a loveseat watching A Clockwork Orange.

One of the restless young men hanging around the yard was Quentin Tarantino, a twenty-seven-year-old screenwriter who'd spent the previous night on Spiegel's couch. He loped around the backyard like a habitué of this crowd. He came from Manhattan Beach, an aspiring young screenwriter who only lately had started spending more time in Hollywood than in the working-class neighborhood down the coast.

Tarantino had reason to feel confident. After a decade of scraping by doing odd jobs, hanging with the other video geeks and movie dreamers at Video Archives, a video store in Manhattan Beach, Hollywood was beginning to show some interest. He had several scripts making the rounds, and a low-grade buzz had begun around his raw, clever screenplays: From Dusk Till Dawn, True Romance, Natural Born Killers. He was still penniless and unknown, but all of these scripts were on the verge of being sold. His moment was just off the horizon.

On this particular day, Tarantino was his blabbermouth self. He looked rumpled, of course, his striped blue shirt slightly untucked, his brown hair overgrown and stringy. As Spiegel wielded his video camera, Tarantino regaled film editor Bob Murawski with his latest insight on the latest movie he'd seen for the umpteenth time. When it came to film arcana, no one out-triviaed Quentin Tarantino.

"That movie?Motorcycle Gang?remember the goofy guy? His buddy? The goofy guy?" he asked, looming over his friend.

Murawski nodded.

"That's Alfalfa!" Tarantino was psyched; he'd recognized one of the Our Gang actors in the B movie. "That's Carl Switzer! I couldn't believe it."

Marowski was slightly less enthused. "That makes me glad I saw it," he deadpanned.

Tarantino didn't seem to notice. "It's the same movie" (the same one as yet another B movie he'd seen, Dragstrip Girl.) "It's the same lines. Yeah?I was reading about it last night."

 

In the 1990s Quentin Tarantino would turn out to be the biggest thing to hit the movie industry since the high-concept film. He became an image, an icon, and inspired a genre, if not an entire generation, of hyper-violent, loud, youthful, angry, funny (though none as funny as Tarantino) movies. His Pulp Fiction was the first "independent" film to crack $100 million at the box office, though technically it was made at a studio that had just been bought by the Walt Disney Company. Cinematically he spoke in an entirely new vernacular, and he threw down the gauntlet to fellow writer-directors as if to say Top this, assholes.

He also happened to come to prominence as the spinning, whizzing media machine began to be the central function of Hollywood rather than a mere by-product of its production line. In the 1990s the buzz machine, the sprawling, relentless entertainment media, became the very engine that made Hollywood run, a monstrous contraption that required constant feeding. And the Quentin Tarantino story was the perfect product to fill the cavernous maw.

The only thing is, a lot of the story wasn't true.

 

The myth that worked for the likes of Esquire magazine and Entertainment Tonight went that Tarantino was a half-breed, white trash school dropout from rural Tennessee who went to work at a video store in Torrance, saw every movie known to mankind, and emerged, miraculously, a brilliant writer and director, a visionary autodidact with his finger on the pulse of his generation.

The reality is something far more subtle and complicated. Quentin Tarantino was not raised in poverty, nor in a white trash environment, nor as a hillbilly. He was from a broken home, but his mother was unusually intelligent and ambitious, and she did all she could to associate her son with the bourgeois values of the upper-middle class: education, travel, material success. Which Quentin chose to utterly reject.

After Quentin became a media star, his mother, Connie Zastoupil, was horrified to see a distorted view of his background spun into myth. After journalist Peter Biskind interviewed her for Premiere magazine, she was mortified by the first sentence that referred to Tarantino's background as "half Cherokee, half hillbilly." At the time, "I was the president of an accounting firm; my lawyer sent it to me," she said in 2003. "You have no idea the humiliation that caused me. Nobody ever got beyond that one sentence." She refused to talk to journalists for years after that.

Copyright © 2005 by Sharon Waxman

Product Details

ISBN:
9780060540173
Subtitle:
Six Maverick Directors and How They Conquered the Hollywood Studio System
Publisher:
William Morrow
Author:
Waxman, Sharon
Subject:
United states
Subject:
Motion picture producers and directors
Subject:
Film & Video - History & Criticism
Subject:
Film & Video - General
Subject:
Film & Video - Direction & Production
Subject:
Film - General
Copyright:
Edition Number:
1st
Edition Description:
Hardcover
Publication Date:
February 1, 2005
Binding:
Hardback
Language:
English
Illustrations:
Y
Pages:
416
Dimensions:
9 x 6 x 1.29 in 24.64 oz

Related Subjects

Arts and Entertainment » Film and Television » Directors
Arts and Entertainment » Film and Television » History and Criticism
Arts and Entertainment » Film and Television » Production » Anthologies

Rebels on the Backlot: Six Maverick Directors and How They Conquered the Hollywood Studio System
0 stars - 0 reviews
$ In Stock
Product details 416 pages HarperEntertainment - English 9780060540173 Reviews:
"Review A Day" by , "Sharon Waxman's book Rebels on the Backlot: Six Maverick Directors and How They Conquered the Hollywood Studio System, is rife with gossip, filling a similar vein as Peter Biskind's Down and Dirty Pictures....All in all, while the book makes for some entertaining reading, and quite a few belly laughs, Rebels on the Backlot is about as substantive as a 300-page issue of Premiere magazine without either the ads or the fact checkers." (read the entire Powells.com review)
"Review" by , "Waxman's accounts...are as arresting as any of the indy scripts....Waxman's grasp of the interior of the studio world, and her ability to make the workings of closed-door deals comprehensible, raise her work from text book to something truly absorbing."
"Review" by , "[R]iveting tales of Hollywood hubris....It's a fun, sometimes nasty read, although a bit sloppy with the facts in spots. (Grade: B-)"
"Review" by , "[A] lively book with gossipy and readable stories about some obsessive guys who are as much rascals as rebels."
"Review" by , "Terrific...wildly informative and readable about the plight of the biggest young talents in modern movies."
"Synopsis" by , New York Times Hollywood correspondent Sharon Waxman presents a revealing and page-turning account of the new generation of directors who are changing the face of modern filmmaking.
"Synopsis" by , By the Hollywood correspondent for The New York Times, Rebels on the Backlot is a revealing and page–turning account of the new generation of film directors who are changing the face of today's Hollywood.

Very much as the 1970s gave rise to a defining group of filmmakers such as Martin Scorsese and Francis Ford Coppola, the 1990s witnessed a new generation who captured the imaginations of audiences and opened the purse strings of the Hollywood film machine. Rebels on the Backlot follows six top–level film directors from the origins of their careers through the making and release of their signature films. They are: Quentin Tarantino (Pulp Fiction), Paul Thomas Anderson (Boogie Nights), David Fincher (Fight Club), Steven Soderbergh (Traffic), Spike Jonze (Being John Malkovich) and David O. Russell (Three Kings). The book uses the development, writing, shooting, editing and release of each director's major film to explore the lives and struggles each of them faced. It will dip in and out of each filming experience, drawing in the stories of other figures along the way, creating a chronological portrait of contemporary Hollywood and the rebel generation of the 1990s. This is also a story of an emerging community of talented artists –– directors, writers, actors of young Hollywood –– who supported each other, burn with envy at one another's success, swap girlfriends and boyfriends and ultimately spur each other to greater accomplishments.

"Synopsis" by , The 1990s saw a shock wave of dynamic new directing talent that took the Hollywood studio system by storm. At the forefront of that movement were six innovative and daring directors whose films pushed the boundaries of moviemaking and announced to the world that something exciting was happening in Hollywood. Sharon Waxman of the New York Timesspent the decade covering these young filmmakers, and in Rebels on the Backlotshe weaves together the lives and careers of Quentin Tarantino, Pulp Fiction; Steven Soderbergh, Traffic; David Fincher, Fight Club; Paul Thomas Anderson, Boogie Nights; David O. Russell, Three Kings; and Spike Jonze, Being John Malkovich.
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