William Goldman is a legend in the film industry. He’s a screenwriter but also the best selling novelist. He has written some of the best films of the ’60s and ’70s. Screenwriters should read and take notes on how he structures his screenplays. The screenplays below are the only ones available for free online.
If you are a screenwriter you also should take a look at his definitive work on the screenwriting craft, Adventures in the Screen Trade: A Personal View of Hollywood and Screenwriting.
When you are done reading take a listen to Apple’s #1 Screenwriting Podcast The Bulletproof Screenwriting Podcast, with guest like Oscar Winner Eric Roth, James V. Hart, David Chase, John August, Oliver Stone and more.
(NOTE: For educational and research purposes only).
BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID (1969)
Screenplay by William Goldman – Read the screenplay!
ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN (1976)
Screenplay by William Goldman – Read the screenplay!
Screenplay by William Goldman – Read the screenplay!
Screenplay by William Goldman – Read the screenplay!
THE GHOST AND THE DARKNESS(1982)
Screenplay by William Goldman – Read the screenplay!
THE PRINCESS BRIDE (1987)
Screenplay by William Goldman – Read the screenplay!
“William Goldman is, by far, one of the most popular storytellers of our generation,” says Sean Edgar, an author.
Stated above is one the millions of great testimonies people around the world have to say about the iconic writer, William Goldman. Though his name may not ring a bell with people who are not the within the entertainment industry, but it is definitely a household name anybody who works within the industry.
William Goldman, one of the most successful and prolific novelists, playwright and screenwriter ever, was born on August 12,1931. His fiction novels became popular in the 1950s and after then he ventured into the into the world of writing screenplays, for which he won so many prestigious awards including two Academy Awards(firstly, for the western Butch Cassidy and Sundance Kid in 1969, and then for All the President’s Men in 1976)
His books on the craft of screenwriting are legendary and a must-read for any screenwriter.
- Adventures in the Screen Trade: A Personal View of Hollywood and Screenwriting – Amazon
- Which Lie Did I Tell?: More Adventures in the Screen Trade – Amazon
- Four Screenplays with Essays – Amazon
- The Big Picture: Who Killed Hollywood? and Other Essays – Amazon
William Goldman was born into a Jewish family in Chicago. His father, Maurice Goldman, was a businessman whose successful business eventually went south due to his alcoholism. Maurice later committed suicide when William was still in high school. Consequently, William and James, his brother, were left alone to cater for their mother, Marion Goldman, who had a hearing impairment.
William Goldman obtained his BA degree from Oberlin College in 1952. Afterward, he joined the army as a typist and was sent to the Pentagon as a clerical officer in 1954. After he was discharged as a corporal from the army, he went to Columbia University for his master degree. Meanwhile, in his spare time, he resorted to doing what he loved the most – writing short stories – and strove to get them published.
According to William Goldman himself, he said he began writing after he took a creative writing course at his alma mater. It should be noted that, initially, William did set out to be a poet and novelist but not a screenwriter, which he was later well-known for across the globe today.
Before he started his career as a screenwriter, William Goldman had had five novels in prints and three plays produced on Broadway. His debut novel was TheTemple of Gold, which was a success. Marathon Manwas the thriller he wrote after the death of his first agent, prior to which he focused on serious literary works.
His writing career to a sharp turn in 1964 when an actor, Cliff Robertson commissioned him to adapt the screenplays for Flower for Algernon, which was renamed Charleyand for which Cliff won the Academy Awards for the Best Actor. Having seen the job well-done by Goldman, Cliff had him rewrite Masquerade, which was Goldman’s very first screen credit.
William Goldman spent eight years researching Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, his first original screenplay and sold it for a record $400,000 in the late 1960s. Afterward, he used several of his works as the basis for his screenplays such as the Princess Bride, All President’s Men and so on, except his novel No Way to Treat a Lady which was translated by somebody else. One of William’s most popular un-produced works is a pirate adventure, The Sea Kings but it was scrapped because the budget was way too high.
One of the greatest creative confessional ever written about the entertainment industry is was Goldman’s Adventures in the Screen Trade, which opening sentence
“Nobody knows anything”
was the most famous personal quote line ever written by Goldman. The idea of the title actually came from Dylan Thomas’ collection of stories titled Adventure in the Skin. The book was an interesting exposition on how the Hollywood entertainment industry works and contains virtually everything an intending writer needs to know about the industry. The book explained how the success of a film is affected by the stars, the producers, the writers and other professional players associated with.
It also tells the story of each film in the life of the great screenwriter, William Goldman and then finally, the book went on to give a step-by-step, comprehensive exposition on how one of William Goldman’s masterpieces, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, was made with a full presentation of the screenplays. The book was actually about Goldman’s feelings about his business. He wrote the screenplay of the Butch and Cassidy and the Sundance Kid while he was teaching creative writing in the Christmas vacation of 1965-1966. All studios he showed it to rejected it except one, the 20thCentury Fox, which finally accepted it.
Then the 20thCentury Fox embarked on the project of the filmmaking. The filmmaking was directed by the George Roy Hill whom William Goldman considered to be the greatest and most prolific director he has ever worked with. The movie stands out as Goldman’s biggest success commercially ever. After the production of the Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid film, he began – perhaps motivated by the success – to more novels and screenplays.
Often, he would tell his daughters, Jenny and Susanna, bedtime stories and on one fateful night, he asked them what the title of the stories they wanted him to tell them, and then one said “Princess” while the other said “Bride”. And that was how he got the title for his superb novel, the Princess Bride in 1973 and shortly after then, he wrote the screenplay for the novel. According to him, that is the only novel really likes. Perhaps the likeness was a kind of emotional attachment to the work which would be, most likely, as a result of the anguish of mind he experienced because the work took an unusually long time.
William Goldman disappeared from the limelight in the entertainment industry for almost a decade after writing to Mr. Horn in 1979. This was, definitely, not because the stream of Goldman’s creativity has dried up but because the self-financed producer, Joseph E. Levine, he was in a screenplay writing a contractual agreement with, could not finance the budgets of the filmmaking, so none of these works was produced during those years.
On the other hand, Goldman too made a lot of efforts personally to get other studios and producers to help him produce some of them, but that too was to no avail. Meanwhile, he continued to write several other books, one of which was Adventure in the Screen Trade which finally became a best seller.
Fortunately, he was able to secure a job with Creative Artists Agency (CAA)in 1986 and within a month he was offered the rights to adapt An Invisible Man, memoir authored by H. F. Saint and, luckily for him, the film was produced.
However, his first real comeback movie was in 1987 when one of his novels, the Princess Bride was produced. In 1990, he was also commissioned by Rob Reiner, director/producer, to write the screenplay for Misery which was adapted from a novel authored by Stephen King. He continued to write popular screenplays in the 1990s, namely Maverick in 1994, The Chamber in 1996, the Ghost and the Darkness in 1996, and Absolute Power in 1997. He also co-authored the screenplay for the General’s Daughter with Chris Bertiloni in 1999.
At the dawn of the new millennium, another of Goldman’s memoirs was released titled Which Lie did I Tell? It reflects the usual honest, down-to-earth style characteristic of Goldman’s literary works. In the book, he explained all a writer need to know about the screenwriting business and how to thrive in the business.
Goldman is prolific not only in the art and craft of screenwriting but also in novel writing. The following are some of his many works:
Theatre: Blood, Sweat and Stanley Poole (with his brother James Goldman), Misery, A Family Affair.
Screenplays: Masquerade, Harper, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, The Hot Rock, the Stepford Wives , All the President’s men, A Bridge Too Far, Misery, Year of Comet, Chaplin, Indecent Proposal, Last Action Hero, Maverick, Malice, The Chamber, Dreamcatcher, Wild Card, Absolute Powers, The General’ Daughter, Wild Cat, Dolores Clairborne, Heart in Atlantis, Twins, The Ghost and The Darkness etc.
Novels: the Temple of Gold, Your Turn to Curtsy, My Turn to Bow, Soldier in the Rain, Boys and Girls Together, No way to Treat a Lady, The Thing of It Is…, The Princess Bride, Magic, Marathon, Tinsel, Control, The Color of Light, the Silent Gondoliers, Heat, Brothers, Father’s Day, Control
Non-fiction and memoirs: the Season: Candid Look at the Broadway, Adventures in the Screen Trade, Hype and Glory, Which Lie Did I Tell? Wait Till Next Year, the Picture: Who Killed the Hollywood etc.
Short stories: Something Blue, Rogue, the Ice Cream Eat, Till the Right Girl Comes Along, Da Vinci, the Simple Pleasures of the Rich etc.
Almost 50 years career as a professional writer, Goldman has won awards to his name including two Academy Awards(both for Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid and All the President’s Men), two Edgar Awards, he also won the Laurel Award for screenwriting Achievement in 1985.
William Goldman is indeed one of the greatest American screenwriters of all time.
Bill I think in the books that you've written about screenwriting that you've become famous for to two averages, one of which is that nobody knows anything. And the other is that screenplays are structure, that nobody knows anything. It's funny, it's caught on. And what I is I remember what I meant by it was that nobody has the least idea What movie is gonna work. I mean, the big movie that's opening this weekend is Sex in the City, too. And nobody has the least the first one was a free kit. And people loved it. And now they've done the sequel. And sequels or horror movies, as I've written, the only reason you do a sequel is to make money. And nobody has the least idea. Is it going to be a phenomenal success? Or is it going to be? Is it going to take, I was talking with a studio guy, recently, and he said, we'll make movies that cost under 25 million and movies that cost over 75. And I thought, total horseshit, what he meant was, they would make quote, unquote, an art film.
And they would make special effects movies. But that leaves out a gigantic percentage of what most of us fell in love with movies for I mean, it wasn't because of the special effects stuff that they're doing. They'll understand that Avatar was terrific, etc, etc. But there were other things besides Avatar was the movies I liked. I started my first screenplay, I think in 1964. I mean, I don't know that Tom Cruise was alive in 1964. If he was he wasn't like, and it was such a different world then because now, the numbers are so terrifying. The studios, I think, from what I'm told are scared shitless because the amount of money that they're spending in movies, I mean, the first movie really, that I did was Harper and had pulled him and bless him who was, I guess, the biggest star in the world in? And I think it cost $3 million? Well, you figure that was a long time ago monies. But it's still you can't you can't get a major stars gym teacher for $3 million. today. It's just the prices are I think the big change that's happened right now is the money. And, and I don't know if it'll ever go back to being where it was a little bit more sane. I think if you're a kid, and you want to start out in movies, you used to be able when I began in the 60s, you could pretty much write anything you wanted to write and pray. Because they weren't you know, they wanted romantic comedies, which they really thank you. I guess they do now I thought date night was terrific. But they don't really, you know, they wanted westerns. They don't want Westerns anymore. I mean, it's very limited as to what they're making because they're panic, as I would be to if I were running a studio, because they have no idea what's going to work.
And they have they've got to keep making their stuff. And they just don't know. I mean, every it always was a crapshoot. But now the numbers are so I think the numbers are the biggest difference. And if I were young screenwriter now you can only write, this is a sound. So we're binnacle. But you can only write what you give a shit about. And you've got to keep doing that. If, for example. You don't like special effects movies. Don't try and write one because it'll suck. And for example, I don't like special effects movies. I mean, I love jaws. But for the most part, I don't like you know, all the things coming down from the planet to kill us and all that stuff. And it would be ridiculous for me to try and write one you've got to try and write something you care about. That sounds really corny, but it's true. When I started.
There weren't film schools I never saw in my life. Not even for a second. I never saw a screenplay until I was 33 years old. And a lot of kids are finished with their careers when they're 33 because they've been to film school. They got their first movie done when they were 23 or 25. And then the now that they're 33, there's something there directors or whatever else. And it was a different world. And when I first heard of film schools, I thought it was the stupidest fucking idea I've ever heard of. Why would anybody you know because we fell in love with movies by going to the LCN theater in my little town in Illinois and You went to the movies, and they were wonderful. And then now movies are important, which they never were when I was a kid. I was born in Chicago and 31 live there for six years, then we moved to HetLand Park.
And I have childhood amnesia. So I have no memories, whatever, are the first six years of my life, I have very few memories of the early years at all, but the Chicago years and I wish I knew what it was like then were totally blocked. My father was in the clothing business. And my mother was his wife. And he, he worked for a company of Sears Roebuck and Montgomery Ward, where the two biggest and my father worked for the third, which was not a giant company, and he was always coming in New York and, and clothing, business, etc, etc. And then it was a family business. And my mother who was much more powerful, and my father became convinced that my father would never be made ahead of the company, because it would be a family business, and they would screw him. So she made him retire, which I don't think he wanted to do, and start his own business. And he did. And his alcoholism got out of control. And his partner in the new business which he started, which was doing well close the business because my father was a hopeless drunk. And then he came home to live. The last four years of his life, he lived upstairs in the house, as I was growing up, and then he killed himself when I was 15. And I found his body and No, I've never written about it. But it was a very fucked up child.
And yet, there was something in that childhood, there was something in your upbringing that inculcated but I mean, but you and your brother both became writers? Yes. Unusual, very unusual. And you went to the theater as a kid, I know not to mention the Alcyone you just
know, but also legitimately did a lot of theater going my parents like to theater. And we would go to see road companies or whatever hit musical was in town. And I would see and then we came to New York twice, and saw a lot of theater and I love theater. I still do. It's just very when it's wonderful. It's better than anything, but it's not wonderful, so much. And you'll have to basically, for a when you go ahead, it's going to be something that you'll have memories. And, and like that. So my upbringing was very fucked up. And I guess I might as well talk about my writing. I showed no signs of talent. I showed no signs of talent. And the fact I've been a writer for half a century and more now is insane to me. Still, you were at Oberlin. I was at Oberlin. But I was when I went to Oberlin, we had a literary magazine, and I was the fiction editor.
And it was a poetry editor and an overall editor. And everything was submitted anonymously. And these two girls were just brilliant. And when my I would submit my short stories to be published, in which I was the fiction editor, and they wouldn't, you know, and it was all anonymous, and they would look at it. And I was so nervous, my story was coming up. And they would say, what, we can't publish this shit. And I would say no, that we can't publish this shit. And I never got anything published. I think I must have somewhere in my life 100 rejection slips from magazines. And no one had the least interest. I never got a little thing back saying, show us your next story. I remember once. This can't be true, but I think it is. I submitted something in the New Yorker, a short story and I got it back the same day. Now the males are not that good. But I remember as I opened my mailbox, that was a fucking story that I just sent out to the New Yorker. And I took a I took a writing course at Northwestern and got the worst grade I took a short story course at Oberlin and got the worst grade. And my dearest old friend is a fabulous figure in my life. John Kander, who has had amazing success in Broadway. Catherine M, they wrote Chicago and cabaret in New York, New York and, and Johnny was there. And I remember, Candace saying, One day we were having coffee, and we had to submit a story the next day, and I'd written mind weeks and working on it. And he said, Well, I got to go back to my room now and write the story and I said, you haven't started it yet. And he did. And then Johnny got B's and A's and I got C's. And I was a very bad student.
That'll Rowland, and I went in the Army in 52, everybody was drafted. And in those years, the army was 16 weeks of basic training, eight weeks of learning to throw a hand grenade and marching and how to use your rifle, and eight weeks of something else. And because I knew how to type, I was sent to clerical school. And there were seven of us that day, who arrived in clerical school the same day, and we were all college kids. And the head of the clerical school was a captain, who was a golf net. And he realized having just come, because he would have the seven of us run the clerical School where he played golf every day. And she will he wrote a letter to the Pentagon, requesting we be taken out of pipeline, and be given to the clerical School for the next two years, because we were fabulous. And he wrote this bullshit letter. And the Pentagon got the letter, there was a famous story in World War Two, about the five Salomon Brothers who were sent overseas after basic training, and this ship sunk, and they were all five killed. And the government felt that was unfair pain. So they passed a rule, which I think is still in effect, that everybody after basic training in the military gets two weeks to go. And so we all went home, the seven of us for two weeks, and then met at the Pentagon. And we had discovered the Pentagon had gotten the letter and thought, if we were so fabulous, they wanted us at the Pentagon said we were sent to the Pentagon. And in those two weeks, the jobs they had for us were filled. So they were gonna keep us there until the next levy to Korea happened. And it never happened because the Korean war was ending. So the seven of us had nothing to do for essentially 22 months.
And I mean, it was amazing. The people who rent the civilians who were in our offices loved us, because the more people they could have working for them, the higher their ranking wouldn't be in the civilian world. So we had nothing and I remember I was given jobs, I was given one job to do to make a deviation up for every job title in the army. And I remember, I made the Washington Post on that by name, because some of my abbreviations were longer than the job titles. And they thought What kind of an asshole thisand years later the Washington Post would pick up very important anyway. I would write shorts I would we were in Fort Myer, Virginia, across a little thing from the Pentagon. And every night I would go to the Pentagon and write my short stories. And I never got anything published. It was just horrible. And then, after military, I came to New York, and I was going to Columbia. But my grades at Oberlin were so shitty. I couldn't get into Columbia. So I got in and pull ahead of the music department and wonderful man named Douglas more, got me in. And I got a Master's at Columbia. And I didn't know what I was going to do in my life. And then I felt I know what I'll do, I'll get a PhD. But then I realized I have no language skills. And that would have been an extra two years to learn two languages. And I desperately I was living with my brother, who was at this point of failed play, right? We're all in our 20s and Kander, who was not successful yet he was giving voice lessons.
And I realized I'd gotten a masters. And I wanted to be a writer, I'd show no signs of talent. No one ever had the least notion that I wouldn't succeed as a writer. And I went back to Highland Park. And in a frenzy of three weeks, I wrote my first novel. And I remember so clearly. I was on page 50. And I'd never been on page 20 before because the short story is worlds short. And I wrote the novel. I had met a guy in the army who hadn't met an agent. So I called up the agent who was just starting wonderful man named Joe McCrindle. And I said, Can I send you my novel? And he said, Sure. And he knew an editor at Club and he sent the novel to the editor, and they had a very odd reaction to it. They said, we'll publish it if you'll double in in length, which was very strange. So I went frantic and I doubled it in length, and send it back and was waiting to hear. Now I never had anything published, ever, ever, ever hired showed no signs of talent. And I got a phone call that morning. I was alone in the apartment in New York that they hadn't accepted the book in candor, came home about two hours later.
And he said, Have you heard about the book? And he said, Yes. And he said, and I said, they're going to publish it. And he said, Oh, Billy, which he's the only one who calls me Billy. Isn't that wonderful? Is everyone thrilled? And I said, I haven't told anybody. And he realized I've been walking around having a catatonic fit, because I didn't know how to deal with this news. And Candace said, Would you like me to help? And I said, how would we do it? And he'd say, well, we'll sit at the desk. And I'll call people and dial him and tell him your book was taken, and that you don't want to talk about it. And you can say, Isn't it wonderful? And they would say, yes. And then we dial it next purse. And that's what we did. We tell everybody we knew, and said Billy's book has been taken. And that was how I started. And I still am staggered. No one remotely thought I could ever succeed as a writer. And what I, when I got my master's, the only the only job offer I got, I think was from a high school in Duluth, Minnesota that said, I could come and teach English. And I didn't want to do that. I didn't want to go to Duluth and teach English. And probably what would have happened to me was I had an uncle in who was in advertising in Chicago. And I think probably, he could have gotten me some kind of menial job in an ad agency. If I, and then I wrote the novel, and that changed everything. But it's still
freakish to me that any of this happened. They felt they'll find me out. And what I had to do was write a novel every year. So the next year, you know, what I did was I was living in New York. And I go to the movies every day. Because it was possible. It was wonderful. 42nd Street at that time, had 17 I think movie theaters that showed double features, and you could go down, it hadn't become dirty yet. And I'd go down there and didn't know what there was a double feature has been played westerns, in one played comedies, you know, you can go see anything foreign film double feature. And that's really those years. I where I got my movie education seriously. I mean, I went to movies all the time when I was a kid. But I just went to shitload of movies those years. And I wrote an album that was temple ago came out in 57. And I had a novel came out in 58. And I went to Broadway, which is a disastrous thing for anybody to do, and novel in 1960. And then I wrote a very, I wanted to write a long novel. Don't ever write along, though. And it took me a long, long time. It was, it was a book for boys and girls together, eventually changed a lot of things in my life. And I'd gotten about it was 1000 pages, typed as long fucker. And I had gotten halfway through, I stopped for a year and a half to do theater. And when I came back, I was blocked, which is everybody's nightmare. And I didn't even know I had 600 pages typed. And I didn't know what to do.
And one day, I read an article, I think, in the Daily News, the big crime at this time was the boston strangler. And the new theory in Boston, was it there might be to Boston Strangler. And as I was walking up to my office, a notion never happened before, maybe once again, an idea dropped into my head, which never happens, which was what if there were two Stranglers and one of one of them got jealous of the other. And I called up some friends and said, I've got this idea for a novel. But I want to write my long novel and they said, Well, if you can write this strangler book quickly, why don't you do that? Maybe we'll get you juiced up to finish up the lawn but and so I wrote the strangler book in 10 days, and it was became a novel and it became a movie was called no way to treat a lady. And the reason I'm going on about this is I wanted to make it seem longer. then it was. So I had a ton of chapters, because each new chapter, I could start on the top of the next page. And I think there were probably 50 or 60 chapters in 150 page book was a weird looking book.
And the reason I go into this was because that's what got me in the movie business. Lovely actor named Cliff Robertson. Somehow got ahold of no entry lady. And he came to my apartment, and he said, I read your screen treatment. And I remember thinking shit, that wasn't a screen treatment. That was a novel, but because of all the chapters, and sometimes it'd be a one sentence chapter and then the next page. And he said that his career, his great successes went on television, but that when the movies happened, he didn't get the parts. So we had optioned a marvelous short story called flowers for Elgin, by Daniel Keyes. And when I write a screenplay, and I had never seen a screenplay, and so he left, and I was talking to my wonderful wife, Eileen. And I said, I've got a good time to turn down the Time Square was midnight, or one in the morning, and see if I can find what a screenplay looks like. So there were bookstores that were open late in Times Square in those years. And there was one, I don't know what it was that was published at that time. And when talking 64 and I bought it, and I brought it home, and I looked at the screenplay. And I realized I could never write in that form, because the screenplay is all double space, faded and double space, build double space, he is sitting in a chair, but all in motion. And I realized I could never write in that form. And, and I didn't, and then
for some reason, Robertson, I was writing the screenplay for him. But I hadn't done remotely anything on it yet. And he asked me to come over and Dr. Movie, which I did when he was shooting a movie, I think Sean Connery was supposed to play the lead. And then he couldn't do it. So it was they had a real change the the dialogue. And I did that for a couple of weeks, and I came back, finished Flowers for Algernon, sent it off to Robertson who fired me immediately. I'd never been fired. It was a horrifying experience. And he got sterling silver had to write him in the movie was Charlie, right? He won the Oscar. Not a sentence of mine was in the screenplay. But that's how I got in the movie, because it's all a fluke. I mean, if Cliff Robertson doesn't miss read my, my novel and think it's a screen treatment, he never asked me interesting. And I never and I said I was 33 years old. And I'd never ever seen a screenplay. Nobody. This has any interest in our business now can say that. There's a screenwriting convention that happens every year in California, and used to be before the crash. 1000s of kids came from all over the world, and they would listen to agents would come and people would, you know, talk about how to make the movie but
so how do you feel about that whole sort of orthodoxy of screenwriting? That the books and the Robert McKee and theMickey I remember, I listened to him, but he's very good. I mean, he really is a good speaker. I heard him once I went to a lecture he gave he's a very skillful fellow. There were no rules on this things happen. I mean, when I think of, there's no way if I wrote which Cassie today, which is the most successful movie I've ever had been or will be connected with. They don't make that movie. They don't make a Western. The only way they might make it is if Mr. Eastwood felt an urge to make a Western and he got together with George Clooney.
And he directed it and whatever. I don't know. But otherwise, they don't make westerns. Westerns flop. I mean, John Wayne was the biggest star, John Wayne couldn't get arrested. The greatest dancer that ever lived, Fred Astaire couldn't get arrested. Now. What part? I mean, what part Have you seen in a movie that Fred Astaire could have played? They don't make Fred and Ginger movies anymore. They don't do it. It's all different. And when you think about those giant stars of my childhood, Gary Cooper, what is Gary Cooper gonna do? What is Jimmy Stewart going to do? Are any of them going to get?
I think they'd be on television. They'd all have TV shows. That would be how they are in delivered But I don't think. And when you think of the big stuff, we live in a time right now. 2010 I don't think this has ever happened in the history of sound. There was one movie star. And that's Will Smith. And yes, Johnny Depp put them in a pirate movie. Sure. But Will Smith in anything, the way they the way they look at movies out in Hollywood? is does the movie open? Which means the first weekend, does it new business. And the reason they pay stars, these obscene amounts of money or you used to was because they felt the stars would open the picture. Tom Cruise will open a picture. Well, he doesn't anymore. He has a movie coming out this summer. If it's a big hit, maybe they'll love Tom Cruise again. But it goes very fast. And one of the reasons actors are the way they are, is because it's not gonna last and they know it. And they know it and it's scary for
you net, you never moved out there. You know, I
don't like California. I have no sense of direction. I hate to drive. I had a wonderful summer in the boot camps and each summer. But that was a different world. You know, we, George Hill and I met every day at his office on the Fox lot for the day. And we talked about this and talking about that and this line in that line. And they wouldn't do that. Now. It was like the summer, we spent working on the script that we had. Redford and Ross and Newman in for 10 days that three of them just heal in myself and the three actors. And they were also gorgeous.
And I remember I was walking back to his office one day. And he said in a quiet rage. I feel like a mutt because they were here were these three gorgeous. They are and they were and I think the three Ross was the best horseback ride. I've always thought I've been told it. But and then we had the crew in for like two weeks we had everybody in the editor and the camera man and bla bla bla, talking what problems do you have with this? What do you have, we're gonna have trouble making that work well, so that when the shoot actually happened, the movie went like a dream because we had had an amazing amount of, of work on the script. And on location. Before the movie shot, they wouldn't do that. The novel I mentioned, no way to treat a lady, which was published I think, in 64 was published under a pseudonym Harry longbow, which was the real name of the Sundance Kids.
So this is five years before the movie came out. So I'd obviously been trying to, there was not a lot about them at this point. We know anything. We still don't know really anything about long, but we think he was from we think he was born and brought up in New Jersey. And he was clearly as good with a gun as anybody at that time. And he was, and he went to South America, which Cassie Cassidy was a fabulous figure. There are only two figures in the history of the West, who were famous at that time when they were alive. One of them was Jesse James, and one of them was Cassidy. Cassidy was so well liked. This happened. If he was being followed by someone, he would go up to your house and say, Hi, I'm Butch Cassidy. The sheriff is after me. Can you hide me in the basement?
And they say sure, come on in. But everybody loved it. He was this marvelous, strange figure who had no violence and we never shot anybody really went to South America. And he was he in the Sundance Kid, we're friends. Why in the world, it was wonderful material. And one of the great stories about this is true. As a young man, he's in jail. And the governor of the state and I'm going to say it was Colorado says I'll make you a deal. If you promise me you'll go straight. I'll let you out. I mean, he was not in murder. He was whatever. I'll release you from prison. All you have to do is tell me that you'll never commit crimes again. And Cassidy said, I can't do it. He said, but I'll make you a deal. If you'll let me out. I promise I'll never do anything in college. Again, and the governor took the deal, and he never did anything in Colorado again. It may have been I don't know what state it was. But he was may have been one.
But he was an amazingly likable figure Cassidy was and that he had arguably the biggest gaming and he ran it. I mean, it's ridiculous. Why would why did they all follow Butch Cassidy but they did. Until Harriman they robbed railway them. It's like the movie. It didn't make much of that up. They robbed rail and eh, Herrmann. It was a billionaire at that time, whatever the equivalent would have been. went nuts. That Butch Cassidy kept robbing history. So he formed the greatest law outfit.
And your super posse, the super posse, and he had six guys from around the country who were the top law men in America. And he got them all together. And he said, All you got to do is capture Butch Cassidy. And when Cassidy heard about it, he realized they would kill him. So that's why he went to South America. I mean, the idea of going into South America was insane. But you know, he was, it's a wonderful, he was a wonderful figure. Not like really anybody else.
So he wrote it on spec, basically, I tended to do that a lot. I wrote my novels on spec, etc, etc. That means not having a contract by roadbook Jones back and I had a very great agent named ever Ziggler. And he decided to have an auction. And everybody turned it in, except one studio. And they wanted to change, which was the studio guys said, they can't go to South America will buy this if you don't have them go to South America. And I said, but they went there. In the studio guy said to me, I don't give a shit. All I know is one thing.
And then this great line, John Wayne don't run away. And of course, John Wayne didn't run away. It was a very unusual thing. For Western heroes. It's one of the other things that made the story so wonderful. And so I rewrote it. Changing almost nothing. And Ziggler auction did again. In every studio wanted it you set one. And there was this insane auction. And I have to mention the number. It was sold to Fox Richard Zanuck, David bro, bless them. For $40,000 Which now we're talking about what 1967 Whatever it was, it was a shitload of money then. But it was really a freakish amount of money now. And it got in all the papers. Because nobody at this time knew anything about screenwriters because all they knew is an actor's made up all the lines and directors and all the visual concepts. And the idea of this obscene amount of money going to this asshole who lives in New York who wrote a Western drove him nuts. That was the most vicious stuff. And when the movie opened, the reviewers were pissy because they hated me. And the movie, basically caught on and became what it became. But it was the writing of the screenplay and the amount of money that it went for. That basically changed everything in my life. I think I'd written a couple of things that hadn't gotten made. And then Harper, and then there was something else. And then I wrote Butch I mean, I wrote, but my second daughter was born in I think, 65. And we moved to Princeton, because I'd spend a little time I didn't go to school, everyone. I spent a little time in Princeton, you're teaching. Now I was just basically out there. I became a teacher later, and we decided to move to Princeton. We were gonna have a second kid. It's a great town, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. And I'll tell the story. It's it's a huge change in my life. We move to Princeton. I am planning to be a writer.
A guy who I admit who was the writing professor, came up to me and said, I have a chance suddenly for sabbatical. Would you take over and be the writing professor next year? You know, I've always thought I'd like to teach teaching writing at Princeton, there weren't that many kids that take writing. I'll do it. So I taught writing. At Princeton at that, that was the over I wrote Butch over Christmas vacation in Princeton, New Jersey. I mean, I've been working on it for I don't know how many years. And I tend, once I have the confidence that I know what I'm doing to write quickly in movies. In other words, I don't know what it took me three weeks, whatever it was, but I've been working on it for x years, so you don't know. And I had done apparently a quality job in my teaching there that year. And I got the same guy who was cutting back said, would you take over and be the other writing teacher here at Princeton? And I thought, well, we'd like, for instance, so and so and so and so yeah. So I was gonna be a professor of writing at Princeton University. And I didn't hear from the guy and I didn't hear from the guy.
And finally, I ran into him, and he said, Oh, God, I've been avoiding you. And I said, What do you mean? And he said, There was a revolving head of the English department in that time, I have no idea if they still have it. And the guy who was the head of the English department that year, I had mentioned a book, I wrote a long book called boys and girls together, it became a gigantic hit in paperback. And it was about a bunch of people, young people who come to New York and fuck up their lives, boys and girls, gays and straights, all kinds of stuff. The guy who was the head of the English department that year, said, I will not have our students this direct quote. I will not have our students worshipping at the Shrine of a pornographer. I mean, the son of a bitch call me a pornographer. And I'm such a nice Jewish boy. It's so ridiculous. And this was, I went back to Eileen, the kids were then born, I called Mr. Ziggler. And I said, I am leaving Princeton. I don't know that I'll ever come back. You must give me something to do somewhere this summer. I don't care what it is. I want a doctor something this summer somewhere.
Get me out of here. So we moved back to New York that week. I think in the 40. Some years, I've been back to Princeton once. And I have no intention of ever going back. And it's a swell school and all that shit. Lindsay got me a job, I think in London, and we were off that week, where I spent this summer and I've lived in New York ever since. But it was if either I think of the other two English heads had been running the department that year and never would have happened. This one guy hated the book so much. Wow. And like that. That was a big. And that was a big deal. Because I was 3334 Maybe 35. And I had planned to be a professor. I really thought I was going to be that. And then that all changed. So I came to New York and I've been a writer reversals. Interesting. Yeah, fascinating for me. Well,
yeah, but luck. I mean, you know, the, the role of chance and oh, yeah, Chance favors the prepared mind, though, at the same time. You said about this. One other question about Butch Cassidy wishes that you said that everything you could from your Hollywood career came as a result of the cliff scene?
Well, it's, it's from Gunga Din. I think, for me, the greatest movie ever made is a movie directed by George Stevens called Ganga Dune, with Cary Grant. Victor McLaughlin and Douglas Fairbanks Jr, Santa Fe, Sam Jaffe in the title. And I went to see it at the LCS. And I remember I was so rocked by that. I went back the next day. And I remember when Grammar School everybody was stunned that I'd gone back to see a movie again. And I remember some kids said to me, how could you go again, when you knew when you knew who won something like that? And, and I did, and Gaga then I've seen it 16 times. My best younger than story for me, is the day I got out of the Army in 1954. I was back in my small town in LA Really. And there's an Army post fort Sheridan about two miles away. And a friend of mine was getting out.
And I called him. And I said, you know, I'm back when you're getting my mama. And he said, You'll never guess what's playing on the post tonight, Ganga did. And I said, Because I saw it every chance I ever got. And I knew it by heart. I said, I'll be there. And he said, there's a problem. You have to be in uniform. So the day I got out of the fucking service, I got back in uniform and snuck out into Fort Sheridan. So I could see Ganga did that so much. I loved it. I am moved. I written this and I believe it's still true. I am moved for reasons I do understand more than anything, but what I call stupid courage. And the two best examples I know where I don't want to spoil the plot and bring it in. But at the end of young at the end, there was a real shot to shit.
And The Waterboy Sam Jaffe is also wounded. And there's a tower and the British troops are going to get massacred by the evil, the evil criminals. In Cary Grant says the Colonel's gotten to know and indicate use him as a trumpet and go get in crops crawls up to tempo to go, which is what my first demo was called, and blows his bugle and gets killed, but the British are safe. And that was so moving for me. And the other thing that moved me out of control was one of the great musicals ever written this Porgy and Bess by the Gershwins, and Porgy is a cripple, and he's got a goat cart, and it's down south. And he's in love with a town beauty.
His name is Bess. And there is an evil person in the thing called sporting life was a drug pusher. And he gets us down south. And he convinces Beth to come to New York with him and he gives her drugs and they go off to New York, and Portuguese in jail because he has killed a town bully. And then he gets out of jail. And he comes back, and he's crippled. And he's on a cart. And you just sit there in the audience thinking, Oh, God, mess is gone. What's he gonna do? He's got no lives and crippled mama. And he says, Where's Bess? And there's a embarrassment from the people. And then they say, she's going for you.
She's going to New York. And there's a pause. And he says, three words. He says, Bring my goat. And when I heard that, I got so hysterical, because I realized, fucking Porgy was gonna go in his goat, his goat cart, having his goat pull him from the deep south to New York City. And I thought, Oh, my God, and I started to sob hysterically. And it's at the end of the show, and there's curtain calls and chairs. I'm still hysterical. And I can still remember when we left the theater, people would touch me pat my head and say to my parents, Is he all right? Is there something wrong with your son, because I couldn't stop hysterically crying. So that, you know, stupid courage moves.
So I mean, the cliff scene of Butch Cassidy really is a Ganga, Dean. Oh, it's totally, totally. I knew the Sundance Kid couldn't swim. I knew that because all those years I was doing research, I found out that most cowboys couldn't swim was not a thing that was part of their life. And I remember thinking shit, that, you know, like, clock that way. And so when you come to the thing, in which case that you were at the cliff, and they're about to get killed by the super posse, and voice says, We'll jump and the Sundance Kid says, I can't swim. That was a big fucking moment at the movies that people just shrieked and then they jump off the cliff unsavoury. She did
it. For me, it was like and then when Newman says, Well, it's the fall that'll kill you.
But that moment was one of the moments that and the other moment I think that I think they did die that way. There's a lot of dispute as to whether they were killed by but I think the militia got and that last scene where that they have when they're gonna, when Bush says let's go to Australia And then they go out and get shot that word because they never talk about the fact that there's a fucking militia out there and that they're bleeding to death as they speak. And they're going to die. They just talk about can we go to Australia, it's got nice beaches, whatever the dialogue is. And you could learn to swim and the kids that swimming is not important. But here they are talking about going to fucking Australia.
And they know they're going to die. And that's, again for me stupid courage that worked. That worked. And it was, Oh, I got to tell a wonderful story. Halfway through shooting, he'll has me out to look at like the first hours of dailies that he's done in the woods. Wonderful. And we're going to set after I'd seen hours and hours and hours and stuff. And it was just when they were going to Mexico for this up American secrets. This is a directing story. We're walking to the set. And a guy walks past.
And he's carrying a hat and he says hat, okay. And he'll nuts. And then we go on the rest of our walk, and suddenly Hill almost drops to his knees because he realized what the guy was saying is this hat that I am showing you. Okay for South America, because if he hadn't got it was the wrong hat. And if they had gone to Mexico, and the Sundance Kid and didn't have a hat, that was the same hat that he was wearing in New York, or wherever it was, they're fucked. They have to stop shooting. Someone has to fly from Mexico that loss and whenever whenever, and I'll never forget that because directors have that kind of problem.
Because if there's a thing if you need something, and you're a director, and you need this for a shot, you need that kind of crowd that kind of hat. You better have it or your fuck. I had Harper and Butch in the 60s. And there was other stuff. But I mean, those were the two and then I'm trying to think there was a long period. Oh, God, when was I a leper I wrote about it was when I wrote the season. No, it was when I wrote adventures in the screen tree. And I hadn't realized that I had basically, I had written some movies that hadn't gotten made. Right. And suddenly I was a leper. And the phone didn't ring.
Well, you wrote a great movie that I love, which is the great Waldo pepper.
Yeah, that was neat. That was for George Hill. That was only because George loved old airplanes, right? And whatever. No, but there was stuff. It's just the interesting thing about Waldo pepper. It was Redford and hill again. And the advance height was terrific. And we had a sneak in Boston. And I think it was Susan Sarandon, his first big part. And she was wonderful. And there's a scene where she's trapped on an airplane so that you know, old old older planes, and she's frozen on this airplane. And and Waldo makes a plane to plane transfer, and goes over and rescues it. But she loses her grip and she falls to where do the audience went fucking nuts.
They felt so betrayed. I never felt more panic in and I thought they might attack us, because there were people getting up and in a rage because we had done this. And the reason I mentioned this is today, if we had seen that it's a half a day's reshoot. All you have to do is put some footage in the same dress, bobbing up out of the lake and waving or fist and anger up at Waldo. And there's and she's fine. But we didn't do that. Then we didn't do the reshooting which happens now which is a big part of moviemaking. We didn't do that. And what are we talking about 40 years ago? It was we never thought part of it was hell. But we never thought of reshoot it. It was never mentioned by anybody. No, we can do this. Because it's an easy reshoot.
I've ever seen that the old Rivoli Right, yeah. So how did you learn? If you had not seen the screenplay before and the ones that you saw were fake to be around by again, I've been very lucky in that I've only written movies. I want to write.
In other words, when I got offered a special offer Facts movie. I know I couldn't do it.
And you can only do what you can do. I think that sounds. But you know the other thing that I wrote that caught on other screenplays are structure, you're telling a story. And you've got to basically, you've got to believe in the story and sounds really corny, but you do. You can only write what you think you can make play. And I think for anybody who's starting out, if you try and do something that you don't give a shit about, you're not going to get it made. And I was very lucky, in that the movies that I wanted to do got made in there for a long period, at least for the first 20 years of my career. They were all movies I wanted to write.
And you were never one for pitching.
You know, I only pitched once in my whole life. And I pitched her friends at Castle Rock. And it was so awful. I quit after a few minutes. I couldn't, you know, it's, it's my problem. I just couldn't do it. And you know, I got very, I was very, I was very in demand for a long time out there because Harper was a hit. Great line, the producer of Harper. We went up to him, Newman's house in Connecticut. And I remember walking, talking about the script. And we walked around the streets, the back streets of I think Westport.
And he was the two best stars I've ever worked with are Eastwood and Newman, they're just they were fabulous. And I remember with Newman, he had pebbles. And every time a car would come by, throw a pebble in the woods. So it was back was to the car. So no one stopped and said, Oh, my God, that fall moment. And he said he would do it. And we drove back into the city. And the producer said, you don't know what has happened to you? And I said, No, my first movie. And he said, You just jumped past all this shit. And that was true, because Paul Newman said he do it. So the movie good movie. He was that biggest star in those days? And, and had a fabulous career.
Can you tell the story of the opening credit sequence for Harper, how that came to be and what it was, I got a call from the director saying, I don't like being on the set. First of all, I have a tendency to fuck up the shot. I tend to stand in an area where the kid was going to move. And, and it's boring. For me, I don't want to I never wanted to direct. I don't understand actor. I never remotely except when I was in my, you know, hot streak, whatever. And people will want me to direct I would never want to do it. You know, it was ridiculous. And the director said, We need a credit sequence. And I thought what the fuck was my, you know, I didn't know about movies. But I knew what I knew what the credits were there, those things that come up to start and I thought, well, he's got to wake up in the morning or write about him waking up. So I did. And I got the notion that he was out of coffee. And he was living alone.
He was a detective. And he was living alone. He was divorced, whatever, had a miserable life. And he's not a coffee. So he has to make his coffee, with coffee grounds in the garbage. And then he made his coffee. And there's a moment where he sips it. A look of sheer horror comes over his face. And when I went to see the movie, they were having a screening of it in New York and I went to see it. There was this huge laugh, which I had not known who was going to be there. And one of the reasons I think when he when Newman's face when he sips his coffee was a huge laugh. And that's what people were talking about the movie was a big success, a good success. And one of the reasons it worked, I think was that moment in the beginning, when he makes that face the audience just liked him from the other story, which is true when I went to see the this sneak the screening. I walked in, it was a guy at the door.
And he didn't have my name. And he said, Who are you? And I said I'm a screenwriter. And he said, I don't know if I can let you in and I'm Eileen said he's the screenwriter for Christ. He wrote it. So the guy let us in. But I mean, that was also a good example of the power of the screenwriter. Nobody wanted to tell us that you said that screenwriters rank somewhere between the the man who guards the studio gate and the man who runs in the men who run the studio.
I think that's you know, they It's it's an odd most screenwriters I think, are only doing it because they want to get on to other things. They want to direct. I think most screenwriters really want to direct and I understand that because a director a makes more money but be as power. And you can if you're lucky as a director, and you have talent as a director, I mean, I think it's a terrible life. But it's better in many ways than being a screenwriter. I mean, it's not movies or an on movies are very, very odd way to make a living. They really are. Because for everybody, it's not just stars that lose it. Directors, nobody wants this director anymore. Nobody wants that writer.
Nobody wants that editor. A lot of technicians have long careers. I was a great, great editor just died DDL. And she had been around. I mean, she didn't start too young because she was a woman and there was prejudice in those years. But, I mean, she ran a lot and a wonderful run. But a lot of technicians if they're really skillful cameramen and editors can have long careers. There's a documentary out now about screenwriters. And what's interesting is, screenwriters tend to tell the same story? Because most of us have the same experience. These are people who have had careers, but you have the same things that didn't work.
It's interesting, you're talking about Director's Cut, because you you talk about the perplexing what you call the perplexing relationship between the writer and director, you say that the writer needs to be as supportive of the director as possible. You've also called them insecure lying assholes.
Well, I think basically, that's true. I mean, a lot of directors are wonderful people, Ron Howard. The two nicest people I've ever met in the movie business. Richard Attenborough in England and Ron Howard here in terms of just plain nice, decent professionals. But most directors are, it's weird, because it's hard doing it. Because you don't Oh, my God, you can't get you can't get this room. I thought we had this room sewn up. No, we don't have it, we have to go here, or it's raining out.
Or there's a million things that can go up that can screw up a director and most directors. It's hard. I mean, George Hill is the best director I've ever worked with. George didn't work that much. George would basically not work for like a couple of years, and then would do two movies back to back. And why he worked that way. I don't know. I don't know it was his rhythm. But it wasn't that he wasn't wanted, because it was offered everything. But I'm in a lot. It's a strange. And if you have a movie, that's a flop and you're the director, they remember that. I mean, you got to look up people's careers. A lot of guys have a long time of years between work. It's because the studio the last movie flopped, they don't want you.
So it's never been a desire on your part. You'd never had any desires direct,
I would have died rather than do it. I wouldn't know what I wouldn't know what the fuck to say to an actor. You know, they're I mean, actors. wonderings about actors. It's true, like everybody else, even though they're cuter than we are. They're very insecure. And when an actor wants the lines changed, you don't know. Is he really saying I don't like this line? Is he really saying, I want more lines? Is he really saying? I want everything in this scene to be about me? What did they really say? I don't know. I mean, they're, they're very peculiar. You know why? I don't know. I? I don't know why actors say yes, I'll do this part. I don't understand them. And they are what they are.
But in the case of Paul Newman, and Butch Cassidy, you had a great example of an actor saying not not worried about his co star not worried about the co star getting more attention or getting more lines or no,
but that was Newman Newman was. I mean, he was remarkable figure I think one says such bullshit about actors Oh, so and so was, but Newman really was.
But I remember this is an awful story. I wrote a movie in the 90s. It was a very successful Western Maverick. And James Garner played Gibson's in turns out his father, and I thought Shit, Paul Newman would have been great for the park because he looks like. And I went to Mr. Newman and showed him the script. And he had some suggestions. And then he said, Let's do it. And I remember he hit his dead, what the hell? Let's do it. And then there was a pause on this is Paul Newman. And he said, I hope they don't lowball me, meaning I hope the studio doesn't try and Chin's me out, or whatever my salary shouldn't be. And I said, that's not going to happen. It did happen. It did happen. They low balled, Paul Newman. And the big female star that time was Meg Ryan. And they low balled her.
And suddenly, Mel Gibson, I was told this, who was a giant star at this point. Got in a rage, because he didn't want to be the only star in the movie. So they went to James Garner that day? And he said, Yes. And Gardner had been in the you know, and it was a very, very, and they went to Jodie Foster and offered her more money than she'd ever been offered. And she said, Yes. So they suddenly over a weekend had their cast. But it was, you know, why would they? I still don't know. How anybody would Lobo? How can you basically take one of the great figures in film history and offer him enough money? Less than he felt? He wasn't a greedy man. And I don't know. It's a strange thing. But that's, that was a horrible story. Because Paul was probably Newman was probably 70. Wonderful looking always.
Yeah, the eyes, everything, just everything. He said that he had it all to do over again, you'd have written everything you've written except for All the President's Men.
Yeah, it was a terrible experience was an swell movie. It is. But it was a it was just a complicated film. It was you know, I wrote about it once. In a book it was, it was just that's another movie they don't make today. I mean, even if a big star wanted to make it which Redford was then a big star. It was just a very unpleasant experience. And the movie, it doesn't matter. The movie had some wonderful things. And I think the actors were swell, and we got through it. But it was a very, here's the deal. It doesn't matter. If you have a shitty experience on a movie, maybe eight people on earth? No, that is shitty experience and that movie, because I wrote about it in a book. But other than you don't, doesn't matter. It doesn't matter, the movie itself, whatever is up there on the screen or on your TV shed or on your little whatever those things are. That's what matters. Do you like that experience of being around that movie for that period of time? And it doesn't matter if you have a good experience or have a bad experience, except to the particular person. You know, did the director have a shitty time, you know, whatever, I don't know,
it was such a complicated story and so many different characters and names. And oh, God, the names were so terrible, I'm terrible. But it was Bob Woodward, who was one of the writers of it was a huge help to me. And the movie doesn't work as well as it does if he wasn't as helpful as, as he was, and then has gone on to having a fabulous career. But it's like, just in general, whether I have a good experience or a bad experience, making a movie writing a movie. I mean, let's talk about the writing of a movie, writing for me, my work habits are, I can't do anything until I think I know what I'm doing. And I only know what I'm doing, when I know the story from beginning to end. And then what I do is, I'll put on my wall, I'll tape to the wall, a yellow thing maybe with 15 or 25 numbers. It'll say interview, rain, whatever it is. And the rain means that when I'm going home today, there's a storm and some people are hurt because there's lightning, whatever it is, right? So I'll just put a few words down. But that's really the story of the movie. So and once I have those words up on the wall, I can write the movie and as I said, I mean one of my favorite writers ever Graham Greene, very, very great writer used to count the words.
And I think he wrote 300 words a day. And when he got to his 300 word, he stopped middle of his sentence screaming which you know what? Got me well That's crazy. But that worked for him. There's no, but once I know what I'm doing, once I have the notes up on the wall, I tend to be able to write fairly quickly. And that's, that's what that's me telling the story of the movie that I want to tell, or that I think I can tell. And that's the way it works for me, everybody else is different. I know right at home, but I had an office for years, don't go up there and whatever, whatever. But the main thing is, it's someplace quiet. And I think that basically, what we do, there is no, there are no rules for writing. You know, as I said, at the start of all is the fact that we're talking about my writing career. The fact that this happened is just inconceivable, as Xeni would say. You know why I decided to write a novel, when I had never written one. When I you know, why did I want to? It's crazy. It's just, it was a bizarre experience, and makes no sense. But here we are.
How do you tell the difference between what seems like a great idea, and something that's Oh,
I just think it's something I can make play. I remember I was talking about stupid courage. I read a book when I was a little boy, called Scarface the score story of a grizzly, I have no idea if it's in print. It was about a huge bear. And his adventures and bla bla bla bla bla. And at the end of the book, Scarface is old, walking along a cliff edge, an avalanche starts. And he doesn't try and run to the end of the ends. He turns, gets up on it and fights the rocks as they carry him to his death. Well, I couldn't stop crying for hours. And I didn't know why. I mean, basically, it was that same thing that moves me. So basically. I mean, there were three famous movies that I've turned the Godfather, which I loved as a novel, and God, I loved it. But I had just done something to do with crime. Maybe it was Bush. And I didn't want to write another crime story, not ontologically. That feels right. Yeah. And the second one was the graduate, which I didn't get. The movie I think is wonderful, blah, blah, blah, but I didn't get it.
And the third one was Superman, which I desperately wanted to do. Because I was I am a comic book nut. But I remember them saying we need to star and I knew enough to know that no movie star was going to play Superman. I met Warren Beatty, once we were he was a very smart and fellow. And they wanted him to be Superman. And they gave him the costume. And I think this is true. I think he told me, he went and he put it on, walk outside of his house, looked at himself and thought what the fuck am I doing and what took it off. But I knew that know when they were going to get eastward you know, but Sonny's was not going to. This is a long time ago, but you're not going to get a movie started getting that stupid costume. And I knew that. But they said, No, we're going to get a star. And of course they didn't they get the lovely Christopher Reeve no longer with us. It was wonderful in the movie. But those are three movies that I look back on. And it would have been wrong. I mean, the graduate was not a big deal. It was a small novel. But I didn't know how to make away. I didn't get it. The novel is different than mean it's forgotten who wrote the scripts a hell of a script.
But they made change. I mean, like, Godfather, I just can't remember turning down Godfather, loving it. I mean, usually when you love something you can, but I think it's I didn't want to do a crime thing. I think I don't know what I can't remember there was Was there another gangster movie that night? Or something? I can't remember what but those are. I don't regret them. I mean, the only one I wish I'd written them. The three that I wanted to write was the Superman and I was too smart for the room because they insisted on having a star now you wouldn't. I think if you were doing a special effects movie now, you would know enough. You're not going to get Will Smith to play. Maybe you will if you're lucky, but you're probably not going to get him you're gonna get somebody or somebody who's not famous yet.
Well, what about adapting I mean, you're talking about adapting novels and adapting someone else's work as opposed to adapting your own. I mean, you've, you've done both you've adapted. So
you know, I'm basically when you, when you do an ad, it's all the same thing. You've got to, you've got to like the story, you've got to think I can make this play. I can make this play. And if you have that confidence, I mean, I don't think any of us are ever confident about anything we right. God knows I never was. And I remember I'll talk about Princess Bride. I don't like my writing. I should say that I never have liked it. I don't like it. I've only liked two things I've ever written like Butch Cassidy and I like the princess. And the Princess Bride. I was going to California. My kids were little. I said, I'm going to be gone. I'll write you a story. What do you want it to be about?
One of them said for instances one of them said brides nice. And that'll be the title. Blob, I wrote a couple of pages that I don't think exists anymore in Los Angeles. Then I came back. And I had a lot of scenes, I had the fencing scene, I had a lot of stuff. But I didn't know how to do it. And I remember walking around the city. Because I really wanted to write this for my children. And I couldn't make it work. I couldn't figure it out. And I was gonna never write it. And then one day I got the notion that I didn't write it, it was written by this other finger in a Morgan stir it all of a sudden, that meant I could build from one good part to another to another. And all of a sudden it opened up for me if that doesn't happen. Marathon Man only exists. Because one day I was walking I think it's 47th Street. We're talking about 40 years ago, the diamond is sure. And in those years, it was filled with Jews who had concentration camp marks on their arms and stuff. And I remember walking on the street and thinking Jesus Christ What if the world's most wanted Nazi was walking on the street?
Suddenly the rest of it happened. But if I don't walk that street that day, or if it's winter and I can't see anybody's marks. I never wrote marathon if I hadn't thought of the fact that somebody else wrote Princess Bride. It never is written. It's all fluky how it happens. God knows. But it's always for me a crapshoot. It's stuff you know if I don't read that paper of what's there were two Stranglers I never write no way to treat a lady, which is what got me in the movie business. I mean, a lot of this stuff.
Is it safe is one of the great lines to me, and worked, because there's an ambiguity there that you don't know for a long time at work.
And well, that was a great thing working for Mr. Great Olivier story, who was the greatest actor that ever lived arguably.
He had been ill. I was working with John Schlesinger no longer with us.
Marathon meme was a thriller. John was not known for doing it, but he had done a movie that he thought was going to tank and he thought this could save his career on here.
He doesn't need a locust maybe.
Maybe it was I don't know, but he thought it was going to take. So we're in London. And we try and get Olivia Olivia has been. He was very ill with a bunch of diseases. And Slazenger. What am I thinking? Nobody knew if he live. And then I remembered this marvelous thing. Richard Widmark a wonderful actor, was in London and called up Slazenger is and I know you want Larry, can I read for you and Woodward got very famous in his first movie kiss of death, playing an evil figure named Tommy Yuda, who pushed the woman down the stairs. And he came, and he was fabulous as the evil Nazi as you can, if you think of it, even kiss of death. And then Olivier got strong enough to do it.
And he's bald in the movie wall in the book, blah, blah, blah. And we were terrified that Olivia, who was a very ill man, and had been gorgeous, as a young star might not want to have all his hair taken away. And I wouldn't have blamed him. So we had a barber. And we hit him in the basement of the place where we were doing rehearsal. And so Lawrence walked in and said this lesson. First words, elements. We shouldn't really do something about Getting rid of my hair. And so that only went to the barber and he came back bald and he was just fine with extraordinary. Yeah, he was he was the fabulous figure.
We'll talk a little bit about agents Have you have you had a number of them? I mean, who have been your?
Well, look, I live in New York, I basically think of myself still as a novelist who happens to write screenplays, even though I haven't written the novel in 25 years, 20 years. And I've written a bunch of nonfiction over the last decade or so. But I haven't written a novel. I remember the first agent I had I mentioned Joe McCrindle, who was the agent for Tableau goal. And I think Joe, Joe became I don't know if I have this right. We're going back a long time. Joe had been an editor. And he didn't like it, because he was dealing with agents all the time. So he became an agent, to deal with writers. And he went around the country. When he was just starting, and he went to all these schools that had writing programs. And he picked up I think, Philip Roth, he picked up who was a kid, and you know, but he picked up a bunch of writers. And then Joe was my agent for several years. And then he got bored with it. And he went out and lived in Princeton. And there was a wonderful woman named Monica McCall.
There were at this time, all the big agents in New York. For books were women. There was Monica McCall and Obi Wan, and I can't think of the third right now. And they had everybody and Monica became a agent. But I didn't need a movie agent in the beginning. And then what, eight years later, after I'd been a novel, whatever. Mr. Ziggler was a wonderful figure graduate of Princeton. Really a bright, bright man. And he then he died. So do you have? Do agents really do anything? Yeah, zig did. I mean, the auction was a huge thing. But he liked it was an odd thing that misters he had a he liked it doing auctions. When he got a script that he thought he could sell for a lot of money, he would call up all the studio heads that he knew. And say, I've got this terrific script. I'm sending it to you Friday. You have to have an offer in by Monday. Boom. And that was what he didn't.
Any he liked doing that. And, and he was very successful. But agents, I don't know what to say you need one. You desperately need one. But it's a strange life they have. Because people are always leaving. I mean, it sounds like the world we live in. Everybody's always leaving everybody. But it's fucking true. I mean, almost nobody is that Oh, yes.
Oh, so it has been waiting for 40 years. You always hear that someone says it to him, whatever it is. All I can say is you hustle. You have to not mind rejection. You have to send stuff off to an agent with a letter and pray that somebody in the office will read it. And pray that whoever reads it likes it, and gives it to somebody else in the office and somebody says, Wait a minute, I think we can sell is in which case you have an agent, but they're not your friends. That's not what they do. And like that, but you have to have,
I should say we're changing cars. We were just talking about that you have this extraordinary year where you were a judge both at con and a judge at the museum,
my wife? Absolutely. It was just a marvelous experience, because everybody on the jury has a different job. And when we talk, you know, we see, we'd see each other like every six movies. And we talk about did we like this? Do we like that? What about whatever, whatever. And it was so interesting, not just being around a director or an actor, but a photographer and an editor. And we all were, it was fascinating. It was a marvelous experience.
But you were that you judge Khan that was the was probably the conqueror.
Yeah, it was really it was such a great, yeah, incredible move. It was a wonderful. It was a wonderful experience.
That was that during this period, there was that you said in the eight years prior to 78. You had seven pictures. And then there was an eight year desert was a period of eight years nothing happened.
Nothing got made. It was amazing. One of the things was I got involved with a marvelous figure not dead named Joel Levine. And he wanted to work with me because a bridge too far brought him back. And he had been in the wilderness.
He was We did an original screenplay deal and none of the screenplays got made it was. I mean, God, it's one of these things you think about it. I wrote a screenplay. This is like Butch. I wrote a screenplay about two pirates, which happened. One of them was a man named Stede Bonnet, who lived in this is hundreds of years lived in Barbados, and was the richest man in the island, was married to a monstrous, very lovely woman, but evil.
And he'd been in the service but he'd never seen action. And he got very ill one winter. And he thought, shit, I might die. And he always wanted adventure. This is true. So we did something totally, totally never done before since he built a pirate ship pirate ships were always stolen. Bonnet built his own fucking pirate ship, got his butler to find a crew and he went off sailing to be a pirate. And he didn't give a shit. If he died.
He just wanted action. And through a wild fluke, he attacked the greatest pirate that ever lived black. And they sailed together for a while. And I wrote a movie called The sea kings. And I still think it's a fabulous fucking idea for a movie, because they had adventures. And, you know, they were they were just totally all Blackbeard wanted to do was get enough money to retire.
He was so sick of action. He was so sick of adventure. All he wanted to do was just get out of it. And all Monat wanted to do was see some adventure before he died. And I had these two guys as my heroes and it was I still think it's a great story. And it killed me that never got me, but it never would have higher it's became prominent in Princess Bride.
Yeah, yeah. But I think the reason the pirates there was a big pirate movie that tanked shit, I can't remember what it was cut through an island. And if someone were and they aren't, you know, oh my god pirate movies. Nobody wants to see. And then you know, Jerry Bruckheimer did the pirate movies and everything. But it was it's still, I think, a marvelous story. I think what we do is right, what we hope will move us and we hope that you can translate that emotion to the reader, whether it's a poem, or whether it's a novel, or an essay, or a movie or a play. You want to move people and you want to help people say,
Well, I didn't know that. Whatever, whatever. And it's, it's tricky. It's just tricky. Princess Bride though. And you said that was your favorite?
That's my one. That's what I really love. It really can look at it with it. When I said I don't like my writing, I really don't like my writing. And that doesn't quite track into my nonfiction because nonfiction that's not you know, it's not the writing style. It's so important. It's what do you, you know, whatever. But when I write fiction, I really don't like it. I when I when I look at it, I almost never, I almost ever reread anything I've written.
Because it's so horrible for me. I just don't like it. I wish it was better. But Princess Bride, I really, really like. And in bridge too far with something that you said you really was terrific. Well, that was a great experience, because Attenborough's such a fabulous figure, and we got I mean, it was an amazing story. And a really good book and it didn't work. It's funny. It didn't work commercially, as well as it should have. Everybody loved it until the audience came.
And it was long. Yeah, it was. It was not filled with heroic stuff that you could say, Oh, John Wayne wouldn't been great in this. And sort of the anti longest day. Yeah, it really was. And it was but you know, you as I said, You never fucking know. Nobody knows anything. Nobody has the least idea. What's going to work? And screenwriters are the basis I think of everything.
Because if you have a shitty script, even if you had Bergman or Fellini, or David Lean is not going to work as a movie. It's just is it and everything. I think everything begins with the script. And I think when you see a movie that that's not very good. One of the reasons is just the script and more. It's not the elegance of the prose is not the language for me in terms of moving.
He's only talking movies. It's all fucking story. That's really all it is. If the story works, if the audience, if you're moved by whatever the goddamn story is, you have a chance to have a movie that works. And if it doesn't, if the story isn't well told, or nobody cares about the story, you know, it's not going to work. It just isn't, it's going to be you'll say, You know what I was? You know, I'm sorry, I saw that. I don't know a lot of people that walk out of movies, I tend not to. But you know, half an hour in usually, if you're bored, or you really do when you sit there now, you've always said you have to get them in the first 15.
I think so. And get the beginning is really what it's, it's a weird if there was any logic to it. We wouldn't be here. The fact is, it's not logical. And most. Most, it's very hard. I don't mean for me, it's hard for anybody to tell a quality story, to have a good beginning and a middle and an end that works and all that stuff. It's just difficult. And you look at even the greatest writer directors did turds. And you say why? Well, because the story that we're telling didn't we're not all really well, it was wonderful. Right? Some of it was not even burden, my hero, that all of it was wonderful.
Was it because of Attenborough that you worked on the chaplain felt?
Yes. That was because he needed work at my doctor did for him. But then I got billing, I guess. But it was funny, you know, Downey, we live in a world where one could argue the two biggest actions are not John Wayne and Gary Cooper. They're Robert Downey and Matt Damon. And that's not possible. It's not possible at Robert Downey isn't Julia Anakin. But he is, you know, and he's a terrific guy, and a wonderful actor. But when we did Chaplain If you'd said, Well, who's really going to be an actor? You'd say, what are you smoking? But that's the world we live in. A lot of it is, you know, in Matt Damon in the Bourne movies, they're marvelous scripts by Tony Gilroy. But you know, Matt Damon's Wonderful.
Well, speaking of Tony Gilroy, you had an experience with with Tony on absolute power.
Absolutely. You say my I was. The movie works, it's okay. But I was having terrible trouble. There were too many characters, trying to figure out the story. Eastwood is just as fabulous figure. I remember when he said he would do absolute power. I fly out for a meeting on the script. And this is what it's like, you'll go through the thing and they'll say, this scene here. Could it be shorter? And I'd say that would be good. And then it goes in? Could this be funnier? I can try and good. All of a sudden, half an hour later, I'd say.
That's what he does. And it took anybody who's worked with him. He's the fastest guy, you know, he's still I mean, he's gonna be 80 years old, and he's still directing to movies. I don't know how he does it. But he has a crew that he's all worked with before. And it's like lightning. It's a marvelous experience when you work with him. And I mean, I don't know how he does. It's amazing. My theory on why Newman and Eastwood are the two fabulous figures that they are. And we're is because they did not make it when they were young. They were close to 30. East wind was digging swimming pools in California.
Newman was desperate to try and find any kind of work he got. And they both got lucky. They both got lucky. Eastwood told me he was walking in a movie studio to see a friend who had a job not as an actor, but as a in a guy stopped him and said, Excuse me, sir, are you an actor? And Eastwood said, Yes, sir. And the guy said, we're trying to cast a television show. Would you come read for us? And it was this what was in western that he did that was so raw. And the reason that they wanted him was because the other guy they'd already cast was really tall. So they needed a tall guy to play rowdy and Eastwood was tall, most actors are short. One of the things you must know when you're a screenwriter is they're not
the same experience you had with Sylvester Stallone. Oh, yes, I was. I was staggered by seven
I believe this is Caribbean This is a story I think Eastwood told me. It's his first year and the thing and Ryan, he comes home to his wife, whatever the wife was, and he said, I was offered a piece of shit Western. But I turned it and she said, What was? It takes place in Italy? And she says, We are in Italy when they pay you. And he says, oh, yeah, $25,000. She said, Well, wow, we can use six. Okay. So it goes over shoots this Western and Italy comes back to raw who never hears the Western Union. There's another movie. That's a gigantic phenomenon all over Europe. Nothing is ever heard of. months later, he gets a call from the producers as cleaned. Cleaned. Can we do it? You come while we do our sequel, Eastwood says to what? And they changed the title from A Fistful of Dollars, and no one had told him. So he said, let me see it, certainly send them home. And He's creeping, you know. And I think he rented a little movie theater in his town and had some friends. He says, I don't know what this is. And he liked it. So we did the sequel, then the third one and the end of that he was the biggest star in the world. But I mean, if he doesn't walk down that hall at that moment, and then the consistency of his stardom. Oh, it's amazing. There's ordinary over nothing,
Oh, nothing. I think he's the greatest star in Hollywood history. I really do. But then the director is so freaky, that he's become this man. I mean, arguably, this fabulous director has a just incredible. And Newman was fabulous. He didn't direct as much as he might have. But I remember Newman did our town a few years, he was wondering, but they were they were both late 20s, I think when they broke through, so they had years of suffering and whatever. And I think that's why they were the decent figures they turned out to be.
The reason I asked you about absolute power was because you said that you'd had screenwriters mess around with your novels that you had never really? He never said to somebody else. It's true.
It was hard. I don't know. Sometimes you just can't do it. I don't know. Anything. Finally, you want to say is there? No, it's just basically it's it's just what we started out with screenplays, their structure. The story I think is everything. And you've got to really try and do stuff you think you can make play. It's hard. You know, it just is you've got to do your job and don't fuck it up and don't screw around. Just do what you're trying and tell your story or whatever they want you to do, as skillfully as you can and and hope and hope
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