"The Devil Wears Prada" West-Coast edition?
August 19, 2013 3:16 PM   Subscribe

I'm writing a story set in the modern-day film industry: please recommend your favorite documentaries, movies, articles, essays, blogs, or books (preferably non-fiction) about the realities of working in Hollywood!

I'm looking for (ideally-)true tales of the personalities, glamour, grit, gossip, negotiations, relationships, drugs, money, etc. that go into and surround the making of a big-budget film.

Characters in this story will span PAs/assistants to actors, studio heads, and producers, so any good "insider" perspectives are appreciated. Thanks for your help!
posted by Zephyrial to Society & Culture (25 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: A little dated, maybe, but I enjoy Julie Salamon's 'The Devil's Candy,' about the making of 'Bonfire of the Vanities,' Jane Hamsher's 'Killer Instinct,' about the making of 'Natural Born Killers,' and John Gregory Dunne's 'Monster,' about the making of 'Up Close and Personal.'

I also like Julia Phillips' 'You'll Never Eat Lunch in This Town Again' and 'Driving Under the Affluence,' and Joe Eszterhas' showbiz-related nonfiction writing.

One last recommendation: Ian Grey's 'Sex, Stupidity and Greed.'
posted by box at 3:25 PM on August 19, 2013

I've said it before and I'll say it again: there is no movie that better captures what day-to-day life in Hollywood is like than What Just Happened. It's not non-fiction, but it is true. (It also got terrible reviews, which I find hilarious.)
posted by BlahLaLa at 3:33 PM on August 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

Definitely watch the film Ellie Parker. (And then for extra LA film life insights, you can google to find out how it was made in bits and pieces as the funding came in...)
posted by third rail at 4:14 PM on August 19, 2013

Best answer: Okay, this is a tumblr that my assistant follows: http://hollywoodassistants.tumblr.com. It's shockingly realistic for most assistants (not mine! I swear!)
posted by banannafish at 4:33 PM on August 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I think times have changed since Julia Philips wrote her books (2nd one is ng.) Lynda Obst's Hello He Lied is amusing. Reading Nikki Finke is going to give you useful information. I would say that this is the sort of world that you really need to experience or get first-hand information to make it seem real.
posted by Ideefixe at 4:44 PM on August 19, 2013

My experience was more on the exec/studio side rather than production and I've found Episodes to have real flashes of brilliance/horror, especially in the little details.
posted by Room 641-A at 4:53 PM on August 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

The Kid Stays In The Picture
Final Cut - Dreams and Disaster on the Making of 'Heavens Gate', by the studio's Head of Production
Also: Hearts of Darkness
posted by rhizome at 4:56 PM on August 19, 2013

Best answer: It may not be realistic or all that current (it came out in 1994), but the film Swimming With Sharks is a biting dark revenge comedy of assistant-vs.-producer, with the latter role played by Kevin Spacey.
posted by overeducated_alligator at 4:59 PM on August 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Joe Eszterhas's memoirs.
posted by backwards guitar at 5:17 PM on August 19, 2013 [2 favorites]

Not necessarily super-current, but:

Larry McMurtry's Film Flam: Essays on Hollywood

John Irving's My Movie Business

And most especially William Goldman's Adventures in the Screen Trade and Which Lie Did I Tell?
posted by soundguy99 at 5:26 PM on August 19, 2013 [2 favorites]

Robert Altman's The Player has some good stuff, despite being fiction:
I listen to stories and decide if they’ll make good movies or not. I get 125 phone calls a day and if I let that slip to 100 I know I’m not doing my job. Everyone who calls, they want to know one thing. They want me to say yes to them and make their movie. If I say yes, they think that come New Year's it will be just them and Jack Nicholson on the slopes of Aspen. That’s what they think. The problem is I can only say yes, my studio can only say yes 12 times a year. And collectively we hear about 50,000 stories a year. So it's hard. And I guess sometimes I’m not nice and make enemies.
posted by Paragon at 5:57 PM on August 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Nthing the Hollywood Assistants tumblr.

To be honest, as someone who has actually worked in film, very little pop culture about the film industry really evokes it, to me.

I mean, are you looking for the media tropes of what HOLLYWOOD is, or are you looking for the truth?

For the latter, you might want to look at production diaries, or any memoir of the making of a film written by the producers of said film. The PRODUCERS, not the writer, director, or stars. I remember enjoying Killer Instinct a lot, though it's about 20 years out of date and the indie film scene it depicts is no more.

I remember liking the film Swimming With Sharks a lot, though that was before I actually worked in the industry. I can't speak to the truth of it, but a lot of Hollywood Assistant (tm) types I have interacted with tend to sound very scared. I have also had interviews where I've been told that my prospective boss is "difficult", and been asked in an interview with a recruiter whether I had "a thick skin", which means OK with being yelled at and abused. You will probably glean more about this from the Hollywood Assistants tumblr than from any movie or book.
posted by Sara C. at 6:09 PM on August 19, 2013 [2 favorites]

You might also enjoy Anonymous Production Assistant. There's also Development Hell, but I think it's been suspended as the author has moved out of that particular world. Though in linking that, I discovered that someone is still writing it.
posted by Sara C. at 6:11 PM on August 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

Many moons ago I enjoyed Rebel Without a Crew by Robert Rodriguez, about how he made El Mariachi on a teeny tiny budget.

Not salacious, but thoughtful: The Conversations: Walter Murch and the Art of Editing by Michael Ondaatje.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 6:18 PM on August 19, 2013

This New York Times piece on the making of "The Canyons" might be what you're looking for, but even if it's not you should read it anyway.
posted by dekathelon at 6:36 PM on August 19, 2013

There was a documentary series called "The Men who Made the Movies".

I particularly recommend the ones about Hitchcock, Hawks, and Capra.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 7:09 PM on August 19, 2013

Best answer: Seconding Swimming With Sharks. A heightened version of the real thing.
posted by lewedswiver at 8:05 PM on August 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

For a slightly different perspective, The Hollywood Complex is a revealing documentary about kids trying to get cast in pilots, and the industries that have developed to facilitate their rises to stardom/ lives of emotional abuse at the hands of their starstruck parents.
posted by pickypicky at 8:10 PM on August 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

George Huang, the writer/director of Swimming with Sharks, was once assistant to the head of development at Sony Pictures. It is rumored that the Kevin Spacey character in the film was based on his former boss.
posted by cazoo at 9:25 PM on August 19, 2013

Response by poster: Thanks for all the wonderful recommendations! I have my homework.

Ideefixe: I would say that this is the sort of world that you really need to experience or get first-hand information to make it seem real.

Thank you! I'm sure you're right. In additional to this research I'm also going to need to pick the brain of at least one of my old friends who works as a hollywood assistant

SaraC: To be honest, as someone who has actually worked in film, very little pop culture about the film industry really evokes it, to me. I mean, are you looking for the media tropes of what HOLLYWOOD is, or are you looking for the truth?

This is useful, thank you. The project I'm working on is structurally based on an older work (with big, classical, archetypal story elements) so I'm okay with it being a little trope-y, but I still want it to be as real(istic) as possible. I know I won't be able to convince everybody, but I want to do my due diligence. Plus I'm fascinated by the entertainment industry and celebrity culture anyway, so I'm looking forward to learning more whether or not it relates directly to my writing.
posted by Zephyrial at 9:31 PM on August 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: My sister worked as a PA for a few years in Hollywood. She started out as a substitute teacher at a tony private school and was hired as a tutor for the Producer's son and a child actor minder for a move that was being filmed on location in Texas, and the job morphed from there.

The producer in question then went about tormenting and torturing my sister for the three months of filming. Sissy did everything from wrangling extras to planning skating outings for the kids. She was exhausted, and beaten down and in general it was a thoroughly demoralizing experience.

So you may want to find others like her and hear their war stories.

I will say though that while you may get some ideas, I'd agree with Ideefixe, that this is one of those things you'll want to do first hand, if you're at all interested in verisimilitude.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:58 AM on August 20, 2013

Best answer: Keep in mind, in general, that people working directly on films (as opposed to for production companies, at agencies, or privately as assistants for a specific person) work VERY LONG HOURS. This really heightens the sense of exhaustion and demoralization. It's hard to do menial tasks with a smile for upwards of 14 hours a day.

This can really skew how people write about the experience of filmmaking. If you're the producer, working 14 hours a day on something you really love is super fulfilling, if exhausting and sometimes difficult. If you're a PA, working 14 hours a day on something that is really just another job, the burnout level is very high and it's very possible that you'll have only bad memories of your time doing it.

This is also why accounts by assistants tend to focus on the physical difficulty of the job while accounts by others tend to be more about the creative and business challenges.
posted by Sara C. at 12:12 PM on August 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

The character, Carol Ward, played by Catherine O'Hara in Six Feet Under is based on a real person.
posted by Ideefixe at 5:06 PM on August 21, 2013

"The First Time I Got Paid For It" About screenwriters' experiences
posted by egeanin at 8:32 PM on August 21, 2013 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks everybody for your wonderful answers — I've marked as "best" a couple that I've used in my research (a few books down, more to read) as well as some great advice I'll make sure to remember.
posted by Zephyrial at 10:07 PM on September 23, 2013

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