Film critic Joe Queenan once proclaimed William Goldman “the world’s greatest and most famous living screenwriter.” The Guardian.
The Academy Award winning screenwriter of “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” and “All The President’s Men” died last week of pneumonia at age 87. His work also includes “Marathon Man,” “Chaplin” and “The Princess Bride” based on his novel. He is known not only for his screenplays but for writing plays, novels and semi-autobiographical books on the industry.
Anyone looking to Hollywood for a writing career knows William Goldman for his 1983 book Adventures in the Screen Trade, the must-read book for anyone who even thinks about making a living in Hollywood.
“Nobody knows anything.”
The honest assessment is the best-remembered quote of the book, but it only addresses the decision-making skills of the gate-keepers. I reminds emerging talent from all levels that it just takes one Yes to discount a legion of No. For screenwriters, Hollywood is not just an industry providing opportunity, it is a place that peels away layers of your soul. Mr. Goldman addressed that as well with a warning:
“Screenplay writing is not an art form. It’s a skill; it’s carpentry; it’s structure. I don’t mean to knock it — it ain’t easy. But if it’s all you do, if you only write screenplays, it is ultimately denigrating to the soul. You may get lucky and get rich, but you sure won’t get happy.”
–Publishers Weekly interview (1983)
So on this Thanksgiving Day I want to say Thank You William Goldman for reminding me what happiness is and is not. Take a moment to remember all of the things you have that make you happy and I’ll bet none of them involve pilot season or pay-or-play contracts. I have clean air, fresh water, family, friends, a roof over my head, chocolate chip mint ice cream and a bottle of Merlot. Who needs Hollywood? R.I.P. Mr. Goldman
Emerging Screenwriters Extra: A 2010 interview with Michael Winship for the Writers Guild Foundation