ALLIGATORS IN A HELICOPTER

a pro script reader ponders movies, reading, writing and the occasional personal flashback

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Everyone Needs a Hook, Even If It's Not a True One

Two stories jumped out at me from the LA Times today.

One is about a woman named "Margaret B. Jones", who wrote a recently released memoir called "Love and Consequences". It detailed the story of her life, a half-white, half-Indian girl lost to the foster care system, who found herself selling drugs for the Bloods in South Los Angeles at age 12.

Sounds moving and compelling, no? Unfortunately, when her sister read a profile of her in the New York Times, she blew the whistle. The woman actually grew up with both her parents in Sherman Oaks, and went to a private school. No drugs, no Bloods, no foster care; she isn't even half-Indian.

The book has been pulled from shelves, and her book tour, which was to start today, has been canceled.

The other story is about chef Robert Irvine, the host of "Dinner: Impossible" on the Food Network. Turns out that he made up a lot of the major stuff on his resume, and that his claims that he cooked for Presidents and Britain's Royal Family never actually happened.

The network announced that it wouldn't renew his contract, which runs through the end of the season, though it will continue airing already-filmed episodes. Though they also said that they might revisit this at the end of the season, which means that if no one really cares that much, he'll probably keep his job.

So why do people lie? Easy. Because that's how you get these jobs.

Though the publisher claims that they had no idea that the memoir was fictional, I guarantee that someone, somewhere along the line told this woman that her own story was boring, and that she needed to come up with a much more moving one. And that it would have a better chance if she claimed that it was true. And sure enough, she got published.

If you're Robert Irvine, you boost the resume because you are trying to seem different and special, and, again, it worked. Until it didn't.

Diablo Cody is interesting because she used to be a stripper. Never mind that she only stripped for a little while, just so she could write about it; she was a stripper. It's her hook, as is her name, which isn't the one she was born with.

I've had some meetings as a writer, and people introducing me to other people always make it sound like I'm more experienced and interesting than I actually am. Because this way it justifies their getting these people to meet with me.

It's probably something that I should be doing more of myself. Not lying about my resume, but spinning things in more-interesting fashion.

Because, don't lie to yourself, it's the business that we're in. It's all about sticking out from the crowd in a good way.

Just like a script that you write needs to stick out as well. It needs to grab someone by the lapels and scream "watch me". Or at least "make me and people will flock to see me".

The thing about a screenplay is that what's inside is never a lie (unless you are claiming it's based on a true story. Then it's just usually a lie).

But if you find yourself describing a version of your screenplay that is more interesting than the one that you have actually written, then you'd better write that interesting version.

Meanwhile, I'm going to go work in a massage parlor, just so I can say I did. Happy ending, anyone?

20 Comments:

At 9:02 AM, Blogger Lucy said...

I find it curious that the whistle needed to be blown on the woman who pretended re: the book. Why did the sister do that? Why did the publisher care if it was true, was the "true story" thing a condition of publishing?

End of the day, it was just a story - and whilst admittedly it is a kind of fraud, there will have been people who would have been touched by this (false) story and is that not a good thing? But then I suppose we're back at the notion of whether literary fraud should be "allowed" and whether the ends justify the means...Tricky.

As I wrote on my own blog, I was annoyed by what I considered a fraudulent use of the "true story" tag re: the movie WOLF CREEK, but this was because I thought it was an exploitation of the audience's concern for the characters who turned out to be fake anyway.

Without reading this book (not much chance now), I suppose it's hard to say if this fell into the same category?

 
At 11:41 AM, Blogger Christina said...

Remember James Frey? When Oprah confronted him on national television about fabricating parts of his memoir? You would think publishers and authors learned a lesson from that whole ordeal. I don't understand why they didn't just market Margaret Jones's book as fiction. Dave Eggers wrote "A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius" as fiction so that he could take liberties in it. It's semi-autobiographical.

If I ever write a memoir, and I might, I would definitely call it fiction just to cover the ass of my unreliable memory.

 
At 1:18 PM, Blogger Tavis said...

We were supposed to have her give a reading at Powell's Books tonight. Now we're supposed to pull all copies of her book-- though we are offering a free advanced readers' copy to one lucky person.

 
At 5:40 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Her sister is a hater. She could've let the book come out and then said "That's my sister. The story isn't true but, damn, it sure is entertaining!" And Scott, the thought of you rubbing out Happy Endings...disturbing.

 
At 7:52 PM, Blogger E.C. Henry said...

The problem with a lot of writers is that we're SHY by nature. Writers observe, and usually it's something in their past that pushed them to be this way, and not be so boisterous. I'd be currious to know how many writer out there are true extroverts (I do know of ONE for sure who visits this site semi-regularly)

The hook I started with came off the focal character of the first script I ever wrote. The hook I use now needs some developement, but it's very colorfull.

LOVE all the pub Diablo Cody is getting. EVERY writer dreams of his or her FIRST big hit. So don't be a hater, this Diablo's time to shine. It will be VERY interesting to see what her next play is.

- E.C. Henry from Bonney Lake, WA

 
At 8:42 PM, Blogger Tavis said...

E.C.--

Diablo's next is called Jennifer's Body and you can read it here if you want.

I wasn't too impressed. But I can't say I was surprised either. Wait-- does that make me sound like a "hater?"

 
At 10:16 PM, Blogger kristen said...

Tavis-
Wow, thanks for that link.

The mounds of publicity this woman is getting for having lied about the truth of her tale -- it all smacks of "publicity opportunity" to me. I wouldn't be surprised if some or all of this were planned.

 
At 10:57 PM, Blogger wcmartell said...

My question is - why wrote a fake memoir when you can write real fiction?

This happens again and again - are there *any* memoirs that are not just a pack of lies? This has got to be costing the publishers money - and for what?

Why not ditch the whole idea of memoirs (I'll just read your blog) and have these people write fiction? No pulled books, no refunds and class action suits - just good old fashioned fiction!

- Bill

 
At 1:20 AM, Blogger Matt said...

I'll be upfront that I'm a Diablo Cody hater. I don't think her writing is that great, and her ass was saved by great actors, a smart director, and a nice soundtrack.

I also didn't think much of Jennifer's Body.

 
At 2:15 AM, Blogger Leif said...

Reminds me of the movie Shattered Glass.

 
At 7:18 AM, Blogger Julie O'Hora said...

Dammit. I totally shoulda played up that day I worked as a singing telegram...

 
At 9:13 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Happy ending, anyone?

I'll be right over.

The really wild example of this was the woman who claimed to be a Jewish child fleeing the Holocaust who was cared for and hidden from Nazis by a pack of wolves.

Yeah. It's Schindler's List meets Lucan. You can't tell me that people weren't rolling their eyes at that one.

 
At 9:13 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sorry. I forgot to sign the one above.

Harry

 
At 10:36 AM, Blogger Scott the Reader said...

The interesting double-standard too is that Diablo Cody's past as a stripper is seen as interesting backstory, but the male singer on American Idol who was just revealed to have been a stripper is seen as appalling.

Obviously one of the differences is that she was open about it and he hid it (while American Idol also has a young fan base).

But if he hadn't hidden it, he probably wouldn't have made the show (and they aren't kicking him off yet), so it comes across as justified that he hid part of his resume.

 
At 4:59 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm not impressed by Ms. Cody either -- and yeah, I'm a hater. In my opinion the Acad. has their heads up their you-know-whats when it comes to handing out Oscars for writing, especially the last two years with this years original and last years adapted screenplays. I'm gonna read Jennifer's Body but, from the reviews handed down here it sounds like I'm headed for disappointment. I guess in the end we're all just a bunch of unproduced haters...'cept for E.C.

 
At 2:24 PM, Blogger LHOOQtius ov Borg said...

Bully to Bill's call for real fiction, not fake memoirs. Real fiction is like a fake memoir, but with a valid artistic license. Every piece of fiction I write has elements of memoir, even if it's just a memory of a fantasy delusion I once had, but with a legitimate right to make all the embellishments necessary.

 
At 6:41 PM, Blogger E.C. Henry said...

Tavis, perhaps the slightest of alterations to a Robert Palmer classic says it best for me,

"... he's huggible and kissable,
(dunt-dunt)
The proof irrefutable
(dunt-dunt)
Tavis, looks goods to all bloggers, but when he compliments E.C. he's...
(dun-na, dun-na, dunt, guitar string wails)
... simply irresistible."

The following was meant in a manly, herosexual, way. So don't don't get confused, like Tone Luc from the 80s E.C. is into the ladies.

- E.C. Henry from Bonney Lake, WA

 
At 7:47 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Something about a man keeping declaring his manly sexuality publicly makes me so hot, you know... in a homo kind of way...

 
At 7:53 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yeah, when I was working with Robert Stone on adapting Dog Soldiers into a movie, I remember him telling me that what was true and what were the actual facts are sometimes two different things.

Of course, this was after I'd gotten back from serving two tours as a Marine in Vietnam, so I probably have a different perspective on this than a lot of other people.

 
At 11:29 AM, Blogger i write with pictures said...

I think Jones' story is still interesting and compelling - whistle blown on your moment of success by your own sister?! Sibling rivalries are very dramatic. Just switch the focus of the story, and there'll you have a best seller.

Speaking of biographical v. fiction... I can't get sued if I don't follow their story *exactly* right? I mean, it won't be libelous anyway, for sure, but it'll also be less fake reality and more real fiction, if you know what I mean. : )

Cheers,
Amy

 

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