Hits, Flops and Other Illusions, My Fortysomething Years in Hollywood
by Ed Zwick
Review by Beverly Nault

This is Ed’s Amazon bio: “Ed Zwick is an Academy Award and Emmy Award–winning director, writer, and producer of film and television. A graduate of Harvard and the AFI Conservatory, he lives in Los Angeles with his wife, Liberty Godshall.”

Pithy. But y’all, if they actually listed what he’s been involved with producing, directing, and writing over forty-something years, your eyes would glaze over. We can find all that in a Wiki article anyway.

But, here’s a nutshell glimpse for you in case you don’t already know of his oeuvre.

  • Ed Zwick conceived, produced, and directed many episodes of the Baby Boomer series thirtysomething. The series lasted four seasons and 147 episodes, winning 13 Primetime Emmy Awards (out of 41 nominations) and two Golden Globe Awards. Oh, by the way, the word “thirtysomething” was then added to the Oxford Dictionary. To us word nerds, just that fact is huge.
  • I also counted 15 produced screenplays. And a ton of nominations and awards for them.
  • Add 43 movies or television shows he produced, directed, and/or wrote. More nominations and awards.
  • When I picked up the copy of his memoir, it was #1 on several best-selling lists. So now he’s a best-selling author, too.

“I’ll be dropping a few names. Over the years I have worked with self-proclaimed masters-of-the-universe, unheralded geniuses, hacks, sociopaths, savants, and saints.” Ed Zwick in the intro to Hits and Flops.

And boy, does he – drop names, I mean. Beyond that, what can he teach emerging screenwriters? It turns out a lot because he also wrote and co-wrote many of his scripts and stories. Taking the written words from the page to the production crew, the actors, and publicity means the actual story must be paramount, ready, adaptable, and fluid. And worth the millions someone invests in it.

Ed on the importance of the script: “Casting is second only to the script… no matter where you put the camera, no movie is better than the worst actor in it.” P 80 It all starts with the script.

Ed on plot vs character (as taught to him by Sydney Pollack): “After a great deal of research…we showed Sydney the script. I have never had, nor hope to have, a first draft so torn to pieces. ‘Listen, kid,’ he said. ‘Plot is the rotting meat the burglar throws to the dogs…(to) get to the jewels, which are the characters.’” P 59

Ed on reading scripts: “Most times when reading a new script, I fall asleep midway through, narcotized with disappointment, my hopes dashed…A writer’s quality is indelibly encoded in the DNA of every scene.” You get the drift.

Ed on reading a good script: “Read an Alvin Sargent script. It’s like watching a movie rather than reading one.” Make it visual.

Here’s what I liked about the book. There were many behind-the-scenes explanations of how scripts got made or didn’t and how the process looks to the people who sacrifice so much to make them. He goes into detail, and you feel he didn’t hold back. He was very transparent, and yes, name-droppy, but only because that was and is his reality.

I also liked his advice about what works and doesn’t work, how actors interpret lines and their characters, and how political climates can affect an audience’s reaction.

What I didn’t care for made me sad in a lot of ways. If I were a young filmmaker, I might be discouraged to the point of refocusing on another career. Maybe that was his goal because unless you’re super passionate about making films from fade-in to “It’s in the Can,” then maybe you’ve chosen the wrong path because it’s a tough gig. Can I get an Amen? I could almost read, “Don’t say I didn’t warn you,” between his lines.

He also talks about his person, partner, colleague, and best friend, Marshall Herskovitz. We also owe that guy a lot of thanks. They made a good team and proved that we can’t operate in a vacuum; together, we’re better.

Ed ends by describing how the world of big-budget production has changed so much since he began using celluloid and then changed to digital, with caped heroes and best-selling book franchises dominating on large formats instead of the living room and/or handheld screens. I guess in another forty years, there will be even more changes, and we’ll all feel the same way. Ed seemed way too melancholy about the good old days, IMO.

But I still recommend that you, along with the next generation of screenwriters, filmmakers, and audiences, read his book. Ed Zwick is a hero in the world of entertainment in many ways, and we should applaud his incredible contribution. Way to go, Ed!

Ed on writing to reach an audience: “Emotion for its own sake is bathos. The actress who talks to her dead husband… makes our skin crawl…the grieving widow who refuses to cry while removing clothes from a closet makes our eyes well up.” P 247

I also recommend watching a clip that’s posted on YouTube from a CBS News Sunday morning interview with Ed.

More on Ed from Amazon: “He has encountered these Hollywood types during four decades of directing, producing, and writing projects that have collectively received eighteen Academy Award nominations (seven wins) and sixty-seven Emmy nominations (twenty-two wins). Though there are many factors behind such success, including luck and the contributions of his creative partner Marshall Herskovitz, he’s known to have a special talent for bringing out the best in the people he’s worked with, especially the actors. In those intense collaborations, he’s sought to discover the small pieces of connective tissue, vulnerability, and fellowship that can help an actor realize their character in full.”

About Beverly Nault: Beverly Nault was a technical writer for an aerospace software company before she began writing creatively for publication. In 2011, her first novel, Fresh Start Summer, and memoir Lessons from the Mountain, What I Learned from Erin Walton, written with actor Mary McDonough, both released. Since then, Bev’s had ten novels and several short stories published. She’s been a freelance editor for fiction and non-fiction writers, a first reader for a literary agency, and staff acquisitions editor for the literary journal, Eastern Iowa Review. Bev lives in Mesa with her husband Gary where she dabbles in tennis, and excels at spoiling their three grandchildren.

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