21 June 2012

Guest Post: Peter Lefcourt on Scripts vs. Novels

Hollywood producer/screenwritter Peter Lefcourt has just come out with his eighth novel, An American Family. If you like family sagas and immigrant stories, you'll likely love this book. Here's the description:

The sprawling narrative of five siblings, born in the 1940’s, beginning on the day John Kennedy was shot and ending on 9/11. Between these two iconic dates, we follow the fortunes, love affairs, marriages, divorces, successes and failures of the Pearls, an immigrant Polish-Jewish family, from the Lower East Side of New York, to Long Island and beyond.

The oldest, Jackie—a charming, womanizing attorney—drifts into politics with help from the Nassau County mob. His younger brother, Michael, a gambler and entrepreneur, makes and loses fortunes riding the ebb and flow of high-risk business decisions. Their sister, Elaine, marries young and raises two children before realizing that she wants more from life than being merely a wife and mother and embarking on a new life in her forties. Their sensitive and brilliant half-brother, Stephen, deals with the growing consciousness that he is gay in an era that was not gay friendly. Stephen goes to Vietnam as a medic, comes home, becomes a writer, and survives the AIDS epidemic of the eighties. The baby of the family, Bobbie, high-strung and rebellious, gets pregnant at Woodstock, moves to San Francisco as a single mother during the “Summer of Love,” then winds up in Los Angeles as a highly-successful record producer.

In a larger sense this book is not merely the story of one family, but the story of most immigrant families—Jewish, Italian, Irish, African-American—as they enter the melting pot and emerge as a new generation, as well as the story of the tumultuous years of the second half of the twentieth century.
As part of the Book Trib blog tour, running from June 15 to July 15, I asked Peter Lefcourt to tell us about the difference between writing for Hollywood and television and writing a novel.

Scripts vs. Novels: Peter Lefcourt's Take on the Similarities and Differences

The similarity pretty much begins and ends with the fact that both careers involve writing. But that's about as far as it goes. As many other writers, I came to Los Angeles with the intention of making enough money to finance my lifestyle as a novelist. As it turned out, I found that television writing was not only lucrative but a good apprenticeship in the art of storytelling. You learn how to tell a story economically, which is an invaluable skill in fiction writing. And you learn how to write to a deadline. On the other hand, you soon learn that in Hollywood the writer is a fungible element in film making, summarily replaced by another writer when he or she offers resistance to all the "creative" input from directors, studio execs, producers, and actors. You are, essentially, a hired gun, at the beck and call of others—a well-paid hired gun perhaps, to be sure, but one with very little control over the product

Moreover, there is very little "voice" in screenwriting. In books it is often the way you tell a story and not the story itself that compels readers. I am drawn to language and voice, and with the possible exception of a facility for dialogue (a skill that is almost impossible to teach; I learned how people talk driving a cab in New York in the sixties—an education worth more, in my opinion, than a PhD in creative writing), these elements are not valued in screenwriting.

Nevertheless, Hollywood has allowed me the wherewithal to travel a great deal, to perfect the craft of story telling and ultimately, to reinvent myself as a novelist and have both careers mutually reinforce each other. I'm not sure I would have succeeded in one without the other.

Thanks so much, Peter. I bet an editor is easier to negotiate with than those who have a vested interest in a film or TV series.

For more about An American Family and to read daily excerpts from the novel, be sure to visit the other blogs on the month-long tour. The schedule can be found on the Book Trib website.


bermudaonion 6/21/12, 8:49 AM  

What an interesting guest post! Others in Hollywood might think writers are replaceable but I think the writers make the show.

Beth Hoffman 6/21/12, 11:11 AM  

I really enjoyed this guest post...especially Peter's paragraph on how little "voice" there is in screenwriting.

I'll be sure to put this title on my list.

Unknown 6/21/12, 11:50 AM  

I enjoyed the guest post, and I think I'd really enjoy his book. Thanks so much.

Paula 6/22/12, 1:01 AM  

My husbands family are Polish immigrants from a bit earlier than this time, but I would love to read this one. I was disappointed to find that it's only an e-reader, which I don't use. Dang it! Sounds good~

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