In honor of The Great Gatsby movie that comes out today — I am so excited! — lets talk about a real Great Gatsby from my life, Hollywood Screenwriter Shane Black.
Shane Black is the writer / director of the highly rated Iron Man 3 that also comes out to theaters this May 2013.
Interested in screenwriting since I was a kid, getting to know real people who actually made a handsome living at screenwriting proved to me that the dream could be a reality.
In Hollywood, I was awestruck by the riches abound. I met lots of screenwriters, the best paid of them all (in the millions) was Shane Black.
Notably generous, and like the Great Gatsby, Shane Black threw lots of unforgettable parties at his mansion.
It was the turn of the millennium, the Internet had just started to take off, and it was a time of massive change. Everything was new and the future was uncertain.
My first full time job in Hollywood was at E! Entertainment, which put me smack dab in the middle of everything that was happening in Hollywood.
The parties at Shane’s house I remember most. To me, Shane’s house was the kind you would see in fairytales, it was big and grand.
The parties physically took place in one of two areas (or both): the disco arcade movie-screening room with tipi and bar on the top floor (3rd I think); or if the weather was good and the invitee list long, the party spilled out in the big backyard around the salt water pool. Occasionally, an actress would buy new boobs and flaunt them all night. There were go-go dancers in cages. With all the wings and levels of the house, people tended to lose themselves and never leave. It was outrageous.
We swam, watched movies, played pinball, danced, ate, drank… and made bad choices.
Like Gatsby, Mr. Black has a dark mysterious nature about him. I was warned not to talk to him about certain things, like “why we exist,” because it may depress him, so I always kept conversation light.
Shane himself was not lavish. He had an old beat car and dressed simple, usually in black. Shane tended to lay low and observe. During the time I knew him, he was suffering writer’s block in the early 2000′s.
Since then, everything has changed.
A UCLA roommate of Shane, Loren Kantor, made the woodcut portrait of Shane featured in this article.
With permission from Loren Kantor, below I share with you some more anecdotes from the early days of screenwriter Shane Black’s life:
First published April 26, 2013 by Loren Kantor
This week marks the release of Iron Man 3 written and directed by Shane Black. Shane’s story is well known. At age 22 he wrote Lethal Weapon giving new life to the action, buddy film genre. In 1990 he sold his script The Last Boy Scout for $1.75 million. Writer Joe Eszterhas eclipsed this figure with his sale of Basic Instinct for $3 million but Shane’s subsequent sale of The Long Kiss Goodnight for $4 million made him the highest-paid screenwriter in Hollywood. Shane continued to write screenplays into the 90′s but then he seemed to disappear. As with most Hollywood stories, Shane’s is complicated.
I was fortunate enough to live with Shane for a year while attending UCLA. In those days, Shane was a theater major who aspired to be an actor. He loved 70′s character-driven film thrillers like The French Connection, Dirty Harry and Bullitt. He was an avid reader of the hardboiled detective fiction of Ross Mcdonald and John D. MacDonald. He carried a dog-eared copy of William Goldman’s Adventures in the Screen Trade wherever he went.
I remember seeing Shane perform standup comedy at UCLA. He was frenetic on stage, trashing props and uttering punch lines about “anal probes” administered by UCLA security. Like many college seniors, Shane was uncertain about his future. He was always gracious and kind but he was also moody and intense.
One day I came home from class to find Shane typing in the living room. He was writing a satirical one-act play about the second coming of Christ. Shane’s method of typing was unique. Using just his left and right index finger, he pounded the typewriter with intense force and amazing speed. I watched spellbound as he seemed to box with the typewriter keys, pages flying out of the carriage as if Shane were channeling the ghost of Ben Hecht.
Shane completed his play in two days. A week later he staged the piece at the UCLA Theater Department. Like his future films, the play was both dark and funny. Jesus returns to earth but people are oblivious to his message. He hires a Jewish public relations man who procures Jesus a “drink milk” tv commercial and books him on the talk-show circuit. The story ends in tragicomic fashion true to Shane’s cynical view of life.
Shane spent most of his time in his college days with the Pad O’ Guys. ThePad was a group of fledgling screenwriters and film students who lived, ate and breathed movies. Members included the future filmmakers Ed Solomon (Men In Black), Jim Herzfeld (Meet The Parents), Greg Widen (Backdraft), Robert Reneau (Demolition Man), Ryan Rowe (Charlie’s Angels), David Silverman (The Simpsons) and Dave Arnott (The Adventures of Ford Fairlane).
A year after Shane graduated, he wrote Lethal Weapon in six weeks. One of Shane’s Pad friends, Fred Dekker (Night of the Creeps) helped Shane find an agent and soon several studios engaged in a bidding war for the script. Shane sold the screenplay to Warner Brothers for $250,000 and his career formally began.
Shane was determined not to become a Hollywood A–hole. He continued driving his rusted Mustang convertible and he lived with several Pad friends in a Westwood apartment. As Shane’s career flourished, he experienced jealousy and resentment from friends and fellow filmmakers. Critics lambasted his writing style and he was turned down for membership in the Academy. (New Academy members were required to have “two produced works of substance and merit.”)
Shane struggled with his early success. He experienced self-doubt and began to believe his detractors who said he only made money, not quality films. When Warner Brothers hired Shane to write a sequel to Lethal Weapon, Shane’s version killed off the Mel Gibson character. Shane’s friends saw this as a symbolic suicide since the character was viewed as Black’s alter ego.
After The Long Kiss Goodnight tanked at the box office, Shane’s golden boy reputation took a hit. Producers were eager to end the spec script bidding wars that Shane had helped trigger and old friends seemed to gloat. Shane had an aversive reaction. He was burned out on screenwriting realizing the process was no longer fun.
Shane bought a beautiful home in historic Fremont Place in midtown Los Angeles. (The house served as the main character’s home in The Artist.) Shane stopped writing and began an era of partying. The Halloween bashes at Shane’s place were the stuff of legend. But the drinking and substance abuse took a toll. “I just sort of got lost. I drank too much.”
With the support of filmmaker James Brooks, Shane began writing again. In 2003, he completed his comeback piece Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. This time, he wanted to direct as well. He showed the script around Hollywood but responses were lukewarm. Some producers didn’t even bother to read the script. To Shane, the experience was humbling.
Shane turned to producer Joel Silver who procured $15 million from Warner Brothers to get the film made. Shane cast Robert Downey Jr., who at the time was nearly unemployable having just served time in prison. He also cast Val Kilmer who’s career had gone cold. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang was a mystery suspense film inspired by the writing of Raymond Chandler. The film was a modest success but more importantly Shane was back in the film game.
Shane stopped drinking in 2008. He again became serious about writing. Jon Favreau & Robert Downey turned to Shane when they needed help with the first Iron Man screenplay. Downey credits Shane for writing the press-conference scene after Tony Stark returns from captivity. (Shane asked to be paid in “blueberries and wild salmon.”) When Favreau declined to direct Iron Man 3, Downey lobbied for Shane to direct. Shane had helped Downey resurrect his career. Now Downey was returning the favor.
Shane always admired the “old gunslinger” story. A character falls into a dark place and must rise above his demons to redeem himself. It seems Shane has done the same. The initial reviews of Iron Man 3 are positive and Shane is ready to begin his second act. If we’re lucky, we’ll have many new Shane Black films to look forward to. Here’s hoping Shane feels the same way.
Kantor’s woodcut art and stories of Hollywood legends are amusing. My favorite woodcuts are David Lynch, Tom Waits, Lauren Bacall, Jeff Buckley, Charles Bukowski, Steve Buscemi, and Midnight Cowboy. I encourage you to look up your favorite Hollywood legends, read interesting stories, and buy a cool woodcut print from Kantor.