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(Proper Name) ought to be an easy person to (Verb). He is (adjective), (adjective), (adjective), and ridiculously well connected. His father is (Proper Name), the editor of (National Magazine), and he grew up in the kind of gilded New York (noun) where Joan Didion, Jay McInerney and George Plimpton were drop-in guests. His godfather is Morgan Entrekin, the publisher of Grove/Atlantic, who bought (Proper Name’s)  first novel, “(Book Title)” when (Proper Name)  was just (Age).  Hunter S. Thompson, another family friend, came through with a timely blurb, saying, “I’m afraid he will do for his (Noun) what I did for mine.”

Photo: Michael Nagle
If that weren’t insufferable enough, (Proper Name), now 25, has a third novel, “An Expensive Education,” being published on Wednesday by Atlantic Monthly, and “,” meanwhile, is being made into a (Noun) starring Kiefer Sutherland, Chace Crawford and (Your Favorite Rap Artist).
*Copy supplied by Charles McGrath/NYT/8/3/09

The Tracks of My Tears









I asked the cashier for a bag because I was too ashamed to carry it out of the store. In question: Marley and Me, the DVD.  I was looking for a lachrymal stimulater — in other words, I wanted a good cry. I should have rented Love Story. Never fails.

Before I discuss what this post is really about I want to ask, if anyone knows, did Owen Wilson try to kill himself before of after this movie? And next, whatever they used to put that dog down so peacefully, I’d like some of that when I lose my verve to chew through manuscripts.

When I was fourteen, I went to an “alternative” arts camp. Instead of putting on Fiddler on the Roof and Guys and Dolls as we had at my previous camp, I was now in plays by Lanford Wilson and Edward Albee. Musicals gave way to theater, or more precisely drama. It was my first exposure to “serious” art and, little sponge that I was, I picked up on my counselors’ disdain for Neil Simon and his ilk. I came home that summer changed. Soon after, I started reading poetry and writing. And I would continue to gravitate towards counselors and teachers who shared a similar world view.

I wonder how my tastes would have developed without that experience. I’m still a deeply sentimental person. At a recent middle school performance of “You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown,” you could find me bawling during what may have been the most off-key rendition of “Happiness” the world has ever heard.

I like to cry. I want to cry. So what does it take? Why did four million or so people cry for Marely, and not me? Or Tuesdays with Morrie? Or Last Lecture? My dying uncle, who read and loved Tuesdays with Morrie, said I was a snob.  People cry when labradors and old professors and young professors die because it’s fucking sad. But it’s kind of like Woody Allen’s line: if a person is stoned and you get a laugh out of them, it doesn’t count.

Why do we feel one kind of writing is manipulative and another authentic, when it’s all manipulative? There was a really cute guy at that alternative camp who I had a major crush on, until he read me one of his poems. We were in the woods and I believed my first kiss was around the corner. He read the poem as if he were alone, which is to say with too much feeling. When I said that I didn’t think it was quite working, he said in his own defense: these are my feelings, you can’t criticize feelings.

A  full calendar year would pass before I would know the sublime pleasure of a first kiss.


Front seat to a conversation at Lincoln Center between Sidney Lumet and his daughter Jenny, the author of one of my favorite movies of last year, “Rachel Getting Married.” I don’t think I have to list Lumet’s movies but just a few: “12 Angry Men”, “Dog Day Afternoon”,”Network”, “Serpico”, etc.

 My dad always wanted me to go into his business. The problem was that it was the lumber business. Though I can’t imagine it’s easy being the daughter of a living legend. Of course, Lumet the father did allow as to how he didn’t help Jenny at all with her movie apart from giving it to Jonathan [Demme].

She told the story behind the famous dishwasher scene in “Rachel Getting Married.” She was about eight years old when Bob Fosse visited their East Hampton house, at least I think it was the Hamptons.  Anyway, he came over, very elegant in his black cashmere slacks, t, and sweater loosely tied around his shoulders. Taking a long drag off a cigarette, he said to Sidney, “You know, if you load the Zabar’s container on the top you’ll get 20% more dishes in there.” Apparently, it escalated from there. “Bob was very competitive,” Sidney weighed in, loading methods no laughing matter, then or now.

I loved hearing him talk about working with actors (Hepburn, Fonda, Brando), about his love of digital cameras, about lenses and technical matters. Or when he picked at  his scalp, readjusted his glasses and said, “You’re constantly telling a story,” or, on actors, “It’s easy to disguise what you are, but you can’t hide it,” or, in giving it back to critics in general, and Pauline Kael in particular, “You want the artistic experience without the artistic risk.”

I miss my dad.

Another Thing I Really Hate

I know, with the cinematic magic out there like The Hangover, The Proposal, and Year One, it’s no one’s fault but my own that I went to see My Sister’s Keeper.

So, I go up to the candy counter and order two small popcorns. The well meaning girl with a jagged part and tilted visor says brightly, “For twenty five cents more you could have a medium.” No thanks.

Then, I order a water and a small iced tea. “For fifty cents more,” she says, still upbeat, “You could have a large.”

What’s up with that? Why can’t I be trusted to know what size beverage or popcorn I want? How many people actually “upgrade” upon hearing of these tremendous savings?

Then, she asks me what movie I’m seeing. Why? For a quarter more could I run the fucking studio? For fifty cents more sit on Robert DeNiro’s lap?  For seventy-five cents more tell Hugh Grant that it’s really okay if he doesn’t want to star in my screenplay. I’m over it, really.



This just in from J:

” How do you obtain the contact information for producers?   I want to target producers, and I have some in mind who have worked on similar projects, but I have no idea how to get in touch with them.  Any suggestions??”

The quick answer is IMDB. This is the motherlode of contact and other Hollywood information.  In some cases, information is only available if you subscribe to IMDBpro, but it’s well worth it. How else would I know that Hugh Grant and I are born exactly one month apart? I also know, thanks to IMDB, that Hugh John Mungo Grant:

  • Has long wanted to make a film about his grandfather’s real life escape from a prisoner of war camp during WWII.
  • Graduated from Oxford University with a degree in English (1982)
  • His favorite artist is Patrick Rondat.
  • Had a skate accident when he was a teenager. Part of the bone in his elbow is still detached from the other bones and “swims” freely between the skin and his elbow.
  • Fluent in French.
  • Piano teacher, when he was a child, was Andrew Lloyd Webber‘s mother.
  • In 2001, he purchased an Andy Warhol painting of Elizabeth Taylor for just under $4 million. He later sold it in 2007 for $23.5 million.

Funny, my Warhol didn’t go for nearly as much.

Hugh Grant and I Are Born Exactly One Month Apart

Got the cover letter done (after the laundry, dishwasher, and sorting of old files).

I put my list together, culled from a year of reading Variety. I targeted NYC based indie producers who have made films that I love or admire. (This is the same advice I give to writers when they need agent names — research PW, Publishersmarketplace.com, etc.)

I also sent it to three actors. This is magical thinking of the highest order, of which I am supremely capable. (“Hello, this is Hugh Grant, is this Betsy Lerner? Yes, well,  I’ve just read your brilliant script and  feel as if you’ve written it for me.” ) Do you think he’s  just being polite?

Brought script to copy shop. They didn’t have the brass clips used to hold film scripts together. Neither did the crappy store across the street. Went to another copy shop where they sold the brass clips for 25 cents apiece. I know I’m going to be very rich and famous, but this offended me. Next stop, Staples.

I know this is a cliff hanger the likes of which you have probably never endured, but I’ve got like a dozen manuscripts I’ve got to read for work tomorrow.

Stay tuned.

Your First Cigarette

I wrote a screenplay a while ago called Sugar Mountain. I got an agent  who gave it to a big deal producer, BDP, we’ll call him. BDP worked with me for six intense weeks, taking the script through  six revisions. 

Every phone session lasted exactly an hour and his notes were amazing. He taught me how to write action. My scenes were too talky. “We’re not Woody Allen,” he once remarked.

BDP was in New York and I got to meet him for our last session in his apartment at the Pierre. Heady days for a girl with a dream and an acceptance speech at the ready.

Long story short, BDP shared my script with two or three actors who declined and then he dropped the project. Then my agent stopped returning my phonecalls. My Cinderella story ended in my own little corner, in my own little chair. 

Why am I writing about this? Because I decided that I would send out Sugar Mountain to ten producers on my own before  throwing in the towel. 

Which leads me to: my cover letter. I have to write a freakin’ cover letter. Me, who has been advising and critiquing cover letters for nearly 25 years. Talk about stage fright. I actually cleaned out the attic this morning as a stalling tactic. Does anyone have any mending or ironing to do?

If I have the guts, I’m going to post my query letter (when I’m done mowing the lawn), and keep you posted on how my script crashes and burns. Just for sport.