There's No Business Like the Movie Business

Is there a better business book than Indecent Exposure: A True Story of Hollywood and Wall Street? I don’t think so. Before such classics as Barbarians at the Gate or Den of Thieves demonstrated that well-made business narratives could be as gripping as any ambitious work of non-fiction, Wall Street Journal reporter David McClintick produced the best potboiler you’d care to find. His 1982 book explores how the criminal behavior of motion picture mogul David Begelman (at the time the President of Columbia Pictures), first discovered as a $10,000 embezzlement made possible by forging actor Cliff Robertson’s signature, exposed the entirely corrupt culture of the broader company. Extraordinarily well-researched and written, the book sheds fascinating insight into how the ultimate industry town (Los Angeles) defers to its celluloid power. Earlier this year HarperBusiness reissued this title under its Essentials line--adding a new afterword. I can’t recommend it highly enough. It would be beach reading if only the book could make it to the beach.

In the vein of other great movie biz books, two other enthusiastic touts come to mind. Easy Riders, Raging Bulls: How the Sex Drugs and Rock n Roll Generation Saved Hollywood by Peter Biskind is another compulsively readable gem about the interplay of culture and commerce in la-la land. Yet while McClintick focuses his story on the culture of the business of the movie business, Biskind gracefully limns the link between the studio system and the sometime art it produced in the seventies. Finally, screenwriter and novelist William Goldman’s book Adventures in the Screen Trade: A Personal View of Hollywood and Screenwriting is one more rollicking read on the inner workings of Hollywood—not to mention the source of my favorite business aphorism ever. Describing the rules by which executives can predict a hit with certainty, Goldman lays down the law that applies equally to stock pickers, venture capitalists, and any pie-eyed entrepreneur who promises the next big thing. His maxim: NOBODY KNOWS ANYTHING. It’s a great lesson. "Not one person in the entire motion picture field knows for a certainty what’s going to work. Every time out, it’s a guess—and if you’re lucky, an educated one."

Posted by tom at April 30, 2003 03:05 PM

I still think Den of Thieves takes the cake. Nice site!

Posted by: conall on May 14, 2003 11:31 AM
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