Matthew Specktor’s new novel American Dream Machine depicts the hard-nosed business of Hollywood, but also its humanity. That latter quality is something that makes Specktor’s novel stand out in the field of books about L.A. “The movie business is not actually populated by reptiles,” he tells Kirkus and it’s because of books like Hollywood producer Lynda Obst’s revealing 1996 memoir Hello, He Lied: And Other Truths From the Hollywood Trenches that Specktor feels the need to stick up for L.A. We’ll take both the negative and the positive depictions of the place: Obst’s memoir is unsettling, mordant and wise. — April 8, 2013
If the Girl Scout troops of Beverly Hills need an illuminating manual for their Fundamentals of Successful Producing merit badge, this is it. And they can also use it as an object of meditation. In the late '70s, Obst left a good job as an editor at the New York Times Magazine to accompany her husband to L.A. This is her articulate memoir about the road to big-time Hollywood success (having started as mogul Peter Guber's ``d,'' for development girl, Obst produced Sleepless in Seattle and is finishing One Fine Day with Michelle Pfeiffer and George Clooney). Obst lifts the discussion into the realm of Zen, physics, metaphysics, psychoanalysis, Kant, and evolutionary science (e.g., ``The velocity of change is so staggering it creates a kind of turbo-Darwinism, a revved-up struggle for survival in which one must constantly mutate to survive''). She's used every sort of philosophy, cosmology, spirituality, and professional connection, as well as the kitchen-sink advice of her Jewish mother, to ``narrate the chaos'' of Hollywood and to get her films produced. But happily, despite her industry reputation for toughness (Buzz magazine voted her one of Hollywood's biggest bullies), she quite generously mentors a new generation with this little gem about how to be a Girl Producer. She gives specific instructions about gaining entree, pitching a script (``Before the segue into the pitch, the producer has to prep the room. We do this by talking about the spouse, the boy/girlfriend or lack thereof, Gymboree, yoga, diets, the playoffs . . . any playoff will do''). She talks about professional agendas (``Never go to a meeting without a strategy''), making alliances, talking to stars. Though this isn't a feminist tract, except in the broadest and best sense, Obst celebrates the new phenomenon of ``chix in flix,'' women with lots and lots of power (and husbands). An up-close chance to meet a tough cookie who loves being a pro--and who probably wouldn't take your calls.