Dispatch from the Razor's Edge, the Blog of Michael Stephen Fuchs
Nobody Knows Anything

I've used this famous quote, about how nobody in Hollywood has any idea what is going to work at the box office, many times:


"Nobody knows anything."

I've used it, most often, to reapply to the publishing industry – where it also seems to me to be manifestly true. Nobody in publishing has the vaguest idea how to reliably produce a bestseller. And I've always vaguely attributed the quote to some famous Hollywood guy. A studio exec, I thought, maybe.

Well it turns out it was actually said by William Goldman – Hollywood screenwriting legend (Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, All the President's Men, The Princess Bride, The Ghost and the Darkness, Chaplin), and also, perhaps not incidentally, first a novelist. Perfect. I know this now because I found the quote while reading his rather fabulous book, Adventures in the Screen Trade. (I read a lot of screenwriting books. I'm actually reading three now – Goldman's, and these  two, both of which are also fabulous. Hat tip to Ian Hocking for the Goldman, by the way. What a great pointer.)

Anyway, the section the quote is drawn from is so brilliant, I thought it deserved a fuller excerpting. It's a bit of history now.

The "go" decision is the ultimate importance of the studio executive. They are responsible for what gets up there on the silver screen. Compounding their problem of no job security in the decision-making process is the single most important fact, perhaps, of the entire movie industry:

NOBODY KNOWS ANYTHING.

If there is a Roman numeral I to this book, that's it.

Again, for emphasis—

NOBODY KNOWS ANYTHING.

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.

Raiders is the number-four film in history as this is being written. I don't remember any movie that had such power going in. It was more or less the brainchild of George Lucas and was directed by Steven Spielberg, the two unquestioned wunderkinder of show business (Star Wars, Jaws, etc.) Probably you all knew that. But did you know that Raiders of the Lost Ark was offered to every single studio in town—

and they all turned it down?

All except Paramount.

Why did Paramount say yes? Because nobody knows anything. And why did all the other studios say no? Because nobody knows anything. And why did Universal, the mightiest studio of all, pass on Star Wars, a decision that just may cost them, when all the sequels and spinoffs and toy money and book money and video-game money are totaled, over a billion dollars? Because nobody, nobody – not now, not ever – knows the least goddamn thing about what is or isn't going to work at the box office.

Goldman was almost equally famous for the adage that "screenplays ARE structure." (I almost misquoted that as "story IS structure"…)

Update: It has been brought to my attention that in Hollywood and screenwriting circles this is actually know as “The Goldman Rule.”


  film     writing  
about
close photo of Michael Stephen Fuchs

Fuchs is the author of the novels The Manuscript and Pandora's Sisters, both published worldwide by Macmillan in hardback, paperback and all e-book formats (and in translation); the D-Boys series of high-tech, high-concept, spec-ops military adventure novels – D-Boys, Counter-Assault, and Close Quarters Battle (coming in 2016); and is co-author, with Glynn James, of the bestselling Arisen series of special-operations military ZA novels. The second nicest thing anyone has ever said about his work was: "Fuchs seems to operate on the narrative principle of 'when in doubt put in a firefight'." (Kirkus Reviews, more here.)

Fuchs was born in New York; schooled in Virginia (UVa); and later emigrated to the San Francisco Bay Area, where he lived through the dot-com boom. Subsequently he decamped for an extended period of tramping before finally rocking up in London, where he now makes his home. He does a lot of travel blogging, most recently of some very  long  walks around the British Isles. He's been writing and developing for the web since 1994 and shows no particularly hopeful signs of stopping.

You can reach him on .

THE MANUSCRIPT by Michael Stephen Fuchs
PANDORA'S SISTERS by Michael Stephen Fuchs
DON'T SHOOT ME IN THE ASS, AND OTHER STORIES by Michael Stephen Fuchs
D-BOYS by Michael Stephen Fuchs
COUNTER-ASSAULT by Michael Stephen Fuchs
ARISEN, Book One - Fortress Britain, by Glynn James & Michael Stephen Fuchs
ARISEN, Book Two - Mogadishu of the Dead, by Glynn James & Michael Stephen Fuchs
ARISEN : Genesis, by Michael Stephen Fuchs
ARISEN Book Three - Three Parts Dead, by Glynn James & Michael Stephen Fuchs
ARISEN Book Four - Maximum Violence, by Glynn James & Michael Stephen Fuchs
ARISEN Book Five - EXODUS, by Glynn James & Michael Stephen Fuchs
ARISEN Book Six - The Horizon, by Glynn James & Michael Stephen Fuchs

ARISEN, Book Seven - Death of Empires, by Glynn James & Michael Stephen Fuchs
ARISEN, Book Eight - Empire of the Dead by Glynn James & Michael Stephen Fuchs
ARISEN : NEMESIS by Michael Stephen Fuchs
ARISEN, Book Nine - Cataclysm by Michael Stephen Fuchs
ARISEN, Book Ten - The Flood by Michael Stephen Fuchs
ARISEN, Book Eleven - Deathmatch by Michael Stephen Fuchs
ARISEN, Book Twelve - Carnage by Michael Stephen Fuchs
ARISEN, Book Thirteen - The Siege by Michael Stephen Fuchs
ARISEN, Book Fourteen - Endgame by Michael Stephen Fuchs
ARISEN : Fickisms
ARISEN : Odyssey
from email:



to email(s) (separate w/commas):
By subscribing to Dispatch from the Razor’s Edge, you will receive occasional alerts about new dispatches. Your address is totally safe with us. You can unsubscribe at any time. All the cool kids are doing it.