Persona Non Grata

Maud pointed out the Neal Pollack/Dave Eggers fracas this morning and made a case for honest criticism.

I don’t have any self-serving magazine manifesto or “woe is me” Eggers-style panegyric to contribute to this argument, but there are two additional misleading statements in the Pollack article that should be pointed out. The first needs to be corroborated, but if it is true, then I will update this post with the rather interesting results. If true, Pollack doesn’t have nearly the sense of humor or “thick skin” that he claims he does.

The second involves Pollack’s misleading statement that he “had a five-figure credit card debt.” As reported here last November, the film rights for Never Mind the Pollacks were sold to Warner Brothers’ Bill Gerber for a mid six-figure sum, somewhere between $250,000 and $500,000 — enough to take out a five-figure credit card debt and more. (This news was, as I recall, originally reported in Publisher’s Lunch. But the deal was also reported in Variety and at Done Deal.)

I don’t care if Pollack is writing under a persona or not. I’ll only say that I’ve enjoyed Pollack’s satire in the past, but find his recent non-satirical work stiff, humorless and far from genuine. If Lenny Bruce or Andy Kaufman came up to you and told you that what they did was an act, would you have as much respect for them in the morning? That’s like telling a four year old kid that Santa Claus doesn’t exist.

Pollack, by his own admission, has settled into yuppified complacency. That’s a shame. Because he’s become about as lively as a tired Catskills comic waiting for the septuagenerians to laugh. This isn’t a “hateful” statement. It’s an honest criticism for a writer who has, to my great sadness, turned chicken.


  1. Just to correct an assumption here Ed. Although Neal is a friend I have never spoken with him in detail about financial matters. Nevertheless, the “six-figure sum” reported in the sale of film rights to “Never Mind the Pollacks” is almost certainly the amount Neal would receive if the movie ever went into production. Unless Warner Bros is filming on the South Side right now with Ed Norton in the starring role, what Neal would have received payment for is an “option” on the film rights which is almost certainly a fraction of the $250-500K. Possibly 10 percent.

  2. Kevin: The film “Never Mind the Pollacks” might never be made. The film rights might expire in ten or twenty years, depending upon how the deal was made. But it is the screenplay that is “optioned” — not the actual book. To write the screenplay, one must be in possession of the film rights to use the specific material to tell the story. The Variety article makes no reference to an optioned screenplay. It merely states that Bill Gerber has purchased the film rights. Which means a lump six-figure sum paid out to Pollack so that Warner Brothers can have someone write a screenplay (perhaps Pollack?) based on the book.

  3. Ed, I’m actually going through this process right now for Cast of Shadows. I’m sure there are many different ways a deal can be structured (especially for a very hot property) but in fact books are frequently optioned for a relatively modest sum (and for a limited time, as you note). The producer would then hire a screenwriter, attach a director, etc. and try to get a green light from the studio. Only after the film goes into production (sometimes defined as the day they start to expose film) would the full price of the deal as determined by the contract go to the author. Original screenplays, as you point out, can probably be optioned the same way, but it’s the story that’s being optioned in either case.

    Again, Neal and I have never talked about it but I’d bet my favorite ball cap that he hasn’t cashed a Warner Bros check for 500K.

  4. And in all fairness to Neal, I’m also betting a baseball cap that Mr. Pollack isn’t swimming in high-priced Hollywood Blvd. hookers these days either. When I get a spare moment, I’m going to see if I can a definitive answer on this from Gerber’s office.

  5. Yo!

    This is some high stakes shit!

    Favorite ball caps, huh? What kind of bet is it when you don’t actually say what your favorite is?

    Let’s hear it dawgs.

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