I just hope these people stay persistent because sometimes it’s six or eight scripts before they have that great script. All the people they admire went through these things and had adversity. Oliver Stone wrote 10 scripts before he wrote Platoon which got him all of his first jobs which got him Midnight Express and then he waited 10 years to get Platoon made… I attended all these (film industry) functions, the classes and the bookstores reading all the time. I have a 10,000-book library in my house from collecting books over the years. Young writers and beginning writers need to stay persistent and understand what the odds are against them succeeding.
Salerno made the transition to features at 23 when Steven Spielberg hired him to adapt the World War II submarine thriller ‘Thunder Below’ based on the book by Congressional Medal of Honor recipient Eugene B. Fluckey. Salerno’s first feature film script was also one of the earliest projects put into development by the newly formed DreamWorks Pictures. In an April 29, 1999 article in Variety, Salerno stated that he went to “writing school” under Spielberg.
He got a jump start in the business when he made an award winning documentary in high school that landed him on Larry King Live. That opened the door for him at age 19 as an apprentice on the TV program NYPD Blue. Salerno likes to stress that he was raised by a single mother, didn’t come from money, and never went to college. —Scott W. Smith
At the age of twenty-four he co-wrote the worldwide blockbuster Armageddon, which became the highest-grossing film of 1998. He most recently co-wrote and executive produced Savages directed by Oliver Stone. He has also written and produced television including the Golden Globe nominated Hawaii Five-0 for CBS, (2010–present), co-created and executive produced UC: Undercover for NBC (2000-2002) and began as a writer for Fox’s New York Undercover (1995-1998). He is the producer and director of the forthcoming documentary Salinger about reclusive author J. D. Salinger which will be released theatrically by The Weinstein Company on September 6, 2013 and then premiere as the 200th episode of American Masters in January, 2014. His first book (with David Shields), The Private War of J. D. Salinger will be released by Simon & Schuster in September, 2013.
Winslow and Salerno have known each other for a long time — thirteen years to be exact. They have worked together, including creating the NBC TV series UC: Undercover, trust each other implicitly and often exchange early drafts of their work and talk on the phone every day, usually about film adaptations of Winslow’s work which Salerno produces. At our request, Salerno rang up his buddy Winslow who was in the middle of a cross-country book tour and interviewed the acclaimed crime writer about his life and work. —Don Winslow, Interviewed by Shane Salerno
You dedicated The Kings of Cool to Shane Salerno, your co-screenwriter on “Savages.” Why was that relationship so significant?
DW: I met Shane maybe thirteen years ago when we were working on a TV show called “UC: Undercover.” I was an admirer of his work and we became good buddies. I would tell him what was going on with my books vis a vis film and he would offer some pretty sage counsel. He has a company called Story Factory that is all about the nexus between film and book. So when I started to write Savages I sent the first fourteen pages to Shane in an e-mail saying, ‘Either I’m completely crazy or this is pretty good.’ And he wrote back in half an hour and said, ‘Drop everything else you’re doing and finish this while you’re in this headspace.’ We was enthralled with this from literally day one and we decided to work on the screenplay together. Shane had the idea of going outside the studio system to get the thing made with Oliver. So he’s been really essential and when I sat down to write The Kings of Cool, I thought I should dedicate it to him. —On ‘Savages,’ Oliver Stone, and Screenwriting: An Interview with Author Don Winslow
Detour Magazine voted him one of “Hollywood’s true shapers of popular culture” and Fade In Magazine, selected Salerno as one of the “100 people you need to know in Hollywood”. Future projects include a feature adaptation of The Power Of The Dog, the epic Don Winslow bestseller framed around the drug war and a 30-year struggle between a hard DEA agent and a family of cartel kingpins in Mexico, Doomsday Protocol, which Shane sold as a spec in Sept. 2008, Goodnight Dorothy Kilgallen, Untitled Shane Salerno/Kurtzman-Orci Project, Untitled James Cameron Project, and The Last Run. Suffice to say Shane is a busy young man — and he also has a most interesting backstory which you can read about here.
Salerno financed the film out of his pocket, interviewed 150 sources, and accumulated so much information that he collaborated on a 700-page companion book with bestselling author David Shields. The 150 sources interviewed in the film either worked with Salinger at The New Yorker or had contact with him otherwise, or were greatly influenced by him. The famous names include Philip Seymour Hoffman, Edward Norton, John Cusack, Danny DeVito, John Guare, Martin Sheen, David Milch, Robert Towne, Tom Wolfe, E.L. Doctorow, A. Scott Berg, Elizabeth Frank, Gore Vidal, and many other fans, journalists, filmmakers, playwrights, and artists inspired by Salinger’s work. Salerno went into the documentary expecting it to be a 6-month project. But it grew into a five-year obsession. During that time, the screenwriter made several 7-figure deals for such projects as the Fox sci-fi fantasy Doomsday Protocol, and the Paramount/Skydance action-comedy License to Steal. So Salerno plowed several million dollars of that money into the documentary, working nights and weekends, and hiring the likes of Buddy Squires, the cinematographer for every Ken Burns documentary.
“He somehow understood in 1951 the corrosive effect that fame and money could have on his writing. He was singular, and in this Internet age where people pursue their 15 minutes of fame, nobody did what Salinger did: living in the woods in New Hampshire, writing to please only himself. The biggest challenge was, how far do you pull back the curtain on a mythic figure while preserving his legacy? We answered some questions, but other Salinger mysteries will remain unsolved.” The obvious question is: did Salerno get Salinger on camera? He would not tell me. But I’ve learned there’s a 5-minute section of the film that was held out of early screenings for security reasons. —Secret J.D. Salinger Documentary & Book, Now Revealed
The Weinstein Company (TWC) has set a September 6 theatrical release for the film. This was one of the most unusual deals in awhile, and came after Harvey Weinstein, David Glasser and the acquisition team were shown the film on the morning of the Academy Awards. TWC was the only distributor that saw the finished film, and closed the deal right after. Salerno and his lawyer Robert Offer made three big deals for the movie, showing it only to parties that made deals, which allowed the filmmaker to avoid any leakage of revelations in the film that might have resulted with a screening for multiple buyers.
It was first shown to American Masters, which quickly closed a 7-figure licensing deal to make it the 200th installment of that prestigious series early next year. It was then shown to Jon Karp and his editors from Simon & Schuster, and right after they saw it, they closed a 7-figure publishing deal for a biography that Salerno wrote with David Shields. So the movie has played three times, and resulted in deals north of $5 million, making it one of the richest pacts ever for a feature documentary. It took Salerno eight years and $2 million of his own money to make the movie and the book happen.
Commenting on the deal, Salerno said: “I have the greatest respect for The Weinstein Company and the remarkable quality and consistency of the films they produce. I am honored to be working with them on what is for me an eight year labor of love.” “Shane Salerno has created a haunting piece of documentary filmmaking in SALINGER,” said TWC Co-Chairman Harvey Weinstein. “We are in awe of the painstaking detail used in depicting a man who created truly timeless works of literature, but otherwise remained an enigma for so many years.” —Mike Fleming Jr
A truly amazing story on so many levels. As Rod Tidwell said in Jerry Maguire, ‘Yeah, man, it means love, respect, community… and the dollars too. The whole package. The kwan.’ Shane Salerno and Don Winslow are huge fans of Cinephilia and Beyond. I’m honored and humbled by their support, and even endless thanks cannot express my gratitude. I would greatly appreciate if you would all immediately follow them on Twitter: @SecretSalinger @donwinslow
“Not to be preachy about it, but discipline is everything for a working writer, at least for this one. I can’t just wander around fields of flowers or sit brooding in coffee houses waiting for the muse to land on my shoulder and whisper in my ear. That would nice, but it ain’t gonna happen. I treat writing like a factory job — the whistle blows and I’m at work. This thing always comes down to someone sitting down with some kind of writing instrument and getting it done.” —Don Winslow
Previously on Cinephilia and Beyond: