Falling Screenwriter: Rolling Stone staffer-turned-Hollywood screenwriter Joe Eszterhas, whose hype-magnet erotic thrillers include the fall releases Jade and Showgirls.
Career Pinnacle: His script for 1992’s Basic Instinct earned him an unprecedented $3 million — making him, at the time, the highest-paid scripter in Hollywood. The movie grossed nearly $118 million. Credited with single-handedly elevating the status of showbiz scribes, Eszterhas saw his price tag continue to elevate: In June he received a $2.5 million advance on a $4 million deal from New Line Cinema for a four-page treatment of the thriller One Night Stand (currently in preproduction).
Latest Misstep: Following suit with his 1993 disappointment Sliver, Eszterhas’ Las Vegas expose Showgirls and the sadomasochistic Jade were mauled by critics — many of whom attributed the failures directly to the hirsute scribe — and sputtered at the box office. ”All the Jade reviews were about his bad script,” says Paramount distribution president Wayne Lewellen, whose studio handled the film.
Perceived Problem: Eszterhas has been wasting his time and talent recycling the same sex-and-violence themes.
Next Move: Things may be looking up. Universal just scooped up (for a mere $1 million against a final $2.25 million if the film gets made) his respected but uncommercial Blaze of Glory, a biopic of soul singer Otis Redding. Eszterhas, who will also serve as an exec producer, has promised the film will have neither sex nor violence.
Advice: Get off the sensationalism bandwagon. ”Joe, it missed. Move on,” offers one producer pal. ”Getting beaten up is good for his career,” he adds. ”He needs to go back and be creative again.” And according to director Jon Avnet, who has signed on to do Glory, the Redding script may bring Eszterhas new respect. ”He’s made himself quite the lightning rod, but he’s a good writer,” Avnet says. ”[Glory] is a difficult story about interracial friendships that moves and intrigues me.”