Book Article

Hollywood Babblin'

Bruce Wagner's ''Force Majeure'' -- The author knows his book has everyone in Hollywood buzzing

The hero of Force Majeure is a screenwriter on the skids who suffers at the hands of back-stabbing agents and coarse producers, but author-screenwriter Bruce Wagner, 37, wants to make one thing perfectly clear: this is not a novel about Hollywood.

''This is a book about a man who's had a complete psychotic breakdown,'' Wagner says. ''It didn't interest me to do another book about Hollywood.''

Well, maybe so. But despite Wagner's protestations, Hollywood has been gossiping about his thorny book ever since an excerpt appeared in the July issue of Esquire. And for a work its author says isn't about Hollywood, Wagner's book has had a history that itself is pure Hollywood.

A modestly successful screenwriter (A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors, Scenes From the Class Struggle in Beverly Hills), Wagner started dabbling in fiction a few years ago. A friend issued some of his stories in a private edition, and in 1989 Random House signed Wagner for a short-story collection Looking for a way to ''go deeper,'' the writer began to weave the stories into a novel. But before he could finish, director Oliver Stone (Wall Street) — who had seen the stories — came calling, and Wagner stopped working on Force Majeure, the novel, to write Force Majeure, the screenplay (the title refers to a standard contract clause stipulating that a writer serves a the producer's whim). ''It was an offer I couldn't resist,'' he says. ''It was just like something that would have happened to Bud,'' his screenwriter-hero.

Wagner denies that he had a movie in mind all along. ''Oh, no,'' he insists. ''It was the last thing I anticipated.'' he also denies that the book is a roman à clef. ''Not that I'm above that,'' he admits. ''Sure, it's autobiographical in some of the little details, but that's all. Hollywood, after all, is full of archetypes — the nympho actress, the vicious producer.''

Force Majeure, starring Jim Belushi, Debbie Reynolds, and Faye Dunaway, goes into production this fall with Wagner directing and Stone coproducing with Edward Pressman and Caldecot Chubb. The book is now at a bookstore near you.

Yes, it all sounds very Hollywood, but Wagner is quick to say that readers expecting a trashfest, in the manner of Julia Phillips' You'll Never Eat Lunch in This Town Again, are going to be disappointed. ''It's a weird book,'' he says of his own. ''I can't imagine it selling a lot of copies.''

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