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  • Killer Instinct
  • Written by Jane Hamsher
  • Format: Trade Paperback | ISBN: 9780767900751
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Killer Instinct

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Fresh out of film school, aspiring producer Jane Hamsher and her partner Don Murphy stumbled onto a screenplay by a geeky filmmaker-wannabe named Quentin Tarantino. For $10,000, Jane and Don optioned Natural Born Killers and set off on a two-year roller coaster ride no classroom could have prepared them for. With an outrageous cast of real-life characters including Oliver Stone, Woody Harrelson, Robert Downey, Jr., and Juliette Lewis--along with a slew of film-crew leeches and behind-the-scenes studio pitbulls--Killer Instinct rivals the most mesmerizing, gut-wrenching movie scenes. A wild joyride like no other, Hamsher's tale provides a fresh, insider's perspective on stardom and the real balance of power in Hollywood.


I awoke on Tuesday morning with a world-class hangover on top of a bad case of the flu that had finally been coaxed into fruition by wanton disregard for my own health the night before.  On such mornings, it's great to be your own boss; reporting to no one, you can simply decide to stay home from the office and nurse your self-induced ailments.  Which is exactly what I did.  Unfortunately, this sort of power does you flat fucking no good when your office is in the dining room of your apartment.  And I knew, even as I shut off my alarm clock and stuffed my head under my pillow, that nothing I could do or say, no act of man or God could impede the impending horror that would walk through my front door come 10:00 a.m., stoked on caffeinated Diet Coke and Froot Loops, loaded down with magazines and comic books, action toys and pretzels and Pez, ready to tear the head off Hollywood.

My business partner, Don Murphy.

The sound of "Hey, Partner!" came booming up my stairs predictably at 10:00, and into my apartment bounded all 6'2", 220 pounds of Irish-American twenty-something film-student-turned-wannabe-producer.

"How you doing this morning?" he said, throwing down (as he did every morning) heaps of crap, or "spooge" as we commonly referred to it, which he seemed to have a strong affection for depositing on my floor, despite the fact that he will probably have no use for it during the day.

I crawled into the dining room in my robe and slippers in that "please notice I'm ill" kind of way.

"Hey, (cough cough), good morning (sniff sniff)." I threw in a hacking death rattle for good measure.

"So, I got a call from this guy named Kevin Michaels, who says he's just finished a script that everyone is dying for," he began, jabbering at a breakneck speed that made my head hurt.  "He'll have it over to us this afternoon, just as soon as his electricity's turned back on and he can print it out.  He swears Corey Haim's attached."

"Corey Haim's in rehab."

"No, that's Corey Feldman.  Corey Haim's the sober one."

"Well they should both be in movie jail anyway for a lifetime of cinematic affronts.  Listen, Don, I'm not feeling so well...."

"And I have to call and schedule lunch today."

"Y'know, Don, if there was any way we could do this another day..."

"So, where do you want to go?"

"Don, I don't feel good."

"...I was thinking, maybe Hamburger Hamlet..."

"Don, listen to me.  I'm dying here."

"...Maybe Numero Uno...oh, I forgot--you hate that place."


"He's coming up from Manhattan Beach, so maybe Barney's Beanery.  It's a little farther west...."


He looked up at me startled, making that weird sucking noise with the straw he always does when he reaches the bottom of his Big Gulp.  "Something wrong?"

This wasn't going to be easy.  But the idea of going back to bed, tanking up on Nyquil, and passing out in a hazy catatonia until this diabolical condition passed was just too enticing.

"Don, I think I'd rather not go to the lunch today.  I mean, who is this guy, anyway? I know it's probably important, but I think I need to go back to bed and go to sleep."

Silence.  He looked at me with that jaw-tightening look that said, "You're not doing what I want, and I'm unhappy." I hated that look.  Don's not-so-passive-aggression only served to make me knee-jerk angry and defensive.

"Goddamn it Don, every day it's some loser.  Someone who claims to have money to make movies, and he's just jerking us off.  Someone who says he's got Pacino attached to his script and he doesn't have cab fare.  I mean, I know we have to follow it all up, and you're really good at pursuing every lead, but Christ, I'm sick.  Can't you just let me feel bad?"

I could see his entire frame swelling with self-righteous indignation.  "This is for you, you know.  This guy swears he can get his next movie financed for three or four million dollars."

"Don, I just don't see that much potential in this particular situation." I was careful to be as diplomatic as possible--not, as you might assume, out of fear for my own safety, but because it was enthusiasm that fueled Don's tenacity.  And although he could be occasionally uncouth and frequently unreasonable, at that moment, Don's tenacity may have been the biggest asset we had.

But no matter how hungry you are for success, sometimes the uninterrupted banging of your head against the wall makes you want to give up.  As I skulked away to my bedroom to swill Nyquil, I tried to tell myself that the worst of it was over, I'd faced Don's disappointment, and now I could just get on with being sick.

But as I lay there in bed, still hearing Don pound away at the world despite the doors that were constantly being closed in his face, I knew I was in this predicament because I'd been drinking like a fish at some dingy L.A.  club watching unmemorable bands the night before until 3:00 in the morning. Don deserved better than that, and I knew it.

So at about 12:30 I emerged from my room.

"What are you doing all dressed up?" asked Don, seeing me in heels and stockings and makeup and a dress.

"You don't think I'd let you go alone, do you?"

So it was out of loyalty to Don's spirit that I dredged myself out of bed, still feeling like shit, and packed myself into his VW Rabbit on that Tuesday afternoon.  By grace of an open window, a fresh breeze, and a natural embarrassment born of a genteel upbringing I managed to keep from regurgitating on the drive up Highland Avenue to Hampton's, a burger joint near Sunset Boulevard.

When we got to the restaurant, we found that the guy was already there.  A bad sign--people who arrive early to lunch in Hollywood usually do so because they have nothing better to do.  Worse yet, his whole physical presence said "geek." I think he wore big turquoise pants and a Hawaiian shirt, and as the outfit was hanging on one of those bodies that didn't look like it saw the inside of a gym with any frequency, he wasn't exactly the kind of guy who could make anything look good.

Whatever.  I was here to see if I could outlast the ride.  Almost instantly, the guy began talking at a blinding speed that made Don look a bit palsied by comparison.  Worse yet, he had the habit which slightly nauseated me at the moment of waving his hands manically as he spoke.  He seemed to be doing this almost uncontrollably.

I stared at Don long enough to make sure he was looking at me before I pasted on my most impenetrably charming smile.  If I was going to put on the performance of my life, I wanted credit for it.

"So, Don tells me you hope to direct a movie this fall."

Now the guy got really lathered up.  I thought he was going to become airborne with all the flapping about he was doing.  He'd written this movie, see, about these guys and this heist gone bad, and it was told novelistically, you know, with time folding back on itself, not linearly like most movies, which he was really fascinated with, and on and on until my head was spinning just trying to keep up with him.

And then a funny thing happened.  Suddenly, I became kind of fascinated just watching this guy.  He might be the king of the geeks, but there was something really interesting about his energy.  He wasn't brilliant, but he was somehow--I don't know, right. You know when you're tired of everything out there, be it TV shows or music or shoes, and someone comes along at the right time with the right idea, and suddenly it's exactly what you were hungry for without even knowing it?  Well, that's how I felt about everything this guy was talking about.

I had been searching for something special to fall in love with that could justify all the energy and intensity you had to work up in order to get a film made.  Sure, we could go looking for the next big action script, but guys like Joel Silver and Simpson/Bruckheimer already did that pretty well.  Nobody needed us to do it. I'd always used sex, lies, and videotape as a model for what I was looking for: something that was limited in production scope, but was fresh and energetic and a little shocking in its subject matter.  Something you could be clever about and would launch you onto bigger things where you could hopefully pay your bills.  Everything this guy was talking about seemed to be ripe for this kind of scenario.  And by the time we left our lunch, I was more interested in what he had to tell me than anything I could have told him.

My illness seemed to have abated in the midst of a peculiar enthusiasm as Don and I got in the car.  I was no longer overcome with the urge to spew all over him as he pulled out onto Highland Avenue.

"He was interesting.  I liked his ideas," I told Don as he chauffeured me home.  "I want to read that heist script he was talking about."

"I think there's already a producer on that one."

"I don't care, I'd just like to read it anyway," I said.

"Well, we don't have that one.  But there's this other script he wrote.  It's been sitting on your dining room floor for almost a year.  I keep meaning to read it, but never do."

This called for me to attack Don's pile of spooge with a fervor upon our return to my apartment.  I withdrew a script from the bottom of the heap--it was covered with dust and badly mangled, having been shifted around for a year in Don's attempts to look like he was actually doing something with his junk.

"What was that guy's name again, Don?"

"Quentin.  Quentin Tarantino."

"Was the script called Natural Born Killers?"

"Yep, that's the one.

An hour and a half later, I walked out of my bedroom--and I had no doubt that it was, indeed, the one.  In fact, I'd never been so certain of anything in my life.

From the Hardcover edition.
Jane Hamsher

About Jane Hamsher

Jane Hamsher - Killer Instinct
Jane Hamsher is a Hollywood producer currently based at Columbia Pictures. She and her partner, Don Murphy, have numerous projects set up at the studios. Their next film, Apt Pupil, based on the Stephen King novella, premieres in 1998.


Advance Praise for Killer Instinct:

"This lean, mean, scabrously honest account of the making of Natural Born Killers amply proves the truism that moviemaking is a 'controlled accident'. . . . Rarely has a book by a Hollywood player . . . been so confessional and recklessly revealing. . . . This compelling look behind the curtain should help dispel forever any fond illusions about the 'magic' of movies."
--Kirkus Reviews

"Few books capture the roller-coaster ride of trying to get a movie made as enjoyably as this one."
--Roger Avary, cowriter, Pulp Fiction

"Fast, funny and horrifically honest, this is Hollywood from the locusts' point of view, shot through a jeweled and compounded eye. . . . A terrific book."
--Alan Moore, author, The Watchmen and V for Vendetta

"Drugs! Sex! Madness! Movie Stars! Killer Instinct is a screamingly funny, seriously terrifying saga of two naifs who outfox the psychotic dons who run the film business. . . . With this book, Jane Hamsher elevates the Hollywood tell-all to a literary art form."
--Jerry Stahl, author, Permanent Midnight

"Fax and copy machines are working overtime in Hollywood with galleys of Killer Instinct. . . . Gossipy . . . [and] filled with wicked wit. . . . Hamsher's gonzo take on NBK's evolution offers an insider's view of show-biz egos."

From the Hardcover edition.

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