My Movie Business
John Irving (right with actor Tobey Maguire on the film set relives the agonising process of turning The Cider House Rules into a movie
Photographs by MARY ELLEN MARK


This sober, no-nonsense volume offers a scene-by-scene breakdown of the process by which Irving translated the multiple plotlines, abortion-rights theme and sprawling length of his least cinematic-seeming novel, The Cider House Rules, into a shootable screenplay. How his orphan-out--in the-world tale lost some characters along the way (and gained some others); how the chronology of the story (set mostly in the 1940s) had to be streamlined; how certain lines had to be added to explain why one of its main characters (played in the film by Michael Caine) now has a touch of English to his accent. In other words, My Movie Business is a charming, sublimely written technical primer-Irving is a pitch-perfect stylist who could turn a VCR instruction manual into an irresistible pageturner-but a primer just the same.

Considering all those years Irving invested in making Cider a movie, as well as his nearly unprecedented input on the project (aside from writing the script, he had veto power over director and cast), you'd expect a beefier, dishier payoff: a Hollywood According to Garp. But no, the writer remains impeccably polite throughout. Perhaps to a fault.

Irving went through a number of directors during the life span of the film, including Phillip Borsos (who died of cancer), Michael Winterbottom (creative differences with Irving scotched that deal) and finally Lasse Hallstršm (My Life as a Dog), Irving's fave. Yet we never really get to meet any of these people, never get a whiff of who they are and what makes them tick.

Instead, along with his stitch-by-stitch reconstruction of the making of Cider's script, he offers only the broadest generalisations of how Hollywood works. "It is the presumption on the part of the people putting up the money that they have an unassailable right to interfere with what happens in the screenplay and with the outcome of the film," he complains at one point. Well, duh.

Still, those who loved the novel--and who may soon love the movie (it opens on Jan. 13)-will probably find something to love about this slim little offering. After all, gorgeous writing is gorgeous writing, even when it's published in the simplest of how-to manuals. (Bloomsbury, $29.95)