Hollywood Special: Turning Your Books Into Movies with Ben Mezrich

May 25, 2022

Ben Mezrich has sold over 10 million copies of his books.

And, by the way, that’s not even the impressive part. The impressive part is that he sells EVERY SINGLE ONE OF HIS BOOKS as a movie or TV show; in fact, if Hollywood isn’t interested in the treatment, he doesn’t even write the book.

Mezrich has gotten into this position because of a chance encounter with some MIT students, which led to his writing Bringing Down the House: The Inside Story of Six M.I.T. Students Who Took Vegas for Millions, which led to Kevin Spacey snapping up the film rights before the book was even out, which led to the book spending over 60 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list.

Then there was his book, The Accidental Billionaires, which David Fincher and Aaron Sorkin jumped on as Mezrich was writing the book and which, of course turned into the multi award-nominated movie The Social Network. (Mezrich is the only non-fiction author to have two adaptations open at #1 at the box office.)

He’s written numerous other books, including Bitcoin Billionaires and The Antisocial Network and is also a consulting producer on Billions. Oh, and his most recent book, The Midnight Ride, has an NFT component that already has over 3500 owners.

So how does this happen? How does a former struggling novelist become Hollywood’s go to guy pursued by designers who want to dress him for his book tours? And what is the secret to finding the sort of story that makes Hollywood salivate? It’s all in this episode.


TRANSCRIPT:

Anna David: Okay, well so basically you have the career that we all want, is what it comes down to. And yet you're not hateable.

Ben Mezrich: Thank you. I try not to be hateful. No, everything has happened in my career by accident and luck and timing. And there's been just a lot of really crazy moments. So I'm just happy and lucky and fortunate all along, and it's just been a blast. So I'm happy to tell you any stories you want to hear.

Anna David: I was reading, you know, you've been getting press for so many years. And I was reading this old story, I think in the Boston Globe about how Maybach flies him out to parties, and different people send him clothes and all of that. Is your life still like that? Was that true?

Ben Mezrich: And yeah, that's all it got crazy for a while. And, you know, I still get flown around. Like this weekend, I have two separate sorts of parties. I'm supposed to be flown to, although COVID Put a big crimp and all of that sort of thing. But yeah, when you do a book tour, there are definitely clothing sponsors that want me to wear their clothes and suits. But all a lot of that has to do with my wife, my wife is very, very good at cultivating these relationships and throwing these book parties and sort of a lot of authors come to me like, “How did you do this?” And I'm always like, Tanya did all that I didn't, I just sat in my room and wrote. And she's, you know, she had a TV show in Boston for a little while, she had a fashion line in Boston, she's done a lot of amazing things. So she's kind of cultivated this, this really great network of people. I mean, the other thing is I write books, for gambling type personalities, a lot of hedge funders like my stuff. So there's a lot of people in the finance world who read my stuff. And so, in that world, when there's an intersection between the finance world and the Hollywood world, where all of that craziness  comes about, so yeah, it's been, Gosh, 15 years of crazy parties and stuff like that.

Anna David: Mostly, the writers who are on the outside be like, “Hey, could you let me in?”

Ben Mezrich: So I've been through that as well. I've had my battles with certain Hollywood types trying to get into the premiere of my own movie, there've been incidents like that, too. There  was an incident with Scott Rudin, way back when, with The Social Network with Scott Rudin is a character, you know, himself. And then, and I'm sure there's lots and lots of stories about him. But in general, I've been very fortunate,  I've worked with really amazing people. And I think that's the key is that the only real power a writer has is who they sell their project to. And once you sell your project, you have to assume that you have no power. So you want to sell it to people who are going to treat you like a partner, or treat you like you know, part of the team are going to take you on the ride with them. And so when I'm making my deals, it's not just the dollars, you're looking at who is buying this project and, and what do they want to do with it? And are they people you want to hang out with and are they people you want to work with? And I don't think I would sell a project today, to people I didn't want to hang out with. And that's different in the beginning of your career. At the beginning of a career you sell to anybody who offers but you know, you reach a point in your career where, you know, you know that it's really important, these relationships are more important than anything else. So you're always looking for that kind of special thing. Anna David: You know what's interesting. So Molly Bloom, who I've known for years, I heard her say that when she was going in, pitching Molly's Game, she had this epiphany: "Everyone's passing. I'm reaching too low. I need to reach higher." And that's how she got to Aaron Sorkin. And I think that's so interesting.

Ben Mezrich:  I mean, I think that's really smart. Molly's story is as great as the movies. I've always, I always get asked, you know, what books do you wish you would have written? And that was one of those books that I would have loved to have written? 

Anna David: Would you want to live the story that she lives? 

Ben Mezrich: Oh, no, I just want to write it from the outside. I don't want to actually get involved with dangerous Russian monsters. I think that yeah, it's just a great movie and a great story. But yeah, I think there's something to that. If you can get to an Aaron Sorkin obviously, that's the dream. And the reality of Hollywood is it takes an Aaron Sorkin to get a movie made. It's extremely hard to start at the bottom in Hollywood and get something made. It happens but it's like a lottery ticket. 99% of the things you sell are never going to get made. And that's because it needs an A list writer and a list director and a list actor and anything less than that. And it's just a struggle. It's a continuous struggle.

Anna David: Oh, yes, talking to somebody whose book was optioned 15 years ago. And I'm like, “Oh, this is so awesome. I've got it made." They even hired a big writer to do the script. And then you get the email "Congratulations, your rights have reverted back to you" and you realize, that means "We're never talking to you again." So okay, so let's talk about your journey. So you started off as just a novelist in the same sort of, you know, terrible situation most writers are in. And then what happened?

Ben Mezrich: Yeah, so my story is, I knew I wanted to be a writer since I was 12 years old. So that's all I ever wanted to do. And when I graduated from college, you know, my parents were not thrilled with that choice. And so I basically locked myself in an apartment for a year, my dad said, “I'm not going to let you starve. But if you don't have any proof by the end of this year that you're going to make it as a writer, you gotta go to law school.” That was pretty much the conversation. So I wrote nine novels that year, I locked myself in a room and I wrote a novel a month, basically 400 Page novels, I wrote round the clock, I was writing 40 pages a day, just craziness. And they were all rejected, rejected, rejected, 190 rejection slips, had them taped to the walls, like a serial killer. It was just crazy writing. And eventually, an editor took pity on me, a guy named John Karp, who's a very famous, powerful editor. Now, he didn't buy anything I'd written, he said, “I'm not going to buy any of the crap you've been writing. But go read John Grisham and Michael Crichton and try to do what they do.” So then I started writing thrillers. And I wrote one book that was slightly better than the rest, and I got a literary agent. 

So at the end of my first year, pretty much out of college, I had a literary agent, and I sold my first book and nobody read it. So I wrote about six medical thrillers, they were sci fi, medical pop thrillers. And they never, they didn't go anywhere. One of them was made into a TV movie. So I did have sort of that level of success in my early 20s, or mid 20s.

 

But my books were not selling, nobody was buying. And then I ran into this group of MIT kids in a bar. And they were going to Vegas every weekend. And it was just this crazy story that started going to Vegas with them. I convinced the main character to sort of tell me his story. And that became Bringing Down the House, which was my first nonfiction book. And it was going to be this little book, you know, tiny first printing. I had been paid less for it than I'd ever been paid for anything. It was a nothing of a book, because it was about Vegas. It was about cards. And this was before Vegas, and cards were interesting again, and I wrote an article for Wired Magazine, and I got a call in the middle of the night, phone rings. And it's a guy saying, “I have Kevin Spacey on the line.” And so back then that was a better call than it would be today. Let's just put that out there. Kevin Spacey back then was the biggest star in the world. And I get on the phone with him. It really was Kevin Spacey. And he said, I love this story. I want you to come out to LA. So I flew out to LA pretty much the next day. And I met Kevin and his producer, Dana Brunetti, Dana, right. And Dana was at the time Kevin's assistant. 

This was that far back. And they're like, “we want to make a movie out of this.” And I was like, great. Seems like a great idea. And I asked him, “Well, how much are you gonna pay me?” And they said, “nothing, zero.” And I was like, “zero?” And at the time I was massively in debt. Because I had had all these books published, they all kind of failed. I had spent every penny I'd ever made. I owed a million $2 million. At 28 years old. I was vastly in debt. And, so basically, I went to my agent, I had an agent through the TV movie who had gotten me an agent. And I said, ''They want to make a movie, they want to pay me zero.” And he's like, “Well, let's see what we can do.” And the next day, he called me and said, I have an offer from someone else for $750,000. So I go back to Kevin and Dana. And I say, “I've got this competing offer now for $750,000. And what are you guys going to pay?” Dana's like, “Nothing, zero, still zero.”

I said, "So how can you offer me zero against $750,000?" And they said, "Well, if we gave you $300,000, right now, what would you do with it?" And so I was at a crazy period of my life, and I was massively in debt, and they knew all my stories. And I said, “I'd probably spend all of it.” And they said, “We're gonna do something better. We're gonna actually make this movie. And  you can talk about Kevin and publicity, he's going to talk about you, this is gonna be great for your career.”

So we ended up taking that deal, turning down three quarters of a million dollars and freaking my agent out, and it worked. The book came out and I went on the Today show. And the book was a huge bestseller for a couple of years, and the movie, although it took a number of years to get made, put me on the map in an enormous way. And from that moment on, I actually have sold every book I've written as a movie off of the treatment before I've written a page of the book. So I've sold something like 25 movies, at this point, right off of a 10 page treatment. And one of them happened to be the social network project, which comes along a little bit later, we can get into that. But that's what started me off. It was really a phone call from Kevin Spacey in Milan, right, because of an article in Wired magazine, and it was my first time it became a feature film that actually got made, because there was an actor with an A-list actor attached, you know?

Anna David: So two questions. So the Today show was interested because Kevin Spacey is involved. 

Ben Mezrich: No, I had actually booked the Today show. Randomly, this publicist at the publisher had gotten me it was, you know, the only real publicity I'd ever gotten, and then having to be a really big show. But I was able to talk about Kevin during it. And I think that was helpful. Who knows? Then I went on CNBC. And at the time, CNBC Power Lunch was a really big deal. And this was a book about gambling, and everybody who watched CNBC was a gambler. And so I think that the Today show, and CNBC together is what really made that book just go crazy. I remember it went to number one on Amazon. And it sold out in the first three hours. And it was one of those situations where they were just always trying to print books, because they were always selling and it just happens, you know, I think what was great about that story was it was the perfect one sentence. It was six MIT kids who took Vegas for millions. And it was an easy sentence for every news show, to throw at the end of a news report. So it was on every single channel all the time. And there's this group of MIT kids who took Vegas for millions. It's like the perfect sentence. And I think that easy sentences, what just turn that into some moment, basically. But on the Hollywood side, that movie really opened enormous doors for me, because I decided right there, and then that I wanted to have a Hollywood career. On top of that every book I would write had to be a movie. And so I basically became very close to my Hollywood agent at the time. And I said to him, “every project I'm going to do, we're going to come out here, we're going to pitch it all over town. And we're gonna develop these relationships with lots of producers and lots of studios. And that's the way I want to do books.” And that became the model for me. And so, even today, if someone tells me a story idea, I think it's great. I'll interview the people, I'll write 10 pages, and I will take it out to Hollywood. And if I can't get a studio deal, then I won't write the book. I won't, I won't even look at it. That's it, I'm done. So that's the way I do my projects now and have for 20 years.

Anna David:  And knowing, as you said, how impossible it is to get things made. I don't mean to be woo woo. But it's like you made this decision. And it happened. And obviously you've got a serious feel for what people are going to respond to. But so questions, rumor is that like, so everybody wanted the social network. And so like they're like, oh, people went, the producer went to the 21 party and that wound up being Dana, is that true?

Meznich: So Dana, and I became very close. There's so many stories about Dana. Do you know Dana at all? 

Anna David: I met him through Mike years ago. I think when he was Kevin Spacey’s assistant, or just became.

Mezrich: Yeah, Dana is one of those people that it's almost like he's a mythical creature. I love Dana. Dana is a genius. He's also terrifying. He can be completely insane. And I think if you talk to enough people, you'll hear so many crazy stories about Dana. But Dana and I were like brothers from the very beginning. There's no question about that. When I went out to LA that first time and Dana and Kevin picked me up at the airport, it was like Kevin's little Mercedes. And the first place they took me, we're driving along and I'm a kid from Boston. I mean, I've never been to Hollywood a few times, but I was not, you know, in that scene, and we're driving along and we pull up to this huge mansion. And I recognized it and it was a Playboy mansion. And it was literally the first place. They drove me. And we sat down and it was like movie night. And it was these moments where I think Dana really, really, we got along extremely well. And we definitely worked as partners together, selling I think, Gosh, eight or nine movies in a row we sold together. 

But the social network was a really interesting situation. Because what happened with The Social Network was, again, a random moment. I had become known for writing these true stories. So I would get pitched a lot of stories. Every time some young college kid pulled off a scheme or somebody did a crime, I would get a call, they would either reach me on the phone or an email or something like that. And it was the middle of the night and I got an email from a Harvard senior. And it said, “my best friend founded Facebook and no one's ever heard of him.” This is in Boston, and I went out for a drink in a bar. And in walked Eduardo Savarin, the real Eduardo, and he sits down he goes, “Mark Zuckerberg fucked me!” Started the conversation like that, and told me this completely insane story. So I think this is awesome. I went and I actually found the Winklevoss twins on the internet. I just found him on Facebook. I started meeting with them. I started meeting with Sean Parker, and I wrote a 14 page book proposal, which I called Face Off was a horrible title. And I sent it to my agent. And he sent it out to I think 11 or 12 publishers, and it leaked onto the internet. So it leaked onto Gawker. Gawker printed my entire book proposals, something I'd never seen before. I don't know if they'd ever printed a full book proposal before. And everything went crazy. Facebook freaked out and was like, What are you writing? And they came after me. And I had sent it to Dana.

Because Dana and I were like brothers, I would send him every single thing. And we had sold eight or eight movies. By that point, we had sold all these books that I had written. That never got made, but we had sold, you know, a number of books together. And Dana thought it was cool. I do think Dana, I don't remember for sure. But I think its first response was similar to my mom's which is like, I'm not sure anybody will watch a movie about Facebook, but he definitely thought it was cool. But that day when it leaked on Gawker, Aaron Sorkin saw it.

And David Fincher saw it. And Aaron Sorkin called and said he wanted to write it. And David Fincher called and said he wanted to direct it. And so then you had Dana and Kevin, because Dana and Kevin, Ricky have already sent the proposal. So they came from their angle, they met with Scott Rudin, who came with the Aaron Sorkin situation. And Mike DeLuca, who was at Sony, MGM, and Amy Pascal. And that became the team. And so it was this incredible moment as a writer, like that's the dream team at that point in time. There was no better team of people. And to be frank, nobody else could have made that movie, because you were dealing with Facebook, you know, a billion dollar corporation.

You were dealing with huge egos, you know, people, people who are incredibly known for taking over a movie set, right. It was one of those just magnificent kinds of situations to get into. And, it was wild. And I was there for the whole thing. And it was great. And yeah, Dana. Dana was a big part of it. And, and, and DeLuca Mike, who is just awesome. I love Mike, I think he's one of the best people in Hollywood. And he had done 21 as well. So basically, you know, Dana and Mike were involved again this time. Yeah.

Anna David: Actually, I went to The Social Network premiere. I was living in New York at the time, and the New York Post assigned me the junk. And I interviewed Jesse, and did the whole junket thing. And that was some premiere, I still remember being like, Oh, they've spent some money.

Ben Mezrich: Yeah, I mean, they went all out. And I will say it was just one of those situations where they really knew that they had something special, like a kind of movie that's going to last decades. And it was a cultural moment. I mean, I don't think there was a single newspaper in the world that didn't cover it, or magazine or anything like that. It was just one of those things. And I think what's really interesting to look back on now is Facebook wasn't that big a deal before that movie, it was just this company. But what I saw, and I think what a number of people who made the movie saw was that this was a moment that was going to change all of our lives. And we were documenting it, we were creating the mythology of this world changing technology, which sitting here today, it's clear that we were correct, that Facebook has led to everything that's happening in the world, good and bad. And so it's just a spectacular moment. But for me personally, it was obviously life changing, and just such a ride. And accidentally, the book was Accidental Billionaires. But I think that most of my career has been things like that, where I fall or stumble into a story, and it just becomes something immense. So yeah, it's been wild, for sure. 

Anna David: So finding the stories, you know, obviously you said, you know, people come to you, they're pitching you stories, but I'm assuming a lot of these you're finding on your own. How are you doing that? And what is the thing that you know makes it? 

Ben Mezrich:  Yeah, so the majority of my stories have been pitched to me. I will say only a few of them have ones that I've gone out and found. I basically sift through pitches now on Twitter, but whatever. I mean, something like the Gamestop Story, which I just wrote that book, I mean that everybody saw. So you could say I look for it, but I was getting tons of people writing to me saying you should be ready to be writing it. But in general, I'm looking for something that you can sum up in one sentence that the whole world will be interested in, that can make a great movie. So that's to have great visuals, it has to have incredible Shakespearean type themes, do it exotic locales, or that sort of drama, you know, conflict. I mean, it's the magic is it has to be a story that not everyone already knows. And yet everyone would want to know or be interested in it. And that's the tricky thing, usually something that we've all heard of, I mean, every day people will email me about things. I'm like, yeah, but there's probably 100 writers writing that story. Right now, I don't want to be one of a dozen Wall Street Journal writers trying to get this story. I want to have the main character come to me and say, Look at this crazy thing I did, and I realize, oh, man, everyone's gonna want to hear about that.

And that's what I'm really looking for. But it's got to be simple. It's got to have a big theme. And it's got to be the origin of something life changing. So the things that I've written about to me that have worked have been stories about big, big events are moments or technologies or shifts in the cultural moment, that even though my book was written 10 years ago, people will find a reason to read it 10 years from now. So that's hard. It's not easy. So when I look back on the books that I've written, I think Vegas and Bringing on the House is one, I think, you know, Social Network is certainly one. I think Bitcoin Billionaires is going to be one of those stories that people are going to, and the entire crypto world is built a lot on that story, which is really interesting. And as we make that movie, I think there'll be a big moment, I do think the Gamestop Story is going to be a big moment of a story. I wrote a book called Wooly about the wooly mammoth, coming back to life, and the scientist at Harvard is making one. And although I haven't found that story yet, I think that's going to be a big story in the future. So that's really what I'm looking for all the time is this big, kind of, but again, it has to be able to sell as a movie.

So I have to be able to write a 10 page treatment, that when I take it out to studios, there's going to be a dozen of them bidding on it. And, and I feel like to me, that justifies me writing the book, if I can't get and there's been moments where I've sent out a pitch that I just thought was awesome. And I haven't gotten the movie deal. And I put it aside and they say, you know what, I'm not going to write it. I'm not going to, I can't get excited about it. Because in my opinion, a book is a platform. The book is a story. And many writers feel differently. And I think that's cool, too. But for me, the book is a platform for this story that hopefully has a much bigger life than that. Because books are one component of it. I want to see a movie in a television show and I want to see all the magazines writing about it. I wanted to become something that the whole world talks about and you don't. It doesn't always happen, you know, it's happened two out of 25 books so far, but that's what I'm trying to do every time.

Anna David:  That ratio for what you're talking about, which doesn't happen in most people's lifetime ever. Thinking about it, it also requires a certain not psychic skill but back when you know with the Winklevoss in Bitcoin was like, who cares about Bitcoin today? I'm like, what? So I mean, you are on to these things early.

Ben Mezrich: Yeah, I mean, and this goes back to Michael Crichton, my worship of Michael Crichton, I used to keep all of Michael Crichton's books on my desk. And I think what he was a genius of was picking something that two years from now we would all be talking about. And that's what I'm always trying to do, and it's hard, you can't really do it. But I think I get that feeling. You know, I get that tingle. That sense that something is really important. And with Bitcoin, you know, listen, people have been pitching me Bitcoin stories for years, and I've been turning it down. I'm like, I'm not interested. This is math. This is geeky. There's a bunch of weirdos sitting in their rooms. But then when I heard the Winklevoss, we were at the center of this story. It blew my mind because I was like, Nah, those guys, I can wrap the movie around. And as I started meeting with them, I spent six months just hanging out with them. I was like, Yeah, this is huge. It's a big moment in history. Sadly, I didn't go by a bunch of Bitcoin, because I'd be really rich right now. But I definitely saw that I knew crypto was gonna change all our lives. And so yeah, I mean, I think I do have sort of a spidey sense about it. And yeah, it's hard to sort of know what you can put your finger on and say okay, that's the next big thing. But it is something I'm always looking for.

Anna David: In crypto, the web 3 spaces. So you did an NFT thing with this latest book?

Ben Mezrich: Yeah. So now I have this. This is actually new and it's sort of separate from meeting the Winklevoss twins and becoming friends with them. They started telling me you got to look into NFTs is really cool so then I ended up launching an NFT project. That's going to be a movie I'm writing the script for it. And I dropped an NFT line which sold out and we're doing three lines of NFTs and anybody who owns the NFTs gets to own a piece of the screenplay I’m writing about the NFT space. And I'm hoping that becomes a platform for other writers to come on and drop NF T's and build their careers that way. I think the NF T is going to give writers and artists and musicians another way of taking a community, building a community and having the community support them. So this is the first time I've kind of stepped into something rather than just writing about it. And it's been really wonderful. And it's been incredible and fun. But it did evolve from the sort of Bitcoin story. Yeah.

Anna David: Well, what does that mean owning part of a screenplay?

Ben Mezrich: Yeah, it means that the people who own one of each of my three NFT drops, who dropped two so far, and the third one is coming, are going to get 50% of the screenplay. So I'm going to write a screenplay and partner with the community. We're going to try and make the movie. I'm going to sell it to a studio or I'm going to make it on our own. And the money that comes in is going to go back into the community.

Anna David: And so they don't own the rights to the movie in any way? 

Ben Mezrich: No, they own the rights to the movie, they own an NFT that gives them partial, you know, ownership of the project, essentially. So it's not like they can say, you know, we want this star to be in or this star to be that kind of thing. But it does mean that if I sell it for a million dollars, half a million dollars goes back into [inaudible]. So it's an interesting model, and we'll see if it works. It's kind of brand new. You know, this is the Wild West, the NFT world. There's no real rules yet about how this works. And there's Neil Strauss, who's doing something Gary Vee, there's some other people trying to do something in its space. But this is the model that we think will work going forward. So we'll see what happens as I write the screenplay and see how it works.

Anna David: Yeah, this is actually I've been doing a couple of episodes on NF Ts and writers and really exploring that world. I didn't even know we were gonna get into it till I started doing my research. But in terms of the screenplay, you don't normally write the screenplays though. 

Ben Mezrich: So I've written a few screenplays, I just wrote one, I had a book called The Midnight Ride that came out a few months ago, which actually sold to Spielberg and Amblin. And they let me write the first draft. So actually they gave a screenplay to Steven Spielberg just a month ago, which is a little terrifying and intimidating. I wrote a draft that I wrote for the show, Billions. So I was a producer and writer on that. So I wrote episode three of last season, season five of billions. And I've written independently, I've probably written about five screenplays at this point. So it's not the main thing that I do. But I've definitely written a few of them. 

Anna David: And do you still lock yourself away when you've got the story. And you're like, bye, bye, Tanya. Bye, kids see in two months, like, how does that work?

Ben Mezrich: I mean, I listen, it's definitely gotten harder. So actually, in the beginning of the pandemic, I mean, I wrote two books in the first six months. I mean, I was really writing, you know, at a really great clip. Now, definitely, you know, I have a sequel to The Midnight Ride, due next month, which is going to be challenging. I think that yes, I, my process is, I spend a large amount of my time researching and doing the outline. So that's kind of the biggest time commitment for me is actually researching and talking to everybody I need to, to get all the information I need. And then writing a very stiff outline to kind of outline that. I know every chapter, I know what happens in every chapter, I know the page numbers of every chapter, and I never even missed a page. So I put together a really tight skeleton, then is when I start writing, and it starts off, you know, a few hours a day, but I don't write by time I write by pages. I'm one of those writers that believes, you know, you say I'm gonna write five pages today. And if I'm done in an hour, I'm done an hour and five hours, and five hours. So I start off with like six pages a day.

And then as I get into the heat of it, I'm up to like, 12 to 14 pages a day. And towards the end of that process, yeah, I lock myself up for a couple of weeks, and finish up the book. But it's always a struggle, as you know, writing every book is a struggle. And even though I've written 20, some five of them, it never gets that much easier. I know what works and what doesn't, I know how to write. There's very little editing for me at this point, pretty much. I write the book, I hand it in, it's pretty much done. The editor will come back. I mean, I do edit it. But the work is really the writing of the book. I'm not one of those people who edits, edits, and edits.  I don't edit. I hand in the book that I finished. I don't edit my own books at all. So I write a draft. It's done. I send it to the publisher, then they'll come back with stuff, you know, and they'll be like this chapter, add something. Can you put a little bit more in there and I'll make those additions. But when I write to the end of my manuscript, I don't even look at it. I don't read it. I literally put it in the mail, I hit send. Which is crazy, right? But honestly, that started a long time ago with Bringing Down the House. I didn't edit, bring down the house once. It went to the publisher, and then the publisher had some changes to make, but I don't self edit myself. And it's weird. I can't, I can't, I can't edit myself. I'm a happy writer. So it's funny. I have my friend from college, this guy named Scott Stossel, who was my roommate in college. He's one of the people who runs the Atlantic Monthly. He wrote about My Age of Anxiety. Brilliant book. Yeah. And Scott is one of those writers who's miserable, who sits there. He's a genius, but he'll write and edit and write and edit. And it's just these years and years of misery. And, and that's, I'm the opposite of that. I'd like to do it. Yeah. Good. It's great. It's perfect. And I sent it out. 

I think for me, the key is I'm not a perfectionist. I don't believe in being perfect. I don't want to be perfect. Good is good. And so I never try to perfect what I'm doing. I just want to get it written. So when I go on a story, I write it to the end. And then I send it in.

Anna David: Here's my question, well you’re writing a very clean copy, clearly. I mean, a lot of people's first drafts are like, Wait, what is that word?

Ben Mezrich: Yeah. I mean, if I went back to sort of 20 years ago, I'm sure it would have been worse. Now, at this point, I think I know what I'm doing. So yeah.

Anna David:  My big question. And you've been so generous with your time we have to wrap up. But in terms of this outline, you are getting new sources as you're working on it, right? So the outline does evolve and change or...

Ben Mezrich: The other thing is I write very quickly, right. So, you know, eight weeks is a book, not a year. Yeah. So I do all of my research. Before I start writing, I've interviewed everybody I can get all the legal documents I can get. I've got all the information I can get. I will write the outline of that information. And then I start writing. So once I start writing, there shouldn't be any new information. If you know if it's a developing situation, like the Gamestop Story was a little different, in that I was writing it while it was happening. So yeah, in that respect that one, you sort of had to go back and not go back and change anything but it certainly evolved that there was writing it. But no, something like The Accidental Billionaires, for instance, I had written this proposal, I had done the research. And then Aaron Sorkin, David Fincher stepped in, but I hadn't written the book yet. So suddenly, I had this massive movie developing. So I locked myself in a hotel, I went over to the Westin Hotel in Boston, and Aaron Sorkin came into Boston. And I literally wrote 11 weeks, I wrote that book. Never really left the hotel. And I would hand him chapters as I went, so no, all the information was done before I start writing. The research stage is usually complete before I start the actual writing, because to me, the writing is like this, frenzied, furious, crazed, you know, six pages, 10 pages, 14 pages, 20 pages a day. Music blaring, the room is pitch black, it's like a rock concert to me that I'm performing. 

It's like that moment where you could be godlike. I think that one brief moment in your life when you're not captured by all your anxieties. And then you know, whatever it is that doesn't work in your life. You just sit and you write in your creating. And for me, it's almost trance-like, so I don't want to have to stop for anything. Once I start writing, I do not stop until I get to the last page. Because I'm a big believer in that's where you go wrong. Right. So if there's research I haven't done yet, I just whizzed through it. And in the end, then we'll find a way to fix it in post right. I will not stop once they start writing the scene. 

Anna David: You already absorbed everything. It's not like you're like, oh, Eduardo said bullet like it's in there.

Ben Mezrich: Yeah, I know, every chapter I know, every character I know. You know, I know everything that I need to know. I've got photos of every room that is in the story. I've got, you know, either blueprints from the internet or I've been there myself with a video camera. Like I do real crazy levels of research. And so yeah, there's no sort of saying, oh, shoot, I don't know what this is or what happened here.

Anna David: Yeah. So for anybody who's listening and dreams of having their book made into a movie or TV show or whatever it is. First of all, in terms of rights when you're doing it like this, how many rights do you need? Whose rights? 

Ben Mezrich: That's a good question. So that's usually the way I look at it. That's the movie studios problem. So, if it's a public figure, you don't need any rights. You know, if you're writing about Mark Zuckerberg, or you're writing about the Gamestop story, you're not really going to need anybody's rights to do that. Certainly not for the book, when the studio wants to make a movie, they're going to need certain rights. If there aren't a lot of news articles about those characters. So for instance, for the MIT story, these are a bunch of unknown kids who played blackjack, a movie studio would need those rights. An author of a book wouldn't necessarily need rights. But I certainly didn't want anybody pissed off and unhappy with the story. So I sat down with everybody who I was going to write about and said, I'm going to write about is this cool. And I think for the main character, I did end up making a deal with him for his rights, to make it easier to sell the movie and that kind of thing. But usually, I don't think so much about that. But the other thing is, don't forget, I've sold the movie.

So the studio comes in pretty early, and starts talking to the main characters and figuring that out. I've also had situations where a producer will come to me with a story, and they've already locked up rights. That's what my book 37 Parallel about this crazy UFO hunter, Beau Flynn, who does all the rocks, movies, who did go notice bows wonderful bow came to me, he's like, I've got this great story, you've got to take a look at this. And I flew out to Colorado, and was out in the mountains hunting UFOs with this guy, and it was just an incredible experience. And that became, I thought, a really cool book. And so I didn't really think about, you know, the rights. I don't think about it. Because for the most part, I'm not writing about unknowns. But less of someone emailed me and was like, I have this incredible story. If I wanted to tell it, it would have to be a situation where they're on board, it wouldn't be the kind of thing where I go to them and say I want to tell your story. That's not the kind of writer I am. So for the people you're talking about who are like, “Oh, I saw this news, that looks like a great story. I need to go get that guy's rights.” I would never do that. That person would have to come to me and say, I've got this great story, I want you to tell it. And I would say I'd love to tell it.

That's all there is to it. I'll tell you. I'm not going to buy anything from you. I'll tell it, it'll become a big movie, you'll become incredibly famous. And we'll all win, that's the deal I'm looking for. But yes, the studio does often have to come in and figure out rights, but they don't actually need rights for a true story. They only need rights if it's not a true story about somebody. So yeah, it's complicated. I definitely would suggest that a starting out writer doesn't try to do that. I think there are so many great stories to tell, that don't necessarily involve buying somebody's rights. Why would you choose that? Unless you had a certain reason why you were going to write that story. But there are a million journalists out there trying to do those stories, right? And it's not like they're getting anybody's rights. If you open the Wall Street Journal tomorrow, there'll be a dozen stories in there. Nobody's been paid for any rights. If a studio decides to make that story, the studio will come in and buy the rights. But none of those writers got anybody's rights.

Anna David: Same with podcasters now. 

Ben Mezrich: Right.  Yeah, I mean, in terms of you don't need people's rights. 

Anna David: They're telling all kinds of stories.

Ben Mezrich:  Yeah. But eventually, if a studio wants to make a movie off something, they'll figure that out. But that's not really my role. So, yeah, I don't really think about it that much.

Anna David:  And so well, this has been fantastic. I usually end with you know, how do you want people to reach you? But really, you only want people to reach you if they've got an incredible story. And they want you to tell it right?

Ben Mezrich: Yeah. I mean, I love people. I'm on Twitter. You know, I think that's the easiest place to find me. I have a Discord for the NFT stuff. So if people are interested in that, there's Benmezrich.com, or Ben MezrichNFT.com. But really, I think Twitter has become sort of the go to place for people to pitch me stories. And that's what people do. And I love young writers coming and talking about writing and stuff like that. So I'm happy to answer any questions anybody has. But I think it's a great moment. For writers. I think this is probably in my entire career. This is the moment where there are the most places to sell something. This is probably the golden age for people starting out and writing to me because there's more places to sell it than there ever were in history, and more places to tell a story than there ever were before. So, you know, there's streaming, there's podcasts, there's just a million different ways to do it. Self publishing and Kindle and Substack. And it's an infinite number compared to when I started out. You sent query letters to agents. That was much the only ballgame right, and by mail, you go to the post office every day with your stack. Right. So, you know, I think there's just a lot of opportunity now.

Anna David: Yeah, as my previous guests said, because of the NFT revolution. The writers haven't been celebrated like this since the Renaissance. That's what she said. 

Ben Mezrich: That's a good way to put it. I like that. Yeah. 

Anna David: Well, Ben, thank you so much for your time. Listeners, thank you for listening. And this has just been delightful.


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