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The stuff writers' dreams are made of

5 May 2003

The success story of David Benioff is the stuff that writers' dreams are made of. Although the young American had been a writer since his college days, he had never even submitted his first novel and his second collected 30 rejections. His third, The 25th Hour, told the story of a New York drug dealer's last night of freedom before a seven- year jail sentence. That one was also initially rejected, but eventually the fifteenth publisher it was submitted to gave him a $7,500 advance - still not exactly big bucks. But that's when Benioff got his big break, because the film actor Tobey Maguire read the book, thought he'd like to star in the film version, and commissioned Benioff to write the screenplay.

The project got stuck in production and was eventually made by Spike Lee, starring Edward Norton, but in the meantime the author, rapidly honing his screenwriting talents, had come up with another idea for an original screenplay. And Stay, which was a thriller about a university psychologist who tries to stop a student committing suicide, sold in a heart-stopping auction for a cool $1.8 million dollars.

Benioff has three other film projects under way, and there's also his movie adaptation of The Iliad, which is just about to start shooting, starring Brad Pitt. His enthusiasm for this project was sparked off long before by his mother, immobilised in bed with a back injury, reading it to her six-year-old son.

So who says you can't break through with your screenplay in Hollywood? And who can measure the effect of reading the classics to young children?