Leaving Town, Tom Epperson Leaves A Late-Movie-Era Novel Behind – Deadline

Tom Epperson and his wife Stefani Ames are leaving town for Santa Fe in early May – another player from the 90s and early 2000s film era is soon to depart.

They’ve been scattering for a while now, Long Island, Palm Springs, DC, Serbia, everywhere but Los Angeles. The local climate is still good. But the film industry, if that anachronistic term still applies, has been less than friendly to mature, seasoned talent who have mastered the art of making popular, adult, full-screen films in a standalone two-hour format. So they give up, many of them, thinking it’s better to start from scratch somewhere else than to sit around a table at the Brentwood Country Mart, talking about what was going on before.

Tom’s has never been a household name. But he was well known to executives, producers and directors who first met him as the more reluctant half of a screenwriting duo universally referred to as “Tom and Billy.” Single name status was a big deal in the 1990s. Tom and Billy sort of had it, but you never mentioned one without the other. “Billy” was, and is, Billy Bob Thornton, who eventually carved out a distinct career as an actor, director, musician, singer, and celebrity.

Tom remained a writer, racking up credits, often with Billy, on some well-remembered films, including A wrong move, A family matterand Gift. He is a fine craftsman. Even scripts that were never produced—for example, those for potential Otis Redding and Merle Haggard biopics—had that professional aura that’s somehow apparent in the first five pages of a serious script.

Those who have worked with Tom and Billy have never deepened their process. Billy was so temperamental that he would never present a story twice in front of the same human being, including Tom. Tom, for his part, was reasonable, but no more inclined to tolerate silly notions. I once saw him sitting in silence while a famous actor’s manager asked for just one final polish, to include a handful of thoughts that were noticeably aligned with the core tenets of Scientology.

“So, Tom, can you do this?” asked the headmaster.

“No,” said Tom, who I remember had been wearing sunglasses throughout the encounter.

No explanation. No discussion. Just, “no”. The would-be film financier, who was present, slammed the top of his desk so hard that the bottom fell off. “It was a good meeting,” He panted.

Although I only met Tom and Billy in the 1990s, when we were working with Robert Duvall and his chief lieutenant Brad Wilson on the Haggard project, I discovered a minor synchronicity between the two. We are about the same age. If I remember correctly, we landed in Los Angeles almost at the same time, in 1982, them from Arkansas, me from Detroit via San Francisco. The three of us were pretty broke and, as we found out later, we had lived in shabby apartments a block or two from each other in the Palms area within sight of what became the Sony lot. When nothing better was offered, we had dinner and drinks at the same local restaurant, DB Cooper’s, but we never met. Fifteen years later, we were finally inside the walls of Sony, up to our mutual necks in movie madness.

Tom and Stefani bought a house in Culver City, across the lot, much nicer. Eventually he returned to what he had always intended to do, which was to write novels.

His latest, called Persuade, is about a screenwriter who comes from nowhere, but who finds himself somewhere in the horrible and glorious whirlwind of Hollywood, only a few years ago. The book is very funny. But it’s also painfully familiar – enough to make me wonder if those of us who spent decades of our lives in and around the late, great movie industry had wasted our time on what was perhaps a dying culture.

Tom says no. As he summed up the good parts in an email: “I did a few movies that I was proud of. LA broadened the horizons of a guy from a small town in Arkansas. I’ve met people from across the country and around the world, including many great people.

In addition, he obtained materials for Persuade.

Yes, Tom and Stefani are leaving next month. But at least they left a good book behind.

About Cecil Cobb

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