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Ronald Bass

Although his ability to "crack" almost any story into the conventional Aristotelian three acts and continually raise the stakes throughout has made Ronald Bass arguably the most bankable screenwriter in Hollywood, the writer values his structural abilities less than his knack for giving a film "heart" and never hesitates to go for big emotion. The Los Angeles-born Bass began writing at the age of six while bedridden with a childhood illness but initially decided on a more practical career after his college English teacher looked at his novel "Voleur" and informed him it wouldn't get published. He graduated from Harvard Law School and began a successful career in entertainment law, eventually rising to the level of partner, but the writing bug did not go away. He returned to "Voleur", working on it in the mornings before attending to his practice, and saw it published as "The Perfect Thief" in 1978. When well-known producer Jonathan Sanger optioned his third novel "The Emerald Illusion", Bass was part of the package, co-scripting the film adaptation "Code Name: Emerald" (1985), a thoroughly routine WWII thriller starring Max von Sydow and Ed Harris.

By that time, Bass had already abandoned his legal career to write two screenplays for Fox at $125,000 each. Though neither would make it to the screen, his scripts for Arthur Penn's "Target" (1985), Bob Rafelson's "Black Widow" and Francis Ford Coppola's "Gardens of Stone" (both 1987) did. In collaboration with Barry Morrow, Bass enjoyed a career breakthrough as well as blockbuster success with Barry Levinson's "Rain Man" (1988), for which he shared the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay. He enjoyed another hit with the Julia Roberts thriller "Sleeping With the Enemy" (1991) and surprising success with his adaptation with Amy Tan of her novel "The Joy Luck Club" (1993), which gave Bass his first producing credit. His commercial streak faltered with the comedy-drama "When a Man Loves a Woman" (1994), starring Meg Ryan as an alcoholic mother, but resumed with the Michelle Pfeiffer social problem picture "Dangerous Minds" (1995). Bass finished out that year executive producing the eagerly awaited "Waiting to Exhale", which he adapted with novelist and fellow executive producer Terry McMillan. Like "The Joy Luck Club", the film told a culturally specific story of women and their problems with their men. In fact, many in Hollywood credit him with single-handedly inventing the "woman's picture" of the 90s.

After a sojourn in television, where he served as co-executive producer and creator of both the ABC series version of "Dangerous Minds" (1996-1997, based on the feature) and the CBS drama "Moloney" (1996-97), Bass returned to features with the comedy "My Best Friend's Wedding" (1997), a brittle and witty story about a restaurant critic (Julia Roberts) who schemes to break up the impending nuptials of her college beau. Preview audiences persuaded Bass to make two important changes. Roberts had to properly atone for trying to steal Cameron Diaz's fiance, and her gay friend George (Rupert Everett) had to return at movie's end because the surveys had indicated it was their relationship that mattered. The film was a box-office hit, restoring luster to Roberts' star and earning critical raves for its somewhat subversive take on screwball comedies. He reteamed with McMillan for "How Stella Got Her Groove Back" (1998), though its box office success fell far short of "Waiting to Exhale". He demonstrated how comfortably he could excel in almost any genre by ably tackling Jon Amiel's caper comedy "Entrapment" (1999) and kept his hand in television as co-writer of three TV-movies airing in 1999: "Swing Vote" (ABC), "Border Line" (NBC) and "Invisible Child" (Lifetime).

After five other writers had tackled the story, it was Bass' draft of "Stepmom" (1998) that introduced the all-important third-act conflict between the cancer-ridden mother and the father's fiance, persuading Roberts and Susan Sarandon to commit to the film. The film's box office gross of well in excess of $100 million meant that three of Bass' most profitable pictures had starred Roberts. Though he has it in his contract that his words (in an original screenplay) cannot be altered without his permission, his work often changes in the hands of the director. "Snow Falling on Cedars" (1999) was a perfect example as helmer Scott Hicks (in collaboration with original author David Guterson) removed the voice-overs and focused more on the novel's love story, resulting in what Bass called "more poetic and impressionistic, less literal and direct." (Los Angeles Times, December 12, 1999). His exclusive deal with Sony means he often troubleshoots on movies for which he will never receive credit, thus continuing a tradition that by the spring of 1999 had seen him contribute, in one form or another, to more than 100 film and TV projects.


  • Oscar Best Original Screenplay "Rain Man" 1988 shared award with Barry Morrow
  • ShoWest Screenwriter of the Year Award 1998


  • Taught himself to read by age three
  • Bedridden during early childhood (from ages three to 11) with an undiagnosed condition that included high fevers, nausea, respiratory problems and stomach pains
  • Completed first novel "Voleur", by age 17; when English teacher told him it probably wouldn't get publilshed, burned the manuscript
  • Practiced entertainment law for 17 years
  • 1974 Returned to the novel he wrote as a teen; reworked it, writing in the early morning before beginning his day at the law office
  • 1978 First novel published, "The Perfect Thief"
  • 1984 Quit his day job when Fox signed him to write two scripts at $125,000 each; neither was ever produced
  • 1985 Feature debut as a screenwriter, "Code Name: Emerald" from his third novel "The Emerald Illusion"; "Target", which he scripted, came out later in the year
  • Formed production company, Predawn Production
  • 1987 Wrote the scripts for "Gardens of Stone" and "Black Widow"
  • 1988 Breakthrough screenplay, "Rain Man", co-written with Barry Morrow; earned Oscar for Best Original Screenplay
  • 1991 First picture starring Julia Roberts, "Sleeping with the Enemy"
  • 1993 Feature debut as a producer, "The Joy Luck Club"; also co-wrote script with Amy Tan
  • 1994 Feature debut as an executive producer, "When A Man Loves a Woman"; co-scripted with Al Franken and appeared in a bit part as a man at an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting
  • 1994 TV screenwriting debut, "The Enemy Within", an HBO remake of the 1964 feature "Seven Days in May"
  • 1995 First association with novelist-screenwriter Terry McMillan, "Waiting to Exhale"; executive produced and co-wrote script with McMillan
  • 1995 Received sole screenwriting credit on "Dangerous Minds", though star Michelle Pfeiffer disagreed with him on the film's tone and brought in Elaine May to essentially rewrite it; May's insistence on taking credit only for her original screenplays has led Bass to publicly credit her whenever the subject of this film comes up
  • 1995 TV producing debut, executive producing and scripting "The Conversation", an NBC pilot based on the 1974 feature (aired only on Mountain Stations)
  • Formed Ron Bass Productions
  • Served as co-executive producer and creator of the ABC series adaptation of "Dangerous Minds"
  • Served as creator and co-executive producer (with Stephen Cronish) of the CBS drama series "Moloney"
  • 1997 Signed three-year exclusive deal with Sony Pictures Entertainment
  • 1997 Scripted the comedy "My Best Friend's Wedding", starring Roberts
  • 1998 Reteamed with McMillan (again co-scripting) for "How Stella Got Her Groove Back"
  • 1999 Helped engineer a watershed deal with Sony that for the first time offered a percentage of gross receipts to screenwriters
  • 1999 Executive produced and scripted "Entrapment", a throwback to the romantic dramas like "Charade", starring Catherine Zeta-Jones and Sean Connery
  • 1999 Produced and wrote original screenplay adaptation of "Snow Falling on Cedars"; reportedly director Scott Hicks and original novelist David Guterson rewrote entire script with only Hicks receiving onscreen credit
  • 1999 Co-scripted (with primary assistant Jane Rusconi) ABC-TV movie "Swing Vote" (produced by "Dangerous Minds" producer Jerry Bruckheimer); also co-scripted Ken Kwapis' "Border Line" (NBC) and Joan Micklin Silver's "Invisible Child"
  • 2000 Scripted and produced "Passion of Mind", starring Demi Moore
  • More recent articles in Professional Screenwriter Profiles


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