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High Concept: Don Simpson and the Hollywood Culture of Excess

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Using the life and career of producer Don Simpson as a point of departure, "High Concept" takes readers on a journey inside the Hollywood of the 1980s and 1990s. Throughout the period, Simpson and his partner, Jerry Bruckheimer, were the most successful independent producers in the history of moviemaking, responsible for the hit films Flashdance, Beverly Hills Cop, Top Gun Using the life and career of producer Don Simpson as a point of departure, "High Concept" takes readers on a journey inside the Hollywood of the 1980s and 1990s. Throughout the period, Simpson and his partner, Jerry Bruckheimer, were the most successful independent producers in the history of moviemaking, responsible for the hit films Flashdance, Beverly Hills Cop, Top Gun, Crimson Tide, Bad Boys, and The Rock. But at the same time that his vision was driving the Hollywood bottom line, Simpson's lifestyle epitomized the pervasive dark side of the industry's power base. His legendary consumption knew no bounds. And as long as he continued to crank out box-office gold, his every desire was conspicuously indulged - an unrestrained excess that killed him and sent a warning cry throughout the entire industry.


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Using the life and career of producer Don Simpson as a point of departure, "High Concept" takes readers on a journey inside the Hollywood of the 1980s and 1990s. Throughout the period, Simpson and his partner, Jerry Bruckheimer, were the most successful independent producers in the history of moviemaking, responsible for the hit films Flashdance, Beverly Hills Cop, Top Gun Using the life and career of producer Don Simpson as a point of departure, "High Concept" takes readers on a journey inside the Hollywood of the 1980s and 1990s. Throughout the period, Simpson and his partner, Jerry Bruckheimer, were the most successful independent producers in the history of moviemaking, responsible for the hit films Flashdance, Beverly Hills Cop, Top Gun, Crimson Tide, Bad Boys, and The Rock. But at the same time that his vision was driving the Hollywood bottom line, Simpson's lifestyle epitomized the pervasive dark side of the industry's power base. His legendary consumption knew no bounds. And as long as he continued to crank out box-office gold, his every desire was conspicuously indulged - an unrestrained excess that killed him and sent a warning cry throughout the entire industry.

30 review for High Concept: Don Simpson and the Hollywood Culture of Excess

  1. 5 out of 5

    Sergio GRANDE

    In a city of flaming assholes, Don Simpson was the molten core of the sun. The biggest, loudest, brashest of them all, he lived a life of pitiful excess that made for an incredible biography. More often than not one needs to remind oneself that this is a biography not fiction. What a pathetic life, what an entertaining book (unless you're a prude or a moralist, then what the fuck are you doing reading a book about Hollywood's culture of excess?). One of the best biogs I've ever read, and re-read. In a city of flaming assholes, Don Simpson was the molten core of the sun. The biggest, loudest, brashest of them all, he lived a life of pitiful excess that made for an incredible biography. More often than not one needs to remind oneself that this is a biography not fiction. What a pathetic life, what an entertaining book (unless you're a prude or a moralist, then what the fuck are you doing reading a book about Hollywood's culture of excess?). One of the best biogs I've ever read, and re-read. And I'll probably read it for a 3rd time some day. Don Simpson was not the standard by which Hollywood assholes are measured. He was the untouchable all-time record breaker.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Mark

    "You know how Don was," replied his producing partner Jerry Bruckheimer when asked after Don Simpson's death about Simpson's drug and alcohol use. Simpson, just 52 when he died, spent $75,000 a month on prescription drugs at the height of his substance abuse. At his $4m house in Los Angeles, he died on the toilet clutching a biography of Oliver Stone. His heart, greatly weakened from almost two decades of chemical and physical exertion, had finally just given up on him. The Stone biography was sub "You know how Don was," replied his producing partner Jerry Bruckheimer when asked after Don Simpson's death about Simpson's drug and alcohol use. Simpson, just 52 when he died, spent $75,000 a month on prescription drugs at the height of his substance abuse. At his $4m house in Los Angeles, he died on the toilet clutching a biography of Oliver Stone. His heart, greatly weakened from almost two decades of chemical and physical exertion, had finally just given up on him. The Stone biography was subtitled, aptly enough, "The Controversies, Excesses and Exploits of a Radical Filmmaker". Don Simpson, as writer Charles Fleming sees it, was this very epitome of Hollywood at its best and its worst. His movies (Flashdance, Top Gun, Beverly Hills Cop, and The Rock among them) were mostly savaged by critics but grossed billions of dollars, and Simpson was doing what every other successful movie executive in Los Angeles was doing: drinking, drugging, networking, and whoring. Fleming weaves the excesses of an entire industry in the 1980s and early 1990s around the story of Don Simpson, never judging him but instead quoting what his associates and friends would say about him at his best and his worst. The debauched lifestyles were, and to a degree still are, tolerated because the people living them earned colossal amounts of money for their studios. To his credit Simpson is portrayed as a workaholic bursting with creativity (no doubt boosted by the incredible amounts of cocaine he'd ingest) who could dictate 40-page memos dissecting every detail in the latest draft of a script he was involved in. He'd pay the medical bills of friends and family, and put his brother through law school. But he was also abusive to assistants and secretaries and loved to throw his considerable (and towards the end of his life, literal) weight around. At times it's very tough reading; detailed descriptions of Simpson's nocturnal S&M activities with hookers alongside car crashes and cosmetic surgery (Buttock lifts! A penis 'thickening' gone wrong!) alongside fascinating and almost unbelievable details about the films Simpson worked on that will be of note to anyone with a passing interest in how Hollywood really works: Beverly Hills Cop reportedly went through 7 years of development, almost 40 script drafts, multiple lead actors, and several writers, for example. If any criticism can be applied to Fleming's work it's that there's little insight into what Don Simpson was really like as a person. He appears as more caricature than man.. but then he is also quoted as saying that "We have no obligation to make history. We have no obligation to make art. We have no obligation to make a statement. Our obligation is to make money." What else was Don Simpson trying to say and trying to be? It's hard to tell. But it's a hell of a ride.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Brian Joynt

    Outrageous, shocking (but not surprising), and ultimately sad account of mega-producer Don Simpson, as well as a dissection of excess-driven Hollywood movie-making in the 1980s. This was such an enjoyable read, and I’d recommend it to any cinephile seeking to further understand the insane process of how a giant blockbuster gets to the big screen. Well researched and expertly written, this ranks as one of the best tomes on Hollywood ever written. A true expose.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Brian

    An amazing assemblage of anecdotes, development process, and hilariously horrific details about the life of a coked-to-the-gills ego monster gone wild in Hollywood. Fleming does an incredible job of giving context to the most outrageous, bacchanalian behavior exhibited by Simpson and crew. My favorite scene was when a pair of testosterone implants Simpson had surgically implanted in his buttocks malfunctioned and led to him ripping a door off a trailer in a hulk-style act of aggression. His produ An amazing assemblage of anecdotes, development process, and hilariously horrific details about the life of a coked-to-the-gills ego monster gone wild in Hollywood. Fleming does an incredible job of giving context to the most outrageous, bacchanalian behavior exhibited by Simpson and crew. My favorite scene was when a pair of testosterone implants Simpson had surgically implanted in his buttocks malfunctioned and led to him ripping a door off a trailer in a hulk-style act of aggression. His producing partner, Jerry Bruckheimer, replied, "Whatever you're on, get off it." Simpson was never able to get off the drugs, and eventually died while on his toilet, reading a bio of Oliver Stone. With him died much of the excess of the Hollywood '80s, but his "high concept" approach to movie making has permeated the business and, regrettably, lives on in all the awful shit Hollywood pumps out summer after summer.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Simon Powell

    A fascinating subject and a frustrating read. The book lacks any strong narrative thrust, jumping around chronologically and getting sidetracked by too many anecdotes not involving Simpson at all. In addition, it would have been nice to see more examples of what he actually brought to the film making process, in terms of script development. Thankfully the rest of the story is so hypnotically lurid and the main character so riddled with extreme contradictions that it never gets dull. Worth a look, A fascinating subject and a frustrating read. The book lacks any strong narrative thrust, jumping around chronologically and getting sidetracked by too many anecdotes not involving Simpson at all. In addition, it would have been nice to see more examples of what he actually brought to the film making process, in terms of script development. Thankfully the rest of the story is so hypnotically lurid and the main character so riddled with extreme contradictions that it never gets dull. Worth a look, and being a fan of Simpson's films (which I am not) is not at all necessary to enjoying High Concept.

  6. 5 out of 5

    John

    The writing itself is smug and sanctimonious, and all its "look how stinky and depraved Hollywood is!" posturing has not aged all that well, but man Don Simpson was a fascinating character. An awesome, blustering, self-loathing out-0f-control mogul, a figure of all Id and insecurity and $10,000 a day in coke and hookers that helped invent modern action movies. Its very inside-baseball for a Hollywood 20 years gone, but that just makes it more appealing for me. RIP Don. The writing itself is smug and sanctimonious, and all its "look how stinky and depraved Hollywood is!" posturing has not aged all that well, but man Don Simpson was a fascinating character. An awesome, blustering, self-loathing out-0f-control mogul, a figure of all Id and insecurity and $10,000 a day in coke and hookers that helped invent modern action movies. Its very inside-baseball for a Hollywood 20 years gone, but that just makes it more appealing for me. RIP Don.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Steve Mitchell

    Like so many before and after him, Don Simpson, the proverbial 'smartest guy in the room', was uniquely unable to understand how his addiction to alcohol and drugs would kill him just when he least expected it. But understand how to make movies that minted money? This Simpson knew at the level of his DNA. This great book by Fleming takes us along on a two-decade jet-fueled bacchanal of hookers, blow, booze, botox and blowout box office blockbusters -- alliterative bombast entirely fitting to thi Like so many before and after him, Don Simpson, the proverbial 'smartest guy in the room', was uniquely unable to understand how his addiction to alcohol and drugs would kill him just when he least expected it. But understand how to make movies that minted money? This Simpson knew at the level of his DNA. This great book by Fleming takes us along on a two-decade jet-fueled bacchanal of hookers, blow, booze, botox and blowout box office blockbusters -- alliterative bombast entirely fitting to this man of outsized appetites, accomplishments, and ambitions. Simpson was, more than anyone else, the living, breathing, coiffed-mullet epitome of 1980s egomaniacal filmmaking - the cynical foul-mouthed producer bullying and bludgeoning his way to massive financial success. For a decade and a half, this unlikely, late-blooming man from Alaska spun money in Hollywood like Midas. Through his uncanny sense of what the young, Reagan-era American masses wanted to see at the multiplex, he shattered his peers expectations and Hollywood's box-office records. He was exactly the right bad ass at exactly the right time. For better or worse, Simpson's string of massive hits - co-produced with infinitely more sober partner Jerry Bruckheimer - solidified the orientation of the studios once and for all away from the 'auteur' pieces of the 1970s and toward MTV-soundtrack-soaked tales of plucky underdogs succeeding against all odds in outlandish and attractive worlds. He also by force elevated the creative role of the producer beyond any seen before, sometimes to the great annoyance of the directors and writers working with him. Flashdance, Beverly Hills Cop, Top Gun, Days Of Thunder, Bad Boys, The Rock -- all his films were drenched in over-the-top action, pounding pop music, wise-ass dialogue, and aggressive, high-artifice cinematography. But while the critics panned this films as artistically bankrupt stimulus-response mechanisms, mainstream audiences went bananas for them and made Simpson, Bruckheimer, Paramount, and numerous stars rich beyond the dreams of avarice. Simpson's stamp on Hollywood and culture soon became unmistakable. His 'artisitic' sensibility was aped throughout the 90s, past his death, and into the 2000s. It can still be seen everywhere today, even though Simpsonian movies have had their formula grafted off onto 'proven-property' comic book-based franchises, and high-budget star-packed ensemble actioners rather than the original script, mid-budget MO used by Don and Jerry to great profit in their heyday. But beyond the fun and games of his canon and its making, this book takes us deep into the world of a very troubled individual. While reading it, I couldn't help finding myself feeling quite sorry for Simpson. A thoroughly disgusting Caligula almost all the time, a bully in almost every instance, there emerge fleeting moments of a more tender, vulnerable side. And he was generous with his millions to family and even friends in need. While those flirtations with awkward, actual humanity didn't last long for Simpson, it's clear from early in this biography that for whatever reason he had little control over his extraordinarily potent demons. Though undoubtedly in possession of an above-average IQ, perhaps far above average, Simpson was at his core a gigantically insecure infant of a man and unable to figure out how to escape. The man who knew it all, unfortunately couldn't be taught what he needed most to learn. Enslaved by a constant and enormous fear of inadequacy (no matter how disproved by his incredible real-world successes) Don Simpson was never truly happy. He lashed out at everyone and everything and sought on a daily basis to fill the moon crater of emptiness in his soul by pouring in as many chemicals, prostitutes, dollars, sportscars, surgeries, one-upmanship, and accolades as he could get his fake-tanned, manicured fingers on. In the end, his was a life much like his high concept films. High on impact and memorability, and low on deep meaning.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Erlend Bergsagel

    The Story of Don Simpson. He was a producer behind movies such as as Flash Dance, Top Gun, Beverly Hills Cop, Days of Thunder and more. Personally he was living the life of Hollywood culture of excess. Girls, sex and drugs. Every story in this book is true and well documented, or else it would get sued. But no people very close to Don Simpson has sad anything about him. There is a lot of stories but you don't get close to or get to now more of the person Don Simpson. What was his demons, what drove The Story of Don Simpson. He was a producer behind movies such as as Flash Dance, Top Gun, Beverly Hills Cop, Days of Thunder and more. Personally he was living the life of Hollywood culture of excess. Girls, sex and drugs. Every story in this book is true and well documented, or else it would get sued. But no people very close to Don Simpson has sad anything about him. There is a lot of stories but you don't get close to or get to now more of the person Don Simpson. What was his demons, what drove him. In a way the book is a kind of high concept story of the life of Don Simpson in Hollywood. Maybe a little bit harsh, but I liked the book. I just wanted it to go a little bit deeper into Don Simpson.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Stuart Bannerman

    One the most interesting biographies of a filmmaker that Ive read, and ive read this book a few times over the years, whilst there is the excitement of Hollywood and what its like to be a high concept film producer, there is also the sadness of watching a very talented producer, hitting that self destruct button on parts of his life and his career. Highly recommended for those familiar with the world of filmmaking and for those who are curious about what goes on behind the screen. Youll be shock One the most interesting biographies of a filmmaker that Ive read, and ive read this book a few times over the years, whilst there is the excitement of Hollywood and what its like to be a high concept film producer, there is also the sadness of watching a very talented producer, hitting that self destruct button on parts of his life and his career. Highly recommended for those familiar with the world of filmmaking and for those who are curious about what goes on behind the screen. Youll be shocked.

  10. 4 out of 5

    John Bleasdale

    I enjoyed this book. The subject is garish. There’s plenty of dirty gossip and scandal. The image of Hollywood as a whole is fascinating. But the problem is Charles Fleming seems to have glued the whole thing together from articles and not bothered rereading it. There are so many repetitions, a blow bag full of cliched phrases and the order is at times incoherent. So great material but like one of Simpson’s movies a bit careless in execution.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Ian Carpenter

    2.5 This was a gift from a friend. I've definitely read too many excesses of Hollywood books but this one is very well written and Simpson is an interesting if extremely dark figure (especially today). Fleming dives deeply into anything Simpson touches - so, if its cocaine consumption he goes into detail about all the cocaine use of all the stars of that period, most of their trips to rehab, some of the different rehab facilities, etc. You'll either love or get tired of that. 2.5 This was a gift from a friend. I've definitely read too many excesses of Hollywood books but this one is very well written and Simpson is an interesting if extremely dark figure (especially today). Fleming dives deeply into anything Simpson touches - so, if its cocaine consumption he goes into detail about all the cocaine use of all the stars of that period, most of their trips to rehab, some of the different rehab facilities, etc. You'll either love or get tired of that.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Venatici

    A life of fame and fortune while the self destruct lever is firmly pulled. A tragic, sordid yet enthralling account of a true maverick who's films made millions and subsequently sowed the seeds of his destruction. A riveting and well told tale of Hollywood excess and, frankly, sheer madness. A life of fame and fortune while the self destruct lever is firmly pulled. A tragic, sordid yet enthralling account of a true maverick who's films made millions and subsequently sowed the seeds of his destruction. A riveting and well told tale of Hollywood excess and, frankly, sheer madness.

  13. 5 out of 5

    MacDara

    Hollywood gossip of the '80s & '90s, if that's your thing then you'll love it. Otherwise it's a bit flimsy, apart from the odd juicy anecdote and leering naming of names. The only real substance(s) here are being abused. Hollywood gossip of the '80s & '90s, if that's your thing then you'll love it. Otherwise it's a bit flimsy, apart from the odd juicy anecdote and leering naming of names. The only real substance(s) here are being abused.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Ryan Ricks

    Honestly devastating

  15. 5 out of 5

    August Canaille

    Ever wonder what it would be like if Caligula was alive in the 80s and ran a movie studio? Well, he WAS. His name was Don Simpson.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Alun Davies

    A very interesting account on one of Hollywood’s most powerful producers in the 80’s and 90’s. Don lived the Hollywood excess...A great book ..

  17. 4 out of 5

    Wasnick

    Don Simpson was part of Simpson/Bruckheimer movies- they initially had a logo that had a camera racing up the streets of the desert, with two distant trees that each get struck simultaneously by lightning, and their names appear. Bruckheimer today uses the same scheme, but there is only one tree, one bolt of lighting. Don Simpson, co-producer of the movies that defined the 80's to such an extent that they shaped the cultural dynamic of the decade (examples: Flashdance, Top Gun, Beverly Hills Cop Don Simpson was part of Simpson/Bruckheimer movies- they initially had a logo that had a camera racing up the streets of the desert, with two distant trees that each get struck simultaneously by lightning, and their names appear. Bruckheimer today uses the same scheme, but there is only one tree, one bolt of lighting. Don Simpson, co-producer of the movies that defined the 80's to such an extent that they shaped the cultural dynamic of the decade (examples: Flashdance, Top Gun, Beverly Hills Cop part 1 and 2, Top Gun, Bad Boys). The book has the opportunity to display the mystifying blase attitude of parents of young hollywood stars, and you can't help wondering if they condone the means for their young prodigy's ends. And.. What you always probably deep-down suspected about Bruce Willis- is true.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Alan Hoffman

    When this guy died, he had enough drugs in his system to kill a horse. A friend said he used to hire expensive prostitutes to come over to his house and then he'd get nervous bouts of low self-esteem. His friend wondered, they're prostitues he hired - why is he suddenly worried that he won't impress them? He's not dating them. If this guy hadn't been involved in movies, he would've been a con-artist. Still the studios overlooked his behavior because he had the manic energy to produce movies that m When this guy died, he had enough drugs in his system to kill a horse. A friend said he used to hire expensive prostitutes to come over to his house and then he'd get nervous bouts of low self-esteem. His friend wondered, they're prostitues he hired - why is he suddenly worried that he won't impress them? He's not dating them. If this guy hadn't been involved in movies, he would've been a con-artist. Still the studios overlooked his behavior because he had the manic energy to produce movies that made money like Top Gun.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Carla Remy

    A few parts of this book were interesting. Don Simpson was definitely a character. Mostly I found it depressing and disgusting. Hollywood is such a sick place where money is the most important thing and if someone makes a big profit they're allowed to behave reprehensibly. Believe me, this is not news to me or anyone. But Simpson took it to a new level - I don't care about the drugs or the whores, but he was so abusive to his underlings. A few parts of this book were interesting. Don Simpson was definitely a character. Mostly I found it depressing and disgusting. Hollywood is such a sick place where money is the most important thing and if someone makes a big profit they're allowed to behave reprehensibly. Believe me, this is not news to me or anyone. But Simpson took it to a new level - I don't care about the drugs or the whores, but he was so abusive to his underlings.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Mary

    Interesting look at the life of Hollywood film producer Don Simpson and the "high concept" movie formula he and his producing partner Jerry Bruckheimer perfected. If you've ever heard films described as "Jaws on a spaceship" or "Die Hard on a boat," you know the formula too. Good read, although a bit poorly edited. Author repeats himself several times & seems to have a chip on his shoulder as regards the "cowards" who refused to talk to him. Interesting look at the life of Hollywood film producer Don Simpson and the "high concept" movie formula he and his producing partner Jerry Bruckheimer perfected. If you've ever heard films described as "Jaws on a spaceship" or "Die Hard on a boat," you know the formula too. Good read, although a bit poorly edited. Author repeats himself several times & seems to have a chip on his shoulder as regards the "cowards" who refused to talk to him.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Greg

    Pretty fascinating inside look at 80s and 90s Hollywood. How Simpson and Bruckheimer essentially created the concept of the summer blockbuster, and unabashedly cheesed-up and spoon-fed formulaic action flicks creating a whole new genre. And of course how absolutely excessive and destructive Don Simpson was up until his death in 96.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Godzilla

    A trip through the career of one of the most high profile producers. A great insight into the world of 80s movie making, the back stabbing, the politics, the drugs, the prostitutes etc etc Don Simpson lived a 200mph life and ultimately paid the price for it. It shows that power and money don't always bring the right sort of results. A trip through the career of one of the most high profile producers. A great insight into the world of 80s movie making, the back stabbing, the politics, the drugs, the prostitutes etc etc Don Simpson lived a 200mph life and ultimately paid the price for it. It shows that power and money don't always bring the right sort of results.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Marie

    I am always fascinated by Hollyweird and the supossed goings on, behind the scenes. Having seen this guys films, I was interested in the man. His films being overtly macho, gun ho, shoot 'em up, was he like this. Interestingly, he did most everything, in fact its amazing quite WHAT he did! But like all those before, caught up with him in the end! An interesting read... I am always fascinated by Hollyweird and the supossed goings on, behind the scenes. Having seen this guys films, I was interested in the man. His films being overtly macho, gun ho, shoot 'em up, was he like this. Interestingly, he did most everything, in fact its amazing quite WHAT he did! But like all those before, caught up with him in the end! An interesting read...

  24. 5 out of 5

    Kelvin Agboh

    A truly insightful look at the rise and fall of the film producer Don Simpson. It chronicles his early rise to prominence at Paramount before he was fired and went on to form one of the most lucrative production partnerships with Jerry Bruckheimer. A great read if you're a movie buff or are just interested in how movies used to be made. A truly insightful look at the rise and fall of the film producer Don Simpson. It chronicles his early rise to prominence at Paramount before he was fired and went on to form one of the most lucrative production partnerships with Jerry Bruckheimer. A great read if you're a movie buff or are just interested in how movies used to be made.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Amy Wolf

    Don Simpson was such a liar, S&M freak, and drug addict that the tale of his excess seems almost unbelievable, but it did happen. Track his rise from a promising studio VP at Paramount to an out-of-control lunatic in partnership with Jerry Bruckheimer (Top Gun, Flashdance, et al). His end is not pretty: definitely a cautionary tale.

  26. 4 out of 5

    John Devlin

    A revved up tell-all that tries to capture the insanity of Hollywood and just becomes dry and uninteresting.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Don Roff

    This book is trashy. This book is fun. This book makes you wish you were a 60K-per-month drug habit movie producer, too.

  28. 4 out of 5

    srdjan

    What a train wreck. The steriods, the implants, the hookers... Terrible book, but good prepartion for the people I would meet

  29. 5 out of 5

    Brian Rowe

    Great reporting about a self absorbed, volatile maniac, but the whole thing just made me feel dirty by the end. I need to take a shower.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Andy

    LOVED it! Great account of a man who had as much of an influence on Hollywood as anyone in the 1980s, and the completely crazy, non-stop party that was his life.

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