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Tom Epperson (1951–)

Tom Epperson is a producer, screenwriter, and novelist from Malvern (Hot Spring County). He is known for his collaborations with fellow Arkansan Billy Bob Thornton: One False Move (1992), A Family Thing (1996), The Gift (2000), Don’t Look Back (1996), Camouflage (2001), and Jayne Mansfield’s Car (2012). In addition to his credits as a writer of Hollywood films, Epperson authored the popular crime novels The Kind One (2008) and Sailor (2012).

Tom Epperson was born on May 22, 1951, in Nashville (Howard County). A year later, the Eppersons moved to Malvern. His father, Wendell Epperson, was a lawyer and municipal judge, while his mother, Mabel, stayed home with their four children. In 1963, Epperson met Billy Bob Thornton when he was twelve and Thornton was eight. The Thorntons had moved into a house around the corner. The two boys played together as children and became lifelong friends and collaborators. Epperson graduated from Malvern High School in 1969, Thornton in 1973.

After leaving Malvern, Epperson went to the University of Arkansas at Little Rock (UA Little Rock), where he earned a BA in English in 1973. He had intended to study the law, but after being inspired by George Horneker, his freshman English teacher, Epperson changed his major to English. After graduating, Epperson went on to earn his master’s degree at the University of Arkansas (UA) in Fayetteville (Washington County) in 1976.

In June 1977, Epperson and Thornton traveled together to New York City to seek their fame and fortune; they returned to Arkansas twelve days later. Soon afterward, Epperson and Thornton boarded a Greyhound bus to Lakeside, California, where Thornton’s aunt and uncle lived. Epperson and Thornton shared a toolshed at their home with a man who was tiling the pool. After a few months, Epperson and Thornton returned to Arkansas and went their separate ways.

A year later, Epperson was a ninth-grade English teacher in Augusta (Woodruff County). Epperson then moved to Little Rock (Pulaski County), where he worked as a journalist and taught freshman English at both the University of Central Arkansas in Conway (Faulkner County) and at UA Little Rock. In 1981, Thornton and Epperson left Arkansas again, this time going to Los Angeles, California, to pursue careers in Hollywood. After several years of living in poverty and working in various low-paying jobs, the two sold their first screenplay, Hands of Another, to the David Geffen Company in 1987. The film was never made, but Epperson and Thornton wrote another script that year called Color Me Bad, which would prove to be very important to their careers.

Desperate to produce Color Me Bad, Thornton and Epperson optioned it to a producer named Ben Myron. Myron took the script to a video company called RCA Columbia, who liked it and gave it a new title, One False Move. The film was shot partially in Arkansas and was completed in 1991. It was released in a few theaters in 1992, and with the enthusiastic support of film critics Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert, it became an indie hit. Ebert named One False Move the second-best movie of the year. Siskel gave it the number-one rating.

In 1996, another Epperson and Thornton collaboration was released: A Family Thing, starring James Earl Jones and Robert Duvall.  Epperson had another movie released that year, A Gun, A Car, A Blonde, which co-starred Thornton.  The film was co-written by Epperson and Stefan Ames and directed by Ames.  The Gift (2000) was another Epperson-Thornton collaboration.  It starred Cate Blanchett, Giovanni Ribisi, Greg Kinnear, Hilary Swank, J. K. Simmons, Katie Holmes, Keanu Reeves, and fellow Arkansas native, character actor Stuart Greer.  The Gift tells the story of a psychic single mother who uses her gifts to help local police find a missing woman in Georgia. In 2006, Epperson wrote the TV movie Jesse Stone: Night Passage, starring Tom Selleck.

Epperson returned to his first love, literature, and wrote the novel The Kind One, which was published in 2008. Set in 1934 Los Angeles, it tells the story of Danny Landon, a young man with amnesia who works for the vicious gangster Bud Seitz. Epperson reunited with Thornton to co-write the screenplay for Jayne Mansfield’s Car (2012), directed by Thornton, and starring Thornton, Robert Duvall, and Kevin Bacon. Epperson’s second novel, Sailor, a modern-day version of Shane, was published that year. A third novel, Roberto to the Dark Tower Came, about a young South American journalist who is given ten days to leave his country or face death, is scheduled for release in 2018. Epperson lives in a Los Angeles suburb with his wife, Stefani Ames.

For additional information:
Tom Epperson. http://www.tomepperson.com (accessed June 6, 2017).

“Tom Epperson.” Internet Movie Database. http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0258370/ (accessed June 6, 2017).

Cody Lynn Berry
University of Arkansas at Little Rock

Last Updated 6/6/2017

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