Friday, January 29, 2010

Winners & Losers pt2

 Some of my friends always wonder about one of my more eccentric thoughts which occur mostly when I drive somewhere in L.A. It revolves around the premise that everytime I see a homeless person I put myself into their mindset as I look around for a reasonably safe place to spend the night with my shopping cart and some cardboard box.

The thought lasts for a moment or two and then gets lost as I continue my drive.

I thought I was the only one who does this but you'd be surprised at how many of us in the film business do think of that. It can be attributed to a greater sense of empathy that writers and actors have especially, that we are fascinated with an alternative lifestyle that we don't live.

Or maybe it's the constant rejection we get for our services.

This leads back to the topic of winners and losers. You've heard actors often say they were very lucky to have the success they now enjoy. You hear less about writers but that's because they are rarely interviewed.

How can you become successful in Hollywood?

Here's my take on it. 

Have a relative in the business. Same as any other job. There's Kate Hudson (Goldie's daughter), Jason Reitman (dad Ivan made Ghostbusters) Colin Hanks (Tom's kid), Jake Scott (Tony "Alien" Scott's son), Nic Cage (Coppola's nephew), Angelina Joli (John Voigt's girl),Josh Brolin (James' son), Michael Douglas (Kirk's), and so on.

They will say that they had the doors open to them, but that doesn't always get the job. Yeah, sure. Most actors don't get a chance to even see the "doors". Interestingly enough few writer's kids get into the business of writing.

So what if you have no family connections?Then you make sure that you really have some personality that is noticeable (Brad Pitt) or some good acting chops (Paul Giamatti), be strikingly beautiful always helps, but talent will usually win. Meryl Streep isn't Megan Fox in looks, but Meg won't last as long.

And making the industry connections ensures that when luck is on the horizon, it's been prepared for. Most actors with no connections get noticed in small acting classes or showcases where they do 5 minute scenes in front of casting directors and producers.

I used to attend them now and then, usually in a small storefront theater where they'd place a numbered amount of their head shots on a table in the hopes that the audience of tough talent searchers would take them. I always wondered how the actor who counts what's left of his head shots and  finds that nobody took any would feel.  

Well, okay, I didn't wonder... I felt sorry for them. 

For writers, it's basically the same except that they rarely have family members in the business. When I taught an extension class in UCLA (and that's a whole other blog) I always recommended showing your script to anyone who'd read it. I mean even to standing on the street corner and shilling them.  You never know where someone likes your writing and a break could happen. 

But the one advantage writers have over directors and actors is that we don't really need to have a job in order to write.

Why don't we need a job like everyone else? Because as we wait for a job we can write spec scripts in the hope that either someone will like our writing enough to want to meet us, or we can actually sell our script to someone although if you're on the edge of the industry and your only contact is craigslist, it might not earn you much money. Most of the people on craigslist offer very little or nothing, preferring to pay actors and crew before the writer. Some of them are liars and scum. Some are just cheap. Very few are real.

For directors, family connections seem to help a lot. Many writers often graduate to directing and most of the good ones were writers. John Huston, Preston Sturges, Joe Mankiewicz, Paul Mazursky, Mel Brooks. Several actors are also good, Kevin Costner and Warren Beatty are arguably the best.

Otherwise most new directors make shorts that get noticed. Some of them even get jobs from a YouTube short.

But how do actors, writers and directors become successful?

Again, they need to make connections and that depends entirely how much they want it. Short and sweet. Nobody asked them to come into the business and nobody is going to really care if they leave.

And what's the alternative?

Well there are a large number of writers, actors and directors who, after a few gigs that were mostly unremarkable, continue to believe that they will be famous some day. Some get very bitter, understandably, when they see someone else higher up on the food chain experience the rush of success that they were supposed to get.

One writer I know had a screenplay produced 25 years ago and since then has written a dozen or more scripts but none have sold. Yet he hangs on to the dream because "you can't win the lottery if you don't buy a ticket".

The Dream.

 And that's the thing of it, the dream. No matter how down you get, no matter how everyone tells you you're finished, that damn dream continues to dance in your head, creating illusions, rehearsing that Oscar speech, even if all you're doing is being an apartment manager. There are a lot of actors especially who seem to be apartment managers.

Another actor I know keeps his dream of becoming famous, and tells me of his dealings with the CIA, and how he's going to partner with an underwater scientist to find riches beneath the sea. He also changes stories around as need be, including one where I told a story about a friend of mine who looked so dangerous (even though he wasn't) that a taxi driver refused to allow him in the cab.

My actor friend not only changed the story to make him me, but on another occasion said both he and I were in the cab waiting for the dangerous friend.  All of these versions right in front of me.

But I don't blame him, all he has left are his dreams and why take someone's hopes away. 

Serena emailed me the next day and wanted to buy me coffee or lunch. I said ok, coffee would be fine.

I never heard from her again.

We're a bunch of crazies, both the successful ones and the failures. But I like to think nobody really fails as I recall someone once said of a down and out director:  He's a has-been but look where he has been.

And if you ever need it, there's a great location to hide out when you're broke and down,  between the off-ramp at Sunset and the 405. I've noticed it often.