Friday, April 24, 2015

How To Make It In Hollywood : YEAR ONE

With producer Peter Baxter at our premiere of THE NEW GODS (SXSW)

With age comes experience.

I was recently sent an email from a young filmmaker on how to gain a foothold as a producer-director in Hollywood.  I decided to publish my thoughts below in hopes that it can help any new filmmakers currently living in Los Angeles, or anyone thinking about making the big move to the ridiculously expensive City of Angels.


I can only give you advice from my own experiences.

There is no one way to be successful in the industry. Everyone's path is different.

When I first moved to LA, I had to intern at three different companies for a full year, before I could find paying work as an office PA. It wasn't until I started writing screenplays that I gained a foothold as a creative. However, even though I had representation as a screenwriter, and had lots of meetings with top production companies, none of it ever paid the bills.

Most everyone is working a day job to afford the incredibly expensive lifestyle of living in LA. There is absolutely no shame in working any PA, bartender, waiter, editing, etc job in order to pay the rent. The only real shame is having talent and desire, and not working toward your goals by getting sidetracked with ego-flattering life events. Don't try to join the "cool kids club" by networking at the nightclubs and industry screenings. Stay home and write, instead.

As a director, watch movies. Educate yourself on the language of cinema by studying the history of world cinema. Become a knowledgeable cinephile by watching current indies, and our history's best films. Directors direct. Period. There's a long line of truly talented directors in front of you, so being unique in your storytelling is the single most important thing in being a new director. Make short films that can be turned into feature films. Follow & attend Sundance, Slamdance, SXSW, Tribeca, and the LA film festivals. Everyone is broke. There is no money in the indie film scene, so everyone has a day job. Yet, they still manage to make films on the side.

Nodance Film Festival with Forest Whitaker, Mike Figgis, Salma Hayek, and me

As a producer, understand the how and why films get made. Understand the relation of the Cannes Film Festival in raising foreign pre-sale money by getting certain actors attached. Understand genre. Understand China's new influence on movie financing. Read scripts and write coverage, if possible.

You can make your own indies, or work for a company that is making films. Be persistent in looking for paying work, but not annoying. Check in with certain companies once every few months, looking for a job opening.

It took almost twenty years for most of my friends to gain a financial foothold on the production side of things (camera, art and AD depts). The jobs will come if you treat everyone you meet with respect, do the best job you can, and NEVER be late to anything. Over time, you'll see the same familiar faces you worked with back in year one. Let people know you want to be a producer or director by actually creating indie projects, and working on other people's films. I want to stress that I gained valuable experience and contacts in the early stages of my career by helping out on my friend's silly films. 

To get representation, I wrote over 500 hundred cover letters to agencies. I have received hundreds of rejection letters. But, I kept going. I missed my friends, and burned relationships to cement myself in LA. I respectfully ignored any rejections, and kept working towards my goals. I begged family for rent. I begged friends for forgiveness in my tardy attention to our relationships. I was not in LA to have fun, or make friends. I came to LA to make movies. I lived a robust lifestyle in order to extract an artistic muse, so don't forget to live your life while pursuing your dream. Attend film festivals, and meet other filmmakers. Shoot films on the weekends with friends with an iPhone, and help out other friends the very next weekend. Give back where you can, and always be nice.  
Directing Tom Arnold on the set of HECKLERS

LA can be a very lonely place because everyone is working so hard on their careers, and the clock is ticking. 

But, you're not alone in being lonely and broke. It's a tough city to gain traction, so love movies, be a fan and enjoy the ride.