A kid gets out of college at a major university and gets a lucky break. Hollywood is his dream and he has some good connections and a few screen credits attached to his moniker. Show after show unfolds. The titles get huge and he is associated to and willingly befriended by major stars, directors and producers.
The world is his oyster. It will only be a matter of time before the hammer comes down on the career of a lifetime, when the doors finally open and California Manna drips from the heavens.
Sounds like a dream right? Wrong. Dead wrong.
The best-educated, best-connected and most talented people who assault the ramparts of “Castle Show Biz” whether it be on the East Coast or out here in Los Angeles, usually stay in the trenches for at least ten years. Some of them die there. Literally. People die trying to make it in this crusty realm all the time. This is one of the gruesome facts of becoming a foot soldier in the ranks of major studio film and TV production: Most of us lose.
The realities of low-level employment in this business are hostile and slave-like. The odds of your success versus failure cannot be calculated. The statistics of chance for newcomers in Hollywood are way too complex and weird to be assigned numbers.
However, if you have brains, balls and the iron-hard will of a Medieval Missionary, you will get to a place where “The Powers That Be” see you as valuable and indispensable and allow you a place at the table with the grown-ups.
Here is how it went for me.
You wake up at four-thirty in the morning with vomit in the back of your throat. You run to the bathroom and puke for a half hour and hate life. Every morning before the alarm clock goes off you wake up sick to your stomach. It’s the nerves. You blame the business. They never hire enough help; too much work for too few people. It is a hard irony considering you were begging for work just a few years ago. You are no quitter so you double up the effort and when that isn’t enough you double up again. Some day the levy will break, but not today. Today you have to hold your tongue and bite your lip and trudge on with your head down.
You have been doing this job for years with very little promotion. Getting up so early in the morning that you don’t have time to eat breakfast. Four hours of sleep is a luxury. You chug a cup of coffee and maybe a beer. No shower. The phone is already ringing with people who can not get on the studio lot because they forgot their ID’s or they are calling in sick and want you to notify their bosses whose phone numbers they just can’t remember. They know their bosses numbers on payday just fine. You have to cover for another group of inept cowards who make ten times as much as you do and who do a quarter of the work.
The buck is always passed downward in Hollywood unless it is actual cash money, then it goes nowhere but up and away from you. People will do anything to deny their mistakes and blame it on other people who are farther down the food chain. You think the job will get better, but it never does. No light ever shines at the end of this tunnel.
Everything is a blur of ever-expanding demands and very real plots to kill the people you work for. These plots of violence are what get you through the day. You say to yourself, “If I have the will and ability to murder these motherf******, and if I am very serious about these murders, then I might not do it and I might get myself through one-more-day.” You have thought through the killing of your evil masters many times and have visualized it in bloody knife-wielding detail.
It sounds like crazy talk, but these comic fantasies are what kept me from actually going mad and doing it.
No matter how stifled a creative mind is, if it is a sane mind, it thinks through the absurdity of the day and then becomes at ease. There is something about plotting murders that seems to help.
I am not the only one who did this.
I could always tell when a fellow co-worker was planning a murder. It is a specific look of an under-paid, over-worked employee gently weighing another season of paid work against a lengthy court case and the electric chair. The strong minds never actually go through with murder; they just commit the act in their heads twenty times a week. It is the weak of mind and character that end up flying off the rail and actually killing their tormentors. But then again, every person has a breaking point.
In Hollywood we weed out those weak minds right away. You don’t want a weakling next to you in these foxholes. They might turn on you. I may hate my job, but I want to get above this mess somehow. I have goals. Even though these goals keep me from my girlfriend, my friends, my family and away from a sense of sanity, I am here in Hollywood beating the odds.
I have A MISSION.
The Mission is to use this crap job to somehow get me up over the top. This job should give me the secrets to the biz, and after a while I found them in spades. I sucked on these secrets for years and I whittled them down to a few undeniable Truths.
DO IT YOURSELF: All the powerful people in Show Biz have their own agenda. If you are the best employee in the world they want to keep you pigeon-holed for as long as they possibly can. A good employee is invaluable and bosses want to keep them enslaved forever. This goes against the notion of upward mobility. You will have to align yourself everyday with the next opportunity, the next job on the horizon. Do not expect to be helped up the chain of command. Sooner or later you will have to demand a promotion and a pay raise and when you do, have an out---another job lined up. Most likely your overlords will wish you good luck and fire you instead of shelling out more money and a new opportunity. You have to make these opportunities for yourself.
MAKE YOUR OWN FUTURE: I started making my own calls instead of taking them for other people. I had an ace in the hole. I had developed my writing skills over the years along with my political acumen. I had used my work money to option a novel from a five-time bestseller that I admired. That famous author took a keen interest in my writing and mentored me for years. He always got a kick out of my Hollywood tales. He had been through the same adventures when he was my age and was responsible for writing dozens of screenplays. He was a great ally all across the board. Good advice from legendary icons is gold in this town. These details make your future.
BE POLITICAL: I had to learn the long and the short of how complex this town is. Politics are the life-blood of Hollywood and you have to have it running through your veins like ice water. People think that Washington D.C. runs this country, but I would argue that it is the media, not the politicians who have the most influence. Nothing ends up on the air or in the theaters or on cable TV unless it is very critically considered as to worldwide outcomes. Do your research and make sure your ear is to the ground while your nose is to the grindstone.
NEVER GIVE UP: I have seen so many talented people, way more talented than myself just give up. This is the true heartbreak in this town. It is not the failed relationships or getting fired from jobs or the repossessed cars or the eviction notices. The real heartbreak is the honest people who just flat out give up. The grind of this town truly crushes people and their dreams. It’s horrible, but you really don’t think of them for very long after they are gone. You are just too busy. You have no choice but to move on.
This is why Baby Jesus hates Hollywood.
So why do we stay here? Because we have a destiny, that’s why. For some of us we know that we have built the better mousetrap. We are willing to do anything to make sure that our projects get made.
I have always related film and TV production to a military campaign. Huge resources mobilized towards an endeavor formed out of conflict, masses of equipment and logistics, battalions of men and women organized around a difficult and most likely, deadly task. All in the name of Fortune and Glory and Conquest.
At the end of the movie “Patton” about the famous U.S. WWII General George Stillwell Patton, there is an epitaph that echoes in my soul. It tells the tale of Roman Emperors returning from battle with all the spoils of the conquered lands. They ride into Rome with slaves and exotic animals and cheers from the throngs of people of The Empire. Behind the Emperor would be a slave whispering into his ear: “ALL GLORY IS FLEETING”.
My conscience is what keeps me trying. It never let’s me give up.
With any luck I go into production on my first feature film this fall---With any luck it won’t kill me. With any luck…