See that sight-seeing bus in the rather colourful picture above?
I was driving behind it a few days ago, as we approached the always busy intersection where Franklin meets Highland. Just around the corner is Hollywood Boulevard and the Kodak Theatre (home of the Oscars) and Grauman’s Chinese Theatre where the fake super-heroes used to perform for the tourists (they’ve sadly been banned but if you’re interested in seeing what you’ve missed, then check out this fascinating documentary, Confessions of a Superhero). A more Hollywood location you could not get.
And so the thought occurred to me as I crawled along in my PT Cruiser, enduring a brutal air-blasting from the a/c that I too, in terms of my script-writing career, am still riding the tourist bus.
These tours, which are hugely popular, take people around town to essentially stare at the exteriors of celebrity homes. This involves taking pictures of shrubbery, high stone walls, iron gates and the tops of roofs (“There’s Ellen Pompeo’s guttering!”). Sounds a bit sad but I remember getting really excited the day a friend pointed out Quentin Tarantino’s mansion (which once belonged to Errol Flynn, or was it Douglas Fairbanks?), so I’m the last person to judge.
Anyhoo, the point I’m making is that I am still on the outside looking in. Half the battle in this town is writing a great script. That’s hard enough but I think I’ve done it. Judging by the reviews I’m getting for my latest opus, this one’s a winner and bang on trend. The big problem now is how I get anyone who is anyone to read the bloody thing.
You can’t approach agents. Well you can but they don’t want to know unless you’ve been recommended by someone they trust or can prove your bankability (very difficult for newbies). Plus they already have a room the size of Wales full to the brim with unread screenplays.
And you can’t really approach producers with much success unless you go through an agent. And then in all honestly, you shouldn’t really approach a producer unless you have a lawyer, and then things start to get expensive. So how the hell does a person who hasn’t got the contacts, written Twilight or possesses the last names Cameron, Spielberg or Lucas get their work to anybody who might want to sign or back them?
In the documentary Tales From the Script, one of the screen-writers says that searching for a life-changing break in Hollywood is like looking for a crack in the wall. And he was talking about the Hollywood of a few years ago. Oh for those salad days! Since the recession hit, that proverbial crack is now down to a hairline fracture. We are reportedly living through the worst year for spec screenwriters in Hollywood’s history.
This is what you have to do. Network like you’ve never networked before. Do not underestimate the casual exchange over a canape, or the shared bench in a park. Meeting people is the only way to get your script to anyone who matters.
Of course you can chance your arm and hope that some Ari Gold-a-like is having a good day when your email lands in their inbox and thinks, “I just closed a $20million deal, I’m gonna give this starving kid a chance.” That mysterious thing where the stars aligned happened to one Diablo Cody, so I suppose it could happen to you.
Networking works but it takes creativity, planning and guile to be in the right place at the right time. Friends of mine have met producers and agents in coffee shops and supermarkets (the Malibu Ranch Market is a good place to start, and anywhere on Robertson or the West Hollywood end of Santa Monica Boulevard), and at parties, improv classes, writing classes, yoga classes, AA, therapy, you name it. In this town, you can literally be walking your dog and end up conversing with the guy who produced The Hangover or What Just Happened.
You can also attend a myriad of panels where people high up in the movie biz share their experiences or attend an open pitch. This is where hundreds of dreamers and wannabes file before a handful of bored looking execs, before stuttering out a premise line that may or may not make sense. I went to one of those a couple of years ago (bottled out of pitching) and saw the scary woman from HBO give her card to one of the pitchees afterwards. Who knows if that lead anywhere?
And in the meantime, you stay on the bus. Repeat. Stay on the bus.
Take a few pictures and enjoy the ride.