Read an Excerpt
The Hollywood Game
Is It For You?
Mom, Call Hollywood!
For director Patrick Read Johnson, the road to success in Hollywood started in Wadsworth, Illinois (pop. 750), and ended on Mars.
At the age of ten, young Patrick set his train set on fire and filmed the spectacle with his dad's movie camera. By the time Patrick was thirteen, his mom was so sick of driving to Chicago to buy movie magazines for him and hearing him complain that he hadn't yet been discovered by Hollywood that she picked up one of the magazines herself--it turned out to be American Cinematographer--and called a name off the masthead: Herb Lightman, editor.
A determined Mom got through to Herb in Los Angeles. "Listen, Herb, I've got a kid here who's been making 8-millimeter films since he was ten. He's thirteen now. He wants to be Stanley Kubrick. I don't know anybody. I don't know what I should do with him. Should I send him to film school? If I put him on a plane and get him a place to stay with friends in L.A. for a week, will you introduce him to some of his heroes?"
Luckily for Mom and Patrick, Herb turned out to be one of the Hollywood good guys. He chuckled. Who knows, maybe Mom reminded him of his own mother's exasperation with a youngster obsessed with films and filmmaking. He agreed to Mom's proposition and a week later Patrick was on a plane to Hollywood, explaining to the astonished guy in the next seat that he was going to visit a special effects wizard named Douglas Trumbull.
Not only did Patrick meet Doug Trumbull, but Herb let him tag along as he visited the set of a new movie Doug was working on, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, where anordinary-looking guy in a trucker's cap who asked him if he wanted a Coke turned out to be the director Steven Spielberg. Patrick's last day in Hollywood was spent watching the rough cut of a film called Star Wars that everyone thought was going to be a nice, small, kids' movie.
After that introduction to the business, it's no wonder that young Patrick couldn't wait to get back to Hollywood. He finally went back in 1980 and worked in special effects for a few years. He also co-wrote and directed a low-budget film about a group of wayward alien invaders who land on earth Halloween night. Steven Spielberg looked at it and called his buddy Jeffrey Katzenberg at Disney to suggest that they release the picture--which became Spaced Invaders, a Touchstone release. Patrick is now one of the hot directors in town, romanced by studios, producers, and agents. In 1994 he directed the comedy Baby's Day Out, written by John Hughes and starring Joe Mantegna, for Fox. And he's hard at work on his next film, which will be coming soon to a theater near you.
Sometimes Hollywood dreams do come true. Just ask Patrick's mom.
The Hollywood Game
The Hollywood game isn't always this easy, of course. And those of us without a lucky mom for an agent need to learn the rules.
Entertainment is one of America's most successful export industries. While many other U.S. products can no longer compete in the global economy, American entertainment talent and "software" (films, TV programming, music, new media, etc.) are eagerly consumed around the globe. In fact, the Hollywood entertainment industry has become so desirable that major international corporations have invested billions of dollars in Tinseltown.
Unfortunately this doesn't mean that there are plenty of jobs waiting for you in Hollywood, especially during bumpy economic times. The entertainment industry is now more ruthlessly competitive than ever. The world's best and brightest in every job category--performers, directors, executives, technicians--are flooding into Hollywood in ever-increasing numbers.
To succeed in the entertainment industry--even as a hermitlike independent--one must not only have great talent and do outstanding, original work but also understand the Hollywood game and its players. There is an entertainment industry culture that characterizes the show business game as it's played all over our rapidly shrinking planet. With telecommunications and air travel linking the far corners of the globe, the industry is becoming increasingly unified in its rituals, habits, and mores. Industry people in Los Angeles, London, Cannes, and Hong Kong have more in common with each other than with hometown friends in accounting or insurance.
Newcomers--and even many industry veterans--have trouble understanding this arcane system and its unspoken rules. And many people are put off or intimidated by the blatant wheeling and dealing, the ruthless tactics, and the dramatic personalities.
As an introduction, I'll give you a "person from Mars" view of this fascinating industry culture, taking a closer look at the colorful natives, strange behavior patterns, rituals, and language idiosyncrasies that characterize show business and make it different from every other manufacturing industry.
This is the way it is--not necessarily the way it should be. If, once you're established in the industry, you decide to make some changes to the system--more power to you!
In the meantime, my advice to those of you who decide to make show business your life is to learn the game, appreciate the people, and relax and enjoy the craziness. A sense of humor about the whole scene will keep you sane.
But as veteran director Melvin Van Pebbles has observed: "If you're not in the game, you can't win." You don't have to indulge in the more obnoxious customs and practices yourself, but you will need to know how to deal with people who do.