TUESDAY'S BIZ TIP:
From The Breaking In Blue Book
When I first came to Los Angeles I didn't have any connections at all. I was an ex-forklift jockey from Concord, California who had dropped out of a 2 year community college after 3 years and who had accidentally sold a script to a company with a deal at Paramount. I didn't have an agent, didn't know any producers, and didn't know how to get my scripts into the hands of people who might buy them and make them. Though most of my career has been accidental - one of my scripts gets passed around town until it lands on the desk of someone who either wants to buy it or meet with me to talk about other projects - the normal way to get a script read is through connections.
The way I got my job at Safeway Grocery was through connections. There was a Safeway store manager I had a nodding acquaintance with and I asked him how to get a job there. He told me where to fill out an application and said I could use his name in the "recommended by" space. That's one of the things that also helps in Hollywood... having someone who will recommend you, or someone you kind of know who can help you out. But where do you find these people?
HELP THOSE IN NEED
Over the holidays you just missed a chance to work with Harrison Ford and Jennifer Love Hewitt and Michael Douglas and Minnie Driver and Cindy Crawford and Chris Pine and a dozen other stars! On the same project! Every year on the day before Thanksgiving, everyone who is anyone works at the Los Angeles Homeless Mission serving turkey dinners to Homeless people. They are always looking for volunteers to help set up, serve, and clean up... and that could put you standing next to a big star or big producer or big director. Though most of the stars work the soup line once a year as their good deed, many others donate their time and money all year long, a chance for you to work next to someone who might help your career, become actual friends with them, and also do something good for people in need.
There are also big holiday Toy Drives before Christmas, and on Martin Luther King Day people all over the United States volunteer to do community improvement projects... and all of the producers and directors and stars who aren't at Sundance can usually be found working somewhere. You could be working next to them!
There is also Habitat For Humanity which builds homes for the poor - sort of the non-televised every day version of that Home Makeover show, but building hundreds of houses all over the United States and the world for the poor and homeless. Habitat began in President Jimmy Carter's home state, and he is a tireless volunteer for the program... but if you happen to be pounding nails for Habitat in New Orleans, you'll probably be working with this guy named Brad Pitt who is heavily involved in that branch. The great thing about charity work is that you are helping people, and maybe making a connection or two at the same time.
READING TO WRITE
Many writers end up working as readers to pay the bills. Because there are so many writers and only a handful of reader jobs, it tends to be a difficult job to land. You usually have to know someone. And once you're working as a reader? Well, you may wish that you weren't. Though there are union readers at studios, the job you'll probably end up with is a freelance job for a producer, which may pay as little as $35-50 to read and write a reader's report (coverage) on a screenplay. So you have to read a stack of scripts a day just to pay rent.
But the good thing about being a reader is you learn by other's mistakes, and you are dealing with producers and development people - they read your writing every day! Every once in a while a reader manages to sell a script or land an assignment on the basis of the writing in their coverage. That writing opens the door for someone to read their script... covered by some other reader... and that can lead to an assignment. One of the things to remember is that *everything you write* is a writing sample of some sort - it will be judged. Even if it's just your query letter. Even if it's the coverage you do at your day job. If you can write great coverage, maybe you can write a great script?
WRITER'S LITTLE HELPERS
When a writer makes enough money, they may hire an assistant. Someone to do research for them or pick up script copies at Kinkos or pick up their laundry or walk their dog or maybe work on the rough draft of the script they just got paid a million to write. Most writers hire writers as assistants, and it's usually their out of work friend... but sometimes it's a total stranger. Easier to get a stranger to work than your slacker friends, sometimes. Being a writer's assistant is a great job because you may be answering the phone when Spielberg calls, so the big name writer's connections can also become your connections. Plus, you are getting a master class in screenwriting, just by being in the same room as the writer. You are looking over their shoulder as they write their next hit film.
Of course, like any assistant, you can easily be abused by those evil writers who are looking for a lackey. Though most of the good abuse stories come from assistants to stars and producers, I'm sure there are some SOB writers out there. Plus, I know of one writer's assistant who was hired because of his script sample, and found himself writing first drafts for many of his boss's assignments because his boss loved to over-book himself. My friend would write the first draft, his boss would give it that Barton Fink Feeling with a rewrite, and the studios never knew the difference. All sounds like a Ira Levin plot, doesn't it? Several of the supporting characters in a massive hit film that I guarantee you have seen are named after my friend's *dogs*. Not much of a happy ending, here - when my friend demanded some help with his career after several years of helping his boss, I think he was fired. That is actually the only writer's assistant horror story I know - I know of a couple of writer's assistants with big success stories! Both used their education and contacts to sell spec scripts... and one was made and was a big hit.
GO TO THE MOVIES
There are a couple of ways you can use screenings to make connections. The obvious way is to go to the screenings with Q&A afterwards. There are tons of these in Los Angeles. A year ago I went to the first Script Magazine movie screening, which was DOUBT with writer John Patrick Shanley speaking afterwards. That other screenwriting magazine used to do regular screenings in Los Angeles, as does Entertainment Weekly and Premiere and Starbucks and just about every Radio Station in town. Scriptwriter's Network used to do a screenwriter series at the Arclight Cinemas in Hollywood, and the Arclight still does special screenings with Q&A afterwards - A couple of months ago I saw THE FLY with David Cronenberg and Howard Shore taking questions from the audience after the movie. Most of these screenings have cast or key creative folks doing Q&A afterwards - and there is often a mob ready to talk to them after they leave the stage.
There's also the New Beverly Cinema, which is now owned by Quentin Tarantino. They are the last revival house in Los Angeles, so it's *all* special screenings, and often they have cast members and directors talking between movies. The American Cinematheque at the old Egyptian Theater is also all special showings - and they almost always have Q&A between showings. I met Sam Fuller there, and Curtis Hanson and where else are you going to see almost the whole cast of MACON COUNTY LINE in one place? The great thing about the New Beverly and Cinematheque are the people sitting next to you in the cinema - this is where Hollywood stars and directors and producers go to see these films. I mentioned meeting Sam Fuller at Cinematheque, but the amazing thing was the cinema was packed with all of the industry folks who were fans of Fuller - there was a well known director sitting right behind me, and we talked between films.
And that's the other way you can meet people at screenings - they are sitting in the audience with you. Every time I have seen a movie at the Sunset 5 Cinema in Hollywood, I have had some star or director in the cinema, too. That's where movie stars go to see movies. I've had Drew Barrymore sitting in the cinema with me (well, not *with me*) a half dozen times that I know of. Once, some dude was *loudly* making out with a chick in the row behind me, and when I turned to "shhh" them, it was Tarantino! Kevin James and his wife sat in the seats next to me at some movie a few months back. If you go to the movies on a regular basis in Los Angeles, you'll see stars. And, if you know what producers look like, you'll see them, too. This Post Holiday Season is when everyone gets into the movies on their guild cards to see Oscar possible films... and that means the cinemas are packed with potential connections. There are also movies that attract a cult audience - like THE ROOM (which is so bad it's good) - and the midnight showings (hey, at the Sunset 5!) are packed with industry people. Have a laugh at a bad film with the producer of your next film!
HOT THESPIAN ACTION
As everyone know, the difference between Los Angeles and Yogurt is that Yogurt has culture... and that means many producers and studio folks like to look as if they have culture by going to the THEATRE. Yes, as everyone knows, if you take the same actor you wouldn't audition and put them on a stage - that actor is suddenly the best thing you have ever seen. Los Angeles has a bunch of theatres where they are performing stageplays, and industry folks are there to get some of that culture stuff.
And on the stage? Stars. The ones who really love to act, and when they aren't being paid $20 million to be in some blockbuster, they may be making close to nothing performing on stage. I live in Studio City, and a few blocks north is the NoHo Theatre District of North Hollywood which is FULL of stages FULL of actors. Go a few blocks east of me and you'll bump into the Falcon (Now Garry Matrshall) Theater, that was built by the late movie and TV director Garry Marshall. Because Garry owned the stage, that theatre ends up getting all kinds of TV and movie stars in his shows... and all kinds of Industry folks coming to see them. I used to see Garry walking around in the neighborhood, going to Bob's or Priscilla's for coffee...
NO FOAM LATTE
Which brings us to coffee shops. You may have noticed that there is a Starbucks on every corner, and a Coffee Bean every other corner, and a Panera in the center of every section of the city... and a bunch of great independent coffee shops like Priscilla's. And in each of them, a dozens screenwriters are typing while a dozen out of work actors sit outside and bitch about residuals as they chain smoke and a half dozen producers are meeting with D.P.s about working on some project.... and all of those people could be connections of some sort. Just from typing in the same coffee shop for a couple of years, I have met directors and stars and Robin Williams and producers and all kinds of other people who might help my career. A couple of directors have taken my scripts to their contacts, because they know me from Starbucks (of all places). The easiest way to make connections in Los Angeles is to get the hell out of your apartment and into the real world... and become a "regular" somewhere. A friend of mine was making a movie for pocket change and got a TV star to play a major role for *nothing* because they were friends from a neighborhood coffee shop (I think he had to pay him $100 due to SAG rules).
So, there is this club down the street from me called FIREFLY... no sign outside, it's just a building covered with moss. Used to be a BBQ restaurant. Now it's one of those trendy clubs that stars and industry folks go to. Most of those clubs are on Sunset, but we have this one in the Valley... and there are all kinds of people in the biz who live in the Valley... and many more who work here. This is where Disney and Universal and Warner Bros studios are - and all of the stars and execs who have offices there (and at Radford - a section of independent production offices next door to CBS Radford Studios) need a place to drink while they're waiting for traffic to die down, or to celebrate the end of a shoot, or just the end of a touch day, or maybe a big deal they just set up... and those folks end up at Firefly. I'm not exactly the clubbing type, but the few times I've been there, I have seen producers from the studios.
George Clooney's production company is on the Warner's lot, and one night a writer friend of mine was in Firefly when he came in with his team to celebrate a deal or a nomination or something... and bought drinks for everyone in the joint. My friend got hammered on Clooney's dime! Hey, a night of paling around with Clooney and his production team is a great way to get your scripts somewhere.
Of course, if you live on the other side of the hill there are dozens of trendy clubs to hit.
As with everything else, you don't want to force a script into someone's hands, you want to develop friendships and relationships that can eventually lead to one of your friends in high places asking to read your script. If you play it cool, and don't act like an idiot pest, you can use these connections to get your scripts over that wall that surrounds Hollywood... which obviously isn't doing a very good job, since people are breaking in every day. Look at the guy who wrote GRAN TORINO!
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