I attended a Hollywood seminar recently and someone asked a fairly astute question:
“What are some general rules for things you *shouldn’t* do when trying to break into the biz?”
As the main speaker was giving some solid and useful advice, it occurred to me that a good Rule of Thumb #1 could be reduced to a simple principle:
“Don’t be more crazy than you are talented.”
Early on in my career, someone wisely told me “If you get in the room, they’ve already decided you’re talented enough to consider for the job. The meeting is more to figure out if you’re sane enough to work with for the months – or years – it’ll take to get the project done.” The deeper I get into the biz, the more I realize that what looks like people being pretentious jerks from the outside turns out to be people on the inside simply protecting themselves from the crazy folks trying to get at them.
Obviously I’m not talking about you! You’re not crazy, right?
But if you’ve been to any functions, seminars, classes, events, panels, etc. which allow aspiring folk in the door, then you’ve met the crazy ones. And – not to be too harsh – but I would say at those events where the price is low and the admission criteria egalitarian, a good 95% of the people who attend fall into the crazy category.
Having regularly encountered the masses of crazy people trying to grab the lottery ticket of filmmaking fame and fortune, I am becoming more and more impressed at the number of successful industry professionals who still open their time and offer their attention to the general public trying to break in, enduring a dozen crazy people for every sane, talented, focused prospect.In other words: It’s not them – it’s you. Or, it’s the crazies, and you’re getting lumped in with them.
Crazy is hard to define – because there are so many examples – but easy to recognize.
Crazy is approaching someone in an inappropriate way, making statements that have absolutely no relationship to the realities of how the biz works, offering them material that is not up to the minimum basic standards of the industry, and then behaving as if it’s a favor to the established industry professional to be in the presence of the unproven newbie.
Crazy is arguing with the industry professional when they offer feedback or advice – even if their advice is wrong.
Crazy is not recognizing that Hollywood is an extremely small town, where everyone knows everyone. Crazy is saying insulting things about a third party or their work, because – again – everyone knows everyone, and crazy is insulting someone’s friend, right?
Crazy is pretending to be something you aren’t. Crazy is believing you’re something you haven’t proven yet to anyone you are, and acting that way.
Crazy is behaving from the mindset of “if I act like I’m already a huge success, they’ll treat me like a huge success!” Crazy is not recognizing the difference between clear confidence and off-the-mark braggadocio.
Crazy is believing “nobody knows anything” applies to everything, so anyone’s opinion is equally valid – including crazy, unfounded opinions.
Crazy is pitching the wrong project to the completely wrong person (pitching horror to the rom-com company, for example.)
Crazy is sending out a script that isn’t the best it can be – crazy is, sadly, much more often handing off a script that isn’t even formatted correctly, that’s full of misspellings, that doesn’t even show the basic understanding of screenwriting that can be found in the “screenwriting” section of any decent bookstore in America.
Crazy is creating a calling card from a DVD of short films that are out-of focus, unintelligible, badly scripted, badly shot, badly acted, just – bad in any possible way.
Crazy is going to that seminar and finally meeting the person who can actually do something to help your career and spending ten minutes of their time chatting afterwards telling them long, irrelevant stories that simply prove you’re not ready for the kind of help they can give you. Crazy is trying to impress that person with uninformed opinions of what’s fundamentally wrong with the business they’re in and why the crazy outsider has the perspective that keeps all of the companies making billions of dollars doing filmed stories from getting it right.
Crazy is thinking that the most powerful thing in town is a good short film, or a good script, or a good idea – when the most powerful thing in town is a good relationship where the other person can grow to trust you enough to consider that good short film, script or idea.
Crazy is thinking the value is in the idea. (It isn’t; the core value is in the ability to execute ideas.)
Crazy is thinking that the first script or short film is on par with the top projects circulating amongst professionals, that the first script or short film can compete on that level. As screenwriter Neal Marshall Stevens often says, “That’s like picking up a paintbrush and a single canvas for the first time and claiming the results to be worth hanging at the Getty.”
Crazy is not getting the information you need before a meeting in order to not look crazy.
In a nutshell, crazy is being ign’t.
The irony is, ign’t is easily curable, but crazy is almost always fatal.
In the era of Google and Wikipedia and IMDb and an insane number of free resources, there really is no excuse to be ign’t, but that’s the core identifier of crazy: being ign’t, choosing to remain ign’t, and then complaining when acting ign’t gets the exact opposite results than expected – crazy, eh?!
Obviously, you, dear reader, aren’t crazy. You’re on this very website because you’re looking to expand your knowledge. You’re fighting against being ign’t.
Simply act “not crazy” when it comes time to apply that knowledge, and you’ll be miles ahead of 95% of the other people in the room.
CALIX LEWIS RENEAU is the producer of the upcoming feature comedy A Night at the Silent Movie Theater as well as the upcoming feature thriller Greyscale. A longtime resident of the Hollywood myth, he’s got more projects in development than he can even count.
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