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Courtesy of Carlos de Abreu
Introduction to book OPENING THE DOORS TO HOLLYWOOD by "New York Times" bestselling author Carlos de Abreu and Howard Jay Smith. Fairy Tales Can Come True, It Can Happen to You By Christopher Vogler - Author of a "The Writer's Journey." (Excerpt from the book Opening the Doors to Hollywood)
The title Opening the Doors to Hollywood suggests that Hollywood is some kind of vast building or walled city-state, closed off to outsiders by well-defined walls and accessible only by well-guarded doors or gateways. There's a lot of truth in that metaphor, and exploring it can help you to open your own doors to Hollywood.
Metaphorically SpeakingIn approaching a career in Hollywood, metaphors may be useful tools of comparison for understanding the film community and how it works.
There are many ways of looking at "the business," and people have crafted all sorts of metaphors to describe what goes on in the entertainment industry, including that it is a kind of army, a rat race, or a great madhouse. We speak of "getting that project off the ground" or "making it fly" as if movies and TV series were jumbo jets. The process of getting a film or TV show produced has been compared to a war, thievery, baseball, football, and sexual intercourse. However, since we're trying to open the doors of Hollywood, it's appropriate to explore the metaphor of architecture.
In many ways, writing a film story, getting a project to the screen, or making a career is like finding your way around a vast building. Hollywood can be viewed as an enormous labyrinthine edifice, whose twisty corridors lead to countless doors of possibility.
Hooray for HollywoodHollywood itself is a metaphor for the worldwide entertainment community. What is this place or state of mind called Hollywood that everyone is so eager to get into? What are the boundaries of this walled city, and where are the doors in this metaphor?
Hollywood, California, is a real physical location on the globe, an unincorporated district of Los Angeles where movie studios were first planted in 1911. The movies that flowed out of this factory town became the world's standard for entertainment, and Hollywood gave its name to the whole film business, whether films are produced in Culver City, Glendale, Burbank, or Bombay. A few production facilities such as Paramount, the Gower Studios, the Raleigh Studios, and others are still located in the physical Hollywood, but it's the metaphorical doors of Hollywood that we're knocking on.
"Hollywood" is the world's metaphor for the entirety of the film business. Whether films are shot today in North Carolina, Vancouver, Iceland, New Zealand, Hong Kong, or France, the filmmakers think of themselves as part of the Hollywood community. No matter where you live in the world, if you start fooling around with a camera, people will say you've "gone Hollywood," even if you never visit the physical place.
Metaphoric Hollywood's borders are porous and constantly shifting with new developments in technology. As Renaissance painting changed with new methods of mixing paint and creating perspective, so Hollywood changes as new ways of delivering stories and entertainment experiences are being generated.
The concept of Hollywood has expanded radically in the last ten years from the business that provided about two hundred feature films and five hundred TV shows a year for seven or eight studios and three national networks.
The New Global HollywoodNow the concept of Hollywood is much larger. It encompasses the vast new world of cable TV, global satellite networks, and computers. Video games must be written and produced just like movies, and can make as much money or more -- witness Sonic the Hedgehog, a video game which has made over four hundred million dollars worldwide, compared to two or three hundred million for a blockbuster picture.
Top movie executives are quitting their studio jobs to run interactive video companies and home shopping networks. The lines between movies, videos, publishing, computer games, TV shows, and interactive entertainments are blurring, and Hollywood is the only metaphor big enough to enfold it all.
There is still some truth to the notion of Hollywood as a place located in Southern California. The district of Hollywood is still more or less the geographic center of a cluster of production facilities, soundstages, office buildings, and studio ranches, stretching from Culver City, Venice, and Santa Monica in the south, to Glendale, Burbank, North Hollywood, and even the Simi Valley in the north. The dozen or so companies that control more than half of the world's entertainment have headquarters in Los Angeles, within a thirty-mile radius of Hollywood. The executives, agents, producers, actors, and directors are there. The meetings to decide what movies will be made are held there. At some point, every major figure in world entertainment has to come to Hollywood, if only to accept an Academy Award.
The Corridor of DoorsBut whether we're speaking of the physical Hollywood, or the great metaphoric Hollywood of global entertainment, it can be visualized as a long corridor of doors, that familiar infinite hallway we have all encountered in our dreams. The corridor goes on forever, and behind its doors are infinite possibilities.
As you walk along the hall, you see that some doors are open to you, some are closed. Some are bolted and barred, chained and guarded. Some are just faces of wood with no hardware, no doorknob to grasp, no keyhole to try your keys in. While some work perfectly well to admit other people, they seem impassable to you alone. Some are crowded with people screaming to get out, others are jammed with people trying to get in. Some are bricked up completely, with only an outline to show where there was once a doorway.
Each door leads into a different room or space, into a different experience or set of possibilities. In some rooms there is an entire lifetime. Other rooms are full of monsters, or love, or money, or sex, or creative satisfaction. And still others open into an abyss of blackness.
In some rooms it seems wonderful parties are going on, with people milling around, talking, and making deals enthusiastically. You notice in some rooms as you walk by that certain people in the crowded parties are elbowing their way purposefully across the room, making for another door on the opposite side, that leads perhaps to more exclusive parties, or to another corridor of doors and possibilities.
Many Mansions, Many DoorsSomeone said, "There are as many doors into Hollywood as there are people." The roads into the business are highly individual, and there is something to be learned from each person's story. I always like to ask successful people, "How did you get to your current position?" I always learn something from the particulars of luck, timing, and skill that people reveal in telling their stories. The movies of the 1930s, '40s, and '50s give a distorted, glorified, but somewhat accurate picture of the Hollywood system.
The studio gates are important symbols in these pictures. The most memorable is perhaps the elaborate Paramount gate, which still stands. In countless movies, stars were depicted as cruising confidently through these wrought-iron gates, while wanna-bes -- the Hollywood outsiders -- were shown trying to crash the gates, outwit the gate guards, get over or under the walls. The gates still stand, the walls and guards still bar uninvited intruders, but more than that, the invisible doors and parapets still defend the invisible fortress of Hollywood.
The Doors of Film SchoolIf you want to knock on the doors of Hollywood, one method is to go to a good film school -- such as the University of Southern California (USC), the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), or New York University (NYU). Get a solid background, good formal training to support whatever practical experience you already have. In school, give yourself time to find out what you're good at, what you really want to do.
The film school as a method of getting into commercial moviemaking was a breach in the Hollywood wall that had been blasted by George Lucas and his contemporaries, John Milius, Francis Ford Coppola, Martin Scorsese, and others, who had found mentors at USC, UCLA, or NYU to show them through the Hollywood doors.
Before their time, most people got into Hollywood through other doors. They were born into the industry, as sons and daughters of Hollywood pioneers, or they were brought in from the worlds of Chicago and New York newspapers and playwriting, or they found some other way into the maze.
Lucas and his fellows made film school a clear door to Hollywood. There are still only a handful of first-class film schools, and the competition to get in is savage because so many young people are drawn to that door. Thousands want in, but there's only room for a few hundred at a time.
PatiencePatience is essential. You'll need it at many stages, waiting a semester to direct a film, waiting to find a job, to get into a union, to get your script read, to get an agent, to get a part, to make a deal. It can be frustrating.
Hollywood is very hard on the impatient. It would be easy to conclude that you don't have the talent or drive when you repeatedly hit the wall of frustration, but that would be a premature judgment.
A Matter of TimingFrustration goes with the territory. Things don't always happen when you want them to, and if you meet resistance, it may not be because you are unsuited for the work. It may be simply that the timing is not right, yet. Hollywood runs in cycles, and you may have to wait for another turn of the wheel, for another season, before the key and the lock line up and the door opens for you.
The doors of Hollywood are like valves, opening and closing at different times to regulate the flow of talent into show business. A patient seeker may have to camp near a door that seems likely and wait until the time is right, when the door is open (a little like hovering in a parking garage, waiting for someone to leave so you can take their spot).
When the stakes are high, you may have to play the waiting game for years. It took ten years of trying to sell One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest as a movie, and seven years to develop the script for Beverly Hills Cop.
If you want to play the Hollywood game, you should make the adjustment to its being a long game: a career, a lifetime, not a hobby or a brief fling. One of the secrets is simple perseverance -- consistent commitment to a goal over a long period of time. This can open doors that all other methods have left locked.
Success by AssociationIt's been observed that successful people often get to the top by associating with people who are already successful in the field they are trying to master.
Going to a film school is one way of associating with like-minded people who are all trying to succeed, and with teachers who have proven themselves in the field. But you can open a similar door by other means. There are film societies and networking groups for aspiring screenwriters and producers.
There are writers' conferences and seminars where you can meet experts and people who have already succeeded at selling their ideas and realizing their dreams. If you have relatives or connections in the film business, by all means make use of them. If you don't, then your job is to create associations -- business friendships -- that will connect you to Hollywood or whatever world you are trying to enter.
Local writing groups across the country and around the world bring in Hollywood speakers to share information and new ideas. The Independent Feature Project, an organization whose members are independent producers, brings in speakers for panel discussions, as do the Writers Guild and many others.
You can also study aspects of Hollywood or hear speakers by taking classes at UCLA Extension's Writers' Program and Film Studies division. Individual teachers and authors of screenwriting books, such as Carlos de Abreu, Dona Cooper, Syd Field, Michael Hauge, Viki King, Robert McKee, Tom Schlesinger, Dr. Linda Seger, John Truby, myself, and others, give seminars for the public.
In film school and in all of these other venues, there is a benefit which may actually outweigh the formal training, confidence, and mentorship you get there, and that's the connection with the other people in the classes and seminars.
Writing GroupsIf you feel screenwriting is an appropriate door for you to knock on, then you might consider joining a writers' support group, critique group, or writers' club in your area. These range from small, informal groups that just get together to read each other's material, up to huge organizations with newsletters, annual conferences, and hundreds of members. Some writers' groups sponsor seminars and workshops where you can learn more about your chosen craft. Such groups can be good places to meet writing partners and keep up with the latest developments in the field.
ConferencesWriters' conferences, often sponsored by local writers' groups or by colleges, can be great places to learn about the business and make connections. Such events bring together film teachers, successful writers, agents, and studio executives who can open doors to Hollywood.
Writers get a chance to pitch ideas to potential buyers, and many agents come to these gatherings looking for clients and properties to sell. You get a chance to socialize with people who are already doing what you want to do. It can help banish illusions about the business, and bring the gods of Hollywood down to human size. Writer's Digest publishes an annual listing of such conferences around the country.
ContestsIn the past few years, screenwriting contests have become an increasingly important door to Hollywood. Film students compete fiercely for the Nicholl, the Goldwyn, the Diane Thomas, or the Columbus Screenplay Discovery Awards screenwriting prizes, because the winners reap more than just a financial reward. They get recognition.
Winning one of these contests or getting honorable mention is not a rock-solid guarantee of a Hollywood writing career, but it does mean that your work will be read. You are automatically ushered through a door into a smaller, more exclusive room, and your chances of getting to the right people are greatly increased.
Dreams Made RealWhen you are lucky enough to know what you want, you can apply your full energy to making your dreams real. This sounds easier than it is sometimes. It would be easy if we were simple, monolithic beings who entertained only one idea or attitude at a time. But in fact, we are complex, multilayered beings who usually maintain different attitudes at the same time, often quite contradictory ones.
SabotageEven when the upper levels of our awareness are pulling for positive change, the sneakier lower levels may be gleefully sabotaging our progress. Deep down we are often resistant to change because the dark stuff within us feels its "life" threatened. Efforts to build a new structure or knock on new doors may be undermined by the neurotic shadow-selves who dwell within us. Like Dracula, they fear the light of change.
CenteringThe only way to overcome this self-sabotage is by getting centered. Try to move the center of your attention away from the doubts so that it's in exact alignment with your deepest needs and highest goals. This is the meaning of the word "concentration" -- a state of being totally with your center. When we concentrate on a goal, we are lining up all the levels of our being with our deepest, truest selves.
"I Will"To make things happen, you need to make a firm act of will. This consists of a statement that rings out in two directions: outward to the universe around you, and inward, to the many levels of your own self.
This statement must be phrased precisely. It's no good saying, "I'm going to try to be a director, a producer, a writer, or an executive." That imposes too many steps and conditions, and sets the goal vaguely in the future. As much as possible, try to bring your dreams into the present or make your future goals definite. A stronger statement is "I AM a producer," or "I AM a writer," or "I WILL achieve my goal within the next six months."
Clear IntentionWhen you've made your choice and phrased it strongly, stand up and say it out loud to the world. Tell friends and colleagues what your intentions are. Make an announcement to your bosses and potential employers of what you want. Broadcast the statement of your choice as far as your imagination can carry you, out to the angels and gods, out to the stars: "This is what I need and want."
Make the same statement of intent inwardly. Lean over the lip of the well of your being, and shout down to all the levels, "This is what I need and want." Ask all those levels to get into alignment with your new direction. Only then can energy flow cleanly through your whole system, with no binding or friction, with no doubts dragging at you, blocking you, or holding you back. Only then can you be in focus about making your dreams real.
Once you know what you want and have focused your intent on getting it, make a simple, clear plan with a series of small, realistic, achievable steps. Great ambitions are sometimes thwarted by the impossibility of achieving so much all at once. Of course you can't achieve all your goals at once. They have to be broken down into manageable steps that can be done in a logical order. Each of these steps is another door that can be negotiated.
It seems you never run out of doors. New corridors and crossroads appear every day. That's the ever-changing architecture of Hollywood, where few people settle into comfortable, unchanging jobs. Every new idea, treatment, manuscript, book, script, every new show is another door of opportunity.
If you've hesitated about approaching the doors of Hollywood, or if you're well inside the labyrinth but are stuck in a corridor hammering on a particular unyielding door, take heart. Your dreams can come true, if you're willing to put in the effort and time to open those doors or figure out a way around them. Hollywood is built on dreams, but the successful people are the dreamers who set their intention on making the dreams come true.
Dreams draw us into the labyrinth and keep us going in the dark times, but ultimately they only have value if they are realized. If you focus and persist, you can make your dreams real. That's what Hollywood is all about.
"If you work at that which is before you," the wise Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius wrote nineteen centuries ago, "following right reason seriously, vigorously, calmly, without allowing anything else to distract you . . . if you hold to this, expecting nothing, fearing nothing, but satisfied with your present activities according to nature, and with heroic truth in every word and sound which you utter, you will live happy. And there is no one who is able to prevent this."