How To Break Into Hollywood
April 7, 2022
If you go to any writers’ panel in Los Angeles (or possibly even the world), there will be someone in the audience to asks the question, “How do you break in?” The audible sighs inevitably follow. More than likely, the panelists, knowing they’ll be asked this question, trot out the moldy old response they must have heard from someone else when they were trying to break in. “Write a good script.”
“Okay, but then what?”
They’ll turn to each other in befuddlement, hoping someone else will finish answering the question. No one will tell the truth. Because you can’t handle the truth.
And, the truth is… you get lucky.
That’s it. You buy a lottery ticket and hope it pays off. Sure, there are other factors, i.e., being able to get along with people, writing a good (or decent) script, and working hard. But, none of that matters if you don’t have luck.
It explains why shitty scripts get made (luck) and why great scripts don’t (no luck). And, the reason why the successful writers don’t tell you this is because they want to believe their success is due to their ability to get along with people, write a good script and work hard. But, it’s not. It’s just pure dumb luck.
Which brings us to more sage advice from our imaginary panel of writers. In addition to “write a great script,” they’ll usually offer up these old clams, “find a network, find a support group, find mentors, find contacts,” as if these things are lying around like seashells on the beach. The assumption being, these people will help you. They won’t. Unless of course, you get lucky.
The number one complaint of writers trying to break in is… no one will help them. It might seem the reason no one will help you is because they don’t think you’re very good. But often, it’s not the case. Writers won’t help other writers because they are in competition with them. So, on the writers’ panels, it’s all networks and support, but in real life, it’s jealousy and back-stabbing. Even the writers on the writers’ panels won’t help you because they won’t tell you the truth. What you need is luck.
The same principle applies to other types of writing. A woman in my memoir group said she was recently lambasted for posting about the lack of support among writers. I didn’t see the original post, because she deleted it shortly after the outrage reached her breaking point, but as I understand it, she was relaying a message she received from another writer. The message was about how writers don’t support each other. This drew criticisms such as, “Why should we feel obligated to support other writers?” and “You’ve never supported me.”
It seems the commenters took offense at the suggestion they should be more supportive, or weren’t doing enough to be supportive, or were terrible awful people because they deliberately sabotaged each other and would gladly climb over the bodies of their fellow writers if it meant one more like on social media.
In truth, there was no insinuation of the kind. But, the negative nellies responded with the classic negativity bias common to all who can’t find the nuance in a truly banal suggestion.
Women, in particular, are reluctant to help other women because they have been given so few opportunities in the past. If there’s only one seat at the table for a woman, and you’ve got it, why on earth would you want to champion someone who may take it away from you? Luckily, this is changing as more women are rising through the ranks. And, those at the top recognize the value of pulling women up, rather than pushing them down. As Madeleine Albright was famous for saying, “There is a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women.”
So, going back to luck. If you’re lucky, you can find that one in ten million person who will help you. And, if you’re lucky, they won’t already be exhausted from all the demands they get from other wannabes to help them. And, if you’re really lucky, you’ll be ready when you meet this magical person because it could be today, or tomorrow, or next year standing in the line at Starbucks. Then, your personality, talent and diligence will convince them to help you. But, only if you’re lucky.