March 31, 2009


“If you have no confidence in self, you are twice defeated in the race of life.  With confidence you have won even before you have started.” – Marcus Garvey

Perhaps the one consistent trait of those with successful careers in Hollywood is that of confidence.  They’re not all beautiful.  They’re not all funny.  They’re not all brilliant (shock of the year).  But they all believe in themselves.  Those that don’t fizzle away.

So those of you joining me on a similar journey, do you believe in yourself?  Do you really think you have what it takes to ‘make it?’

“Well, sure, I know I’ve got the talent to make it, but I don’t have the connections…”

“I’ve written a better script than any movie I’ve seen lately, but nobody will ever read it…”

“Of course I’m just as good as anyone else in Hollywood, but I don’t have the money to get off the ground with classes and training and blah blah blah…”

Having confidence in self means believing not only in your talent, but in your ability to overcome obstacles.  This was a personal mental hurdle for many years.  Still is at times.  Let’s face it, nobody is at the top of their game 24/7/365.

But if your self-confidence is shaky, save yourself from the inevitable struggles and heartbreak tagging along on the journey.  Or better yet, address your self-confidence issues.  See a counselor.  Take a class.  Read a book.  Might I suggest “The Dream Giver”, by Bruce Wilkinson… or “The Encore Effect” by Mark Sanborn…or “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” by Stephen R. Covey (I have yet to read this one, but I’ve heard great things about it)

If you haven’t already done so, prepare yourself mentally for a career path that is as competitive as any.  Whether acting, writing, directing, producing, or anything else in the entertainment industry, rejection is the only guarantee.

Luckily for me, I’ve had plenty of practice handling rejection…

March 29, 2009


“Never leave that till tomorrow which you can do today.” – Benjamin Franklin

When Justin Morneau goes through a slump at the plate, inevitably, one of the expert commentators will suggest, “His timing is off.”  A quarterback comes back from an injury and misses a few receivers in the first quarter, so the QB-become-analyst offers, “His timing seems to be off.”

You’ve got all the talent in the world as a writer/actor/director/producer/juggler, but you still can’t land an agent.  Maybe your timing is off.

In an earlier entry I mentioned K Callan’s recommendation to avoid submitting yourself for LA agency representation during pilot season.  In his book, An Agent Tells All, Tony Martinez qualifies Ms. Callan’s claim and adds that the holiday season is an awful time to submit as well.  Mr. Martinez (a Hollywood agent himself) lists May, June, and July as the best months to submit.

If you’re reading this in August, does that mean you should wait 9 months?  Of course not.  I still think the best time to submit yourself for representation is yesterday.  The odds may be better in the summer, but Mr. Martinez reminds us that agents are “always searching for talent.  24 hours a day.  7 days a week.  52 weeks a year.  It’s the one part of our job that we never put on hold.”

Just remember, if we’re not hearing back from agents, it may just be bad timing.  Either that or we suck.

March 23, 2009


“For myself I am an optimist – it does not seem to be much use being anything else.” – Sir Winston Churchill

Any scratch golfer can tell you a round can be made or lost with your approach shot.  Yet many duffers like me spend most of their range time trying to knock the core out of the diminutive dimpled demon.  Interestingly, the difference between a 240 and 280 yard drive is generally frivolous for a skilled iron player.  Instead of trying to flex my muscles with monstrous drives, I would be better advised to learn how my 5-iron works.

Just like the wickedness that is golf, the even more impossible Hollywood game can be won or lost by the player’s approach.  While many coaches have offered guidance in appropriate approaches for aspiring writers or actors or models, the multi-hyphenate approach is still somewhat fleeting.  I’m certainly no pioneer in trying to pitch my eclectic self to Hollywood, but as far as I know, I may be one of the few documenting my successes or lack there of.  So far, the latter has the better handicap than the former.

My first rounds of querying back a couple years involved blanketing every agency accepting screenplay queries.  I exhausted a couple calling cards making telephone contact first, then many rolls of stamps mailing what I thought was a good pitch for a very marketable screenplay.  I still believe in the pitch and I still believe in the screenplay.  It’s the approach I question.

This time around, I’m spending a good amount of time researching each company before I send them my query.  At 3 or 4 queries a week, I’m certainly not launching a mass attack, but instead focusing on specific targets of which I have an understanding of their philosophies and place in the market.

Will this approach work?  The optimist in me says yes.  Too bad the pessimist has the final say on these dreary, rainy days.  But, as Mr. Churchill stated, there’s no use in being anything other than an optimist.  Looking more closely at the glass, it does indeed look a little fuller than before it did.

March 22, 2009


“If you want to be an actor, act.  It’s really simple.  The more you act, the better you get.  Go to classes.  Go to workshops.  Act more hours of the day than not.  Act for free.  And if you’re lucky, every once in a while, you’ll get paid.” – Richard Dreyfuss

My wife has the luxury of living with someone who morphs in and out of characters all day long.  She’s thrilled by my perpetual meanderings into psyches as varied as Baskin Robbins’ menu.  Um, yeah.

Inevitably, after watching a movie together, I will brush my teeth that night as the most memorable character from the picture show.  My recent favorites are Rowan Atkinson’s Bean, googly-eyed Ben from Lost, and the always reliable Hannibal Lector.  Granted, this is more mimicry than acting, but it serves a purpose.  I’m practicing acting.  And annoying my wife.  It’s a double-edged sword, but I have lots of bandages.

Mr. Dreyfuss’s advice is simple and true.  Many self-proclaimed future stars seem to think they can just walk on a set and make movie magic.  Did Michael Jordan just walk on a basketball court and make basketball magic?  Did Joe Montana just walk onto a football field and make football magic?  Did Harry Potter just walk into Hogwarts Academy and make magic magic?  Well, maybe he did… I haven’t read or seen any of his work.

Point is, to be good, you have to work at it.  No matter what ‘it’ is, you have to practice.  Practice doesn’t make perfect (despite the old saying), but it gets you a heck of a lot closer than you’d get without it.

If you’re just starting out as an actor, find a way to practice your craft.  Take classes.  Study literature on the craft of acting.  Audition for student films.  Start connecting with others that share similar interests and maybe start a scene study group with them.

Just act.  But be careful who you annoy along the way.  My wife is awfully tolerant, but sometimes a mirror is the best audience.  Yeah, I do that, too.  Don’t tell.

March 17, 2009


“We must use time as a tool, not as a crutch.” – John F. Kennedy

K Callan points out that pilot season is perhaps the worst time to approach talent agents in Hollywood.  Most agents are too busy trying to sell their current clients and the last thing they have time to do is search through new headshots.

Pilot season generally runs from January through May, though this trend is evolving with the advent of new media and midseason program releases.  Historically, agents have been most approachable in the downtime of the summer months.

Ms. Callan further advises prospective clients to avoid calling before noon as most agents spend their mornings reading ‘The Breakdown’ and submitting their already established clients’ pictures and resumes.  This is getting rather nitpicky, but agents are looking for reasons to say no to prospective clients.  Seems logical to minimize the potential red flags by following the advice given in Ms. Callan’s excellent The Los Angeles Agent Book.

I’ve had actor friends and acquaintances scurry off to LA in time for pilot season, but timing the departure around this often fabled time in Hollywood is probably more detrimental than beneficial.  If I’m wrong, let me know!

March 14, 2009

The Los Angeles Agent Book by K Callan

A must read for any out-of-town actor considering a move to LA.  Ms. Callan, a working actor for more than 40 years (check her out on IMDb), interviewed a number of talent agents for this book, one of five guides she has written about the film industry.

Just about everything you need to know about finding and keeping a talent agent is included in The Los Angeles Agent Book.  How to submit, what to submit, when to submit – it’s all here straight from the horses’ mouths.  She even breaks down the geography of Los Angeles giving us aliens a head start on faking our way around.  Having been to LA only a handful of times, I’m still trying to keep the 10, the 110, and the 101 straight.  What’s with the binary highway numbering?

I can’t say enough good things about Ms. Callan’s book.  Some of the information was a little redundant, but there is too much vital information for the aspiring actor venturing west to overlook this book.  Look for it at your library, or grab it from Amazon.

As of today, there is one 3-star rating at Amazon.  Don’t let that sway you.  The book is 5-star, hands down.

How to Sell Yourself as an Actor” is the next book of hers I plan to read.  If you’ve read it already, drop a note here and let us know how it was.  Oh, and please don’t tell the Hollywood agents I called them horses.  I didn’t mean it that way.

March 12, 2009


Random Writer's Resource 2

CS Weekly

Published by Creative Screenwriting magazine, this e-mail newsletter contains more than enough distractions for the truly procrastinating writer. The news, interviews, and reviews are all useful for screenwriters at any level. For free, you can’t go wrong.

March 10, 2009


“Hide not your talents, they for use were made.  What’s a sun-dial in the shade?” – Benjamin Franklin

The Hollywood buzzword for industry folks who are more than just actors or directors or writers is hyphenate.  I’m seeing in more and more books and articles the recommendation from Hollywood insiders is to establish yourself as a hyphenate before expecting to garner much attention from Tinsel Town.  Good or bad, the ability to make yourself a hyphenate is getting easier and easier.

Many claim to be several, if not all, of the following: writer, director, producer, editor, puppeteer, dentist, lawyer, Olympian.  With digital-video-making being as cheap as it is and YouTube being as accessible as it is, anybody anywhere can write, direct, produce and distribute as much crap as they want.

So is it a good idea?  I’m not of authority to say.  I do think it’s best to avoid as much as possible dropping turds all over the Internet.  (Ah, poetic euphemisms…)  Make good stuff.  Put it out there.  See what happens.  Then when you sell that screenplay of yours that you, and only you, can direct, Hollywood may actually trust you to do so.

March 6, 2009


“When one door closes, another door opens.  But we often look so long and so regretfully upon the closed door, that we do not see the ones which opened for us.” – Alexander Graham Bell

It’s hard to beat fresh raspberries picked right off the bush or broccoli just snapped off the stalk.  I was spoiled as a kid with succulent, fresh produce all summer long.  Of course, this entry’s title is more relevant with a second syllable emphasis.

Frustrated by the seemingly impenetrable shell that protects Hollywood from newbie screenwriters, I figured I may as well produce a movie myself.  That way, I could list ‘produced screenwriter’ on my resume.  The motivation, of course, went well beyond resume boosting.  Truth is, I just want to make movies, and if Hollywood isn’t interested in seeing what I have to offer on the page, maybe I can get them to notice something on the screen.

My research in independent filmmaking made it clear the easiest sell for a neophyte producer is horror.  The foreign markets eat up American scare fare.  Had I avoided a few key mistakes, I think Horror House could have made a bigger dent in the domestic and foreign markets.  I’ll explore those mistakes in upcoming entries.

As it is, I’m proud of my first self-produced feature.  Creating a movie and seeing it through to its completion is an accomplishment of which few can boast.  And I think it was a necessary experience in my growth as a Hollywood contender.

Reflections on the entire production process can be found in my Horror House movie blog.  Shooting the movie was an incredible experience with an incredible cast and crew, and I hope to emulate that adventure again and again.

You can buy Horror House here, or via a forthcoming link in one of the sidebars of this site.

March 2, 2009


“When people talk, listen completely.  Most people never listen.” – Ernest Hemingway

When Rima Greer talks, I listen.  She’s been agenting longer than I’ve been driving.  In 25 years she has yet to sign a screenwriter who wasn’t referred to her by an industry professional.  Gulp.

Without an insider’s track, it is essential to be extra cognizant of the traits for which literary agents are looking.  As mentioned last entry, being good is first and foremost, but it’s not enough.

According to Ms. Greer, 99.9% of the time, a writer is hired because he or she is good in a room, not necessarily because he or she is compellingly better than the other writers up for the job.  You have to be good, of course, but if you reach the stage of potential employment as a scriptwriter, it’s already understood you’re good.  So you’d better be charming.  You better listen well.  You’d better have charisma (a word that will come up in future entries).

You also need to understand people and situations.  As The Gambler himself stated, “You gotta know when to hold ‘em; know when to fold ‘em; know when to walk away; and know when to run.”  Put another way, you need to know when to talk and when to shut up.  I know, I know – I’m working on that one.  I’m working on all the intangibles.

Truth is, I think I meet the requirements outlined by Ms. Greer.  If I didn’t think this way, I’d be wasting a lot time, effort, and money, not to mention jeopardizing my future and my family’s financial security.  Like so many others, I’m just waiting for that one phone call, that one connection, that one moment when the stars align and the carrot is finally mine.  Waiting?  No, pursuing.

In my three or so years of off-and-on querying, only three times has a full screenplay of mine been requested, leaving my batting average right around .023.  One request led to an option and another led to a dialog back and forth with a couple rewrites in between before both sides mutually agreed our directions for the project were out of sync.  By those statistics, I’m actually batting quite well.

But I’ve sent out over a hundred letters, made close to as many phone calls, and sent seven singing telegrams.  Okay, no telegrams.  Good thing, too, because Ms. Greer makes it clear that nobody in Hollywood appreciates gimmicks or brownnosing.  Ass-kissing?  Totally different story.

And I’ll keep sending queries, keep making phone calls, maybe make a trip or two to LA in the coming months.  All for a chance to prove to somebody that I have it.

But who am I to think I’ve got it?  I don’t know.  But if I harbor any doubt, then I don’t have what it takes to survive in Hollywood.  Bring on the sharks!


“Looking for [new] clients is the last thing [literary] agents do… So, how the hell do you get an agent if none of us are remotely interested in taking the time to find you in the first place?  I don’t know.  Really, I don’t.” – Literary Agent, Rima Greer, from her book, The Real, Low Down, Dirty Truth About Hollywood Agenting

Ms. Greer goes on to say she’s never signed a client from a query letter.  Great news for someone trying to break in as a screenwriter, huh?  Luckily, Ms. Greer does know a few agents who have signed querying writers.  In the words of the immortal Lloyd Christmas, “So you’re saying there’s a chance…”

In an industry built on Catch-22s, this one frustrates me as much as any: You can’t sell a screenplay without an agent, and you can’t get an agent until you sell a screenplay.  Of course, the ‘can’ts’ are used for effect and are too absolute for unreserved validity.  But I would guess this Catch-22 is at least 99% true.

I’ve read from more than one source, “if it was an easy business, everyone would be doing it.”  There’s a good reason Hollywood doesn’t invite every Dom, Rick, and Larry to write her movies – most people aren’t any good at it.  I’ve read a lot of bad scripts.  A lot.  (Quick note… yes, ‘a lot’ is a phrase, not a word.  There is no ‘alot’ in the dictionary.  Before writing a screenplay, please study the English language.  Just a little.  But I digress.)

My first drafts are bad.  My second drafts are bad.  Finally, by the third, fourth, and fifth drafts, my screenplays are starting to take shape.  It’s a long, tedious process to give birth to a quality screenplay.  I’m still tweaking stories I started five or more years ago.  Why so many wannabe screenwriters are delusional enough to think they are above the laws of writing is a perplexity I’ll never solve.

Of course, a bad story is a bad story no matter how many times you rewrite it.  Appropriately, Rima Greer’s first suggestion to aspiring screenwriters is to be good.  She doesn’t say as much, but I would aver that goodness starts at conception (on so many levels, right?).  The development of the idea, the molding of the characters, the execution of functional, succinct dialogue – all facets must come together to form a recognizable pattern while being completely original.  Huh?  Yeah, that’s another Catch-22: Hollywood is looking for proven entities that are completely original.  And I’m looking for lettuce that tastes like ice cream.

More soon from Ms. Greer’s wonderful book.