Rules of Hollywood #8:
Warning: Watch Out for Conmen
(Nobody is Who They Say They Are - Once More With Feeling)
If you would allow me to generalize in broad strokes for a moment, I suppose this rule is more relative to everything in life, you have to really watch out who you network and connect with in the film and television industry. It's that case on all walks, though, and with varying degrees on the "bullshit meter." From vendors on street corners, especially in the dense metropolitan areas, to email spam asking for donations to countless televangelists and political pundits or even fake charities standing outside you local grocery store. The reality of it is that everyone everywhere will try and worm their way into your life or moment in time, take your money or your time and not have a second thought after the fact.
This shouldn't come as any surprise, really. There's a mystique around Hollywood that's always been around. Some people will do all they can to somehow get their foot in the door, as I've already covered in a past article. Instead of repeating myself here, I know I am, I'm doing it more as an emphasis than anything. I feel this aspect simply can't be stressed hard enough for those looking to break into the film and television world. The fact is this:
You can't trust anybody.
Like the movies themselves, it's all kind of make believe in the movie industry. You have over-stretched egos and more money than people know what to do with. That's not a good combination. Naturally, if you have all that money you end up with a couple of issues:
1) Everyone wants a piece of it. Writer. Director. Actor. Producer. Agent. Manager. The kid trying to read for a role.
2) Sometimes getting that money isn't done in the most chivalrous of ways. Everyone is trying to cut their slice from the pie and are happy to take your piece if you're lucky to even have one left.
Number one should be no surprise. That's why people will move their entire lives to Los Angeles: to be a part of that and become "rich and famous" (though a vast majority are usually just 'comfortable').
Number Two, though. Well, that's the issue at hand here, isn't it? I won't go off on certain studio execs or notoriously slimeball agents, the fact is you probably won't deal with most of them directly and you should be aware of them anyways, but I will discuss the element of people wearing "masks" and not entirely who they say they are.
Let's start with a simple example. If you've been to Los Angeles and the Hollywood area, you can buy these things called "Star Maps." These are sold by vendors on the street and you can find any number of them near Hollywood and Highland. On top of that, you also have Star Tours which are vans or buses with the roofs removed and they drive you around the hills and rich areas to look at the homes of famous people. Well, this should be no surprise to you: a majority of those houses are just houses. There's nobody famous there.
That's not to say all of them are that way. In some cases you can look up the exact locations and verify them. But that's the thing: you have to do the research. These guys that sell these things on the street know you aren't going to sit there for an hour and look it all up on your laptop. You're going to go along for the ride because they're selling you the idea and you fell for it. Even when you're done, you're not going to double check - either because you don't care or you simply just forgot to. Maybe you're even are a little afraid to actually find out because finding out you got conned is a bigger "d'oh" moment that Homer Simpson can't forehead-slap hard enough on.
Well, in the movie and television industry, that's still true. People badly want to believe in the glitz and glamor of Hollywood so much that their brains will often stop working. They tend to lose common sense. There are companies and individuals that will sell you the idea but don't have the merchandise in the store. They're counting on you to be the nieve little shopper with a thick wallet and the mind of a kid caught up in the flashing lights and loud noises.Think of Hollywood as a carnival and all those people trying to sell you stuff the carnies that have rigged games and shitty prizes.
I've been critical enough on no-name pitchfests and screenwriting competitions that do less for your career and more to just take your money. I've also been critical enough on film "festivals" you've never heard of or online competitions for writers and directors that usually amount to jack shit. You see, those things are in the level right under "legitimacy." Usually they're just ran by people on the outside looking in. If you have to really second guess them, that's probably for good reason and you can read more about them in the past articles.
So let's take this to a different level altogether: the 'legitimate conmen.' The guys you can look up on imdb and they might have a hell of a credit list or client stable but in the end aren't much better than the carnies. You can not trust them either. Producers. Directors. Writers. Agent. Name it. Again, my point of this article is simple:
You can't trust anybody.
Just because someone might seem to be perfectly fine doesn't mean you should just haphazardly throw your entire future their way. Things like phone calls and job interviews are a two-way street. Sure, they're talking to you or interviewing you, but you should be talking and interviewing them at the same time. That's how you can find out if someone is really a person that you want to work for or with, if they are who they say they are and if it's even a direction you want to go in your career.
Well...you can't trust them at first, let's just say. Putting your trust into someone in Hollywood is like putting your trust in a hooker that she doesn't have genital warts. It's a risk every time. I'm not saying that you can't trust anyone, I'm saying that, if you're just starting out, question and doubt everyone.
Even if someone has worked in Hollywood for decades, you still have to be cautious. They could easily spit you up and chew you out as soon as they would put their arm around you and be a mentor. You simply do not know. Don't turn away from them, of course. But certainly don't open your entire life to them and depend on them right out of the gate. Trust is something to be earned. Don't forget that.
Eventually, you will have people you can trust and they will trust you, but certainly not at first. You have to be cynical. You have to think everyone is out to get you. The term "dog eat dog" is never more suitable than it is in the film industry.If you want to make a splash, get that foot in the door and be involved in the entertainment industry, you must first trust yourself and yourself alone. Watch your back and don't put too much faith into others.
Now, I know...that sounds a little harsh. "Don't trust anyone" might as well be an episode of the X-files with Agent Mulder looking over his back every five minutes. But you can't waste your time constantly depending on others. If you want a career in Hollywood, you have to fight for it. You have to have that "Fuck you, pay me" mentality and take it on, not wander the sidewalk grabbing the next Starmap that comes your way.This will the be final time I really enforce this, but I think the do-it-yourself attitude is going to be a concept few grasp until they actually get into the entertainment industry workforce - or at least try to. Sometimes those fake Star Maps can be distracting.
You know, I suppose what I'm really trying to say on all these articles is this: working in Hollywood is a gamble. A big one. As much as I can give advice and warn you to watch your back and about the trials and tribulations, you still have to understand that it's an uphill climb and not to be taken lightly. That's kind of what inspired me to do this as a series in the first place. I learned, sometimes the hard way, and that's why I share it all with you - assuming you're either interested in pursuing a career in this field or, at the very least, are interested in the inner workings of it. I hope that by reinforcing this one issue, it can drive home the risks involved and the various things you may encounter: the "not all who they say they are" type of person as great in number as rich socialites that wander through Beverly Hills with nothing better to do but window shop, get face lifts and stuff their little dogs in handbags.
I guess that's the real side I want to, hopefully, shed all the light on and as we move forward I hope to continue taking on other angles that college doesn't prep you for and inexperience can hinder you on. All the film schooling and business management classes in the world can't ever prepare you for the real world and there's few reality checks like working your way up in the ranks of television and movie making on any level and on any side of the fence (from production to representation).
Desire and determination can get you pretty far, though. Yet, you can't let all those lofty-dreams be the driving force and have to understand that the Entertainment world is a business first. With that comes the leeches and yuppies and tag alongs and swindlers. You know, the guys that like to take a peek at your cards when you're not looking. It's all just one big game and if you do ante up and maybe even raise here and there, just make sure you have some good cards to back it up. A good outlook and focus on what you want to do, an understanding of how it all works in the industry, common sense of the 'real world,' determination and relying on yourself first without putting so much stake into others is a good hand to start with. Over time, you'll replace those cards with "jobs" and "people you can trust" for an even better hand.
I hope that analogy made a little sense. I don't plan on addressing this issue again so I hope this final, quick reassessment of it makes it clear to those wanting to get a job in the entertainment world and any field within it. Make sure it's something you really want to do, are willing to throw out those dice or spin that roulette, and maybe heed a few words from a guy that's still learning new tricks everyday (but not the tricks to cheat you, I promise).