Rules of Hollywood #3:
As someone who has always loved and enjoyed movies, I took up an interest in the film studies courses at my college and, eventually, minored in the subject with a focus on foreign films, Kurosawa, Kubrick and film narrative (the structure/assembly of stories, if you will). In these classes you really had two kinds of students. The first was your typical, apathetic college student likely in the class, the general entry classes at least, for an easy "A." To them, it was Rocks for Jocks only in film format.
The other type of student was the kind that was generally and honestly be interested in the subject matter. They would listen intently, love reading about the history and went to the screenings of movies. However, this grouping itself had varying degrees: The two extremes being the regular interested person and the film snob. You know the type, I'm guessing. They would always answer the professors' general questions to the class, their hands waiving wildly in the air for attention, they'd go into a rant on the aesthetic principals of Orson Welles and justify their own snobbery by refusing to see a movie as merely entertainment but as "art" and "something with a message."
In Hollywood, however, those film snobs wouldn't last five minutes. Sure, you can tell us the history of Italian Neorealist cinema, but you have absolutely no idea how the business of making movies actually works.
What makes this important, however, is that, while knowledge is needed to work in this industry (if anything to have a solid frame of reference), trying to "show off" like you did in college will hurt you more than help. You can't go into some production office as a potential actor/writer/producer/director and start spouting your love of New Wave cinema. The reason why is because everyone, mostly, has the exact same frame of reference you do. They know their movies, their history...but they aren't focused on going on and on about it unless it's relevant to what needs to be done. What needs done is business, and that is it.
Knowledge is important, yes, but in Hollywood, the only person that probably cares what you know is yourself. You need to know when to utilize your film IQ and when to shut up and move on. It's a difficult balance and maybe even a hard lesson (or Rule, rather) for some Film Majors to swallow.
Knowing Everything Won't Land You a Job
Getting a job on any level in Hollywood is difficult enough. Having a knowledge of film is important, nobody will deny that and, I promise you, a common question is "what are some of your favorite movies?" from potential employers.
However, as you sit there with clammy palms and tightly grip the side of your chair during the interview, you need to know this is not a test to see how much about movies you know. It's merely a question to get an idea of your taste and sensibilities. If you, say, want to start working in an office where they concentrate on horror movies, and you show no knowledge of horror but instead list your favorite Truffaut films, that's not going to do anything for them. As the title suggest, they won't be impressed because they don't care. You're simply not a fit for them.
The worst, and by that I mean worst, thing you can do is try and "show off" your vast knowledge. These people very well could have made the movie you're attempting to go on and on about and probably know it a lot better than you. They make films for a living, or at least represent those that make films for a living, and displaying your film IQ very well could insult them more than impress. Simply put, they could not care less what college you went to, how much you learned, or what grades you got. There are a lot of people in Hollywood that have a vast array of knowledge and didn't even go to college (or, at the very least, went to college and didn't study film for even one semester).
I'll save interviewing in Hollywood for another Rule, but this is very pertinent to this one. Just think before you speak.
Knowing Everything Won't Necessarily Help You at Your Job
In a recent pitch meeting of a potential television show, the writer who was in consideration to write (and possibly direct) the pilot did everything wrong and little right in his desire to stress his vision of what the show will be like.
The show itself was going to be a buddy-cop series in the vein of a Lethal Weapon or Miami Vice with a slight twist to give it some distinction (pardon me if I don't go into detail). We the set meeting, after many rescheduling, and our veteran writer had a solid month or two to come up with a concept. After a month, and especially two, we were expecting outlines, perhaps even a treatment, maybe even a corkboard with a map of story ideas and characters.
The day arrrived, the writer and his partner come in sit down and begin to talk. The pitch, though, wasn't so much about the potential show but was more about referencing past buddy cop movies and shows and how he could try and spin it rather than how it will be spun.
What's wrong with that? Well, he was on the right track in trying to give us a frame of reference, but he kept going on and on about it: how he watched Miami Vice and Starsky and Hutch, how he wanted to capture a comedic side ala Rush Hour and so forth. Nothing was said about what the show was going to be about, the plot, the characters' relationships or an outline of how the series might go over the course of a season much less a actual pilot. The meeting was wrapped, hands shaken...
...and that writer was kicked off the project two days later.
Instead of molding his knowledge of material similar to the concept into an original take, he simply took old concepts and talked about how he wanted to emulate them, how great they were and where to go with the idea. Movies and shows don't write themselves, and this writer should have known better. That goes to show there's no gage on experience when it comes to this particular Rule. Even veterans with credits make the mistake and pay the price. Instead of giving us a fresh take with a great story, he stumbled over himself and the months we gave him to give us something felt like wasted time.
People in Hollywood do not like to waste time. Lord knows I learned that quick enough. It's a very "here and now" business. Wasting time or ignoring a call or email for longer than a half-day is considered an insult. This particular writer not only got himself off the project but now has a reputation of being lazy because word about people does get around - Hollywood is not a big town, everyone knows each other or at least knows of each other and now he has this "lack of conviction" stigmata to overcome which he may never achieve. You can't rely on knowledge and personality alone, this veteran screenwriter should have known better.
Everybody In Hollywood Knows Movies (You Aren't Special)
Perhaps you were great in college, top of the class, took all the film courses, aced all the tests and even had the professor in your back pocket. You love movies, you want to make movies and get in the industry somehow, whether it be writing, acting, or even a PA (production assistant) on a shoot. You might be thinking you'll come to Los Angeles and have it easy because, damnit, you wrote a thesis on the works of Ozu and the Japanese Family.
Well, everybody in Hollywood knows movies. You are not special. All those courses might help you have a good frame of reference and have a conversation should the discussion come up, but it won't go into the depths of what you might be imagining because everyone here is on the same level. It's square-one all over again. I have a decent film knowledge myself, but it's not like I ever utilize it to the degree that college may enforce on you. I don't have people clamoring to tell them about film history, Kubirck and Kurosawa. Why?
Because, most likely, they already know and probably don't give two shits. (The term "don't give two shits" a popular one around many offices). They aren't gloating, they aren't trying to impress, they've moved past that and now, when someone tries to display their film education, they might even consider that a step back. You don't want to step back, you want to move forward. Use your knowledge of film only as a frame of reference and only during discussions that might need it, not to try and show how much more you know than the other guy.
Once you understand that, you can focus on what is important and gear your knowledge to being constructive rather than being pretentious.
So, to summarize this rather brief Rule for this week's installment:
1) It's good to have a base knowledge of film and television, a frame of reference is important.
2) Don't show off or be a film snob. It will get you nowhere.
3) Is Film School even right for you? Having a vast knowledge isn't going to help in the job area, especially for writers and directors who would be concentrating on their craft itself, not the history of the craft. I highly recommend reading "To Film School or Not to Film School" found here at Hollywood Bound and Down (a great blog with many shared sentiments).