ALTHOUGH DESCRIBED AS A logistical matter, there was considerable symbolism in a shift at last month’s NATPE convention that involved erecting rope barriers to separate speakers from the audience.
Organizers say it was simply a question of keeping the program moving, ensuring that crowds cleared the room so they could set up for the next panel. Still, there was a degree of indignation among some attendees, who sat through sessions until the question-and-answer portion, when, despite warnings not to pitch program ideas, many did just that.
Hollywood will always be a world of haves and have-nots, where wannabes far outnumber insiders. What’s missing at such events are clear rules of engagement, spelling out conditions for interaction between the gainfully employed and the people who increasingly seek their ear.
This observation, by the way, comes from someone who sympathizes on certain levels with both sides. Folks with a dream schlep to Las Vegas and are counseled to “find a mentor,” only to have people who could fulfill that role sequester themselves behind velvet ropes. At the same time, execs and producers have worked hard to establish their own careers and can’t humor every crank convinced he has stumbled on the next “Survivor” if he can just find a way past security.
With that in mind, here is a manifesto of sorts, a sermon from the stage that dispenses with the usual platitudes. And while I can’t speak for everyone, having witnessed enough uncomfortable moments — including a few at NATPE — when fidgety industry pros encounter people unclear on the concept, this doubtless approximates what they would honestly like to say:
“Before we begin, here are the ground rules. I’m here because I want to give something back by sharing my wisdom and experience with those trying to break in. Also, it doesn’t look bad to be seen amid this company, establishing myself as a thoughtful industry leader. My job looks fairly secure right now, but it’s always smart to plan for the inevitable day when it suddenly isn’t.
“Let’s be clear, though. My presence does not mean that I wish to personally help get your show made. Frankly, I have a hard enough time finding worthwhile programs developed by people who have already demonstrated they know how, and because I like my job, I’d rather not gamble on someone my boss has never heard of.
“Besides, I don’t want to risk being sued if we do another comedy about a guy with a talking cat six years from now. Just because the studio keeps lawyers on the payroll doesn’t mean I want to meet them all.
“As you’ve heard from other speakers, it helps to know somebody. In such a subjective business, being related by blood, marriage or at least friendship is a plus. If you don’t have those kinds of connections, I’m truly sorry, but we have our own sons and daughters to think of. Blame your parents.
“Please understand that I am not indifferent to your situation, but try thinking of the entertainment industry as a marathon divided into a series of 100-meter sprints. Running that kind of race, I can’t afford to keep stopping for someone who is still in the starting gate and hope to remain ahead.
“As long as I’m being honest, it’s also fair to say not all of you will make it. Perseverance and hard work are laudable, but as with any endeavor where resources are so limited compared to those who want to share in them, succeeding in this business requires talent, luck and contacts that not everyone has. That especially applies to you, the guy in the weird hat and Grateful Dead T-shirt.
“In quieter moments, I truly regret that there’s not a seat for everyone, but I’m content to wish you luck and provide general guidance, with the disclaimer that after that, you’re on your own.
“Someday, perhaps, you will be lucky enough to sit up here, with all the perks and pressures that go with it. When that day comes, someone will ask you to speak at a similar event, and people will rush the stage afterward seeking a moment of your time.
“At that moment, you will understand.”