Breaking into showbiz has never been easy. But is it even more difficult today?
The proliferation of panels, workshops and networking events with that theme would certainly suggest so.
One thing I’ve noticed over the past decade is that increasingly the great and the good who sit on these platforms make a point of noting that neither they nor their companies accept unsolicited manuscripts. And most seem to have left their business cards at home.
Invariably, they advise the eager audience to find “a champion.” (No one uses the word “agent” anymore because, let’s face it, it’s harder to get one of those than to win the lottery.)
Not that all these events are a waste of time. Networking does take place, and some tips are actually useful.
And in some cases the advice goes beyond “Don’t let them deter you from following your passion” and includes instructive anecdotes about how one or another bigshot got where they are.
A particularly bracing panel unfolded at the Women in Film Entertainment Forum on Oct. 28, one aptly titled “I Have an Idea: Now What?”
It’s quite possible that the bright-eyed, well-spoken audience already had heard some of the points made, but for the hundreds of thousands of Tinseltown aspirants who weren’t there, here are a few of the pointers, free-of-charge:
First a reality check: If anyone is simply interested in “doing good work,” as a writer or director or actor or whatever, then “go home,” as one panelist put it. There’s plenty of regional and local theater, TV and moviemaking to keep a lot of folks happily motivated and compensated.
“To be here,” said William Morris TV agent John Ferriter, “you need to want more than anything else a career or to be a star.”
And to obtain that goal, you need, well, a lot of things, including chutzpah. In Ferriter’s case, the big break came when he intercepted a call at the temp agency where he worked: William Morris needed an assistant for a difficult agent. Did the temp outfit have such a candidate? Ferriter nominated himself. From assisting agent Dick Howard, he rose in 15 years to worldwide head of nonscripted TV.
Or take manager-producer Tariq Jalil, who rather than sulk after his film script was turned down all over town, promptly renamed the project, the writer and the main character and took it out again. This time, Jalil managed the buzz by withholding the manuscript from key readers. (After all, he quipped, these are temporary people who just think they make permanent decisions.) “The Book of Leo” is now set up at Universal, with Marc Platt as his co-producer.
But perhaps the most salient take-home points came from producer David Stanley, whose experience fashioning new twists on TV mainstays, from “The Mole” to “Pop Stars,” made him particularly apt to dispense this nugget: Forget nursing and sitting on the one big idea. There’s probably no such thing that’s unique and protectable.
“If you have a good idea, use it to get a job, to get yourself in the mix, into a team.”
Also, he and others added, you need to be a student of the biz: Know what networks or studios are looking for and shape your idea to their needs.
“Develop a twist on something and figure out how to market it,” Stanley suggested.
Despite how daunting the odds of making it here are, panelists did suggest you no longer have to bankrupt your family and friends to make a film that few will ever see.
With a digital camera, you can make something for a nickel, cut it together and make it sing. You can bypass the 500-channel universe and simply upload to the Web.
And, who knows, the tape might even help get you an agent.