LAST WEEK, WHILE MILLIONS of Americans were tuning in to President Clinton’s groundbreaking State of the Union address to Congress, 16 Hollywood aspirants — mostly unemployed directors, producers, screenwriters, actors and others — had more important things on their minds.
The eager hopefuls had all gathered in Beverly Hills for the “Hollywood Career Success Tactics” seminar. The class, taught by Linda Buzzell, is aimed at helping people find Hollywood’s version of the Holy Grail — a job.
In addition to authoring the book “How to Make It in Hollywood,” Buzzell is also a therapist who specializes in working with the problems of people in the entertainment industry.
“Believe me, there are plenty of those,” Buzzell admitted. “It keeps me extremely busy.”
With a long list of people willing to shell out $ 125 for the four-week class and still others checking in for private therapy sessions, one thing is certain: If nothing else, this former development executive has definitely found a guaranteed way to forge a successful career in Hollywood — teaching, counseling and writing books about how to make it in Hollywood.
Last week’s subject, “How to Hustle and Schmooze Your Way to Success in Hollywood,” was one that none of the aspirants would dare miss, even if it meant skipping President Clinton’s address. Given the job prospects of most Hollywood hopefuls, few of them have to worry about making the $ 30,000 minimum before taxes go up under the president’s plan.
Buzzell explained that there’s an art to schmoozing and one of the best places to practice this art is at one of the hip and trendy watering holes frequented by important Hollywood types.
And you better have an elephantine appetite.
“There are seven meals a day in Hollywood,” Buzzell explained. “There’s breakfast one, breakfast two, lunch, tea, drinks, dinner and after-screening bites.”
This probably explains why it’s always been hard to get anything done in this town — everybody’s eating and drinking.
“Go to a place where there is a lot of table-hopping,” she reminded the class. “Watch it and you’ll see there are certain ways it is done. And remember, you don’t approach people for no good reason. And don’t pitch your screenplay.”
IN ADDITION TO THE LARGE APPETITE you’ll need for power schmoozing, you’ll also need a substantial bankroll.
Buzzell proceeded to rattle off a list of the best places for power eating: Morton’s, Spago, Nicky Blair’s and Le Dome, among others. It sounds like good advice, except Buzzell never quite explains how any of these people — without the benefit of a Hollywood executive’s expense account — are supposed to pay for all the high-priced meals.
A moment later, as if to dispute Buzzell’s theory that the rich and famous only populate the trendiest of places, an unemployed actor announced, “I saw Dennis Hopper in a coffee shop last week.”
And like everything else in Hollywood, there’s a pecking order even when it comes to eating.
“The highest status meal of the day is dinner,” she said. “If you’re having drinks with someone, you know they’re having dinner with somebody else and that’s not so good.”
Next to a restaurant, another great place for schmoozing and hustling, according to Buzzell, is a gym.
“You’re on an exercise bike and bored out of your mind,” Buzzell said. “What better place is there to meet people? A lot of business is done there.”
When you think about it, the idea of joining a gym does make a lot of sense, especially when you have to eat seven meals a day to be successful in Hollywood.
Another great place for schmoozing is screenings, especially if you know how to twist the truth slightly.
“There is a certain way you talk at a screening,” Buzzell said. “If you hated the film, find something, anything, in that film that you liked. This is very important. Say you loved the costumes. Find something good to say or don’t say anything at all.”
Buzzell next explained the technique of using Hollywood’s lethal weapon — the telephone.
“Find out the name of the person you are talking to as quickly as possible and begin to call them by that name as if you knew them,” Buzzell said. Once again, it helps to twist the truth. “Talk to them as if they are an old friend of yours.”
Later in the evening, Buzzell opened the class up for discussion and the students got to do their own form of networking and schmoozing, with a little begging thrown in for good measure.
I’M LOOKING FOR AN AGENT and I heard about someone named Ed Limato at ICM,” said another out-of-work actor, referring to one of the town’s top agents. “Is he any good?”
Another woman said, “I have an idea for a project. I need a producer and an investor.” Join the club.
Someone else said, “I need 27,000 feet of film.” Who doesn’t?
So while the rest of the country was still trying to figure out how they felt about President Clinton and his challenge to all of America to “join him on a great national journey,” Buzzell was busy rallying her troops with her own call to arms.
“Remember the most important thing,” she said. “When you’re schmoozing, make sure you have something intelligent to say.”
With that, the 16 hopefuls shuffled out of the class, to look for work and connections, eager to try everything they had learned about schmoozing and hustling in Hollywood.
Meanwhile, Buzzell, the self-appointed expert on how to survive in Hollywood, went home … to Santa Barbara.
For Buzzell obviously knows the truth in that old adage, especially when it comes to Hollywood: It’s a great place to visit, but you wouldn’t want to live there.