ADVENTURES IN HOLLYWEIRD: Hooray for Hollywood
March 14th, 2004
Until I change my approach (or mind!) I believe that all of my articles should open and close with dialogue from a film which I have repeatedly said is a truthful "insider" expose of what much of Hollywood is really all about: (From "Swimming With Sharks." Written and Directed by George Huang, based on his experiences while working under Barry Sonnenberg at Colombia Pictures. The film opens with the following introduction):
"In Hollywood one of the fastest ways to the top is to work for someone who's already there. The system dictates that one must first be a slave before you can become a success. This can be a very demanding process. Only a few people have the drive to endure the thousands of indignities and hardships that make up the system. Now this drive is usually motivated by greed...sometimes ambition...sometimes even love. There are stories of love inspiring success over the most insurmountable of odds. This is not one of them."
Singing aloud on the 101 Freeway In October 1979... "Hooray for Hollywood... da da da da da da da Hollywoooooodddd. Da Da do do du dah dah dah dah...dah dah doh dah-dah, da da dadadada da!" Well there I and Ellen (my wife) were in our 1975 Pacer. I was 43 years young and was at last pursing the dream I had since a kid in school--working in showbiz. Taking the big jump. It was my true ambition since I was young enough to stand in line for the Saturday morning matinees with Roy Rogers, Tarzan, a Serial and most likely a Three Stooges short. I was one of those "kids" who never grew out of that desire and here I was at last!
Now I don't want to make it seem like I was totally naive. My experiences at trying to sell stories to Hollywood had already been somewhat tainted by my agent in New York (at that time Mr. Jack Walsh of Samuel French). Jack had submitted a lot of my earlier works to popular shows like "Bonanza", "Gunsmoke", "High Chaparral", etc. The rejections kept on coming in, but my beliefs in my talent, my writing being often "more" than on a par with the shows I watched, convinced me that the boys in Hollywood needed talent like mine... Yes, I was very very naive...
Still, as time progressed, and I saw more and more clearly that I was being rejected for reasons that didn't jive with what the shows were actually doing... well, I was smart enough to suspect a lot more was involved.
During that time I had also written some screenplays that were receiving excellent responses from various people. At that time Samuel French was only handling TV scripts, so I found another agent (a great old lady named Ethel Paige) in New York to handle my screenplay attempts. What I now tell you is also the truth... But to me it should have been an even better lesson than it was to me at the time. Ethel submitted a screenplay of mine to Otto Preminger. She told me that He spoke to her and said that I was probably one of the best screenwriter's he's seen to come along in the past ten years. Well, then, why didn't I get the job? The reason was quite simply that Mr. Preminger told her bluntly that he simply could not bring a "Bud Fleisher" to his investors. They wouldn't go for it. Well...! What about my talent?! A word to the wise here should be sufficient...
On with the story. Ethel died. Samuel French literally "gave up" on attempting to sell scripts. Jack Walsh's last advice to me was if I really wanted to write scripts to go out to the West Coast.
So Here I was, almost ten years after all of this, on the 101, singing happily with my second wife--"Hollywood or bust!"
It wasn't long after arriving that I acquired an agent. She is still my agent today, although she herself has moved around to several agencies. She is also still my friend.
Although I do not remember the actual date, it was around my second year in North Hollywood, my agent obtained an interview for me with a production company on the Burbank Lot. I will refrain from naming the company here. If asked privately who they were, I "might" be willing to tell you. However, their name is not important. What is important are the events and a lesson learned.
I was interviewed by the producer. He was very nice to me. Polite, complimentary of my writing. I was excited, because it sure sounded to me like he was going to give me a writing assignment. But then he told me that while I was a talented guy, he could probably only pay me but not give me credit for the work. Why?--because it was to be a TV movie "of the week" as we called them in those days. My name was not on a so-called A list and only "A-listed" writers were acceptable to the networks. Was I pissed off!
I rejected the whole idea, went home and called the WGA and the Los Angeles District Attorneys office! I WAS PISSED! I inquired of the DAs office is such a thing were legal. Some nice young guy there felt it might definitely constitute a violation of some anti-trust laws and asked me to obtain a copy of that list for him.
What about the WGA? Upon my first initial contact with them another guy spoke to me and seemed to readily admit to his (and others) knowledge of this "A list." I expressed my indignation and criticism that any union supposed to be helping its members could possibly justify the inequity of such a thing! I asked him for a copy and he told me to get back to him in a few days...
I did... this same person from the WGA then tells me that he "checked around" and nobody seemed to know about this "A List" or where it could be obtained, even if it did exist.
You getting the idea out there wannabees?
The DAs office, in the meantime, essentially expressed their attitude that unless they had a copy of the list, along with some strong evidences of its implications, they basically could do nothing about it.
So, after weeks of laboring over this injustice (and I still feel it is unjust), I decided to drop the matter and "get on with it." And I did...
("Swimming With Sharks" concludes with the following dialogue as the main character is giving genuine advice to a wannabee in show business):
Dialogue from "Swimming With Sharks" Written and Directed by George Huang.
(Dialogue stated by the initially disappointed main character when on his first day on the job, he sees what is going on inside the "real world" of show business).
"This is no way to run a business"
(The response he gets from the experienced man breaking him in on his new job at the studio):
"Uh uh! First mistake. This is not a business. No rules here. Save that Candy-striped crap for the Wall Street Wimps. This is show business. Punching below the belt is not only all right--it's rewarded"
(And the final concluding VO in the film: "Let me tell you something, Jack. Everyone is gonna want to give you the same advice. Tell you that you have to pay your dues...ask you for a favor. They all want you to play by the rules--their rules. Well save that candy-striped shit for the Wall Street Wimps, because this town is a jungle. This is your inner city. These are the mean streets, and the only interests that you need to protect are yours. And the only needs that you have to serve are yours."
Let he who hath and ear hear...