Lessons Learned: Hollywood Style

Last year at this time I was preparing for finals and getting ready to graduate college. My plans were vague, although even in April, I knew I wanted to brave California and move to Los Angeles. My girlfriend planned to move out here, and gosh, I was going to follow her, too. I remember spending a great deal of time studying, and not much time thinking about my future. I’m glad I wasn’t more reflective, because, let’s face it, it was either blissful ignorance or panic.

The wheel began to slam down around May, when graduation was well upon our class and I hadn’t even a hint of a job offer. While other students talked about grad school or work opportunities, I had nothing. It was a recession, after all, and, well, how do you surmount bad luck?

The next few months after graduation were spent scrambling. I was living the dream in Los Angeles, but the best I could do was the occasional tutoring gig. In the fall I found a couple of part-time jobs and juggled those. I was writing, but the search for jobs in entertainment fell by the wayside. I spent a great deal of time feeling sorry for myself, which is pretty exhausting.

But that gets old, and soon enough I learned better.

I learned that I am not the center of the universe, despite what I may have thought about myself. That was a tough realization, but needful. Being humble doesn’t mean giving up on my quest to be a screenwriter, but it does mean being more flexible, more open, and more willing to take criticism. This opening up is not complete, but hopefully I am doing a better job of this as a writer and a person. It reminds me of that Socrates quote: “I know that I know nothing.” It’s about as good a lesson as any and I’m glad I learned it at twenty-three versus sixty-seven.

Patience was my next Hollywood lesson. A working screenwriter told me when I first moved out here I’d be lucky to get something of mine seriously read by thirty. I tossed off that comment when I first heard it, but I can’t help but realize how right he was. It’s disheartening, but it is a fact of life. The climb is that competitive. Not to say I can’t ever have a script produced, but I have to be willing to wait. And wait.

Finally, I learned to be unique. I was lucky enough to study the works of John Waters for a project. At first I didn’t really “get” why an anti-establishment beatnik would pick up a camera and film his friends doing outrageous things like eating dog poop (Pink Flamingos), but now I kind of understand. To be original, to be in effect oneself takes effort. For Waters that meant taking camp to another dimension, for me, well, I still have to find my voice. But I know I don’t want to be in Hollywood if I’m just writing someone else’s story. Where’s the fun in that? I have come to express my vision, whatever that turns out to be.

But most of all I have learned to live both sides. I have been the entitled college student and I have also been the struggling tutor considering food stamps. I have auditioned actors and stood on the other side of that casting table, meeting casting directors for the first and only time. I looked down on the world and now look up, and wonder what’s so great about the top anyway. Better parties? Again, it’s that gift of knowing I know nothing that Hollywood has really imparted to me.

What have you learned since college? I would love to hear in the comments.

7 responses to “Lessons Learned: Hollywood Style

  1. You couldn’t be more right. This is the same experience that I myself had gone through last year. I spent a good portion of my time feeling sorry for myself or wondering why I wasn’t getting any entertainment jobs.

    A lot of it came down to luck and persistence. But mostly luck.

    I can’t help but feel that getting a manager or agent or selling a screenplay will be a lot similar to that experience of trying to “break in” to an entertainment job.

    Fortunately, I’ve been blessed with a good job working for a great agency that has taught me just exactly how much I don’t know about working in this industry. Even though working as an assistant sucks and the pay is lousy, I feel like I’m getting to know people and learning more than I could ever have thought possible.

    Sometimes I really miss college, sometimes I really miss home. But when I think about how my friends turned out and how miserable their experience has been compared to mine (they are all stuck at dead-end jobs or “comfortable” with mediocrity), I smile a bit to myself and think “this ain’t so bad.”

  2. My college experience has been somewhat different, as the atmosphere had geared me towards intellectual, semi-pretentious fare. It didn’t make me feel entitled; it more or less confused me on the real nature of what I wanted to do.

    After securing a job, I got so caught up in trying to write things that people wanted to see, or trying to appear really smart, that nothing felt passionate, or genuine. I think it was the film Over the Hedge and Kung Fu Panda that made me realize that my truest sensibilities were never for “realistic” films, but sillier, wackier fare (albeit with a smart/dramatic flair). And while I certainly understand that getting into animation is nigh-more impossible than film, I know this is what I want to do. At the very least, it’s easier to produce online toons than get into the professional field, especially seeing that I can’t draw.

  3. Very well written…glad that you could get these thoughts out. You show a lot of maturity in your insights.

    Since college, I’ve learned that no one actually wants to take advantage of the critical thinking skills you earned in college. Employers don’t expect to see deep critical thinking out of you until you reach mid-management 5 or 10 years down the line. Straight out of college, no critical thinking required or asked for–just make those photocopies, damnit!

  4. @ Eric – Glad the job is working out!

    @ Kevin – I would disagree that animation is hard to break into. In fact, many of the big movies these days are animated. Plus, there are so many studios out here. So, in short I wouldn’t be too discouraged!

    @ ems – let’s hope that the situation changes sooner rather than later–you obviously deserve a promotion, and I say that not only because I know you and your skill-set, but let’s face it, who else can run the world if not Swatties?

  5. Jon, I don’t have the brain power today to add anything to this (I’m a little sick) but it’s a wonderful, wonderful post. Dude, I don’t know what Kool-Aid you’re drinking over there, but your thoughtful/personal posts have been ON FIRE lately.

  6. Great post, Jon.

    In a way, my journey since college has been the opposite of yours. Meaning, I have learned to move more towards the center of the universe. Go after what I want. Demand it even! I thought I would have to pay my dues and work at crappy jobs for a long time. It took me a long time to learn that I can have whatever I want in life, it just might not look the way I thought it would at first. Does that make any sense?

  7. Kristan – Thanks for the compliment! So great to have support.

    Rebecca – I admire your courage to ask for and receive what you want. I’m not very self-actualizing, or not enough as I need to be. Give me some tips!

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