I CANNOT BELIEVE HOLLYWOOD DID THAT!
WHAT’S UP WITH THE CHOICES IN HOLLYWOOD?
HOLLYWOOD LOVES THAT HOT YOUNG ACTRESS!
HOLLYWOOD DECIDES IT’S BEEN LONG ENOUGH FOR MEL GIBSON!
This is a fairly common misconception on the internet. That there’s any one way things get done in ‘Hollywood.’
That’s not true. Because there is no ‘Hollywood.’ Not in the way most people think there is, anyway.
Firstly, there’s no actual, physical Hollywood. There’s no ‘Hollywood’ police force. There’s no mayor of ‘Hollywood.’ There’s nowhere in California where you can write ‘Hollywood’ as your return address. When the ‘Hollywood Foreign Press’ enter the country they don’t go to ‘Hollywood’ town hall and register. Once upon a time, there was a ‘Hollywood’, but it was absorbed into Los Angeles in 1910. Here’s the general outline of it.
There is a ‘West Hollywood’, which is great, but its claim to fame is being a worldwide hub of alternative culture and historically a bastion for the LGBT crowd to live without fear of persecution. It also features fantastic shops and restaurants and art galleries and design centers. There is also an ‘East Hollywood’, which I only ever zipped through on my way to Silver Lake so I can’t tell you much about it. But there is no physical ‘Hollywood.’
And there’s no ‘Hollywood’ in the way people think. There’s no entry to ‘Hollywood’. There’s no ‘welcome to Hollywood’ party when you write a script or shoot a student film. The closest thing to entry is getting a decent agent or being invited to a guild. When kids who starred in their local high school production drive to ‘Hollywood’ to become a big star, there’s no place they land or person waiting there to meet them. It’s just a huge sprawling city. Sure, they could drive down Sunset Boulevard, which feels like Times Square for about fifteen blocks, but that’s about it.
And there’s no ‘Hollywood’ governmental structure. There’s no getting blackballed from ‘Hollywood’ proper. Because there is no ‘Hollywood.’ There’s a collection of studios and agencies and management companies and postproduction facilities and production houses all in close proximity and the people with the most influence among them can sort of set the tone, but there’s no fifty people who have a meeting to decide anything like “let’s not hire female directors” or “Jai Courtney is the next big thing.”
People will say: “For a certain period of time, Sam Worthington was everywhere. ‘Hollywood’ was trying to make him a star!” EEEEENNNNNGGGHHH. No. Sam Worthington’s agent was trying to make him a star. Sam Worthington’s manager was trying to make him a star. People who had a vested interest in his success were trying to make him a star, certainly. But there is never a big kumbaya where some young buck is anointed the dauphin. There is no group who decided that it was time for Lady Gaga to get an acting role. All of these decisions are made by money and personal best interest.
The ‘Hollywood’ people think they’re talking about is a collection of about 300-500 people in a wide variety of roles in the entertainment industry. These are the key players. Tastemakers, studio heads and their confidants. Bankers. Entertainment attorneys. Long-term agents and managers. Established A list celebrities who can open a movie. (There aren’t as many of them as you think.) There’s a circle around them with another 2000 people who have great connections and are more or less locked in to the industry in one way or another. Then there are probably ten thousand more people in a circle around those two thousand. And that’s it. That’s what comprises ‘Hollywood.’
They’re just a bunch of human beings, scrapping to get their product to market and ideally, make a lot of money while doing it. There are very few ways these people are connected, as a whole. They’re not one thing. They’re many separate things working in the same general workspace.
One of the things that can contribute to the ‘sameness’ feeling is that the entertainment industry is full of scared people. Dyed in the wool, straight-up always-hedging anxiety-racked people who are terrified about losing their jobs. No one ever wants to be the first person to stick their neck out for anything because betting your job and reputation on anything in a business where the wind changes so frequently is dangerous. That contributes to some of the groupthink people sense. There are a few fairly renowned clubs, where the industry elite congregate, and in those places a whisper in the right ear will start a sell-off or a hype-train. That’s true. It’s also true that the top agencies, CAA, WME and UTA can push any piece of talent they want. It doesn’t always mean it’ll work. (See: Jon Heder.)
The closest thing I can say about there being a ‘Hollywood’ is that you know it when you’re in it and you really know it when you’re not in it. It’s a bit like the Nexus in Star Trek ‘Generations.’ When you’re in it, there’s no where else you’d rather be and the fear of being out of it will make you do awful, life-changing things. Once you have a taste of that lifestyle, it’s tough to say goodbye to it. But it’s not a structural thing as much as it is anyone’s working reputation and hireability and the stability and placement of their connections.
Right now, as I write this, I’m close friends with several hundred million dollar grossing writers and directors (close meaning my kids call them auntie & uncle when they see them) and several more whose work has grossed only millions or tens of millions of dollars and there isn’t a single one of them who isn’t worried about their careers. These are “made” men and women. These are people with long long industry histories and connections and not a single one of them is confident that they couldn’t just see their work dry up.
I will say, as I always tell them, they’re not likely to see their work dry up. There is a certain place in the eye of the storm where a certain amount of people can and should feel comfortable they they’re not likely to be pitched out into the wind. But it’s always possible.
There are a certain set of guiding principles when you’re ‘in’ it. There is a certain way things are done, and that will insure that you’re not bounced out. Or rather, that you’re not likely to be bounced out. Everyone is eventually bounced out in one way or another. But if you stick to the script, kiss the right rings, keep your nose fairly clean, you can build a career. But how that career goes can change wildly based on a number of variables that have very little to do with talent. You know how no one ever votes on the most popular girl in high school but everyone can readily identify who that is? The entertainment industry is like that. People sort of agree on a hierarchy and then the studios and agencies, primarily, try to hold out the barbarians. Some people who have stuck to the script have been iced out. Some people who have been radical and earthshaking and have talent coming out of every pore are now grade school teachers in the Midwest. I have friends who are C students, who are great at a party and they’re controlling the halls of power in a studio. You just never know. Anyone can ‘make’ it with the right set of variables. Likewise, anyone can find their work dry up. Talent can only get you so far. Connections can only get you so far. Anyone can be a success and anyone can find themselves out of the power structure. Anyone. For every person with a cushy job there are always ten thousand younger, hungrier people trying to steal it away.
But in general, there is no ‘Hollywood’ in the way most people think about it. There are powerful tastemakers. The agencies I mentioned can make you a known name overnight if they decide to. Ditto for certain managers and producers. If a studio head loves you, you’ve already bypassed 85% of the people in the industry. You can gain prestige inside of a guild and certain guilds have more pull than others. There are certain shadow figures who you’ve never heard of who can make or break a career, inside of their respective fiefdoms. There are bankers that can get things done and entertainment attorneys who carry a ton of weight. There are retired studio heads who still have some pull.
But the thing that gets anything done is money. Pure and simple. If you have money, you can get something made. If you’ve made money, people will line up to help you make more of it. That’s where talent can really help. That’s also why you get some really long-term players in Hollywood who “used to be great” who lost their fastball decades ago, but still get to make horrible shows and movies. They have money, they have a network and they have influence. And people are too scared to tell them no (on the off chance that they take their business elsewhere and have a hit).
But it’s not as dire as all that. Yes, money runs the show, but the good thing is that there’s plenty of it and people are always hungry for more content. Unconventional models and alternative programming are chipping away at the foundation of the old-timey power structures as well and making room for a new way of thinking. Probably most importantly, digital video has taken over from film for the most part, so a huge barrier to entry to an elite industry has been unceremoniously vanquished, allowing more people and more talent to flood the marketplace.
And as difficult as it may seem, there are smart, amazing people at every level of the process. Great visionary designers. There are more fantastic writers at every level than you’d believe. There are great editors and great unit production managers and great carpenters. They are just all their own nations instead of being part of a world government.
People are drawn to the glamour of ‘Hollywood’ like moths to a flame. But in general, there is no governing structure. There is no comprehensive plan. There is no agreement about how best to proceed or who to hire or where to spend their money because every company is different and they’re all scrambling for funding and relevance and commercial success. But there’s no love lost between studios, generally no honor among thieves and sorry to say, there is no ‘Hollywood.’
Not in the way most people think, anyway.