For the past few months, I’ve been blogging about my creative process, which I don’t feel would be complete without a rundown of how one becomes a writer. Obviously, by writing. But the going isn’t easy – getting your work recognized, read and published or filmed is wrought with peril. So this month, it’s about the business side of things and the traps that so very many people fall into. If nothing else, it might be entertaining –
When I went to LA in 2008, aged 18, I was incredible lucky with the people I met and the opportunities and advice they gave me. Of course, I didn’t see it at the time. I saw my bank account depleting and my chances of staying there and carving a living out of screenwriting evaporating rapidly. But Karuna Eberl of Black Bay Entertainment and a few others – two are dead now – who gave up their time and lent their knowledge out because I was young and eager and asked, were a rarer breed than I could have imagined.
The good people you meet in arts and entertainment industries are like little pearls hidden in the depths of abysmal grottos patrolled by all manner of charming, attractive and powerful looking predators. And in some cases, I do mean predators – see, Weinstein, Harvey, et al.
In my first year back in Melbourne and back in the outer rim of the creative industries, I met;
- a “film producer” who strangely had no credits and who also hung out with the Carlton Crew – the mob who were at the time spasmodically killing each other off in a massive North Melbourne gang war;
- an American-born “film producer” who had one credit to his name – a truly godawful horror film shot in the Outback – who claimed to have written Flatliners (hint: he wasn’t Peter Filardi). He has ever since been working on a phantasmic 50-million dollar movie that literally every wannabe actor in Australia has claimed to “be in talks about casting” and which every screenwriter in Australia has been in some way “involved” with, and;
- a festival director who in his spare time ran “exposés” online about a globalist paedophile cabal trying to turn everyone into gay communists and how black people in America were systematically using white liberals to exterminate Judaeo-Christian white society. He is still out there, and quite serious.
That was year one.
But the painful thing about these three and the hundred-odd others I’ve met since is not that they exist – of course any industry where there’s fame and money is going to attract an encircling horde of conmen – it’s the wannabes who flock around them. And you can’t blame the wannabes – it’s a tough gig. The likelihood of getting your novel published, your screenplay made into a film, or getting that big role as an actor are slim-to-none. It’s a despairing situation. So when along comes a slick “producer” in an Armani suit, or an American hot-shot who claims to have all the connections and a 50-mil movie on the way, or a festival director with a ton of (unknown) awards under his belt, of course there’s going to be a compromise on street-smarts among those who have worked hard and got nowhere.
Numbers 1 and 2 made their money by charging aspiring screenwriters and/or actors fees for regular sessions in which they’d sit with them and coach them in their craft – whatever that craft was. Often it veered towards starting your own publisher/production company and publishing or shooting your own work. They say they’re always on the lookout for their next film script, but instead of reading the plethora of scripts out there, they send writers enrolment details for their mentorship program and claim this is sorting “wheat from chafe.”
An aside – the number of scripts bought and books published from mentorship programs is the same as the number of actors who get gigs or good advice from casting workshops: ZERO.
The irony is, if they spent as much time reading scripts as they did mentoring writers to produce and publish their own work, they’d be successful publishers and producers.
Then you have the “big-shots” – the wannabes. There’s a filmmaker from country Victoria who has won an international award from a horror film he made some years back (yeah, another one) and the crowds flock around them and the conmen use them to get to the crowds. By working for this filmmaker, you’ll find yourself tied up (literally) in a shack somewhere, probably assaulted and told that you’re doing this because you’re “dedicated” and you’ll be a big star one day because he will. There was an Australian actor of some little note(riety) – whom Tarantino had a brief affection for – who’d charge an arm and leg for actor’s retreats where he’d teach (mostly young women) all about “acting.”
And meanwhile you’re writing, you’re meeting other writers or actors who wax lyrical about positive vibes and good energy who flock around these men who flaunt their despicable natures online, and you’re getting frustrated because – maybe because your bullshit radar is sharper than everyone else – not trying to schmooze the “big timers” gets you ostracised from the group. You wind up an outsider. And why? Because that big film conman 2 is working on sounds like a dream? Because you didn’t like that number 1 spoke to you with his hand on your thigh?
I’ll make you a promise – it doesn’t feel good to be an outsider, but the outsiders are the ones who do actually make it. IF they do. The ones who didn’t waste their time pursuing the approval of life coaches, career mentors, the ones who were working on their WRITING or whatever their craft is instead of schmoozing conmen. They’re the ones who break through. And it shows.
Steven Spielberg will slip in and out of a room without you ever knowing he was there. I spent two weeks working on set with Robert de Niro and I hardly saw the guy. Real success does not go around announcing itself. And it certainly doesn’t want to charge you money.
But what if you do want a mentorship? There’s a lot to be gained from seeing a mentor or teacher regularly – for actors especially, it’s a must. Look out for the good people –
Real mentors don’t claim to be anything but mentors. Peter Kalos doesn’t tell you he was a big film executive at Paramount (which he wasn’t) he’ll tell you the truth that he used to read scripts for them. He won’t allude to making your film. In fact he’ll tell you flat that he couldn’t if he wanted to. He’ll offer you advice. Good advice – REAL advice. And I can tell you that advice is going to be to work damn hard and probably maybe you might get somewhere. There’s no “you will” – no magic bullet. Billy Stoneking was the same – he told you to work, and then he showed you how. No grand standing. No pretence of being a bigshot.
Billy is no longer with us, unfortunately.
Look for the quiet ones. Be the quiet one. Don’t cavort with the crowd – in the arts and entertainment business, the crowd really are the lost souls.