How To Make It

“Tell me, AO, how do I sell my script and make it in Hollywood?”

Of all the questions that your correspondent fields on a daily basis, this is the easiest to answer. Just follow a few simple steps and your success is assured.

The fastest, easiest way into the Inner Sanctum of Hollywood (as I know from personal experience) is to create animations at a midwestern university and realize that you need someone to teach you the proper format in which to do your scripting. Take “Screenwriting 101”. Make sure the professor is a prim and proper gentleman of the old school (author of a seven volume history of Silent Film) who takes an instant dislike to your foul language, slovenly habits and lack of viable screenplay ideas. Ideas for feature scripts? I mean, you just want to do little animations, right?

Then, in desperation, reach down inside and pull out the worst experience of your life and dramatize it. Watch your relationship with the professor blossom into a true friendship – each learning much from the other. Your script should be about Marines in the Viet Nam War so that, when he reads passages aloud, the gentle professor has to mouth obscenities that he most likely has never spoken voluntarily before, and hear tales about his country that he might be happier not knowing. Meanwhile, he’ll be trimming and shaping your crude words, mercilessly making you dig deeper into your long suppressed reservoir of pain, revealing to you insights in your own work that you would never have recognized by yourself.

The next step is too easy: the professor so loves your first script that he starts a new publishing company and publishes your screenplay in book form. After a few reviews in major newspapers and the Hollywood Reporter, agents start calling and off you go to California.

Simple, no?

Well, I’ll grant you that that is not truly “selling” a script, and, of course, what comes next is not quite “breaking into” show business. The script, along with its unusual format and all those positive reviews, gets a lot of attention. Of the many things that happened next because of that nearly accidental creation let’s select three:

  1. Walking into Larry Edmund’s Cinema Bookstore on Hollywood Boulevard and seeing three copies of the book/script on the shelf. The two years later seeing only two copies. A few years later: one copy. And finally none. A complete sell-out. And then the amazing moment, in Madison, Wisconsin, of actually meeting one of The Three Who Bought It.
  2. Sitting in Ernest Borgnine’s living room as he reads the part he wants to play, from beginning to end, illustrating through performance how he would change it, and setting up the last shot of the film from the actor’s point-of-view.
  3. But, given the lack of The Big Sale to The Studio, the moment that truly stays with me is back in the Student Union at the university, nervously waiting as my professor, my friend, my teacher, reads the last pages of the first draft. He places the final sheet on the table, looks off across the water, sighs deeply and then slowly reaches out and simply touches my knee. We sit for a long moment without speaking, which is just as well – I couldn’t have managed words just then.

I have no idea how to “Make It In Hollywood.” It happens differently for anyone lucky enough to do it. But if you are lucky enough to find the words you were meant to write, pay close attention to the gifts they will bring you.

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