Keith's Rules for
Suriving in Hollywood
Or "Things I learned the hard way"
RULE #1: ANY PRODUCER WHO WON'T SPRING FOR LUNCH IS A BIG FAT PHONY.
If this guy can raise five million dollars to make your movie, then why the hell can't he spring $12.99 for your tuna melt?
RULE #2: ANYONE WHO TALKS ABOUT "PALETTE" IS A BIG FAT PHONY.
For those of us who didn’t go to film school, a film's "palette" is the combination of dominant colors. It's also the favored conversation topic of anyone who doesn't know what they're talking about, since they can never be wrong.
e.g."I feel red is so precious don't you? And Blue is so overused. I do like Green, however. But Burnt Umber would have been a stronger choice."
If anybody starts talking about palette, run away.
EXCEPTION: Production designers, who are supposed to worry about this sort of thing.
RULE #3: ANYONE WHO TALKS ABOUT WHO THEY KNOW IS A BIG FAT PHONY.
If they're name dropping, then they're trying to impress you. And if they really know Tom Cruise and Lady Gaga, then why the hell are they trying to impress some peon like you?
RULE #4: ANYONE WHO TALKS ABOUT THEIR CREDITS FOR MORE THAN THIRTY SECONDS IS A BIG FAT PHONY.
People with a real resume can condense it into one sentence.
e.g. "I'm the guy who directed STAR WARS. Maybe you've seen it?"
If it takes them more than thirty seconds to explain who they are, then they aren't.
RULE #5: ANYONE WHO TALKS ABOUT CREDITS YOU CAN'T CHECK IS A BIG FAT PHONY.
The following credits can be easily checked in a few seconds on the Internet Movie Database, IMBD.com:
"I am the guy who directed..."
"I am the guy who wrote..."
"I starred in...."
On the other hand, the following credits are completely unverifiable, and a sure sign that the guy claiming them is a Big Fat Phony (BFP):
"I'm the guy who gave so-and-so the idea for..."
"I originally set up the deal for..."
"I'm the guy who introduced so-and-so to what's-his-name."
"I'm the guy who came up with that line from...."
"I'm the guy who gave what's-his-name his big break"
RULE #6: DON'T WAIT FOR YOUR BIG BREAK
Instead, go ahead and make your own little breaks. Want to shoot a movie? Don't wait for someone to hand you a hundred million dollar budget. Instead, scrape together a friend with a video camera, some actors, and a Mac for editing. Then go shoot a five minute film.
RULE #7: HANG OUT WITH DOERS, NOT TALKERS
If your friends are always talking about the great movie that they're going to shoot someday, the important book that they're going to write, or the hit song that they're going to sing-- dump them. Find friends who are actually shooting short movies, writing stories, and singing in a band. In doing this, be sure to observe RULES 8-12.
RULE #8: DO A GOOD TURN WHEN YOU CAN
Because Lord knows, you're going to be calling in favors from all your friends down the road. Need someone to recommend a screenplay to an agent, do makeup on your film, or just move heavy lighting equipment? It helps if you already took care of their cat, gave them CPR, and moved their refrigerator.
This rule can be also be substituted against RULE #10, and must be balanced against RULE #11.
RULE #9: NETWORK WITH FOLKS ON YOUR OWN LEVEL
It seems like everyone in LA is trying to network “up”. They want to run into Tom Cruise at the grocery store and convince him to be in their next movie, they want to hang out with Spielberg and pitch him a script, etc.
The trouble is, those people don’t need you. They’re already inundated with offers, so why do they want to perform in your little movie, or read your script?
You are much better networking with folks who are close to your own level. Folks that won’t just be helping you out, but who will be helping themselves at the same time. You probably can’t get the power agent to read your script. But his assistant who’s about to make agent will be hungry for material. After all, he’s looking to find his first client. For the same reason, you probably can’t get a high powered casting director to round up actors for your feature. But her hungry assistant may be willing, because he really needs his first casting credit on a feature film.
So when networking, don’t always think about what the other guy can do for you. Think about what you can do for him.
RULE #10: NO MONEY? TRY FOOD!
If you don't have enough money to pay people, at least try to show your appreciation with food. Buying your DP lunch while you work on the shot list is a cheap way to say "thank you". Similarly, good food on the set is a MUST. If you've got folks giving you their time for free, then the least you can do is feed them well.
RULE #11: IT ONLY TAKES ONE PERSON TO FUCK UP A MOVIE
So don't cast your best friend, even though he can’t act, or let your sister DP even though she doesn’t know how to use the camera. That kind of favor can fuck up a film, and worse, ruin the hard work that everyone else puts into it. Which means that the talented and smart people from the crew won't work with you in the future.
RULE #12: 90% OF EVERYONE IN LA IS AN INCOMPETENT BOOB
So when someone tells you that he/she is a great DP/Writer/Actor/Musician, DON'T BELIEVE THEM. Ask to see a demo reel or script. And even then, make sure that it's actually theirs.
A corollary to this is RULE #13.
RULE #13: FIND A WAY TO PROVE YOU CAN DO IT
Write a script, direct a short, compose a score. Whatever it is that you want to do, prove that you can do it on a small scale so that people will believe you can do it on a big one.
(See RULE #6.)
RULE #14: BE NICE, SMILE AT EVERYONE.
I know, the odds are good that the person you're facing is either a phony (see RULES #1-5), an idiot (see RULE #12), or a hopeless talker (see RULE # 7). However, he just might be a kindred spirit that will make your life out here a lot more fun. And you never know. That fat guy you're sneering at might just be an agent.
RULE #15: ASK PEOPLE WHAT THEY DO.
People like to talk about themselves. So stop bragging about yourself long enough to ask the other person what they do for a living, and what their hopes and dreams are. You might find out that you can help each other, or that they're a fun person who will make your life more interesting.
RULE #16: LIFE IS SHORT, YOUR TIME IS VALUABLE. TREAT IT SO.
Don't waste your own time, and don't let anybody else waste it for you.
RULE #17: FREE OPTIONS: BAD IDEA.
Yeah, I know. Some guy out there is telling you, "I really love this script, and I can get it made if you'll just give me a free option for a year or two..."
Stop right there. If this guy really has any chance of raising $3-5 million dollars to make your movie, then why won't he spend $10K now to secure the rights?
When someone asks for a free option, what they are really saying is "I have so little faith in my ability to get this movie made, that I am unwilling to risk A SINGLE DOLLAR of my own money on it." Think about that, and don't let your desperation get the better of you.
You can't get your work in front of the right people if it's tied up with the wrong ones.
RULE #18: AGENTS DON'T READ SCRIPTS.
It's one of the weird facts of life out here. Your agent will never read any of your scripts. Yes, he will give you notes on your script. Yes, he will call producers and tell them how much he loved your script. But he will never actually read it.
At best, he will read a one paragraph summary written by some underpaid wanna-be rockstar that he pulled off the street to write coverage.