The first step towards getting somewhere is deciding you are not going to stay where you are
Back in March I applied to a week-long program run by the American Pavilion called the L.A. Intensive Student Filmmaker Program that would allow me to spend 9 days learning the ins and outs of the entertainment industry. Admittedly, I was a bit skeptical that I would be one of the chosen few participants, but April rolled around and I received my acceptance letter. So this was it- I was headed out to Los Angeles to continue chasing my dream.
I landed on the afternoon of August 3- the L.A. sun welcoming me in and after a death-defying ride to UCLA, I was ready to begin. The first two days consisted of introductions to the other participants and to the city itself. We had come from all over the world, but fell into step with one another rather quickly. There’s something to be said about being surrounded by a group of individuals who share the same dream. Individuals who know what it is like to want to try a hand at one of the hardest businesses around. Individuals who understand that although this business is greedy, fickle, unpredictable and gluttonous, it is also passionate, creative, thrilling and rewarding. An undocumented understanding between nine individuals, the understanding that although this business creates a life full of bumpy rides, there is no other business that could elicit such passion and the choice to chase this life is a non-decision. So together, we spent eight days reaffirming our decision to “make it” in Hollywood.
These nine days gave me the opportunity to reaffirm my passions and I am so thankful to have been given the opportunity. I lived the business for a week and a half and it was hard to allow that experience to end. For a business that is notorious for preying on the weak, I felt ready to take on the challenges.
The program could not have kicked off in a more successful fashion. On Monday we ventured to FOX where we were given a private tour of the studio lot. This was a particularly special tour, as the FOX lot is not open for public tours. For me, this was the highlight of the week. It was great to have an opportunity made available to us that we would not otherwise have; but perhaps the real reason is because during the tour we happened to walk right by one of my favorite actors, Jake Johnson, from New Girl. We also caught a glimpse of the young actor who plays Manny on Modern Family as he was being driven around the lot in a golf cart.
Continuing our celeb-spotting spree, we moved on to Sony ImageWorks. As luck should have it, we ran into Bill Hader, Anna Faris and Benjamin Bratt who were on hand for the Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs 2 press junket.
Tuesday began with a tour of Universal, which I always find to be quite a fun studio lot. Although I’ve been here numerous times, it provides a very interactive view of filmmaking and is an experience I will never tire of. Following Universal was a tour of Mole Richardson, the go-to lighting supply company in Hollywood. I have never been much a fan of lighting (perhaps because it is not a strong suit of mine) but I enjoyed the demonstrations, as they perfectly exemplified how important lighting and cinematography are to the moviemaking process. I certainly developed a new appreciation for the field.
Wednesday we began the day with a roundtable discussion that was comprised of a group of young, emerging filmmakers. Their first film is currently making its rounds among the festival circuit and I found their discussion to be the most captivating, above all others. This is a group of three individuals not much further ahead in their careers than any one of us. Although they have a successful film under their belt, I got the feeling that they have as much figured out about this business as I do, which isn’t much and that is refreshing. There was an unspoken reassurance that it’s okay not to have everything figured out, it’s okay not to understand this business because success will still find you if you’re dedicated enough.
Following a tour of the Sony Post Production studio, we had a roundtable discussion with Ty Warren, the SVP of Legendary Films; the production company that has brought you films such as The Town, 300 and The Hangover, among others. As someone very interested in the producer role, I was quite enthralled by Mr. Warren’s discussion. His position is certainly something to be desired and we were incredibly fortunate to have been given the opportunity to speak with him.
As the day gave way to night, we were ushered back out to the Screen Actor’s Guild where we were given a private screening of the film Feeding Mr. Baldwin, followed by a discussion with the cast and crew. For as incredible as the talks were with the industry big-wigs, these were the moments I appreciated most- sharing time with those who, in one way or another, are just like us. One could easily have swapped out panel members and the experiences would have been the same; although this cast and crew had Hollywood work under their belt, I could still see the stars in their eyes- they were still fully in this business for the passion and wanted nothing more than to share that passion with us.
Thursday we began the day with a very special opportunity that gave us a true insider’s look into the industry. An event never open to the public, but given to us so we may truly experience what it is like to be a part of this world. Unfortunately I cannot share any more details, but know that it very successfully opened my eyes to the inner workings of the industry. After an afternoon of panels, we were treated to a viewing of the four winning films entered into the Cannes Film Festival Emerging Filmmakers Showcase. Four very different films were showcased, all very poignant in their own ways. Again, there was the experience of feeling not so far away from the success that was put before us. Following the showcase, we attended a reception that allowed our group to network with members of the industry. I was very graciously introduced to an individual quite influential in the PR world and I’m looking forward to seeing what kind of doors that opportunity will open.
For me, Friday was the day that best exemplified exactly what it would be like to live in this industry. We traveled to Asylum films where we were treated to a tour and a question and answer session with the founder of the studio. Following that, we headed over to the Warner Bros. lot, which happens to be my personal favorite. A number of my favorite films and television series have been shot here and it is always interesting to see how the sets change from year to year. (The highlight for me was my visit to the Pretty Little Liars set, otherwise knows as Rosewood.) While on the lot, we met with Donald DeLine, an incredibly influential and successful producer. As pointed out to us, we will likely never be in the same room as him again unless we ourselves become equally as successful. Although the conversation was short, it was a humbling experience to share 15 minutes of time with him. After the meeting, we headed over to a soundstage for a taping of a new CBS show called “Mom”, starring Allison Janney and Anna Faris. I have been in a studio audience before, but never for a sitcom and it was quite the experience. It takes approximately 6 hours to shoot a 22 minute episode and my attention was captured the full 6 hours. I like to say I have a fairly good idea of how things run on a television set, but it was so interesting to see it played out before my eyes. It is definitely something I would like to experience again, perhaps from the other side of the stage.
Saturday was our last day as “professionals” and after a full day of panels, we were treated to Oscars Outdoors, which is an event held by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and again, privy only to those in the industry. Every Friday and Saturday, the Academy screens a different film and we were treated to the Bollywood film, “Monsoon Wedding”. To go along with the theme, a woman was giving out henna tattoos so all of the girls in the group decided to have our hands decorated with traditional Indian artwork.
Sunday, after a final group breakfast, we all went our separate ways. Some stayed on for an extended vacation but I was off to LAX, headed for home. Going into this, I knew I would be gaining experiences some could only dream of, but I never anticipated walking away with eight new friends. Friends who share the same passions and desires and who want this is badly as I do. As I’ve put it once before, there are individuals who are in it for the love of the game, not just the love of the fame. I don’t know where this journey will lead me, but I’m excited about the prospect of finding out and can only hope it will turn out the way I wish it to and why shouldn’t it? After all, Hollywood is a big fan of a happy ending.