During our class’s stay at the Oakwood, the lot of us have met some very interesting characters, ranging from rambunctious actors and high videographers to bratty child actors and their neurotic parents. There seems to be an accepted truth that THIS was the place to be– LA This is where you make it or break it– and if you were to make it, it would be here.

Coming from New York, another big city, made this experience even more intriguing. New York, although it has great prestige as a city, is not the first place that comes to your mind when you think “Film Industry.” An aspiring director I came across at the Oakwood named Dave asked me what the difference was between the two cities. However, it was clear he was more interested in each of the cities’ “discovery rates” rather than my personal experience in LA compared to NYC. I was about to make an argument for New York, but then I realized how much of an influence the word “Hollywood” has over the general population. People flock to Los Angeles because of things like the Hollywood sign and Hollywood Boulevard, all elements made to make the industry look as flourishing as possible.

Each of these people– the aspiring actors, videographers, directors, and parents– all come to the Oakwood because LA is where it’s at. Some have given up eight years of their lives because of the illusion Hollywood has cloaked over the entire 500-square miles that is LA. The sad truth is that only 2% of its entire population is involved in the film business, producing an exploding culture of wannabes. This may have been the only thing I detested about Los Angeles– or, more accurately, the Oakwood. There was persistent vibe of people not only being prepared to be discovered– as so many successful people we have met in Hollywood have told us– but also of advertising oneself to an overwhelming extent. People left and right at the Oakwood, whether it was in the hot tub or the activities room, were advertising to us despite the fact that we were college kids in the midst of a hectic block. They still felt the need to share themselves to people who were not big in the business. Honestly, they were probably using it as practice for the real deal.

We Can’t Be In Love Like The Movies

As we were walking around the back lot of Warner Brothers the other day, a thought occurred to me. These façades, or sets that are simply fronts for stores, houses, etc., but are hollow inside, are a good metaphor for Hollywood. When you think of Hollywood, or you think of it the way we have these past three weeks, you start to see cracks in the façades and you begin to look behind the fronts that Hollywood has literally constructed. What you find is not pretty. Rather it is four shallow walls, empty, and incredibly dangerous in an earthquake. This is Hollywood. This is glamorous Hollywood.

The sets they construct for the movies are the perfect metaphor for Hollywood. It is a façade; a front for something that seems real and looks tangible, but in real life, it is hollow and not real at all. The stories and myths that Hollywood perpetuates seem so real because they resonate with some yearning deep inside of all of us. Thus what is so difficult to realize is that it is an industry of pretending: The actors are not really in love, the two-story house in Connecticut is a one-story set in Burbank, and when it all comes down to it, Hollywood is a business trying to make money.

To quote the Avett Brothers: “So you want to be in love like the movies/But in the movies they’re not in love at all/And with a twinkle in their eyes/They’re just saying their lines /So we can’t be in love like the movies./ Now in the movies they make it look so perfect/And in the background they’re always playing the right song/And in the ending there’s always a resolution/ But real life is more than just two hours long.”

The Separation of State and Media

It is widely accepted that film is an extremely powerful form of persuasion. While predominately known as entertainment, films have often been used as propaganda or political statements. One of the most blatant examples we’ve seen thus far was the film Casablanca. Casablanca, undercover as a love story, is a plea to the United States to involve themselves in the second world war and put an end to the fascist regime taking over Europe. This film, however, was not criticized for its lack of neutrality but rather celebrated for being such an important work of propaganda.

Why, then, was the blacklist later initiated in Hollywood? A ban which would not only prevent certain political statements from being made through film, but also to permanently fire any and every person defined as a communist? Wouldn’t this be a violation of the first amendment? The answer, as we would see it today, is that yes, this is a violation of the First Amendment. However, at the time, the movies did not have First Amendment protection, due to a Supreme Court decision that in 1910 defined film as only a business, not an art.  In the late 40s, the exception was made for a particular reason. The famous “Hollywood Blacklist” occurred during the 1940s and 1950s, the decade following the recent end of World War II. This was a time of recuperation but also fear for many people. A terror such as Hitler had not been seen so closely by the American people before and the fear of such a regime resurfacing was terrifying. Thus began the age of McCarthyism; any mention of communism was completely inappropriate and unpatriotic. While the Hollywood Blacklist was extreme, it was the result of trauma and fear, not necessarily a voluntary disregard of the first amendment.

Looking around at the various news stations it seems obvious that the government does not ban the production of media promoting certain ideologies, FOX being a blatant Republican channel and MSNBC being a blatant liberal channel. Some, however, would argue that film has always been modified by the government, and that a modern day blacklist still exists. As Jonathan Strong describes in his article Blacklisting is Alive and Well in Modern Day America, “The Obama administration has gone a step further in targeting Fox News in verbal attacks..the left has chosen to once again target conservative radio hosts Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck.” On a smaller scale John Fund describes the same phenomena happening, Scott Eckern, artistic director of the California Musical Theater in Sacramento, the state’s largest nonprofit performing-arts company, donated $1,000 to the “Yes on 8” campaign. Protests from the composer of the Broadway musical Hairspray and many other show-business people soon forced him to resign.” Do these claims prove that the blackmail list still exists? Or are these merely complaints destined to occur between two opposing parties?



It’s All About Who You Know

Though we’ve heard it time and time again, this Hollywood “motto” still seems to ring true. Networking is the buzz word when anyone we’ve met with is asked the question, “How do you get into this business?” As a student who hopes to be successful in the entertainment industry one day, this “networking” thing can be daunting. Paul Mazursky, with whom we met today found his start as an actor in Stanley Kubrick’s first film. From there it was mostly uphill for Mazursky as he found roles acting, and then writing television, until eventually he ended up writing on a feature. This kind of start has been the norm for most of the great people we’ve met since we began our trip. They all seemed to stumble into their current job through connections, working hard, or dumb luck.

 As we enter the third week of class many of us are struggling to find interviews with people in our area of interest. Most talent agents I’ve called looking have dismissed me to email and then I’ve been ignored. The only way I found my interview was in fact through extensive networking; my mother’s partner’s mother’s co-worker set me up with an interview with a production designer. How does anyone ever meet with anyone else in this town much less get a job?

 I was speaking with a CC grad who came to the recent grad night we held, and he told me his struggles when trying to “break in” to the industry. As if Hollywood is a giant castle on a hill, and the only way in is to know the king, or to break into the dungeons and work your way up. After a couple weeks of no calls, no emails, no nothing, he was pretty ready to throw in the towel on Hollywood. But one day he got a callback for a PA position and he’s had nearly non-stop work since. Once he had “broken in” the rest was taken care of. The networking came naturally as he was pulled from one job to the next by people he had met along the way.

Not everyone can go from building a door to flying the Millennium Falcon, like Harrison Ford. But it seems through a little luck and a good attitude, networking can get anyone into the business. And once you know someone who has made it, they’ll throw the rope out so you can be pulled in next.  

From Screen to Reality

Today we had the amazing opportunity of seeing Warner Brother Studio’s Back Lot, along with its museum displaying costumes from movies and TV shows. As I walked through the displays, showing outfits from shows I had watched and loved- Smallville, Hart of Dixie, Gossip Girl- I was in awe and started to realize how strange it was that something I had watched on a screen 2,000 miles away was suddenly right before me. The tangibility of the pieces gave a reality to the shows that had previously been all fictional, a separate world. As I walked outside up to Rosewood City Hall, a setting in the show Pretty Little Liars, it felt odd and surreal. Here I was, standing in a place captured onscreen as a fictionalize universe.

The strangest of all was the upstairs of the museum, which had a giant display of artifacts and costumes used in the Harry Potter movies. There was the Marauders Map Harry used in the 3rd movie, the Basilisk fang from the 2nd, a Dementor’s cloak, Harry’s robes, and even the talking Sorting Hat, which a lady promptly placed on my head. Here I was, getting “sorted”: every child’s fantasy, including mine. The whole experience was an indulgence in fantasy, which, now that it was physically in front of me instead of plastered on a television set, seemed more real.The transition from watching a show or movie on screen to being on the set and seeing the props and costumes used was a magical experience, and I can better understand why hoards of people tour sets and get VIP passes behind the scenes. It brings them closer to these made up worlds which they have grown to love through a screen. It brings reality to the fantastical.

How Hollywood is not “Hollywood”

The other day, Dillon Tanner told me his main motivation for taking this class was to disprove the nightmare that is the stereotype of the entertainment industry. Though I have only realized it in hindsight, my time in Hollywood has accomplished this unfogging the illusion of “the industry” as well. How my perception has changed:

  1. There’s more to entertainment than stars, directors, and writers – Though my knowledge of the industry jobs bridged this inane understanding before the class, my understanding of the abundance of directions one can go in entertainment was limited. The normal understanding seems to be that, upon moving to LA, you will come out either homeless, your brain decayed by months of eating ramen and attempting to write the next Gone with the Wind in your one room studio in the ghetto, or Stephen Spielberg. As we walked into the back room of the bar to meet with the CC alums, most about 2-3 years out of graduation, I half expected to walk in on a group of the aforementioned ramen eaters, magically aged 40 years and asking Clay and Dylan for takeouts. However, unless my understanding has transitioned from erroneous to erroneous, there seem to be an abundance of jobs in entertainment that I was not even aware of, and the possibility to attain these jobs. Having met with sound mixers, documentary filmmakers, small production company owners, magazine editors (the list continues), it is safe to say that there is a middle ground between bums and stars.
  2. People in “the industry” are not all assholes! – My dad’s friend, who worked for a long time in National Geographic, once advised me never to work in entertainment unless I felt I absolutely had to in order fulfill some sense of self worth. His reason – everyone in entertainment is an asshole. Well, my view may be skewed due to the fact that we have met with many CC alums (who I would tend to think are abnormally friendly), I have been struck by just how accommodating, and eager to help everyone has been. Furthermore, it makes sense. As the entertainment industry seems to revolve around who you know (and what they think of you), it seems completely logical that in order to find work, one must have some level of social grace.
  3. There are still undercurrents of creativity. Though there is an abundance of blow-em-up movies, every individual with whom we have met has stressed that Hollywood is, as much as it ever was, about storytelling and creativity. Yes, the technology often shapes these stories, but the idea that Hollywood is simply a assembly line, churning out products without any thought or creativity seems blindly elitist. Even if one cannot get over the blow-em-up movies, individuals such as Kyle Schember, Dee Baker and Tim Sexton make it clear that creativity has not been stomped out by the angry execs.


Overall, these changes in perception have given me nothing but hope. Though the dream of being Tom Cruise or Martin Scorsese (or the next millionaire exec) is clearly alive in this city, it is reassuring to understand that there are many individuals in this city finding work with enjoyable individuals in a creative setting.

Congratulations! You Failed!

I wasn’t sure what all the buzz surrounding “Florida” and “UConn” was about yesterday, but I do know that I tried to make a joke about it. While waiting for Clay to pull up our van outside the North Clubhouse, Tristan mentioned something about the tenseness of the match* and I immediately commented something like “Yukon in Canada, right?” and laughed alone. I didn’t realize I was the only one taking joy in my comment until a fellow classmate responded, “I almost made that reference. Maybe it’s better you beat me to it.” Whatever, fellow classmate. If we’ve learned anything from the countless Q&As, speakers and readings, it’s that failing is a part of success in the Media and Entertainment industry.

Most of the professionals we’ve met have discussed the ceaseless rejection they encountered at the beginning of their careers. They spoke of being fired, ignored, laughed at and feeling regret. At this point, it would seem that the most important factor playing into success is not talent or ambition, but a tough skin. Difficult experiences are a chance to learn and develop a balance between confidence in your vision and what others’ reactions to your vision might tell you about what needs improvement.

A fear of failure accompanies most grand successes. There was an underlying sense of vulnerability present in all of the success stories that many of the people we’ve met with shared. Sound mixer John Cook spent many sleepless nights familiarizing himself with the technology he was given a job to work with. Dee Baker had to explore multiple professions before he found the one he had a knack for and writes on his voice-acting site, “You are allowed failures—over and over—so long as you learn from them! You are allowed mistakes – just do your best to make it okay and remedy. Fretting over what you have no real say in is a waste of mind-space and life.”* I’m personally terrified of failure and need to work on embracing vulnerability if I am ever going to learn productively from mistakes and difficult experiences, rather than waste my mind-space and life. I think, if anything, pursuing a career in the Media and Entertainment industry is inextricable from developing a relationship with uncertainty. And if I’m right, if that really is the case, I can handle it. I’m nervous, but that’s just a part of the package.

*Ah, it was a basketball game. Thank you, google.

Content Curation: The Diamond in the Rough

Curation- The act of curating, of organizing and maintaining a collection of artworks.

Films aren’t  just for Hollywood anymore. After walking around the Warner Bros. Studio lot today, I realized just how much history there is in Film & Cinema after only one hundred years. However, the rules are being re-written; today being a filmmaker is a simple as making a quick trip to Best Buy. Find some of your friends, record some goofy moments, grab a laptop and upload to YouTube: done. In the age of ubiquitous cameras, videos are not hard to make. Obviously the quality of these videos vary; for every independent film posted on YouTube there are five stupid teenagers doing stupid things. But the sheer volume of content creation is what’s impressive, and that makes the concept of content curation even more important.

Check out this video done by Matt Quest:

For more info on Gear & Shooting, check out this article.

It’s an incredible video, something that up until the past few years no independent filmmaker would have been able to produce. Footage like that used to come exclusively from teams of National Geographic photographers. These days, all it takes is one guy, a GoPro, and a quadcopter. But how do you access these videos? How do you even find out about them? That’s where content curation comes into play. Everybody watches videos on YouTube; how many times do you actually watch Youtube’s recommended videos? Youtube’s stumbling steps into content curation may be flawed, but they’re a step in the right direction.

Consider instead Netflix’s approach, detailed in this article. At Netflix, content curation is literally a science; they use thousands of unique tags and identifiers  to label movies comprehensively. When users first sign up for Netflix, they are asked to pick some genres of entertainment that appeal to them. Netflix uses that data and pulls the most relevant films from its database, based on those tags. Additionally, users can rate films and television from zero stars to five stars based on how much they liked the content. You may have heard of Netflix’s million dollar contest to improve its rating algorithms.

Netflix is a master of curating content because it combines big data from two sources: detailed descriptions about every film and television show it has available; and user preferences, both what you personally have told them you like, but also what other people who have similar interests as you like. By having all that data, Netflix has made itself the current king of curation. And in a world where 100 hours of content are uploaded to YouTube every day, curation is king.

For more information on Netflix & Big Data, check out this article. For a more cautionary look, check out this article from Salon.

The Pervasive “IT”

The Hollywood business thrives on the stars it produces. Whether their reputations are made or shattered is no matter to the corporations or the media. The heaviest of failures is prioritized to the same extent as the most profound of successes, if not more. Privacy in the twenty-first century world has become a privilege rather than a right, as statuses and news reports are announced internationally within seconds. Actresses addicted to cocaine are advertised as much as those addicted to philanthropy; thus, a multitude “It” girls have been born. 

The idea of the “It” girl has been in development since the first actress of Hollywood took the screen. Take “Gone With the Wind”– Scarlett O’Hara, by being the protagonist of the story, becomes the “It” girl by default, despite her lack of kindness and integrity in comparison to Melanie. Even before the grand premiere of the film, paintings of Scarlett’s face were posted along the entire street that lead to Loew’s Theatre; shops were selling dresses in Scarlett’s style and selling the latest “Scarlett O’Hara Perfume.” While Scarlett is the protagonist of the film, she is also her own antagonist whose character, to me, is despicable. She is a beautiful young woman who gets a great deal of attention from many a man, yes; she also does what she wants when she wants in order to maintain her superiority, disregarding those she wounds along the way. The idea of her character being suddenly embodied by an actress, however, had powerful influence on the female population: producer David O. Selznick had received letters from those who desperately wanted the role, claiming to have the manipulative ability to steal many men’s hearts at a time, and therefore should be cast as Scarlett. At a certain point, media becomes impossible to ignore, and even actresses who play characters with the coldest of dispositions become the epitome of a woman.

This effect of the perfect woman or “It” girl has manifested in how women think today. However, this thinking has evolved from simply imitating a character (Scarlett) to imitating the actress in real life (Vivien Leigh). Vivien Leigh and Clark Gable used to be the reigning King and Queen of Hollywood for many years, but now new Hollywood monarchs with much more dramatic personal lives seem to surface every day.

Quantity of stars has surpassed the quality of stars in the public eye. Recently, the media has taken even more advantage of famous women in order to create the next story and the next new “It” girl. Girls thrive off the newest, youngest “It” girls. Consumers of Seventeen Magazine, Vanity Fair, and Vogue are influenced by any and all exposure to these celebrities who have become the latest role models. Today, we see feature articles on the revered Jennifer Lawrence and Anglina Jolie; yet, to balance out the good apples, even more is featured on actresses like Lindsay Lohan. No matter who is portrayed as the good or the bad apple, all of these profiles of women who have had some amount of success have been eaten up by readers of People Magazine and watchers of “The Insider.” The sad truth about Hollywood is that all of the apples are still portrayed as movie royalty; each gets the same amount of attention as she gets to step out of the limo, be swarmed by paparazzi, and walk down the red carpet. In my opinion, there are so many famous actresses now that appear so many times in the media that the “It” girl no longer truly exists.

Voices in the Room

When I took Screenwriting, Eric Shaw told us stories about some of the writer’s rooms he had been in. I imaged a room similar to a CC classroom: an oval-shaped table, plenty of… semi-comfortable chairs, a whiteboard, and perhaps a projector or TV. I also imagined that the air would smell like cigarette smoke, that ideas would be written on multicolored paper, and that there would be a group of intelligent writers from different backgrounds, all of whom with very little idea what to think up next. While I was wrong about the cigarette smoke, everything else about this description that appeared in my imagination several months ago was exactly what we got to see today. I saw a group of adults thrown into a room with an unlimited amount of sticky notes, forced to put their creative imaginations to work. It would be like telling a group of 4-year-olds to figure out how to ride a bike on their own and rewarding them with candy. However, this particular writer’s room had something special about it.  Something I couldn’t have predicted–and I’m not sure if this is commonplace for all writing rooms–was that this grouping of  writers would nearly cover the entire human age spectrum. Unlike the group of 4-year-olds, who would be destined to fail miserably,  these were men and women from age 25 to 65, all in the same room and working on the same project. This is a really cool idea, and it was definitely an amazing experience to be able to see these men and women at work and even share some of our own ideas with them.