James went to Doug Chamberlin’s seminar, Mastering Hollywood last weekend and has very kindly written up some notes for all of us who couldn’t go (sob). Enjoy…
So I was lucky enough (read: my wallet hates me) to attend ‘Mastering Hollywood for Writers’ by Doug Chamberlin on 27th and 28th November. I thought I would share my thoughts with y’all. Whether you like it or not.
Firstly, I should address something here, as I feel it’s something to consider: when one looks at Doug’s imdb page, perhaps the only credit you’ll recognise on there is a co-writing credit for Toy Story 2, ten years ago. That could be enough to put a lot of people off. ‘How can a man who proclaims to know how Hollywood works have done so little?’ you may be asking.
Well, Doug points out a harsh truth: one can spend all your life working in Hollywood and never have anything to ‘show’ for it. But that doesn’t mean one is not a writer. Doug himself has pitched over 100 ideas, worked with Spielberg, Michael Jackson, Bruce Willis, Barry Sonnenfeld, Robert De Niro and others, as well as working at all seven major studios (not at the same time). It is air to say he has a good idea how Tinseltown works.
Now, let me mention that if you are looking for a good ‘how to write’ course, this is NOT that kind of seminar. This course is geared towards what to do AFTER you have that killer script, and the secrets you need to know if/when you wish to take it to Hollywood. And he lays no false pretense down: it’s not easy. Even after winning his first writing competition, he did not work again for four years. Even those ‘overnight success’ stories we hear about don’t really happen overnight. But it CAN be done.
Over the two days, the class was given no-holds-barred access to crucial insider info: easy ways to obtain VISAs, the right places to live in LA, mastering the art of pitching, how to get an agent, schmoozing the right and wrong way and (perhaps most importantly) creating your own ‘myth’ or ‘heat’. Hollywood is obviously a fickle industry, where image is everything and the superficial rules. This is what Doug was very keen to stress most of all: you need to get people talking and championing for YOU. He likened it to High School: the new kid is trying to get in with the cool crowd; to do that, you need someone in that crowd to recommend you.
I must admit, a lot of it boils down to intuition and common sense– of course, everyone knows that it is a case of who you know and those who want to succeed will. But it is nice to have those point reiterated and given some context. Plus it was encouraging (on my part) to discover that I was already subconsciously putting into practice a number of things Doug suggested.
Doug is great at telling anecdotes, from his time working with Spielberg, to a rather unfortunate meeting with Michael Jackson, to his experience with working with execs and their unsual pitch requests (‘what would a flea want?’), as well as how Hollywood has its own ‘reality’ (Did you know that in a crunch, with looming deadlines, an exec ALWAYS hires the more expensive writer of two equally talented pros?)
There were chances to participate in role-playing exercises, including pitching your own ideas and schmoozing with the other attendees (I met the 1st AD of the Phantom Menace– no jokes please). The other attendees all had interesting stories to tell (some were rising stars, others looking for a career change, a fair few animators, myself included). Everyone was friendly and easy to talk to, and I myself made a few new contacts.
The single most important lesson I took away from the two-day seminar was not the old mantra ‘Don’t quit’ or ‘Every no is a step closer to yes’, it was rather that ‘Hollywood is not as scary as it might appear.’ Doug assured us that LA is nothing like ‘The Player’– there are very few execs and producers out there looking to belittle or discredit you. They are just as scared of losing their job as you are meeting them. After all, it’s their job to find the next big talent, and they’re not going to spend their time making you feel small just to make themselves feel better. They genuinely want to know what you have to offer them, and will very rarely tell you you stink. And if they do… well, prove them wrong.
Anyway, I’ve rambled on long enough. I thoroughly recommend this course for anyone seriously considering attempting the Hollywood scene. The information here was an absolute godsend and is great for those who feel they need to have the business to sell their creative side.
Great notes – thanks James!