More About Who You Know

There’s a myth about breaking into Hollywood that goes like this: “It’s not what you know but who you know.” I call it a myth because if that theory was true, I’d have never been hired, nor would pretty much everybody I ever worked with, screenwriters, actors, directors, singers, dancers, people from Podunk that came to town with nothing but talent that complete strangers in charge of movie or television production eventually had no choice but to hire. Certainly, being the son or daughter of the head of a major studio, or an iconic movie star, provides a leg up over a nobody fresh off the boat from Oshkosh. It’s unquestionably an advantage growing up in and around the biz, listening to inside shop talk at the dinner table, having Thanksgiving with one celebrity more famous than another. When a child of Hollywood is ready to toss his or her hat into the entertainment ring, it’s easy to phone a favorite uncle for a meeting or audition. However, once inside the door, show business is pretty much a level playing field. Nepotism can turn into a quick dead end as the fairly talented sons and daughters are fast replaced by skyrocketing Podunkers soaring to stardom. Hollywood, unlike family-run businesses that pass down control from one generation to the next, is mainly interested in hiring people that can help generate colossal amounts of money, even if it means giving the axe to their own children. There are exceptions to the exception, Michael Douglas, Rob Reiner, Jane Fonda, it would be absurd to suggest that their success came via connections versus talent. Pure numbers prove that the vast majority of stars come from parents with no connections whatsoever in Hollywood, pharmaceutical executives, special ed teachers, garment pressers, Meryl Streep, Tom Cruise, Martin Scorsese. Me? I landed in Hollywood knowing one person in the business, a producer that read one of my spec scripts, thought it good, and promised me a spot on her writing staff the minute her new show was picked up by the network for the fall season. Breaking into Hollywood? Piece of cake I thought naively, until I learned that her show was not picked up, nor the one after that, and it would be four years before she was in a position to hire me. By that point, I’d managed to land a feature film agent at International Creative Management, write scripts for Paramount, Universal, MGM, all attained by the age-old Hollywood tradition of pounding pavement, getting doors slammed in my face, rejections, broken promises, outright lies. Dissolve through a series of minor victories then major contracts, award shows, lo and behold, I became the uncle you’d like to sit next to at Thanksgiving. I had a huge office at Warner Bros., a smaller office for my private secretary, access to the executive dining room, parking space with my stenciled name, major connections a phone call away.  Unfortunately, people I helped get their foot in the door never seemed to shine once inside.  “It’s not what you know but who you know.”  If nepotism was all it took to succeed in Hollywood, every movie, every television show would be produced by a nephew named DeMille, starring a cousin named Brando, directed by a niece named Hitchcock.  Myth.  Pure myth.    

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