Hollywood 101: The Film Industry

Hollywood 101: The Film Industry

by Frederick Levy

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Looking for a career in the film business? Look no further.

Making it in Hollywood is possible. But only if you have a workable strategy. When author Frederick Levy launched his own fledgling career, he didnt' know a soul in the business. But that didn't stop him and it doesn't have to stop you. Hollywood 101 is a complete game plan for getting your foot in the door of the film industry. With fascinating inside stories and advice from key players, it takes you step-by-step up the ladder of success. Whether you aspire to be a producer, director, writer, talent agent, and any other behind-the-camera professional, this is the one book you need to turn your "reel" dreams into reality!

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781429955256
Publisher: St. Martin's Publishing Group
Publication date: 03/02/2000
Sold by: Macmillan
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 336
Sales rank: 737,513
File size: 4 MB

About the Author

Frederick Levy is the Vice President of Development and Production at Marty Katz Productions. Before joining the company, he worked for American Entertainment Investors and InterMedia/Film Equities, Inc., both of which finance and package independent films. He resides in Los Angeles.

Read an Excerpt


Reel Dreams

I still don't understand what it is you do. LOIS LEVY, author's mother

Congratulations on your recent investment. Oh yes, that's what this book is — an investment in your future in the Hollywood film business.

In 1988, I migrated to Los Angeles from a small suburban Massachusetts town. I had always fantasized about moving west to pursue an entertainment career, but I hadn't a clue about how to make it really happen. With persistence and passion, I got my first industry break. With just a bit of luck, I got my foot in the door. With a lot of hard work, I found initial success. With each passing day, I continue to grow in my field.

The path I chose led me in many directions. My education was simply trial and error. As I learned more about the entertainment business, I soon discovered my professional objective. Throughout this journey, high points and low, I sought to stay true to my dreams and never to lose focus of my career goals. Along the way I met people who offered me professional advice. They showed me the ropes and taught me the importance of networking. Today I am pleased to call many of these mentors my colleagues and friends.

I currently work in the film industry as a producer and development executive. With this book, I hope to share my knowledge and personal experiences in the business to help you make your own way in Hollywood simpler and more productive.

Most people will tell you that this is a particularly difficult and competitive business. That's the truth, but don't let it discourage you. Often, what is not said is that making it in Hollywood is possible. So no matter who you are, where you're from, or where you fit in, always remember that you can make your Hollywood dreams come true.

I had toyed with the notion of moving to Los Angeles to pursue my film business dreams for quite some time. However, I didn't know if I had what it took. Nothing in Tinseltown seemed tangible to me. I didn't want to be just another anonymous fish swimming in a huge celluloid sea. Many of you probably feel the same way.

If you have a burning desire to work in the movies, Hollywood 101 is geared to help you realize your career goals. It's for the videographer who wants to be the next Steven Spielberg; the construction worker who would rather be building a movie set than a strip mall; the stylist at Supercuts who could be coiffing movie stars instead of the folks back home; and the perpetual diary keeper whose journals should be turned into lucrative screenplays.

When I came to Hollywood, I didn't have a book like this to help me. This guide points you to career opportunities that you might not have known existed. It will give you ideas and inspiration to make the leap; and it will answer many of your questions about how Hollywood really works. It is designed to put you steps closer to turning your reel dreams into real dreams.

Don't Pack Yet!

Don't rush out to buy your one-way ticket to Southern California just yet. After all, if you had never gone swimming before, you wouldn't jump right into the ocean. Prepare for your film career, to the best of your ability, before you leave home. There's a lot you can do productively from home in anticipation of your move to Los Angeles. The more educated and experienced you are about the world of entertainment, the better your chances are for success.

Research, Research, Research

Learn as much as you can about the film business. Reading this book is a great start, but others also are worth reading, such as William Goldman's authoritative Adventures in the Screen Trade. Visit your local library and search the Internet for other resources on Hollywood and the film industry. Surf film-related Web sites and subscribe to various news/user groups on the Internet so that you can electronically network with other people who share your career passions. See appendix A for a list of other movie industry books and Internet film resources.

Educate Thyself

Many high schools and most colleges and universities offer classes relating to film. These courses range from introductory surveys to more specific seminars on topics such as screenwriting and editing. Choose courses on the subjects that most interest you and, if you already know your specific goal, pertain to your future Hollywood career. Even if the craft you're interested in — hair and makeup or construction, for example is learned outside the realm of film school, you should endeavor to learn as much about film as you can if you want to work in the business.

Most local cable TV stations and many local TV affiliates offer on-site workshops on video production. Although video and film differ in form, these courses prove quite valuable to aspiring filmmakers, as many of the same principles apply to both mediums.

Build Your Movie Repertoire

Watch as many movies as possible and develop a sense of judgment and perspective. You need to become fairly knowledgeable about the industry's end product. I've turned down many potential employees because they hadn't seen enough films or simply didn't have an opinion on what they had seen. Some couldn't even name their favorite film. Others told me the last movie they saw in a theater was something from a decade ago!

"You try never to push your opinion, because then you're pushy. If you're asked for your opinion, you'll always have one," says KristieAnne Groelinger, director of production at Jerry Bruckheimer Films. "There are a lot of assistants who don't even read the material. When I was an assistant, I read everything. That way, in the event your boss asks you about a script, you have an opinion ready."

See as many new releases as possible, good and bad, special-effects extravaganzas and art-house films, megahits and disappointments. You can learn just as much from watching a successful film as you can by watching failures. Also, rent older movies that you've never seen from the video store. Consult the lists below as a starting point.

The following is a complete list (ranked in order of importance) of the American Film Institute's (AFI) 100 greatest American movies as selected by a blue-ribbon panel of more than 1,500 leaders from across the American film community. Panelists chose from a list of 400 nominated movies compiled by the AFI. The nominated movies were all feature-length fiction films produced during the first 100 years of American cinema (1896–1996).

Every year since 1929, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences presents the Academy Awards, or Oscars, in recognition of outstanding achievements in filmmaking. Below is a list of the films that received Best Picture to date. It makes a great checklist to start or improve upon your repertoire, but make sure you consider seeing films that won — and even those nominated — in other categories as well. Several reference books on Oscar are available, including 70 Years of the Oscar by Robert Osborne.

There's something to be said about a box-office smash vs. a box-office dud. If you haven't already, make a point to check out movies that raked in the receipts. Popularity aside, there must be something about these films that kept people coming back for more. Below are the 40 all-time box-office champs to date according to a compilation of industry reference sources such as annual editions of Weekly Variety.

Finally, Hollywood's at its best when it's dissecting itself. Herewith a selective list of movies about movies: self-reflective films on the movie business.

... And God Spoke (1993)
Analyze the movies that you see. Why do certain films make more money than others? What makes a movie good or bad? What do you like and dislike about particular films? "Develop taste levels of what you like and what you don't like," recommends producer Marty Katz. "Try to read the scripts from the films you liked and didn't like, and try to figure out why somebody would or would not have made that movie." Are the characters in the movie well developed and multidimensional, or are they obtuse? Are the film's set pieces fresh and exciting, or have they been used time and time again?

Start to associate names of directors, producers, and studios with the films you screen. If you are particularly impressed with a production's costumes, watch the credits to see who designed them. Find out what other screen projects that person has worked on as a costume designer. Have you noticed that certain directors like to work with the same crew over and over? Why do you think that is? This thought process will help you gain a better understanding of the film business.

Pop Culture Junkies

Become a pop culture junkie. Read as many magazines about pop culture as possible. Browse Web sites devoted to the movie business such as Film.com and E! Online (see appendix A for a listing of sites). Watch Access Hollywood or other news and entertainment magazines on television. Keep up with the latest buzz on upcoming films. Learn which actors and celebrities are hot. Find out what's new in the worlds of architecture and fashion. Know the latest trends and crazes. Keep an eye on the box-office charts and TV ratings.

Get in Training

Training is an important element of the traditional classroom approach to learning about the film industry. In fact, it's hard to imagine a class on camera techniques or editing without a component of hands-on experience with the necessary equipment.

Local cable stations generally offer classes to members of the community who want to learn how to operate video equipment. Many of these people go on to produce their own cable access shows. Inquire about the availability of internships at local TV broadcast stations. Getting an ancillary job as a secretary or runner at a broadcast station will put you in a creative environment where you can observe and learn the business.

If you do hair, get a job at a local salon. If you want to become a set dresser, score a position at the department store designing window displays. If you want to become an on-set still photographer, start snapping pictures for the local newspaper. It's all valuable work-related experience and it looks great on a résumé.

Local Production

Many films today are made outside of Hollywood. More production is done out of state, on location, than on a sound stage at one of the major studios.

To learn about employment opportunities on movies being filmed near you, contact your local film commission. Every state in the United States and practically every country in the world has its own film commission, which monitors all local film production activities. See chapter 2 for information about directories that list film commissions.

Working on a local production is the best way to gain hands-on experience. In fact, most on-set labor is hired locally. Although some key crew are brought in to work on a project, it's simply more cost effective to hire locals than to house an entire Los Angeles crew.

As you read this book, you'll discover that the majority of movie business jobs in Hollywood are union positions. Some states have a right-to-work policy, which means you do not have to be a union member to get work. California is not a right-to-work state. It's actually easier to get work on a film if there is no union requirement. Generally, in order to get into a union, it is necessary to work a predetermined number of days on non-union productions. Earning your days on a nonunion film crew outside of Los Angeles makes it easier to get in to the local Hollywood craft unions.

Planning Your Move

Once you've exhausted all the opportunities where you live, it may be time to make your move. Like any big relocation, you need to do your homework. Plan out as much as you can in advance regarding costs, logistics, etc. Consider taking a short planning trip a few months before you relocate to map out the lay of the land. See appendix A for more information about Los Angeles.

When you think you're ready, go for it. Don't look back. And don't forget to pack this book!


Welcome to Hollywood

If you are really serious about film, ultimately you will end up in Los Angeles, so why not start here? ANGELA CHENG, literary agent

It doesn't matter whether you've lived your whole life in or near Los Angeles, or if you've just gotten off the plane at LAX. You can make it in Hollywood if you try.

This chapter is a crash course on the film industry. It's not intended to teach you everything there is to know about the business. Rather, it's meant as an organized starting place for information.

Pore over current issues of Daily Variety, the Hollywood Reporter, and other film industry publications. Familiarize yourself with names of agents, directors, executives, producers, and writers who are the leaders in today's Hollywood. Learn the names of major studios, production companies, and agencies, where deals are put together and movies are made. These data provide the basic foundation for the motion picture industry.

Film School 101

You don't necessarily have to go to film school to make it in Hollywood. Some knowledge of the filmmaking process, however, is helpful as you read through this book. Subsequent chapters discuss various industry careers. To gain a better understanding of how these professions relate to the making of a film, I have outlined the general steps below.


Before you can make a movie, you need a script. Thus begins the development process, affectionately termed development hell. Perfecting a script is a tremendously subjective process, and development can take months, if not years, to complete.

The first step is finding material. The traditional source is through submissions from literary agents. Other ways to find material are through established relationships with writers, unsolicited queries from new authors, ideas born in-house, or pre-existing material such as screenplays, short stories, books, plays, magazine and newspaper articles, old films, or TV shows.

Rarely is a script submitted in a sufficiently usable form that is fit to produce as is. Sometimes the idea is a good one, but the writing needs additional work. Sometimes the characters are terrific, but the story is too familiar. With certain material, a screenplay doesn't yet exist. Perhaps there is only a concept or a limited treatment. Whatever the case, the second step in the development process is working with a writer to improve or adapt the existing material into a workable screenplay.

Once a screenplay has been polished, it's ready to be set up for possible production. With a studio film, the producer submits the screenplay to a creative executive at one of the studios. If the studio responds to the material, it will agree to further develop, finance, and/or distribute the movie. With an independent film, the producer takes the screenplay to potential investors who then decide if the movie could be a financially profitable venture.

Often, a producer works with the agencies to package a project before bringing it to a financier or studio. Submitting a screenplay with attachments, such as a director or star, makes it more attractive, and less of a risk, for a studio or investor. See chapter 6 for more details about the development process.

The Stages of Production

There are three phases in the actual process of making a motion picture. They are pre-production, production (also known as principal photography), and postproduction. In their simplest definitions, pre-production is everything that occurs before the camera rolls. Production is the entire filming process. Post-production is everything that takes place after principal shooting is completed, until the film is actually released.

Pre-Production When a project is greenlighted (i.e., the go-ahead is given) by the studio or financier, pre-production begins. The studio or financier likes the script (and package), and they want to move forward and make the movie. The first step is to hire the key crew, or department heads. These people are the director, cinematographer, editor, production designer, and line producer/unit production manager (UPM). All of these jobs are explained in greater detail in the following chapters. Ultimately, these people hire the rest of their crew members.


Excerpted from "HOLLYWOOD 101"
by .
Copyright © 2000 Frederick Levy.
Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

PART 1 Preparing for a Career in the Film Industry,
1 Reel Dreams,
2 Welcome to Hollywood,
3 Staying Alive,
PART 2 Above-the-Line,
4 Writers,
5 Directors,
6 Producers,
PART 3 Below-the-Line,
7 The Production Office,
8 Assistant Directors,
9 Lights, Camera, Action,
10 Picture Perfect,
11 Getting Dressed,
12 Cut and Paste,
13 Sound and Music,
14 Effects,
PART 4 Executives,
16 The Studio System,
17 Handlers,
PART 5 That's A Wrap,
18 You Can Always Eat Lunch In This Town Again,
Appendix A: Resources,
Appendix B: Guild/Union Minimum Payments,

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