I am still relaxing here in lovely snowy CT. So I passed on a recent email query from a young Hollywood wannabe to one of our Act One alumns, Sean, who now works at Warner Bros. Sean went to the same University as the young querier, so I thought loyalty to the alma-mater united to Christian pastoral love would motivate him to do well. He did very well, so I thought I'd start the New Year by posting his responses. (I made a few editorial changes, Sean, which are completely in the spirit of your letter.) This way, for the rest of the year, I can refer all similar queriers to the entry for January 2.
Got to get back to Testimony of Two Men. Here's the letter...
Hello [name withheld],
Barbara Nicolosi asked me to email you. I went to Act One in 2002, and I
graduated from Steubenville in 1998.
So, I'm just going to answer some of your questions:
> Do you think I can make money working as a writer in Hollywood?
Only do this if you absolutely have to. It is very difficult, frequently discouraging, and if you can do anything else, you should. That having been said, we need you out here. But we need you *out here* in L.A. There are more and more of us serious Christians out here, thanks to the battle-weary first line of generous Christians who have paved the way for us, and I think we're starting to have a small but recognizable effect.
> And do you have any connections in Production Companies that might be able to hire me?
Everyone asks this question of Barbara. "Can you get me a job?" is the most commonly asked question in this town, and it is a great way to turn people off. If you want a job in a production company, save up three to four months living expenses and move out here, pound the pavement looking for said Prod. Co. job, get an entry level job making coffee and running to the dry cleaner for your boss, and pay some dues. When your brilliant but paranoid and ex-Catholic or atheist boss sees that you're awfully nice, and efficient, you'll get a promotion. Your career will have begun.
> I have a minor in Theology and I have been blessed with a wildly creative and funny mind. So I am feeling that I should be using it, as I am wasting time.
Don't waste time. You'll never have more time to write than you do right
now, in Massachusetts. Seriously. Go buy the books on Act One's
curriculum, most especially McKee's "STORY," and DO WHAT HE SAYS when it
comes to screenwriting. Also buy Chris Riley's formatting book.
> A friend of mine is sending you my headshot. I did not know if this industry was like the networking situation in the rest of Hollywood so I don't know if there are Christian Agents or how that works.
My agent is a profoundly liberal gay man. But he gets my scripts read at studios. You just want an agent, period. Send Barb or Act One a good script,[editorial note from Barb: send the scripts to Chris Riley, Director of the Act One Writing Program or Jack Gilbert, Coordinator of the Act One Script Critique Service. Send Barbara money. In large denominations.] and I mean well-crafted and brilliant, not just devout, and they might make a call for you. But *everyone* wants that call.
>I am feeling like Mr. Gibson really opened up those doors for us and we should be working on something beautiful for the world which is starving for something real-this is another reason the reality shows did so well, and ER medicine etc.
You're totally right. Narnia did the same thing. "Christians like movies,
> I might just send you my headshot directly so your people can put it into some nice binder, or maybe it might get into someones hands that needs an actor.
Again, everyone asks Barb this question. [editorial note from Barb: My "people" is currently Drew the harried, over-worked assistant. Whenever we get a head-shot he waves it at me and says, "What do you want me to do with this?" I say, "What do you want to do with it?" We are not an agency. We are not a production company. We do not hire actors as a rule (Glenviille short films, are a weird exception). Headshots are too expensive to waste sending them to me.]
> There needs to be a movie that incorporates a girl who had an abortion and some counseling conversation- this world needs to be healed. .. Good Will Hunting,which was a excellent movie, had that power where it was healing people (from abusive childhoods), and when peoples hearts are engaged then they listen with their hearts.
If you want to make that movie, it will most likely not be made in Hollywood. Hollywood makes popcorn, with the occasional art movie. We know some people who just made a post-abortive-girl-falls-in-love movie. It had *no plot.* At all. No one will see the movie. It will probably not find a distributor. It was a pro-life movie made by people who assumed that their Catholic convictions excused them from having to deal with mundane things like plot and marketing. People in America, when they plop down ten bucks for a movie, want to be entertained. Make the pro-life girl a lady-cop in a crime thriller, and we're talking.
> So I am interested in honoring the life of John Paul the Second. And he wanted the Spiritual Oscars. Maybe we just need to have an event that can give Mel Gibson his Oscar althogh we can call it another name.
It's called the Humanitas Awards. Or the Gabriel Awards. Or the Movie Guide Awards. Or the Truly Moving Picture Awards. Or the CIMA Award. Come join the parties. The problem is, hardly anyone is paying attention to our party, so we have to join "their" party, and in the process truly become "their" friends.
> Without an organized counter culture there is no choice.
Hollywood is not counter-culture. Hollywood is culture. If you want to organize and agitate for a vibrant Christian counter-culture, that is a separate calling than working in the Hollywood "system." I applaud that calling, if that's what you're feeling called to. However, out here in L.A., we seek to rub shoulders with those whom the church has abandoned to the misery and error of their ways. We try to befriend them and invite them into our lives, and hope to be invited into theirs. Sometimes, in the process, we get a movie made, but the point is the people and the relationships we make with them. "People, not projects," is the truism spoken by a lot of Christians in the entertainment industry.
There is one girl I know out here, who went to the Disney writers' fellowship, which is a big deal; she's had lots of meetings, with lots of impressive studios and production companies. But nothing has panned out in terms of her career. And she's made it farther than most of us. So, like I said, it can be very discouraging if your only measure of success is how much money you are making or whether your name is on the screen. Tehre are plenty of other easier ways to make money in life. You come to Hollywood because you love the production process. and you're good at it, and because you love the people who are making entertainment.
Having what sounds like a very devout Catholic faith, I know that you'll see in the Hollywood life an opportunity for some great redemptive suffering. But always, always ask the question: "How can I help?" before you ask, "How can you help me?" Think "How can I help this poor jaded actress sitting next to me at the audition?" before you think "I should be cast." (Even though maybe you should be cast.)
I hope I haven't sounded too cranky. Please do contact me if you have any
Oh, and one more thing... Decide what your priority is before going any further: acting or screenwriting or producing. There are only so many hours in every week and you can't be good at all of those. You will just waste time and money. But maybe you're a trust fund baby and have it to waste! - In which case I applaud your luck and invite you to buy me dinner, oh, and read my script.
Take care and God Bless you in your discernment of what's next --