Connor Neal-Contributing Writer (Off-Campus: LA Semester)
I was on my way home from church—about an hour-long walk—and was across the street from The Jim Henson Company when a man wearing only one sleeve of his sweater approached me. “Hey Bert. Come over here. I have an idea.”
It was a bizarre experience, to be sure, but after reflecting on his words I have realized one underlying reality that governs life in the Los Angeles film industry: It all comes down to a good idea.
The program I am studying under in Los Angeles requires each student to earn an internship for the semester. As such, this semester I am interning with a distribution company located on the original Warner Bros. Lot. The Lot started in 1920 and acted as the location for many films, including most of the works made by Charlie Chaplin, one of my personal favorite filmmakers.
Film distribution is an interesting business to be involved in. Many lesser-known, low-budget genre films, especially action and horror, are sent to Warner Bros. to be dispersed to multiple companies—businesses as different as Netflix and Wal-Mart. Many of these movies are made by inexperienced filmmakers, however, who make mistakes, and these mistakes result in problems—problems that we have to fix. Unfortunately, an astounding amount of said movies all face one problem that we cannot fix: the plot. A film can look fantastic, sound great and have flawless acting, but if the story stinks, the film stinks. Nevertheless, writers are constantly creating stories, good and bad, and getting them made into films.
As it turns out, LA is full of people who just want to tell their story. The problem is, there are so many people clamoring to place their own story in front of the world that the market becomes incredibly cluttered.
A few days ago I was walking from my apartment complex to my program’s classroom building, located several blocks away. That morning, as it were, I realized that back in Iowa the temperature was a wonderful 70 degrees. In L.A. that day, the temperature was a brisk 50 degrees with a side of rain. Moving rather quickly, I passed the fountain I always pass, partly because it is a Poke’ Stop, and I noticed something. In the midst of the rain’s relentless thundering, the fountain just sat there, continuing to shoot water out into the already completely soaked atmosphere. This scene made me realize that filmmakers are fountains in the rain, shooting media out into an already media-saturated culture.
This is incredibly intimidating, and it causes me to wonder what difference that fountain makes.
Well, for one, I suppose, it’s unique. And I think that’s the key. Everyone has a completely different story, and if you can tell yours well, it will cut through the rain.
During my weekly hot tub visit, some students and myself were approached by a 92-year-old filmmaker. He had been making films since he was 16. During the conversation, the man told us of all the countries he had been to, all the films he had made and all the people he knew. The conflict enters here: The man had recently had a stroke and could not remember names. I was very curious to find out what famous films he had made, and which famous people he knew. After about an hour of conversation, I walked away from the pool and tried to look the man up online, but to no avail. It was not until several days later that I realized it did not matter if I recognized his films. He had made a successful career doing what he loved for over 80 years.
“Hey Bert. Come over here. I have a plan.” Sweater Guy never told me his plan. He just kept ambling up the road towards Hollywood Boulevard. You can bring a plan to Hollywood, a plan for how you will change the world, but plans don’t work in Hollywood. No matter how well thought out, the plan will change. The most important thing you can bring to Hollywood is a great story.