Hollywood’s Buzz Factor
We live and die by the buzz.
After years of living around, behind and within what people with Phd’s call the “Hollywood System”, I have become continuously entertained by how buzz works, the decisions people make because of it and how stupid it really is.
But like they say, if you can’t play the game you might as well eat a pack of glue sticks. And since I can’t stand the taste of glue sticks, I opt to play the game.
What I perceive the game to consist of is a chain reaction of events that almost always ends in a check in someone’s bank account. These chain reaction of events, all connected to buzz, can be illustrated as follows (I will use a writer as an example):
1. Writer moves from middle America to Los Angeles with one script in his backpack. He knows no one, has no connections or family in the business and finds a one-bedroom apartment in the noisy part of Hollywood. He is, for all intents and purposes, not an amazing writer and not a horrible writer. He is, just, plainly…a writer.
2. Plain ‘ol midwestern writer decides it can’t hurt if he sends a hundred query letters to agents around town. But he decides he’d better make a good story about himself, since the real one about growing up in a rich family in a mansion by the Mississippi won’t work. He becomes, the underdog. A writer who has arrived in town with nothing except for the clothes on his back and one single script. He comes from a poor family and had to live on the street and whore himself out just to get the money for the bus ticket to Los Angeles. This script represents his last chance.
3. Agencies around town get plain ‘ol midwestern writer’s letters. Fascinated, about 10% of those receiving the letters call to follow up. In their heads they think, boy what a story this will be if this script is any good at all. Agents out at dinner and drinks tell the story of the poor, abused writer who had to live in a box on the street and was almost run over by a truck and spent six months unaware of who he was in a state hospital, penning the script while he lay unconscious. The more the story is told, the better it gets. Now, our midwestern sob story is handicapped, disfigured by the accident that sent him to the abusive health department prison, where he penned the script as the only way to keep himself alive. People all across town are hearing the story about The Elephant Man from Mississippi and they are intrigued.
4. Meanwhile, our simple ‘ol writer friend’s phone has been ringing off the hook. He meets up with agents and managers for lunch and drinks and they promise him the world. Because, this script, they tell him – is going to set the town afire. This has no bearing on the fact that they’ve never read the script. But no matter, Elephant Man from Mississippi is on his way.
5. The script goes out as a spec script two weeks later. The buzz and excitement feed the bidding war for his story about a guy and his friend who take a road trip across the country while coming into contact with colorful characters and crazy (bathroom-humoresque) situations. People on tracking boards are calling it the funniest script since Road Trip and some compare it to Harold and Maude.
6. The bids come in high. Very high. Studios are chomping at the bit, offering up $450,000 against $900,000. The entertainment trades are poised, ready to write the article about the gimp from some backwater county, his bout with depression, abuse and being locked away in a four-walled padded cell and finding the passion and drive to write a light-hearted script about two guys driving in a car. The script sells for exactly what everyone expected. $500,000 against $1 million dollars.
7. Our writer friend collects his money, gives his percentages to the managers and the lawyers and the agents and buys himself a wonderful car, a great house in the Hills and sits there. Waiting. And waiting. And waiting. Months go by. He has meeting after meeting where all anyone wants to know is what his next amazing script will be. He has no ideas, but gravitates towards a script about two guys who decide to hop aboard a plane as stowaways and visit all the crazy places they’ve only heard of in books.
8. Back at the studio who is now $500,000 poorer, they have realized that although the story behind the script is great, the story within the script is average. In fact, it’s just like a script they bought last year for $45,000 about two guys on a road trip, driving across America.
9. Our writer friend has no more ideas, and so he eventually sells the house and moves back in with his parents in their 20,000 square foot mansion on the Mississippi where he takes over his daddy’s business selling wood to contractors.
As for the company who purchased the script, well, the script still sits there on the shelf of the development department, waiting for some new executive to try his hand at notes, or get some piece of talent attached to it. But until J. Lo is interested, it’s just going to sit there collecting dust.
In the end, it’s not about the story within the script that sells it… It’s about the story surrounding the script. It’s about the buzz one person can create for themselves whether they be a writer, director, producer or actor. It’s about you.
If you’re intriguing, anything you do will be.