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Getting a 'Big Break': Cut to the Chase : Film: Despite university educations, good ideas and lots of enthusiasm, those not established still find it tough to work in show biz.

June 04, 1993|ROBIN RAUZI | TIMES STAFF WRITER

It came wrapped in butcher's paper, tied with a string, and had blotches of red seeping through. The product, wrapped like a piece of meat, was a video-taped copy of "The La Brea Woman," Rick Rafanovic's student film.

Rafanovic thought the package he'd sent out to agents and studios would get some attention, maybe help him get his "big break." But some companies failed to respond; others wouldn't accept the package.

"Some of the bigger companies that you would never think would pay attention to you . . . actually were the ones that were the most interested, most helpful and would make the phone calls back," Rafanovic, 35, said.

"The La Brea Woman" deals with murder, dismemberment and cannibalism--which apparently turned off some industry types.

"They look at it and say, 'This is what you want to make?' Like it's the only thing you want to make for the rest of your life," he said.

Now, two years after finishing his 30-minute movie and the film track at Los Angeles City College, Rafanovic still hasn't gotten his "big break." Instead he's worked on a few direct-to-video projects, is directing a play in New York, and, of course, is working on The Script.

"I do get to work with a camera and actors and creative people every day. There's no reason to be bitter because I get to do all that stuff," he said. "This is what the industry's about. I think if you plan and you think and you keep your integrity and you really remain true to what your desires and wishes are, it'll happen. Ultimately, it's a game of persistence."

The game can take years. While high-profile film schools like USC claim that more than 70% of their graduates eventually work in the field, only a slim percentage of grads get multipicture deals. And with today's economy, many don't even get jobs.

Marty Stevens-Heebner is lucky, and she knows it. She finished her master of fine arts degree in film production at UCLA in June, 1991. It wasn't her three short films that got her a break, but the Diane Thomas Screenwriting Award she won for her script "Bonny and Read." She wasn't awarded much money--$500--and her script has not yet been produced, but her career was launched.

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"Life and your career move on at this glacial pace, and then something happens--like the Diane Thomas Award--and it's the Indy 500 for three weeks. And then it's an Ice Age again, though a slightly warmer one," she said.

On the heels of the Diane Thomas Award came a fellowship at Disney, which gives her a salary, health-care benefits and guidance from creative executives to develop projects. These honors, she said, have made all the difference.

"In this town you have to be validated by other people before anyone will look at you," she said.

Stevens-Heebner eventually signed with United Talent Agency, and is now represented by Andrew Canava, one of the younger agents encouraged to build their own roster of clients.

"We got turned on to her (Stevens-Heebner) because of her visibility, because of the awards she won from her various screenplays," he said. "Once we got our hands on the one screenplay she's won for--'Bonny and Read'--it then became apparent that she was a writer of capability and huge talent."

Canava looks for new talent at film festivals, film schools and through referrals, but admits that it's a real Catch-22 for anyone trying to break in to the business.

"You need an agent to get anywhere, and it's virtually impossible to get an agent," he said. "We're all out there looking for the diamond in the rough, and they are out there."

Canava admits that there's no clear path from film student to movie mogul, but thinks that getting an agent is integral to the process.

"I'm always telling people, find someone in the world of agents in whom you believe and who believes in you, because it's not an easy road, but it's a road worth taking," he said. "If an agent is passionate about his client . . . the process of creating a career can be a very exciting and rewarding one for all the parties involved."

Christine Foster is a literary agent for Shapiro-Lichtman whose clients work predominantly in television. Her agency, too, looks for new talent at film festivals and schools, as well as in playwrights and "discovery" programs.

"What the smart person does, by hook or by crook, is figure out how to make contact with someone who is working in the industry and is respected, and then (get him or her to) read the script and recommend it to an agent," she said.

But when the script reaches the agent's desk, it had better be polished. And it better not be the only writing sample you have.

"If any one of us reads a script we like, the first thing we're going to say is, 'Do you have another sample?' And if we have to wait a year . . . that (agent) is going to have forgotten you," she said. "Frankly, the best scriptwriters have 10 scripts in their trunk before the first one gets noticed."

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