You're 17. Handsome as any TV star. Not only does everyone say so, but you've won a modeling contest in your native Iowa. Your parents reluctantly let you come to L.A. to try to "make it."
Brian Gross' story and eight similar tales are the focus of a new Disney Channel series, Hollywood Lives. Told from the viewpoint of aspiring actors, models, comedians and singers ranging in age from 15 to 23, the documentary series follows their quest for stardom.
When Gross arrived in Tinseltown, "I didn't know anything. That's what I learned. I knew nothing. I'm a Midwest boy who had no idea what he was getting into," Gross says, echoing the sentiments of the other subjects of the series. "I thought I would get something right away."
"Lives" director Mark Israel, in a separate interview, notes, "Brian was told he was cute, but had no talent."
But how important is talent in Hollywood?
From the Pasadena home where he's staying with family friends, Brian is ecstatic. Three months after the documentary cameras are turned off and after months of struggle and a role in a direct-to-video movie ("really for the international market"), Gross is about to take a meeting--with none other than mega-producer Aaron Spelling--for a role in a new series. Two days later he calls a reporter back to say he's about to do a screen test. He's merely steps away from achieving his dream.
Director Israel and wife and partner Willi Baronet selected their "Hollywood Lives" cast from 3,000 hopefuls and "figured that from that group" varied stories would emerge. That is exactly what happened.
Bianca Lawson, 15, of Sherman Oaks hails from a show-biz family. Her parents are actors Denise Gordy and Richard Lawson. In front of "Hollywood Lives" cameras, Bianca was also in front of the lens for NBC's "Saved by the Bell: The New Class." Mid-documentary, she makes the on-camera decision to leave the show.
"It was just too hard to balance school with work," she says. "I figure, I \o7 have\f7 to go to school, right?" So she reluctantly, and painstakingly, left her Saturday-morning series.
"I think she was very devastated," recalls Israel, who saw Lawson five weeks after she left "Saved."
But Lawson paints a slightly different picture. "I can always go back to acting. I need to work stuff out with school." Lawson says that her private school last year gave her such a hard time, she'll switch over to another to see how she fares.
Israel says he "struck gold" when they decided to follow aspiring singer Brandy Norwood, who in the course of the show landed a solid singing career and the chart-topper "I Wanna Be Down."
On the more realistic, and definitely downside, Israel cites examples of a young comedian, captured as he bombs on a local stage, and of the adventures of an aspiring model with a hard-edged, domineering mother.
"Kids," Israel says, "will realize it's \o7 not\f7 easy to become a star in Hollywood. We touch on all aspects of the business, but what really comes out is that it's a lot of luck and work."
"Hollywood Lives" demonstrates, Israel says, "that despite the hardships, these kids come away with, if anything, an even greater commitment to their art. It's a real passion for what they do, willing to bear the hardships ... whether it's modeling, acting, comedy, rock music, whatever."
Lawson, who began her career as child in commercials, many for Mattel (Barbie dolls), says she hopes her peers "will find it extremely beneficial." The benefits, she explains, include "the rawness and the pain, the good and the bad, not only the wonderfulness and the money and the glorification, but the hard work and how it does cause pain."
And no, it's not easy. "It's a very difficult process," she says. "You can't just go to L.A. and announce, 'Hey, I've arrived.' It's very hard."
Lawson, who now begins the audition process again, should know.
\o7 "Hollywood Lives" airs Thursdays at 7:30 p.m. on the Disney Channel. For ages 8 and up.\f7