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Be persistent, not pushy

When does tenacity turn into stalking for making a pitch? Hollywood insiders offer tales from the 'big break' files.

September 14, 2003|Linda Stuart | Special to The Times

Hollywood. Tinseltown. A place where celluloid dreams are wonderfully realized and callously squashed like a stray cat under the wheels of a Hummer on Rodeo Drive, as its Ray-Banned driver pitches a movie idea to Neal Moritz.

For every Kate Hudson who ascends to stardom seemingly with nary a struggle, there are countless other young actresses hanging out at Sky Bar, sending out 50 head shots a day, and they can't get an agent to return their calls. Would-be screenwriters nurse their hopes sipping quadruple espressos on Melrose and Sunset with laptops open on cafe tables, trying hard to look cool while pounding out yet another rewrite of a scene that probably no studio executive with the authority to do anything about it will ever see.

Hollywood can be a tough-as-nails, slit-your-wrists kind of town, yet there has been no shortage of Ivy League MBAs photocopying scripts in the mailrooms of CAA, ICM and William Morris, and law school grads accepting big pay cuts just to answer phones or take dictation on the lots of Paramount, Warner Bros. and Universal.

But it's not easy to get a break and survive in Hollywood -- to get that crucial foot in the door in one of the most cloistered businesses in the world. You've got to e-mail resumes, fax resumes, compose cover letters that don't get ignored, shell out close to a hundred bucks to buy the Hollywood Creative Directory so you know whom to call and where, but your phone just isn't ringing. You're calling, writing, interviewing, sending thank-you notes, following up on any lead you can find, yet you're watching reruns of "Mannix" on Tivo at 3 in the afternoon instead of working on a movie set.

So you make more calls, send more resumes and keep pushing, but you keep hitting the same wall. You're turning people off by calling so many times, but if you don't call, how can you get a job? If you don't keep your name on that phone sheet, you're dead.

You must be aggressive and tenacious, but how much is too much? What is calling too many times? How can you consistently keep your name on the desks of agents and executives without their telling their underlings, "Oh, no. Not her again. Tell her ... tell her I'm in Guam. Tell her I'm dead. Just get rid of her!" Barring insanity, where is the fine line between persistence and harassment?

"People all over the country are trying to find their way into Hollywood," says Brent Weinstein, an agent at United Talent Agency. He recalls an incident in which a woman called to submit her screenplay, only to be told that the agency doesn't accept unsolicited material from unrepresented writers. "Then she showed up in our lobby with not only her screenplay but with drawings and a cassette tape, telling our receptionist that Jeremy Zimmer was expecting her."

Such an "egregious violation of our policy" prompted Weinstein, who at the time was an assistant to the agent Zimmer, to politely confront the woman, requesting that she leave her materials at the desk. Then he sent her a note, "explaining our policy, and that her materials are being returned unread and unconsidered. I never resent or disrespect someone trying everything to be successful," but when they push too hard, "I do tell them that this process is not going to work out."

To Peter Guber, veteran producer and former studio chief, persistence and tenacity must be measured. "You must be elegant. Elegance is being able to find a time to present one's case effectively and uniquely." Guber stresses persistence with "a style and appreciation for the other person's challenges and problems, and being bombarded with so many people who want his or her attention. People must give you permission to intercept, connect and involve themselves with you."

If someone he doesn't know calls his office repeatedly, Guber simply instructs his assistant to politely say, "We're not going to respond." He adds: "We design our company to serve our interests, not theirs. You just don't return their calls. Then they go on to tell other people, 'Oh, that guy's a no-good bum,' but that's their problem."

Manager-producer J.C. Spink advises learning the interests of a person you're targeting, then sending a gift. "There's a famous story," he relates, of someone "who kept calling film producer Brian Grazer and finally sending him a surfboard because he knew Brian was an avid surfer. And Brian took a meeting with him." But Spink advises against pushiness. "The worst thing you can do is call every day. Just because you're suddenly on someone's radar doesn't mean that you start harassing them."

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