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Film-Schooled

If you want to learn how to succeed in Hollywood, let Hollywood tell you itself. The movie capitol has, on occasion, turned a mirror on itself, sometimes quite frankly, and often hilariously.

Consider the recent movies below an education, with the tuition being the price of a video rental.

The Player
Director Robert Altman bites the hand that feeds him, hard. And, he gets help from, it seems like, the whole entertainment industry. The credits list cameos by no fewer than 44 stars ranging from Julia Roberts to Cher to Bruce Willis.

To emphasize the ruthlessness of the industry, Altman turns a studio executive (played by Tim Robbins) literally into a killer (his victim naturally being a writer, the lowest guy on the show biz totem pole).

We also see plenty of dirty industry politics, meet a competitor who attends Alcoholics Anonymous just for the deal-making opportunities, and discover that, when challenged to talk of anything but business, the Hollywood players fall mute.

Swimming With Sharks
This is a tale of revenge. Oh, sure, there's that in the movie. But it's more the revenge of the filmmaker.

Before making this movie-on-a-shoestring, writer/director George Huang had served as an assistant under notorious producer Joel Silver. Naturally, then, the young, naïve assistant in the movie (Frank Whaley) goes to work for a producer (Kevin Spacey) who is humiliating, cruel, abusive, and who throws things.

Eventually, Whaley not only turns the tables on his boss, he inflicts a more literal kind of torture.

The Big Picture
Five years before he skewered Tinseltown with this offering, director and co-writer Christopher Guest took on another easy target. He parodied the music industry when he co-wrote and co-starred in the cult classic, This Is Spinal Tap.

While The Big Picture goes a little too far over the top to achieve cult status, its essential mocks ring true.

Kevin Bacon stars as a film student whose short subject wins an award, and the notice of The Industry. Just as Bacon's ego begins to swell, he learns the true meaning of Hollywood: insecurity.

His project, a small artsy, black and white film centered on a middle-aged group, gets derailed with the departure of a movie studio executive. In no time, Bacon has to make compromise after compromise until his original idea melts into this youth, sex thing. And still, Bacon's career is in free-fall.

Most fun detail: the dramatic re-decorating jobs done on an office with each new studio jockey.

Get Shorty
Think you need film school to succeed in Hollywood? Or, at the very least, talent? Get Shorty will set you straight.

In this Barry Sonnefeld movie based on the Elmore Leonard novel, John Travolta plays a Miami mobster visiting L.A. on behalf of a loan shark. When he goes to collect from a big producer, the two actually hit it off (in a good way).

Turns out te Travolta character is not just a thug, he's a movie buff. A movie buff with an idea for a movie. And, says Get Shorty, when you have this and some great underworld connections, you have everything you need to be a successful Hollywood producer.

Ed Wood
What, you ask, could possibly be learned from the filmmaker universally acclaimed as the worst director ever? Lots.

But first, a quick primer on the man. During the '50s, this then-obscure director made low-grade, sci-fi and/or sensational quickies. His cult flick pantheon includes Glen Or Glenda, a transvestite movie in which Wood, who was himself a cross-dresser, starred, Bride Of The Monster, and the legendarily bad Plan Nine From Outer Space.

Say what you will of Ed Wood, he was a man who knew how to make the most of what little he had. When actor Béla Lugosi died while filming Plan Nine, Wood had a Lugosi look-alike walk through the rest of the shoot with a cape held up to his face. And if you're an aspiring filmmaker with shallow pockets, follow Wood's example: a hubcap on a string makes a fine flying saucer.

And no matter what went wrong – say one of his actors knocked over a "gravestone" – Wood just kept rolling. Nothing was unusable and everything was great. This blind enthusiasm, this demented self-confidence is infectious and will get you far in the movies.


Back to Plot Your Big Break In Hollywood

The Film Lingo Final
Build Your Own Plot
Educating Siskel
The Be-Seen Scene

Written by Rob Medich with graphic design by Dana Byerly

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