Don’t Do It! Advice on How to Sort of Make It in Hollywood

It’s overcast today, which is the closest thing to “weather” we’re going to see for a few months. I’m sitting in my soon-to-be repossessed living room, looking up rumspringa on the internet, prepping for an interview I’m doing next week with Spike TV for a show called “1001 Ways to Die.” The show recently posted a message on Craigslist looking for a “Mennonite,” assuming, quite rightly, that a posting looking for “Amish” would be self-defeating. As a former reporter, I know it’s lazy to assume the two groups are interchangeable, but they’re paying, so who am I to argue?

The fiancée is at work. She teaches fitness between acting gigs, and had one of Tiger Woods’ former mistresses in her class yesterday. Not as hot as you’d think, but worked out like a pro. The mistress, not my fiancée.

My God, how did I get here?

A reporter for the CBC in Winnipeg, Canada, then a lateral move to Lethbridge Alberta, followed by a “Hail Mary” application to film school in Los Angeles. Sixteen years later, a massive mortgage, a couple of one sheets from my movie on the wall, a green-card in my wallet to go along with the sense of my own mortality that grows with each passing sunshine-drenched day.

They kill you with kindness down here. Hope is always just around the corner, as are friends with swimming pools and expensive cars.

I jog now. Have gone to couples counseling with my ex, have had my body-fat measured in a pool, have fired an agent and a manager, and have taken a modest stab at a drinking problem. I am no longer a product of the prairies.

I sold the first thing I wrote.

The Big White starred all the right people: Robin Williams, Holly Hunter. They made it with German tax-fund money. One of the producers went to jail. The movie went straight to video.

I found the cancelled check the other day. A lot of zeroes. One should never sell the first thing one writes.

So … Farm Sluts. Short film I wrote and directed for Fox Searchlight. In Hollywood parlance, this made me a hyphenate. Being a director is fun, as you get to tell people where to stand and how to say things. A few months after we wrapped, a member of the crew started to send me semi-pornographic videos of herself. I did not reciprocate.

My parents liked the movie, or said they did. Considering the comedic themes of bestiality and the dangers of internet pornography in the work-place, I thought it was kind of them to say so.

I always wanted to do this. But, being brought up in a loving Mennonite home--(See? I worked it in!)--entertainment for entertainment’s sake wasn’t anything to aspire to. Glorifying God? Okay, we’ll give Handel’s Messiah a pass. But TV? Movies? My parents wouldn’t let us watch “The Brady Bunch” because it was stupid, and “Hogan’s Heroes” was out because it made light of the Holocaust. Dad, a world religions teacher, had me read Victor Frankel’s Man’s Search for Meaning instead. Good book, not that funny.

When I was young, I met a kid at summer camp who made everyone laugh. I wanted to be him.

As a teenager, I saw two or three movies a week. I read every issue of Super 8 Filmmaker magazine at the library. I drew up story-boards for movies I would someday shoot, using friends as unpaid extras.

I didn’t have a story to tell, but I sure wanted to tell it.

I like stories about escape, getting out, breaking free. That, and two-fisted loners who play by their own rules. Those guys rule!

Best advice I ever got was: “Make your jokes plot-points, and your plot-points jokes.” Second best? “No one likes to take a shower in a rain-coat, but it beats missing the prom because you couldn’t get a date.” I mangle movie quotes all the time, and whenever I write something really funny, I wonder if I subconsciously stole it from someone else.

My producers often say I shy away from writing true emotions. But I always found that those big speeches in movies ring false. People in film should say everything but what they’re feeling. This may be why I don’t work as much as I should.

I’ve met lots of famous people. I was in the same room as Charlize Theron. She hugged me when I left. Meg Ryan once asked me if her character were an animal, what kind of animal would it be? I wanted to say “Lemur” so badly, my teeth hurt. Woody Harrelson once got down on his hands and knees on a sidewalk to do the whole “we’re not worthy” thing.

Good movies are about surprising the audience with what they should see coming.

I won’t go see movies, good or bad, on weekends, because people in social situations requiring silence, suck.

I once interviewed for a writing job on the HBO series “Entourage.” I said I’d like to write an episode where all the guys get an STD from the same girl. They didn’t hire me.

My Internet Movie Database profile was hijacked by someone. I believe it was my ex, but whoever it was, they wrote some nasty stuff. Oddly, everyone I know who has read it thought I had written it myself. That should probably tell me something.

I wrote for a TV series called “The Lone Gunmen.” It was an “X-Files” spin-off. It was the first time I ever saw my name in the credits. I watched the episode in a hotel room in Miami, where Fox had sent me to do research into the world of boat racing. It seems like a million years ago.

I was a reporter in Rwanda just after the genocide. Hollywood has no interest in African genocide stories.

I once turned a 60-page, one-hour TV pilot script into a half-hour pilot script by typing FADE TO BLACK on page 30.

I would not recommend this career.

As a general rule, you will not get girls.
You will not get rich.
You will get ulcers and lose your hair.
You will put off kids until it is almost too late.
You will meet people who think they have a great idea for a movie. They will not.
You will envy your friends.
When it all goes south, you will wonder why you didn’t develop any other skill sets the
.........job market might require.
You will despise youth, even as you court it.
You will raise your ability to self-distract to an art form.
Worst of all, you will become “that guy” and take your lap-top to Starbucks.
And finally, you will find you are either good at endings, but bad at beginnings, or visa versa.

Like me.

About the Author

Collin Friesen

Collin Friesen, of Los Angeles, was born in Rosthern, Saskatchewan, but grew up in Winnipeg, Manitoba. After graduating from Westgate Mennonite Collegiate in Winnipeg, he attended Freeman (SD) Junior College before finishing his B.A. at the University of Manitoba. Later, heearned a master’s degree from the American Film Institute in Los Angeles. From 1989-96 he was a news anchor/reporter for Canadian television, and from 1996-2005 he worked for CBC radio. In the 1990s he travelled to Rwanda to report on the genocide. In 2002 he directed his short filmFarm Slutsfor the Fox Searchlab director’s program. His first full-length feature,The Big White,wasdistributed by Echo Bridge in 2005. Other scripts by Friesen that have been produced includeTheCon Artist(2009) for Telefilm;The Alibi(2006) for Summit Entertainment; and the television movie of the week, “Plague City: SARS in Toronto” (2005) for CTV. cbc.ca Jam! showbiz