Saturday, May 9, 2009

Book review: I Followed My Bliss To Bankruptcy - What I Wish I Knew Before I Moved To Hollywood

Cautionary tales ahoy!

What I Wish I Knew Before I Moved To Hollywood is a guide to life in the movie capital of the world which pulls no punches. In fact, it's downright disheartening.

Written by T.R. Locke, an unsuccesful screenwriter/succesful real estate agent and sometime actor, this is the first guide which really tells it as it is. Locke describes the mentality that fuels Hollywood (it's a business first, second and last), dispels a lot of myths about the screenwriting life and the image Hollywood puts out (they're not looking for originality, they're looking for something that they're sure will work because it has worked before), and skewers the psychological mindset prevalent in Hollywood relationships (shallow, fake and 'user'-friendly).

And worst of all - it's not even about talent. The streets are drowning in talent in L.A. It's about politics, and people thinking they can make money from you.

Locke freely admits that this book would have been totally different in tone if he'd made a million-dollar sale. But as this hasn't yet come to pass, he can speak his mind freely about all the traps and pitfalls L.A. has to offer. Locke uses his personal story as a background for all the advice, and it's quite a story in itself. As a kid, he was a very gifted liar, later he became a minister and worked with Chicago gangs, then he became a real estate agent, did very well for himself and lost almost everything when the internet bubble went 'pop' on the Stock Exchange.

After having winning a semi-final place in a screenwriting competition he decided to travel to L.A. with his wife, got an agent, lawyer and manager, did the rounds, took meeting after meeting after meeting - and finally went bankrupt, ended up in a depression and separated from his wife (they're back together again, luckily). So he's experienced the challenges and dangers of Hollywood life first hand. There are also a few very entertaining anecdotes where he blows up at producers and tells them exactly what he thinks of them - not good for your career but quite empowering at the time.

The book isn't intended to stop people from following their bliss, but it is intended as a wake-up call. If you decide you can't take the kind of treatment described in these pages (and that's not at all a weird or ridiculous decision, quite the contrary), it's probably better to stay away from Tinseltown. On the other hand, if these stories don't scare you off or even help you see a way to exploit the system, you may well have what it takes to survive and even prosper there. You may not be a terribly nice person, but... them's the breaks.

In order to broaden the relevance of the book, Locke has also interviewed a number of professionals in film and music (he's obviously got good connections to the music biz as well) who did make it, and asks them to reveal the info they wish they'd known before they started out on their career. Since these people did make it to the top of their chosen field, they're generally a bit more positive, but there are sufficient serious warnings here as well.

T.R. Locke writes in an engaging, breezy style which makes the book a good and fluent read. Most of the info is relevant to screenwriters, though there's also quite a lot of info for actors and singers/musicians. Anyone thinking of hitching their wagon to a star and travelling across the continent/globe to L.A. with dreams of making it huge as a screenwriter would do well to check this book out - and it's probably even more of an eye-opener for non-American readers.

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