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There Are 3 Ways To Break Into Hollywood And I Didn’t Use Any Of Them by Dr. Ken Atchity


Film Courage: What key steps did you take
to go from being a tenured professor? Most people would do many things that aren’t
good to be in those shoes. I’m sure first of all you had to deal with
social pressure, people were probably trying to talk you out of it…maybe not? What steps did you take? Dr. Ken Atchity, Author/Film Producer: Well…in
retrospect you can always make it look more planned and logical than what it was at the
time. But I basically…I ran into a very inspiring
many whose name is Norman Cousins who was the editor of Saturday Review world of those
days and he came to speak in a class of mine at Occidental College and it turned out we
shared a motto that no one else in the world had ever heard of and that motto was a single
sentence by the Spanish philosopher [José] Ortega y Gasset that said “I think the only
immoral thing is for a being not to use every instant of its existence with the utmost intensity.” And I had never heard anyone else quote that
but after his talk in my class I asked him to come to my office and I showed him that
it was framed above my desk and so needless to say we bonded and long story short I asked
him what I should do when I grow up which I asked male authority figures all my life
basically and he told me after we got to know each other that I should consider the entertainment
business because it was much broader than the academic world and people can basically
do whatever…anything creative you’re encouraged to do basically. You can find your own way. There are no rules and schedules and all of
those kind of things that we find in academia. And I love academic you know? The world and the ideas that are exchanged
and all of that. But it was restricting and it was (for me)
suffocating. Which is a word that means a lot to me personally. It’s my most ancient nightmare being suffocated
and I’ve never been suffocated in the entertainment world. I’ve been terrified a lot but not suffocated. And so he encouraged me and I thought well
I don’t know anything about the entertainment world other than movies and that’s it. And he showed me a passage from a book by
William Goldman that I hope everyone knows called Adventures in the Screen Trade. And the passage was that the only important
rule in Hollywood is that nobody knows anything. And I thought “Wow? That’s good. It means it’s a level playing field so I
set out to learn as much as I could. And I realized that I wasn’t 18-years-old
in the mailroom at William Morris and I wasn’t infinitely wealthy and I didn’t have relatives
in the film business so those are like the three ways to get into business (normally). So I thought I just have to be smarter and
so I started reading contracts. I remember a producer (I’ll never forget)
asked if I could read the distribution contract and he said “Yeah, I can let you read it
but I can’t let you take it out of my office. You can go out of the room and have a cappuccino…do
that.” So I read and I came back an hour later and
I said “I’m confused about some things I read here? Can I ask you a couple questions?” And he said “Sure.” And I said “This paragraph number 48 in
the fine print section in the end said the accounting terms used in this agreement shall
be redefined by the 21th Century Fox accounting department at such time if any that litigation
is entered into at such time if any that litigation is entered into among the parties. And I said “What does that mean?” And he said “That is not in there?” And I said “It is, let me show you.” And I showed it to him. And he said “I can’t believe that that’s
still in there? My attorney should have crossed that out.” He had just signed the agreement?” And I said “Well they didn’t.” So that’s how I started learning by reading
contracts because I think whatever kind of thing you’re trying to do if it’s successful
ends up being a bunch of contracts. So you might as well start backwards with
the contracts and long story short while I was preparing myself that way over a 6-month
period. I came up with an idea that I sold basically
on a wing and a prayer not knowing how to do it but it ended up being over the next
12-months 16 movies that I was completely in charge of and raised half the money from
Warner Brothers and half the money from a company in Canada and went to Montreal and
shot them all (back to back meeting). One movie ended on Friday and the next movie
ended on Friday and it was a series of romantic comedies. And it came out of my teaching romantic literature
and teaching publishing because a visiting publisher was talking in my publishing class
and he was telling us what goes on the cover of a romance novel and I realized as he listed
the things that were on the cover that he was basically reciting the rules of courtly
love that I was teaching in another class that were written in the 12th century by Andreas
Capellanus (the Chaplin of Marie de France) and I thought so maybe romance novels that
everyone makes fun of are just an extension of these ancient courtly stories (these love
stories). So I came up with the idea of doing a series
of movies that imitated these love stories and were marketing friendly because they all
had colors so you could put all of the DVDs on a shelf and they would form a rainbow. So they were all called things like The Rose
Cafe and Sunset Court and Indigo Autumn, etc. And we did 16 of them and by that time I was
fully in the business because I was in charge of production (creative production) and within
three movies my assistant and I were…we knew what we were doing whereas we did not
know what we were doing before the first movie started shooting and then I came back to Los
Angeles and because a literary manager because I didn’t have resources to option properties
but as a literary manager you can produce properties by managing the property and that’s
what got me going ever since then. So that was just because I thought of an idea
and I didn’t know better. If I’d know then what I know now I would
never have sold it the way I sold it. I simply went out with a concept and convinced
the several studios to look at it seriously and none of them had looked at a script or
anything like that and one of them (Warner Brothers) wanted to see and I wouldn’t show
it to them until they signed an agreement and they ended up signing the agreement in
three days and then I manufactured the scripts over the weekend by putting out a call to
the romance novel community and getting back ideas for the script and so on. So it was a fluke and one of the hardest things
about being in the business when you’ve been in it for awhile is there grows up this
huge accumulation of experience that you have that makes you know that you shouldn’t just
pick up the phone and call the head of a studio and I have to overcome that. I just reached out to the head of a studio
this morning. But every time I do that it’s like having
a 500-pound weight in your hand to pick up the phone because you know that’s wrong. But somebody like me back then, I didn’t
know it was wrong so it was a light motion to pick up the phone and call somebody. And so whenever I get a new partner who is
not involved I always say “Don’t be afraid to tell me your craziest ideas” because
this is a world in which crazy ideas work and it’s the traditional ideas that have
a harder time. So it is a completely wild and entrepreneurial
frontier. It’s probably the last frontier of American
culture (the movie business) and it’s been changing ever since I’ve been in it. It constantly changes from a world in which
video cassettes dominated (you could find them anywhere) to a world in which we’re
downstreaming from Netflix and Hulu and so on. The delivery methods have always changed. And what doesn’t change (and this is the
encouraging thing for writers) is the need for stories has only gotten greater and greater
with the proliferation of hundreds of channels. They all have one thing in common, they need
programming. They need content and writers are the ones
that create the content (the intellectual property). So they should be hugely encouraged. You don’t have to understand all of the
distribution methods you just need to know how to tell a story and you’re in good shape. Just keep telling stories.

19 Comments

  1. Monique Amado - Artist & Life Coach Author

    I love this! So encouraging. I'd love to hear more about his story. Even more, I'd love to work with him. How underestimated the older generation is when they have so much wisdom and experience to give. So inspired by his willingness to take chances and change directions in mid-life.

    Reply
  2. Things Are Changing Productions Author

    Barry has a scene (new tv show on HBO) that is so true. The agent would only represent the actress if she slept with him. That’s how many people have to still break into Hollywood.

    Reply
  3. nyladyinred Author

    Why is it a bad idea to just call the head of a studio? Is it because you're breaking some unwritten protocol on how to engage with studio executives?

    Reply
  4. K Author

    Okay around 7:45 did he just say he manufactured a script for fox over a weekend by putting out a call to the romatic comedy community to get ideas. That's some lazy ass greedy shit.

    Reply
  5. K Author

    Seems like the hardest part of being on the business so long is you lack ideas and get desperate and need to steal ideas. Protect yourself.

    Reply
  6. Beeblebrox One Author

    Actually it does sound like theft.. He asked them for ideas, he's a mover and shaker in getting films made, so they (romantic novel community) maybe thought "oh this is so nice he wants my ideas, maybe i could get my idea made into a film", i hope he gave them credit and points (money) on the film.

    Reply
  7. Timothy Sheridan Author

    you put out a call to the romance novlemcommunity?
    so what is the phone number of the romance novel community?

    hollywood is making a lot of modest flops. franchises and major people seem to be acheing for my help.. but i cant write untill i am paied. they rewrote my first script..600MM amd stole my second script 1000MM.. i have three more.. but nobody wants to play ball. so, star wars died.. men in black dipped..
    there was jurasic world.. and trumbo, which didnt earn much..
    so if you want a movie you have to watch batman with superman with ironman…
    its basically characters that already have a story.

    Reply

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