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Friday, September 11, 2009

What That Guy Should Have Done with Josh Olson

If you haven’t already you must read this piece by Josh Olson the screenwriter of History of Violence. Talk about unloading a Cleveland Steamer! If his former acquaintance didn’t think Olsen was a dick already, he’s certainly going to think that after airing the whole incident in the Village Voice.

Have to say even though I’m with Olson on this one, I understand where the guy was coming from. That’s because there is such a dearth of real roadmaps to navigating Hollywood. Sure you can find a dozen or so books on screenwriting but very few offering actual practical advice on how to achieve your goal. The world of the movies can seem so very far away at times and people sometimes just grasp at the first straw they see. If they have contact with someone who’s actually in the business then they tend to lose all sense of proportion and just go all in. And end up going bust.

Here’s what the young man should have done and what everyone else should do if they somehow land face time with a real screenwriter, actor or producer:

A) Don’t treat them as an employment office. No only do they resent the hell out of it, most of them can’t help you anyway. Despite what you may think people like Josh Olson can’t make or even start a career with the snap of their fingers. There are only a handful of people in Hollywood who can do that, Spielberg, Pitt, those people. Even if Olson actually liked the script or even loved it, there probably wouldn’t be anything he could do shy of maybe, and just maybe giving him a recommendation to an agent.

B) Take care of your career on your own. Take classes an UCLA or USC, get an internship or a job in the mail room. Start out as a PA or even an extra. That way you’ll make connections all by yourself and won’t have to beg semi acquaintances for them. Also guys like Olson will respect you more because they’ve all been there. That’s how they got started. Look at Olson’s IMDB page and the first credits you see are crew credits in the art department back in the 80’s. He’s a guy who worked his way up the ladder. He’d appreciate it if the guy talked to him about working the mail room or crewing for a low budget indie. That might have lead to a longer conversation and an actual friendship because…

C) You do want to cultivate your relationships with the Josh Olson’s of the world even if they can’t help you at least not in the way you may want or crave. Every contact is important and can lead to more contacts. Plus you can never have too many friends. But be or at least try to be a friend not a parasite. People in the business already talk about the business non stop because they have to. They’re usually dying to talk about something else for a change, football, their favorite BBQ sauce, torte reform, anything. A producer I know once called it “doing the human thing.” Be a real human being with them first and forget that it’s your life long dream to sell a screenplay as hard as it may be.

Think about it this way. You wouldn’t go up to the head of Toyota right off the street and ask to design their next car. You wouldn’t approach the Governator and offer to write the new State Legislation for State Parks. Yet people seem to think they’re eminently qualified to jump right to the top of the screenwriting world from no where. That’s what Olson found so distasteful, that people don’t really treat this as a business. And that’s why they fail.


  1. Somebody was having trouble posting comments. Testing Testing 1 2 3

  2. That totally makes sense Michael. It's totally about forging relationships and being a self-starter. Your A, B and C are great tips.

    I suppose though re Josh Olson's rant - a polite no would have done and probably a tip or two for the person he was addressing (just like your posting above).

    When I entered the industry many moons ago, I was so grateful for producers arranging meetings with me (a complete unknown with no contacts whatsover) just to talk about what programmes they made and what I like. If they didn't give me a job, they definitely gave me advice on how to take the next step. I just sent my CVs out blindly and because of the goodwill of those who'd done the same, I found my way in. A few years out of the industry and I'm discovering that all this advice is still valuable as I steer myself back in.


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