Making It 'The Hollywood Way'

If all the world's a stage, then Hollywood is the world's capital.

And if the city had its own declaration of independence it would state that all people have the right to life, liberty -- and the pursuit of movies.

But anyone who's ever tried to make their mark in Hollywood knows that it's a place where the competition is fierce and only the strong will survive.

Frederick Levy, movie producer and best-selling author, is one of the strong ones. In his latest book, The Hollywood Way: A Young Movie Mogul's Savvy Business Tips for Success in Any Career, he opens up about what it takes to make it in the competitive world of Tinseltown.

"There are a million people vying for the same jobs and there are hundreds of millions of dollars on the line," warns Levy, who also wrote the bestseller Hollywood 101. "It's not a business for the faint of heart."

Levy's winning strategy for making it in the entertainment business emphasizes the need for film wannabes to put their own needs aside -- at least in the beginning of a career -- and focus on the task at hand.

"It's not about you," advised Levy. "It's about your boss. It's about the movie, or whatever project you're working on."

In fact, this philosophy is summed up in a quote from Buddy Ackerman, the character Kevin Spacey played in the 1994 black comedy Swimming With Sharks. "You have no brain. What you think doesn't matter. What you feel doesn't matter."

The film, about an embattled Hollywood assistant who's constantly ridiculed and abused by his ruthless boss, a VP of Production at a fictional movie company, may be over-the-top, but Levy said there's some truth to it.

"I worked for producers who were like the Kevin Spacey character, screamers and yellers," said Levy. "Is it acceptable? I don't think so. But you can never take things personally."

But some who once had dreams of making it say the rocky road to Hollywood success and the emotional toll it takes on people is not worth it.

"I felt so emotionally bankrupt in the system," said Joseph Kerr, who moved to Hollywood to pursue a writing career after earning a master's degree from Columbia's Film School in New York City in 1994.

After several years of shopping scripts around and working in the industry, he decided to take a step back from the movie rat race and teach English at a nearby high school in Los Angeles as part of a fellowship program.

"Obviously I'm still writing, but in the meantime I wanted a career where I can make a difference and have fun at the same time, and for me that was teaching," Kerr said.

Levy acknowledged that many people suffer through Hollywood experiences like Kerr, but said that's just part of the business.

"Look, failure and rejection is something," he said. "I don't care who you are in the movie business, you have to become accustomed to, and learn from it."

Kerr said his main frustration was with middle-management people he describes as non-creative.

"I'm not saying everybody is ridiculous in Hollywood," Kerr said. "But after a while you scratch your head and wonder how so many non-creative people get their jobs."

Levy's theory on that is that, like it or not, movies aren't always as creative as they seem.

"Movies get made for all sorts of reasons," he said. "If I walk in with a phone book people will say, 'There's no movie there.' But if I walk in with a phone book and Brad Pitt attached, there's a movie. It may not be a good movie."

One thing Kerr and Levy have in common is that they both said networking with like-minded professionals is the key to keeping your sanity in Hollywood -- and is ultimately the key to success.

"I just beat down every door, started networking and never gave up," Levy said about his early days in the entertainment industry. "That, I believe, is why I've become successful."