"Your ears must have been burning!"
This is how the agent I phoned answered my call. It had been a year since we had last spoken so I wondered what she was referring to. Apparently she had attended a charity function for the Saban Community Clinic earlier in the week where Ted Sarandos, Chief Content Officer at Netflix, was being honored. Before he spoke, he was introduced by a video shot at the “secret Netflix content lab 5,000 ft. below its headquarters” that showed him reading my book, Hollywood 101, for advice on how to be successful in the entertainment industry. While made in jest (surely Sarandos at this point in his career doesn't need my advice for breaking into Hollywood), I was quite flattered by the inclusion of the book in the video.
Hollywood 101 was published almost 18 years ago. But even after all this time, it still sells well and assists new generations of aspiring filmmakers wanting to enter the entertainment industry. I love when I call an agency or production office and the assistant answering the phone pauses after I say my name. This is generally followed by the inevitable question, "Are you the same Frederick Levy that wrote Hollywood 101?" And while I've been teased on occasion by a film student or two (the book is used as a text in many film classes throughout the world) for mentions of outdated technology ("People no longer use pagers!"), the book's advice is as relevant today as when it was first written.
When I was initially approached to write a book about breaking into Hollywood, I'll admit that my first take was a bit cynical. If there's anything else you would rather do, do that, because breaking into Hollywood is extremely difficult. But thanks to the brilliant guidance of my editor, James Robert Parrish, who told me "No one wants to pay $20 for a book that tells them it's impossible to break into the industry," I rethought my approach and retooled the tone. Sure, it's difficult...but it's not impossible. If you have the passion, you can make it happen.
But the advice in the book isn't mine alone. After all, in 2000 when the book was first published, I had only been in the business for about 8 years. Surely, at that point in my career, I didn't know everything there was to know about succeeding in Hollywood. So I interviewed some of the top pros in the business and included their advice along with my own, making for a well rounded resource offering varying perspectives. And while many of the pros are no longer with us (producer Debra Hill, production designer Gary Wissner, talent agent Joel Dean, to name a few), their advice still resonates with readers today. One of my favorite quotes was from Dean. "Don't go to the opening of an envelope." In other words, go to the parties, network and be seen, but don't be that guy who is at every single event. Pick and choose where to focus your efforts.
The book may have helped hundreds, if not thousands, of aspiring wannabes break into the business, but it also helped propel my own career. I started teaching film classes at universities that included Emerson College, Boston University, UCLA-Extension, and my own alma mater, The University of Southern California. I've written a half dozen additional books about the entertainment industry including Short Films 101 and Acting in Young Hollywood. And I had my own career epiphany: if I can help so many people break into and succeed in Hollywood through the words in my books, maybe there's a way I can help people day to day. And so I became a manager and started my firm, Management 101, 15 years ago.
I'll always be grateful for the opportunity to write that first book and thankful for the way in which it was received and admired. So while Ted Sarandos may not really need its insight, I'm proud of all the people it continues to help over the years.
Check out The Hollywood Reporter's full article on the Saban event here,