The film industry is full of sharks, but also full of Bruins.
Though the road to making it big in Hollywood may be treacherous, UCLA alumni have a long streak of success in the film and television industry.
But how is it that so many UCLA alumni from recent years and past decades have found a strong footing in Hollywood?
One of the greatest challenges of launching a career in Hollywood as a screenwriter is that no agent wants to risk representing a newbie. Alumnus Max Wiederholt said he has devised a way of working around the Hollywood entry barrier through his newly founded start-up, Mischief Ventured LLC. Wiederholt decided to tackle the problem by building an online talent agency where a screenwriter who doesn’t have an agent can submit their screenplay.
In his personal experience of trying to submit a screenplay to a talent agency, Wiederholt found that the agencies will either destroy it or send it back in fear that it might be too similar to something they’re developing currently.
“The hardest part of starting out in this industry was facing the criticism. Don’t let anyone ever bully you into giving up on your dreams,” Wiederholt said.
Wiederholt’s team at Mischief Ventured is constructing an online marketplace where writers can sell screenplays directly to movie producers, who can bid on and purchase the idea at any time.
To get a foot in the door of Hollywood, UCLA alumnus Dallas King said Bruins need to implement a three-part plan. King is the founder of his own production company, Red Rabbit Pictures, specializing in action, sci-fi, horror and fantasy films. He has won awards including a Directors Guild of America award, a Motion Picture Association of America award and a Hollywood Foreign Press Association award.
“First, know your voice. Secondly, figure out a strategy – short term, midterm and long term,” King said. “Then third and the most important thing, which Bruins have an edge on any student, is relationships. … Don’t ever underestimate who you’re sitting next to in class.”
King’s journey in filmmaking started at UCLA, volunteering on sets and being a part of the film fraternity, Delta Kappa Alpha. By the time he finished his MFA in directing in 2013, King was already a multi-award winning director-producer-writer.
“Work leads to more work. If you’re a good person, you work hard and you’re dependable, you get on a film set, people will notice that and you’ll get offered more work. Then you work your way up,” King said.
In the film industry, there’s a wide variety of careers to choose from, so deciding where to focus can be a difficult task, said UCLA alumnus Michael Gallant. Gallant, the former governor of the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, advised students to aim to become a “hyphenate” and acquire any combination of skills like directing, editing, cinematography and so on.
Gallant said he was a host at UCLA TV, a channel in the ’70s that aired two talk shows per week, in his third year and later became a director-producer for the shows there. His senior thesis was a five-minute political commercial for George McGovern, the democratic candidate in the 1972 presidential election. McGovern used some of Gallant’s clips in his actual campaign.
“At the beginning it’s very difficult. … You get knocked down so many times and the passion carries you through. My route to success as a producer wasn’t a direct line, as is often the case,” Gallant said.
After leaving UCLA, Gallant was an agent for a year and a half before moving into editing as an apprentice film editor at ABC. It took him another five years to become a production assistant for ABC Circle Films. Now his productions – “The Perfect Game” and “Inside the Third Reich,” among others – have won a total of 10 Emmy awards, five Golden Globes and three DGA awards.
A career in Hollywood is more about passion than stability, Gallant said. You always have to be prepared for the best and the worst.
“Luck is when opportunity meets talent,” Gallant said. “You need to prepare and develop your talent as quickly as you can, ’cause you never know when opportunity is going to knock. And when it does, you rarely get a second chance.”