The Myth Of Overnight Success

While writing A Palmful Of Gold, one issue that really irked me was when the myth of the overnight success was brought up by the person who Lee Goldberg was interacting with. It was basically a very spirited but unnecessary debate where the reader attempted to refute Lee Goldberg’s points by using using examples of “overnight success”, one of those examples was “South Park”. Goldberg, without breaking a sweat, backhanded those arguments by pointing out the amount of hard work and time that was actually required for them to achieve their success. Initially this was a part of A Palmful Of Gold, however, I came to the realization it required its own entry to properly explain why over night success is a myth.

South Park

Back in the day, cable was considered to be one of the backwaters of the entertainment industry and Comedy Central was no exception. Programming was initially reruns of “Dream On”, “Kids in the Hall” and other second run content including comedy films. However there was a slow push towards original programming, which brings us to “South Park”.

Yes. As the reader pointed out, Trey Parker and Matt Stone technically conceived “South Park”in college however it was originally a short called “Spirit of Christmas”. But the journey from University Colorado at Boulder to entertainment icons was a long and painful one consisting of sleeping on dirty laundry and having several rejected pilots under their belt. Their fortunes changed for the better when Fox executive Brian Graden commissioned them to make a Christmas card, which was the second “Spirit of Christmas” which is known as “Jesus vs. Santa Claus.”

Doug Herzog who was the president of Comedy Central at the time and now president of MTV Networks,was one of the recipients and called the duo in to hatch out a deal and the rest as they say is history.

The success of “South Park” was due to a variety of factors which included Comedy Central making the effort to produce original programming and because both parties really had nothing to lose. What also made “South Park” attractive was the quick and dirty production values which made the accountants really happy.

The Outsiders
Another set of outsiders that appear to have busted into the scene overnight are Robert Rodriguez and Kevin Smith, however upon closer examination of their origins, it is quite obvious that is really not the case. Robert Rodriguez had been developing his talents as a filmmaker since he was kid when his father bought a home video camera. His feature El Mariachi and how he directed and produced it with $7000 made Rodriguez a popular guest on the talk show circuit. What is fascinating was that his initial goal was to sell his film in the Spanish market, which was rejected. After that failure, he ended up getting in touch with ICM who arranged a meeting with Columbia Pictures who were interested in remaking the film but opted to release the original film instead. The economics made sense since the film was already in the can and the story behind the film was a brilliant marketing hook.

Kevin Smith had no intention on becoming a darling of Sundance when he first made Clerks in fact it was only after a chance screening in front of a member of the Sundance advisory committee at the 1993 Independent feature film market that started “Silent Bob” on his journey to stardom.

On a budget of $27,575 raised from sales from parts of his comic book collection, credit cards, an insurance pay out and a college fund, Kevin Smith directed what has been viewed as one of the great comedies in cinema history.

Do you see where I am going with this? The gates of Hollywood did not just magically open for Trey Parker, Matt Stone, Robert Rodriquez and Kevin Smith because they followed some formula. There other elements were in play that which they had no control over including the current environment of the time and the state of mind of the Gatekeepers when they decided to roll the dice. Although it paid off in spades, that roll of the dice did not occur overnight, instead it was years in the making

The Gatekeepers
When the Gatekeepers take on a new project, ideally this group of executives, in their infinite wisdom, will stack the deck in their favor by selecting the most qualified candidates. In terms of selection and creation there is no hard science to it.

It was only when Jerry Seinfeld began to establish himself as a standup comedian, that he was approached by NBC to do a sitcom, which would be “Seinfeld”. He was under the impression that NBC had a vehicle for him to walk into and found out that NBC was actually looking at him to create the show. Regardless of all the market research and analysis, at the end of the day no one knows the outcome until the project comes to fruition which is why they hire people like Jerry Seinfeld to produce the content.

All About The Benjamins
Money is often touted as the best way to enter the sphere of power and establish a career in Hollywood. It will not make you an overnight success but it will definitely put one on the fast track, especially during these economic times.

When the last recession occurred, credit dried up and like all industries, Hollywood works on OPM. It got to the point that Hollywood was desperate enough to take money from the son of an enemy of the state. That is until his funds were frozen when his father was overthrown. If all was well in the financial markets, it is highly doubtful that this person would even have his phone calls returned.

But just because you have $100 million at your disposal does not guarantee success. Ever heard of the Warriors of Virtue? A family of doctors is responsible for not one but two of these films which are now fodder for the cult classic community. Which proves that money and a medical degree does not result in great movies.

Some people with access to that type of cash are a lot smarter and make an effort to educate themselves. Cue the Ellison kids. David Ellison graduated from USC Film School and has experience in acting and producing. His sister Megan did a year at USC film school and began producing independent films on her own.

But what really got everyone’s attention was the successful remake of True Grit which they both served as producers. One person that took notice was their own father Larry Ellison who gave them access to more capital. This resulted in David and Megan forming their own production companies and producing their own slate of films including Zero Dark Thirty, Star Trek Into Darkness and the upcoming Terminator: Genisys.

Obviously having Larry Ellison as their father was a huge advantage but even David and Megan Ellison had to prove themselves to get to this point in their careers.

The New Way Of Doing Business Is The Old Way

One commenter on that post chimed in that the Amazon network would serve as a way to circumvent the business practices of the industry. Lee Goldberg pointed out that the content providers for Amazon are already established names in Hollywood. The commenter replied that it was still a good time for a newcomer with new ideas to come in. And again this perspective fails to take in account the other variables that are involved for a newcomer to make their way in the business, which include timing and whatever qualifications they bring to the table, assuming they have any.

Although Youtube and other online video distribution systems allow you to make your own content, it will be on your dime and time. If you can make money or have a high number of followers or both, you will get the attention of the mainstream players. Youtube star Freddie Wong recently cut a deal with Lionsgate but before that he spent a couple of years uploading his videos onto Youtube and establishing a record of providing content.

But what if you do not have a massive bankroll or a network of connections? The solution is quite simple.

You do it by writing whatever your heart desires, whether it is screenplays, poetry, novels, short stories, just write. You take classes on writing. And if you do not have the money or time, then you sign up for free online classes that you can take whenever your schedule allows it. You research the industry and the trends that are occurring. You search for a community where you feel comfortable enough to share your work with. And you look for a platform where you can self-publish your work.

You want to make a pilot for a TV show? Go right ahead. Make as many pilots as your heart desires. All you need is a Smart Phone, a Youtube Channel and you are good to go. Post your work so the entire world can see it. You have no idea how to make one? Google it.

You will be entering a world of hurt because you will be judged. Harshly. With each scathing word, welcome the gold that is placed in your palm, even if it is just flecks. If there is none to be found, discard it and move on.

There are no assurances, but if you put in the time and effort, your probability for achievement will be higher than sending pitch emails. Because when the Gatekeepers see that you not only did the legwork but you are also bringing in significant numbers, they will unlock the doors.

Most importantly, cleanse any notions of overnight success out of your mind. It will only add more frustration and stress in achieving your goals in an industry that is known to eviscerate its own.

As I mentioned in a past entry, you are looking at least a decade of hard work. If that bothers you, just remember that Lee Goldberg has been doing this for over 30 years and he just got his second wind.

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