Hollywood is high school with money," goes an old movie biz aphorism aptly quoted in Billy Frolick's gruesome look at the fate of several recent film school grads. Frolick, himself an NYU film school alumnus and now a film industry journalist, tracked seven would-be Scorseses for three years after they graduated from the "big five" film schools -- UCLA, USC, NYU, Columbia and the American Film Institute. Interspersed throughout are comments from veteran Hollywood producers, agents and directors who offer their wisdom on how to rise above the morass.
The seven promising directors -- each of whom had highly distinguished graduate careers -- describe their trials in their own voices a la Michael Apted's documentary series "35-Up," but here it winds up reading more like "The Chorus Line" meets "Hoop Dreams." This group of auteurs goes to Hollywood with no illusions about the venality and stupidity of movie-making, yet what they endure -- the moronic meetings, the illiterate scripts, the double-crosses and occasional victories for artistic vision -- is even more grotesque than they could've conceived and is a must-read cautionary tale for anyone who wants to be part of the system.
Who will make it? The young California woman who turns down bad projects to concentrate on the script that will make her? The gay USC grad who dreams of making a film about friends working in a coffee-bar, yet has the chutzpah to include gays and Latinos in the cast? The African-American documentary maker who bucks the gangster violence trend and yearns to make quiet, personal movies? The wacky animator who wants to create flip-books like the ones that inspired him as a child? The older white South African man who chucked a lucrative career back home to try to make it in Hollywood without selling out or going broke? The Jewish comic writer who cranks out TV scripts hoping that this will be her calling card to the big time? Or the cigar-chomping, self-possessed Miamian who will push himself to extremes for his art?
All are worth rooting for and their stories vary widely, with the only constant being the raw ugliness they bump up against. "This place is a stinkpot of evil and excess," one of them explains. After reading this compelling tour of hell, you'll certainly agree.