This is an ever-evolving story of a girl writer and her two greatest loves, the movies and travel. As she hikes the trenches of Hollywood, you're brought along for the ride.

Monday, October 22, 2007

From It Girl To Drive-Thru Rehab

After the demise of Hollywood's studio system, sweeping changes occurred throughout the entertainment industry. The studios no longer held the reins of their own empire. By the late '50s, independent producers began making their own movies and actors and other industry professionals faced both the insecurities (and freedom) of being free agents. Hollywood was forced to deal with stars and movie-making much differently than they had in the past.

Under the new system, sometimes referred to as "New Hollywood", there are still talent scouts, agents, publicists, and studio executives, but their roles and influence in a potential star's career have changed over the years. In the past, talent scouts sought out potential newcomers through other avenues such as radio, vaudeville, and regional or college productions. If these scouts were impressed, the potential star was flown to California (all expenses paid) for a screen test.

Nowadays, actors and other performers are expected to relocate to California on their own-- and at their own expense. Each actor is individually responsible for getting the attention of agents on their own, as well. Certainly, reality shows like American Idol, Survivor, and The Amazing Race (and outlets like YouTube) have become, in a sense, this generation's "vaudeville." But when the competition's over or the glimmer of instant celebrity wears off, a few are lucky enough to win agents or to entertain other offers, but most fail to become super-stars. For other hopefuls, the road is rocky and difficult, at best. Today's performers find that most people are not willing to take a chance on them, especially if they are unproven or inexperienced.

"For the most part, agents don't like to fool around with unknown people," says Mark Litwak, in Reel Power: The Struggle For Influence and Success In The New Hollywood, "It takes so long that by the time they've made all those steps to get an actor started, he has already gone off to another agent."

Contrary to the studio era, long-term contracts are no longer common. Studios don't train or groom performers into stars like they used to do. The industry is increasingly volatile, the world is moving faster and faster, and there's not enough time or money to devote to readying an unknown for stardom.

Even with the help of agents and personal managers, actors are very much on their own. It's up to them to find their own way into Hollywood's elite. Being seen at the 'in' clubs, hooking up with the right people, schmoozing with everyone who matters, and increasingly getting into the news whatever the cost is increasingly important for both unknowns and stars trying to maintain their appeal.

These days, with so many media outlets worldwide, overexposure is just as much a danger as the possibility of never being discovered at all. Unfortunately, it's lead to a crash and burn mentality. Today's It Girl: Tomorrow's Drive-thru Rehab Patient, has become an accepted cliche in today's Hollywood. (I don't even need to name names.)

Sure, you can chalk it up to bad choices, being young and reckless, and the negatives of being blessed with too much too soon, but there's no denying that the casualties of young Hollywood need help. Those that are in the most danger are the stars that have allowed celebrity to become them. They have no ability to conceive of a media that doesn't pay attention to them (or their antics.) Many of these stars cling to the limelight in desperation no matter what it takes. Agents, managers, family and friends, and studios are generally going to be the last ones to set boundaries or to tell these stars-- 'No'--at least as long as there is money to be made.

In the new Hollywood, agents and actors have become the most powerful components of the Hollywood scene. Successful actors are still a type of insurance for movie studios. By taking over many of the duties of the old studios, these star's agents have been given a certain level of clout that gives them more power than ever before. Because of the widely held belief that the success of a movie rests on the strength of its star name, stars have accumulated the power to demand larger fees for their services and increasingly generous cuts of gross box-office receipts of projects in which they are involved.

More and more actors have become more known for being famous than for the quality of their work. Since fans still want information about their favorites celebrities, access to this information has become increasingly lucrative. As a result, the public is now bombarded by paparazzi shots, information about celebrity whereabouts, gossip, and antics from all conceivable sides. Everything is so de-centralized that it's as though no one has control anymore.

Stars today, unlike the image-controlled and glamorized perfection of stars for most of the studio system era, have become increasingly more like ourselves. Want to know whether the celeb trainwreck-of-the-moment wore make-up in rehab? Chances are, there's a paparazzi photo to answer that-- or a TMZ segment completely devoted to it or a fan-posted video on YouTube.

Way back in 1998, there was a little article in Spin Magazine called "Is Sandra Bullock Good For You?" In it, writer Steve Erickson presented a keen observation: "In our relationship with our movie stars, the times can be read like tea leaves. Do we needour stars to be the size of our dreams, or the size of our lives?"

His thoughts seems more pertinent now than ever.

Who's steering the content of our media? Is this what we really want? How do we turn back? Until we stop to ponder this, the never-ending course we're on will continue to careen out-of-control.

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