Amanda Hood gets a fast-tracked Hollywood education

Writer-director Amanda Hood in LA. 

One of four recipients of the inaugural Metro Screen Fellowship, administered by the ADG, Amanda Hood travelled to Los Angeles in April to attend The Hollywood Field Trip where she pitched her projects to producers, managers, agents and executives.

“We have water with lime, water with cucumber, or water with lime and cucumber. Which would you prefer?”

And so, our “water bottle tour” of Los Angeles had begun. Five vetted filmmakers from around the world, armed with three projects each and a wonderfully enthusiastic guide in our host, Andrew Zinnes, we would spend the next five days pitching to Hollywood’s elite.

Fourteen meetings were scheduled over five days with agents, managers, producers and executives, as well as with working directors and screenwriters. The main goal was not to sell our scripts, but to establish relationships with these people, because in Hollywood, “all that matters is who you know and who knows you”. Talent is a given. And despite what the tabloids would have you believe, no one is an overnight success. It’s all about the long game.

Establishing relationships in Hollywood is “kind of like dating”, a producer sitting next to me at a well-known Californian sushi place confided. “You meet up, you suss out the person and ask yourself a series of questions. ‘Can I trust this person? Can I see their commitment, their passion, their talent? Can I see us working together in years to come?’ If so, you jump into bed with them, or, more specifically in my case, option their script.”

(The 2017 Hollywood Field Trip participants (l-r): Julian Roberts, Debbie Moon, Katharine McPhee, Amanda Hood and Ian Martin.) 

The great thing about The Hollywood Field Trip is that you get to start these relationships in, as Andrew put it, ‘warm rooms’. Warm, as opposed to say, having an executive fall asleep halfway through your pitch or having a producer get out of their seat and walk straight out of the room – stories I heard first-hand from writers. Our rooms were so warm in fact, that most of the Hollywood pros asked to read our scripts, gave us feedback on our pitches and offered lengthy advice on career strategy and how to make it in Hollywood as outsiders. 

And so, as a way of paying it forward to my fellow Aussie filmmakers, here’s a snippet of the most important things I learnt in L.A:

1. There is no one way of making it in Hollywood; everyone has found a different way in. Your job as a filmmaker is to carve your own path, to keep going no matter what, to work on your craft every day and to keep the faith that your persistence and talent will pay off. And when you do get representation, don’t ever rest on your laurels. Keep expanding your network of producers, investors, other writers and directors, building your contacts from the ground up, because the majority of your paid work will come from nurturing these connections.

2. When you’re starting out in Hollywood, it’s important you submit writing samples in the same genre. I was told this repeatedly on the trip, that people want to “know your brand”, to make it as easy as possible for managers and agents to “sell you” to the studios. “Oh Tina, yes, she’s that fantastic comedy writer.” “Oh George, he’s the expert on all things sci-fi.” If you want the industry to take you seriously, pick a genre and stick to it. Then, once you’ve had success, you can always cross over to other genres because now you have leverage.

3. ‘Baby writers’, a term that was thrown around a lot in Los Angeles, are emerging writers (it has nothing to do with age). If you are a baby writer, the best way of breaking into Hollywood is to get represented by a good, ‘hungry’ manager, preferably one who has sold projects in the past, who has an ‘in’ with studios and producers – someone who will help you build your career and your craft. 

4. In order to get a manager (and that in itself is no easy task), you must have at least three strong writing samples (TV pilots or feature films) in the same genre (see above), along with a kick-ass query letter. To find managers’ contact details, get a paid subscription to IMDB Pro. Being part of The Hollywood Field Trip meant we were able to bypass the query letter stage (where you are competing with thousands of other screenwriters) for those we met, because it got us in the same room as talented reps whom, after hearing our pitches, wanted to read our work.  

5. Living in LA is optional, to a point. Some reps were adamant; “You’ve got to be here to take meetings because most jobs come up at the last minute.” Other reps told us they like working with writers and directors who live abroad because “They offer a fresh perspective. But they must be willing to come to LA for meetings 2-3 times per year.”  After hearing the pros and cons, my opinion is this: when you’ve spent enough time working on your craft and you have at least three solid scripts under your belt, only then should you think about moving to LA. In the meantime, it’s far cheaper to work on your scripts/short films from home, with access to cheap or free rent and the support of loved ones. 

All in all, the Hollywood Field Trip was an incredible opportunity to learn about the business, to learn how to behave in a Hollywood meeting and to practice pitching to industry heavyweights. But perhaps the best part of all was getting to know the other extraordinarily talented filmmakers on my trip as we roared up the 405 highway in our eight seater mini-van, sharing hotdogs, jokes and stories about home.

For anyone interested in taking part in the Hollywood Field Trip, the program runs twice a year in April and October. I highly recommend it, but make sure you have at least three finished scripts and a willingness to learn how the business works.

And finally, I’d like to express my utmost gratitude to the generosity of the Australian Director’s Guild and Metro Screen for sending me on this career-defining trip to Los Angeles. Thank you, thank you, thank you!