I recently went to Hollywood. I was on Dad duty, helping Daughter No. 1 navigate the next stage of her career – graduating from the University of Home & Away to the uncertainty of casting rooms, audition tapes and endless call-backs that are the way of the global film industry. The mission – and I was very happy to accept it – was to find her an agent, or a manager or both. Or at least understand the difference. If there was one.
And right there, it seemed, was my problem. I felt my starting point for the trip was a gross ignorance of the place, fuelled by a century of bullshit: you know the half-truths that Hollywood is both a dream factory with more stars than heaven, and the graveyard of the young and beautiful. Hollywood as Shiva: rich with snakes and an incomprehensible benevolence. And as ignorance comes with fear, loathing and stupidity, I had to admit that my view of Hollywood was definitely distorted by fear. It had always seemed a daunting idea of a place – with those attached to it too famous, too untouchable, too – well, yes, scary. Surely there would be a perimeter of security guards, electrified wire gates and minders. And beyond these obstacles, what would I really find in Hollywood other than a crooked sign on a hill and a back-lot of fixed smiles? Time to get on the plane and take a good look.
We rented a place just off Sunset Boulevard – one of a small group of Tudor-style cottages built among huge fig trees by Charlie Chaplin to house his artisans. Like much of Hollywood, it felt like it had seen better days, like it was built for a production rather than to last. Chaplin's matching studio was further west down Sunset Boulevard – now Jim Henson's headquarters with a statue of Kermit dressed as the Little Tramp at the front. There was something tacky about it. As Miss Piggy would have said, "I hereby issue a writ of Hocus-Pocus.".
We hired a car, and I chauffeured Daughter No. 1 to various meetings. It's Parramatta Road in every direction: cheap fast food joints, pet stores and hairdressing salons lining the streets. We drove from the hills – with stunning mansions and views of the dusty orange haze - to Venice Beach with its muscle men and medicinal marijuana. And after dropping Daughter No. 1 at a swanky tower block, I would go find a cafe and try to unlock the mystery of professional representation, Hollywood-style. I found this: actors used to have an agent – a person who knew them well, who ran a small business and who looked after them, along with a small group of others. But with a spate of mergers, acquisitions and buyouts, agencies grew. They bought offices, developed business strategies, were acquired by private equity firms, demanded results for shareholders, shed excess staff and began to wield power. In the search for growth they have become media organisations.
For the constantly in-and-out-of-work actor – especially if you're not yet an Angelina Jolie or a Tom Hanks – these mega-businesses no longer offer the intimate service that a small one-person agency used to. To fill the void, boutique management companies have emerged, often run by the very people laid off by the large agencies. So that's why you need a powerful agency to do deals for you and a manager to look after your career. And maybe an entertainment lawyer to make sure your contracts are in order. And they will all take their cut of your salary. Actors, it seems, keep many hungry mouths fed.
I should have guessed really. My fear of the place was unfounded. Everyone we met – from the hawkers on public transport to the execs who shouted us cocktails at the Skybar – had that confident charm that seems to come too easily for Americans. This town was no mysterious, devious, Shiva. To understand it, you just had to follow the money.
Oh, and mission accomplished, by the way. Daughter No. 1 secured an influential agent. And a wonderful manager. Proud dad, you bet.