Learning the language of Hollywood
A funny thing happened to me the other day. I had an email from the VP of a company based in Los Angeles, claiming to be able to turn my dream into a reality. Now, this was not some blatant scam, although, in a way, it was, but an approach from a bone-fide organization that had heard about a project I was trying to launch. My instinct was to email back with a polite refusal – I still bear the scars from the third-degree burns I suffered during a Hollywood fandango some years ago – but I thought about it for ten minutes ( I am an Aries) and responded instead with polite interest. Several email exchanges later we had organized a conference call for Wednesday at 4 pm, UK time. 4 pm came and went. No call. No email. No roses. I’m still waiting. I should have gone with my first instinct. You see, I had been LA-blahed. Again.
Poor Cheryl Cole recently had her first brush with LA-blah, and my heart goes out to her. No doubt producers, colleagues, heads of studios, hairdressers, security et al had been unrestrained in their praise of her beauty, talent, wit and wisdom – she knew, she absolutely knew, she was the next big thing. And she would have continued to bathe in the glory of her American conquest until the moment the call came to pack her bags and head out of Tinsel Town. Then her texts would have gone unanswered, her pleas for extra time ignored and those who had once spun around her like frenzied silk worms strangely absent. All that remained of the dream would have been the tumble-weed rolling down the empty alleyways of Fox Studios accompanied by the sound of doors firmly shutting behind her.
LA-blah is a phenomenon known to many English stars and wannabees, and, indeed, many entrepreneurs, who have tried to make it in Hollywood. It is not just the fact that some talent simply doesn’t cross The Pond – who we find adorable and brilliant in the UK doesn’t always do it for the Americans – but the difference in the way Hollywood wheels and deals. Nowhere other than LA is it more evident that we are two great nations divided by a common language.
Here in Britain if we don’t like something, we tend to show it. We may not baldly state that we believe someone is rubbish, although, if you think about it for a minute, that is what Simon Cowell does, we just go kind of quiet. There is a barely discernible twitch of the nostrils, a slight frost in the air as the immortal phrase, thank-you-we’ll-be-in-touch, is delivered. What we definitely don’t do is veer in the opposite direction and start praising to the skies a product we have no interest in whatsoever. In Hollywood, they do.
In their defence, Hollywood movers and shakers really do not see the point in adding insult to injury by telling you why you haven’t cut the mustard. They prefer not to be there when the axe falls; they’d like you to live in hope. More importantly, they don’t want to be seen to be the bad guys just in case they meet you again when you are the talent they want.
Another aspect to LA-blah that must be understood before taking a step into Hollywoodland, is the importance of ‘working projects’. Every production company, every studio, in fact every part of the Hollywood machine needs to have at least one work in progress. The chances of any of these works actually getting off the drawing board is slim, and even those that make it to the dizzying heights of a pilot often fall by the wayside soon thereafter. So, when you accept an invitation to join a Hollywood enterprise, please do not take their pledges and praises too seriously. To you, it may be the beginning of a beautiful thing; to them, you’re a work in progress.
Back in 2001, I was approached by a production company owned by Kelsey Grammer, with a view to taking part in a series about astrology, mediumship, clairvoyance and the like. Several conference calls took place which resulted in my meeting the production team in Los Angeles in October. Six weeks later, I was invited to screen test for the show. I was assured that this was a mere formality since I was a ‘definite’ – “You are awesome, Penny. We love you.” I was sent a contract, which appeared to sign me up for the rest of my life, issued with a plane ticket, met at LAX and driven to a first class hotel in West Hollywood. Was I confident? Did I feel special? Was I planning to house-hunt in my free time? Absolutely.
The following day I was collected by limousine and taken to Paramount Studios. There I met with something of a surprise. Clustered in the massive dressing room were at least one hundred people – a babbling gathering of sundry psychics, mystics and misfits. One screen-test later, I was driven back to my hotel. One phone call later I was on my way to the airport and back in London before you could utter the world, Oracles!
I had been LA-blahed for the first time.
I hear Cheryl Cole is not daunted by her failure to make the judges’ bench for the X-Factor, US. Her agent, William.i.am. has apparently committed himself to helping her launch a singing career in America. I truly admire her spirit, and I certainly wish her all the luck in the world because she’s going to need it. However, I don’t need to look too closely at Cheryl’s chart – sun Cancer, Sag rising and moon in Pisces – to figure out she’s making a mistake. Simon Cowell allegedly offered to double Cheryl’s salary to return to the X-Factor in the UK. She refused, and I think it is a decision she will ultimately come to regret. Even if the upshot of ‘renewed talks with Fox’ results in her return to the US show, and even if she learns the language of Hollywood I’m not sure she’ll make it in America.
Please come home, Cheryl. We love you.