“You've got to ask yourself one question. Do I feel lucky? Well, do ya, punk?” — "Dirty" Harry Callahan
The one word that rings true in so many conversations with successful screenwriters, actors, directors, producers, and beyond, is luck. They attribute luck as the overall deciding factor in much of their success. There’s truth to it for sure. Being at the right place, at the right time, with the right person is often the common factor in nabbing that first big screenwriting assignment, being cast in that pivotal role, getting financing for that breakthrough debut film, etc.
The sad fact is that this notion can be the most demoralizing truth to any up-and-comer. It implies that no matter what the work you put in, no matter what the time you've taken, and no matter what moves you make on your own part towards your dream, luck is the single most crucial element to breaking through in Hollywood. And that luck can be so difficult to come by.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
We were inspired by a Southwest: The Magazine article on this very subject. Written by Brad Herzog, his Best of Luck article explores the notion of luck in any given situation, be it through business, the arts, or life in general.
Backed up by various scientific research — specifically the University of Hertfordshire’s (U.K.) Dr. Richard Wiseman, a professor in the public understanding of psychology — the article divulges that good fortune isn’t just a game of chance. In the end, it’s about making your own luck, and you accomplish that by following certain principles in life. In the below examples, I’ll follow Herzog’s lead and attribute my own experience with luck and how specific approaches like the below can increase your chances of success and basically when all is said and done, allow you to make your own luck.
These four principles are taken from Dr. Wiseman’s The Luck Factor, based on a decade-long study about the nature of luck, which, he wrote, “Can make the difference between life and death, reward and ruin, happiness and despair.” Through his research, he’s now adamant that luck is not random and has no magical properties.
Opportunism is generally defined as taking advantage of opportunities and circumstances with little to no regard for consequences. To many, being an opportunist can undoubtedly have its negative connotations, but in this context, it’s less about having no regard for the consequences and more about being ready to do what you have to do — within ethical principles of course.
In my early years living in Los Angeles, my wife and I moved across the street from Sony Studios. It wasn’t a strategic move on our part, as we had chosen the apartment online with no regard as to the exact location. I wanted to be within those studio walls. Easier said than done, until, as I was going for a run around the studio, I saw some Sony security guards near an open side gate on West Washington Blvd. right off of the sidewalk. I saw my opportunity, and I took it, asking them, “How can I get a job here?” Two weeks later I was a Sony Security Guard. It wasn’t an ideal job. However, it gave me the opportunity to be behind those walls and look for more opportunities. The position led to an assignment at the North Thalberg VIP gate, which had me connected with all incoming VIPs and Sony executives. That led me to an opportunity to work in an office position, eventually as the studio liaison. One of my duties was creating access badges for all incoming film and television productions, executives, employees, and term deals (production companies housed on the lot with development deals).
One day a new development executive came in to get his badge made and building access granted. We engaged in small talk where I eventually learned that he was working under Hollywood studio legend John Calley (he has since passed). I immediately saw an opportunity and told him that I had some script reading experience from an internship, and if he needed a reader, I'd be up for the position.
Two weeks later I was a Sony script reader — my dream job at the time — which I account as my greatest education in screenwriting. Some may say that it was pure luck that I was at the right place, at the right time, with the right person that needed a service I could offer. However, if I hadn’t seized the opportunity with those security guards and a handful of other opportunities after, I wouldn’t have been in that office to meet that particular development executive in the first place.
We can make our own luck, as long as we’re willing to do just two things; Ask and Accept.
Optimism is generally defined as hopefulness and confidence about the future or the successful outcome of something.
It’s hard being an optimist in Hollywood, especially as a newcomer. Whether you’re a filmmaker, screenwriter, or actor, you’re faced with constant rejection. It’s a fact that even the most successful powers that be in Hollywood have collectively been rejected far more than they’ve succeeded.
So how do you stay optimistic when we live in such a cynical world? You just do. You choose to embrace any rejection and any failure, learn from it, adapt, and evolve.
I was in Los Angeles for seven years. While I was working in the film industry at different levels throughout, those were jobs that were necessary to put food on the table and pay those bills as I honed my screenwriting skills and tried to shop my scripts to the powers that be.
Rejection after rejection. Dead end after dead end. I didn’t see my first deal — with Lionsgate — until eight years after starting that journey. And this, mind you, was after I made a life decision a couple of years before to move back to our home state of Wisconsin to raise our newborn son close to family. Even though I was two thousand miles away, I kept the faith despite added odds against me, and sure enough, I finally became a paid screenwriter after all of those years.
If this is really what you want to do, you have to choose to believe that you can and will do it no matter what the odds are against you and no matter how much time passes. Scientific research has proven that those with such an attitude, as opposed to the cynical people out there, often consider themselves to be lucky people. Why? Because they’ve gone in with a positive and upbeat attitude and didn’t give up. Because they didn’t give up, there was likely more room for opportunities to present themselves, and when they did, the powers that be all too often saw someone that appreciates the opportunity and didn't feel entitled to it.
Intuition is generally defined as the ability to understand something immediately, without the need for conscious reasoning.
Lucky people often make lucky decisions by being open to hunches and following their instincts.
You know that feeling in your stomach and your mind. You’ve got a hunch. Your instincts are telling you that there might be something to what’s been presented in front of you. It may be a concept for a script. It may be an audition that you stumbled upon that seems to fit you overwhelmingly. Or maybe it’s a job opening, someone you’ve recently met, etc.
Don’t deny your intuition.
Years ago, I was having a conversation with a Hollywood based producer that was a Wisconsin native. I was running a non-profit support group for screenwriters, based back here in Wisconsin, and this producer had contacted me offering his support. After the initial discussion, I couldn’t shake this feeling I had in my gut. I couldn’t sleep. There was something about the situation and the interaction that stuck with me. The opportunist within me said, “Just ask.” So I contacted the producer and told him about the varied success I had experienced in my screenwriting career. This was after the Lionsgate deal had expired, to no avail, and I was at a stage where I thought I had had my shot and life dealt me a new hand. He contacted my manager at the time, requested some scripts, and within a couple of weeks, I was hired for an assignment. A couple of months after that, I was offered a more lucrative one that eventually was produced with a name cast.
It all stemmed from that gut feeling — that intuition.
Trust that gut feeling and trust those instincts you have.
Resilience is generally defined as the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties; toughness.
In Hollywood, the resilient survive. Plain and simple. Those that fail the most are those that focus on blaming the Hollywood system or whatever target. The constant rejection, the dead ends, and all of the seemingly Catch 22 scenarios seem to be Hollywood’s natural selection.
Lucky people tend towards the positive spin of things. Research calls it “denying fate,” an attitude that transforms bad luck into good.
In his article, Herzog noted that “Cornell University’s Tom Gilovich conducted a study in which he had neutral observers examine the reaction of Olympic medalists immediately after an event’s completion and moments later on the medal stand. He found that bronze medalists seemed happier than silver medalists.”
Jerry Seinfeld famously joked, “You win the bronze, you think, ‘well, at least I got something.’ But when you win the silver, that’s like, ‘Congratulations, you almost won. Of all the losers… you’re the No. 1 loser.’”
Again, the constant rejection, the dead ends, and all of the seemingly Catch 22 scenarios. You have to overcome those. You have to look at each of those rejections as fuel to add to your fire, to learn from, and to utilize to succeed to the point where you’re on that Award Stage someday thanking not just everyone that helped you, but everyone that rejected you because they pissed you off enough to want it more.
And then you have to look at what you have attained and where you have succeeded, and be like those bronze medalists that are happy to have achieved something that millions of others never have and likely never will.
I cherish everything I’ve accomplished in the film industry thus far no matter how little it may be compared to those we read about in the trades and those names we constantly see on the big or small screen. So many have had so much more success, but I'm grateful for what I've had and know that thousands would love to have had those experiences.
That’s the attitude that you need to be resilient because it’ll never happen the way you want it to. Never.
The character of Rocky Balboa said it best in this below clip, in regards to resilience, and much of what has been discussed above. Watch it like he's talking directly to you.
Luck is an integral part of success in Hollywood, or often anywhere in life. But we don’t have to be a slave to it. We don’t have to sit by the phone, waiting for it to call.
We make our luck by taking advantage of opportunities and circumstances, by being optimistic of our situations, by trusting in and following our intuitions, and by being resilient against anything and everything that is thrown at us in life, and especially in our pursuits of the Hollywood dream.
So best of luck to you all. And may that luck be as good as you can — and are willing to — make it.
Ken Miyamoto has worked in the film industry for nearly two decades, most notably as a studio liaison for Sony Studios and then as a script reader and story analyst for Sony Pictures.
He has many studio meetings under his belt as a produced screenwriter, meeting with the likes of Sony, Dreamworks, Universal, Disney, Warner Brothers, as well as many production and management companies. He has had a previous development deal with Lionsgate, as well as multiple writing assignments, including the produced miniseries Blackout, starring Anne Heche, Sean Patrick Flanery, Billy Zane, James Brolin, Haylie Duff, Brian Bloom, Eric La Salle, and Bruce Boxleitner. Follow Ken on Twitter @KenMovies