Cliff Michaels & Associates provides a network of writers, strategists, producers & investors for creatives, entertainers & entrepreneurs.
5 Keys to The Hollywood Matrix
By Cliff Michaels (Full Bio Here)
“You’re here because you know something. You feel it, like a splinter in your mind. Take the blue pill … wake up in your bed, and believe what you want to believe. Take the red pill, stay in Wonderland, and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes.” ~ Morpheus, The Matrix
Navigating La-La Land
Dreams and drama, actors and agents, writers and heroes and villains, OH MY! No matter how you tell the tale, it’s a wild ride in The Hollywood Matrix …
I grew up in L.A. with a passion for tv, music, novels, and films. I tutored English in high school when money was tight. I charged $20 to write essays for classmates and lyrics for musicians. Hollywood parents also paid me to proofread screenplays. It was all very hush-hush, but put cash in my pocket.
In the mid-’80s, I attended USC. I took a cinema class where a professor caught me ghostwriting short screenplays for students. Rather than kick me off campus, she saw potential and sent me to Robert McKee’s Story Structure (a 3-day bootcamp where screenwriters analyze Casablanca). I learned a lot about storytelling, but little about industry politics.
My writing days took a detour when I dropped out of college to earn a living as a bargain hunter for real estate investors who remodeled homes. The job barely covered rent, but I borrowed $5,000 from a mentor to buy a condo, flipped it for a profit, and bought a few more homes. I then got my broker’s license, and helped friends do the same.
Like many real estate junkies in the ’80s, I bit off more than I could chew, and lost my equity in the housing crash of ’89. The saving grace for me (age 22) were a few life lessons (focus, finance, creativity, networking, negotiating). I called these essentials my real-world MBA (Masters in Basic Abilities).
In spite of setbacks, I developed strong relations with CPAs, lawyers, and talent managers. These networks were key to launching Cliff Michaels & Associates (1992) with a focus on entertainers and entrepreneurs. We started as real estate and mortgage brokers, then added consulting and venture capital over the next 25 years.
Along the way, I was a ghostwriter for industry friends who schooled me on La-La Land. A studio pal painted this analogy: “The Hollywood Matrix is like Silicon Valley where entrepreneurs pitch stories for money and partners all day. Sadly, most deals are torpedoed by ego, greed, bad timing, or incompetence. But when it works (with the right people), it’s the greatest business in the world!”
Taking that advice over three decades, clients and I navigated boardrooms and living rooms of actors, agents, lawyers, managers, directors, producers, investors, publicists, studios, and networks. As a confidant behind the entourage of Emmy, Grammy, and Oscar winners, I learned 6 Keys to The Hollywood Matrix …
Key #1: Build Grit & Never Quit
Ideas and talent aren’t enough. You’ll need luck and tons of stamina! Great examples are Sylvester Stallone, JK Rowling, and Matt Damon. All were initially rejected by industry gatekeepers before Rocky (1976), Harry Potter (1997) and Good Will Hunting (1998) became award-winning blockbusters. The secret? Brilliant writing aside, Stallone, Rowling, and Damon were as resilient as their fighters (Rocky, Harry, and Will). They never stopped punching until the right people believed in their mission.
Key #2: Think Digital & Multi-Media
By the mid-2000s, movie budgets were out of control and Hollywood’s business model was long overdue for an overhaul. With music and book publishing already in disruption mode, Amazon, YouTube, and Facebook presented as much peril as opportunity for creative artists. Although amateurs had the simplest of bars to limbo (social media & self-publishing), more competition required everyone to re-think production, marketing, and distribution (#Winners #Trending #Digital).
Key #3: Differentiate or Die
Big winners at recent awards shows were Hulu and Netflix, challenging the likes of HBO and Showtime for original content. Don’t look now, but Apple and Facebook are budgeting a fortune to play in the same sandbox. More than ever, storytellers must be unique or risk losing their audience. That’s not to say art should be compromised. It means “differentiate or die” when competing with nimble networks and a brave new world of artists.
Key #4: Choose Your Muse
Success starts with ideas, so choose a muse that inspires your craft. Novelists (Stephen King to Jane Austin); directors (Martin Scorcese to Steven Spielberg); comedians (Lucille Ball to Jim Carrey), actors (Kevin Spacey to Meryl Streep), dancers (Fred Astaire to Michael Jackson), music (Mozart to Madonna).
For the storyteller’s edge in TV and film, enjoy Masterclasses by award-winning writer-producers such as Aaron Sorkin (Newsroom, The Social Network), Shonda Rhimes (Scandal, Grey’s Anatomy), or David Mamet (The Untouchables, Glengarry Glen Ross). Their online crash-courses provide great tips for plot themes, dialogue-driven characters, and heart-pounding surprises that connect six audience needs: to feel, laugh, learn, share, scream, or escape.
For entertainers and entrepreneurs developing the next big thing, look no further than competitions like The Voice, Shark Tank, or So You Think You Can Dance. Producers of these shows didn’t just launch pseudo Hunger Games for creative artists — they developed global marketing strategies for talent, cliffhangers for fans, and a target-rich environment for mentors. Winner-winner, chicken dinner!
Key 5: Get Busy & Stay Busy
Success is not reserved for famous people in La-La Land (nice work if you can get it). If you believe in your mission, there are more opportunities than ever. Just GET BUSY & STAY BUSY! Show up daily. Listen and learn. Write and re-write. Pitch and practice. Collaborate with creatives. If you put yourself out there, you’ll not only survive, but thrive in The Matrix.
BONUS KEYS: Have Fun • Be Grateful • Build Relationships
In The 4 Essentials, I wrote about dozens of mentors with key chapters on humility, gratitude, and relationships. To that end, I’d be remiss if I didn’t share great advice from a mentor I met after writing my book — it was legendary talent-agent George Shapiro (producer of Seinfeld). From humble days in the mailroom of William Morris Agency, to representing comic icons like Jerry Seinfeld, Shapiro (age 85) credits three keys to his success:
- Find love and laughter in all you do.
- Listen, learn, and be sincerely grateful.
- Care about relationships as much as business.
If you believe in these principles, I’d love to hear your story. It just may suit The Hollywood Matrix.
Writer, Broker, Investor, Consultant