One of the great places to learn lessons about Hollywood is the commentary section of DVDs. It’s amazing the insights you can gain from filmmakers talking quite innocently about the process of getting the movie made. Sometimes the things they think they’re teaching you about the movie business aren’t what you walk away having learned. In fact, sometimes you can learn things they don’t really want you to know.
Just recently I watched 8 Mile—the Eminem bio film. The film is about rapper Eminem struggling to become a successful recording artist in Detroit by winning rap battles. It follows the exact same format that most “outsider young person struggles to find himself in a strange world” films (Step Up, Stomp the Yard, Drumline, Bring It) follow.
In the DVD extras, there is a section about filming the rap battles themselves. Particularly, there is a story about how the film’s director and producers decided they wanted to have local rappers actually battle Eminem in order to get a more gritty realism.
The call goes out among the hundred or so extras who made up the crowd during the club and rap battle scenes. Three rappers, the ones who possessed the skills to top a real rap battle in the room, would then be put in the film as star actors featured battling Eminem. This was a chance of a lifetime for these actors who’d only been booked in very low paying extra jobs where their faces would likely never even be seen (see article on being an extra here). Here was a chance to be credited in a major motion picture, to have the camera right in your face and to be able to launch a career in acting.
Dozens of the extras tried out for the roles. Most were rejected out of hand, but quite a few showed promise. Eventually the contestants were whittled down and three lucky and talented ones were chosen. They were very talented too.
One by one, the rapper/actors/contest winners took their positions before Eminem to battle him. Although initially told to save his voice for the dialogue scenes and only to lip sync his comebacks against these rappers, Eminem couldn’t let the taunts in front of the packed room go unanswered. Impressively, true to his character in the film, he improvised clever responses to each rapper—clearly putting them in their place.
So what did we learn from this DVD extra? That Eminem is actually a very good rap battler? Yes. That’s what the film director wanted us to learn. But here’s what we learned that he didn’t want us to learn: After all of the contest—all of the hopes and dreams of each rapper in that room being placed before them—the promise of a starring role in a major motion picture. After winning the contest and being chosen as one of the three actors to battle the star; after filming the battle against Eminem and rejoicing, celebrating and telling all their friends and family about it; after the movie comes out six to nine months later, after all of the anticipation, after buying the popcorn and taking your seat in the theater….
Not a single one of those actors’ battles appeared in the film. Every single one was cut. Every one. Those actors are not featured anywhere except in the DVD rap battle extras section. But at least they were featured there. Many actors find their roles, in fact, whole characters cut from movies. Where they expected a reel to show agents, managers, casting directors, or at least a credit for their resume, they may get nothing.
Some executive didn’t think the scene was necessary—one battle too many. Or it didn’t work—the lighting was bad, etc. For whatever reason, the film you starred in you no longer star in. The film goes on to be number one at the box-office—oh well, at least it got released. Hundreds of movies get filmed that never even get released.
Welcome to Hollywood. Such things happen here. They don’t always happen, but they do happen. The point is not to discourage you. The point is to make you aware so that, if it does happen, you don’t give up.
Update 3/7/2013: (The 2nd edition of What I Wish I Knew Before I Moved to Hollywood available now exclusively on Kindle for only $4.99. Get yours now. Click here. Kindle e-books can be read on I-phone, I-pod, I-pad, Android, Mac and PC with the free Kindle App.)