How to get noticed in Hollywood for 4 bucks

Trying to get  noticed in Hollywood isn’t easy, but if you can pull it off, the rewards can be fantastic. I have watched a few friends go from waiting tables one day, to having their former restaurant cater their celebrity parties.

About 20 or so years ago, I was one of those guys trying to break into TV Commercials. Even in the late 80’s, a decent national spot for a company like Budweiser or Honda could earn you upwards of twenty grand. For about one days work! Two if you had to go in for a wardrobe fitting (which you were paid extra for). It’s like hitting the lottery, only I think the Power Ball odds are a little bit better.

The problem of course, is how can you get noticed among the masses?  A friend proved just how futile the undertaking could be. He ran a tiny, 3 line notice in the back of a trade magazine mentioning that he was in pre-production on a film. One week later, his mailbox was jammed with pictures and resumes. Nearly 1000 of them. And I watched him toss most of them in the garbage with barely a 2 second glance. That was all the time he could afford to devote to the task.

So, armed with this insight, I realized if I wanted to get more than a 2 second glance, I had to give the person receiving my photo a reason to. And, I had to do this on my own since I didn’t have an agent. That’s when I turned to Wooly Willy.

You might remember this toy as a child. Magnetic shavings in a plastic bubble that allowed you to draw facial hair on the character inside. That’s Willy in the photo. The larger version was called Dapper Dan. I bought a few dozen of the Dapper Dans, carefully pulled them apart and reassembled them with my 8 X 10 photo inside. It took about a week of work and the cost was close to four dollars each. I then took them personally to casting directors around L.A.

The reaction was great, at least verbally. All of them said it was a great idea and that they would never throw it away since it was too unusual to toss with the rest of the submissions. The real question was, would it work?

It worked beautifully actually. The phone rang, auditions came my way, jobs were offered (and taken), and a top commercial agent, after seeing the initiative I had taken, offered to represent me.

Did I land any big commercials? No, but I did get one decent one for Long John Silvers that earned me about six thousand dollars. (A story about a pogo stick for another post some day) All told, the $400 investment probably returned twenty grand. Not bad.

Years later, I was at a casting directors office. Not to audition for anything, but in a technical capacity. That day they happened to be casting young kids for a commercial. To keep the young ones occupied, they had a bunch of toys spread out on a table for the kids to play with. There, in the middle of the table, was one very well worn ‘toy’. A Dapper Dan with the original cartoon swapped and an actors photo put in. My photo. True to their word, the casting director never threw it away.

Sometimes, all it takes is a silly idea.