Hollywood is the only place in the world where you can die from encouragement.
Wise words to the unwise.
And yet, throwing caution to the wind thousands of would-be kid actors and their parents migrate to California to vie for a part in the fifty or so new television shows (known as pilots) which are produced each year (pilot season lasts from January to April). “Throwing caution to the wind” may sound overly prudent, but consider this: striving to become an actor poses risks; uprooting your family and drying up the joint account, as this documentary infers some families are doing, brings things to a whole other level.
This actor-moves-to-Hollywood narrative would be familiar were it not for one essential aspect: the aspiring actors are in the 5-15 year-old demographic.
As we’re told in The Hollywood Complex currently available for streaming on Netflix and Showtime, it is rough out there, people. Getting the dying-for callback is an all-or-nothing go-for-broke competition for families. One mother lives in Los Angeles with her daughter most of the year (they came during pilot season but never left), separated from a husband who stays in their home state to earn the wages to finance them.
And this is an expensive ambition. Total average monthly costs can sometimes run to upwards of $ 5,000 a month. Couples have separated over this, we’re told by a casting agent, and what do you expect?
Who dreamed up the Oscars dream first, the parent or the kid? Although the question remains open in this documentary, I would guess that it’s about an even split (the younger the kid, the more the parent would appear guilty of a mild form of delusion where their bundle of joy is concerned) and that’s troublesome, because you wonder how possibly destructive a parent’s ambitions can be over their child’s life. When asked by a casting agent what she wants to become when she’s older, a girl of six describes at length her ambitions of becoming a zoologist, “whichever profession involves sea animals or land animals.” When prodded about the acting, she responds, as if from memory, “yes, I’ve always wanted to be an actor since I was born,” unaware of the incompatibility of her dual ambitions.
Parental impetus notwithstanding, however, some of these kids demonstrate a genuine drive to make the acting profession theirs.
Filmmakers Dan Sturman (he co-directed 2007’s Nanking with Stephen Dorff and Mariel Hemingway) and Dylan Neslon follow Presley, Savannah, Joey and young Alex Dale (who at 4 pessimistically declares to a casting agent that he’s an out-of-work actor) and their parents as they drive from auditions to workshops and back to the Oakwood, a gated community which caters specifically to budding actors and their handlers, complete with in-house acting workshops and meet-and-greets with casting agents.
On the one or two occasions that a kid did get a callback I found myself loudly cheering. When the anticipated phone call never came, I was disappointed big time. Hollywood Complex is riveting. An eminently-watchable documentary which needs to be discovered and enjoyed.
Photos: stills from The Hollywood Complex (Boxhead Films).