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Interview: Bryan Hidalgo, Author of Making It In Hollywood: What To Do & How To Do It

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As an entertainment attorney, Bryan Hidalgo worked for several years in Business and Legal Affairs for Columbia Pictures, TriStar Pictures, MCA Records, and Geffen Records, before transitioning to private practice. He is a graduate of the UCLA School of Law. Prior to his legal career, he performed as a concert pianist, and was an Official Pianist for the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics Opening Ceremonies. In addition to serving as an industry consultant, Bryan is currently working on his next book. He lives in Los Angeles, California. His latest book is Making It In Hollywood: What To Do & How To Do It.

Visit his website at www.makingitinhollywood.biz.

How did you get the people you interviewed to agree to an interview (what process did you use)?

We sent out hundreds of email requests to noted actors, screenwriters, directors, and producers via their agents and publicists, describing the project and the fact that Save the Children was a beneficiary of part of the proceeds. We asked them to share their secrets to success — from getting started, to training, to auditioning, to obtaining an agent, to maintaining a career — so that the book would serve as both a guide for those wishing to break into show business, and a behind-the-scenes look at how Hollywood works.

After a slow start, one after another started to respond that they’d like to interview, and from there it just snowballed. In addition, I happened to run into a few Hollywood notables by chance, introduced myself and the project, and a few days later had another great interview for the book! The whole process of getting the initial response, to scheduling the interview, to transcribing it, to getting the final version of the interview approved, and then editing the entire 624-page book, took almost three years.

Did you have a favorite person to interview? Least favorite?

All of the interviews I did were a great pleasure. But because there were several TV shows that I particularly enjoyed watching, like Lost, The Shield, 24, Oz, Dexter, and Boston Legal, I have to admit I especially enjoyed interviewing the stars and/or creators of those shows.

From Lost, I most particularly enjoyed interviewing multi-Emmy winner Michael Emerson, who brilliantly played creepy Ben Linus, the leader of The Others, and will soon star in the new series, Person of Interest; Jack Bender, the show’s principal director; and Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse, who were the show’s head writers and show runners. Damon was also the co-creator of the show.

From The Shield, actor Walton Goggins, who starred as Shane Vendrell, and also stars now in Justified, gave an extremely informative and inspiring interview, as did CCH Pounder from the show. From 24, I interviewed creator and executive producer Joel Surnow, and actor Carlos Bernard, who played Tony Almeida. From Dexter, actor David Zayas, who plays Angel Batista on the show, surprised me by telling me he was actually a New York City cop for fifteen years before he even went to acting school! He was also in Oz. The creator and writer of Oz, Tom Fontana, gave me a particularly compelling interview. From Boston Legal, John Larroquette was a fascinating interview.

Christopher Meloni, star of Law and Order: SVU, Bryan Cranston of Breaking Bad and Malcolm in the Middle, Alex O’Loughlin of Hawaii Five-O, John Travolta, Sarah Jessica Parker, Neil Patrick Harris, Jason Alexander, Tom Arnold, Tony Goldwyn — what can I say? They were all great, along with many, many others. You can see photos and credits of everyone we interviewed at our website, MakingitinHollywood.biz.

How did you determine the questions you asked each of them?

We had a basic list of the same questions that we’d ask all of the interviewees, so that every interview was geared toward getting them to reveal — in their own words — how they made it, how they audition, what training they received, how they got an agent, how they approach their work, and what specific advice they consider most valuable to those aspiring to do what they do. Obviously, that basic list of questions changed somewhat, depending on whether we were interviewing an actor, screenwriter, director, or producer. From there, we also went on to ask more detail about specific projects for which they were most known. That was a great deal of fun!

Can you explain a little about Save the Children and why you chose to have them as the recipient of some of the royalties from the book?

My co-author Gail O’Donnell was very inspired to find a way to give back to the community after reading Bill Clinton’s book, Giving: How Each of Us Can Change the World. We wanted to donate a portion of our royalties from this book to a charity that helped the most defenseless among us — children — in our own country as well as elsewhere in the world. We found that with Save the Children. For over 75 years, they’ve helped children by improving their health, education and economic opportunities, and in times of acute crisis, by mobilizing rapid lifesaving assistance to help them recover from the effects of war, conflict and natural disasters. If you’d like more information about them, or to make a donation, you can visit SavetheChildren.org.

Were you ever star struck during the process of compiling the book? If so, how did you handle it?

No, though I was a little nervous when we first started because I didn’t know how it would go. But everyone we interviewed couldn’t have been nicer, and I very quickly realized they were all happy to participate. After all, they had agreed to be interviewed! They knew we were doing a book to help young, aspiring Hollywood professionals, as well as those interested in how Hollywood works, and it was also benefiting a great charity, so they were very forthcoming about their own struggles and successes in the business, and with their advice.

Seeing as how you are a musician, do you have a favorite band and/or album? How about a favorite song?

Well, I am a classical pianist, so classical music is my big love. Beethoven, Chopin, Liszt, and Prokofiev are just a few of the composers I most love to play and listen to. But I also love hard rock, progressive rock, and heavy metal music — bands like Led Zeppelin, the original Yes, Queensryche, Dream Theater. Anything with virtuosity, melody and passion!

What are your plans for the next 12 months?

We’re working on publicizing this book now, but we’re also laying the groundwork for another book to come. As I mentioned, this book took almost three years from idea to reality.

Do you have any writing tips you would like to share…some do’s and don’ts?

I’d strongly recommend to anyone doing a book of interviews that they make sure to hire the best transcribers they can right from the start. That will save you a great deal of time. I learned that the hard way early on, when I checked their work by listening back to the interviews.

I edited this book myself, which was a tremendous learning experience for me. As an attorney, I’m trained to be very careful and very precise with language, grammar, and punctuation. That’s a relatively straightforward task when it involves your own words. But to truly capture another person’s conversational inflections, and convey accurately whatever it is they’re emphasizing, required a great deal more thought than I ever imagined. So I’d also recommend a writer keep the latest edition of the Chicago Manual of Style close at hand!

How did you determine what to include in the book and what to leave out — or are all interviews included?

Once the project got under way, we kept getting so many responses from people who wanted to participate that we finally had to stop at 105 interviews. We could have had many more, but it would have significantly delayed our publishing date. And with the book at over 600 pages already, we thought even that might be too much to include. But each person’s experience and advice brought something unique to the book, so we included everything.

Thank you so much for your time; your book and life sound fascinating!

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