Secret of success
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The secret of success

by Sean McGinly

I’d been in Los Angeles for a week with no idea how to get started. I’d ask people for advice and they’d tell me the secret was charming people, networking, making contacts. Hollywood and success in this town is all about who you know.

I didn’t know anybody, but my mother knew a woman from our hometown whose daughter was here. I got in touch with her and she invited me to a party. This is how it starts, I thought. This girl was an assistant at a big agency. Many of her friends had jobs as junior executives or PAs on films. These were the kinds of people I needed to be mixing and mingling with.

I dressed in a snazzy sports jacket, which I assumed was the proper attire for a Hollywood affair. When I got to the front door I was relieved to bump into a tall kid, also dressed in a sports jacket, going in at the same time. His name was Tripp Reed. We immediately saw that we were the only two guys at this party wearing sports jackets.

Tripp and I didn’t make any contacts at this Hollywood party, mostly because neither of us was any good at networking. But we became friends, the way you do when you meet someone you happen to like and share a few things in common with. A year or so later we made a low budget film together which we were sure was going to make us both very successful. Of course it didn’t, but we learned a lot.

One of the actors we cast was a guy named Karl Wiedergott. He was a starving actor and the furthest thing from what I’d ever think of as a potential contact, but I liked Karl and we became close friends. Karl was a remarkably engaging person; a great storyteller who was always sharing tales about his years of poverty and struggle in Hollywood. I got an idea for a script inspired by Karl’s anecdotes. This was the first script I’d written that was really any good and it got some attention, but I still couldn’t seem to find the money to get the thing made.

Tripp got a job directing a short film. The producer on this film was a guy who was trying to get started as a manager. Tripp introduced us and this guy became my manager. He found the money to get the script about Karl made. This led to me selling my first script, which led to me getting my first agent, which led to lots of other jobs.

It had all started with Tripp and Karl, who were just two of my best friends. I’d never considered them contacts, but they were – the most important contacts I’d ever make.

About a year after I’d arrived in Los Angeles, a high school friend introduced me to a guy named Pat Gilfillan. He was a lawyer who had moved to Los Angeles to attend UCLA Film School. He already had an agent when he arrived and then won the Nicholl Fellowship. After that, he started booking big writing assignments with the studios.

I didn’t think of Pat as a contact. He was miles ahead of me. We just became really good friends. His favorite thing was to hear stories about an experience I’d had right after college working for a magician. For years Pat told me he thought I had a movie there. I didn’t see it. One day he just called me up and said, “Come over. Let’s talk this through. I want you to write this script.”

There was nothing in it for Pat, but his enthusiasm and support convinced me that I could write the script. It became The Great Buck Howard, which I directed a few years later with Colin Hanks and John Malkovich starring. I wouldn’t have even written the thing without Pat.

I think too much emphasis is put on trying to unlock the secret of success in this business. I don’t know what the secret is or if there’s a secret at all. I do know it’s nice to have friends though and that the ones I’ve mentioned above and many others have helped me a lot. So whenever a young person just arriving here asks me what the secret is, I don’t give them the advice I was given. I tell them to make good friends.

Sean McGinly

About Sean McGinly

Sean McGinly was born in Philadelphia and raised in Northern Virginia. He graduated from Villanova University with a degree in Philosophy and went on to USC Film School where he got an MFA in Film Production. He wrote and directed the film, "The Great Buck Howard" starring John Malkovich and Colin Hanks. He also directed the documentary film, "Brothers Lost: Stories of 9/11" about men who lost their brothers on September 11th. He lives in Los Angeles.

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