I love documentaries, especially because so many are now available on Netflix Instant. It's like a snobby way of watching reality television. I especially love documentaries about serial killers, cults, internet sensations, and especially about Hollywood and the entertainment industry. Therefore, I was enraptured by The Hollywood Complex.
The complex refers both to some parents' obsessions to make their child into a star, as well as the apartment complex in LA called Oakwood, which offers children and their parents a place to live during pilot season (the four months that networks cast their pilots, for those of you not up with the Hollywood lingo).
The film chronicles several children and their parents, who have dropped everything to live in Hollywood and get their children to auditions. The Oakwood complex not only offers furnished apartments, but an in-house photographer and seminars for how to "make it" as a child star. Which costs the families six thousand dollars a month. And pilot season is four months. And what's more- some families have stayed at Oakwood for over three years. Do the math.
The documentary could read like an extended episode of Toddlers And Tiaras, but the compelling thing is that the children profiled are charming and likeable. They are talented, but you know they are just walking into a wall of rejection.
These parents will do anything for a part. Seven-year old Savannah's parents show her YouTube videos of dying children so she can prepare for an audition as a sick child on Grey's Anatomy. Eleven year old African-American James, who is destined to be a musical theater major if you catch my drift, wants to be cast as anything but a thug. Another overweight boy with curly hair will be cast as nothing but a bully, but his parents seem okay with that. More than okay. They are banking on it. Eleven-year old Allison's mother allows her to read for a part that has more bad language than a Quentin Tarantino film. Then there's poor thirteen year old Shanna, with gorgeous bone structure and who is too polite for this business, who keeps striking out. She is the protagonist, the one you want to have succeed, but it's like watching Wile E. Coyote try to catch The Road Runner.
As one former child star puts it grimly, "getting a callback is one in a million. Getting a part is a miracle of God." So why are they doing this? "Go home!" I screamed at the TV. "Stop wasting your money and pimping your child!" Yet, they stay and drag their child from one audition to the next, everything from Rob Reiner movies to Scientology instructional videos. Is it because their love of their children or the hopes of being rich? My own judgemental theory is that the parents are living vicariously through their children; they are unhappy with their lives so they throw themselves into the job of making their kids stars.
There are plenty vultures ready to make money off the misguided hope. Several agencies run seminars which promise the secrets of success. Just a couple thousand more dollars, and they will represent your child. But she'll need new headshots, which is a couple more thousand. And these parents have their checkbooks out faster than you can yell "Gary Coleman!"
Is chasing your child's dream of being a star worth it? If my child caught the acting bug, I'd enroll them in drama camp and have them audition for community theater, then perhaps go to college for theater. But these parents want the shortcut; they want their child to be a star now. The next Dakota Fanning, the next Selena Gomez, the next whatever child star just years away from a meth addiction. But that's just me.