The Hollywood Complex

The Hollywood Complex


Reviewed by: Val Kermode

There’s a saying in Los Angeles, “This is the only city where you can die of enthusiasm.”

Springtime is pilot season in L.A., when would-be child actors from all over America come hoping to gain auditions for T.V. pilots. Some of them, usually accompanied by just one parent, stay at the Oakwood apartment complex, a place which offers a complete package of seminars, coaching sessions and the chance to meet and talk with former child stars. One of these, a woman who claims to have been discovered by Groucho Marx, says to camera “This is the most perverted dog eat dog business in the whole world.”

Copy picture

For the young would-be stars however this is their only chance to follow their dreams of being the next Zac Efron or Dakota Fanning, and their parents are happy because it provides them with a social life, mainly around the pool.

The film takes a countdown format, “Six weeks to go until the end of the pilot season” , as it focuses on a dozen of these young hopefuls trying to win roles against staggering odds. The chances are bleak. A casting director says he goes through 3,000 pictures to find 100 kids for audition. Then only one will get the part. Meanwhile families are split. It’s usually Mom with the child and Dad working back home to provide the five to six thousand dollars a month needed to stay here.

We’ve all seen films of beauty pageants where pushy moms turn out little monsters. But that doesn’t seem to be the case here. Most are just ordinary parents who want the best for their child. Maybe some just don’t know when to stop. Megan and her mom have been sleeping on the floor of the Oakwood for three years. And some go to rather desperate lengths – one mother takes up Scientology. But it’s hard not to be moved by James’ mom when she says “ At the end of the day he’s not gonna be another black kid that ends up in prison. And I don’t care what it takes.”

Sadly, there’s a whole sea of people feeding off these families’ hopes, from the agents who offer “special packages” to the photographers providing new portfolios and those who lead the “crying on cue” workshops.

For the makers of this film, trying to build a story arc wasn’t easy. Auditions don’t end in wild reality show drama. It’s usually just “Yeah, that was really good.” The kids are all smiles, then a caption tells us “Ryan didn’t get the part.” After a while there’s little suspense as we realise that no matter how many weeks the season lasts the answer for all of them is going to be the same.

But the team did build quite strong emotional ties with these families and we begin to see that it’s the parents who suffer the greatest disappointment, while the children are amazingly resilient. In the end credits we learn what happened to the children a year later. Some had small successes and at least one is still there trying, but most just seem to be content to be back home.

Reviewed on: 10 Jun 2011
Share this with others on...
A visit to a special apartment complex and training centre for would-be child stars.
Amazon link

Director: Dan Sturman, Dylan Nelson

Year: 2011

Runtime: 85 minutes

Country: US


Doc/Fest 2011

Search database:

If you like this, try:

Jesus Camp