Scaling The Studio Walls

Posted by Paul Norman Rich
Richard "RB" Botto Richard "RB" Botto
Today's guest blog comes from Stage 32 member Paul Norman Rich. Paul currently lives and works in Los Angeles, California. Starting as a copywriter at CBS television when cable was still new, Paul quickly moved into promotional writing for home video, eventually leading him to managerial positions at MGM/UA where he marketed films such as Rain Man, Moonstruck, etc. This eventually brought him to working at Disney, where he worked with Ann Daly and Bill Mechanic spearheading the sell-through video industry (Lion King. Beauty and the Beast, Toy Story). Wow - what an incredible ride. 

In today's blog, Paul walks us through his journey, from how he orginially got a job at a studio cleaning coffee pots, to how he permeated the studio system marketing some of the biggest films and series at the time, to being on the forefront of home video distribution, making sure to keep up with the trends as he went along. 

I thank Paul for his contribution to the Stage 32 Blog. 


I had the dream job for any film school graduate. Having won out over hundreds of resumes and some interviews, I was suddenly the Editorial Manager at MGM Studios -- the studio famously known to have "more stars than there are in the heavens." After graduating Loyola Marymount University, after writing several TV and film specs, it had become quickly clear that Steven Spielberg's job was already taken. Such are the quixotic dreams of the newly-minted neophyte in tinsel town.

For those with the Spielberg dream, now the J.J. Abrams dream, there are other paths through studio doors. However you can get infiltrated into those hallowed fortresses, it's worth the effort. For you will soon discover that like Oz's Emerald City, the wizards inside are actual people, just as hopeful and just as scared as you.

I snuck in as a temp.

I passed the typing test and was soon scrubbing the giant tin coffee pot at CBS TV City. I quickly ingratiated myself to my many bosses and in six months I was writing TV guide ads and on-air promo copy for Dallas and Magnum P.I. I wandered the halls and snuck into the sets of The Price is Right (always a thrill to spin the wheel) and The Young and the Restless.

My biggest thrill was coming face to face with Carol Burnett. My wit was sharp and original. "You're Carol Burnett!" She smiled, said 'yes' and shook my hand. Ugh. After awhile, after meeting so many, you behave in a more professional manner.

The point is, the odds of moving up increase greatly once you meet people inside "the studio." You get invited to parties. You meet someone in the commissary who knows someone who knows someone. And your resume will show you are one of them, having managed to place a poker chip in play.

Back to MGM. Unlike theatrical marketing, home entertainment allowed me to work on dozens of films all at the same time. Home video changed the studio system forever, taking brand marketing to new heights and introducing Harvard graduate MBAs to the old studio guard.

When a film failed at the box office, the new-mold marketing geniuses would micro-analyze why it failed and re-brand it to its core audience. Then we would follow up creating new ads, target-marketed to the universal audience, the female demo, the male demo - every demo imaginable.

Then on to Disney Home Entertainment when sell-through exploded with Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast. Before then, most folks rented videos. Soon parents realized kids would watch videos over and over so much the tapes would wear out and they'd have to buy more. If Disney announced Bambi was going "back in the vault", the threat of no supply created a flood of demand and the home video division became the cash cow of the studio overnight.

Few know that Toy Story 2 was going to be the biggest "only on video" hit in history ... until Jeffrey Katzenberg said it was too good and the theatrical division ripped it away from us. My boss who wrote my contract was none other than Ann Daly, the golden girl who is now head of Dreamworks.

Video has gone the way of the dinosaur, replaced by On Demand, Netflix and direct downloads that play on HD big screens. The technology is constantly changing, and it's important to stay with or ahead of the trends.

Jack be nimble, Jack be quick and you might find yourself in the thick of the next new trend ... and a job ever so closer to the J.J.'s of the world.
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As always, Paul is available for remarks and questions in the Comments section below!
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