There was a time when pursuing a television or film career in Hollywood was akin to heading to Las Vegas to seek your fortune at the poker tables.
In either case, success was a long shot. But in Hollywood, more so than Vegas, it's actually a pretty good time to take the gamble. Between the hundreds of cable stations nationwide, along with the Internet, there is a strong demand for new and fresh films and video.
With that in mind, Remond François likes his chances as he chases his dream in Hollywood. The 22-year-old from Modesto hopes to make a career out of writing and directing films, and he isn't afraid to take baby steps to get there.
The 2003 Modesto High graduate is studying at the New York Film Academy's branch at Universal Studios in Hollywood, learning the intricacies of filmmaking and doing so in snippets.
He's written and directed 10 films in the twoto three-minute range, and three more that were 10 minutes or longer. He's also worked on dozens of others written by fellow students. One of his films is in the academy's archive, shown to new students as an example of a quality short work.
François will shoot his next project — a 15-minute film titled ".38" (as in the gun caliber) — in Modesto July 21-26. It's the story of how an ill-gotten gun keeps changing hands through a series of thefts.
He wrote the script and will direct the film. He's cast several Modestans, including longtime friend Mike Messer in a key role. Musicians from Modesto and the Bay Area will provide the score. It will be shot in 35 mm, not video.
François' mother, Jo Severe François, is the film's producer, handling all of the details for the Modesto portion of the shoot.
If all goes well, François will enter his work in several film festivals, including Robert Redford's Sundance in Utah.
If they play well at the festivals, these short-subject films can lead to opportunities to make full-length feature films, he said.
"It's very competitive," François said. "It comes down to what's on your reel, what you've shot and your experience."
Experience, he said, that is gained one film — or sometimes several — at a time.
"Not only are we working on our own projects, we're working on others at the same time," François said. "While I'm doing mine, I'm also assistant-directing one film, the assistant director on another, and I'm the director of photography on other films."
François' career in show business began when he was 9. He appeared in commercials for the cotton industry, Wrigley's gum, Ford and mortgage company Fannie Mae.
He got some screen time in the 1995 film "Nine Months," starring Tom Arnold, Hugh Grant, Julianne Moore and Robin Williams.
"I was an extra in the toy store scene before Tom Arnold got in a fight with a big purple dinosaur," François said. (For the record, the dinosaur's name was Arnie, to spoof kiddie show maven Barney.)
After high school, François enrolled at Modesto Junior College, taking Carol Mingus' film class.
"He's got a great future," she said. "He's creative and he's talented."
He moved to Hollywood in December 2006, and his timing has been good, Mingus said.
"It's a great time to jump in," Mingus said. "The equipment is affordable. Everybody now can do it. Before, you had to have lots of money. Now, you can buy a $4,000 (high-definition) digital camera, burn it on a DVD and send it on to festivals."
And it will be viewed, she said.
"There are content providers with hundreds of cable stations just looking (for products to show)," she said. "The big thing is finding your niche."
Whether it's shown free on YouTube or earns money, albeit not much, on the cable stations, it's exposure. People, and sometimes very influential ones, are watching, Mingus said.
"Hollywood is combing the Internet," she said. "It's not like they're not looking for talent."
In Hollywood, you take a break wherever you can get one. In late March, François worked on a short film being shot at a location in the Hollywood Hills. Fire broke out nearby, and his crew simply aimed the cameras at the fast-moving blaze.
"Two kids were playing with fireworks or something," François said. "We just kept the cameras going. We filmed it as it got started."
The crew sold the footage to several news organizations for their evening newscasts.
Clearly, François and his apprentice filmmaking friends proved that a camera and a bit of luck beats a pair of twos any old day.
Jeff Jardine's column appears Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays in Local News. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2383.